Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A country which has dominated the history of the western Balkan region since the early twentieth century.

Early history (until 1992)

After several uprisings, Serbia became autonomous within the Ottoman Empire in 1830. It became an independent state after the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and was declared a kingdom in 1883. After the assassination of King Alexander I Obrenovic (1903), Peter I Karadordevic became King. Under his reign, parliamentary government was established, which came to be dominated by Pasic, the leader of the Radical People's Party. As Austria-Hungary advanced to annex neighbouring Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, it came into increasing conflict with a self-confident Serbia, which did everything to block Austrian pretensions to Balkan predominance. Serbia emerged victorious and strengthened from the Balkan Wars (1912–13), in which it almost doubled its territory. Growing tensions with an insecure but openly defiant Austria finally triggered the outbreak of World War I, after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

During the war, Serbia was occupied by Austrian troops, which forced the Serbian government and king to retreat to Corfu. There, it concluded the Corfu Pact with representatives from Croatia and Slovenia, which became the basis after 1918 for the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes under its regent Alexander (king from 1921). In 1929, this became Yugoslavia, though in practice the kingdom was dominated by Serbia, which developed into the most industrialized and politically influential part of Yugoslavia. This did not change much after World War II, despite constitutional guarantees for the country's other constituent parts. After Tito's death, its predominance became more openly challenged.

Milošević era (1992–2000)

Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina had declared their independence by 1992, though under Milošević, Serbia tried to prevent the break-up of Yugoslavia by force, supporting a civil war first in Slovenia, then Croatia, and finally (and most persistently) in Bosnia-Hercegovina. In 1995 Serbia reluctantly agreed to the Dayton Agreement, in order to achieve a lifting of damaging international sanctions, and to consolidate Serb gains made in the Bosnian Civil War.

Meanwhile, the Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo demanded a restoration and extension of its autonomy from 1992. These demands were repressed with increased brutality, which included, after 1996, targeted actions of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbian army and police forces. Since Serbia refused to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, on 23 March 1999 NATO planes, led by the US air force, began an extensive bombing campaign. In over 35,000 sorties, government offices were destroyed and much of Serbia's economic infrastructure annihilated. After 73 days, Milošević succumbed and withdrew his forces from Kosovo. He consequently moved to secure his own power within Yugoslavia by attempting to change the constitution in his favour, and by reducing the influence of an increasingly distant Montenegro within the Yugoslav Federation.

Contemporary politics (since 2000)

Against all expecations, the opposition managed to rally against the government on a nationalist platform led by Koštunica. Milošević was swept from power by popular demonstrations in 2000. The subsequent years were spent rearranging the Yugoslav Federation into an even looser alliance to accommodate Montenegro. Under Djindjić, the Serb government attempted to establish the rule of law against Belgrade's criminal underworld and Milošević's still–powerfull allies. In 2003, these assassinated Djindjić. In the absence of a charismatic successor, and owing to popular disillusionment with slow economic progress, the nationalist Serbian Radical Party won the elections of December 2003. More moderate forces rallied behind Koštunica, who became Prime Minister, with Boris Tadic, leader of the pro-Western and pro-European integration Democratic Party elected President in 2004.


Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.