Despite cynical cries from much of the Western press about the Eastern march of the contest, Serbia in fact makes up part of a faithful Eurovision stalwart from the early years of the contest – from 1961 until 1992, the country had a presence at the Eurovision Song Contest as part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Serbia joins Switzerland as the only nation to win the Eurovision Song Contest on its debut attempt, the latter being a member of the club by default, since it won the very first contest in 1956. Serbia was present as Serbia and Montenegro in 2004 and 2005, represented by a Serbian artist in 2004, but only in 2007 did the country have the opportunity to participant as a new, independent nation.
However, Serbian music has been a feature of the contest since the very early years, as each part of the old alliance took its turn in representing Yugoslavia, such as Slovenia's 1975 contrubution Dan ljubezni and Croatia's foot-tapper of 1987, Ja sam za ples. As such, Serbia is not a new country, snatching victory away from older nations, but rather a continuation of a much older Eurovision participant in a new form, as are most of the Balkan states. Serbian songs of the past include Ne pali svetla u sumrak (1962), Halo, halo (1982), Moja generacija (1974) and Brazil (1991).
Yugoslavia won the contest in 1989 at the hands of Croatian band Riva; a year later, the contest was held in the Croatian regional capital Zagreb, soon to be the centre of an independent Croatia. As such, Marija's victory has an especially sweet taste for Serbians, who never really owned the only Yugoslavian victory at the Eurovision Song Contest.
With banners reading "Ave Marija!", proud Serbs gave the young singer a hero's welcome as she touched down after a victorious two weeks in the Finnish capital. In return, Marija told the gathered fans "I won for Serbia, I won for all of you!" to rapturous applause and cheering. From the balcony of the office of the Mayor of Belgrade, she sang her winning ballad Molitva while the crowd chanted Serbija! Serbija!
Recognition has come not only from the people, but also from the highest levels of office in Serbia, with messages of congratulations pouring in from digitaries such as the president Boris Tadic. Tadic said that Marija's victory had "bought a great joy to all of Serbia", a joy which impelled the Serbian parliament to take a break from debating after the votes came in on Saturday evening, in order to send their best wishes to the singer.