Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 18:38 UK

Belgrade's song contest hopes

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Belgrade

There are three things visitors to Serbia will notice about its residents.

Serbia's entry Jelena Tomasevic
Serbian entrant Jelena Tomasevic will perform folk song Oro

They're friendly, proud of their country, and they are crazy drivers.

As the final of the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest nears, Belgrade seems to be bursting at the seams.

Some hotels have increased prices while taxi costs seem to vary dramatically.

But how do the neighbours feel about hosting Europe's biggest singing competition?

Book stall owner Stanko Kovacic, 26, admits that, although he is not a fan, he is pleased Serbia has had the chance to host the event.

"It has bought a lot of foreigners here," he said.

"It will bring at least a little bit of economic growth. Eurovision is a nice attraction, it's good for the country."

Negative view

Serbia made international headlines with its recent divisive and controversial general election, which saw the Democratic Party - which backs closer ties with the European Union - win out against the nationalist Radical party.

A lot of people think the people here are savages, nationalists, but there are a lot of people in Belgrade who are not like that
Stanko Kovacic

Locals in Belgrade are keen to dispel the negative view of them held by some other countries.

"A lot of people think the people here are savages, nationalists, but there are a lot of people in Belgrade who are not like that," said Mr Kovacic.

"We are friendly people who like other people from other countries. We want standards of life," he added.

Mito Rakocevic is a stockbroker who spends a lot of time in the UK.

The 45-year-old thinks the final will be a wonderful moment for Serbia.

"It's a great way to present our country in a great light," he said.

"After all the bad publicity, it will make Belgrade look great."

He added the contest would "show off our beautiful country, well known for its sport and spas and the great people here".

Eurovision optimism

Slavika Milakovic, 28, said Serbia was "a very proud country" full of "very proud people".

"But we are very poor," he said.

"The Eurovision will make it better for us."

Milari Milosevio
It means a lot to us because this is the biggest music contest ever and it is promoting our country
Milari Milosevio

When asked what the rest of Europe thinks of Serbia, 17-year-old student Marija Medigovic said tourists often referred to Serbia as a "strange country" with a reputation of being unfriendly.

She said she hoped the Eurovision would change that perception.

Milari Milosevio, who works on the security team at the Eurovision venue, said: "It means a lot to us because this is the biggest music contest ever and it is promoting our country."

He said Serbia had a "very good" chance of winning the contest.

But not everyone is a fan of the competition.

Hotel worker Nenad Kristic, 39, can see the benefit for Serbia's economy but disapproves of the contest.

"I don't like Eurovision because a lot of countries sing in English and, if you have your language, you should sing in your language," he said.

I couldn't imagine the contest was two or three kilometres from my house. I think it's a nice contest and there are a lot of very good performers
Sasha Kabiljo
"No offence, but you should be proud of your own language."

Sasha Kabiljo, 26, tuned in for the second semi-final on Thursday

He admitted he could not believe the stage show was being held in his own country.

"I couldn't imagine the contest was two or three kilometres from my house. I think it's a nice contest and there are a lot of very good performers."

"It is an honour that all these people have come to my country."


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