History of Serbia
A traveller making his way through modern Serbia is impressed above all by the countless signs of its long and varied past. Present-day Serbia answers roughly to the ancient provinces of Moesia Prima, Dacia Mediterranea, and Dardania. During the great migrations in Europe (5th to 6th century) Serbian ancestors allegedly arrive to the Balkan Peninsula from several directions and settle in the wide area between four seas (Black, Adriatic, Aegean, and Ionian). The Serbian Medieval state of Rashka was founded on the space between the rivers of Ibar and Drina, West Morava and Tara. It is on this location that the eldest Serbian feudal states Raška /Raschka, Rascia, Rassa /, later Serbia and Duklja, later Zeta or Montenegro, were formed that unified neighboring Serbian tribes into the main Medieval Serbian state in the Balkans where Eastern Orthodox Christianity was accepted in the 9th century. Raška is geographical area in SW Serbia named after the river of the same name. In the western sources (Venice, Italy, Vatican, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Germany and Hungary) the name of Rasciae (Raška), Regnum Rasciae (Kingdom of Raška) was accepted. This is how this area was called in western – Latin sources even in the time when the Serbian Medieval state extended its borders to the other Serbian and some neighboring states, during the reign of King Milutin and Tzar Dushan, in the 14th century. And later, until the end of the 19th century, this area and the wider region was known by the name of Raška, which was a synonim for Serbia, and Rascians for Serbs. In the Middle Ages Raška was one of the Serb zhupas whose zhupans since the beginning of the 12th century waged leadership of the Serb campaigns against Byzantine Empire instead of the fist Serb Statehood of Zeta, so the great zhupan Stefan Nemanja became the most powerful among the Serb nobelty at the beginning of the 12th century and created the state with its center at Ras, located near the present day of Novi Pazar. Under Stefan Nemanja and his descendants from Nemanja’s statehood the Kingdom of Serbia has been established, which developed into the Serbian Kingdom in the 14th century. Stefan Nemanja – Stephen Nemanya, whom the Byzantine emperor recognized as grand zhupan -grand duke- of Serbia in 1159, founded Nemanyic Dynasty that ruled for two centuries. His son and successor assumed the title king of all Serbia in 1217 with the pope’s blessing. However, the king’s brother, Sava, the first archbishop of Serbia, succeeded in having papal influence eliminated from the kingdom; in 1219 he won recognition from the patriarch of Constantinople of an autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian Medieval kingdom was at first overshadowed by the rapid rise of the Bulgarian empire under Ivan II (Ivan Asen), but under King Stephen Dušan, who became king in 1331 and Tsar in 1346, Serbia of Nemanya Dynasty became the most powerful empire in the Balkan Peninsula, much of which it absorbed.
Even among European states, Serbia was noted for its high economic, social, and cultural level. After Stephen’s death in 1355, however, the empire decayed and fell victim to the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks. The Serbs suffered defeat at the Maritsa River in 1371; that same year the last tsar, Stephen Urosh V, died without male issue. Place of the Maritza Battle in 1371, when the Serbian kings Vukasin and Ugljesa who led their armies clashed with the Turks was named the “Sirf-Sindugi” – “The Serbian defeat”. His successor, Lazar, contented himself with the title Prince of Serbia. Prince Lazar was slain in 1389 during the Battle of Kosovo Field in which the cream of Serbian nobility was massacred and the fate of independent Serbia sealed when the Serbian hero Lazar lost his kingdom to the Ottoman Turks, so Kosovo for Serbs, retains its symbolic significance. Prince Lazar’s son, Stephen Lazarevic, was allowed to rule (1389–1427) over a diminished and divided Serbia by Sultan Beyazid I, to whom he paid tribute. Although Despot Stefan Lazarevic and his successor, George Brankovich (reigned 1427–56), received the title despots /lords/ from the Byzantine Empire, the Turks gradually absorbed their lands. The quarrel over the Brankovich succession facilitated the complete annexation of Serbia by Sultan Muhammad II in 1459. Belgrade, then held by Hungary, fell to the Turks in 1521. During the centuries-long Turkish occupation of Serbia, national traditions and the memory of the Dušan’s empire were preserved by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Serbia became a Turkish province, with its pashas residing at Belgrade. Turkish rule in Serbia was oppressive while the the Serbian nobility was annihilated and Christian peasants were treated like virtual slaves. At the end of the 17th century Austria declared war to the Ottoman Empire which made the Serb population believe into possibility of the soon possible liberation from the Turkish yoke. However, when Serb eventually understood that they were used as a tool for reciprocal fights, all Serb hopes dispersed like smoke and had resulted in the Great Serb migration led by Patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic to the far and distant northern areas. Many Serbs fled to Hungary and Austria from the southern part of the country persecuted by the Turks. Islam was in a period of expansion during this time, especially in Raška, Kosovo and Bosnia. Many Serbs and Croats converted to Islam, which eventually led to the forming of the Bosniak nation. The Ottoman period was a defining one in the history of the country; Slavic, Byzantine, Arabic and Turkish cultures suffused. Many contemporary cultural traits can be traced back to Ottoman period. Occupation of Serbia lasted until the uprising against Turkish yoke in 1804, so in 1867. the last Turkish troops left Serbia. The constitution in 1869, granting more power to the Skupština /Parliament/ after the Congress of Berlin, reestablished Serbia as a state which obtained formal independence in 1878. The strengthening of parliamentary government and expansion of the economy greatly raised Serbia’s prestige and exerted a powerful attraction on the South Slavs who remained under Austro-Hungarian rule. Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 was designed to quell sentiment in that region for union with Serbia. In 1912 Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia declared war on the waning Ottoman Empire and stripped it of most of its remaining European possessions. A Second war on the Balkan Peninsula was fought in 1913, again over boundaries. Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece, leading to an invasion and a partial dismemberment of Bulgaria by its former Balkan allies and Turkey. The Austrians told in 1913 the Italian government that they were going to invade Serbia. The Italian Prime Minister in 1914 cited this fact to claim that: ‘The telegram indicates that the assassination of the Archduke was the occasion rather than the cause of Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia, and it reveals the reason for Austria’s action – invading Serbia in July, 1914‘. The Ultimatum of Austria-Hungary on Serbia was extreme on purpose – the Austrians hoped that the Serbs would reject it, giving them the excuse to invade. In fact, the Austrian Chief of Staff General Hotzendorf had asked for a ‘surprise’ war to destroy Serbia more than 25 times in the eight years after 1906. The Great War – WWI began as an amalgamation of many different factors and causes – Nationalism, Imperialism, Militarism and Lack of International Organization to install rules and regulations for international affairs, based on individual treaties, forged between nations that were sometimes contradicted with treaties with other nations. Serb’s love for the country, and love for freedom and the patriotic and heroic poetry of Serbs attracted numerous international personalities, from Napoleon to Goethe, from Byron to Victor Hugo.
Victorious in Balkan wars and World War I, Serbian army fought bravely, but in 1915, when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and Germany reinforced the Austrians, Serbia was overrun. Serbia’s soldiers had rendered heroic admirable efforts which, after a terrible struggle against a formidable enemy, unbearable sufferings and casualties, typhus, starvation, exhaustion and privations of all sorts, led them over the impassable snow-covered mountains of Albania, across the sea to Corfu and to Salonika, from where, with the help of their valiant allies, they fought their way back to their country, to Freedom, and to Union with their brethren in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In World War I, Serbia had 1,264,000 casualties — 28% of its total population, and 58% of its male population, which is real demographic catastrophe. The Serbian troops and government were evacuated to the Greek island of Kérkira /Corfu/ Krf, where in 1917 Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin representatives proclaimed the union of South Slavs. In 1918 the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, headed by Peter I of Serbia, officially came into existence.
During World War II, Serbia was a German-occupied puppet state that included present-day Central Serbia and Banat, popularly called Nedić’s Serbia. However, parts of the present-day territory of Serbia were occupied by Hitler collaborator Croatian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Albanian, and Italian armies. The occupying powers committed numerous crimes against the civilian population, especially against Serbs and Jews. From 1945 Serbia was one of the six consistent units of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. „Brotherhood and unity” as a political formula was coined by the Yugoslav Communist Party during World War II. As one of the political values created during the people’s liberation struggle, it became part of the revolutionary tradition and thus affected the shaping of the Yugoslav post-war historic and social consciousness. Known as Tito’s Yugoslavia, led by the Yugoslav Communist Government until 1992, Yugoslavia consisted of united socialist Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.
In 1986, Slobodan Milošević became leader of the Serbian Communist party. In year of 1991 civil war was unsuccessfully prevented. Despite the civil wars in neighboring Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Yugoslavia, which were eased in September 1994, after Serbia announced it was cutting off aid to the Bosnian Serbs, and in late 1995 in Dayton USA, Presidents of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia signed a peace. Fall of the Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK) and exodus of Serbs in August 1995 is the only one of the tragedies caused by break-up of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, and makes the largest, the most abhorrent, the dirties and bloodiest prank to a civilized European nation at the very end of the 20th century, while explanations of the events are simplified to vulgarity, full of escape of responsibilities, and of unacceptable cynical transfer of guiltiness on others.
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) remained peaceful until 1998, when the clashes with controversial K.L.A. started in Kosovo province. The desire of the major of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo for independence or for union with Albania resulted in terrorism and bloody war. Beginning in 1989, Milošević ended Kosovo’s autonomy, which Tito fronteered and granted in the 1974 constitution, and sent in troops to suppress the protests of Kosovo’s Albanian majority.
Between 1998 and 1999, continued clashes in Kosovo between Yugoslav security forces and the K.L.A. prompted a NATO aerial bombardment to Yugoslav military and civil targets which lasted for 78 days. The NATO attacks were stopped when Serbian president Slobodan Milošević agreed to remove all security forces, including the military and the police, and have them replaced by a body of international police, in return for which Kosovo would formally remain within the Yugoslav Federation.
From 1992 until the 2003, Serbia, together with Montenegro, was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) won early parliamentary elections held (December 2000) after Milošević lost the Yugoslavian presidency to Vojislav Koštunica, and formed the first non-communist, non-socialist government in Serbia in 55 years. Zoran Djindjić became the prime minister of Serbian Government. The DOS pledged to create a market economy and to dismantle the authoritarian state Milošević had established, and subsequently /2001/ turned the former president over to the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague. Relations between Djindjić and Yugoslavian president Koštunica became increasingly strained, with the prime minister more concerned about improving the economy and relations with Western Europe than preserving the Yugoslavian federation. Djindjić was assassinated on March 12. 2003, and Serbian officials accused a criminal gang of responsibility. The assassination resulted in extensive arrests of governmental, security, and criminal figures associated with organized crime and the former Milošević regime.
From 2003 to 2006, Serbia was part of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, into which the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been transformed.
On March the 17th 2004 Kosovo erupted in anti-Serb violence that appeared designed to exclude Serb population from mixed urban and edged rural areas. Enormous number of Serbian and World cultural heritage monuments were devastated. Koštunica called, as he had before, for the partition of province into Albanian and Serb cantons. The United Nations and Albanians from Kosovo rejected that solution, but Serbia remains opposed to complete independence for Kosovo, and the ultimate status of Kosovo is unresolved.
The former President of Serbia was Boris Tadić, a pro-Western reformer and the leader of the Democratic Party (DS), who was elected with 53% of the vote in the second round of the Serbian presidential election held on 27 June 2004, following several unsuccessful elections since 2002. The current President of Serbia is Tomislav Nikolic, from the SNS /progressives/ Party.
On May 21, 2006, Montenegro held a referendum to determine whether or not to end the union with Serbia. The next day, state-certified results showed 55.5% of voters in favor of independence, which was just above the 55% required by the referendum. On June the 3rd, the Parliament of Montenegro declared Montenegro independent of the State Union and on June the 5th, the National Assembly of Serbia declared Serbia the successor to the State Union as Republic of Serbia.
The Serbian Parliament adopted the new Constitution of Serbia in a solemn session on November 8, 2006 in the House of Parliament in Belgrade. The Constitution of Serbia comes into force on the day of its proclamation. For the first time a Serbian constitution was proclaimed in the representative Parliament edifice at the Nikola Pašić Square, where all constitutions of the former Yugoslavia were proclaimed.
Thanks to its long and eventful history, Serbia offers numerous amazing and exciting sights to be explored.