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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Eurovision victory lifts Serbian spirits
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Marija Serifovic celebrates her win
Marija Serifovic has made her compatriots proud
Success on the international stage - whether the performing or political variety - has not been the most common of events for Serbia during the past 15 years.

Treated as a pariah state, subjected to economic sanctions and generally shunned by all and sundry, Serbia has had its fair share of problems.

It's one of those rare times when I feel proud to be a Serb
And then came along the 2007 Eurovision song contest.

Little Marija Serifovic stormed the battlements of European musicdom and 30,000 flag-waving, balloon-carrying Serbs gathered outside Belgrade City Hall to welcome her home.

"It's one of those rare times when I feel proud to be a Serb," said one onlooker.

The papers loved it. "Thank you Marija," exclaimed most of them the morning after.

"She won because her song came from the soul. It was not just a show," said another commentator.


Fans hold up banners in support of Marija
Relations between the Balkan neighbours has been improving
Actually, one of the main reasons for Serbia's success was the rock solid support it received, in the form of maximum 12-pointer scores, from every other country of the former Yugoslavia.

Once deadly enemies, or at least suspicious neighbours, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro all delved into their voting sacks, and all came up with the crucial "douze points" for Serbia.

So is this the rapprochement, the reconciliation that international political leaders have been striving for in the former Yugoslavia for the past 20 years?

Have the singing halls of Helsinki, rather the corridors of power in Washington and Moscow, been the catalyst to bring peace and stability to the Balkans?

A shared history

Fans gather to celebrate outside Belgrade City Hall
Thousands of people turned out in Belgrade to show their support
In fact, as we all know, tactical voting is nothing new in the Eurovision song contest.

Indeed, if there was not the annual round of shaking of heads and tut-tutting over the latest "dodgy voting", then where would we be the morning after - apart from nursing that nasty hangover?

A quick delve into the history books of the Eurovision song contest shows that countries of the former Yugoslavia have as consistent record as any for sharing out the votes to their neighbours.

Croatia, for instance, has given Serbia 12 points in the last three competitions that Serbia (or Serbia and Montenegro as the country was then called) has competed in.

In the former Yugoslavia, there are several reasons why it happens. There is a shared language (or near enough), shared cultural interests, a shared history.

People have relatives or friends in neighbouring countries. And there is no doubt that, while relations in the region are not in tip-top condition, they are improving.

A new chapter

People are beginning to travel to places they would not have dreamed of going just a few years ago.

In Serbia's case, the Eurovision victory could not have come at a better time.

The country has been experiencing its own internal political crisis for the past few months and in the next few weeks there is the whole difficult and sensitive subject of Kosovo coming up, with the UN discussing a plan to give the Serbian province independence - something desired by its mainly Albanian population.

The outpouring of celebration and emotion outside Belgrade City Hall was tangible. For once, Serbia really did have something to be proud of.

"A new chapter has opened for Serbia, and not only in music," said winning singer Marija.

Wishful thinking or not, the thousands who sang her winning song "Prayer" outside Belgrade City Hall will be hoping she is right. Many Serbs will be praying that things will only get better from here on in.

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