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Serbia - History & Background

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSerbia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


The Republic of Serbia (Srbija) is located in southeastern Europe, not far from the Adriatic Sea. Bordered by Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west, Croatia to the northwest, Hungary to the north, Romania to the northeast, Bulgaria to the east, the autonomous province of Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the south, and Montenegro to the southwest, Serbia in early 2001 was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), along with the Republic of Montenegro. With its largest city, Belgrade (Beograd), both its capital and the Yugoslav capital, Serbia has been the politically dominant republic of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the FRY. Serbia's landlocked territory measures 88,412 square kilometers, which is slightly more than the U.S. state of Maine, and constitutes about 86.5 percent of the FRY's total territory. Serbia has an extremely varied terrain with fertile plains in the north and limestone mountains and basins in the east. Serbia's climate also varies, ranging from continental (with cold winters, hot, humid summers, and significant precipitation) to Mediterranean.

The Balkan peninsula where Serbia is located was settled by Illyrian, Thracian, and Dacian tribal groups in the pre-Christian era and by Greeks and Romans before becoming the home to Slavic tribes. The Serbs, a Slavic people, migrated to the Balkans from Galicia, near Russia's Dniester River, around A.D. 637, pressed by the Avars from their original territory. Invited by the Byzantine emperor to protect Illyria against enemy invasions, the Serbs were politically autonomous though Byzantine emperors viewed them as their vassals. Converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity in the ninth century but continuing to use the Cyrillic alphabet, the Serbs established the Kingdom of Serbia during the Middle Ages. In the 1300s Serbia increased its power under Stephen Dushan, though from 1459 until the early nineteenth century, the Ottoman Turks dominated the region and ruled the Serbs. With the Ottoman invasion into southeastern Europe and the settlement of Albanian families in the Kosovo region separating Montenegro from Serbia, Serbia grew politically and culturally distinct from Montenegro, another area inhabited by Slavs who spoke a variation of Serbo-Croatian. The Kosovo region came to be viewed by many Serbs as the heartland of Serbia, as the first Serbian Orthodox Church as well as many significant Serbian monasteries and historical monuments are located there. Furthermore, key battles fought by the Serbs against the Ottomans took place in Kosovo, the most important being the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389.

In 1813 Serbia became politically autonomous of the Ottoman Empire. Its status as an independent state was fully confirmed by other European nations at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. With the political and geographical changes wrought by World War I, Serbia joined its neighbors in 1917 to form the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and the Slovenes, which was renamed "Yugoslavia" in 1929. In the interwar years Yugoslavia experienced a serious economic decline and fell ripe to the commercial influence of Nazi Germany while under the dictatorship of King Alexander, a Serb who sought to dominate the other ethnic groups in the country and was assassinated by Croatian extremists in Paris in 1934. With the invasion of the Balkans in 1941 by Hitler's troops, Serbia fell to the Axis powers after Belgrade suffered intensive air attacks. During the German occupation of Serbia, the Orthodox population was persecuted by the Germans and Croatian Ustashi fascists. A Serbian nationalistic group, the Chetniks, tried to restore the exiled monarchy but eventually united with the Ustashi. They later joined the occupying fascists to fight the communist-inspired National Liberation Movement of Tito (Josip Broz). After the war, Serbia became one of the republics of socialist Yugoslavia in 1944, which was governed by Tito, a Croat who sought to unify the diverse ethnic groups in the Yugoslav federation during his long presidency that lasted until his death in 1980.

Whereas Tito had managed to keep the republics more or less connected, after his death dissension within the Yugoslav federation over political control and the best means to address the country's growing economic problems and political unrest led to increasing discontent over the Communist system and eventually the breakup of the federation as several republics seceded in 1991 and 1992. Slobodan Miloševic, the former leader of the Communist Party in Serbia that became the Serbian Socialist Party at the close of the 1980s, was elected president of Yugoslavia in December 1990. Expanding Serbia's frontiers by incorporating Yugoslavia's autonomous provinces of Kosovo, where about 90 percent of the population was now Albanian, and Vojvodina, with a large Hungarian population, into the Republic of Serbia, Miloševic refused to accept the peaceful secession of the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia in the early 1990s. The ethnic violence that followed, coupled with Miloševic's failure to transform Serbia's economy despite his attempts at absolutist political control, arguably led to his loss of power in October 2000.

Although Yugoslavia in the 1980s had remained relatively calm politically, riots in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo—Yugoslavia's economically poorest region—by Albanian nationalists in 1981 increased mistrust between the majority Albanian population in Kosovo and Kosovo's Serbs and Montenegrins, who were in the minority. Repression of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian security and police forces increased in the 1990s in response to Kosovar attempts to declare their province the sovereign Republic of Kosovo in September 1990 with Ibrahim Rugova, a non-violent resistance leader, as president. The reaction of Miloševic was to remove Albanians from government offices and state operations and to prohibit ethnic Albanians from attending university. Under Miloševic's influence, a new curriculum was introduced in Kosovo that featured Serbian instead of Albanian as the language of instruction and taught a decidedly Serbian view of Balkan history. Arbitrary arrests and police violence directed against Albanians in Kosovo became routine. Furthermore, economic output in Kosovo declined severely during the 1990s. The GDP of Kosovo shrank by an estimated 50 percent between 1990 and 1995, by which time the per-capita GDP in Kosovo was less than US$400, although the economy was based on industry, mining, construction, and agroprocessing with a significant contribution (about one-third of the GDP) from agriculture. The non-violent resistance movement in Kosovo created a system of parallel institutions, and education for Kosovar Albanians was provided in private homes, financed by a 3 percent tax that the Albanians paid to their "shadow" government.

Miloševic's imposition of a new constitution on Serbia that made Kosovo and Vojvodina autonomous regions within Serbia without the status of independent states ultimately led to armed rebellion by some Kosovars, notably the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), in 1996. By July 1998 the KLA had attacked enough Serbian police stations and Yugoslav army sites to take control of about 30 percent of Kosovo's territory. The Serbian state retaliated with armed attacks on Albanian villages and expulsions and massacres of ordinary Albanian citizens. The level of violence between the KLA and the Serb forces rapidly accelerated between October 1998 and February 1999, despite a United States-brokered cease-fire with Miloševic in October 1998 and the introduction of 600 (of a promised 2,000) unarmed monitors provided by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Serb forces conducted house to house searches, mass arrests, and beatings in Kosovo. A peacemaking attempt by the "Contact Group" of representatives from the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany was made in Rambouillet, France in February 1999 that involved Rugova and Albanian non-violent resistors, members of the Kosovar Albanian armed resistance, and Serbs (though only Serbs who backed Miloševic's views). Kosovar Albanians agreed to a three year period of autonomy after which Serbia and the international community would review the status of Kosovo. However, Serbia refused to accept NATO peacekeepers on Serbian soil, and on 24 March 1999, NATO began a bombing campaign in Yugoslavia to force Miloševic and the Serbian police and army to halt the ethnic violence and comply with the terms of the Rambouillet accord. Despite the presence and growth of a strong antiwar protest movement in Serbia and political opposition there to Miloševic's regime, the response from the Serbian state to the NATO attacks was a stepped-up effort to eradicate the Kosovar Albanian population. The violence on the ground wound down only after another form of violence was perpetrated on the people of Serbia and Kosovo: the massive bombings, including of civilian targets, by NATO warplanes.

With the extensive displacement of peoples on the Balkan Peninsula associated with the political and economic disruptions and ethnonationalist aggression of the 1990s, the statistical measurement of the population in Serbia and Kosovo has been severely hampered. Population counts and education-related measures for the 1990s and the early twenty-first century must thus be interpreted with caution, as their accuracy and reliability are often questionable. A new census scheduled for March 2001 in the FRY was expected to yield more accurate population counts toward the end of 2001. Bearing this in mind, Serbia—the largest of the six republics once belonging to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—had a population in 1998 of approximately 7.8 million, excluding the population of Kosovo and Metohia. The population of Serbia and the provinces it had incorporated was estimated at almost 10 million in the year 2000. This included thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had left other parts of the Balkans due to ethnic violence and intimidation in the late 1980s and 1990s.

During the time Miloševic was in power, 250,000 persons reportedly were killed in the Balkan states, 90 percent of them civilians. From 1991 through 1995, approximately 690,000 refugees—almost half of them younger than 28 and nearly three-fifths of them female—fled the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and entered Serbia. About 300,000 people from Serbia, most of them highly educated, left Serbia in the 1990s. About 740,000 Kosovar Albanians were expelled from Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, many fleeing to nearby Albania and Macedonia. In the year 2000 an estimated 230,000 displaced persons from Kosovo as well as 500,000 refugees from Bosnia and Croatia were living in the FRY (including Montenegro). In September 2000 about 82,000 ethnic Albanians who had fled Kosovo returned to that province, although almost 223,000 Kosovo Serbs, Roma, and members of other minority groups continued to be displaced inside Serbia and Montenegro. Other counts indicated that about 400,000 refugees remained in Serbia in early 2001.

In 1910 Serbia had an urban population of 315,366, approximately 10.8 percent of Serbia's population at the time, who lived in 40 towns of at least 2,000 inhabitants each. Eighty years later in 1991 about 52 percent of the population of the FRY (Serbia and Montenegro) lived in urban areas. In 1991 the ethnic composition of Serbia was about 80 percent Serb; 4.4 percent Hungarian; 2.3 percent Bosniac; 1.5 percent Montenegrin; 1.2 percent each Croat and Roma; 1 percent Albanian; less than 1 percent each Slovak, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, Bunjevci, Ruthenian, and Valachian; and 5 percent other (mainly "Yugoslav"). In terms of religious affiliation, in 1991 approximately 65 percent of the inhabitants of the FRY (Serbia and Montenegro plus the 2 autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina) was Orthodox, 19 percent was Muslim, 4 percent was Roman Catholic, 1 percent was Protestant, and 11 percent had other religious affiliations. About 95 percent of the population of the FRY spoke Serbian (though the Montenegrin version of Serbo-Croatian differs slightly from the main language of Serbia) and about 5 percent spoke Albanian.

In 2000 the total fertility rate in Serbia was about 1.7 children born per woman. An estimated 20 percent of the country's population was 14 years old or younger while about two-thirds of the population was between 15 and 64 and about 15 percent was 65 years of age or older. (Again, this assumes an age balance in 2000 equivalent to that in 1991, when the last census was taken. Due to large population shifts, this probably was not the case.) In 2000 Serbia had an infant-mortality rate of 20 per 1,000 live births and the average life expectancy at birth was 72.4 years (69.3 for men and 75.7 for women—a significant gender difference).

Before the former Socialist Yugoslav federation dissolved in the early 1990s, Serbia had an estimated population of 9.3 million out of a total 23.5 million for all of Yugoslavia and produced 38 percent of the former Yugoslavia's economic output. In 1999 the structure of Serbia's workforce stood as follows: 37.3 percent of the labor force was employed in industry and mining and just 4.3 percent was employed in agriculture, fisheries, and forestry; the rest were employed in commerce, crafts, and service jobs. About 8.4 percent of the workforce was employed in education and culture. That year, the FRY had an annual economic growth rate of -20 percent of the GDP. Economic outputs declined substantially in the 1990s, and the FRY stood in dire need of international economic assistance. However, international financial support to Serbia was severely limited due to the sanctions that remained in place for much of the 1990s and Serbia and Montenegro's resistance to cooperating with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia before late June 2001, when ex-president Miloševic was extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

In 1998 Serbia's GDP was US$16.4 million, but significant black-market and gray-market activity also existed in the FRY, complicating the accurate estimation of real economic outputs for the 1990s. GDP per capita in Serbia in 1998 was estimated to be US$2,000. In the late 1990s unemployment in the FRY went as high as 60 percent. Unemployment in Serbia in July 2000 ranged up to about 33 percent, depending on skill level and educational attainment. Unqualified workers, lower-skilled workers, and skilled workers had the highest unemployment rates (33 percent, 26.3 percent, and 28.3 percent, respectively). Near the close of the twentieth century, Serbia derived its income mainly from the industrial and service sectors with less of an emphasis on agriculture and almost no income gained from the maritime trades due to Ser bia's landlocked status.

Serbia required substantial international development assistance during the 1990s and early twenty-first century to repair the damage caused by the 1999 NATO bombings and to recover from the economic disruptions of a decade of war and international sanctions. Total economic damage in Serbia due to the NATO attacks was estimated to be about US$30 billion. Prior to a conference of international donors held on 29 June 2001, in Brussels, Belgium to discuss financial assistance for the FRY, Serbia received relatively little financial support from abroad other than through the black market and the Serbian "mafia." At the June 2001 conference representatives from about 40 countries, UN agencies, and the World Bank pledged about US$1.2 billion to help the FRY rebuild its infrastructure, including war-damaged schools, and pay the salaries of teachers and doctors.

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