REVIEW: Article

Reflections on Serbia: The Past and The Future

Every year is an important one for a nation state, but 2006-2007 is critical for the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro. Two key issues face the country. What will happen in the May referendum on the future of Montenegro: Will the people choose independence or will they elect to remain with Serbia? And secondly, what is the future of Kosovo? Finding a just compromise that satisfies all parties has been, and remains, difficult.

In regards to Montenegro, the issue has some complications. At this point the government of Montenegro has indicated that only citizens currently living in Montenegro can vote. If this remains the case, a large number—some estimate a little over 200,000 living in Serbia and other Balkan countries—would not be able to vote.

Some observers fear that the results of the referendum will be very close—the winner taking it by less than two or three percent of the vote. If the voting is this close, the results will more than likely be contested by the losing side with the possibility of ensuing unrest, and at worst, violence.

Clearly another delicate challenge is Kosovo. This province, which was the birth-place of Serb culture and national identity, is now administered by the United Nations through its UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). It has a population that is approximately 90 percent Albanian and less than ten percent Serb. The question is: What will the final status of Kosovo be?

Loud demands for independence have been forthcoming from the Albanian majority. On the other hand, very apparent is the overwhelming desire of the Serbian people to maintain their historic connections with Kosovo and Metohija.

Of all the countries of what was Yugoslavia, Serbia gives the appearance of having the most difficult situation. Serbia, however, is not an island. What happens there can very well affect the Balkans, the rest of Europe, and even have a worldwide impact.

So much of the current situation is rooted in the history of the past 800 or more years.

Modern Serbian history is unintelligible without reference to its splendid and tragic past. However, the path to the future will be either splendid or tragic, and indeed the future for the rest of us will be interwoven in the balance. Religion and national pride are at the same time a source of great personal strength for the Serb people as well as a source of profound wounded ego, collective fixation, and thus a catalyst for harboring resentments. Religion and national pride play this same role in many other countries.

To tell the Serb people the future will be dictated by the realities on the ground may prove to be the wrong strategy.

A Historical Chronology

Medieval Serbia

The Slavonic-speaking peoples began to migrate to the Balkans in the early sixth century. By the seventh century, they began to settle. The Serbs moved to the Balkans after briefly settling in areas that now fall within the Czech Republic. They settled first in the area called Raska, also settling on lands which are today in Montenegro, Herzegovina and southern Dalmatia.[1]

Not too much time passed before missionaries of the Orthodox faith from Constantinople began attempting to assert influence on the tribal and clan leaders, referred to as “Zupans.” The first Serbian Grand Zupans are believed to have accepted Christianity in the late ninth century;[2] the conversion of the rest of the Serbs soon followed.

Medieval Serbian agriculture flourished, and the Serbs exported flour. In addition, their mines, known since early Roman times, were exploited for gold, silver, copper and tin; marble also was quarried. These exports brought wealth to the country and its rulers. With a rising presence, and under Byzantine influence, great churches and monasteries began to be erected on Serbian soil, displaying an extraordinary native talent and originality.[3]

Serbia lacked true unity until Stefan Nemanja, a warrior and chief, organized what would become the first Serbian state. Stefan founded the Nemanjic dynasty—which had a reign lasting over 200 years. Serbia was to become a major presence in the Balkans, militarily and culturally. It was in this period that significant parts of Kosovo were first incorporated into the Serbian kingdom.

Serbia’s religious foundation was contiguous with this expansion. Several years later, Stefan’s son, Rastko, now canonized as Saint Sava, then secured the separation of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the authority of Constantinople. In 1219, St. Sava became the first Archbishop of the new autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church.[4] He, in turn, crowned his brother, Stefan, the first King of the Serbs, in 1220. Thus, St. Sava founded Serbian statehood and national identity. Without such a church, the history of the Serbs, especially during the centuries of Ottoman rule, would have been very different.

In the next century, Emperor Stefan Dusan (1331-1355) led the country in successful wars against the Byzantine Empire. Under Stefan Dusan, Serbia supplanted Bulgaria as the leading kingdom in the Balkans, expanding from Serbia proper and overrunning much of Macedonia and western Bulgaria and stretching from the Danube to the Peloponnese. The Serbian Empire, however, would begin to break up after Dusan’s death in 1355. Internal turmoil and bickering between feudal barons served to seal Serbia’s fate and ease the way for an Ottoman conquest.

In 1371, the Turks inflicted their first major defeat on the Serbs at the battle on the Maritsa river in modern day Bulgaria. Almost 20 years later in 1389, the dramatic battle of Kosovo ended with an Ottoman victory, and by 1459, the Serbs would be absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.

For almost 370 years, the Sultans ruled over the Serbs. The Serbs began to leave the lands of Kosovo and southern Serbia and migrate to other areas within the Balkans, including Vojvodina and Croatia. Serbian identity and unity stood firm. The Serbian Church, with its Patriarchate at Pec, continued to serve as a reminder in this regard.

A symbol of the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church is present in the Monastery at Pec, which I visited in 2005. Now surrounded by unfriendly forces, it stands as a proud symbol of the Serbian Christian heritage. Equally beautiful is the Monastery of Decani, already recognized by UNESCO as a world treasure.

The 1500s were a turbulent time for the Serbian Church with growing, and at times, fanatical pressure and competition from the Greek Church. Although many Serbian manuscripts and writings were tragically destroyed, the autonomy of the Serbian Patriarchate was firmly reestablished by 1557.

During the Austrian offensive against the Ottomans after 1683, many Serbs helped the invaders, as they regarded the Austrians as liberators. The Austrians had penetrated deep into Turkish-held land, and issued proclamations urging revolution against the Turks. Loyal and tough soldiers, these Serbs proved of great value to the Austrian armies. Moreover, when the Austrians had to retreat from Serbia in 1690, the Serbian Patriarch Arseniye, feared Turkish vengeance and led a mass colonization movement of Serbs into south Hungary, perhaps 100,000 strong. This migration resulted in creating a Slavic majority in what was then southern Hungary. The region and much of the neighboring territory became known as the “military frontier,” and served as the border defense zone of the Hapsburg dominion against the Turks.[5]

In Serbia proper, the Turks at first permitted the Patriarchate of Pec to exist, but after 1766, the Ottoman government abolished the Patriarchate and put the Serbian Church directly under the authority of the Greek Patriarchate at Constantinople. All Serbian bishops were deposed, and many lower clergy were expelled from their parishes. At the same time, justice, which a Serb could hitherto occasionally obtain from the Ottoman authorities, now vanished. In fact, the whole Turkish system began to breakdown, and the government sent thousands of unruly troops to Serbia just to get them out of the capital. These janissaries, by then a hereditary corporation, oppressed Turks and Serbs alike, and would not obey the local Ottoman authorities. Their chiefs, or Dahis, as they were called, acted as robber barons, and extorted money and produce from the population at will, shooting whomever resisted. Between the Dahi and the Greek priests, life had become increasingly difficult for the Serbs by the 19th century.[6]

Modern Serbia

Each country and each people traversed their own odyssey into the modern world at different times and in different ways. Many observers believe that the modern period of Serbian history began with the birth of Serb nationalism in the early part of the 19th century. This period began with a reawakening of cultural identity for the Yugoslavs in the context of calls to throw off the Ottoman yoke. The form this cultural identity took was a kind of revolutionary religious nationalism that swept the Balkans. To the Orthodox Serbs, the loss of Kosovo in 1389 to the Turks ushered in centuries of Turkish domination, and it was mythologized into an explicit Christ story—a cultural crucifixion. For the Serbs in the early 19th century, as well as for the many Balkan peoples at large, independence was to become their resurrection. It would prove to be a crucial step for the Serbian and Yugoslav psyche.

Djordge Petrovic, a Serbian peasant nicknamed Black George, led an uprising against the Ottomans in 1804. Another Serbian peasant leader, Milos Obrenovic, led a second revolt in 1815.[7]

After the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Serbia became an internationally recognized principality under Turkish administration and Russian protection, and Serbian borders expanded steadily southward. In addition, the Serbs were granted some limited freedoms.[8]

After an insurrection in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1875, Serbia and Montenegro went to war against the Turks in 1876 in support of the Bosnian rebels. Previously, it had been consistent Ottoman and/or Austrian policy to maintain a separating wedge between Serbia and Montenegro.[9]

With Russian assistance, Serbia regained more territory and formal independence in 1878, following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat by Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 recognized Serbia’s complete independence, and in 1882, Prince Milan Obrenovic was proclaimed King of Serbia.  Now formally, and along with its neighbors—Romania, Montenegro, and Greece—Serbia emerged as an independent state in southeastern Europe. Bosnia Herzegovina was placed under Austrian administration.

In the early 1900s,[10] various economic and political conflicts developed between Serbia and what came to be known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary went ahead and fully annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. This incited the Serbs to seek aid from Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece in seizing the last Ottoman-ruled lands in Europe. It was then in the First Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 that Serbia and the other Balkan states gained control of almost all of the Ottoman Empire’s territory. Serbia obtained northern and central Macedonia, but Austria compelled it to yield Albanian lands that would have given it access to the Adriatic. Most importantly, however, the Serbs won Kosovo, the sacred places of Serb legend, from the Turks.

This did nothing to soothe the deepening conflict between the Austro-Hungarians and their various Balkan neighbors. The following year, while visiting Sarajevo, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb, Gavrillo Princip. In an interesting aside about the ordeal, the Archduke’s driver by accidentally making a wrong turn, actually drove the Archduke, his wife, and indeed himself, down the alley where Princip was drinking and wallowing in his failed assassination attempt from earlier in the day.

In the aftermath, the Austro-Hungarian government waited three weeks following the assassination before issuing its formal response. Seizing the opportunity presented by the murder of the Archduke (who had not been viewed with any great favor, either by Franz Josef or by his government), the Austro-Hungarian government decided to settle the long-standing score they had with Serbia.[11]

Austria-Hungary issued a humiliating ultimatum to the Serbian government. The ultimatum comprised a lengthy list of demands, and it took as its basic assumption that the Serbian government was implicated in events at Sarajevo. It was presented to Belgrade on Thursday, July 23, 1914, at 6:00 p.m. A response was demanded within two days, by Saturday, July 25, at 6:00 p.m.[12]

Although at the time King Peter I nominally held power in Serbia, permanent illness meant Alexander, his son and regent, wielded effective power. Although Alexander conceded to virtually all of Austria-Hungary’s demands, it proved insufficient to prevent the latter from declaring war at the close of July in 1914.

These events would set off a chain reaction, as it is often described, of diplomatic and military initiatives and counter-initiatives among the Great Powers that would culminate in World War I.[13] Soon after war broke out, Austro-Hungary with the aid of Bulgarian forces occupied Serbia. The first Austrian invasion was the battle of Jadar, beginning in the first days of August 1914. They would retreat on August 21. The first Battle of the Drina was a month later on September 17; the Serbs attempted to halt a second Austrian invasion but were pushed into Belgrade.[14]

Serbs like to remind Americans that Serbia was an ally of the Allies in World War I as it would be again in World War II. During World War I, Montenegro also fought on the side of the Allies but was defeated and occupied by Austria. Upon Austrian occupation, the Montenegrin King, Nikola I, and his family fled to Italy.[15]

At war’s end, and upon the Austro-Hungarian collapse in 1918, Vojvodina—the land in southern Hungary across the Danube where Serbs had fled centuries before—and Montenegro united with Serbia. The other former southern Slav subjects of the Hapsburgs sought protection under the Serbian crown as well. Here in the traumatic awakenings of 19th century nationalism and the experience of the unique and utter vulnerability of the 20th century world, particularly in the aftermath of WWI, there was a fervent movement among the Balkan Slavs for pan-Slavism.[16] This unifying idea lent itself to the practical side of the post-war years, and eventually, it would find itself structured into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Just about ten years later, the Kingdom’s name was changed to Yugoslavia, meaning “land of the southern Slavs.”

The trouble for Serbia, as for much of the rest of the world, was far from over. The 20th century had just begun in the post WWI years, and these events were followed not too long after by the Great Depression, which in turn was to catalyze the conditions that would move the world toward another all-encompassing conflict in WWII.[17]

During World War II, Germany and Italy occupied Yugoslavia and divided it among themselves. Most of Serbia was occupied by the Germans. On February 28, 1941, the Nazis, who already had Hungary and Romania as their puppets, moved into Bulgaria. Three weeks later they forced Yugoslavia to come to terms. An ultimatum was issued to Greece also. After a week’s fight, Yugoslavia collapsed on April 17, 1941. Greece surrendered six days later.[18]

In Serbia, so-called Chetnik forces loyal to the old Serbian-dominated Yugoslav order began to fight, as did a Communist-dominated resistance under the half-Slovene half-Croat, Josip Broz Tito. The war years were a nightmare with many wars within wars. While Yugoslavia was occupied and resistance was directed against the occupiers, many also died in fighting between nationalists of various stripes—royals, Communists, quislings[19] and so on. Moreover, by December 1941, Hitler had about 8,700,000 Jews under his rule. Of these, he had murdered at least 5,800,000 by early 1945; of these 60,000 were from Yugoslavia.[20]

The Communist partisans were the most determined of the Yugoslav resistance fighters in WWII, and with the help of the Allies, all of Yugoslavia was liberated by 1944. Parts of Kosovo were absorbed into Italian occupied Albania. After the Italian capitulation, Nazi Germany assumed control until the group headed by Marshall Tito took full control upon German expulsion in 1945.

Under Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia would become a federal system of government—not capitalist, not quite Communist. Under the political system, a central government and the constituent republics and provinces would share power.[21] Tito would manage to hold the Soviet Union at bay as a non-aligned nation and construct a productive national economy. Despite Stalin’s flirtation with a putsch to dispose of the uncooperative Tito, despite economic sanctions, show trials, military maneuvers, personal harassment and threats, and even the offering up of Albania as a bribe,[22] Tito would nevertheless survive, hold together his party around a nationalist line, and steer a third path between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West for the next four-and-a-half decades. Tito never formally moved under the Western umbrella, but the safeguard was implicit.[23]

Yugoslavia was always high on the US list of countries that could be pulled away from the Soviet sphere of influence. In the 1950s through to the 1980s, some of America’s top diplomats were assigned to Belgrade as Chiefs of Mission; they included Larry Eagleburger, who would complete his US government service as Secretary of State in 1992-1993. Observers are still evaluating how successful the US policy with Tito’s Yugoslavia was. But it did pull Yugoslavia out of the control of Stalin.

In 1957 while serving in my first post overseas with the Foreign Operations Administration, I met Marshall Tito while he was on a state visit to Ethiopia. This was the beginning of his role as a leader of the non-aligned nations. He conveyed a strong executive profile that was enhanced by his World War II reputation.

Over the next 40 years, Yugoslavia changed beyond recognition. It developed its own brand of socialism, and a society far more open than that of its Communist neighbors. At home the federation appeared to have solved the bitter national questions of the past. Living standards were high and, unlike other Communist countries, citizens were free to travel to the West, either to work or to take holidays. Tito’s Yugoslavia also gained prestige as a founder of the non-aligned movement, which aimed to find a place in the world politics for countries that did not want to stand rank and file behind either of the two superpowers.[24]

For a brief period in the 1980s, Yugoslavia exported worldwide its state-produced automobile, the Yugo, and in 1984 the beautiful city of Sarajevo played host to the Winter Olympic Games, putting the Yugoslav nation on world display. Within six years, however, Yugoslavia began to fall apart.[25] The problem was, despite all this, and although there was much substance to Tito’s Yugoslavia after he died, and very much like the Germany after Bismark’s death, the secret formula for success died with him. No defined structure was left to balance, ever so delicately, the real and imagined rivalries that never lay too dormant in the Balkans.

Moreover, much of the shrewdly-brokered expensive Western loans Tito received during the years of the Cold War were now mounting into a pile of foreign debt. The economy began to falter on its shaky foundations as the stirrings of nationalist dissent emerged throughout the Yugoslav lands. With this new uncertainty, Slobodan Milosevic, responding as a strong supporter of Serbian unity and the expansion of Serbia’s borders, became chief of the League of Communists of Serbia. The political form Milosevic took was a sudden transformation of a life-long Communist into the champion of Serbian cultural religious nationalism. In 1989, he became Serbia’s President.

The Soviet Union was in its process of dissolution, and the Communist Party gave up its monopoly on power in Yugoslavia in 1990. When I assumed my duties as US Ambassador to the Holy See, I had certain instructions. One was to urge the Vatican to support the goal of a united Yugoslavia.[26]

Federal institutions, which had proved incapable of coping with ten years of deepening economic crisis, were almost entirely paralyzed by disputes among the republics and a rising tide of divisive ethnic conflicts and separatist movements. Foreign debt, inflation and unemployment created a troublesome atmosphere.

In January 1990, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia disintegrated and paved the way for multiparty elections in all six republics later that year. These elections were won by nationalist parties that were also non-Communist in all of the republics except Serbia and Montenegro, whose December elections were the last in the series. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, a staunch advocate of Serb nationalist causes, was reelected. His party, renamed the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS; called the League of Communists of Serbia until 1990), won 194 of the 250 seats in Serbia’s National Assembly.[27]

What came next was viewed as the decisive step for Yugoslavia. In March 1990, the richest and most “Western oriented” of the Yugoslav republics, Slovenia, held its first multiparty elections in almost 50 years. Croatia followed a month later. The structural process of disintegration initiated when these republics then declared their independence by June 1991.

Fearing the dangerous example it would set, other countries like the United States, France and Britain maintained that Yugoslavia should be unified and not divided. If the country broke apart, inter-ethnic bloodshed was expected. Thus, nations were unwilling to acknowledge the declarations of independence. The United States made continued and last-ditch appeals for Yugoslavia to hold together.[28]

The first clashes that broke out in Slovenia were to be the first full-scale theater on European soil in the post-Cold War era, though there were only relatively minor attempts by Milosevic and the almost all Serb Yugoslavian army to forcefully keep Slovenia in the federation. Slovenia was blessed with capable leaders who, while focusing on independence as their goal, convinced Belgrade leaders to grant independence to the eastern alpine state. President Janez Drnovšek played a key role in these developments. That was not the case with Croatia.

Franjo Tudjman was gaining political capital in Croatia on a pro-Croatian independence platform. Resentments ran deep, Milosevic responded in turn, and the combined effect was to fan the wounds and woes of history, particularly those of WWII.

The following year, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina followed their neighbors to sovereignty. 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. The republics of Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed a Federation Republic of Yugoslavia on April 17, 1992. On the other hand, in 1991, Albanians in Kosovo voted in a referendum for independence. In May 1992, they elected a new president and parliament in a move toward self-government. Serbia declared the referendum and the elections illegal.[29]

The land of the south-Slavs began to splinter into their respective ethnic and territorial fractions. A spiral of competitive and mutually fearful nationalisms began to destroy Yugoslavia. War became total and indiscriminate for four years in Croatia and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a deadly triangular dance between Bosnian-Muslims, Serbs, and Croats. Serbs living in Croatia fought against the Croats. A cease-fire in January 1992 ended most of the fighting, but not all. When in March 1992, the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence, fighting then broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina, pitting Bosnian-Serbs, who opposed independence, against Bosnian-Muslims and Croats. At times in Bosnia it would be the Croats and Serbs against the Muslims.[30]

Appeals for negotiations and ceasefires were unsuccessful. Throughout 1992, there were many different peace negotiations offered to President Milosevic.[31] Solutions offered by the United Nations and European Community (now known as the European Union) were unacceptable for Milosevic. The Croats and Bosnian-Muslims were equally unhappy with the proposals. The UN judged Serbia to be the aggressor in the Bosnian conflict and initiated economic sanctions on Serbia.

A cease-fire was reached February 23, 1994. On March 18, 1994, an accord was signed to create a Muslim-Croat confederation. Fighting continued in 1995, but the balance of power shifted toward the Muslim-Croat alliance. Massive air strikes at Bosnian-Serb targets on August 30, 1995, brought about a new round of peace talks and the siege of Sarajevo ended on September 15, 1995. These new talks created an agreement to create autonomous regions within Bosnia.[32]

After days of negotiations initiated by President Clinton, the Dayton Accord was initialed in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995, and was signed in Paris on December 14, 1995, by leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.[33]

By August 1996, 45,000 troops remained. Meanwhile a UN tribunal began bringing charges against suspected war criminals. Elections were held on September 14, 1996, for a three-person collective presidency, for seats in a federal parliament and for regional offices. The UN lifted sanctions against the Serbs on October 1, 1996, after elections were held in Bosnia.[34]

Earlier Milosevic had cracked down on the autonomy of the former Yugoslav federation’s provinces Vojvodina and Kosovo. By 1996, the tension had begun to bubble over. An armed resistance emerged in 1997 in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).[35] The KLA’s main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo. In 1997, Milosevic’s second term as President of Serbia ended. Yugoslavia’s parliament elected Milosevic President of Yugoslavia, though some members boycotted the vote. In late 1998, Milosevic responded with a military campaign against the separatist KLA, and a guerrilla war broke out.[36]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sponsored peace talks in early 1999, but Serbian delegates rejected the peace plan. Serbia’s refusal to sign the Rambouillet Accords provoked a military response from NATO. In March, NATO began air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia to force the government to accept the peace plan. Many thousands fled from Kosovo. In June, Serbian military commanders capitulated and agreed to withdraw forces from Kosovo. NATO stopped the bombing after the withdrawal had begun and sent an international peacekeeping force into Kosovo, known as KFOR.[37] The refugees returned, but tensions ran high between Serbs and Albanians in the province.[38]

In the face of trade sanctions from the US and other nations, the Serbian economy continued to deteriorate and dissent spread through Serbia. Montenegro openly discussed separating from Serbia. Opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica won elections held on September 24, 2000, in Serbia. However, Milosevic, still a political force, resisted the results and demanded a runoff election. But the response in October was a general strike and one million people flooded Belgrade. Mobs attacked the parliament building, security forces either joined them or retreated. Milosevic’s support had crumbled. He stepped down and Kostunica took office. The US and European Union began to lift economic sanctions and offer aid.[39]

In April 2001, Slobodan Milosevic was arrested by Yugoslavian authorities and charged with corruption and abuse of power. He was turned over to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague in June, and his trial began in February of the following year.[40] The UN Security Council lifted its arms embargo against Yugoslavia, abolishing the last remaining sanction by the international community. Almost five years later on March 11, 2006, Slobadan Milosevic died in his prison cell in The Hague. Consequently, there was no decision by the court on his guilt or innocence.

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 1992-1995 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 1998-1999 campaign in Kosovo, and the ruling coalition parties boycotted the September 2000 federal elections, which led to the eventual overthrow of Milosevic’s regime. In 2002, the leaders of Montenegro and Serbia formed plans to reorganize the country. The plans sought to address Montenegro’s desire for greater self-rule.[41]

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 parliament of the Federation Republic of Yugoslavia ratified the Constitutional Charter, establishing a new state union and changing the name of the country from Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro.[42] Both states would share a common military and foreign policy, yet would have separate economies, customs services and currencies. The office of a federal president would remain.

After the initial euphoria of replacing Milosevic’s autocratic regime, the Serbian population, in reaction to conflicts over the nature and pace of political reform, was sliding into apathy and disillusionment with its leading politicians by mid-2002. President Vojislav Kostunica was soon joined at the top of the domestic Serbian political scene by the Democratic Party’s (DS) Zoran Djindjic, who was elected Prime Minister of Serbia at the head of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) ticket in December’s republican elections. After an initial honeymoon period in the wake of October 5, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the rest of the DOS, led by Djindjic and his DS, found themselves increasingly at odds over the nature and pace of the government’s reform programs. Although initial reform efforts were highly successful, especially in the economic and fiscal sectors, by the middle of 2002, the nationalist Kostunica and the pragmatic Djindjic were openly at odds. Kostunica’s party, having informally withdrawn from all DOS decision-making bodies, was agitating for early elections to the Serbian parliament in an effort to force Djindjic from the scene. This political stalemate continued for much of 2002, and reform initiatives stalled. Two rounds of elections for the republic presidency in late 2002 failed because of insufficient voter turnout (Serbian law required participation by more than 50 percent of registered voters).[43]

In 2003, Serbia and Montenegro was admitted to the Council of Europe and indicated a desire to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace.  In March of the same year, Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic was assassinated.[44] The Serbian government and the newly formed union government of Serbia and Montenegro reacted swiftly by calling a state of emergency and undertaking an unprecedented crackdown on organized crime, which led to the arrest of more than 4,000 people. Zoran Zivkovic, a Vice President of Djindjic’s DS party, was elected Prime Minister in March 2003. A series of scandals plagued the Zivkovic government through the second half of 2003, ultimately leading the Prime Minister to call early elections. Presidential elections were held on November 16, 2003. These elections also were declared invalid because of insufficient voter turnout. In December, the criteria for voter turnout were legally lowered, and President Tadic took over the Serbian presidency, but the government lacked a full coalition.[45]

The following year, on March 17, 2004, in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, serious clashes broke out between Albanian and Serb communities—the worst violence in the region since the 1999 war. At least 22 people were killed, and another 500 were injured. Many Orthodox monasteries were burned and destroyed. NATO sent in an extra 1,000 troops to restore order. The violence began after the Serbs claimed a Serb teenager was the victim of a drive-by shooting, and ethnic Albanians blamed the Serbs for the drowning of several Albanian children.[46] 

Acute and Urgent Problems

Serbia hosts the largest number of displaced persons in the region—over 500,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) within its borders. Of these, approximately 225,000 are ethnic Serbs who left homes in Kosovo and Metohija. Although displaced persons have returned to Kosovo at a steadily increasing pace each year since 2000, the overall number of returns is very small. Violence against Serbs has declined since March 2004, but violence and murder still reappear every several months.

I visited Kosovo in June 2005. Fear and distrust still permeate the atmosphere. The three days of violence in March 2004, aimed exclusively at the Serbian community, aggravated the climate of fear. Kosovo is to Serbs as Jerusalem is to the Jewish people and the Vatican is to Roman Catholics. The demographics have changed, and Albanians account for 90 percent of the Kosovo population.

Both Montenegro and Kosovo are immediate pressing issues for the future of Serbia. This country, which in World War I and World War II was an ally of the United States, must resolve both of them so it can move on to join the other countries of the Balkans in their push for economic stability and growth. Serbia has the largest population in the West Balkans. It is at the heart of this part of southeastern Europe.

It is in the interests of the United States that an atmosphere of hope and confidence can emerge in Serbia. In my opinion, the next two years will give a good indication if this is going to happen.


Montenegro is planning to hold a referendum in May 2006. The question to be resolved is: Should Montenegro remain part of the Serbia-Montenegro union or should it become an independent state?

There is another issue apart from the question of independence. The European Union and the United States want the process to be orderly, just and without violence.

At the present time there is a dispute over the referendum rules. European Union envoys have proposed that the country be allowed to secede from the state union if 55 percent of the voters choose independence and 50 percent of the voters actually take part in the election.

The current government of Montenegro, which favors independence, is campaigning to allow a 41 percent participation of the electorate, as a valid referendum.

Kosovo and Metohija

Kosovo and Metohija remain the more sensitive of the two challenges. The compromise that seems to be advocated by Washington is “all but independence” or partial independence now. This, they believe will satisfy, for a time, the demands of the Albanian majority. The same Washington sources talk about protecting the many Serb Orthodox churches, so dear to the Serbian people, and continuing the military presence so that the Serbian and other minority peoples will be safeguarded.

Reaction in Serbia

I have been in Serbia on four occasions in the past three years. There is a certain amount of collective depression in the country. Serbia was the central power within Yugoslavia. In the 1960s-1980s, it was a world power with a world class leader. The 1990s witnessed the end of that period. Serbia was seriously wounded in the process.

The loss of Montenegro and Kosovo would be another strong blow to the psyche of the Serbian people. Such a development could lead to an increase in the influence of extremist groups. It is in the interest of the United States, the West and Russia not to allow a further deterioration in the morale and self-esteem of the Serbian people.

[1] Some of the historical conclusions relating to the early migrations of Slavs into southern Europe, as well as the ancient tribes that may or may not have dwelled in the region before the coming of the Slavs, is contentious. The information here, as well as for a good discussion of conflicting conclusions, is in Robert Lee Wolf’s The Balkans in our Time. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1956.

[2] Robert Lee Wolf. The Balkans in Our Time.

[3] The information here is derived from H.W.V. Temperly. History of Serbia. London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1917.

[4] The Serbian Orthodox Church ranks sixth among these Eastern Churches—Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Russia.

[5] Robert Lee Wolf. The Balkans in Our Time.

[6] Information pertaining to Medieval Serbia was compiled from Robert Lee Wolf (see preceding citation), Temperly (see previous citation), Tim Judah’s The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, 2nd edition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, the CIA World Fact Book country page Serbia and Montenegro and the United States Department of State Web site (, Country Background Notes: Serbia and Montenegro.

[7] Information pertaining to 19th century Serbia, particularly dates, derives from Country Background Notes: Serbia and Montenegro, which is found on the US Department of State Web site and from Misha Glenny’s The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

[8] US Department of State Web site (, Country Background Notes: Serbia and Montenegro.

[9] See Tim Judah (citation above).

[10] For a discussion of this period in the Balkans, see M. Edith Durham’s Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. First published in 1920.

[11] Robert Lee Wolf. The Balkans in Our Time.

[12] Robert Lee Wolf. The Balkans in Our Time.

[13] Tim Judah. The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

[14] Robert D. Kaplan. Balkan Ghosts. Chapter 2. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.

[15] US Department of State Web site (, Country Background Notes: Serbia and Montenegro.

[16] Misha Glenny. The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers - 1804-1999.

[17] Charles Jelavich and Barbara Jelavich. The Balkans: The Modern Nations in Historical Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965.

[18] Mark Mazower. The Balkans: A Short Story. New York: The Modern Library, 2000.

[19] Another term for the Chetnik fighters. See Robert Lee Wolf. The Balkans in Our Time.

[20] Paul Johnson. Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties. New York: Perennial Classics, 1983.

[21] R.K. Markham. Tito’s Imperial Communism. Chapel Hill: The UNC Press, 1947.

[22] Paul Johnson. Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties. New York: Perennial Classics, 1983.

[23] When Tito visited London in 1953, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told him, “Should our wartime ally, Yugoslavia, be attacked, we would fight and die with you.” Tito replied, “This is a sacred vow and it is enough for us. We need no written treaties.”

[24] Paul Johnson. Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties.

[25] For additional information see David Carlton and Carlo Schaerf editors. South-Eastern Europe After Tito: A Powder Keg for the 1980s?. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983.

[26] Melady. The Ambassador’s Story, Chapter IX. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1994.

[27] Dusko Doder and Louise Branson. Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant. New York: The Free Press, 1999.

[28] For more on the break-up of Yugoslavia, see The Ambassador’s Story by Thomas P. Melady.

[29] Country Background Notes - Serbia and Montenegro on

[30] See Robert D. Kaplan. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. New York: Vintage Departures, 1993.

[31] BBC News, History File, Web site.  ( Yugoslavia and the Balkans: 1900-1999.

[33] Misha Glenny. The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999.

[34] Timeline: Yugoslavia. (

[35] Timeline: Yugoslavia. (

[36] US Department of State Web site (, Country Background Notes - Serbia and Montenegro.

[37] NATO in Kosovo: 1998-1999. (

[38] Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The Future of the Western Balkans.” EES News -Special Report. September 2005.

[40] Milosevic is the first head of state to face an international war-crimes court.

[42] US Department of State Web site ( Country Background Notes - Serbia.

[43] US Department of State Web site ( Country Background Notes - Serbia.

[45] US Department of State Web site (

[46] Timeline: Yugoslavia.

Photo credit: The World Fact Book, 2006.

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