The Serbian state as known today was created in 1170 A.D. by Stefan
Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. Serbia's religious foundation
came several years later when Stefan's son, canonized as St. Sava, became
the first archbishop of a newly autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church (1219).
Thus, at this time, the Serbs enjoyed both temporal and religious independence.
After a series of successions, Serbia fell under the rule of King Milutin,
who improved Serbia's position among other European countries. Milutin
also was responsible for many of the brightest examples of Medieval Serbian
architecture. Moreover, Serbia began to expand under Milutin's reign, seizing
territory in nearby Macedonia from the Byzantines. Under Milutin's son,
Stefan Dusan (1331-55), the Nemanjic dynasty reached its peak, ruling from
the Danube to central Greece. However, Serbian power waned after Stefan's
death in 1355, and in the Battle of Kosovo (June 15, 1389) the Serbs were
catastrophically defeated by the Turks. By 1459, the Turks exerted complete
control over all Serb lands.
For more than 3 centuries--nearly 370 years--the Serbs lived as virtual
slaves of the Ottoman sultans. As a result of this oppression, Serbs began
to migrate out of their native and (present-day Kosovo and southern Serbia)
into other areas within the Balkan Peninsula, including what is now Vojvodina
and Croatia. When the Austrian Hapsburg armies pushed the Ottoman Turks
south of the Danube in 699, many Serbs were "liberated," but their native
land was still under Ottoman rule.
Movements for Serbian independence began more than 100 years later with
uprisings under the Serbian patriots Karageorge (1804-13) and Milos Obrenovic
(1815-17). After the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29, Serbia became an internationally
recognized principality under Turkish suzerainty and Russian protection,
and the state expanded steadily southward. After an insurrection in Bosnia
and Herzegovina in 1875, Serbia and Montenegro went to war against Turkey
in 1876-78 in support of the Bosnian rebels. With Russian assistance, Serbs
gained more territory as well as formal independence in 1878, though Bosnia
was placed under Austrian administration.
In 1908, Austria-Hungary directly annexed Bosnia, inciting the Serbs
to seek the aid of Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece in seizing the last
Ottoman-ruled lands in Europe. In the ensuing Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Serbia
obtained northern and central Macedonia, but Austria compelled it to yield
Albanian lands that would have given it access to the sea. Serb animosity
against the Habsburgs reached a climax on June 28, 1914, when the Austrian
archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb,
Gavrilo Princip, setting off a series of diplomatic and military initiatives
among the great powers that culminated in World War I.
Soon after the war began, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces occupied
Serbia. Upon the collapse of Austria-Hungary at the war's end in 1918,
Vojvodina and Montenegro united with Serbia, and former south Slav subjects
of the Habsburgs sought the protection of the Serbian crown within a kingdom
of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Serbia was the dominant partner in this
state, which in 1929 adopted the name Yugoslavia.
The kingdom soon encountered resistance when Croatians began to resent
control from Belgrade. This pressure prompted King Alexander I to split
the traditional regions into nine administrative provinces. During World
War II, Yugoslavia was divided between the Axis powers and their allies.
Royal army soldiers, calling themselves Cetnici (Chetniks), formed a Serbian
resistance movement, but a more determined communist resistance under the
Partisans, with Soviet and Anglo-American help, liberated all of Yugoslavia
by 1944. In an effort to avoid Serbian domination during the postwar years,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro were given separate and
equal republican status within the new socialist federation of Yugoslavia;
Kosovo and Vojvodina were made autonomous provinces within Yugoslavia.
Despite the attempts at a federal system of government for Yugoslavia,
Serbian communists played the leading role in Yugoslavia's political life
for the next 4 decades. As the Germans were defeated at the end of World
War II, Josip Broz Tito, a former Bolshevik and devout communist, began
to garner support from both within Yugoslavia as well as from the Allies.
Yugoslavia remained independent of the U.S.S.R., as Tito broke with Stalin
and asserted Yugoslav independence. Tito went on to control Yugoslavia
for 35 years. Under communist rule, Serbia was transformed from an agrarian
to an industrial society. In the 1980s, however, Yugoslavia's economy began
to fail. With the death of Tito, separatist and nationalist tensions emerged
In 1989, riding a wave of nationalist sentiment, Serbian President Slobodan
Milosevic reimposed direct rule over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo
and Vojvodina, prompting Albanians in Kosovo to agitate for separation
from the Republic of Serbia. Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia. On April
27, 1992 in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro joined in passing the Constitution
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In March 2002, the Belgrade Agreement
was signed by the heads of the federal and republican governments, setting
forth the parameters for a redefinition of Montenegro's relationship with
Serbia within a joint state. On February 4, 2003, the F.R.Y. Parliament
ratified the Constitutional Charter, establishing a new state union and
changing the name of the country from Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro.
Montenegro's history is almost inextricably tied to Serbia's. Similarly
to Serbia, Montenegro was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks for the duration
of their reign in the Balkans. When the Turks were removed from the area,
Montenegro became an independent principality within the Austro-Hungarian
Empire but did not become an independent, sovereign state until 1878.
During World War I, Montenegro fought on the side of the Allies but
was defeated and occupied by Austria. Upon Austrian occupation, the Montenegrin
king, King Nikola I, and his family fled to Italy. Consequently, the Serbian
king, Petar Karadjordjevic, was able to exploit the chaotic conditions
in Montenegro at the war's end, paving the way for the violent and unwanted
Serbian annexation of Montenegro.
Montenegro was the only Allied country in World War I to be annexed
to another country at the end of the war. The majority of the Montenegrin
population opposed the annexation and on January 7, 1919, staged a national
uprising--known to history as the Christmas Uprising--against the Serbian
annexation. The uprising became a war between Serbia and the Montenegrins
that lasted until 1926. Many Montenegrins lost their lives, and though
many hoped for an intervention by the Great Powers to protect their sovereignty,
none came and Montenegro was effectively absorbed into the new kingdom
When Yugoslavia was invaded and partitioned by the Axis powers in April
1941, Montenegro was appropriated by the Italians under a nominally autonomous
administration. This caused a great divide within the Montenegrin population.
Many nationalists who had been frustrated with the experience of Yugoslav
unification supported the Italian administration. But there were advocates
of the union with Serbia who began armed resistance movements as well as
many communists who, by nature of their political beliefs, were opposed
to the Italian presence. As war progressed, the local strength of the communists
grew and Montenegro served as an effective base for communism in the region;
it was an important refuge for Tito's Partisan forces during the most difficult
points in the struggle. After the war, the communist strategy of attempting
to unify Yugoslavia through a federal structure elevated Montenegro to
the status of a republic, thus securing Montenegrin loyalty to the federation.
The breakup of the Yugoslav federation after 1989 left Montenegro in
a precarious position. The first multiparty elections in 1990 showed much
public support for the League of Communists, confirming Montenegrin support
for the federation. Montenegro joined Serbian efforts to preserve the federation
in the form of a "Third Yugoslavia" in 1992. Though Montenegro reaffirmed
its political attachment to Serbia, a sense of a distinct Montenegrin identity
continued to thrive. Outspoken criticism of Serbian conduct of the 1992-95
war in Bosnia and Herzegovina boosted the continuing strength of Montenegrin
distinctiveness. Both the people and the government of Montenegro were
critical of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's 1998-99 campaign in
Kosovo, and the ruling coalition parties boycotted the September 2000 federal
elections, which led to the eventual overthrow of Milosevic's regime. The
Belgrade Agreement of March 2002, signed by the heads of the federal and
republican governments, set forth the parameters for a redefinition of
Montenegro's relationship with Serbia within a joint state. On February
4, 2003, the F.R.Y. Parliament ratified the Constitutional Charter which
established a new state union and changed the name of the country from
Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro.
Before the conflicts of the 1990s, Kosovo was best known as the site
of a famous 14th-century battle in which invading Ottoman Turks defeated
a Serbian army led by Tsar Lazar. During this medieval period, Kosovo also
was home to many important Serb religious sites, including many architecturally
significant Serbian Orthodox monasteries.
The Ottomans ruled Kosovo for more than four centuries, until Serbia
reconquered the territory during the First Balkans War in 1912-13. First
partitioned in 1913 between Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo was then incorporated
into the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later named Yugoslavia)
after World War I. During World War II, parts of Kosovo were absorbed into
Italian-occupied Albania. After the Italian capitulation, Nazi Germany
assumed control until Tito's Yugoslav communists reentered Kosovo at the
end of the war.
After World War II, Kosovo became a province of Serbia in the Socialist
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution gave Kosovo
(along with Vojvodina) the status of an autonomous province with nearly
equal voting rights as the six constituent Republics of Yugoslavia. Although
the Albanian-majority province enjoyed significant autonomy, riots broke
out in 1981 by Kosovar Albanians who demanded that Kosovo be granted full
In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milosevic propelled himself to power in
Belgrade by exploiting the fears of the small Serbian minority in Kosovo.
In 1989, he arranged the elimination of Kosovo's autonomy in favor of more
direct rule from Belgrade. Belgrade ordered the firing of large numbers
of Albanian state employees, whose jobs were then taken by Serbs.
As a result of this oppression, Kosovo Albanian leaders led a peaceful
resistance movement in the early 1990s and established a parallel government
funded mainly by the Albanian diaspora. When this movement failed to yield
results, an armed resistance emerged in the form of the Kosovo Liberation
Army (KLA). The KLA's main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo.
In late 1998, Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign
against the separatist KLA, which included atrocities against civilian
noncombatants. For the duration of Milosevic's campaign, large numbers
of ethnic Albanians were either displaced from their homes in Kosovo or
killed by Serbian troops or police. These acts and Serbias refusal to
sign the Rambouillet Accords provoked a military response from NATO which
consisted primarily of aerial bombing and lasted from March through June
1999. After 79 days of bombing, Milosevic capitulated and international
forces moved into Kosovo.
After June 1999, Kosovo was made a UN protectorate, under the UN Mission
in Kosovo (UNMIK) based in Pristina. Under UNMIK aegis and with NATO's
Kosovo Force (KFOR) providing security, efforts to build a multiethnic
and democratic Kosovo commenced immediately. From early 2001, UNMIK has
been working with representatives of the Serbian and union governments
to reestablish stable relations in the region. Kosovars elected a new assembly
in November 2001, which formed a government and chose a president in early
2002. In spring 2002, UNMIK announced its plan to repatriate ethnic Serb
internally displaced persons (IDPs). In 2003, UNMIK transferred certain
governing competencies to ministries formed as part of the region's provisional
institutions for self-government.