Serbia took a step towards European integration on Monday as it prepared to apply for EU membership, but authorities are braced for a painful journey a decade after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic.

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Serbian President Boris Tadic will Tuesday officially submit the country’s application for membership of the 27-nation bloc in Sweden, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

“President Boris Tadic will go to Stockholm on Tuesday to submit the application for EU membership,” presidency spokeswoman Jasmina Stojanov told AFP.

But the largest republic of the former Yugoslavia faces a tough fight to join the club, with its entry date expected some time between 2014 and 2018.

While it must force through the raft of reforms required of any aspiring EU member, it must deal with its past marked by the iron-fisted rule of late president Milosevic, ousted in 2000 after a brutal decade in power.

The shadow of the strongman is hard to shake off – his rule whipped the country into a nationalistic fervour and he is seen as having a major role in the devastation that tore the Balkans apart in the 1990s.

Milosevic was indicted for war crimes by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia but died in a cell of the court on March 11, 2006 shortly before the end of his trial. He was 64.

The ghosts of this ghastly past are set to haunt the country’s attempts to find a place in the modern Europe with its arguments over fishing quotas and energy policy played out far away in Brussels.

From the issue of Kosovo’s status, to the authorities’ seeming inability to track down the Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, the hangover from the dark years is still clearly felt.

Belgrade still officially considers Kosovo its southern province, but the territory’s unilateral declaration of independence has been recognised by all but five EU member states.

Mladic is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, accused of genocide.

Authorities failure to track down the military chief – accused of playing a part in the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s – prompted the Netherlands to block a key trade accord which was a step on the path to EU membership. It only recently reversed this decision, allowing the Serbian application to move forward.

Despite recognising that membership will be neither “easy nor quick,” Serbia was upbeat Monday and said the prospect of joining the EU would provide fresh impetus to push through necessary changes.

“The process of accession gives a strong momentum to complete political and economic reforms in Serbia,” the government said in a memorandum to accompany the application.

“We say and confirm for the first time on record that we are ready to accept all values and fulfil all obligations that require the transformation of a society wishing to join the EU”, said Milica Delevic, the head of the Serbian Office for European Integration.