What would the Germans say if the Turks in Berlin declared themselves independent – and how much would it help if someone told them then: come on, you’ll both be part of the European Union, where borders aren’t important anymore?

The question may sound odd with regards to Germany or most other EU member countries, but for Serbians it is quite an urgent and emotional one. And a matter of utmost actuality: The country struggles to become an integration candidate of the EU, the club that 18 years ago organised the bombing on its country. 15 years after the end of the Croatian and Bosnian wars, wounds still seem fresh, sensitive topics are tabooed or brainwashed, and mutual aggression is only covered by a slight layer of young peace. This is the portrait of young Serbians ready to change their country – a panopticon of hopes and visions from Belgrade, Serbia.

The local politician

Srdjan Pešić Peša – slightly unkempt shoulder-length hair, a hulking, goatee-bearded jack-of-all-trades in his mid-fourties – does not look like a politician. But he is local counselor in Pančevo, an industry town half an hour from Belgrade, and an ambitious one: "If I have Coca Cola and orange juice, I should ask you what you want. But as a matter of fact the government doesn’t ask the local governments what they want. The best is beer anyway."

Serbia is one of the most centralized countries in Europe, a legacy of the Milošević era. If Pešić wants to build a sport hall in Pančevo, it is still the capital Belgrade that owns the property, and therefore has to be asked for any modification in its usage. Decentralization costs money, money that especially Belgrade is very unwilling to go without. And the communities lack decades of experience, e.g. in tax collecting. Even the funds following an eventual EU membership might exacerbate the situation, until the will to decentralize has become more than the ideal of the minority made of the same stuff as Pešić.

The public servant in a new city council

20 kilometers further is the mayoralty of Novi Belgrade, the once communist, now business district of the capital - a booming new downtown planned on the drawing-board. The mayor's assistant says "I want to do something that I really can do, change, build parks, whatever. So that the people trust us, and then we can say to them, now as you trust us, just also trust us when we say the EU is a good thing, we'd have no borders, no custom etc."

'The EU, the guys that bombed us': The memories that are evoked by the EU for Serbians...

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