BELGRADE, June 15 (Reuters) - Shattered buildings on the boulevard tell the story: Belgrade is the only European capital bombed by NATO and Serbia does not forget it.
The cruise-missile ruins on "Tomahawk Alley" are totems of resentment of a people who feel misunderstood and abused by the powerful Westerners who ought to be their friends.
Seven years after NATO dropped its last bomb to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo, the Serbs still feel battered -- by rebukes, ultimatums and penalties from Brussels and Washington, by humiliating visa restrictions, by the sting of exclusion.
This feeling of "more stick than carrot" benefits hardline nationalists who tell Serbia the West never did love it and never will, says analyst Dejan Vuk Stankovic.
Setbacks and dashed hopes are part of the daily news diet here but the past six weeks were exceptional even by Serbian standards, and the latest party poll ratings reflect that.
On May 3, the European Union froze pre-membership talks with Serbia because it failed to hand over top war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb, to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.
On May 21, Serbia's partner Montenegro chose independence, saying the EU freeze proved it would be better off without Serbia and its odious legacy as instigator of the Yugoslav wars.
On June 9, a poll gave the opposition Radical Party over 40 percent voter support. Radicals worship Mladic, back revanchist aims, hate Western interference and despise liberals.
"The Montenegro referendum ... has increased Serbia's anger at the international community and its feeling of isolation," former U.S. ambassador William Montgomery wrote this week.
It made Serbs "less cooperative, more negative and more aggressive" at the very time the West needs their cooperation on Kosovo, whose 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority is expected to get independence this year with or without Serb approval.
A Western-inspired U.N. vote to amputate Serbia's cherished southern province could be exploited by anti-Western parties to whip up national outrage, with unpredictable consequences.
The U.S. and EU do not want Serbia reverting to chauvinism. They want it embedded in the West, not on the ropes, or at bay, or off the reservation in a region known for radical solutions.
Europe's worst wars since 1945 started here, just 15 years ago. Fighting in Bosnia and Croatia went on until 1995. In 1998-99 it raged again in Kosovo. Then it flared next door in Macedonia in 2000. The overall toll was 200,000 dead.
Serb analysts say Kosovo independence would further crank up support for the Radicals, raising the possibility of a hardline government in Belgrade if, as some predict, a snap election later this year unseats Serbia's fractious minority coalition.
The U.N. and NATO are braced for the possible exodus of 50,000 Serbs from Kosovo if the Albanians get independence, and for unrest in the Serb-dominated north which favours partition. But there is no known plan for a lurch back to defiance in Belgrade -- an issue to be discussed at this week's EU summit.
To complicate the picture in the wake of Montenegro's independence, Serbs in Bosnia sounded an alarm in the West this month by insisting they too have a right to vote for secession.
A breakaway movement in either place, egged on by a hardline Serbia, could scupper hopes of a peaceful solution in Kosovo.
WEAKENING RESTRAINT, RISING RESENTMENT
No one expects all-out war to return to the Balkans, because people are in no mood for it, and war does not mix with hopes of a more prosperous future via EU and NATO membership.
But if hopes are scotched by a new isolationism, restraint could weaken as resentment of the West rises. Without official restraint the Balkans is known to breed violence.
Many Serbs firmly believe they are being bullied into betraying national interests and should tell the West where to go. The question is whether this sentiment will predominate.
NATO bombed for 78 days in 1999 to make Slobodan Milosevic pull his troops out of Kosovo. Seven years ago this week the army withdrew, bristling with brassy bandoliers and defiance.
Despite reconciliation, the defiance still smoulders, sustained by a lingering Serb sense of exceptionalism.
Serbia had to be threatened with sanctions before seeing the West was serious about surrendering suspects to The Hague to stand trial for the worst atrocities of the late 20th century.
It still refuses to admit the reality that Kosovo Albanians will never again entrust their fate to the state that killed 10,000 of them in two years, and drove out nearly a million.
Most Serbs have not seen Kosovo, yet insist it is their inalienable cultural and religious "Jerusalem". In the words of one analyst Serbia "wants the land but not the people on it".