SERBS ARE waking up to the realization that if NATO decides next fall to admit Bulgaria and Romania, it will have Yugoslavia surrounded.
What to do? More and more people in Belgrade think the answer is to wise up and just go with the flow. Join Europe, in other words, and begin to enjoy the fruits of democracy and a modern economy. Fine, says the European Union. But first, show us you can get along with your neighbors.
And so what's left of Yugoslavia, the country that gave the world 10 years of Balkan warfare and that finally drew NATO itself into the fight, is wrenching its way toward a more pacific future.
In the past few weeks, the government has agreed to give investigators from The Hague war crimes tribunal access to its secret files. It arrested Ranko Cesic, wanted by the tribunal for killing Bosnian Croats and Muslims at the Luka concentration camp in 1992. The president, Vojislav Kostunica, somewhat grumpily agreed to meet with the leaders of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to discuss the question of refugees. A decision to draw up a new federal structure combining Serbia and Montenegro -- in a plan brokered by the European Union -- was approved.
And this: The Red Star basketball team of Belgrade gained admittance to the Adriatic League, a 1-year-old basketball circuit that will now feature teams from every one of the former -- and formerly warring -- Yugoslav republics. That's an astonishing development, given the hatred that was unleashed in the 1990s. Can sports help rebuild what politics wrecked?
Maybe, but don't expect miracles. Yugoslavia's cooperation with its one-time enemies in the Balkans and the West has been far from complete, and hard-liners are still very much in evidence. Serbs are nowhere near taking up the question of the recent horrible past and their role in it; that will just have to wait. The trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic, peeling back layers of Balkan history, leaves some infuriated by Western perfidy, others relieved to see him get his due. The majority, though, are principally worried about their own lives.
"As individuals and as a society, we are completely exhausted," says Momcilo Pantelic, a journalist with the newspaper Politika. In this case, that's not a bad starting point. France and Germany founded the precursor to the European Union a half-century ago because they, too, were exhausted, and couldn't bear to fight anymore. Yugoslavia looks like it might just be ready to profit from their example.