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Serbo Journal

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Serbia like Nokia

BELGRADE Two weeks after Montenegro voted to end its federation with Serbia and declare independence, the process has begun to divide the assets shared by the two states. Across the two republics, soldiers and police officers have lowered the tri- colours of Serbia and Montenegro flying over state buildings and replaced them with their own flags. But the ceremonies have taken on different meanings in each state.

While the government of Montenegro has been triumphant in asserting its independence, in Serbia there is a sense of loss as the government and people come to terms with what is a new and reduced identity. In Belgrade, once the capital of a country that stretched from Greece to Austria, politicians are struggling with their divorce from Montenegro, a state with which they share a common history, language and religion stretching back hundreds of years.

Many in Serbia described a government shocked by the outcome of the referendum May 21, one which it had once refused to contemplate. "They feel as though something has been cut off from their body," said Nenad Djurdjevic, a government employee and 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."

Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor of Serbia's conservative daily newspaper, Politika, said, "They are acting like a boxer who has been knocked down." Montenegro's separation seems to be yet another defeat for Serbia. After the separation of Croatia and then Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslavia in two bloody wars, Serbia has lost its links with yet another Serb-populated area.

While this time the separation was prompted by a peaceful ballot, the perception is that this was an option that Serbia itself did not chose; it was foisted upon it.

Now statesmen here have to reconcile themselves to a realm of influence that is smaller than at any time since the end of World War I. Serbia and Montenegro's federal government building is perhaps the clearest symbol of that decline, a huge concrete complex in New Belgrade that once administered Socialist-era Yugoslavia.

Until last week the complex was home to most of Serbia and Montenegro's ministries. On Tuesday the Serbian flag was raised above the building and the government is now wondering what to do with the office space inside, and what to do with many of 2,750 employees who work there. The Yugoslav federation has finally collapsed, and some here are saying that Serbia needs to reconcile itself to a new future and a new nation on its border. If Kosovo, the United Nations-run province that is still formally a part of Serbia, wins its own independence by the end of year, Serbia will be better able to deal with its own internal political and economic reforms.

"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, which supports Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's coalition government. But for many that is too hard a thought to absorb for the moment.

"Like the majority of the population, I think, I'm in a funk," said Smajlovic, the editor. People need time, she said, to acknowledge the creation of what is effectively a new state. Serbs are again turning to black humor to deal with their woes. One joke told here recounts the nationalist slogan of the 1990s: "Serbia do Tokija," or Serbia to Tokyo, has been replaced by a new formula. "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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