ADZINCE, Serbia (AP) — Residents of a remote mountain hamlet in southern Serbia admire Vladimir Putin so much that they've decided to rename their village after the Russian president.
Welcome to what locals are now calling Putinovo (Putin's Village in Serbian).
The tiny settlement of about a dozen houses — called Adzince for centuries — is scattered among the dense greenery 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Belgrade. Villagers made their decision about two weeks ago at an inn over shots of local plum brandy.
"Putin is an excellent statesman," said Milutin Petrusic, a 67-year-old resident. "Putin is doing a lot for our people ... we believe he deserves this."
The name Adzince is of Turkish origin and is no longer suitable, Petrusic declared.
The move reflects a widespread mood in Serbia, where many view Putin as a hero and Russia as an ally and a friend. The two Slavic nations have traditionally close ties and share common Orthodox Christian religion.
Although Serbia's government wants to join the European Union, many Serbs actually admire Putin for what they view as his resistance to U.S. and Western global domination. Many also feel the West backed Serbia's enemies during the 1990s Balkan wars, when the country was bombed by NATO to stop the fighting in Kosovo.
In Adzince — close to the Serbian border with Kosovo — locals are thankful that Russia has sided with Serbia in its rejection of the former Serbian province's 2008 declaration of independence.
"Putin always defends Serbs and Serbia," said Malisa Petrusic, a 63-year-old relative. "We wanted to thank him."
And so they did. A wooden sign pointing the way to the village up a dirt road already reads "Putinovo," even though the name change still has not been formally approved by municipal authorities.
Locally-produced fruit brandy has also been dubbed "Putinovka." Villager Goran Radosavljevic wore a T-shirt with the Russian president's image as he proudly showed wooden barrels filled with "Putinovka."
The Petrusic cousins say almost the entire village has supported the name change, which they hope will attract visitors and revive the area's muddy isolation. Half-empty during the winter, Adzince resembles other remote rural areas in the Balkan country, worn out and impoverished during the decades of crisis that followed the Balkan wars.
Once a self-sustaining hamlet, Adzince was rich in cattle and agriculture. Now it is home mostly to elderly people who survive on meager pensions with a few goats and pigs, their houses crumbling for lack of care.
Villagers still have to submit a formal request to rename Adzince to the local council, but they say that takes money they don't have.
"This is Putinovo and will remain Putinovo," Malisa Petrusic said. "So be it."