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Serbian Village Loves Putin So Much It Changed Its Name to 'Putinovo'

For centuries, it was known as Adzince. But locals voted unanimously in November to rename it “Putinovo,” which means “Putin’s village” in Serbian.
Image: A house in Putinovo, Serbia
A house in Putinovo, Serbia.Vladimir Banic / NBC News
/ Source: Reuters

PUTINOVO, Serbia — The 40 residents of this remote mountain village love Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that they have renamed their tiny community after him.

Image: A house in Putinovo, Serbia
A house in Putinovo, Serbia.Vladimir Banic / NBC News

For centuries, it was known as Adzince. But locals voted unanimously in November to rename it “Putinovo,” which means “Putin’s village” in Serbian.

No map or navigation system will lead the way there. Only a small wooden board with “Putinovo” carved into it marks the way up the narrow, unpaved road through the hills to the hamlet.

Locals mostly use old Russian four-wheel-drive Ladas to conquer the dirt paths currently covered with snow to reach the village, which is approximately 200 miles south of Belgrade.

Residents say they only leave every second or third day to buy bread at a grocery store in the next town over. And beer. Everything else, they say, is available in Putinovo.

On cold winter days, the men gather in one of the wooden houses, drink mulled rakia — a strong Serbian spirit — and share a breakfast of dried meat while they talk about international politics.

Image: Momcilo Delibasic
Momcilo DelibasicVladimir Banic / NBC News

''The name Adzince is from the old days, when the Turks occupied Serbia, and it has that Turkish sound,” Momcilo Delibasic, a 55-year-old local, told NBC News. “We did not like it anymore.”

Another man, probably the village’s most famous resident, Goran Petronijevic, said: “Putin deserves a village named after him.”

Petronijevic is a Serbian lawyer who defended ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic at his war crimes trial in The Hague.

Often referred to as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” Karadzic was found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the U.N. court in 2016 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Image: Goran Petronijevic
Goran PetronijevicVladimir Banic / NBC News

Petronijevic praised the Putin’s resistance to global domination by the United States and the West as a whole, saying the Russian leader helped to stop “U.S. bullying of other countries.”

The comments of the locals reflected a sentiment common in Serbia.

While the Serbian government has its eyes on the West — it is now a candidate to join the European Union, and the bloc is its main trading partner — many Serbians lean east, towards Russia, due to historic ethnic and religious ties.

Both countries are Slavic and they share Orthodox Christian beliefs. And many admire Putin as a man who has stood up to the U.S.

Serbia is one of the few Balkan countries that is not part of NATO, the 28-member military alliance. NATO is unpopular in Serbia because of its 1999 bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo.

Image: Direction to Putin's village
You won't find "Putinovo" on Google Maps, just this small wooden sign pointing to the Serbian hamlet.Vladimir Banic / NBC News

That said, in 2006 Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program and in 2015 Belgrade signed the Individual Partnership Action Plan — the highest rung of cooperation between the alliance and a country not aspiring to join.

But Serbia has maintained ties with Moscow. And as recently as November, Russia held controversial military exercises in Serbia in what was seen as a show of force toward NATO.

“Serbia has taken the lead in the Balkans when it comes to the love affair with Russia,” Dragan Simic, dean of the faculty for political science at the University of Belgrade, told NBC News.

Analysts say the complex geopolitical structures in the Balkan region could have significant effects on regional stability, especially if the United States continues to reduce its involvement in the area under the Trump administration.

Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir PutinALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/KRE/REX / Shutterstock

The decline of U.S. influence in the Balkans has left a vacuum in the region, according to Simic.

“U.S. foreign interests have been shifting to the Far East Asia and the Middle East allowing Russia to become more influential," Simic said.

But could there still be room for an “America first"-oriented U.S. president in one of the countries that made up the former communist-bloc country of Yugoslavia?

Yes, at least in Putinovo, residents say.

After the third round of mulled rakia, the villagers of Putinovo made some concessions to the new U.S. administration and offered to give some of their land for free — to both Putin and Trump.

Locals agree that the two world leaders could be good neighbors, saying that they expect relations between the two men to be “friendly” and that “they will bring happiness to the world.”

Would Trump deserve to have a small part of the village named after him?

"Yes," Delibasic said. "If he proves that he is worth it, we will have 'Trumpovo' too."