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Slovenia heads EU as Balkan neighbors begin to stir

Serbs vote Sunday in polls in which Kosovo independence is a central issue. Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia.

Europe's candidate: Pro-European Union Serbian President Boris Tadic, center, faces off against nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic in polls on Sunday.

Damir Sagoij/Reuters

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This tiny verdant patch of Europe has been a star pupil among new European Union states. Now, after three years of diligent study, Slovenia took over the EU presidency on Jan. 1, the first central European state entrusted with such a job.

And, unexpectedly, the Alpine nation of 2 million is on the hot seat. In an irony of history, Slovenia, the first republic to break with Yugoslavia, is in charge as Kosovo tries to be the last entity to gain independence. That move may be imminent.

Kosovo is Europe's No. 1 security issue – especially as Serbs vote Sunday in polls pitting the pro-Europe incumbent president, Boris Tadic, against a hard-line nationalist, Tomislav Nikolic, who has made keeping the ancient Serb heartland of Kosovo, a crossroads of cultures and power tangles, his main platform.

"Since this seems to be an election about the European future of Serbia, the election does matter," says Slovene Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel. "I really hope Serbia step ups and intensifies its drive toward the EU, whatever happens in the elections."


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