Serbia, country in the west-central Balkans. The capital is Belgrade, a cosmopolitan city at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers; Stari Grad, Belgrade’s old town, is dominated by an ancient fortress called the Kalemegdan and includes well-preserved examples of medieval architecture and some of eastern Europe’s most-renowned restaurants.
The countries second city, Novi Sad, lies upstream on the Danube; a cultural and educational centre, it resembles the university towns of nearby Hungary in many respects.
Boats along the Danube River.
Long ruled in turn by the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, these component nations combined in 1918 to form an independent federation known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In 1929 that federation was formally constituted as Yugoslavia.
Serbia was the dominant part in this multiethnic union, though after World War II the communist government of Josip Tito accorded some measure of autonomy to the constituent republics and attempted to balance contending interests by dividing national administrative responsibilities.
After Tito’s death in 1980 and the collapse of communism in eastern Europe over the course of the following decade, resurgent nationalism reopened old rifts in Yugoslav society. Serbian (and later Yugoslav) leader Slobodan Milošević attempted to craft a “Greater Serbia” from the former union, but his policies instead led to the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia and civil war in the early 1990s.
The civil war caused the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and prompted international sanctions against the country. In the late 1990s more blood was spilled when the Albanian-Muslim-dominated Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence, resulting in the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United Nations, the bombing of Belgrade, and the placement of Kosovo under UN administration from mid-1999.
Milošević was later defeated in presidential elections and arrested and tried before the International Court of Justice for war crimes, but Yugoslavia remained unstable, as Montenegro threatened to declare independence before negotiating an agreement that maintained the country’s unification in a loose federation.
In 2003, after the ratification of the pact by the parliaments of Serbia, Montenegro, and Yugoslavia, the renamed Serbia and Montenegro replaced Yugoslavia on the European map. In 2006 this loose federation came to an end, as the two were recognised as independent nations.
Meanwhile, multilateral talks to determine Kosovo’s future status failed to yield a solution acceptable to both Serbs and Kosovars. Despite Serbia’s opposition, Kosovo formally seceded in February 2008.