Is Serbia a country? What happened to Yugoslavia? Is Kosovo part of Serbia? Here’s everything you need to know about Serbia’s sovereign status.
When I first visited Serbia back in 2015, I remember an older relative asking me if Serbia was still part of Yugoslavia (it’s not, of course, since Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s). Someone else asked me if Serbia and Montenegro were still one country (they dissolved their union in 2006) and I grappled with the confusing question of Serbia and Kosovo. Were they both independent countries, or is Kosovo legally part of Serbia?
Before I’d even visited, it was clear that Serbia’s complex sovereign status is one that’s difficult to define. While Serbia is undoubtedly a nation-state and one which has full recognition within the United Nations, its lingering Yugoslav history and role in the Balkan Wars I’d grown up watching on the news in the 1990s ensured that I was ignorant of Serbia’s modern geopolitical position in Europe.
Even after visiting all of the former Yugoslav countries multiple times (including two trips each to both Serbia and Kosovo), I have yet to fully understand Balkan politics and history, but one thing’s for sure: I wish I’d known more before I visited Serbia for the first time. With that in mind, I decided to put together this article explaining more about Serbia’s history as an independent country, and why it’s such an important player in the Balkans. Is Serbia a country? Here’s everything you need to know, and more, before you visit the Balkans.
Table of Contents
Is Serbia a country?
Located on the Balkan Peninsula, the short answer is that yes, Serbia is a sovereign nation-state. Sharing borders with Hungary to the north, Romania to the northeast, Bulgaria to the southeast, North Macedonia to the south, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the west, and Montenegro to the southwest, Serbia’s capital and largest city is Belgrade. Also to the south is Kosovo, a disputed region which has de facto independence from Serbia, but which the Serbian government officially claims to be part of Serbia’s sovereign territory.
Serbia has a complex history, which has been influenced by various empires, including the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The influence of these historical periods is evident in its architecture, cuisine, and cultural practices. Serbia was an integral part of the former Yugoslavia, and it has undergone significant changes since its disintegration in the 1990s, both politically and economically.
Today, Serbia is a democratic republic, with some sections of society wishing to align itself more closely with the European Union; although it has not yet become a member. As a parliamentary republic, Serbia has its own constitution, legal framework, and governance structures. Serbia has a diverse population and is home to various ethnic groups and religious communities, although the majority identify as Serbian and adhere to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The country has its own armed forces and conducts an independent foreign policy. While Serbia faces several challenges, such as economic development and negotiations for European Union membership, its standing as an independent country is not in dispute. Issues like the Kosovo territorial conflict add complexity to its political landscape but do not negate its sovereignty.
Read more: The NATO Ruins of Belgrade
Important facts to know about Serbia
Here are the most important facts to know if you’re travelling to Serbia:
- Official Name: Republic of Serbia
- Capital: Belgrade
- Area: 88,361 square kilometres
- Population: Approximately 7 million
- Official Language: Serbian
- Currency: Serbian dinar (RSD)
- Time Zone: Central European Time (CET), Central European Summer Time (CEST)
- Calling Code: +381s
- Driving Side: Right
- Government: Parliamentary Republic
- Legislature: National Assembly
- Religion: Predominantly Serbian Orthodox Christianity
- Ethnic Groups: Primarily Serbs, with minority groups including Hungarians, Bosniaks, and Roma
- GDP (PPP): Approximately $75 billion
- GDP per Capita (PPP): Around $11,000
- Climate: Varies from continental in the north to Mediterranean in the south
- Tourist Attractions: Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad, Tara National Park, Đerdap National Park
- International Organisations: United Nations, Council of Europe, OSCE, Partnership for Peace (PfP), and a candidate for EU membership
- Independence: First gained in 1217 as a medieval kingdom; modern independence was reestablished in 2006 after the dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro
- Neighbouring Countries: Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro
- Internet TLD: .rs
- National Symbols: Double-headed eagle (coat of arms), three colours of the flag (red, blue, and white)
- Public Holidays: New Year’s Day, Serbian New Year, Easter, Labour Day, Armistice Day
Where is Serbia?
Serbia is situated in Southeast Europe, specifically in the central and western portions of the Balkan Peninsula. It’s a landlocked nation, sharing its borders with several countries. To the north, Serbia is bordered by Hungary, while Romania lies to its northeast. Bulgaria is to the southeast, and North Macedonia to the south. On its western flank, Serbia is adjacent to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to its southwest is Montenegro.
Geographically, the country exhibits a diverse range of features, from the flat plains of Vojvodina in the north to the rugged landscapes of the Dinaric Alps and the Šar Mountains in the south. The Danube River, one of Europe’s most significant waterways, traverses Serbia and provides it with a crucial natural resource. Belgrade, the capital, is situated at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, symbolising Serbia’s link to both Western and Eastern Europe. The geographical position of Serbia has historically made it a crossroads between different cultures, economies, and political influences.
What’s the capital of Serbia?
The capital of Serbia is Belgrade, a city with a history that stretches back over two millennia. Situated at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, Belgrade has been an important crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe, serving as a strategic point for empires, traders, and conquerors alike. The name ‘Belgrade’ translates to ‘White City’, although the origins of this name are a subject of debate.
As the political, economic, and cultural hub of Serbia, Belgrade is the epicentre of the country’s activities. It is home to the government’s key institutions, including the National Assembly, the Presidency, and the various ministries that govern the nation. The city also hosts numerous diplomatic missions and international organisations, reflecting its importance on the global stage.
Belgrade’s architecture is a testament to its complex past, featuring a mix of Ottoman relics, Austro-Hungarian buildings, Brutalist structures from the socialist era, modern edifices and even the ruins of the NATO bombings in 1999 which have been left as lasting reminders of the conflict. Kalemegdan Fortress offers panoramic views of the confluence of the two rivers and has been a defensive structure for various empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans.
A brief history of Serbia as an independent country
The history of Serbia as an independent country is marked by a series of transformative periods that have defined the modern nation you see today. The medieval Serbian state emerged in the early 12th century, under the Nemanjić dynasty, gaining recognition as an independent kingdom in 1217. Its peak came under Tsar Dušan the Mighty in the 14th century, when the Serbian Empire controlled much of the Balkans.
However, the decline set in after Dušan’s death, and the subsequent invasion by the Ottoman Turks culminated in the infamous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. The Ottomans eventually subjugated Serbia by the late 15th century. Though various uprisings occurred, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the First Serbian Uprising led by Karađorđe Petrović partially liberated the country. The Second Uprising under Miloš Obrenović laid the foundation for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, finally securing full independence in 1878.
In the 20th century, Serbia became a key constituent of newly formed South Slavic states, firstly as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. After World War II, it became one of six socialist republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito. Yugoslavia disintegrated violently in the 1990s, leading to international conflicts and sanctions against Serbia, which was then a part of a smaller Federal Republic of Yugoslavia along with Montenegro.
The early 21st century has seen Serbia grappling with the legacy of the 1990s, including its role in the conflicts and the loss of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008 – a status Serbia does not recognise. Since the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in 2000, Serbia has taken steps to modernise and integrate with the European community, although the path has been fraught with political and social challenges.
Serbia is now an EU candidate country, negotiating terms for full membership while also balancing relations with Russia and China. Despite its tumultuous past, the nation is making strides in its journey towards stability and international cooperation.
Why did Yugoslavia collapse?
During the 20th century, Serbia was an integral member of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was succeded by the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s is a complex topic that still has repercussions today, and it was rooted in a myriad of political, social, and economic factors that evolved over decades. Yugoslavia was a federation of ethnically and religiously diverse regions, and although the post-World War II socialist regime under Josip Broz Tito managed to suppress nationalist sentiments, the underlying tensions never fully disappeared.
After Tito’s death in 1980, the centralised system he had established began to weaken, and the collective presidency that succeeded him struggled to maintain cohesion. Economic difficulties exacerbated the situation, with rising unemployment and inflation causing public discontent. Throughout the 1980s, there was also significant foreign debt, economic mismanagement, and rising corruption, which increased social and political strains.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989–1991 brought winds of change across Eastern Europe, empowering nationalist and separatist movements within Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milošević, who rose to prominence in Serbia, stoked Serbian nationalism, which created apprehension and counter-nationalism among other Yugoslav republics. The political manoeuvring resulted in referendums for independence in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which met with resistance from Belgrade.
What ensued was a series of conflicts from 1991 to 1999, including wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The wars were marked by ethnic violence, including ‘ethnic cleansing‘ campaigns and atrocities committed on all sides. International intervention, including UN peacekeepers and NATO airstrikes, aimed to mitigate the conflicts but also complicated matters further. The Dayton Agreement in 1995 brought a tenuous peace to Bosnia, but it wasn’t until after the 1999 Kosovo War and the overthrow of Milošević in 2000 that the violent disintegration phase could be said to have concluded.
The end result was the fragmentation of Yugoslavia into several independent states, with Kosovo being the last of the Yugoslav countries to declare independence in 2008, a declaration that Serbia has yet to recognise.
Is Montenegro in Serbia?
No, Montenegro is not in Serbia; it is a sovereign country bordering Serbia. The two nations share historical, cultural, and linguistic ties, but they are politically distinct entities. Both were part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, following its dissolution, they formed a union known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 2003, this entity was reconstituted as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. However, this arrangement did not last long.
In 2006, Montenegro held a referendum in which its citizens voted for independence from the State Union. Following the referendum, Montenegro declared its independence and was internationally recognised as a separate country. Since then, it has pursued its own foreign and domestic policies, including a bid for membership in the European Union and NATO, the latter of which it joined in 2017.
Serbia and Montenegro maintain diplomatic relations and have agreements on a range of issues like trade and border control. But it is crucial to recognise them as individual nations, each with its own government, territorial integrity, and international standing.
Is Kosovo in Serbia?
The status of Kosovo is a subject of international debate and political contention. Officially, Serbia considers Kosovo to be an autonomous province within its sovereign territory, as defined by the Serbian constitution. However, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008 and has since been recognised as an independent country by a significant number of United Nations member states.
The roots of the Kosovo issue trace back to long-standing ethnic tensions, exacerbated during the 1990s Yugoslav conflicts. The situation escalated into armed conflict in Kosovo between Serbian forces and Kosovo Albanian rebels in 1998–1999. NATO intervention led to the withdrawal of Serbian troops and the establishment of a United Nations administration.
While Kosovo has its own government, institutions, and borders separate from Serbia, it is not a UN member due to vetoes from countries that do not recognise its independence, including Russia and China. Multiple rounds of negotiations have been held to resolve the status of Kosovo, but no conclusive agreement has been reached.
Therefore, whether Kosovo is in Serbia depends largely on one’s perspective: according to international law, it remains a disputed territory, but visit Kosovo, and you’ll soon understand how it has de facto independence.
Is Serbia in the EU?
Serbia is not a member of the European Union (EU). However, it has been an official candidate for EU membership since 2012 and has been in formal accession negotiations since January 2014. The country’s journey towards EU integration has been a complex process involving various reforms aimed at aligning its laws, governance structures, and institutions with EU standards. This includes efforts to improve the rule of law, combat corruption, and safeguard human rights.
The negotiations also touch upon politically sensitive issues such as the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The EU has facilitated dialogue between the two sides, but a comprehensive agreement has yet to be reached, and this remains one of the significant obstacles in Serbia’s path to EU membership.
Serbia’s relationship with the EU is multifaceted and influenced by a variety of factors, including geopolitical considerations involving other major powers like Russia and China. While Serbia has made progress in several negotiation chapters, the timeline for full EU membership remains uncertain.
What languages are spoken in Serbia?
The official language of Serbia is Serbian, which is part of the South Slavic group of languages. Serbian is written in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, although Cyrillic is the official script. The language is mutually intelligible with Croatian and Bosnian, and to some extent with Montenegrin, forming a dialect continuum within the region.
In areas with ethnic minorities, other languages are also spoken and may have a degree of official recognition at a local level. For instance, Hungarian is spoken in parts of Vojvodina, a province in the north of Serbia with a significant Hungarian minority. Other minority languages in this province include Slovak, Romanian, and Ruthenian.
Albanian is spoken in some areas in the south, particularly in regions close to Kosovo and North Macedonia. Bosnian and Croatian are also spoken in specific communities. Romani is spoken among the Roma community but is not officially recognised.
English is increasingly popular as a second language, particularly among younger people and in urban areas, due to its importance in global business, tourism, and academia. Additionally, older generations may speak Russian or German as a second language, influenced by historical and geopolitical factors.
What religions are practised in Serbia?
The primary religion in Serbia is Serbian Orthodox Christianity, which is an integral part of the country’s identity and culture. The Serbian Orthodox Church has a long history and enjoys considerable influence in various aspects of Serbian life, from politics to education and beyond. Major religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter are observed according to the Julian calendar, which is used by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
While Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith, Serbia is also home to other religious communities. Roman Catholicism is practised, particularly in regions like Vojvodina, where there are significant Hungarian and Croatian minorities. Additionally, some ethnic Slovaks and Czechs in Vojvodina are Protestant, mainly of the Lutheran and Reformed denominations.
Islam has a presence in Serbia as well, especially among ethnic Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandžak and among Albanians in the south. The Islamic community in Serbia is primarily Sunni, although there are also smaller groups of other Muslim traditions.
Judaism has a long history in Serbia, but the Jewish community is now relatively small, primarily concentrated in Belgrade and a few other cities. There are also other smaller religious communities, including Buddhists and atheists.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Serbian constitution, and the state is officially secular. However, the Serbian Orthodox Church does have a privileged position, and its influence can be seen in various aspects of public life. Overall, the religious landscape in Serbia is diverse, but it is notably shaped by its dominant Serbian Orthodox tradition.
So, is Serbia a country?
Serbia is indeed a sovereign nation, recognised by the international community and a member of various global organisations, including the United Nations. From its origins as a medieval kingdom to its period under Ottoman rule, its involvement in the formation and dissolution of Yugoslavia, and finally, its reestablishment as an independent state in the modern era, Serbia has navigated a labyrinthine path to its current status.
The country has its own government, legal system, and military, and it conducts its own foreign and domestic policies. While Serbia grapples with various challenges, including economic development, political reform, and its aspirations for European Union membership, its sovereignty is not in question.
Although it has unresolved issues, particularly concerning Kosovo, these complexities do not negate its standing as an independent country. ‘Is Serbia a country?’. The answer is a resounding yes.
FAQ: Is Serbia a country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘Is Serbia a country?’:
Q1: Is Serbia a sovereign state?
Yes, Serbia is a sovereign state recognised by the international community. It is a member of the United Nations and various other international organisations.
Q2: What is Serbia’s form of government?
Serbia is a parliamentary republic with a President serving as the head of state and a Prime Minister serving as the head of government.
Q3: Where is Serbia located?
Serbia is located in Southeast Europe, in the central and western part of the Balkan Peninsula. It shares borders with Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
Q4: What is the capital of Serbia?
The capital of Serbia is Belgrade.
Q5: Is Serbia part of the European Union?
Serbia is not a member of the European Union, although it has been an official candidate for membership since 2012.
Q6: What currency is used in Serbia?
The currency used in Serbia is the Serbian dinar (RSD).
Q7: What languages are spoken in Serbia?
The official language is Serbian. In areas with ethnic minorities, languages like Hungarian, Albanian, and Bosnian may also be spoken.
Q8: What is the dominant religion in Serbia?
The dominant religion is Serbian Orthodox Christianity, although there are minority religious communities such as Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.
Q9: Does Serbia have any territorial disputes?
Serbia has an ongoing territorial dispute with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state.
Q10: How is Serbia’s relationship with its neighbours?
Serbia generally maintains diplomatic relations with its neighbouring countries. However, historical conflicts, particularly those stemming from the dissolution of Yugoslavia, have left a complex web of relations in the region.