Serbia - History

The Slav tribes overran the Danube basin from their homeland north of the Carpathians in the 4th and 5th c AD. Their advance was checked briefly at the borders of the Byzantine Empire but continued the moment Constantinople was off guard. Together with the Asiatic Avars, sales the Slavs pushed inwards the Balkan Peninsula around the year 600 AD. The local Romanized population fled to the coastlands or to the isolated mountains only to be eventually Slavicized over the following centuries.

   The Serbs, one of the Slavic tribes, came in the second wave (sometime between 626 and 641) from the region of the present day Czech Republic and east Germany. The first Serb states took root in the mountainous Adriatic hinterlands in the present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, far from major roads and midway between Rome and Constantinople.

Middle Ages

     In the second part of the 9th c the Serbs adopted Christianity on the basis of a Slavic liturgy created by monks Cyril and Methodius, often dubbed the “Apostles of the Slavs”. However, over the following centuries the increasing differences between the Western and Eastern Church left the Serbs open to both influences, caught between the Byzantine wish to subdue them and the unpopularity of Rome’s Latin liturgy. Finally, the Orthodox rite prevailed but the connections with the west remained strong in affairs of state and art.

     The 9th and 10th centuries saw the struggle of the Serb states to remain free from their mightier neighbors, Byzantium and Bulgaria. In 1077 duke Mihailo of Duklja was in fact crowned king and recognized as such by the Pope, securing for the first time international recognition of sovereignty for one Serb state. Duklja, however, faded quickly under a line of weak rulers who were mere figureheads for the Byzantines or other neighboring Serb states.

     Taking advantage of the weakness of the Byzantine state, Stefan Nemanja (r. 1168-1199) united all the Serb lands except Bosnia, expanded the borders eastwards to the Morava valley and Prizren, and forged the foundations of a more lasting political structure. His eldest son Stefan was crowned in 1217 by the Pope and became known as the “First Crowned”, while his youngest became a monk, brother Sava, (future St Sava) and secured the independence of the Serb Church from Constantinople in 1219. These political ties, the newly established institutions and ideology, the founding of an independent Church, together with the building of many monasteries, secured the power of the Nemanji? dynasty for 200 years (1168-1371). This epoch is regarded as the true cornerstone of Serb history.

     The three sons of Stefan the First Crowned, Radoslav, Vladislav and Uroš, took no great part in Balkan politics but maintained the independence of Serbia, enhancing its wealth by bringing in foreign traders and miners as well as promoting internal colonization. Uroš’s sons, Dragutin and Milutin, continued the territorial expansion of Serbia. Milutin (r. 1286-1321) conquered large parts of Byzantium in present-day Macedonia and Albania and secured them through marriage to a Byzantine princess. His son, Stefan “De?anski” (r. 1321-1331), ward off a Bulgarian attack and pressed Byzantium for further territorial grants, securing the status of Serbia as the most powerful state in the Balkans. Serbia reached its heyday under the rule of king Dušan, who used the civil war in Byzantium to push southwards through several vanquishing waves. In 1345 Dušan was crowned emperor and the Serbian archbishopric was raised to the status of patriarchate, the move that ruined relations with the mother church in Constantinople. Serbia stretched from the Adriatic to the Mesta River (today in Bulgaria), and from Belgrade in the north to the Gulf of Corinth in the south.

     After Dušan’s sudden death in 1355, his son, emperor Uroš (dubbed “The Weak”), was unable to maintain the same tight grasp over the nobles, who had grown stronger during the rapid period of conquest. Their greed and disunity soon turned the mighty state into a feudal anarchy in which the emperor was a mere figurehead. The most powerful of the nobles in the region of Macedonia, Vukašin Mrnjav?evi?, tried to promote himself as successor to the childless Uroš but won over just a few allies while the other barons opposed his aspirations. The disputes and dilemmas of the nobles were cut short by the growing threat of Ottoman Turks. In 1371 Vukašin and his brother died in battle on the river Maritsa and their lands became vassal to the Ottoman sultan. Shortly after, Uroš died without an heir.

     In the north, Vukašin and Uroš’s deaths brought about a redistribution of power. The Bosnian ban Tvrtko conquered the western tracts of Serbia and, in 1377, crowned himself king of Serbs at the grave of St Sava in the Mileševa monastery. Another noble to profit from the changes was prince Lazar, who ruled the valleys of the three Moravas and the town of Novo Brdo, the largest silver mine in the Balkans. Lazar tried to reassemble the Serb state: he married his daughters to other prominent nobles and re-established good relationships with the Church in Constantinople, thus winning for himself the status of the “first among equals”. In 1389 he joined forces with king Tvrtko and Vuk Brankovi? (a nobleman who controlled the territory of Kosovo) in an effort to stop the Ottoman advance. The bloody battle of Kosovo Polje (“Field of Blackbirds”), near present-day Priština, resulted in the deaths of both the Ottoman sultan Murad I and Lazar. With a decimated army and an underage son, Lazar’s widow, Milica, accepted vassal status with the Turks.

     Lazar’s son Stefan served sultan Bajezid faithfully and, with his approval, unified most of Serbia again. After Bajezid’s demise in 1402, the Ottoman Empire fell into disarray and Stefan continued on an independent course, receiving the title of despotes from the Byzantine Emperor cornered in Constantinople. His good relations with Hungary, which resembled a vassal status, prospered in 1403 when he was granted Belgrade, which he made into his glorious capital. The relief from the Ottoman grip and the relative peace that lasted for two decades made possible the new rise of urban centers and a renaissance of trade and mining. This was followed by a new splendid style in architecture and fresco painting, as well as literary activity led by the poems of despotes Stefan himself. Stefan died in 1427 and was succeeded by Djuradj Brankovi?, his older cousin. Djuradj’s rule was troubled: the Ottomans were on the rise once again and were attacking in full force. In 1455 Novo Brdo fell, together with the southern half of Serbia. The last stronghold of Djuradj’s sons, Smederevo on the Danube held on until 1459.

Under Foreign Rule

     By the beginning of the 16th c. the great migrations that were to reshape the ethnic map of the Balkans were well underway and masses of Serbs were fleeing to the north and west. The Hungarian kings used Serbs as soldiers to guard their depopulated southern borders and continued to nominate the Serb despotes. The fall of Belgrade to Suleiman the Magnificent in 1521 and the destruction of the Hungarian state in the Battle of Mohacz in 1526 brought an end to all hope that the Ottomans would be defeated and Serbia regained. In the shadow of these events Pavle Baki?, the last Serb despotes in Hungary, was killed in 1537. With the Ottoman conquest of central Hungary almost all Serbs were now living under the sultan’s suzerainty. However, some local autonomy was preserved and many Serbs joined the auxiliary Ottoman forces.

     In 1557 the good relations between Serbs and Ottomans reached their zenith when the grand-vizier Mehmed-Pasha Sokolovi? (known in Turkish as Sokollu), of Serb origin, re-established the Serb patriarchate with its seat in Pe?. The patriarchate embraced all Serbs in the empire, from Buda to Skopje, and from Zadar to Sofia. The Serb Church emerged as the keeper of state traditions. With its newly found power, the Church made discreet moves to rebuild its monasteries and an artistic revival followed.

     The good relationship did not last long. In 1594 the Serbs rebelled in Banat and later also in Herzegovina, responding to the calls of the Habsburgs during their war with the Ottomans. The Turkish response was to burn the relics of St Sava, the greatest Serb saint. Due to the rise of mutual suspicion, an aftermath to these rebellions, Serbs were no longer granted the status of sipahi (nobles).

     In 1683 the Ottomans received a devastating blow at the gates of Vienna. The tide turned and by 1689 the Habsburg army, with the help of the local Christian population that rose to arms, had liberated Serbia, reaching as far as Niš, Prizren and Skopje. The Ottomans regrouped, pushed back the Habsburg forces and with them also the mass of refugees fleeing from retributions. The flood of people, led by patriarch Arsenije III, petitioned the Habsburg Emperor to grant them religious and personal freedoms as well as autonomy under the church prelates. In grave need of soldiers, emperor Leopold agreed and the refugees settled in Hungary. The Privilegium that the emperor issued but had no intention of acting upon, led to a long-running struggle against being reduced to peasantry and being forced to give up Orthodoxy. Still, the Serbs of the Habsburg Empire managed to develop a new elite, constituting of church dignitaries, officers, new nobles and men of commerce, the strata that was now leading the way in art, culture and education.

     During the course of the 18th c. Austria took and lost Serbia twice (1717-39 and 1789-91). These failures brought the Serbs’ trust in the Habsburgs to an end. As a frontier region of the Ottoman Empire, Serbia was already governed with a broad autonomy that was intended to keep the population calm. The border province soon developed as a trading area. However, the sultan’s control over his representatives was deteriorating fast. When rebellious Janissary troops killed the local Ottoman administrator in Belgrade and took control of the city bringing in irregular taxations and appropriating land, the Serbs rose to arms.

Liberation and Modern State

     The mutiny, which started in 1804, soon turned into a general Serb rebellion and after talks with the sultan failed in 1805, it grew into an insurrection against any Ottoman authority. Led by the legendary Djordje Petrovi? – Karadjordje (“Black George”), the Serb peasants organized and overcame numerous Ottoman offensives, liberating the area from River Drina and Novi Pazar to Leskovac and Vidin. It was not only a national but also a social movement, in the words of respected historian Leopold Ranke - the “Serbian Revolution”. Caught in diplomatic maneuvers between Napoleon, Austria, Russia and the Ottomans, the Serbs could find neither recognition nor protection and, after almost a decade of resistance, gave way in 1813.

     The brutal Turkish repression could not wipe out the sweet taste of a decade of self-governing and freedom from feudal lords. Another insurrection followed in 1814 and yet another in 1815. The leader of the latter, Miloš Obrenovi?, a cautious and cunning man, used his early victories to begin talks with the sultan and then settled for moderate autonomy. In the course of the following years he begged and threatened, bribed and blackmailed, all in the best oriental fashion. He secured a de facto autonomy in 1817 and murdered Karadjordje who tried to re-start the uprising. As a final point, in 1830 and 1833, Miloš won charters from Istanbul which secured the status of Serbia as a self-governing principality with the Obrenovi?s as hereditary princes. Serbia continued to pay tribute to the Sultan, but the effective Ottoman rule was now confined within the walls of only six fortresses.

     Miloš’s autocratic rule led to a resistance that in 1835 produced the first Serb constitution, which did not last long in the reactionary atmosphere of Europe. In the same year, land was granted to the peasants. Miloš finally abdicated in 1840 but his son Mihailo suffered from the bad name of his father and was overthrown and replaced two years later by Aleksandar, the son of Karadjordje. However, the real power was in the hands of the so-called Constitutionalists (Ustavobranitelji), the learned elite, notable for its modernizing zeal. In 1858 Miloš returned to power briefly, to be succeeded once again by Mihailo. The second reign (1860-68) of this European-educated ruler was marked by his enlightened absolutism but is best remembered for his great success in forcing the Turks out of their six remaining fortresses in Serbia (1867).

     The revolution of 1848 brought bloody clashes in southern Hungary, in which Serbs and Croats fought on one side and Hungarians on the other. Serb loyalty to the Emperor was rewarded with the long-sought-after territory called Srbska Vojvodina (Serb Dukedom). However, it was soon clear that absolutism and Germanic bureaucracy held sway in this purely administrative district which survived up to 1860.

     Meanwhile, from the late 18th c Montenegro was all but internationally recognized as an independent state. Through its frequent wars with Ottomans it was gaining a reputation as a fearsome opponent and earning respect from neighboring Serb clans. Herzegovina recurrently rose to arms. A crisis provoked by the rebellion of 1875 pushed Serbia and Montenegro into a war against the Ottomans in 1876, bringing Russian intervention in 1877 and finally the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Both states achieved territorial gains but more importantly they finally received international recognition of sovereignty.

     While prince Milan ruled recklessly in Serbia (1868-1892), he did succeed in promoting it to a rank of Kingdom in 1882. After a long struggle, in 1888 Milan agreed to submit himself to parliamentary control, under the terms of a new liberal constitution, but he could not bear it for long. His son Aleksandar produced constant parliamentary crises that, combined with personal scandals (he married a widow that could not bear him children), left him friendless and vulnerable, and in 1903 a group of plotting officers assassinated him.

     Petar Karadjordjevi?, grandson of Karadjordje, was brought to the throne. Willing to submit to the vote of the parliamentary majority, he opened an era of modern democracy in Serbia. However, he could not fully control the officers that had brought him to power. The change of dynasties also meant the final break with the unpopular tutelage of Austria-Hungary. The first clash was in the field of economics: for several years a tax war was waged and Serbia emerged victorious, managing to free itself from economic dependence on its northern neighbor. Austria-Hungary, insecure in its own power and position, started to view Serbia as its most dangerous foe. The two Serb states presented a powerful attraction to the Serbs and other South Slavs in the Empire; moreover, they blocked the only possible route for its territorial advance. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia & Herzegovina and started a series of pointless trials against prominent Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia that gave its statehood and justice a bad name.

     Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro joined forces with Bulgaria and Greece in a Balkan Alliance and surprised the European great powers by acting on their own in a joint venture against the Ottomans (1912, First Balkan War). The Serb army established a mutual border with Montenegro and took Kosovo, Macedonia and north Albania. When Austria-Hungary promoted an independent Albania, Serbia wanted to hold the territories it had liberated in Macedonia as a compensation for what she did not get in Albania. The idea was opposed by Bulgaria who heedlessly declared war on its former ally but was defeated in 1913 (Second Balkan War).

     After these two bloody wars both Serbia and Montenegro were hoping for respite. However, in 1914 the heir to the Habsburg throne visited Sarajevo on Vidovdan, the greatest Serb holiday. This was viewed as a challenge by a group of radical Bosnian students and on June 28th a young Serb named Gavrilo Princip shot dead archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Austria-Hungary chose to use the occasion and act against Serbia, making impossible demands; it did not anticipate that Russia, Serbia’s ally, and its allies France and Great Britain would act on obligations created in earlier treaties. This miscalculation by Austria-Hungary turned what was expected to be a local war into the first global conflict.

     In 1914 and 1915, Serbia, together with Montenegro, managed to fence back three major offensives by the superior Habsburg forces but in late 1915 it fell back before the joint attack of Austro-Hungarian, German and Bulgarian forces. Sheltered by its Montenegrin ally, the Serbian army together with king Peter and the government managed to withdraw through the snow-covered mountains of Albania and join the French and British forces, forming the Salonika Front in northern Greece. Montenegro was also occupied but its king, Nikola, conducted negotiations with Austria-Hungary and then fled to Italy, an event that would later be held against him.

     In November 1918 the final Allied push started; well motivated, the Serbian troops led the way. In three weeks they were in front of Sofia and Bulgaria was eliminated from the war. They soon reached Belgrade and advanced into Austria-Hungary. The defeated empire crumbled and after Montenegro and Vojvodina had declared unification with Serbia, representatives of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes opted for unification under the Karadjordjevi? dynasty on December 1st, 1918. Serbian troops secured the borders of the newly established state and remained under arms until 1920. Eight years of warfare had left Serbia crippled: more than a quarter of the entire population died including 50% of men able to bear arms.

The First Yugoslavia and its Fall

     The many differences within the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes derived from four state systems (Austro-Hungarian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Ottoman), plus geographical and ethnic diversity. They were all considered manageable with a presumption of good will. But this crucial ingredient soon disappeared as internal disagreements arose. The first problem was that of Croatia: a Serb majority in the new state and an army that was still Serb-dominated, rather then being Yugoslav, left little space for a Croatia that was economically more developed. It hoped to achieve shared power within a loose federal system but the constitution of 1921 defined the Kingdom as an almost unitary state - seen as the only guarantee that a country of so many differences could survive. A decade of tense parliamentary life reached a climax in 1928, when, in parliament a Serb MP shot Stjepan Radi?, leader of the strongest Croatian party. In 1929 king Aleksandar, son of king Petar, in an attempt to prevent the state from disintegrating, and not being particularly inclined to democracy, abolished the parliament. He took to active promotion of the Yugoslav concept, recognizing no nations within the kingdom, as a ruling ideology. His dictatorship, coinciding with the hard times of the world economic crisis, was ended in 1934, when he was assassinated by a Bulgarian terrorist. However, a return to parliamentary rule could do little to prevent the internal struggles. When, in 1939, Croatia finally achieved autonomy within the state it was too late - national tensions were too high and faith in Yugoslavia too low.

     For some time it seemed that Yugoslavia would manage to stay outside the new World War: a favorable treaty was signed with Nazi Germany in 1941. But only two days later, on March 27th, the goodwill was broken by a military coup spurred on by the British intelligence services and followed by anti-Axis demonstrations in major Serb towns. Enraged, Hitler ordered an immediate attack as a reprisal for this insulting act and on April 6th, 1941 Belgrade was bombed without a declaration of war. In no position to wage a war, a multinational Yugoslav army put up resistance in only a few places and the war was over in two weeks. Young king Petar II and his government fled to England. Parts of Serbia were annexed by Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Albania (controlled by Italy) while Bosnia-Herzegovina along with Srem were turned over to Croatia, which was now rulled by the fascist Ustašas, who fanatically hated the Serbs.

     The army was defeated but the spirit of armed resistance lived on. In May, colonel Dragoljub Mihailovi?, encouraged by the London-based government, proclaimed the continuation of the war and started attacking the Germans. Following the German attack on the USSR, the communist partisans (partizani) also took up arms in July. A brief cooperation between the two groups resulted in a large liberated territory in western Serbia. The German reacted with reprisals against civilians using a notorious rule: hundred civilians for each German soldier killed. Seeing that the toll was too high for the Serb people, Mihailovi? and his ?etnici settled for maintaining a low-profile resistance and waiting for an allied landing. In contrast, the communists, led by Josip Broz “Tito”, were fighting not only for freedom but also for power and thus decided to continue. Defeated in Serbia, in 1942 they moved their main forces to Bosnia and Croatia. Here, the horrifying slaughters of tens of thousands of Serbs forced many people to the mountains. The partisans offered them the opportunity to fight the executioners and so the core of their army was made up of Serbs, either from Serbia proper or from western parts of the country. The other nations of Yugoslavia did not join the resistance in great numbers until mid-1943. Tito’s forces kept on fighting a bitter and uneven guerrilla war against the Germans and their axis partners and in this way caught the attention of the Allies who shifted their support from Mihailovi?’s royalists to the more efficient partisans. In 1944, with the help of the Red Army, Tito took control over the eastern part of Yugoslavia including Belgrade. The class struggle, masked with charges of collaboration, led to mass executions of the Serb elite. Similar reprisals against bourgeoisie, collaborationist (real as well as those never verified) were committed across Yugoslavia while the German minority was systematically persecuted. The war, still raging as the partisans liberated Croatia and Slovenia unaided, was to claim close to a million Serb lives and inflict colossal material damage. The year 1945 saw a transitional period in which the communists gradually marginalized all other political forces and eventually proclaimed Yugoslavia a federal republic which followed closely the example of Stalin’s USSR.

The Second Yugoslavia

     Yugoslavia was envisioned as a Communist spearhead towards the west but it soon became clear that Tito was not willing to turn over all his successes to Stalin and reduce his country to the status of a Soviet satellite. In 1948 Stalin decided that he had had enough of Tito and started a propaganda campaign against him. However, Stalin underestimated the strength of Tito’s grasp on power. The majority of the Yugoslav communists opted for Tito and the Stalinists were cruelly eliminated. The shadow of war loomed over the breakaway Yugoslavia but the lost sheep was embraced and saved by the West. Thus the major principle of Tito’s politics was born: Yugoslavia remained communist in its own independent way while Western help kept it afloat, making it an example for other countries behind the Iron Curtain. In the two decades to follow, the country was rebuilt and the standard of living rose far beyond that of the rest of eastern Europe. Political freedoms were also greater but the Communist Party kept its exclusive hold on power and rejected any proposal to share it.

     The new way of Yugoslav Communists was named “self-government” (samoupravljanje), which theoretically meant that workers had all the control over their factories and production. In fact, as all life was controlled by the almighty Party, self-government was symbolic and the economy was managed by Party-appointed officials. The national question was deemed solved by federalism and all disputes were hushed up. Another experiment was the independent foreign policy based on collaboration with Third World countries and criticism of both Cold War blocs.

     By the mid-sixties the golden age had passed and the residual economic problems were stirring up the social and ethnic unrest. In 1968 Belgrade students revolted against the growing inequalities in a socialist society, while in Kosovo the ethnic Albanians rioted demanding a separate republic. In 1971 Croatia tried to take an independent course but was stopped when Tito threatened to bring in the army. Tito proved that he was still in control but the multitude of challenges was proving too much for an already old man. The new constitution of 1974 tried to solve the problems in a recognizably bureaucratic way and created one of the most complicated state systems ever. The six republics were turned into almost independent states and the unity of the country depended on the Communist Party, the army and above all on Tito’s guidance. The only republic that exercised limited power was Serbia: only Serbia had two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, which the new constitution raised in all but name to the rank of republics. Furthermore, the provinces could veto the government of Serbia as a whole, while the reverse was not possible. Voices raised against such an injustice were labeled nationalistic and reactionary.

     In 1980 Tito died and his place was taken by a rotating presidency, with a president appointed annually and taken from a different republic in turn. The 1980s brought further economic perils but also unimagined freedoms. With no one in full control, more and more dissatisfied voices could be heard. Finally, with the disappearance of the bi-polar world in 1989, Yugoslavia with its independent communism was needed no more. Powerless to reorganize and deal with its own problems, it was doomed to perish.

     Several problems appeared simultaneously. As early as 1981 an armed rebellion in Kosovo sought to achieve status of a republic or full independence. The underprivileged Serbs of the province were in desperate need of someone to help them and this came in the person of Slobodan Miloševi?. A younger generation communist on the rise, he quickly realized that Serbia’s problem with its provinces was his opportunity for advancement. Cutting through the red tape and speaking directly to people in a manner they could understand, he seemed like a leader able to reassert the dignity of Serbia. Soon he had many notable followers and in 1987 he took full control of the Communist Party of Serbia. In the next two years he used populism and Serb nationalistic rhetoric together with the cry for legalism and power invested by the communist state system to bring down the leaderships of the autonomous provinces. While the whole thing was done with little trouble in Vojvodina where the Serbs constituted a majority, in Kosovo the ethnic Albanian majority protested and finally resorted to a boycott of all state institutions. In 1989 Miloševi? was joined by the new leadership of Montenegro and was now controlling 4 out of 8 voices in the collective presidency. The possibility of a new authoritarian leader ruling the whole of Yugoslavia scared Slovenia and Croatia and awakened their old ideas about independence. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia disintegrated along national lines in 1989 and a boycott of the Yugoslav National Army by Croats, Slovenes and Albanians turned it into a Serb-dominated communist relic of the past. While Slovenian nationalism took on an economic face, in Croatia voices appeared that sounded much like those of the fascist Ustašas in WWII. Miloševi? now took on a role of a protector of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, encouraging them to rebel against unconstitutional proclamations of independence. None of the sides wanted to back off or lower their voices and clashes were inevitable. Moreover, attempts by the international community to ameliorate the situation were confused, uncoordinated and insincere and did little more than exacerbate the conflict.

The Bloody 1990s

   After an attempt to prevent Slovenia from leaving that led to a ten-day war in July 1991, the Yugoslav army retreated. In Croatia the fighting between Croats and local ethnic Serbs had already started. The army tried to separate the two sides but it was clear that it preferred the Serbs to hostile Croats. By late autumn the crisis had turned into a bloody civil war, with atrocities on both sides. In 1992 the fighting spread to Bosnia; the army left the newly recognized independent state but bestowed its arms to the local Serbs who with these means soon controlled almost two thirds of the Bosnia’s territory.

     In the meantime, Macedonia left the federation peacefully and Serbia and Montenegro formed a new, third incarnation of Yugoslavia in 1992. Due to its direct and indirect help to Serbs in former republics, international sanctions were imposed on the new Yugoslavia. International isolation and the total collapse of the social and administrative systems left space for Miloševi?’s Socialist Party to join with all kinds of criminals that could help them maintain power. The pyramidal bank system and galloping inflation of 1993 robbed ordinary citizens of their savings as well as incomes and reduced many to poverty, while a small minority close to the centre of power amassed wealth. Although Miloševi? lost the popular support he once enjoyed, he managed to cling to power by controlling state-owned factories, the police and the media, combined with selective violence and election fraud. In addition, the boycott by Kosovo Albanians gave him the opportunity to win all their seats in parliament, leaving him with a clear majority there.

     After the NATO intervention against the Serbs of Bosnia and the collapse of the Serb state in Croatia that generated a flood of 300,000 Serbs to Serbia, Miloševi? decided to submit to talks and in late 1995 the Dayton peace agreement was signed. This provoked the Kosovo Albanians to act and in 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army emerged, attacking police and army forces, Serb civilians as well as Albanians loyal to the federation. Miloševi? responded in his harsh manner once again and the fighting escalated, leading the way to another NATO intervention, this time against Serbia and Montenegro. The spring bombardment and war in Kosovo in 1999 ended with the retreat of the Serbian army and police from the province; together with them some 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians also left. The defeated nation saw this as a sell-out and when, in the year 2000, the Serb opposition finally managed to join forces, the regime was overthrown in massive demonstrations that hit their highest point on October 5th.

Recent Developments

     The bloodless and surprisingly peaceful handover of the power to opposition forces was managed only with the consent of many of Miloševi?’s henchmen, including the people from state security and special operations units. In return, the government of the first democratic prime minister Zoran Djindji? had to make painful compromises and fight the silent opposition to the reformist course it set. The clash between the two came to a crescendo when on March 16th, 2003 Djindji? was assassinated. The perpetrators, combined of special unit men, mafia and some state security officials, were soon caught and prosecuted but the whole event left a bitter taste and many unpleasant questions that still remain unanswered.

     In 2004 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was transformed into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, which functioned as a loose confederation of two states. In 2006 Montenegro decided to step out of the union and the two states once again became sovereign nations. Much more problematic and traumatic is the status of Kosovo: supported by EU and America the runaway province pronounced in 2008 a unilateral declaration of independence. Serbia does not recognize this but is under constant pressure to do so if it wants to become an EU member state.

     The 2000s saw Serbia enter a period of rapid transition and adoption of EU standards. Yet, a good deal of the privatization processes ended in utter failure, murky business moves amassed the wealth in the hands of a few tycoons, while slow reforms in many sectors left the country’s economy grasping for air. State administration remains too bulky, inefficient and worrisomely corrupt. Worst of all, the political parties have turned into self-reproducing oligarchies concerned only in their own material interests.

Vladimir Dulovi?, historian

Taken from Serbia in Your Hands tourist guide


Ministry of Culture of Republic of Serbia
?tlas of vernacular architecture
Association of Conservators of Serbia
Institute for the protection of Cultural Monuments of Republic of Serbia
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of Belgrade
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of  Kragujevac 
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of Valjevo 
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of Zrenjanin
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of  Subotica 
Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments of Novi Sad
Regional Institute for the protection of Culural Monuments Smederevo
Institute for the protection of Nature of Serbia
Center for Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija - MNEMOSYNE
Instutute for Monument Protection, search Novi Sad
Province Monument Protection Department, levitra Subotica
City Museum, levitra Subotica
Srem Museum, Sremska Mitrovica
Museum in Vrsac 
Museum in Zrenjanin


Heritage issues and policies

Activities concerning the protection of immovable cultural properties are carried out by institutes, including the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments of the Republic of Serbia (central body) and 11 Regional Institutes with territorial jurisdiction over funds for monuments located in their own territory. With the exception of Kosovo, where 3 institutes used to work, this network of institutes covers the entire territory of the Republic of Serbia. Currently, the above institutes for protection of cultural monuments employ 348 people, out of which 207 are qualified with bachelor or other higher educational degrees.

Since 1947, these institutes have conducted research on 194 archaeological heritage-sites, 37 monumental heritage items and 2 cultural-historical areas. In the same period, 1 214 research projects on archaeological heritage-sites were conducted by museums and 117 research projects by scientific institutions (e.g. the Faculty of Philosophy-Archaeology, the Archaeological Institute of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts). In 2005, 90 restoration projects in the fields of cultural heritage and museums were implemented. The majority of the projects have been carried out on monasteries, castles, museums, archives and six archaeological sites.

The protection and preservation of movable heritage (museum objects, archives, film and literary material) are carried out by museums, archives and libraries. There are 124 museums (43 regional museums and 81 museum branch offices, museum legacies and homeland collections), out of which there are: 3 natural museums, 13 economic-technical museums, 28 social-historical museums, 49 complex museums and 31 artistic museums. The National Museum in Belgrade is the central body in the Serbian museum network. There are also 5 museums with specific competencies: the Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Museum of Applied Arts, the Museum of Science and Technology, the Natural Museum and the Museum of Ethnology.

There are 36 archives, with 17 636 archive funds. There are two types of archives: general archives and special archives. General archives deal with archive material from all social activity areas, while special archives deal with a defined archive material or some particular activity branch. Most Serbian archives are organised as general archives.

The public library network consists of 159 public libraries, out of which 40 libraries have homeland collections. In 2004, these public libraries employed 1 547 people, out of which 549 were qualified with bachelor or higher educational degrees. The Serbian National Library in Belgrade, the Library of Matica Srpska in Novi Sad, Belgrade City Library, as well as 24 district public libraries are the leading experts in the library network.

On the whole, the past decade represents a period of stagnation in the work of these institutes. This stagnation was caused not by the existing organisation, institutional network, or human resource potential, but rather by circumstances and problems of an economic, political and administrative character, by a concentration of power and funding in few hands, as well as by different kinds of pressures which hindered a professional approach, influenced results, and decreased efficiency.

During the past year, notable efforts have been made to correct omissions and shortcomings resulting from the preceding period, to provide minimum working conditions and to lead the Institute's work into the mainstream of modern conservation. Some changes can be seen, such as efforts aimed at defining a development strategy and conservation policy, which would favour conservation planning. However, insufficient funding still hinders or makes the realisation of most of the planned conservation activities impossible to achieve. Under such circumstances, professional work, as well as timely expert, preventive and operational engagement in the protection and preservation of cultural heritage is rendered much more difficult.

The current situation in museums is still very difficult in spite of the fact that protection of cultural heritage is one of top priorities of the Serbian Ministry of Culture. The first Masters degree offering specific and systematic training and educational programmes for cultural heritage professionals started in October 2008. This course joined some partial initiatives in the form of life-long learning courses that have been developed by the Diana Centre of the National Museum. The central objectives of these educational courses have been focused on different conservation problems, management and conservation approaches to the care of cultural heritage.

The lack of personnel trained in preventive conservation, as well as educational training for new expertise and skills are not only problems in museums. Museums also have no specialised marketing and PR services, animators and professional cultural managers. That is one of the reasons why the broader public remains insufficiently aware of the value and significance of their heritage.

Certain progress has been achieved to re-establish professional contacts and co-operation with international institutions and organisations in the conservation field, with the aim of improving methodology and knowledge in this area, as well as opening up possibilities to engage expert consultants on the more complex professional problems.

Efforts have been made to improve conditions for institutional work in cultural heritage institutions. The most important changes in this area have been made by the Ministry of Culture. The first step will be the reconstruction of the Yugoslav Film Library building and the creation of 6 new depots for storing film material. This initiative has received support from the French Government and the Serbian Ministry of Culture. In the framework of the National Investment Plan, reconstruction and modernisation of the National Museum in Belgrade and the Serbian National Library have been supported in the amount of 9.2 million euros in the period of 2006-2007. In the same period, for reconstruction and modernisation of national cultural heritage institutions, about 23 millions euros has been allocated, while for the purpose of reconstruction and modernisation of local museums and libraries, 3 millions euros will be invested.

On the whole, the network of institutes is considered satisfactory. It is possible that the territorial jurisdiction of certain institutes will be revised due to the fact that some may cover too much territory, such as the institutes located in Nis and Kraljevo.

A clearly defined conservation policy, including improvements to the existing heritage protection service will require a modernisation of all areas: from legal protection, documentation, categorisation, technical protection, to presentation and use.

The natural heritage is under the supervision of the Institute for the Protection of Nature, which covers 25% of the state territory; however, in fact, only 7.6% are officially and legally protected areas.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Serbia

The Institutes in Novi Sad, Subotica, Pancevo and Sremska Mitrovica are in charge of the protection of the heritage in the Autonomous Province of Voivodina. They work in accordance with the regulations established by the Republic of Serbia.


Protected centres of cities, cialis sale settlements and their parts: Apatin, click Becej, Irig, Zrenjanin, Pancevo, Novi Sad, Kikinda, Kupinovo (ethno park), Jodna banja in Novi Sad, the Petrovaradin Fortress, the Synagogue in Novi Sad, Sombor, area around the Monastery of Kovilj, the building of the Romanian Bank in the centre of Vrsac.

Of great importance: Bac (medieval fortification), Sremski Karlovci (town centre), Fruska Gora with its monasteries and other monuments.

Under special protection as natural treasures are (examples): The National Park of Fruska Gora, 11 special reserves of nature (Deliblatska peš?ara, Obedska bara, Carska bara, Ludaško jezero...10 nature reserves such as strict nature reserves in the Bosut Forests, nine parks of nature (Palic, Bege?ka jama – The Whole of Begec, Jegricka, Zobnatica...),  85 natural monuments (geological-paleontological and geo-morphological sites; rare examples of flora and fauna, botanical and zoological sites, rows of trees, stylised parks) and two landscapes with special features (Suboti?ka peš?ara, Vrša?ke planine).



Official name: Serbia
Official language: Serbian
Official script: Cyrillic/Latin
Monetary unit: RSD
Population: 7.498.001 (excluding Kosovo) (according to the census from 2002)
Capital city: Belgrade with a population of 1, illness 6 million, it is the country´s administrative, economic and cultural centre
Political organisation: Serbia is a democratic state of all its citizens. Apart from Serbia Proper, the Republic of Serbia contains two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metohija.
Total area: 88.361 km²
Climate: temperature continental, with a gradual transition between the four seasons of the year
Rivers: Dunav, Zapadna Morava, Južna Morava, Ibar, Drina, Sava, Timok, Velika Morava, Tisa, Nišava, Tamiš, Begej
Mountains: Div?ibare, Tara, Zlatibor, Kopaonik, Brezovica, Fruška gora
Highest mountain peak: Deravica (2,656m) on mountain Prokletije
Highest mountain peak in central Serbia: Midžor (2,169m) on Stara Planina
Lakes: Vlasina, Peru?ac, Gazivode, Zvornik, Pali?, Belo, Potpe?
Largest lake: ?erdap (163 km²)
Larger cities: Beograd, Novi Sad, Niš, Kragujevac


Although in Voivodina there are traces of civilisation dating 60 000 years back, sildenafil baroque and classicism are the dominant styles found in the cultural heritage of this region, salve the most prominent among which are the works of visual art ranging from icons, manuscript books, woodcarving pieces, and paintings whose topic is urban life, while portraits appear as a novelty. Architectural heritage are monuments of public engineering – sacral, civil and business buildings.

Cultural Heritage from 18th  century to nowdays
Orthographic mapCities and villages started to develop faster in the 18th century when Vojvodina became part of Austria under the rule of Maria Theresa who made significant improvements to the living standards in settlements. Zoning plans were designed and settlements were built according to them, in grid form or following the configuration of the terrain.  

Reed roof house
Village house 

Panoramic viewThe Petrovaradin Fortress on the Danube is one of the largest in Europe, a symbol of Novi Sad, the capital of Voivodina. Its construction lasted from 1692 to 1780. It consists of the Upper and Lower Fortresses (the latter called Podgradje) which constitute a unique whole. The system of the underground military galleries in the Petrovaradin Fortress was built in four defensive positions and is 16 000 metres long with 12 000 loopholes, while the ceiling is high enough to provide shelter even for horses.  

Petrovaradin Fortress Detail
Franciscan Monastery


Bishop palace in VrsacBaroque has left its permanent mark on Vojvodina, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Voivodina joined to Serbia on 25th November 1918), so the Central European influences and lifestyles are dominant, although there is some heritage from the era of the Turkish rule (the Turkish bath - hamam in Bac), which lasted from the 16th to 17th century, in some areas even to the 18th century. The Baroque heritage is visible everywhere. In Vrsac there is the 18th century Bishop’s Palace with a great treasure of religious objects, a library and a gallery of portraits.     

Old MapThe National Park of Fruska Gora is famous for its multitude of Orthodox Christian monasteries and churches clustered in this mountain, which were the places of the spiritual development and cradles of culture for centuries (icons, manuscript books, etc.). There are now 16 of them remaining, some are being restored such as Krusedol. There is also the same number of lakes in Fruska Gora. 


The small Baroque town of Sremski Karlovci is situated on the slopes of Fruska Gora. It has been the seat of Metropolitanate since 1713. Following its increasing political significance, important public buildings were erected, such as the city administration building in the Empire style in 1811; the palace of Baron Rajacic built in the neoclassicist style is now home to the Museum of Sremski Karlovci, housing several collections, while the cellar holds archaeological remains from the surrounding area. 

PatriarchatRococo Detail

City HallIn the north of Voivodina, situated about ten kilometres from the border with Hungary, lies Subotica, a town with significant traces of art nouveau, baroque and neoclassicism. The City Hall is one of town symbols.


Reichl Palace

The Reichl Palace is also one of Subotica’s landmarks. The most beautiful decorative elements on its façade are made of famous Zsolnay ceramics. The building houses the Town Gallery.  


PortraitsPortable works of art make a significant part of Voivodina cultural heritage. Generally well preserved artworks originated between the 16th and 20th century. Works from the late 15th and early 16th centuries are kept in museums and late medieval monasteries, among which those in Fruska Gora stand out. After the great Austrian-Turkish wars in the late 17th century, there was a sudden expansion of European influences and their fusion with the existing Byzantine heritage. In Voivodina, Serbian art skipped centuries - the epochs of Renaissance and mannerism - joining the European art with the force of the authors’ talent. The artworks from the early 18th century are on permanent display in the Gallery of Matica Srpska in Novi Sad.    

CarriageRealism in visual arts was the leading style in the late 19th century, depicting everyday life.
Matica Srpska is the oldest Serbian national cultural institution founded in 1826 in Budapest, relocated to Novi Sad in 1864.


Matica srpskaThe Matica Srpska Library holds over 3.000.000 books and  publications offering great opportunities for scientific research. It exchanges publications with 350 libraries and institutions worldwide.





The Museum of the City of Novi Sad and the Museum of Vojvodina are institutions which hold permanent displays and keep parts of cultural-historical heritage, organise exhibitions, concerts, professional meetings and publish publications. The Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments and the City Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments are institutions whose field of work is the protection and preservation of architectural heritage and are also in the publishing business.
The Pavle Beljanski Memorial Collection in Novi Sad keeps anthological works of modern art from the early 20th century from all parts of ex Yugoslavia, and the newly founded Museum of Contemporary Art of Voivodina in Novi Sad presents the continuity of artistic and civil life in Voivodina, the home of representatives from 26 different national communities who respect  each others.

Old breweryThe improvement of the economy and industry in Voivodina from the 18th century followed the European progress. The railroad routs were one of the most diversified in Europe.



Windmill“Salash” style farms are a unique feature of Vojvodina. These are family estates where people lived and worked (agriculture, cattle breeding, food production). They are now being revived. Structures used for economic purposes were windmills, wells, drying houses, etc. The windmills in Melenci and Curug are under protection. There were also breweries, steam mills, wineries, pumping stations, railroads, locks, etc.  

KulpinRich families fromVojvodina built castles they lived or vacationed in. This architecture confirms the development of the rich middle class whose members had profits which were invested in spaces refining where they lived in. Summer residences and castles deteriorated in time, as well as their wealthy owners. One of 40 preserved examples is in Kulpin, where the Museum of Agriculture is housed. 


Cultural Heritage from the prehistory to the 18th century
Vrsac TowerThe Bronze Age was the most developed prehistoric period. The period from 2000 BC to 1000 BC saw the height of the development of settlements, when fortifications were erected on the hillsides of the Vrsac Mountains, Fruska Gora, and the banks of the major rivers, such as the forts in Gomolava, Starcevo, Kuva-Begec. 

Sirmium SiteRoman legions appeared in the late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD. They settled in Srem as well, where their centre was Sirmium (nowadays Sremska Mitrovica), whose great importance is reflected in the fact that, in its height, it was the Imperial City (3rd and 4th century). There was the Imperial Palace, hippodrome, basilicas, theatres, public thermae (baths), plumbing and sewer system, strong walls; a forum was also erected, where daily activities took place, while in the rich people’s houses there was central heating.    
The Franciscan monastery in Bac founded in the 12th century; complex with a church and lodgings. It suffered damage repeatedly and was completely restored in the 18th century. There are apparent influences of baroque, from the Turkish and late gothic periods.    

Sarcophagus in Sirmium

Fortress in BacAraca (close to Novi Becej) - its construction commenced in the 12th or the early 13th century. Rich architectural ornamentation on the façade has been preserved in fragments. After the Turks withdrew it was left in ruins. A tombstone with an image of a saint and the names of donors from the 11th century has been discovered. 
The fortress in Bac has preserved the monumentality of medieval fortifications. It was built in the 14th century and is located on the former island of Mostonge. The main tower reaches 18 metres and is well preserved. 



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The South East European (SEE) Heritage network Secretariat
P.O. Box 85
85330 Kotor - Montenegro
phone: + 382 (0)32 302520
fax: + 382 (0)32 302521

The material displayed on the separate country pages has been prepared by:
Albanian Heritage Foundation
Bosnia and Herzegovina: CHwB Regional Office in Sarajevo
Kosovo: EC MA Ndryshe
Montenegro: EXPEDITIO and Notar
Serbia: Civic Association SUBURBIUM

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South East Europe (SEE) – a region where people cooperate, understand and respect each other on the basis of their cultural differences, believing that cultural, ethnic and religious diversity is a valuable resource.


South East European Heritage is a network of non-governmental organizations established in 2006. The mission of the SEE Heritage network is to work toward protecting and promoting our common cultural heritage with the aim of encouraging the sustainable development of the region.

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