Why Serbia will not enter the European Union
- Published: 23 October 2011
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23 October 2011
Thick clouds of smoke billow through a ground floor apartment in the heart of Belgrade.
This is not the byproduct of arson but a celebration of nicotine as the final hammer fell on the decision to shirk a luxury tax that would see Serbia entering the European Union.
This tax, which would have seen prices soar by 500 percent on a single packet of cigarettes, was part of negotiations imposed by the European Union (EU), keen to set a European standard within the country. “We smoke because of the current economic crisis we’re living in. It gives us some kind of comfort”, Bojana, a Serbian pensioner and smoker, said. “Honestly, what did they expect us to live off anymore?”
With prices already reaching unmanageable levels on common household necessities, these demands have caused a groundswell of anti-Union attitude amongst locals struggling on wages as little as 373 euros a month.
“Why don’t they increase the price of bread to three euros a day and starve us to death? It would be easier,” Darko, a Serbian activist and smoker, said.
It is not only the mention of a luxury tax that is shirking a positive attitude towards the EU amongst Serbs.
The past decade has seen Serbia, under pressure from the EU, extradite several of its former military and political leaders to the Hague Tribunal to face war crimes charges that allegedly took place during the Bosnian war and the unrest in Kosovo.
The most recent Serb expats are Ratko Mladic, the former General of the Yugoslav Army, who is facing charges relating to the atrocities committed in Srebrenica, and Goran Hadzic, the former president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.
In addition to extraditing individuals that a majority perceive to be “defenders of the Serbian territory,” locals already cope with a 10pm prohibition on the purchase of alcohol, a legal drinking age of 20 and a 22.2 percent unemployment rate due to a law, recently approved in parliament, regarding the privatisation of the country’s utilities and infrastructure.
The largest contingent halting Serbia’s integration into the European Union is the acknowledgement of Kosovo as an independent nation.
Despite the union itself facing a questionable future, the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, still believes that Serbia’s integration is the only solution. “I am certain that the EU is an idea that deserves respect and support from the majority of our citizens,” he told Serbian media. “We are working towards the EU – as a better option doesn’t exist.”
Independent Minister Vesna Pesic, who left the Democratic Party in April, told Serbian media that a quicker way into the EU would be to quash all notions of Serbian nationalism.
“Serbian nationalism defies European ideals, standards and the borders drawn from decisions made by greater forces,” she said. “Under constant pressure, Serbia must be forced to definitively conclude doubts over what its borders are.”
Several far right nationalist groups, such as the Obraz (Pride) and 1389, furiously defy claims that nationalism is hindering Serbia’s prosperity. They consider nationalism to be the only solution that will spare Serbia from a pending economic and existential crisis.
These groups have also made it a strong part of their agenda to discourage Serbia’s integration into the Union. Voters, once loyal to reigning Democratic Party of Serbia, are now handing over their allegiance to such groups.
“We bend over backwards to please [the EU],” a member of 1389 said. “What for? When were we ever a nation to bow down to the will of others?”
With both smoking, a favourite pastime amongst locals, safe from European pricing and locals unwilling to acknowledge both an independent Kosovo and demands from the EU, the steady dedication to smoking within Serbia – and its status as persona non grata in the European Union – will not change.
“Let me live with my Balkan ways. Just let us die peacefully with our habits,” Ana, a Belgrade local and avid smoker, said.
Milly Stilinovic has seen the overthrow of a communist regime, and felt the perils of war and NATO bombings. She is a Sydney-based freelance reporter who contributes to NineMSN, Red Scout, and American cultural magazine Belletrist Coterie.