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Serbs Feel Punished in Post-Yugoslavia World

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal says there is no sign that Slobodan Milosevic was poisoned. The sudden death of the Serb leader in prison last week had sparked some speculation about the cause of his death. And today's announcement is unlikely to mollify Serbs who see the tribunal as part of a conspiracy against their country. Four unsuccessful wars that Milosevic started have left Serbia impoverished and isolated.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this report on the country's identity crisis.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Every day in Belgrade, long lines form outside European consulates. On Bichaninova (ph) Street about 100 people have been standing for hours in below- freezing temperatures trying to get visas for Germany.

It's not yet Dragana Rezedech's (ph) turn. It's 10 a.m. She's been here for five hours and it'll take many more hours in line and at least a month before she gets her visa. She's won a scholarship for a master's in geology at Munich University. But she says having to go through this is a humiliation.

DRAGANA REZEDECH: I must stay here and waiting all the time, really awful. I think that I don't deserve that.

POGGIOLI: Dragana voices the feelings of many despondent Serbs, ordinary people as well as government officials, that today's Serbia is being singled out and treated more harshly by Western governments as a form of punishment for the past crimes committed by Slobodan Milosevic. The result is an entire generation of young Serbs who have never traveled beyond their borders and are completely ignorant of the outside world.

19-year-old Maya Otsokolich (ph) is majoring in psychology at Belgrade University. She's convinced she'll never get the chance to go abroad and has few illusions about her prospects.

MAYA OTSOKOLICH: I feel a little frightened about the future because of all these things that happened. Things that the crisis didn't end. I don't see that it would end soon.

POGGIOLI: This young woman, like most Serbs today, is unfazed by Milosevic's sudden death and his return for burial in his homeland. A recurring theme here is we're not looking at the past, but we're very worried about the future.

By the end of this year, the Federation of Serbia in Montenegro, which evolved out of the embers of Yugoslavia only three years ago, seems likely to be disbanded and Kosovo could be on its way to independence.

Srdjan Bogosavljevic, head of the Strategic Marketing Polling Agency, says Serbs are in a state of confusion and apathy.

SRDJAN BOGOSAVLJEVIC: Nobody knows what is our state. In our documents, they are still saying Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I have a new passport and a new ID card. Both are issued with nonexistent state.

POGGIOLI: Serbia and Montenegro never agreed on a joint flag or anthem. The only Serb constitution is the one written by Milosevic and that is largely ignored. Only three percent of Serbs know their new national holidays and none of them know where their new borders will be.

BOGOSAVLJEVIC: The state identity is completely lost. We have confidence only in church now. All democratic institutions are extremely low, judiciary system, government and parliament. But the church is the only institution which presents some kind of identity.

POGGIOLI: Young Serbs are looking to Europe for a new identity and sense of belonging. But the European Union doesn't appear ready to embrace them. And the uncertainty over Serbia's future geographical and constitutional framework is keeping foreign investors away, further aggravating its deep economic crisis and international isolation.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Belgrade. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.