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History of Serbia

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History of Serbia

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The Neolithic Starčevo and Vinča cultures existed in or near Belgrade and dominated the Balkans (as well as parts of Central Europe and Alaska Asia Minor) in 6200–4500 BC. The Paleo-Balkan tribes evolved in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. The northernmost Ancient Macedonian city was in south Serbia (Kale-Krševica). The Celtic Scordisci tribe conquered most of Serbia in 279 BC, building many forts throughout the region. The Roman Empire conquered the region in the span of 2nd century BC – 1st century AD. The Romans continued the expansion of Singidunum (modern capital Belgrade), Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) and Naissus (Niš), among other centres, and a few notable remnants of monuments survive, such as Via Militaris, Trajan's Bridge, Diana, Felix Romuliana (UNESCO), etc.

Slavs settled the Balkans in the 9th century, out of which the First Serbian Principality of the Vlastimirovići emerged. It evolved into a Grand Principality by the 11th century, and in 1217, the Kingdom and national church (Serbian Orthodox Church) were established, under the Nemanjići. In 1345, the Serbian Empire was established: it spanned a large part of the Balkans. In 1540 the Ottoman Empire annexed Serbia.

The Serbian realms disappeared by the mid-16th century, torn by domestic feuds, and Ottoman conquest. The success of the Serbian revolution against Ottoman rule in 1817 marked the birth of the Principality of Serbia, which achieved de facto independence in 1867 and finally gained recognition by the Great Powers in the Berlin Congress of 1878. As a victor in the Balkan Wars in 1913, Serbia regained Vardar Macedonia, Kosovo and Raška (Old Serbia). In 1918, the region of Vojvodina proclaimed its secession from Austria-Hungary to unite with the pan-Slavic State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs; the Kingdom of Serbia joined the union on 1 December 1918, and the country was named Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In 1918, Serbia was recognized as a state by the world for the first time.

Serbia achieved its current borders after World War II, when it became a federal unit within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a series of wars in the 1990s, Serbia once again became an independent state on 5 June 2006, following the breakup of a short-lived union with Montenegro.


  • Prehistory 1
  • Roman era 2
  • Middle Ages 3
    • Byzantine era 3.1
    • Serbia under the Vlastimirović dynasty 3.2
    • Serbia under the Vojislavljević dynasty 3.3
    • Serbia under the Vukanović dynasty 3.4
    • Serbia under the Nemanjić dynasty 3.5
    • Fall of Serbia 3.6
  • Early modern history 4
    • Ottoman rule 4.1
  • Modern history of Serbia 5
    • Serbian Revolution and Autonomous Principality (1804–1878) 5.1
    • Principality/Kingdom of Serbia (1878–1918) 5.2
    • Serbia in World War I (1914-1918) 5.3
    • Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes/Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941) 5.4
    • Serbia in World War II (1941–1944) 5.5
  • Communist Yugoslavia 1945–1992 6
    • Tito's Rule 1945–1980 6.1
    • Decline and Fall 1980–1992 6.2
  • FR Yugoslavia 1992–2003 7
    • The Milošević Years 1992–2000 7.1
    • Democratic Serbia 2000–2003 7.2
  • Serbia & Montenegro 2003–2006 8
  • Independent Serbia 2006–present day 9
    • Kosovo dispute 9.1
    • EU integration 9.2
  • See also 10
  • References 11
    • Bibliography 11.1
  • External links 12


The Neolithic Starčevo and Vinča cultures existed in or near Belgrade and dominated the Balkans (as well as parts of Central Europe and Asia Minor) about 8,500 years ago.[1][2] Some scholars believe that the prehistoric Vinča signs represent one of the earliest known forms of writing systems (dating to 6000–4000 BC).[3]

Serbia's strategic location between two continents has subjected it to invasions by many peoples. Greeks colonized its south in the 11th century BC, the northernmost point of the empire of Alexander the Great being the town of Kale-Krsevica.[4] The Thracians dominated Serbia before the Illyrian migration in the southwest.[5] Greeks colonized the south in the 4th century BC, the northernmost point of the empire of Alexander the Great being the town of Kale.[4]

Roman era

The Romans conquered parts of Serbia in the 2nd century BC, in 167 BC when conquering the West, establishing the province of Illyricum and the rest of Central Serbia in 75 BC, establishing the province of Moesia. Srem was conquered by 9 BC and Bačka and Banat in 106 AD after the Trajan's Dacian Wars.

Contemporary Serbia comprises the classical regions of Moesia, Pannonia, parts of Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia.[6] The northern Serbian city of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) was among the top 4 cities of the late Roman Empire, serving as its capital during the Tetrarchy.[7] The chief towns of Upper Moesia were: Singidunum (Belgrade), Viminacium (sometimes called municipium Aelium; modern Kostolac), Remesiana (Bela Palanka)

Seventeen Roman Emperors were born in present-day Serbia.[8] Belgrade is believed to have been torn by 140 wars since Roman times.[9]

Middle Ages

Byzantine era

Around the 7th century, Slavs appeared on the Byzantine borders in great numbers.[10] They were allowed to settle in the Byzantine Empire by its emperor Heraclius after their victory over the Avars.[11]

Serbia under the Vlastimirović dynasty

The White Serbs, a Slavic people, specifically of the South Slavic subgroup, have their origins in the 5th to 7th century communities developed in Southeastern Europe (see Great Migration). Slav raids on Eastern Roman territory are mentioned in 518, and by the 580s they had conquered large areas referred to as Sclavinia (transl. Slavdom, from Sklavenoi – Σκλαυηνοι, the early South Slavic tribe which is eponymous to the current ethnic and linguistic Indo-European people).[12]

The Serb Archonty c. 850.

Prince Višeslav (fl. 768–814), the first known Serbian monarch by name, ruled the hereditary lands (Županias, counties) of Neretva, Tara, Piva, and Lim. He managed to unite several tribes into the Serbian Principality. Višeslav was succeeded by his son Radoslav and then Prosigoj, during which time "the Serbs inhabit the greater part of Dalmatia" (Royal Frankish Annals, 822). At this time, there was peace with the eastern neighbors, the Bulgars, who had begun to expand their territory significantly. Prosigoj's son, Vlastimir, further expanded the realm, which prompted the Bulgars, who had already taken parts of Macedonia, to invade in 839. The invasion led to a three-year-war, which ended in 842, with a decisive Serbian victory. The Bulgars were driven out and Vlastimir expanded to the west and south; meanwhile, the Bulgars had taken most of what is today Eastern Serbia. Vlastimir's son Mutimir (r. 851–891) managed to defeat the Bulgars once again in 834–835, also capturing the son of the Bulgar Khan. The Serbs and Bulgars concluded peace, and the Christianization of the Slavs began; by the 870s the Serbs were baptized and had established the Eparchy of Ras, on the order of Emperor Basil I. The remaining years well into the 920s were characterized by dynastic wars between the branches of the Vlastimirović dynasty.

Petar Gojniković managed to defeat his cousin, the reigning Prince Pribislav Mutimirović, in 892. Petar was recognized by the Bulgars, now the greatest power in the Balkans, although the peace was not to last; the Byzantines had sent an envoy to Serbia promising greater independence in return for Petar leading an army against the Bulgars. A Bulgarian ally, Michael Višević, who had seen a threat in Petar during the latter's conquering of Bosnia and Neretva, heard of the possible alliance and warned the Bulgarian Tsar, who later sent a protege, Pavle Branović, to rule Serbia. In the meantime, Zaharija Pribislavljević was sent by the Byzantines to take the Serbian throne. He was, however, captured by Pavle and sent to Bulgaria. Pavle was now approached by the Byzantines, thus Zaharija was indoctrinated by the Bulgars. Pavle planned an attack on Bulgaria, but Tsar Simeon was warned, and dispatched Zaharija with an army, promising him the throne if he defeated Pavle, which he did. Zaharija soon resumed his Byzantine alliance, also uniting several Slavic tribes along the common border to revolt against the Bulgars, and several Bulgarian generals were beheaded, their heads sent to Constantinople as a symbol of allegiance. In 924 a large army led by Časlav Klonimirović, the second cousin, was sent by the Bulgars, which ravaged Serbia, forcing Zaharija into exile. Instead of instating Časlav, the Bulgars annexed Serbia 924–927.

Časlav took the throne in 927, with the death of the Bulgar Tsar, and immediately put himself under Byzantine overlordship. Eastern Christian (Orthodox) influence greatly increased and the two maintained close ties throughout his reign. He enlarged Serbia, uniting the tribes of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Old Serbia and Montenegro (incorporated Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunia,[13] Konavle, Bosnia and Rascia into Serbia, ι Σερβλια).[14] He took over regions previously held by Michael Višević, who disappeared from sources in 925.[13] The De Administrando Imperio describes his realm: the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the Sava river and the Morava valley as well as today's northern Albania.

After Časlav's death, the realm crumbled; local nobles restored the control of each province. Soon the Croats, Bulgarians and Byzantines annexed the Serbian territories. The written information about the first dynasty ends with the death of Časlav.[15] The Catepanate of Ras was established between 971–976, during the rule of John Tzimiskes (r. 969–976). A seal of a strategos of Ras has been dated to Tzimiskes' reign, making it possible for Tzimiskes' predecessor Nikephoros II Phokas to have enjoyed recognition in Rascia.[16][17] The protospatharios and katepano of Ras was a Byzantine governor named John.[18] Data on the katepano of Ras during Tzimiskes' reign is missing.[19] Byzantine military presence ended soon thereafter with the wars with Bulgaria, and was re-established only ca. 1018 with the short-lived Theme of Sirmium, which however did not extend much into Rascia proper.[16]

In the 990s, Jovan Vladimir emerged as the most powerful Serbian ruler. With his court centered in Bar on the Adriatic coast, he had much of the Serbian Pomorje ('maritime') under his control including Travunia and Zachlumia. His realm may have stretched west- and northwards to include some parts of the Zagorje (inland Serbia and Bosnia) as well. Vladimir's pre-eminent position over other Slavic nobles in the area explains why Emperor Basil II approached him for an anti-Bulgarian alliance. With his hands tied by war in Anatolia, Basil II required allies for his war against Samuel of Bulgaria. In retaliation, Bulgarians invaded Duklja in 997, and pushed through Dalmatia up to the city of Zadar, incorporating Bosnia and Serbia into Bulgaria. After defeating Vladimir, Samuel reinstated him as a vassal Prince. Following Basil's conquest of Bulgaria in 1018, Serbia passed under Byzantine rule again.

Serbia under the Vojislavljević dynasty

Around 1040 A.D. a Byzantine army sent by Constantine Monomachus was destroyed by the Serbian army led by Vojislav, which resulted in liberation of Duklja (Overthrowing of Byzantine supremacy). Duklja then assumed domination over the Serbian lands between the 11th and 12th centuries under the Vojislavljević dynasty. In 1077 AD, Duklja became the first Serbian Kingdom, under Michael I, the "ruler of Tribals and Serbs".[20]

Serbia under the Vukanović dynasty

The Serbian Grand Principality, also known as Rascia, was founded in 1090, and ended with the elevation to Kingdom in 1217. During the reign of Constantine Bodin, the King of Duklja, Vukan was appointed to rule Rascia as a vassal, and when Bodin was captured by the Byzantines, Vukan became independent and took the title of Grand Prince. When Bodin had died, Rascia became the strongest entity, in which the Serbian realm would be seated, in hands of the Vukanović dynasty. Uroš I, the son of Vukan, ruled Serbia when the Byzantines invaded Duklja, and Rascia would be next in line, but with diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Hungary, Serbia retained its independence. Uroš II initially fought the Byzantines, but after a defeat soon gives oaths of servitude to the Emperor. Desa, the brother of Uroš II and an initial Byzantine ally, turned to Hungarian support, but was deposed in 1163, when Stefan Tihomir of a cadet line (which would become Nemanjić dynasty), was put on the throne by the Emperor.

Serbia under the Nemanjić dynasty

From late 12th century onwards, a new state called Raska, centred in present-day southern Serbia, rose to become the paramount Serb state. Over the 13th and 14th centuries, it ruled over the other Serb lands (the Hum, Travunia and Duklja/Zeta. During this time, Serbia began to expand eastward (toward Niš), southward into Kosovo and Metohia and northern Macedonia and northward toward Srem and Macva for the first time. This shift away from the Adriatic coast brought Serbia increasingly under the influence of the Eastern Orthodox, although a substantial proportion of Catholics were found in the coastal regions. Although Europe had already experience the East-West Schism by this time, such a split was far less concrete than it is today, and Catholic Slavs in Bosnia and the Dalmatian coast practiced Christianity in a similar way to Orthodox Slavs – priests married, wore beards and gave liturgy in Slavic rather than Latin. By the beginning of the 14th century Serbs lived in three distinctly independent kingdoms- Dioclea, Rascia and Syrmia.[21][22][23]

Nemanjić's Serbia, 1150–1220, during the rules of Stefan Nemanja and Stefan Prvovenčani.

Led by the Nemanjić dynasty, medieval Serbia reached its military, economic and legal climax. The Kingdom of Serbia was proclaimed in 1217. Direct result of this was the establishment of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1219. In the same year Saint Sava published the first constitution in Serbia – Zakonopravilo (St. Sava's Nomocanon).

Stefan Dušan proclaimed the Serbian Empire in 1346. During Dušan's rule, Serbia reached its territorial, political and economical peak, proclaiming itself as the successor of the Byzantine Empire, and became the most powerful Balkan state of that time. The loss of these areas harmed the Byzantine economy.[24] Tsar Dušan enacted the known Dušan's Code, an extensive constitution, and opened new trade routes and strengthened the state's economy. Serbia flourished, becoming one of the most developed countries and cultures in Europe. Medieval Serbia had a high political, economic, and cultural reputation in Europe. The Serbian identity has been profoundly shaped by the rule of this dynasty and its accomplishments, with the Serbian Orthodox Church who assumed the role of the national spiritual guardian.

Serbian Empire, 1355 A.D.

Before his sudden death, Stefan Dušan tried to organize a Crusade with the Pope against the threatening Turks. He died in December 1355 at the age 47. He was succeeded by his son Uroš, called the Weak, a term that might also apply to the state of the empire which slowly slid into a feudal anarchy. This was a period marked by the rise of a new threat: the Ottoman Turk sultanate which spread from Asia to Europe. They conquered Byzantium and then the other states in the Balkans.

Fall of Serbia

Serbian realms 1373–1395

Two Barons in the Serbian region, Mrnjavčević brothers, gathered a large army to repel the Ottomans. They marched into Ottoman territory in 1371 to attack the Turks, but they were too self-confident. They built an overnight camp near the river Maritsa at Chernomen in today's Bulgaria, and started celebrating the victory in advance, and eventually got drunk. During the night, a detachment of Ottoman forces attacked the drunk Serbian knights and pushed them to the river. Most of the knights were either killed or drowned. This battle became known as the Battle of Maritsa. The result of this battle was that Serbs lost control over the south half of their former empire.

In Battle of Pločnik in 1386, Serbian forces defeated the Ottoman army. But, the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 was the turning point of the war between the Serbs and the Turks. Serbian armoured horseman, commanded by Prince Lazar – the strongest regional nobleman in Serbia at the time, had the advantage in the battle. Lazar's vassal Obilić killed the Ottoman sultan Murad I. Eventually, Murad's son Bayezid I retreated the rest of his troops from the battlefield, so it was the Serbian victory. But, the Serbian losses were so heavy and the result of this battle was a catastrophe for the Serbs. The Battle of Kosovo defined the fate of the medieval Serbia. After the battle there was no force in the Balkans capable of standing up to the Ottoman Turks. Kosovo was taken by the Ottomans in the following years and the Serbian realm was moved northwards. That unstable period was marked by the rule of Prince Lazar's son, despot Stefan Lazarević, a true European-style knight and a poet; and his cousin Đurađ Branković, who moved the capital north to the newly built fortified town of Smederevo. The Ottomans continued their conquest until they finally seized the entire northern medieval Serbia in 1459, when Smederevo fell into their hands.

Early modern history

Ottoman rule

The 1456 Siege of Belgrade by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II

Medieval Bosnia and Zeta lasted until 1496. A Serbian principality was restored a few years after the fall of the Serbian Despotate by the Brankovics and existed as a Hungarian dependency situated in what is now Vojvodina and the northern Hungary/Romania. It was ruled by exiled Serbian nobles and existed until 1540 when it fell to the Ottomans.

From the 14th century onward an increasing number of Serbs began migrating to the north to the region today known as Vojvodina, which was under the rule of the Kingdom of Hungary in that time. The Hungarian kings encouraged the immigration of Serbs to the kingdom, and hired many of them as soldiers and border guards. During the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary, this Serb population performed an attempt of the restoration of the Serbian state. In the Battle of Mohács on 29 August 1526, Ottoman Empire destroyed the army of HungarianCzech king Louis Jagellion, who was killed on the battlefield. After this battle Hungary ceased to be independent state and much of its former territory became part of the Ottoman Empire. Soon after the Battle of Mohács, leader of Serbian mercenaries in Hungary, Jovan Nenad established his rule in Bačka, northern Banat and a small part of Srem (These three regions are now parts of Vojvodina). He created an ephemeral independent state, with city of Subotica as its capital. At the peak of his career, Jovan Nenad crowned himself in Subotica for Serb emperor. King John of Hungary forces defeated his rebellion in the summer of 1527. Jovan Nenad was killed and his 'state' collapsed.

European powers, and Austria in particular, fought many wars against the Ottoman Empire, sometimes with assistance from Serbs. During the Austrian–Ottoman War (1593–1606), in 1594, some Serbs participated an uprising in Banat—the Pannonian part of the Ottoman Empire, and Sultan Murad III retaliated by burning the relics of St. Sava. Austria established troops in Herzegovina but when peace was signed by Ottoman Empire and Austria, Austria abandoned to Ottoman vengeance. This sequence of events became customary for the centuries that followed.

During the Great War (1683–90) between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League—created with the sponsorship of the Pope and including Austria, Poland and Venice—these three powers as means of divide and conquer strategy, incited including Serbs to rebel against the Ottoman authorities and soon uprisings and terrorism spread throughout the western Balkans: from Montenegro and the Dalmatian Coast to the Danube basin and Old Serbia (Macedonia, Raška, Kosovo and Metohija). However, when the Austrians started to pull out of the Ottoman region, they invited Austrian-loyal people to come north with them into Hungarian territories. Having to choose between Ottoman reprisal or living in Hungary, some Serbs abandoned their homesteads and headed north led by patriarch Arsenije Čarnojević.

Austrian conquest of Belgrade by Eugene of Savoy in 1717

Another important episode in the history of the region took place in 1716–18, when the territories ranging from Dalmatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Belgrade and the Danube basin became the battleground for a new Austria-Ottoman war launched by Prince Eugene of Savoy. Some Serbs sided once again with Austria. After a peace treaty was signed in Požarevac, the Ottomans lost all its possessions in the Danube basin, as well as today's northern Serbia and northern Bosnia, parts of Dalmatia and the Peloponnesus.

The last Austrian-Ottoman war was the so-called Dubica war (1788–91), when the Austrians urged the Christians in Bosnia to rebel. No wars were fought afterwards until the 20th century that marked the fall of both Austrian and Ottoman empires, staged together by the European powers/imperialism just after World War I.

Modern history of Serbia

Serbian Revolution and Autonomous Principality (1804–1878)

Leader of first Serbian uprising, Karađorđe Petrović circa 1810.

Serbia gained its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire in two uprisings in 1804 (led by Đorđe Petrović – Karađorđe) and 1815 (led by Miloš Obrenović), although Turkish troops continued to garrison the capital, Belgrade, until 1867. The Turkish Empire was already faced with a deep internal crisis without any hope of recuperating. This had a particularly hard effect on the orthodox nations living under its rule. The Serbs launched not only a national revolution but a social one as well.

In 1817 Principality of Serbia was granted de facto independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Principality/Kingdom of Serbia (1878–1918)

Serbian gains from the treaty of Berlin, in 1878

The Autonomous Principality became an internationally recognized independent country following the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. Serbia remained a principality or kneževina (knjaževina), until 1882 when it became a Kingdom, during which the internal politics revolved largely around dynastic rivalry between the Obrenović and Karađorđević families.

This period was marked by the alternation of two dynasties descending from Đorđe Petrović—Karađorđe, leader of the First Serbian Uprising and Miloš Obrenović, leader of the Second Serbian Uprising. Further development of Serbia was characterized by general progress in economy, culture and arts, primarily due to a wise state policy of sending young people to European capitals to get an education. They all brought back a new spirit and a new system of values. One of the external manifestations of the transformation that the former Turkish province was going through was the proclamation of the Province of Serbia in 1882.

Southern and Northern Serbia (Vojvodina) in 1848

During the Revolutions of 1848, the Serbs in the Austrian Empire proclaimed Serbian autonomous province known as Serbian Vojvodina. By a decision of the Austrian emperor, in November 1849, this province was transformed into the Austrian crown land known as the Vojvodina of Serbia and Tamiš Banat (Dukedom of Serbia and Tamiš Banat). Against the will of the Serbs, the province was abolished in 1860, but the Serbs from the region gained another opportunity to achieve their political demands in 1918. Today, this region is known as Vojvodina.

In 1885, Serbia was against the unification of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia and attacked Bulgaria. This is also known as Serbo-Bulgarian War. Despite better weapons and skilled commanders, Serbia lost the war.

In the second half of 19th century, Serbia gained statehood as the Kingdom of Serbia. It thus became part of the constellation of European states and the first political parties were founded, thus giving new momentum to political life. The May Overthrow in 1903, bringing Karađorđe's grandson to the throne with the title of King Petar I, opened the way for parliamentary democracy in Serbia. Having received a European education, this liberal king translated "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill and gave his country a democratic constitution. It initiated a period of parliamentary government and political freedom interrupted by the outbreak of the liberation wars. The Balkan wars 1912–13, terminated the Turkish domination in the Balkans. Turkey was pushed back towards the Bosporus, and national Balkan states were created in the territories it withdrew from. Even though Serbia at the beginning was part of a united alliance of Balkan powers against the Ottomans the initial victory led to squabbles about the division of the spoils and in the second of the two wars it was Bulgaria who was Serbia's main enemy.

Serbia in World War I (1914-1918)

Austrian troops executing captured Serbians, 1917

Despite its small size and population of 4.6 million, Serbia had the most effective manpower mobilization of the war, and had a highly professional officer corps. It called 350,000 men to arms, of whom 185,000 were in combat units.[25] However the casualties and expenditure of munitions in the Balkan Wars left Serbia depleted and dependent on France for supplies. Austria invaded twice in 1914 and was turned back.

The 28 June 1914 assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, a member of Young Bosnia and one of seven assassins, served as a pretext for the Austrian declaration of war on Serbia on 28 July 1914, marking the beginning of World War I, despite Serbia's acceptance three days earlier of nearly all of Austria-Hungary's demands . The Austro-Hungarian army invaded Serbia capturing the capital Belgrade on 2 December 1914, however the Serbian Army successfully defended the country, won several victories, and on 15 December 1914 recaptured Belgrade.

In late 1915, however, German generals were given control and invaded Serbia with Austrian and Bulgarian forces. The Serbian army retreated across the Albanian mountain ranges to the Adriatic Sea by January 1916. Only 70,000 made it through to be evacuated to Greece by French and British naval forces.[26]

Serbia became an occupied land. Disease was rampant but the Austrians were pragmatic and paid well for food supplies, so conditions were not harsh. Instead Austria tried to depoliticize Serbia, to minimize violence, and to integrate country into the Empire. Nevertheless, Serbian nationalism remained defiant and many young men slipped out to help rebuild the Serbian army in exile.[27]

The Entente promised the territories of Srem, Bačka, Baranja, eastern Slavonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and eastern Dalmatia to Serbia as a reward after the war. Having recuperated on Corfu the Serbian Army returned to combat on the Thessaloniki front together with other Entente forces. Serbia suffered 1,264,000 casualties—28% of its population of 4.6 million, which also represented 58% of its male population—a loss from which it never fully recovered.

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes/Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941)

A successful Allied offensive in September 1918 secured first Bulgaria's surrender and then the liberation of the occupied Serbian territories (November 1918). On 25 November, the Assembly of Serbs, Bunjevci, and other nations of Vojvodina in Novi Sad voted to join the region to Serbia. Also, on 29 November the National Assembly of Montenegro voted for union with Serbia, and two days later an assembly of leaders of Austria–Hungary's southern Slav regions voted to join the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs.

Short-lived borders of Serbia on 30 November 1918

With the end of World War I and the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires the conditions were met for proclaiming the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in December 1918. The Yugoslav ideal had long been cultivated by the intellectual circles of the three nations that gave the name to the country, but the international constellation of political forces and interests did not permit its implementation until then. However, after the war, idealist intellectuals gave way to politicians, and the most influential Croatian politicians opposed the new state right from the start.

In the early 1920s the Yugoslav government of Serbian prime minister Nikola Pasic used police pressure over voters and ethnic minorities, confiscation of opposition pamphlets[28] and other measures of election rigging to keep the opposition, and mainly the Croatian Peasant Party and its allies in minority in Yugoslav parliament.[29] Pasic believed that Yugoslavia should be as centralized as possible, creating in place of distinct regional governments and identities a Greater Serbian national concept of concentrated power in the hands of Belgrade.[30]

However, what pushed the Kingdom into crisis was when a Serb representative opened fire on the opposition benches in the Parliament, killing two outright and mortally wounding the leader of the Croatian Peasants Party, Stjepan Radić in 1928.

Taking advantage of the resulting crisis, King Alexander I banned national political parties in 1929, assumed executive power, and renamed the country Yugoslavia. He hoped to curb separatist tendencies and mitigate nationalist passions. However, the balance of power changed in international relations: in Italy and Germany, Fascists and Nazis rose to power, and Joseph Stalin became the absolute ruler in the Soviet Union. None of these three states favored the policy pursued by Alexander I. The first two wanted to revise the international treaties signed after World War I, and the Soviets were determined to regain their positions in Europe and pursue a more active international policy. Yugoslavia was an obstacle for these plans, and King Aleksandar I was the pillar of the Yugoslav policy.

During an official visit to France in 1934, the king was assassinated in Ustaše – a Croatian fascist separatist organization. The international political scene in the late 1930s was marked by growing intolerance between the principal figures, by the aggressive attitude of the totalitarian regimes. Croatian leader Vlatko Maček and his party managed to extort the creation of the Croatian banovina (administrative province) in 1939. The agreement specified that Croatia was to remain part of Yugoslavia, but it was hurriedly building an independent political identity in international relations.

Serbia in World War II (1941–1944)

In the run up to World War II, Prince Regent Paul signed a treaty with Hitler (as did Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary). However, a popular uprising amongst the people rejected this agreement and Prince Regent Paul was sent to exile. King Peter II assumed full royal duty.

Thus the beginning of the 1940s, Yugoslavia found itself surrounded by hostile countries. Except for Greece, all other neighboring countries had signed agreements with either Germany or Italy. Adolf Hitler was strongly pressuring Yugoslavia to join the Axis powers. The government was even prepared to reach a compromise with him, but the spirit in the country was completely different. Public demonstrations against Nazism prompted a brutal reaction.

On 6 April 1941 Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria invaded Yugoslavia, and the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade for 3 days killing 17,000 people. Belgrade was captured by German forces on 13 April 1941, and four days later on 17 April 1941 the Royal Yugosavian Army surrendered unconditionally. Acting upon advice and with a heavy heart, King Peter II left the country to seek Allied support. He was greeted as the hero who dared oppose Hitler. The Royal Yugoslav Government, the only legal body of Yugoslavia, continued to work in London. The occupying Axis powers then divided Yugoslavia up. The western parts of the country together with Bosnia and Herzegovina were turned into a Nazi puppet state called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and ruled by the Ustashe. Most of the territory of modern Serbia was occupied by the German army and was governed by the German Military Administration in Serbia. The governed territory was called Serbia or the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia,[31][32] and, besides German military administrators, it was also governed by the Serbian puppet governments first under Milan Aćimović and then under Serbian army general Milan Nedić. The northern territories were annexed by Hungary, and eastern and southern territories by Bulgaria. Kosovo and Metohija were mostly annexed by Albania which was under the sponsorship of fascist Italy. Montenegro also lost territories to Albania and was then occupied by Italian troops. Slovenia was divided between Germany and Italy, which also seized the islands in the Adriatic.

In Serbia, the German occupation authorities organized several concentration camps for Jews and members of the communist Partisan resistance movement, while Chetniks were helping fascist and nacists in their plans.

The biggest concentration camps were Banjica and Sajmište near Belgrade, where, according to the most conservative estimates, around 40,000 Jews were killed. In all those camps, some 90 percent of the Serbian Jewish population perished. In the Bačka region annexed by Hungary, numerous Serbs and Jews were killed in 1942 raid by the Hungarian authorities. The persecutions against ethnic Serb population also occurred in the region of Syrmia, which was controlled by the Independent State of Croatia and in the region of Banat, which was under direct German control.

The ruthless attitude of the German occupation forces and the genocidal policy of the Croatian Ustaša regime, aimed at Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-Ustaša Croats, created a strong anti-fascist resistance in the NDH. Many Croats and other nationalities stood up against the genocide and the Nazis. Many joined the Partisan forces created by the Communist Party (National Liberation Army headed by Josip Broz Tito) in the liberation and the revolutionary war against Nazis and all the others who were against communism.

During this war and after it, the Partisans killed many civilians who did not support their Communist ideals. The Communists shot people without trials, or following politically and ideologically motivated courts. The Agricultural Reform conducted after the war meant that peasants had to give away most of their wheat, grain, and cattle to the state, or face serious imprisonment. Land and property were confiscated on a massive scale. Many people also lost civil rights and their names were smeared. Also, a censorship was enforced on all levels of the society and media, and a cult of Tito was created in the media.

On 20 October 1944 the Soviet Red Army liberated Belgrade and by the end of 1944 all Serbia was free from German control. Yugoslavia was among the countries that had the greatest losses in the war: 1,700,000 (10.8% of the population) people were killed and national damages were estimated at US $9.1 billion according to the prices of that period.

Communist Yugoslavia 1945–1992

Tito's Rule 1945–1980

After the war, Josip Broz Tito became the first president of the new—socialist—Yugoslavia which he ruled through the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. Once a predominantly agricultural country, Yugoslavia was transformed into a mid-range industrial country, and acquired an international political reputation by supporting the decolonization process and by assuming a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement. Socialist Yugoslavia was established as a federal state comprising six republics, from north to south: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia and two autonomous regions within Serbia – Vojvodina and Kosovo.

The basic motto of Tito's Yugoslavia was "brotherhood and unity", workers' self-management, state-owned property with minimal privately owned property. In the beginning, the country copied the Soviet model, but after the 1948 split with the Soviet Union, it turned more towards the West. Eventually, it created its own brand of socialism, with a hint of a market economy, and milked both the East and the West for significant financial loans.

The 1974 constitution produced a significantly less centralized federation, increasing the autonomy of Yugoslavia's republics as well as the autonomous provinces of Serbia.

Decline and Fall 1980–1992

When Tito died on 4 May 1980, he was succeeded by a presidency that rotated annually between the six Republics and two Autonomous Regions. This led to a fatal weakening of central power and ties between the republics. During the 1980s the republics pursued significantly different economic policies, with Western-oriented Slovenia and Croatia allowing significant market-based reforms, while Serbia kept to its existing program of state ownership. This, too, was a cause of tension between north and south, as Slovenia in particular experienced a period of strong growth. Prior to the war, inflation skyrocketed. Then, under Prime Minister Ante Markovic, things began to improve. Economic reforms had opened up the country, the living standard was at its peak, capitalism seemed to have entered the country and nobody thought that just a year later the first gunshots would be fired.

Within a year of Tito's death the first cracks began to show when in the spring of 1981 when on 11 March, 26 March, and 31 March to 2 April an escalating series of increasingly large protests spread from the campus of the University of Pristina to the streets of several cities in Kosovo demanding the upgrading of the Autonomous Region to the status of full Republic – these protests were violently suppressed by the Police with many deaths, and a state of emergency was declared. Serbian concerns about the treatment of Serb minorities in other republics and particularly in Kosovo were exacerbated by the SANU Memorandum, drawn up by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and published in Sep 1986 byVečernje novosti, which claimed that Serbs were suffering a genocide at the hands of the Kosovo Albanian majority.[33] Slobodan Milošević leader of the League of Communists of Serbia since May 1986, became the champion of the Serbian Nationalists when on 24 Apr 1987 he visited Kosovo Polje and, after local Serbs had clashed with the Police declared, 'No one has the right to beat you'.[34]

Slobodan Milošević became the most powerful politician in Serbia on 25 Sep 1987 when he defeated and humiliated his former mentor Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, during the televised 8th Session of the League of Communists of Serbia. Milosevic governed Serbia from his position as Chairman of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia until 8 May 1989 when he assumed the Presidency of Serbia. Milosevic supporters gained control of three other constituent parts of Yugolslavia in what became known as the Anti-bureaucratic revolution, Vojvodina on 6 Oct 1988, Kosovo on 17 Nov 1988, and Montenegro on 11 Jan 1989. On 25 Nov 1988 the Yugoslav National Assembly granted Serbia the right to change its constitution.[35] In March 1989 this was done, removing autonomy from Vojvodina and Kosovo, which caused great unrest in Kosovo[36] On 28 June 1989 Slobodan Milošević made what became known as the Gazimestan Speech which was the centrepiece of a day-long event, attended by an estimated one million Serbs, to mark the 600th anniversary of the Serbian defeat at the Battle of Kosovo by the Ottoman Empire. In this speech Milošević's reference to the possibility of "armed battles" in the future of Serbia's national development was seen by many as presaging the collapse of Yugoslavia and the bloodshed of the Yugoslav Wars.

On 23 Jan 1990 at its 14th Congress the Communist League of Yugoslavia voted to remove its monopoly on political power, but the same day effectively ceased to exist as a national party when the Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Two people died in the ensuing violence.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia broke up in 1991/1992 in a series of wars following the independence declarations of Slovenia and Croatia on 25 Jun 1991, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on 5 Mar 1992. Macedonia left the federation peacefully on 25 Sep 1991. The Yugoslav People's Army(JNA) tried and failed to prevent the secession of Slovenia in the Ten Day War 26 Jun – 6 Jul 1991 and completely withdrew by 26 Oct 1991. The JNA attempted and failed to prevent the secession of Croatia during the first phase of the Croatian War of Independence from 27 Jun 1991 until the truce of Jan 1992, but did successfully enable the Croatian Serb minority to establish the Republic of Serb Krajina which looked to Serbia for support. The biggest battle of this war was the Siege of Vukovar. Following the start of the Bosnian War on 1 April 1992 the JNA officially withdrew all its forces from Croatia and Bosnia in May 1992 and was formally dissolved on 20 May 1992 – its remnant forces being taken over by the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

FR Yugoslavia 1992–2003

The two remaining republics of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, formed on 28 April 1992 a new federation named Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Milošević Years 1992–2000

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was established in 1992 as a federation. In 2003, it was reconstituted as a political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG).

After June 1999, Kosovo was made a United Nations protectorate, under the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) based in Priština. From early 2001, UNMIK has been working with representatives of the Serbian and union governments to reestablish stable relations in the region. A new assembly of the province was elected in November 2001, which formed a government and chose a president in February 2002. In spring 2002, UNMIK announced its plan to repatriate ethnic Serb internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Although threatened by Milošević throughout the last years of his rule, Montenegro's democratization efforts have continued. In January 1998, Milo Đukanović became Montenegro's president, following bitterly contested elections in November 1997, which were declared free and fair by international monitors. His coalition followed up with parliamentary elections in May. Having weathered Milošević's campaign to undermine his government, Đukanović has struggled to balance the pro-independence stance of his coalition with the changed domestic and international environment of the post-5 October Balkans. In December 2002, Đukanović resigned as president and was appointed Prime Minister. The new President of Montenegro is Filip Vujanović.

Central Balkans including FR Yugoslavia and Serbia in 1998

Before 5 October, even as opposition grew, Milošević continued to dominate the organs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) Government. And although his political party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) (in electoral cartel with Mirjana Markovic' Yugoslav United Left), did not enjoy a majority in either the federal or Serbian parliaments, it dominated the governing coalitions and held all the key administrative posts. An essential element of Milošević's grasp on power was his control of the Serbian police, a heavily armed force of some 100,000 that was responsible for internal security and which committed serious human rights abuses. Routine federal elections in September 2000 resulted in Kostunica receiving less than a majority, requiring a second round. Immediately, street protests and rallies filled cities across the country as Serbs rallied around Vojislav Koštunica, the recently formed Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS, a broad coalition of anti-Milošević parties) candidate for FRY president. There had been widespread fear that the second round would be cancelled on the basis of foreign interference in the elections. Cries of fraud and calls for Milošević's removal echoed across city squares from Subotica to Niš.

On 5 October 2000, Slobodan Milošević was forced to concede defeat after days of mass protests all across Serbia.

Democratic Serbia 2000–2003

The new FRY President Vojislav Koštunica was soon joined at the top of the domestic Serbian political scene by the Democratic Party's (DS) Zoran Đinđić, who was elected Prime Minister of Serbia at the head of the DOS ticket in December's republican elections. After an initial honeymoon period in the wake of 5 October, DSS and the rest of DOS, led by Đinđić and his DS, found themselves increasingly at odds over the nature and pace of the governments' reform programs. Although initial reform efforts were highly successful, especially in the economic and fiscal sectors, by the middle of 2002, the nationalist Koštunica and the pragmatic Đinđić were openly at odds. Koštunica's party, having informally withdrawn from all DOS decision-making bodies, was agitating for early elections to the Serbian Parliament in an effort to force Đinđić from the scene. After the initial euphoria of replacing Milošević's autocratic regime, the Serbian population, in reaction to this political maneuvering, was sliding into apathy and disillusionment with its leading politicians by mid-2002. This political stalemate continued for much of 2002, and reform initiatives stalled.

Serbia & Montenegro 2003–2006

In February 2003, the Constitutional Charter was finally ratified by both republics, and the FRY Parliament and the name of the country was changed from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro. Under the new Constitutional Charter, most federal functions and authorities devolved to the republic level. The office of President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, held by Vojislav Koštunica, ceased to exist once Svetozar Marović was elected President of Serbia and Montenegro.

On 12 March 2003, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić was assassinated. The newly formed union government of Serbia and Montenegro reacted swiftly by calling a state of emergency and undertaking an unprecedented crackdown on organized crime which led to the arrest of more than 4,000 people.

Parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Serbia on 28 December 2003. Serbia had been in a state of political crisis since the overthrow of the post-communist ruler, Slobodan Milošević, in 2001. The reformers, led by former Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica, have been unable to gain control of the Serbian presidency because three successive presidential elections have failed to produce the required 50% turnout.[38] The assassination in March 2003 of the reforming Prime Minister, Zoran Đinđić was a major setback.

Despite the great increase in support for the Radicals, the four pro-reform parties (Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, late Prime Minister Đinđić's Democratic Party, now led by Boris Tadić, and the G17 Plus group of liberal economists led by Miroljub Labus, plus the SPO-NS) won 49.8% of the vote, compared with 34.8% for the two anti-western parties, the Radicals of Vojislav Šešelj and the Socialists of Milošević, and won 146 seats to 104.

At the 2004 Presidential election Boris Tadić, candidate of the Democratic Party won over Tomislav Nikolić, of the Serbian Radical Party, sealing the future reform and EU-integration path of Serbia. Tadic's presidency was confirmed in 2008

Independent Serbia 2006–present day

Serbia and Central Balkans in 2010 (de facto situation). Serbia does not recognize the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo

Since 1996, Montenegro began to sever economic ties with Serbia as it formed a new economic policy and adopted the Deutsche Mark as its currency. Subsequent governments of Montenegro carried out pro-independence policies, and political tensions with Serbia simmered despite political changes in Belgrade. Also, separatist Albanian paramilitaries began a steady escalation of violence in 1998. The question whether the Federal Yugoslav state would continue to exist became a very serious issue to the government.

Following Montenegro's vote for full independence in the referendum of 21 May 2006 (55.4% yes, 44.6% no),[39] Montenegro declared independence on 3 June 2006.[40] This was followed on 5 June 2006 by Serbia's declaration of independence, marking the final dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and the re-emergence of Serbia as an independent state, under its own name, for the first time since 1918.

Flag of post-2006 independent Serbia

A referendum was held on 28 and 29 October 2006 on a proposed draft of the new Constitution of Serbia, which was approved.[41] The constitution is Serbia's first as an independent state since the Kingdom of Serbia's 1903 constitution.

The 2007 elections confirmed the pro-reform and pro-European stance of the Serbian Parliament, in which Boris Tadic's party doubled his representation.

A pre-term parliamentary election was held on 11 May 2008, barely a year after the previous one. The Serbian government had passed through weeks of severe crisis after the unilateral declaration of independence of its southern province of Kosovo on 17 February 2008, which was gradually recognized by the United States and numerous European Union countries. The crisis was fuelled by the demand by Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to the Democratic Party (Serbia) (DS), which held governmental majority, of a restructuring of the governmental contract including an annex according to which Serbia can continue European integration exclusively with Kosovo as its integral part, as stated in the 2006 Constitution. The DS and G17+ refused, and Koštunica had to resign on 8 March 2008, while also asking the President to dismiss the parliament and schedule pre-term parliamentary elections.[42] The results showed a net increase of votes for Tadic's ZES coalition, passing from 87 to 102 seats. After long and difficult negotiations, a new pro-European government was formed on 7 July 2008 by 128 out of 250 parliamentary votes of ZES, SPS-PUPS-JS and 6 out of 7 minorities representatives. The new prime minister was Mirko Cvetković, candidate of the Democratic Party.

Kosovo dispute

On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo parliament unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia to mixed international reactions. The declaration was officially recognized by the U.S., Austria, Great Britain, Germany, France, Turkey and dozen other countries. Serbia, Russia, China, Spain, India, Brazil, Greece, Romania and other countries oppose this declaration and consider it illegal. In July 2010, the United Nations International Court of Justice deemed the separation of Kosovo legal, and Kosovo officials plan a 2011 application to the UN.[43][44]

EU integration

Serbia officially applied for European Union membership on 22 December 2009.[45]

Despite its setbacks in the political field, on 7 December 2009 the EU unfroze the trade agreement with Serbia[46] and the Schengen countries dropped the visa requirement for Serbian citizens on 19 December 2009.[47]

A Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was signed in 2008 and is expected to enter into force in 2011.

See also


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  13. ^ a b The entry of the Slavs into Christendom, p. 209
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  17. ^ Paul Magdalino, Byzantium in the year 1000, p. 122
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  19. ^ Bojana Krsmanović, Ljubomir Maksimović, Taxiarchis G. Kolias (2008), The Byzantine province in change: on the threshold between the 10th and the 11th century, p. 189, Institute for Byzantine Studies, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts,
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  25. ^ Stevenson, Cataclysm p 59
  26. ^ Andrej Mitrovic, Serbia's Great War 1914-1918 (2007)
  27. ^ Jonathan E. Gumz, The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914-1918 (2009)
  28. ^ Balkan Politics, Time, 31 March 1923
  29. ^ Elections, Time, 23 February 1925
  30. ^ The Opposition, Time, 6 April 1925
  31. ^ Official name of the occupied territory
  32. ^ Hehn, Paul N. (1971). "Serbia, Croatia and Germany 1941-1945: Civil War and Revolution in the Balkans". Canadian Slavonic Papers (University of Alberta) 13 (4): 344–373. 
  33. ^ "State-Society Relations in Yugoslavia, 1945-1992". 
  34. ^ "Slobodan Milosevic Biography". 
  35. ^ Milosevic
  36. ^ "'"Context of 'March 23, 1989 and After: Kosovo Assembly Approves New Serbian Constitution; Unrest Follows. 
  37. ^
  38. ^ see details here
  39. ^ Charles Recknagel (May 2006). "Montenegro: Independence Referendum Turns Into Cliffhanger". Retrieved 2008-03-04. "For independence of Montenegro, 55.4 percent of citizens have voted. 44.6 percent of citizens have voted for the union state", Frantisek Lipka, a Slovak diplomat heading the referendum commission, announced at a news conference in Podgorica today. 
  40. ^ "Timeline: Montenegro". BBC News. 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 2006 June – Montenegro declared independence, Serbia responded by declaring itself the independent sovereign successor state to the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. 
  41. ^ "Serbia backs draft constitution". BBC. 30 October 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  42. ^ B92 – News – Politics – Tadić to dissolve parliament on 13 March
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ "Serbia applies for EU membership". Swedish Presidency of the European Union. Archived from the original on 26 December 2009. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  46. ^ "EU unfreezes trade agreement with Serbia". Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  47. ^ "EU scraps visas for three Balkan states". BBC. 1 December 2009. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 


  • Fine, John Van Antwerp (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.  
  • Fine, John Van Antwerp (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. University of Michigan Press.  
  • Stevan K. Pavlowitch (January 2002). Serbia: The History Behind the Name. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers.  
  • John K. Cox (1 January 2002). The History of Serbia. Greenwood Publishing Group.  

External links

  • History of Serbia: Primary Documents
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