Currency unit

Yugoslav (Serbian) dinar (hyperinflation)







War Pollution









Serbs first entered an area depopulated by plague in the 7th century as part of the southward migration of Slavs, who at this time were not greatly differentiated into nations. The area had been part of the Roman Empire on the border between the Byzantine part and the western Empire. In Roman times the main ethnic group was the Illyrians, ancestors of the Albanians. The Slavs here were converted to Christianity from the west and the east. Those converted to the eastern Orthodox religion have become known as Serbs (Srpski); those converted from Rome, as Croats (Hrvatski). As the Byzantine Empire declined the Turks moved in. At the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 the Turkish Sultan Murad was killed but the Serbs lost most of their territory. They were finally defeated and conquered by the Turks in 1459 except for Montenegro, a small mountain principality.

Recovery and reconquest began by the independence of a small district in the north achieved in 1813, Central Serbia in 1833 (when autonomy within the Ottoman Empire was recognized by the powers) part in 1878 (east Serbia). Actual juridical independence from Ottomans as a monarchy in 1882. There were gains in territory from the final break up of Turkey in Europe in 1913 (Kosovo and parts of Macedonia). The Serbian king became king of Yugoslavia in 1919.

After the second world war Serbia was the largest of the constituent republics of the Yugoslav federation. The people are Eastern Orthodox in religion and the language is written with the Cyrillic alphabet. (The nationality is defined by the religion and script. This was the case throughout the near east where different religions each had their own scripts.)

It was the nucleus of Yugoslavia formed after the first world war. But the other peoples in Yugoslavia resented Serbian domination and tried to rebel. Croatian revolutionaries assassinated the Yugoslav (Serbian) king Alexander when he was visiting Marseille in 1934. During the second world war many Serbs were killed by a Croatian fascist group, the Ustashe, which the Nazis had put in charge of Croatia, itself enlarged to take in areas where Serbs lived.

Communist period (1945-)
At the end of the second world war Tito, a Croat, divided Yugoslavia into a federation, mainly to prevent the Serbs dominating, and to give the other nationalities some autonomy. He gave the state called Croatia areas inhabited by Serbs, but as the individual Republics had, while he lived, only the powers of local governments this did not matter. After his death Yugoslavia began to unravel as the Republics gradually acquired the powers of the Federal government. Serb fears of being ruled by Croats again began to grow.

Serbia then had a post-communist government led by Slobodan Milosevic who behaved like a nationalist with overtones of fascism. The Serbs are afraid, perhaps irrationally, that the Croat nationalism may take on the form of the Ustashe again. (The war which then broke out allowed the formation of Ustashe groups, known as HOS.)

As Yugoslavia broke up, Milosevic is believed to have developed a policy of trying to annex parts of the other republics, especially Montenegro, Macedonia and parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina where there are many Serbs to form a Greater Serbia. At the same time the province of Kosovo, largely Albanian in population tried to secede from Serbia and perhaps join Albania. The Hungarian government may also be interested in the fate of Magyars living in Vojvodina. These are possible causes of war in addition to the wars already going on.

In the Yugoslav civil war Serbia supplied most of the officers in the former Federal army and followed an apparent policy of dismembering Croatia and Bosnia. But as Serbs and Croats only differ in religion, not in language, it is the kind of conflict which cannot be won. Only a negotiated peace could work. It is a good example of the dangers of extreme nationalism.

Milosevic's attempt to make a Greater Serbia including Kosovo and Vojvodina created huge tensions, culminating in the war over Kosovo in 2000. The UN and the EU imposed trade sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro which were only lifted when Milosevic left power.

The Californian former prime minister of Yugoslavia, Milan Panic, referred to "the Mickey Mouse politics" of the area. Perhaps, though, they are closer to the world of the Los Angeles street gangs. He was opposed to Milosevic's policies and his failure to win the "Yugoslav" presidential election in December 1992 might have been the last chance for peace for a long time. He had to resign.

Milosevic's policy was generally unsuccessful as the Serbs of the Krajina - who had lived there since the 17th century - were expelled to Serbia by the Croats, the Serbs of Bosnia were restrained by international action and the Serbs of Kosovo generally had to leave. Thus after 1999 Serbia was in fact smaller than it had been for decades.

When Montenegro left the rump federation of Yugoslavia, Serbia became an entirely landlocked country, faced with making a living in competition with its former enemies in Croatia, Kosovo and Albania. From 1 June 2002 it was a member of the new 'state' of Serbia and Montenegro but this ceased to exist in 2006.


Serbs 66.4%

Croats 1.6%

(same language)


14% (in Kosovo)






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Elections in December 1990 and again in December 1992 resulted in the former Communist Party (renamed Socialist) being returned to power. Were they honest? It is hard to be sure.

The leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, showed signs of authoritarian populism. If he wasn't a communist people would accuse him of at least a tendency to fascism. He is the sort of person whose over-bearing nationalism has caused wars in the past. But he seemed to represent the mood of the Serbs. The prognosis is bad. There are opponents of the war but they do not seem able to make their opposition effective. And also there are more extreme nationalists.

Milosevic expressed a kind of pathological nationalism which exaggerated the alleged rights of one group, the Serbs, at the expense of all others, especially Muslims and Catholics (Croats). The Croats of course were doing the same. This was accompanied by a suspicion of the motives of the European Union, especially of the Germans. To western Europeans these attitudes seem to belong to a period of 50 years ago. If they are not checked, however, they may represent the future of many areas.

Elections in December 1992 resulted in Milosevic being re-elected. Were they honest? State tv allowed little time for the opposition. Some ballot irregularities were reported. Nevertheless most reporters think the result does unfortunately reflect the wishes of the voters. Extreme nationalists (Serbian Radical Party) won a large bloc of seats in parliament. It could be described as definitely fascist .

Further elections were called in December 1993. Again Milosevic retained power.

Milosevic resigned in July 1997 but got himself elected (unopposed) to the presidency of rump Yugoslavia, from where, presumably, he intended to retain power.

He was at length voted out in 2000 and arrested on 1 April 2001. He was replaced as President of Yugoslavia by Vojislav Kostunica, an anti western Nationalist, with Zoran Djindijic, a former supporter of Milosevic, willing to cooperate with the western powers as Prime Minister. Milosevic was handed over to the international War Crimes Court at Den Haag, where he died before his trial had finished.

Serbia then seemed to be developing a modern European democratic state. However, dealing with the former war criminals responsible for the atrocities of the war, regaining looted state property from Milosevic's associates and rebuilding the economy will take a long time. Djindjic was assassinated.

Is gangsterism coming to an end?

The most recent elections in 2012 returned the pro-Milosevic, Nationalist forces to power. They seem to be reversing the trend towards EU membership.

Tea Obreht - The Tiger's Wife

Tea Obreht - the Tiger's Wife (novel)

Die Tigerfrau

La Femme du tigre







Hyperinflation occurred with a shortage of imported goods and a collapse of the economy, due to sanctions and a break down of normal trade. Currency reform in January 1994 stabilized the currency but this may not last.

Reporters state that the mass of people are unemployed and impoverished but that a few people acting like a Mafia have access to foreign currency and smuggled western goods. Even so, people appear to have voted to support the government which has brought about this collapse.

A recovery may have begun with European Union aid after Milosevic was arrested and handed over. The Danube bridges have been cleared so that river traffic has begun again. It is too soon to say what form the economy will take in future as so much was destroyed in the war. The loss of access to the sea via Montenegro will not be helpful.







Much damage during the war. Air strikes hit chemical factories and poisoned large areas of land. Also depleted uranium was used by NATO forces.






Human Rights

Secret police, lack of rule of law. Government control of media. Kidnapping to join army (press gang).

This may be improving with the ending of the Milosevic regime.

Climate effects

Last revised 5/08/12


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