Serbia - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

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Serbia (Serbian Srbija), republic in southeastern Europe, located on the Balkan Peninsula. Serbia is a landlocked country. Its northern half comprises a broad, low-lying agricultural plain receiving the waters of the mighty Danube River. The country’s southern half is mostly hilly and mountainous. Ethnic Serbs make up about two-thirds of Serbia’s population, although ethnic Albanians constitute a majority in the southern province of Kosovo. Serbia’s capital and largest city is Belgrade.

From 1946 to 1991 Serbia was part of a larger federal state of Yugoslavia, which consisted of Serbia and five other republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. That Yugoslav state broke apart in 1991, when several of the republics declared their independence. In 1992 Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed themselves the successor state to the former Yugoslavia and took the name Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The FRY adopted a new constitutional charter in 2003 that gave the constituent republics more autonomy and changed the country’s name from the FRY to Serbia and Montenegro. This union dissolved in June 2006 when Serbia and Montenegro became separate, independent nations.

Since 1999 the province of Kosovo in southern Serbia has been administered by the United Nations (UN). The UN administration was established after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a campaign of air strikes against the FRY amid interethnic violence between Serbs and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.


Serbia is bounded on the north by Hungary; on the east by Romania and Bulgaria; on the south by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM); on the southwest by Albania; and on the west by Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina (often referred to simply as Bosnia), and Croatia. Serbia covers a total land area of 88,361 sq km (34,116 sq mi).

Most of Serbia can be divided into three regions: Vojvodina, a large province in the north containing fertile plains drained by the Danube and other rivers; Šumadija, a hilly and heavily populated area in central Serbia; and Kosovo, a mountainous province in the south. A fourth region, Sandžak, straddles the southwestern border with Montenegro. Vojvodina encompasses part of the vast Pannonian Plain, although the southern spur of the Carpathian Mountains extends into the southeastern part of the province. The Balkan Mountains flank Serbia’s eastern border, meeting the Carpathians at the Danube. The Dinaric Alps dominate Kosovo. Mount Daravica, on the border between Kosovo and Albania, rises to 2,656 m (8,714 ft).

Rivers of Serbia

The Danube, the second-longest river in Europe, flows eastward across the northern part of Serbia. About 588 km (about 365 mi) of the river’s total length is within Serbia. The Danube forms part of the border with Croatia, flows across the Pannonian Plain and through Belgrade, and then traces part of the border with Romania. At this point the river narrows through the picturesque Iron Gate gorge, where it separates the Balkan Mountains in the south from the Carpathian Mountains in the north. The Iron Gate Dam, a joint project between Romania and the former Yugoslavia that opened in 1972, spans the Danube in the gorge and generates hydroelectricity with two power plants. Most other major rivers in Serbia are tributaries of the Danube. These include the Sava, which joins the Danube at Belgrade, and the Tisza and Morava rivers. The Drina forms much of Serbia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Plants and Animals in Serbia

The country’s plant and animal life is diverse. The Pannonian Plain was once mostly grassland, but now crops are cultivated over most of it. Mountains are covered in forests of deciduous trees, with mostly oak at lower elevations and beech at higher elevations but also a scattering of elm, ash, chestnut, and willow. Wild animals include boars, deer, bears, wolves, foxes, and chamois. The plains are home to a variety of birds, including quail, partridges, and pheasants, while marshy areas provide wading habitat for storks and herons. Serbia’s rivers contain many species of fish, including trout, perch, carp, sheatfish (a type of catfish), and several varieties of sturgeon.

Climate in Serbia

Serbia has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. On the Pannonian Plain of the north summers are hot, with temperatures sometimes rising above 40°C (100°F), and winters are long and cold, with temperatures sometimes falling below -20°C (-10°F). The average July temperature in Belgrade is 21°C (69°F); the average January temperature is 0°C (32°F). In the mountains the high altitude moderates summer temperatures and makes winters more severe with colder temperatures and heavy snowfall.


Serbia has a population of 7,379,339 (2009 estimate). Ethnic Serbs constitute about two-thirds of the population. Ethnic Albanians are the largest minority group, making up about 17 percent of the population. Other groups include Hungarians and Muslim Slavs (generally known as Bosniaks).

Most Albanians live in Kosovo, where they make up more than 90 percent of the population. Bosniaks form a majority of the population in the southern region of Sandžak, which is sandwiched between Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia. Hungarians are concentrated in the northern part of the province of Vojvodina, bordering Hungary. In some parts of Vojvodina, Hungarians form a local majority. The province is also home to a small population of Roma (also known as Gypsies).

Croats had long lived in Belgrade and Vojvodina, but many of them fled after hostilities broke out between Croats and Serbs in 1991 in response to Croatia’s declaration of independence. As a result of the wars of Yugoslav succession, which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, about 646,000 refugees fled to Serbia and Montenegro from Croatia and Bosnia.

Interethnic conflict in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 forced nearly 1 million ethnic Albanians to leave the province, with most going to Albania, Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Nearly all of these refugees returned to Kosovo after a United Nations (UN) interim administration was set up in the province in June 1999. However, about 200,000 other residents of Kosovo, mostly Serbs, then fled from the province to other parts of Serbia. Many Serb refugees from Kosovo settled in Belgrade or Vojvodina.

Language and Religion in Serbia

The official language of Serbia is Serbian, a South Slavic language that is traditionally written in the Cyrillic alphabet (see Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian Languages). Minority groups speak their own languages, such as Albanian and Hungarian. Bosniaks generally speak Bosnian and write it with the Latin alphabet.

Serbs are by tradition Orthodox Christians. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches also have adherents in Serbia. Most of the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo are Sunni Muslims (see Sunni Islam), as are the Bosniaks of the Sandžak region. Bosniaks are descendants of Slavs who converted to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Education in Serbia

The leading institutions of higher learning in Serbia are the University of Belgrade, founded in 1863, and the universities of Kragujevac, Novi Sad, Niš, and Priština. Higher education in Serbia was crippled in 1998 when the Serbian parliament adopted a law that placed all universities under direct control of the government. This severely compromised academic freedom, and many of the most distinguished faculty members were fired. However, following the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milošević in late 2000, Serbian universities regained much of their traditional autonomy. Since that time they have worked to overcome the damage caused by the Milošević regime and by international sanctions against Serbia in the 1990s.

Schooling was particularly difficult for ethnic Albanians after 1990, when the Serbian authorities closed schools in Kosovo that used a curriculum oriented toward Albania, rather than Serbia’s uniform state curriculum. The University of Priština, in Kosovo, did not operate normally from 1990 to 2000, since most of its faculty members—who were ethnic Albanians—were dismissed by the Serbian authorities and almost all of the ethnic Albanian students quit or were expelled. Kosovar Albanians set up an underground school system in private homes and other locations, but education for Kosovar Albanian children clearly suffered. Since the establishment of autonomous provincial authority in Kosovo in 1999, the Kosovo education system has undergone reconstruction at all levels. The University of Priština has since reopened as an Albanian university.


The Orthodox Church had a major influence on the early development of the arts of Serbia. Serbia was once part of the Byzantine Empire, for which Orthodox Christianity was the state religion, and Byzantine influences appear in the country’s many beautiful Orthodox monasteries, such as Dečani, Studenica, and Gračanica, which contain magnificent frescoes and icons. These works demonstrate the originality and brilliance of Serbian religious art and architecture prior to the region’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.

Art and Literature in Serbia

Western artistic movements began influencing artists and architects in Serbia during 19th and 20th centuries. Religious art was officially discouraged after the former Yugoslavia emerged from World War II in 1945 as a communist state. Socialist realism became the predominant cultural force during the early communist period, but strict communist ideology began to be abandoned in the late 1940s.

Nationalist movements in the 19th century inspired the first major works of literature. Prominent Serbian writers of the 20th century included Isidora Sekulić and Miloš Crnjanski. Serbian novelist Dobrica Ćosić’s A Time of Death (1972-1979), dealing with World War I (1914-1918) in Serbia, was well received internationally. Serbian writer and literary historian Milorad Pavić authored the international bestseller Dictionary of the Khazars (1984). See also Yugoslav Literature.

Music and Film in Serbia

In the first half of the 19th century, Serbian philologist Vuk Karadžić collected and published folk songs, epics, and other elements of Serbian oral traditions, which became well known throughout Europe. Folk songs, both traditional and new, continue to be an important aspect of Serbian culture.

Serbia has a lively contemporary music industry. A type of Serbian neofolk music is popular among rural people and workers. Serbian rock groups are popular and creative. After 1990 many rock musicians became active in protests against the wars and against the Serbian government. Old Serbian church music has been revived, largely by the tenor Pavle Aksentijević.

Serbian filmmaker Dušan Makavejev received international recognition for his films Innocence Unprotected (1968) and W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). Director Emir Kusturica, a longtime resident of Belgrade who was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, earned an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film for When Father Was Away on Business (1984). Kusturica won international awards for his films Time of the Gypsies (1989), Underground (1995), and Black Cat, White Cat (1998).


The wars of Yugoslav succession from 1991 to 1995, and the ensuing conflict in Kosovo in the late 1990s, harmed the Serbian economy in a number of ways. Sanctions imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) beginning in 1992 crippled Serbia’s foreign trade. Serbia’s economy was also damaged because large numbers of draft-age men, intellectuals, and artists fled after the wars began, and because much of the republic’s economic resources were diverted to the military. The United Nations (UN) lifted most of the sanctions in 1996, and all other sanctions were lifted in 2000 and 2001. The breakup of the union between Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 had little real impact on either economy as they had already maintained separate economies.

The Serbian economy is based on a mixture of agricultural and industrial production. The most important agricultural area is in Vojvodina. Major crops include wheat, corn, sugar beets, hemp, flax, and fruit. Cattle, sheep, and pigs are also raised. Formerly one of the chief sources of copper in Europe, Serbia’s mining and manufacturing industries suffered in the economic decline, and many factories closed. High inflation and unemployment levels also plagued the economy.

The banking system was reorganized in 2001 to mobilize funds for the reconstruction of the economy. The currency of Serbia is the dinar. In Kosovo both the dinar and the euro (the currency of the European Union) are used.


Serbia is governed under a constitution adopted in 2006. The 2006 constitution replaced the one of 1990, created when Serbia was still part of Yugoslavia. The 1990 constitution had formally stripped the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina of their autonomous status and also laid the groundwork for multiparty elections. (Since the end of the NATO air war against the FRY in 1999, Kosovo has been administered by the UN.)

With respect to Serbia’s union with Montenegro, a constitutional charter was adopted in February 2003 that gave virtual independence to the constituent republics and changed the name of the FRY to Serbia and Montenegro. The charter permitted each member republic to call a referendum on independence after three years. In May 2006 the people of Montenegro voted in favor of independence. In June the shared central government was dissolved and the two republics became independent nations. In October 2006 Serbian voters approved a new constitution formalizing Serbia’s status as an independent nation. The document also declared Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo, preempting ongoing UN-led negotiations to determine the status of the province.

The government of Serbia is led by a president, who is popularly elected to a five-year term, and by a prime minister, who is elected by the Serbian parliament. The president may serve no more than two terms. The parliament, called the National Assembly, is a unicameral (single-chamber) body consisting of 250 deputies who are popularly elected to four-year terms. The 2006 constitution increased the power of the National Assembly, giving it control over the judiciary, the power to revise human rights laws, and the right to appoint replacements for locally elected municipal assemblies.


Serbia was at one time part of the ancient country of Illyria. The Romans conquered it in 168 BC and governed it as the province of Moesia. In AD 395 it became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the 7th century Serbs settled in the area west of the Morava River and subsequently gave allegiance to the Byzantines.

About 1168, Stefan Nemanja united the Serbs and established the first kingdom of Serbia. Serbia gradually expanded until, under King Stefan Dušan (1331-1355), it controlled much of what is now Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece.

Ottoman Rule and Withdrawal

After the death of Dušan in 1355, the kingdom of Serbia began to weaken. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire, based in Turkey, was expanding. In 1459, after the Serbian army suffered a series of defeats, Serbia came under direct Ottoman rule. In 1815 Milo Obrenović led a successful revolt, freeing most of Serbia from Ottoman domination. Mikhail Obrenović, son of Milo, engineered a total Ottoman withdrawal from Serbia in 1867.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878, Serbia and Russia joined forces to defeat the Ottomans in the Balkans (see Russo-Turkish Wars). The 1878 Congress of Berlin recognized Serbian independence but in effect made the country subservient to Austria-Hungary.

Growing Tensions with Austria-Hungary

Serbian relations with Austria-Hungary deteriorated badly during the so-called Pig War (a customs dispute, 1905-1907) and worsened after 1908 when Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1912 and 1913 Serbia took an active part in the Balkan Wars, gaining both prestige and territory—Serbia received part of Macedonia, part of the Sandžak, and Kosovo. Austria-Hungary then became alarmed by Serbia’s growing strength in the Balkans.

Tension was already extremely high in June 1914 when the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist at Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Austro-Hungarian government held Serbia responsible and declared war, an incident that led to World War I.

Serbia During the World Wars

In August 1914 Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, occupying it by December 1915. The Serbian army and government fled to the Greek island of Corfu (Kérkira) in 1916. Since France, Russia, and the United Kingdom had entered the war in support of Serbia, however, Serbia emerged as one of the victors in the conflict.

After the war, in 1918, the leaders of Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro proclaimed the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.

In 1941, during World War II, the Germans invaded Serbia and placed most of it under direct German military occupation. After Germany and the other Axis Powers were defeated in 1945, a Yugoslav federation was declared, and Serbia became a constituent republic of the federation. In 1946 the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina were made autonomous provinces of Serbia.

Serbian Expansionism and the Collapse of Yugoslavia

Beginning in 1989, Serbia tried to impose its control over the other republics of Yugoslavia. Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia all resisted Serbia’s attempt to control them, and in June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. Serbia then demanded that the existing borders be changed, to allow it to annex key areas of Croatia and Bosnia. Macedonia declared its independence in November 1991, and the government of Bosnia followed suit in 1992. Serbia and Montenegro subsequently declared themselves the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Meanwhile, the Serbian constitution of 1990 had revoked the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo.

Serbia Under Milošević

Under the leadership of Slobodan Milošević, who became president of Serbia in 1989, the Serbian government played an active role in the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia (See Wars of Yugoslav Succession). During and after those wars, Milošević provided financial and military backing to the nationalist Serb campaigns in both republics. Milošević was criticized internationally for atrocities committed by Serbs against Muslims and Croats.

Milošević and his party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), maintained a strong hold on power in Serbia, imprisoning or ousting political rivals and tightly controlling the media. The Milošević government was also criticized for its treatment of ethnic minorities in Serbia, especially in the minority-dominated areas of Vojvodina, Sandžak, and Kosovo.

Dayton Peace Accord

In 1994 Milošević showed a willingness to accept international peace proposals regarding Bosnia. When the Serb leadership in Bosnia was less receptive, Milošević broke ties with them and closed the border between the two republics. In 1995 he represented the Bosnian Serbs in peace talks, and signed the Dayton peace accord along with Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović and Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. In 1996 Milošević and Izetbegović agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the FRY and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milošević proclaimed the FRY’s respect for Bosnia’s territorial integrity, and Izetbegović agreed to recognize the FRY as one of the successors to the former Yugoslav state.

Growing Tensions with Montenegro

Milošević was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in the Serbian presidential election of September 1997, so he sought the presidency of the FRY and was elected by the federation’s parliament in July 1997. Dragan Tomić became Serbia’s interim president. Milan Milutinović, an ally of Milošević, was elected president of Serbia in December 1997. In May 1998 Milošević engineered the removal of the federation’s prime minister and installed an ally, Momir Bulatović. This exacerbated tensions with Montenegro, which regarded Bulatović’s installation as prime minister as illegal and, consequently, the federal government as illegitimate.

Conflict in Kosovo

The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo had resisted the Serbian government ever since the province was stripped of its autonomous status in 1989. A guerrilla group called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) formed in the mid-1990s and targeted Serbian police repeatedly in late 1997 and early 1998. In response, Serbian police and FRY military forces began a major crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the province in March 1998.

By October 1998 hundreds of people, many of them civilians, had died in the fighting, and more than 200,000 ethnic Albanians had been forced to leave their homes. That month, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) threatened the FRY with air strikes, and Milošević agreed to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo. However, the KLA did not stop its attacks and Milošević did not honor the agreement to withdraw. By November the fighting had resumed.

Facing a renewed threat of NATO air strikes, the FRY government and ethnic Albanian representatives participated in internationally sponsored negotiations near Paris, France, in February and March 1999, but the parties could not agree on a peaceful solution. Milošević rejected a plan to place a NATO security force in Kosovo with the authority to move freely throughout Serbia.

Milošević’s actions prompted NATO forces, led by the United States, to begin air strikes against strategic Serbian targets in late March 1999. Serbian-led assaults on ethnic Albanians intensified, with Serbian police and FRY army units burning whole villages and forcing the residents to flee.

A Peace Plan for Kosovo

In June 1999 Milošević and the Serbian parliament finally agreed to an international peace plan for Kosovo. Two months of continuous NATO bombing of targets in the FRY had failed to rout Serbian and FRY military forces, but damage to infrastructure and industrial targets was severe. This damage, which seriously disrupted the Serbian economy, led to a rapid erosion of support for the war effort among the citizenry. A diplomatic envoy from Russia participated in negotiations between the FRY and NATO that produced an agreement. FRY military leaders approved the agreement on June 9, following intense negotiations over the details of FRY troop withdrawals and the composition of an international security force to be posted in Kosovo.

After verifying that FRY troops were beginning to withdraw from Kosovo, NATO suspended its bombing on June 10, and the UN Security Council authorized peacekeeping forces to enter the province. As many as 50,000 international peacekeepers were deployed to help ensure the safe return of Kosovar refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that nearly 1 million ethnic Albanians had been forced to leave Kosovo between March 1998 and June 1999. Albania absorbed the largest number of refugees, with the rest going mainly to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to Montenegro. About 11,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, were estimated to have been killed in the Kosovo conflict.

In June 1999 the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was set up to administer the province until a settlement could be reached on the status of Kosovo. By the end of September about 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees had returned to Kosovo. Meanwhile, about 200,000 Serbs and Roma fled the province to other parts of Serbia as they became the targets of revenge attacks. Many Roma were accused of spying for the Serbs and participating in the persecution of ethnic Albanians.

In May 1999 the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) unsealed an indictment accusing Milošević and four other senior Serbian officials of committing war crimes in Kosovo. One of the officials indicted was Serbian president Milutinović. He was later acquitted by the ICTY.

Milošević’s Fall from Power

Milošević lost a federal presidential election in September 2000 to Vojislav Koštunica, the candidate of an opposition coalition called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). At the same time, his SPS lost federal parliamentary elections to the DOS. In October the DOS and SPS agreed on a plan to form an interim government in Serbia and to hold Serbian parliamentary elections in December. The DOS won 176 of the 250 seats in Serbia’s National Assembly. Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party (DS)—the largest group within the DOS coalition—became prime minister of Serbia. He pledged to push for democratic and economic reforms.

In March 2001 the Serbian government arrested Milošević on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power. In June 2001 the Serbian government, responding to international pressure, extradited Milošević to the ICTY in The Hague, The Netherlands, to face trial for war crimes. Western leaders praised the transfer and pledged more than $1 billion in economic assistance to the FRY. Milošević’s trial began in 2002 but was delayed a number of times because of his poor health. He died in March 2006 before the trial could be completed.

In late 2002 two presidential elections in Serbia were ruled invalid because less than 50 percent of the electorate voted, the minimum required for presidential elections. As a result, the president of the National Assembly, Nataša Micic, became acting president in January 2003—the first woman ever to serve as head of the Serbian state.

Serbia and Montenegro

In February 2003 the FRY officially became known as Serbia and Montenegro upon the adoption of a new constitutional charter. The new charter preserved the union between the two member republics but weakened the institutions of the shared central government. In addition, the charter gave each republic the right to hold a referendum on full independence after a three-year period.

Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated by a sniper in Belgrade in March 2003. Djindjic had faced fierce resentment for his policies, which included painful economic reforms, a crackdown on organized crime, and the handover of Milošević to the ICTY for prosecution. Some government officials blamed criminal groups with links to Milošević for the killing. Djindjic was succeeded as prime minister by Zoran Zivkovic of the DS. Boris Tadic, a former defense minister in the government of Serbia and Montenegro, became the new leader of the DS.

In November 2003 Serbia failed for a third time to elect a president due to low voter turnout. Following the failed vote, the Serbian parliament repealed the 50 percent turnout requirement. Another presidential vote was subsequently scheduled for June 2004.

Elections to the Serbian parliament in December 2003 failed to produce a majority coalition. In March 2004, after several months of negotiations, the center-right Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) succeeded in forming a minority government with support from the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS)—the party formerly led by Milošević. DSS leader Vojislav Koštunica was elected prime minister of the new government.

In a presidential runoff election in June 2004, Democratic Party (DS) leader Boris Tadic was elected Serbia’s new president. Tadic defeated Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and a former Milošević ally. Tadic, who was endorsed by Koštunica and the European Union (EU), had strongly supported the extradition of Serbian war crimes suspects to the ICTY. Tadic pledged to end Serbia’s international isolation and to pursue better relations with Europe, NATO, and the United States.

Recent Events

In a May 2006 referendum, the people of Montenegro voted in favor of independence as provided for under the 2003 charter. The following month Serbia and Montenegro formally became separate countries. In October Serbian voters approved a new constitution formalizing Serbia’s status as an independent nation. It replaced the 1990 constitution created under Milošević. The constitution declared the UN-administered province of Kosovo to be an integral part of Serbia despite ongoing negotiations to determine Kosovo’s future status.

Parliamentary elections, the first since the breakup of the union with Montenegro, were held in January 2007. The nationalist SRS won the largest share of the vote, but failed to gain enough seats to form a government on its own. In May 2007 a power-sharing agreement between the DSS and DS, along with a number of smaller parties, resulted in the formation of a coalition government that did not include the SRS. Serbia’s president Boris Tadic announced that Koštunica would remain prime minister under the agreement.

War Crimes Trials

In February 2007 the UN International Court of Justice cleared Serbia as a state of direct responsibility for genocide during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the court ruled that Serbia had violated international law by failing to prevent the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The ICTY, the UN tribunal in charge of war crimes trials at The Hague, had previously found Serbian individuals guilty of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and established the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. Meanwhile, the two alleged perpetrators of the carnage at Srebrenica—wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžic and Serbian army general Ratko Mladic—remained at large until 2008 when Karadžić was finally arrested. Serbia’s failure to hand over war crimes suspects for trial in The Hague had stalled the country’s talks for eventual admission in the European Union (EU), but Karadžić’s arrest was expected to help Serbia gain EU membership. Mladic remained at large.

Status of Kosovo

Meanwhile, UN-led negotiations on the status of Kosovo broke off in March 2007 without a compromise between the Serbian government and the ethnic Albanian leadership of Kosovo. The UN special envoy in charge of the negotiations, former Finland president Martti Ahtisaari, declared an end to the talks and submitted his proposal for Kosovo’s status to the UN Security Council for a final determination. In the introductory report, Ahtisaari stated his conclusion that “the only viable option for Kosovo is independence.” His proposal would grant Kosovo de facto independence—including an army, a constitution, a flag, and an anthem—with a period of oversight by an EU-led mission. The Serbian government strongly objected to the proposal and was supported in its position by Russia, its ally in the UN Security Council.

Tadic was reelected president of Serbia in February 2008, narrowly defeating for the second time Tomislav Nikolic, the nationalist candidate of the SRS, with 51 percent of the vote. Tadic made Serbia’s potential membership in the European Union (EU) the centerpiece of his campaign.

Later that month, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. Serbia denounced the declaration as illegal. Most member states of the EU as well as the United States and the United Kingdom soon recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Russia and China sided with Serbia, preventing a UN Security Council mandate. In March, Serbia’s governing coalition collapsed as ministers disagreed whether to suspend ties with the EU over the issue. Tadic formally dissolved parliament, calling for early elections in May. In those elections Tadic’s Democratic Party (DS) won a convincing victory. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) was defeated badly and pushed to the political margins. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) also fared poorly and soon after the elections suffered a split, with Nikolic resigning from the SRS to form the center-right Serbian Progressive Party. Most of the SRS membership went over to the newly formed party.

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