Thursday, June 08, 2006

After the Divorce, Serbia Alone Mourns the Lost Partnership


BELGRADE, Serbia, June 7 -- Just over two weeks after Montenegro voted to bring an end to its federation with Serbia and declare independence, the two states have begun dividing up the assets they have shared.

In ceremonies across the two republics, soldiers and policemen have lowered the tricolor flag of Serbia and Montenegro flying over state buildings and replaced it with the flag of their own republic. But in each of the states, which together made up all that was left of the Communist-era Yugoslavia, the ceremonies appear to have taken on very different meanings.

While the Montenegrin government has been triumphant in asserting its new independence, here in Serbia there is a sense of loss as the government and people come to terms with a newly reduced identity.

Serbia's government has begrudgingly accepted the results of the May 21 referendum, in which 55.5 percent of Montenegro's voters chose independence, just enough under the rules set up by the government and the European Union.

Serbian leaders have said little about how they will reshape the government as it absorbs the functions that had been carried out by the federal administration. A spokeswoman for the Serbian government said nobody was available to be interviewed for this article.

Many here describe those leaders as shocked by an outcome that they had previously refused to contemplate.

''They feel as though something has been cut off from their body,'' said Nenad Djordjevic, a federal government employee who was an adviser to Serbia and Montenegro's minister for human rights. ''Some politicians here still think that the Serbian state lies where the Serbian people are.'' About a third of Montenegro's 620,000 residents are Serbs.

Montenegro's separation is one more defeat for Serbia, which lost Bosnia and Croatia in wars more than a decade ago and may soon lose the United Nations-run province of Kosovo, which is still formally a part of Serbia. The United States and Britain advocate such a split.

Some say that the breakup of Serbia and Montenegro, and the loss of Kosovo if it occurs, will produce benefits for Serbia, which they say will be better able to face its own political and economic changes.

''This would be the first time since 1918 that Serbia will not be divided by ethnic and constitutional struggles,'' said Ceda Antic, a member of the G17 Plus party, a member of the coalition government run by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

But for many, that is too difficult a thought to absorb for the moment.

''Like the majority of the population, I think, I'm in a funk,'' said Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor of the conservative newspaper Politika. She said it would take some time before people would be ready to acknowledge the creation of what is effectively a new state.

Some are responding with a Serbian tradition: black humor. In Belgrade, people say that in the 1990's, the nationalist slogan was Serbia do Tokija, or Serbia to Tokyo. These days, they say, it is more accurate to say Serbia kao Nokia, or Serbia like Nokia. Just like the Finnish cellphones, Serbia comes in a newer and smaller model every year.

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