Serbia could soon end up with an anti-European government despite pro-Europeans winning the last election. But this week, all Serbs will be Europe's biggest fans as the continent's largest song contest comes to Belgrade.
The Eurovision is making a splash in Belgrade this week
Serbia's three anti-European political parties want to move their country away from the European Union and towards Russia. By agreeing on general principles to create a coalition last Thursday, May 15, they could even form the country's next government -- despite the fact that the pro-European party of Serbian President Boris Tadic actually won early parliamentary elections on May 11. But Tadic's party has failed to find a coalition partner so far.
Amid this tense and anti-European political situation, Serbia's getting ready to host a truly European event -- the Eurovision Song Contest.
The event's organizers don't want to let the situation spoil the mood and have been trying to ban political debate from the show.
"Participants represent their countries, not their governments," said Sandra Susa, who's responsible for organizing the contest. "We're calling on Serbian and foreign media to set politics aside. We're here to have fun, because Belgrade's the only place to have that much fun."
Serifovic (left) has supported ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic (right) in elections
The Eurovision Song Contest, which will have 43 participating countries this year, is coming to the Serbian capital for the first time. That's because Serbia's Marija Serifovic won the competition last year with her song "Molitva" (Prayer) in Helsinki, Finland.
Incidentally, Serifovic herself also raised some eyebrows earlier this year when she appeared at election rallies for Serbia's ultra-nationalist Radical Party -- despite being appointed a European ambassador for intercultural dialogue by the European Commission.
Be that as it may, the Serbs want to make a good impression and be good hosts to their visitors. Belgrade, with its two million residents and a very active nightlife, provides a suitable background for the event. But Susa's not just focusing on showing Belgrade to the tourists.
"The song contest gives Belgrade, Serbia and all of us a great opportunity to show our organizational talents and our hospitality," she said. "It could change Serbia's image in the world."
Everything's meant to be perfect at Belgrade's arena, one of Europe's largest concert and sports venues. The final on May 24 as well as the two semi-finals on May 20 and May 22 are being rehearsed down to the last detail. Tickets for the shows have been sold out, thanks to low prices: the most expensive ones cost 60 euros ($93).
Belgrade's ready for Europe -- at least this week
But even those fans who didn't manage to get tickets will be able to participate in the communal excitement as public viewing screens have been set up at Belgrade's large city hall square.
The city is preparing for a major onslaught: some 1,500 participants, more than 3,500 journalists and about 15,000 visitors from all over Europe are expected. Hotels are fully booked.
German group "No Angels" hopes to break the spell this year and bring home the trophy
"We'll party a lot," said Jelena Tomasevic, who will represent her country with "Oro," a favorite among Eurovision Internet forums.
Before that, she'll first hope to hear those magic words that every Eurovision contestant dreams about: "Twelve points go to…" It's the highest score each country can hand out and helps to decide the winner.