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Serbia - Introduction

Serbia's pro-European government is stable and has achieved key milestones in its path to EU membership. To keep making progress, however, Serbia must stop allowing the Kosovo issue to undermine its broader foreign policy approach and shift its focus to the economic and political reforms necessary for membership in the EU. Reforms to date have been uneven, with significant progress in the defense sector and many challenges ahead in the economic sphere, particularly as the economic crisis threatens to lead to sustained labor and social unrest.

Serbia's pro-European foreign policy focus was blurred by Belgrade's efforts to cultivate closer relations with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), China, and Russia. The NAM was a particular focus as part of Serbia's efforts to slow down Kosovo recognitions, and China and Russia as appreciation for their support on the UN Security Council in regard to Kosovo. While Serbia cooperates with NATO via the Partnership for Peace Program, it does not intend to pursue NATO membership in the foreseeable future. This is mostly due to lasting public anger over the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which forced then-President Slobodan Milosevic to halt his ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. It also reflects both Serbia's interest in walking a fine line between Russia and the West.

Defense reform is a priority of the Serbian government, and an area where significant progress has been made. The Serbian Armed Forces have been right-sized to about 28,000 troops, with further cuts on hold for the time being, pending reevaluation of the security environment. Minister of Defense Dragan Sutanovac (DS) oversaw significant soldier pay increases, training improvements, and legislation to codify defense reform, as well as improvements in strategic planning and procurement. The Ministry also made progress on disposing of some excess materiel such as MANPADS, which we are funding. Further reforms, including a reduction in civilian staff, are needed. Serbia is an active participant in the National Guard's State Partnership Program with Ohio, which has been publicly well received and touted as an example of successful bilateral cooperation.

Serbia is still far from a model of a modern liberal democratic society. Serbia is known - even among Serbs - for its fixation with historical narrative and sometimes spiteful determination to act against its own interests. Most Serbs long for better relations with the United States, identify with Europe, and are tired of being viewed as "Balkan Beasts." After Slobodan Milosevic fell from power in October 2000, Serbs anticipated a rapid transition from the war and isolation of the 1990s to western stability and prosperity. But the jubilation of those days gave way to shattered expectations, personified in the assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003. In the years that followed, public and media criticism of Serbia's continual failures and missed opportunities was largely upstaged by populist or anti-western rhetoric, numbing coverage of war crimes trials and emotional commentary over Kosovo's February 2008 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), all of which in turn fed the conservative and ultra-conservative ideologies that further hampered Serbia's social progress.

Serbia is located in the center of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a continental state with over 80% of the territory belonging to the region of Southeastern Europe and around 20% of the territory belongs to Central Europe. Serbia’s borders are 2.364 km in length (land borders 1.570 km, river borders 751,1 km and lake borders 43,3 km in length). Serbia borders Hungary to the north, Romania to the northeast, Bulgaria to the east, and Albania and Macedonia to the south, Montenegro to the southwest and Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west.

The territory of Serbia is of a great importance as the routs leading across it represent the shortest connection between West and Central Europe on one side and Middle East, Asia and Africa on the other side. The very position of the country has determined the fate of Serbia and its citizens. Serbia is predominantly mountainous state with wide areas of arable land. 55% of Serbia’s land is arable, while the forest coverage in Serbia is 27%.

Serbia is a country in Southeastern Europe with population of more than 7 million people. Beside the majority of ethnic Serbs, there are people of 40 different nationalities living accross the country. Serbia is a country full of surprises. Belgrade is a city that never sleeps, and the people are incredibly hospitable and nice. If someone wants a roaring nightlife – Belgrade is the right place to go.

Not visiting a Serbian “kafana“ (traditional tavern), is like not visiting Serbia at all. The first kafana in this region was opened by the Turkish merchants and, at first, only coffee was served there. Nevertheless, these “institutions” were soon adopted by the Serbs who started serving first alcohol and then food. Even though more than four centuries have passed since then, “kafanas” haven’t changed much since that time. By visiting this “institution”, one will learn about the Serbian people, their customs, mentality and endless warmheartedness and hospitality. There is an unwritten rule in Serbia – a good host will bear all guests’ costs. “Paying the bills” is, therefore, an important part of local customs.

Plum is considered Serbian national fruit, and rakija (a kind of brandy) Serbian national drink. Coffee that most of the people prefer drinking is “Serbian” and thus usually called “ordinary”. Care is required in drinking “šumadijski caj” (the tea of Šumadija) – it is easy to get drunk because it is actually boiled rakija that is treated as a kind of a domestic “heater” in Serbia.

Sharp, direct and usually ironic and black, humor is a way of life in Serbia and a way to overcome any misfortune. To understand Serbian humor, means to understand the way of life in Serbia. Like across the globe, humor is an everyday necessity, and occasions for a good joke are found everywhere – whether sad or happy. Serbian humor is sharp, and on moments perhaps too direct, but above all original and authentic. What makes Serbs laugh elsewhere would probably be strange – Serbian humor is ironic and one of its characteristics is that jokes are often made on their own expense.

Serbs can make a good joke and at different comic situations, but mostly they make jokes on their own actions and everyday events. Here humor is a universal drug, the solution for all kinds of situations and the main condition and reason to have a great time. Due to specificity of Serbian humor, we find British comedies with sharp and effective slogans the most appropriate. Jokes and quotations from local films have become cult quotes. Quotes like: “He fixed it, all right!”, or “Admit it, and Djura will forgive you for having beaten you!”, might seem strange to others, but in Serbia they will put a smile on people’s faces as everyone will understand their meaning.

There are no embarrassing questions and forbidden topics. This could seem a bit strange to people visiting Serbia for the first time, but actually it is quite simple and it can be understood with a little help of knowing Serbian history and the mentality of the Serbian people.

The Serbian cuisine has formed under various national, cultural and geographical influences and mixtures. It consists of very diverse, heavy and spicy food that is partially a combination of Greek, Turkish and Hungarian cuisine. Even though some dishes have the same ingredients as in the above mentioned cuisines, in Serbia they have got a certain touch that made them different and unique. That is why some specialties of Serbian cuisine are hard to describe, and some of them don’t even have a match in other nations’ vocabularies.

The entire world has adopted a Serbian word “vampire” for an evil and immortal mythological creature that drinks human blood and has superhuman powers. Vampire, an immortal creature with superhuman powers, comes from Serbian language and is generally accepted in that form all over the world. In different parts of the Slavic world terms like werewolf, lampir, lapir, vjedogonja and upir can also be heard. Vampire is a creature from the myths and legends of Slavic nations, especially those living in the Balkans and Ukraine. It is thought to be a spirit of a deceased or a corps brought back to life by an evil spirit or the devil. The oldest case of a “vampire encounter” was recorded in Serbia, and the oldest Serbian vampire was a certain Petar Blagojevic, who was considered about 300 years old.

Critics saw deep flaws in the national character of this small and vigorous nation which had so often in recent years jeopardized peace and prevented stability in that sensitive part of Europe as a result of political, social and economic developments in Serbia during many centuries. Croatians saw a Serbian propensity to narcissism, megalomania and mystification. Narcissism is the admiration of one's own physical and mental attributes; it is a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development. Megalomania is a form of mental alienation marked by delusions of greatness. Mystification is intentional misrepresentation of facts.

The temperament of the Serbian people supplies some keys to many mysteries in the modern Serbian State. They were kindly and hospitable, and zealously patriotic. They always seemed to be in a terrible hurry to meet trouble more than half-way. Nor may they be acquitted of undue timidity. They were forever bemoaning their lot, with many fine windy phrases about oppression and despair. No doubt their lives are not the happiest in the world. They are always ready to express their views on any subject under the sun with the utmost frankness. Not only in the crowded coffeehouses of the town, but in the taverns, which were far and away the most magnificent buildings in every village, there seemed to be a chronic competition to argue and shout and declaim. In that way the Serbians resembled the Irish and the Greeks. Recent events have not exhibited the Serbian national character in an advantageous light.




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