Serbia, officially the Republic of Serbia, is a sovereign state situated at the crossroads between Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Pannonian Plain and the central Balkans. Serbia is landlocked and borders Hungary to the north; Romania and Bulgaria to the east; Macedonia to the south; and Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro to the west; it also claims a border with Albania through the disputed territory of Kosovo. The capital of Serbia, Belgrade, is one of the largest cities in Southeast Europe.
Following the Slavic migrations to the Balkans from the 6th century onwards, Serbs established several states in the early Middle Ages. The Serbian Kingdom obtained recognition by Rome and Constantinople in 1217; it reached its peak in 1346 as a short-lived Serbian Empire. By the mid-16th century, the entire territory of modern-day Serbia was annexed by the Ottoman Empire, at times interrupted by the Habsburgs. In the early 19th century, the Serbian Revolution established the nation-state as the region's first constitutional monarchy, which subsequently expanded its territory. Following disastrous casualties in World War I, and subsequent unification of Habsburg crownland of Vojvodina with Serbia, the country co-founded Yugoslavia with other South Slavic peoples, which would exist in various formations until the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, which had devastating effects for the region. As a result, Serbia formed a union with Montenegro in 1992, which broke apart in 2006, when Serbia again became an independent country. In 2008 the parliament of Kosovo, Serbia's southern province with an Albanian ethnic majority, declared independence, with mixed responses from international community.
Serbia is a member of the UN, CoE, OSCE, PfP, BSEC, and CEFTA. It is also an official candidate for membership in the European Union, which is negotiating its EU accession, acceding country to the WTO and is a militarily neutral state. Serbia is an upper-middle income economy with dominant service sector, followed by the industrial sector and agriculture. It has a high Human Development Index, ranked 77th in the world in 2014 and a medium-high Global Peace Index, ranked 52nd.
Approximately 8,500 years ago, during the Neolithic Era, Neolithic, Starčevo, and Vinča cultures existed in or near modern-day Belgrade and dominated the Balkans, (as well as parts of Central Europe and Asia Minor). Two important local archeological sites from this era, Lepenski Vir and Vinča-Belo Brdo, still exist near the banks of the Danube. During the Iron Age, Thracians, Dacians, and Illyrians were encountered by the Ancient Greeks during their expansion into the south of modern Serbia in the 4th century BC; the northwesternmost point of Alexander the Great's empire being the town of Kale-Krševica. The Greek influx was followed shortly after by the Celtic tribe of Scordisci, who settled throughout the area in the 3rd century BC. The Scordisci formed their own tribal state in this area, and built several fortifications, including their state capital at Singidunum (present-day Belgrade) and Naissos (present-day Niš).
The Romans conquered much of modern-day Serbia in the 2nd century BC. In 167 BC the Roman province of Illyricum was established; the remainder of central present-day Serbia was conquered around 75 BC, forming the Roman province of Moesia Superior; the modern-day Srem region was conquered in 9 BC; and Bačka and Banat in 106 AD after the Dacian wars. As a result of this, contemporary Serbia extends fully or partially over several former Roman provinces, including Moesia, Pannonia, Praevalitana, Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia. The chief towns of Upper Moesia (and wider) were: Singidunum (Belgrade), Viminacium (now Old Kostolac), Remesiana (now Bela Palanka), Naissos (Niš), and Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica), the latter of which served as a Roman capital during the Tetrarchy. Seventeen Roman Emperors were born in the area of modern-day Serbia, second only to contemporary Italy. The most famous of these was Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, who issued an edict ordering religious tolerance throughout the Empire. When the Roman Empire was divided in 395, most of Serbia remained under the Eastern Roman Empire, while its western parts were included in the Western Roman Empire. By the early 6th century, native Serbs and Southern Slavs were present throughout the Byzantine Empire in large numbers. Several waves of migration continued into the 7th century, and a first wave of Christianisation of Serbs of was conducted by priests from Rome and Byzantium.
The Serbs in the Byzantine world lived in the so-called Slav lands, lands initially out of Byzantine control and independent. The growing Frankish Empire also temporarily subjugated Serbs in the 9th century. The Vlastimirović dynasty established the Serbian Principality in the 8th century. In 822, Serbia "stretched over the greater part of Dalmatia", and Christianity was adopted as the state religion c. 870. In the mid-10th century the state had emerged into a tribal confederation that stretched to the shores of the Adriatic Sea by the Neretva, the Sava, the Morava, and Skadar. The state disintegrated after the death of the last known Vlastimirid ruler; the Byzantines annexed the region and held it for a century, until 1040 when the Serbs under the leadership of what would become the Vojislavljević dynasty revolted in Duklja, a maritime region. In 1091, the Vukanović dynasty established the Serbian Grand Principality, based in Rascia. The two-halves were reunited in 1142.
In 1166, Stefan Nemanja assumed the throne, marking the beginning of a prospering Serbia, henceforth under the rule of the Nemanjić dynasty. Nemanja's son Rastko (posth. Saint Sava), gained autocephaly for the Serbian Church in 1217 and authored the oldest known constitution, and at the same time Stefan the First-Crowned established the Serbian Kingdom. Medieval Serbia reached its peak during the reign of Dušan the Mighty, who took advantage of the Byzantine civil war and doubled the size of the state by conquering territories to the south and east at the expense of Byzantium, reaching as far as the Peloponnese, also being crowned Emperor of Serbs and Greeks along the way. The Battle of Kosovo in 1389 marks a turning point and is considered as a beginning of the fall of the medieval Serbian state. The magnate families Lazarević and Branković ruled the suzerain Serbian Despotate afterwards (in the 15th and 16th centuries).
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 and the Siege of Belgrade, the Serbian Despotate fell in 1459 following the siege of the provisional capital of Smederevo. The Smederevo Fortress is the largest medieval lowland type of fortresses in Europe. By 1455, central Serbia was completely conquered by the Ottoman Empire. After repelling Ottoman attacks for over 70 years, Belgrade finally fell in 1521, opening the way for Ottoman expansion into Central Europe. Vojvodina, as a part of Habsburg Empire, resisted Ottoman rule until well into the 16th century.
Ottoman and Habsburg rule
After the loss of independence to the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, Serbia briefly regained sovereignty under Jovan Nenad in the 16th century. Three Habsburg invasions and numerous rebellions constantly challenged Ottoman rule. One famous incident was the Banat Uprising in 1595, which was part of the Long War between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. The area of modern Vojvodina endured a century-long Ottoman occupation before being ceded to the Habsburg Empire at the end of the 17th century under the Treaty of Karlowitz.
In all Serb lands south of the rivers Danube and Sava, the nobility was eliminated and the peasantry was enserfed to Ottoman masters, while much of the clergy fled or were confined to the isolated monasteries. Under the Ottoman system, Serbs, as Christians, were considered an inferior class of people and subjected to heavy taxes, and a small portion of the Serbian populace experienced Islamisation. Ottomans abolished the Serbian patriarchate (1459), but reestablished it in 1555, providing for limited continuation of Serbian cultural traditions within the empire.
In 1717–1739, Austrian Empire also ruled most of Central Serbia as Kingdom of Serbia (1718–1739). This is the period when the most widespread Serbian word (one which has entered most world languages—vampire—was introduced to the West for the first time. Apart from Vojvodina and Northern Belgrade which were absorbed into the Habsburg Empire, Central Serbia was also included into Austrian territory between 1688-1692 and 1788-1793. Southwestern Serbia (Sanjak of Novi Pazar) remained under a de facto Austro-Hungarian occupation between 1878-1913, when it was temporarily returned to the Ottomans, and annexed by Kingdom of Serbia the following year.
Revolution and independence
The Serbian Revolution for independence from the Ottoman Empire lasted eleven years, from 1804 until 1815. The revolution comprised two separate uprisings which gained autonomy from the Ottoman Empire that eventually evolved towards full independence (1835–1867).
During the First Serbian Uprising, led by Duke Karađorđe Petrović, Serbia was independent for almost a decade before the Ottoman army was able to reoccupy the country. Shortly after this, the Second Serbian Uprising began. Led by Miloš Obrenović, it ended in 1815 with a compromise between Serbian revolutionaries and Ottoman authorities. Likewise, Serbia was one of the first nations in the Balkans to abolish feudalism. The Convention of Ackerman in 1826, the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829 and finally, the Hatt-i Sharif, recognized the suzerainty of Serbia. The first Serbian Constitution was adopted on 15 February 1835.
Following the clashes between the Ottoman army and Serbs in Belgrade in 1862, and under pressure from the Great Powers, by 1867 the last Turkish soldiers left the Principality. By enacting a new constitution without consulting the Porte, Serbian diplomats confirmed the de facto independence of the country. In 1876, Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, proclaiming its unification with Bosnia. The formal independence of the country was internationally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, which formally ended the Russo-Turkish War; this treaty, however, prohibited Serbia from uniting with Bosnia by placing the latter under Austro-Hungarian occupation, alongside the occupation of Raška (Sandžak). From 1815 to 1903, the Principality of Serbia was ruled by the House of Obrenović, except from 1842 to 1858, when it was led by Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević. In 1882, Serbia became a Kingdom, ruled by King Milan I. In 1903, following the May Overthrow, the House of Karađorđević, descendants of the revolutionary leader Karađorđe Petrović, assumed power. The 1848 revolution in Austria lead to the establishment of the autonomous territory of Serbian Vojvodina. By 1849, the region was transformed into the Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar.
Balkan Wars, World War I and the First Yugoslavia
In the course of the First Balkan War in 1912, the Balkan League defeated the Ottoman Empire and captured its European territories, which enabled territorial expansion into Raška and Kosovo. The Second Balkan War soon ensued when Bulgaria turned on its former allies, but was defeated, resulting in the Treaty of Bucharest. In two years, Serbia enlarged its territory by 80% and its population by 50%; it also suffered high casualties on the eve of World War I, with around 20,000 dead.
The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Young Bosnia organization, led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia. In defense of its ally Serbia, Russia mobilized its troops, which resulted in Austria-Hungary's ally Germany declaring war on Russia. The retaliation by Austria-Hungary against Serbia activated a series of military alliances that set off a chain reaction of war declarations across the continent, leading to the outbreak of World War I within a month. Serbia won the first major battles of World War I, including the Battle of Cer and Battle of Kolubara – marking the first Allied victories against the Central Powers in World War I. Despite initial success, it was eventually overpowered by the Central Powers in 1915. Most of its army and some people went into exile to Greece and Corfu, where they recovered, regrouped and returned to the Macedonian front to lead a final breakthrough through enemy lines on 15 September 1918, liberating Serbia and defeating the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgaria. Serbia, with its campaign, was a major Balkan Entente Power which contributed significantly to the Allied victory in the Balkans in November 1918, especially by helping France force Bulgaria's capitulation. Serbia was classified as a minor Entente power. Serbia's casualties accounted for 8% of the total Entente military deaths; 58% (243,600) soldiers of the Serbian army perished in the war. The total number of casualties is placed around 700,000, more than 16% of Serbia's prewar size, and a majority (57%) of its overall male population.
As the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, the territory of Syrmia united with Serbia on 24 November 1918, followed by Banat, Bačka and Baranja a day later, thereby bringing the entire Vojvodina into the Serb Kingdom. On 26 November 1918, the Podgorica Assembly deposed the House of Petrović-Njegoš and united Montenegro with Serbia. On 1 December 1918, Serbian Prince Regent Alexander of Serbia proclaimed the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes under King Peter I of Serbia.
King Peter was succeeded by his son, Alexander, in August 1921. Serb centralists and Croat autonomists clashed in the parliament, and most governments were fragile and short-lived. Nikola Pašić, a conservative prime minister, headed or dominated most governments until his death. King Alexander changed the name of the country to Yugoslavia and changed the internal divisions from the 33 oblasts to nine new banovinas. The effect of Alexander's dictatorship was to further alienate the non-Serbs from the idea of unity. Alexander was assassinated in Marseille, during an official visit in 1934 by Vlado Chernozemski, member of the IMRO. Alexander was succeeded by his eleven-year-old son Peter II and a regency council headed by his cousin, Prince Paul. Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković, negotiated a solution to the concerns of the Croatian populace with Vladko Maček. In August 1939 the Cvetković–Maček Agreement established an autonomous Banate of Croatia.
World War II and the Second Yugoslavia
In 1941, in spite of Yugoslav attempts to remain neutral in the war, the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia. The territory of modern Serbia was divided between Hungary, Bulgaria, Independent State of Croatia and Italy (greater Albania and Montenegro), while the remaining part of Serbia was placed under German Military administration, with a Serbian puppet governments led by Milan Aćimović and Milan Nedić. The occupied territory was the scene of a civil war between royalist Chetniks commanded by Draža Mihailović and communist partisans commanded by Josip Broz Tito. Against these forces were arrayed Axis auxiliary units of the Serbian Volunteer Corps and the Serbian State Guard. Draginac and Loznica massacre of 2,950 villagers in Western Serbia in 1941 was the first large execution of civilians in occupied Serbia by Nazis, with Kragujevac massacre and Novi Sad Raid of Jews and Serbs by Hungarian fascists being the most notorious, with over 3,000 victims in each case. After one year of occupation, around 16,000 Serbian Jews were murdered in the area, or around 90% of its pre-war Jewish population. Many concentration camps were established across the area. Banjica concentration camp was the largest concentration camp, with primary victims being Serbian Jews, Roma, and Serb political prisoners.
The Axis puppet state of the Independent State of Croatia committed large-scale persecution and genocide of Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The estimate of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum indicates that between 320,000 and 340,000 ethnic Serb residents of Croatia, Bosnia and northern Serbia were murdered during the Ustaše genocide campaign; the same figures are supported by the Jewish Virtual Library. Official Yugoslav sources used to estimate more than victims, mostly Serbs. The Jasenovac memorial so far lists 82,085 names killed at the this concentration camp alone, out of around 100,000 estimated victims (75% of whom were of Serbian origin). Out of roughly 1 million casualties in all of Yugoslavia up until 1944, around 250,000 were citizens of Serbia of different ethnicities. The Republic of Užice was a short-lived liberated territory established by the Partisans and the first liberated territory in World War II Europe, organized as a military mini-state that existed in the autumn of 1941 in the west of occupied Serbia. By late 1944, the Belgrade Offensive swung in favour of the partisans in the civil war; the partisans subsequently gained control of Yugoslavia. Following the Belgrade Offensive, the Syrmian Front was the last major military action of World War II in Serbia.
The victory of the Communist Partisans resulted in the abolition of the monarchy and a subsequent constitutional referendum. A single-party state was soon established in Yugoslavia by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, between 60,000 and 70,000 people were killed in Serbia during the communist takeover. All opposition was suppressed and people deemed to be promoting opposition to socialism or promoting separatism were imprisoned or executed for sedition. Serbia became a constituent republic within the SFRY known as the Socialist Republic of Serbia, and had a republic-branch of the federal communist party, the League of Communists of Serbia. Serbia's most powerful and influential politician in Tito-era Yugoslavia was Aleksandar Ranković, one of the "big four" Yugoslav leaders, alongside Tito, Edvard Kardelj, and Milovan Đilas. Ranković was later removed from the office because of the disagreements regarding Kosovo's nomenklatura and the unity of Serbia. Ranković's dismissal was highly unpopular amongst Serbs. Pro-decentralization reformers in Yugoslavia succeeded in the late 1960s in attaining substantial decentralization of powers, creating substantial autonomy in Kosovo and Vojvodina, and recognizing a Yugoslav Muslim nationality. As a result of these reforms, there was a massive overhaul of Kosovo's nomenklatura and police, that shifted from being Serb-dominated to ethnic Albanian-dominated through firing Serbs on a large scale. Further concessions were made to the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo in response to unrest, including the creation of the University of Pristina as an Albanian language institution. These changes created widespread fear amongst Serbs of being treated as second-class citizens.
Breakup of Yugoslavia and political transition
In 1989, Slobodan Milošević rose to power in Serbia. Milošević promised a reduction of powers for the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, where his allies subsequently took over power, during the Anti-bureaucratic revolution. This ignited tensions with the communist leadership of the other republics, and awoke nationalism across the country, that eventually resulted in the Breakup of Yugoslavia, with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo declaring independence. Serbia and Montenegro remained together as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).
Fueled by ethnic tensions, the Yugoslav Wars erupted, with the most severe conflicts taking place in Croatia and Bosnia, where ethnic Serb populations opposed independence from Yugoslavia. The FRY remained outside the conflicts, but provided logistic, military and financial support to Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In response, the UN imposed sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in May 1992, which led to political isolation and the collapse of the economy. Multiparty democracy was introduced in Serbia in 1990, officially dismantling the single-party system. Critics of Milošević claimed that the government continued to be authoritarian despite constitutional changes, as Milošević maintained strong political influence over the state media and security apparatus. When the ruling SPS refused to accept its defeat in municipal elections in 1996, Serbians engaged in large protests against the government. Between 1998 and 1999, peace was broken again, when the situation in Kosovo worsened with continued clashes between Yugoslav security forces and the KLA. The confrontations led to the Kosovo War.
In September 2000, opposition parties accused Milošević of electoral fraud. A campaign of civil resistance followed, led by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), a broad coalition of anti-Milošević parties. This culminated on 5 October when half a million people from all over the country congregated in Belgrade, compelling Milošević to concede defeat. The fall of Milošević ended Yugoslavia's international isolation. Milošević was sent to the ICTY. The DOS announced that FR Yugoslavia would seek to join the European Union. In 2003, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was renamed Serbia and Montenegro; the EU opened negotiations with the country for the Stabilization and Association Agreement. Serbia's political climate has remained tense and in 2003, the prime minister Zoran Đinđić was assassinated as result of a plot originating from circles of organized crime and former security officials.
On 21 May 2006, Montenegro held a referendum to determine whether to end its union with Serbia. The results showed 55.4% of voters in favor of independence, which was just above the 55% required by the referendum. On 5 June 2006, the National Assembly of Serbia declared Serbia to be the legal successor to the former state union. The province of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. Serbia immediately condemned the declaration and continues to deny any statehood to Kosovo. The declaration has sparked varied responses from the international community, some welcoming it, while others condemned the unilateral move. Status neutral talks between Serbia and Kosovo-Albanian authorities are held in Brussels, mediated by the EU.
In April 2008 Serbia was invited to join the Intensified Dialogue programme with NATO despite the diplomatic rift with the alliance over Kosovo. Serbia officially applied for membership in the European Union on 22 December 2009, and received candidate status on 1 March 2012, following a delay in December 2011. Following a positive recommendation of the European Commission and European Council in June 2013, negotiations to join the EU commenced in January 2014.