Ok, let’s start by you, dear reader, throwing out all of your preconceptions about Serbia – preconceptions undoubtedly fostered by a drumbeat of negative news reports from the 1990s depicting the Serbs as grim genocidaires…
A news vacuum in regard to Serbia since that time has, unfortunately, done little to alter that bloodthirsty impression forged during the various Balkan conflicts.
The reality: Serbia bears little resemblance to the image we have been presented with by popular media…
Lest any of you think I am too pro-Serbian and am walking around wearing Serb goggles, please review my Bosnia posting here.
Some of you just like to look at pretty pictures and others of you like a bit more depth. So, if you’re looking for depth and detail please read the breakdown given at the end of the photographs. If you just want pictures, proceed as normal and skip the text at the bottom…
Crossing into Serbia from Kosovo (below). Serbia considers Kosovo a part of its territory (a claim not without merit) and so if you wish to enter Serbia via Kosovo, you must have a Serbian entry stamp. This is obtained by accessing Serbia at a different time from some other country such as Bosnia-Herzegovina or Montenegro. If you don’t have this Serbian entry stamp, you will be turned back at the border of Kosovo. And don’t try running the border – those soldiers in the background are well-armed and well-trained.
Especially if you enter Serbia from Kosovo, as mentioned above, you will notice an immediate improvement in things – you will encounter quality roads that will have signs, the countryside will be clean, the people will be more friendly… It is a huge transition.
This is a typical country home in Serbia:
Much of the southern region of Serbia is devoted to agriculture and so you will drive past many fields and farms (30% of the total labor force in Serbia is involved in agriculture). And, as an interesting “oh by the way,” did you know that Serbia grows about one-third of the world’s raspberries and is the world’s leading frozen fruit exporter?
This structure is used for drying hay…
To fuel sturdy horses such as this one that was just hanging out alongside the road:
If you need more than a horse to haul your hay, you can use a tractor like this:
And if you need more than a tractor to haul your hay, you can use a converted military truck like this one:
There is more apparent prosperity in Serbia than many of the other Balkan states. With a GDP per capita (PPP) of only $10,800 Serbs somehow make the most of their modest wealth with respectable homes and well-maintained automobiles.
An old Serbian Orthodox church and cemetery in the countryside:
Entering a typical Serbian village:
I snapped this picture of these apartment blocks below at a gas station in a larger town. My intention was to show what some of the larger towns look like. But, my main point is about the petrol station and the Serbian people in general…
We filled up our tank at the before-mentioned petrol station and, unbeknownst to us, because we purchased a certain amount of fuel, we were automatically eligible to receive a free container of window-washing fluid for our car. The gas station employees struggled to communicate this to us, but we don’t speak Serbian and they didn’t speak English. However, they were so concerned about us getting our free window-washing fluid that they tracked down someone that spoke English to explain the situation to us. And they insisted that we take our free bottle even after we politely declined (we were driving a rental car and so didn’t really need it).
Such a thing might not impress you, dear reader, but having just come from Kosovo where we were ripped off at every opportunity, such honest behavior was more than a little refreshing and is reflective of the general nature of the Serbs we encountered.
Did I mention that the Serbian roads were great?
I told you the roads were great:
Ok, here is my effort at an unbiased breakdown of the last century of complicated Serbian history:
World War I
On 28 June 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Gavrilo Princip (more on that in my Sarajevo post) led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on the Kingdom of Serbia. In defense of its ally Serbia, Russia started to mobilize 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 declarations of war across the continent, leading to the outbreak of World War I within a month.
The Serbian Army won several major victories against Austria-Hungary at the beginning of World War I, such as the Battle of Cer and Battle of Kolubara – marking the first Allied victories against the Central Powers in World War I. Despite initial success though, Serbia was eventually overpowered by the joint forces of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria in 1915. Most of its army 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, freeing Serbia again and defeating the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgaria. Serbia (with its major campaign) was a major Balkan Entente Power which contributed significantly to the Allied victory in the Balkans in November 1918, especially by enforcing Bulgaria’s capitulation with the aid of France.
World War II
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was in a precarious position in World War II. Fearing an invasion by Germany, the Yugoslav Regent, Prince Paul, signed the Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers on 25 March 1941, triggering demonstrations in Belgrade. On March 27, Prince Paul was overthrown by a military coup d’état and replaced by King Peter II. General Dušan Simović became Peter’s Prime Minister and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia withdrew its support for the Axis.
In response Adolf Hitler launched the invasion of Yugoslavia on 6 April. By 17 April, unconditional surrender was signed in Belgrade. After the invasion, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was dissolved and, with Yugoslavia partitioned, Serbia became part of the Military Administration of Serbia, under a joint German-Serb government led by Milan Nedić.
The ultranationalist and fascist Croatian Ustaše sought to purge the Independent State of Croatia of Serbs, Jews, and Roma who were subjected to large-scale persecution and genocide, most notoriously at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Such were the excesses of the Ustaše that even some Nazis balked at the zeal with which their Ustaše compatriots went about their murderous handiwork. After the war, official Yugoslav sources estimated over 700,000 victims of genocide, mostly Serbs. The events had a profound impact on Serbian society and relations between Croats and Serbs (a factor in the 1990s conflict).
The lust for genocide displayed by the Ustaše, and the presence of a ruthless German occupation force, prompted Serbian resistance on a large scale. Two very different resistance groups emerged. One of these groups were the royalist Chetniks commanded by Draža Mihailović who were anti-communist. The other resistance group – the Partisans – were pro-communist and were commanded by Josip Broz Tito.
As if Nazi occupation and genocide were not enough, Serbia was the scene of a civil war from 1941 to 1945 between the two resistance groups as they battled over ideology and strategy. Against these forces were arrayed Nedić’s units of the Serbian Volunteer Corps and the Serbian State Guard. By the beginning of 1944, the Partisans became the leading force in Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Herzegovina. In Serbia however, especially in rural areas, the population remained loyal to Draza Mihajlovic. However, the joint Soviet and Bulgarian “liberation” in 1944 swung in favor of the communist Partisans, who were then established as the ruling elite until the 1990s.
The 1990s And Beyond
Slobodan Milošević rose to power in Serbia in 1989 in the League of Communists of Serbia through a serious of coups against incumbent governing members. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, fears of Serbian domination by the communist leadership of the other republics of Yugoslavia eventually resulted in the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia along ethnic lines.
The period of political turmoil and conflict marked a rise in ethnic tensions between Serbs and other ethnicities of the former Communist Yugoslavia as territorial claims of the different ethnic factions often crossed into each others’ claimed territories. Serbs in Serbia feared that the nationalist and separatist government of Croatia was led by Ustase sympathizers who would oppress Serbs living in Croatia. This view of the Croatian government was promoted by Milošević, who also accused the separatist government of Bosnia and Herzegovina of being led by Islamic fundamentalists. The governments of Croatia and Bosnia in turn accused the Serbian government of attempting to create a Greater Serbia. These views led to a heightening of xenophobia between the peoples during the wars.
In response to accusations that the Yugoslav government was financially and militarily supporting the Serb military forces in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia, sanctions were imposed by the United Nations which led to political isolation, economic decline and hardship, and serious hyperinflation of the currency in Yugoslavia.
In 1992, the governments of Serbia and Montenegro agreed to the creation of a new Yugoslav federation called the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which abandoned the predecessor SFRY’s official endorsement of communism, and instead endorsed democracy.
Also in 1992, Yugoslavia was ousted from the UN, but Serbia continued its – ultimately unsuccessful – campaign in Bosnia until signing the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Milošević represented the Bosnian Serbs at the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, signing the agreement which ended the Bosnian War and internally partitioned Bosnia & Herzegovina largely along ethnic lines into a Serb republic and a Bosniak-Croat federation.
Milošević kept tight control over Serbia and eventually became president of the FRY in 1997. In 1998, an ethnic Albanian insurgency in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo provoked a Serbian counterinsurgency campaign that became known as the Kosovo War. The Milošević government’s rejection of a proposed international settlement (and an overly eager West wanting to act early this time around following the collective dithering in Bosnia and utter failure to stem the Rwandan genocide of 1994) led to NATO’s bombing of Serbia in the spring of 1999 and to the eventual withdrawal of Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo in June 1999.
In September 2000, opposition parties claimed that Milošević committed fraud in routine federal elections. Street protests and rallies throughout Serbia eventually forced Milošević to concede and hand over power to the recently formed Democratic Opposition of Serbia ( Demokratska opozicija Srbije, or DOS). The DOS was a broad coalition of anti-Milošević parties. On 5 October, the fall of Milošević led to the end of the international isolation Serbia suffered during the Milošević years.
Serbia’s political climate following the fall of Milošević remained tense. In 2003, the prime minister Zoran Đinđić was assassinated as result of a plot originating from circles of organized crime and former security forces. Nationalist and EU-oriented political forces in Serbia have remained sharply divided on the political course of Serbia in regards to its relations with the European Union and the West. However, the tensions between those political poles is gradually easing, as the issues of Kosovo independence, economical crisis and aspiration towards accession to the European Union force the parties to find more common ground.
Milošević was sent to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague on accusations of sponsoring war crimes and crimes against humanity during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo where he was held on trial until his death in 2006.
In May 2006, Montenegro invoked its right to secede from the federation and – following a barely successful referendum – it declared itself an independent nation on 3 June 2006. Two days later, Serbia declared that it was the successor state to the union of Serbia and Montenegro. A new Serbian constitution was approved in October 2006 and adopted the following month, leading the National Assembly of Serbia to declare the “Republic of Serbia” to be the legal successor to the “State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.”