In World War II, most of the territory of modern Serbia was occupied by the German army and was governed by the German Military Administration in Serbia, and also by the Serbian puppet government under Serbian army general Milan Nedic. The northern territories were annexed by Hungary, and eastern and southern territories by Bulgaria. Kosovo and Metohija were mostly annexed by Albania which was under the sponsorship of fascist Italy.
In Serbia, the German occupation authorities organized several concentration camps for the Jews, members of the Chetniks royalist resistance movement and communists.
The biggest concentration camps were Banjica and Sajmiste near Belgrade, where, according to the most conservative estimates, around 40,000 Jews were killed. In all those camps, some 90 percent of the Serbian Jewish population perished. In the Backa region annexed by Hungary, numerous Serbs and Jews were killed in 1942 raid by the Hungarian authorities. The persecutions against ethnic Serb population also occurred in the region of Syrmia, which was controlled by the Independent State of Croatia and in the region of Banat, which was under direct German control.
During the War and after it, the communists killed many civilians who did not support them. People were shot without trials, or following politically and ideologically motivated courts’ rulings, such as in the case of General Dragoljub Mihailovic, the leader of the Chetniks. The Agricultural Reform conducted after the war meant that peasants had to give away most of their wheat, grain, and cattle to the state, or face serious imprisonment. Land and property were confiscated on a massive scale. Many people, including the Royal Family, also lost civil rights and their names were smeared. Also, a censorship was enforced on all levels of the society and media, and a cult of the communist leader was created in the media.
On 20 October 1944 the Soviet Red Army liberated Belgrade and by the end of 1944 all Serbia was free from German control.
After the War, the communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, became the first president of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia which he ruled through the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. The federal state comprised of six republics, from north to south: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia and two autonomous regions within Serbia – Vojvodina and Kosovo.
The basic communists dogmas were “brotherhood and unity”, workers’ self-management and state-owned property. In the beginning, the country copied the Soviet model, but after the 1948 seeming split with the Soviet Union, it turned more towards the West. Eventually, it created its own brand of communism, with fabricated rudimentary aspects of a market economy, and milked both the East and the West for significant financial loans.
The 1974 constitution produced a significantly less centralized federation, increasing the autonomy of Yugoslavia’s republics as well as the autonomous provinces of Serbia, and appointed the communist leader as president for life.
When the president for life died in 1980, he was succeeded by a presidency that rotated annually between the six Republics and two Autonomous regions. This led to a fatal weakening of central power and ties between the republics.
During the ‘80s, inflation skyrocketed, but in 1990, under Prime Minister Ante Markovic, things began to improve. Economic reforms had opened up the country, the living standard was at its peak, capitalism seemed to have entered the country and nobody thought that just a year later the first gunshots would be fired.
The first cracks began to show when in the spring of 1981 when on 11 March, 26 March, and 31 March to 2 April an escalating series of increasingly large protests spread from the campus of the University of Pristina to the streets of several cities in Kosovo demanding the upgrading of the Autonomous Region to the status of full Republic – these protests were violently suppressed by the Police with many deaths, and a state of emergency was declared. Serbian concerns about the treatment of Serb minorities in other republics and particularly in Kosovo were exacerbated by the SANU Memorandum, drawn up by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and published in 1986, which claimed that Serbs were suffering a genocide at the hands of the Kosovo Albanian majority.
Slobodan Milosevic became the most powerful politician in Serbia in 1987 when he defeated and humiliated his former mentor Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, during the televised session of the League of Communists of Serbia. He governed Serbia from his position as Chairman of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia until May 1989 when he assumed the Presidency of Serbia. He then gained control of three other constituent parts of Yugoslavia in what became known as the Anti-bureaucratic revolution, Vojvodina in October 1988, Kosovo in November 1988, and Montenegro in January 1989. On 25 Nov 1988 the Yugoslav National Assembly granted Serbia the right to change its constitution. In March 1989 this was done, curbing autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo, which caused great unrest in Kosovo. On 28 June 1989 the aspirant new president for life made what became known as the Gazimestan Speech which was the centrepiece of a day-long event, attended by an estimated one million Serbs, to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. The reference in this speech to the possibility of “armed conflicts” in the future of Serbia’s national development was seen by many as presaging the collapse of Yugoslavia and the bloodshed of the Yugoslav Wars.
On 23 January 1990 at its 14th Congress the Communist League of Yugoslavia voted to remove its monopoly on political power, but the same day effectively ceased to exist as a national party when the League of Communists of Slovenia walked out after Serbian communists blocked all their reformist proposals. In July 1990 the League of Communists of Serbia was merged with several smaller communist front organizations to form the
Socialist Party of Serbia. A new Constitution was drawn up and came into force in September 1990, transforming the one-party Socialist Republic of Serbia into a multi-party Republic of Serbia. The first multi-party elections were held in December 1990 and in what became the pattern for the next several elections the Socialist Party of Serbia won, as it maintained firm control over the state media and opposition parties had little access.
On 9 March 1991 a mass rally on the streets of Belgrade turned into a riot with vicious clashes between the protesters and police. It was organized by Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Two people died in the ensuing violence.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia broke up in 1991/1992 in a series of wars following the independence declarations of Slovenia and Croatia on 25 Jun 1991, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on 5 Mar 1992. Macedonia left the federation peacefully on 25 Sep 1991. The Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) tried and failed to prevent the secession of Slovenia in the Ten Day War 26 Jun – 6 Jul 1991 and completely withdrew by 26 Oct 1991. The JNA attempted and failed to prevent the secession of Croatia during the first phase of the Croatian War of Independence from 27 Jun 1991 until the truce of Jan 1992, but did successfully enable the Croatian Serb minority to establish the Republic of Serb Krajina which looked to Serbia for support. The biggest battle of this war was the Siege of Vukovar. Following the start of the Bosnian War on 1 April 1992 the JNA officially withdrew all its forces from Croatia and Bosnia in May 1992 and was formally dissolved on 20 May 1992 – its remnant forces being taken over by the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Serbia and Montenegro
Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was established in 1992 as a federation. In 2003, it was reconstituted as a political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (SCG).
After June 1999, Kosovo was made a United Nations protectorate, under the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) based in Pristina. From early 2001, UNMIK has been working with representatives of the Serbian and union governments to re-establish stable relations in the region. A new assembly of the province was elected in November 2001, which formed a government and chose a president in February 2002.
Although threatened by Milosevic throughout the last years of his rule, Montenegro’s democratization efforts have continued. In January 1998, Milo Djukanovic became Montenegro’s president, following bitterly contested elections in November 1997. His coalition followed up with parliamentary elections in May. Djukanovic struggled to balance the pro-independence stance of his coalition with the changed domestic and international environment. In December 2002, he resigned as president and was appointed Prime Minister.
All along the autumn of 2000, even as opposition grew, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) continued to dominate the governing coalitions and held all the key administrative posts, although it did not have a majority in either the federal or Serbian parliaments. An essential element of Milosevic’s grasp on power was his control of the Serbian police, a heavily armed force of some 100,000 that was responsible for internal security and which committed serious human rights abuses.
Routine federal elections in September 2000 resulted in the victory of the recently formed Democratic Opposition of Serbia’s (DOS, a broad coalition of anti-Milosevic parties) candidate for FRY president Vojislav Kostunica. The regime claimed he received less than a majority, requiring a second round. Immediately, street protests and rallies filled cities across the country as Serbs rallied around the DOS. There had been widespread fear that the second round would be cancelled on the basis of foreign interference in the elections. Cries of fraud and calls for Milosevic’s removal echoed across city squares from Subotica to Nis.
On 5 October 2000, Milosevic was forced to concede defeat after days of mass protests all across Serbia.
The new FRY 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 DOS ticket in December’s elections for Serbia’s Parliament. After an initial honeymoon period in the wake of 5 October, DSS and the rest of DOS, led by Djindjic and his DS, found themselves increasingly at odds over the nature and pace of the governments’ 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. After the initial euphoria of replacing Milosevic’s autocratic regime, the Serbian population, in reaction to this political manoeuvring, was sliding into apathy and disillusionment with its leading politicians by mid-2002. This political stalemate continued for much of 2002, and reform initiatives stalled.
In February 2003, the Constitutional Charter was finally ratified by both republics, and the FRY Parliament and the name of the country was changed from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro. Under the new Constitutional Charter, most federal functions and authorities devolved to the republic level. The office of President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, held by Vojislav Kostunica, ceased to exist once Svetozar Marovic was elected President of Serbia and Montenegro.
On 12 March 2003, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated. 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.
Parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Serbia on 28 December 2003. Serbia had been in a state of political crisis since the overthrow of the post-communist ruler. The reformers had been unable to gain control of the Serbian presidency because three successive presidential elections have failed to produce the required 50% turnout. The assassination in March 2003 of the reforming Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic was a major setback.
Despite the great increase in support for the Radicals, the four pro-reform parties (Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia, late Prime Minister Djindjic’s Democratic Party, now led by Boris Tadic, and the G17 Plus group of liberal economists, plus the SPO-NS) won 49.8% of the vote, compared with 34.8% for the two anti-western parties, the Radicals of Vojislav Seselj and the SPS, and won 146 seats to 104.
At the 2004 Presidential election Boris Tadic, candidate of the Democratic Party won over Tomislav Nikolic, of the Serbian Radical Party, sealing the future reform and EU-integration path of Serbia.
Since 1996, Montenegro began to sever economic ties with Serbia as it formed a new economic policy and adopted the Deutsche Mark as its currency. Subsequent governments of Montenegro carried out pro-independence policies, and political tensions with Serbia simmered despite political changes in Belgrade. Also, separatist Albanian paramilitaries began a steady escalation of violence in 1998. The question whether the Federal Yugoslav state would continue to exist became a very serious issue to the government.
Following Montenegro’s vote for full independence in the referendum of 21 May 2006 (55.4% yes, 44.6% no), Montenegro declared independence on 3 June 2006. This was followed on 5 June 2006 by Serbia’s declaration of independence, marking the final dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and the re-emergence of Serbia as an independent state, under its own name, for the first time since 1918.
A referendum was held on 28 and 29 October 2006 on a proposed draft of the new Constitution of Serbia, which was approved. The constitution is Serbia’s first as an independent state since the Kingdom of Serbia’s 1888 constitution.
The 2007 elections confirmed the pro-reform and pro-European stance of the Serbian Parliament, in which Boris Tadic’s party doubled his representation.
On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo parliament unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia to mixed international reactions. The declaration was officially recognized by the U.S., Austria, Great Britain, Germany, France, Turkey and dozen other countries. Serbia, Russia, China, Spain, India, Brazil, Greece, Romania and other countries oppose this declaration and consider it illegal. In July 2010, the United Nations International Court of Justice deemed the declaration of independence legal.
The Serbian government passed through weeks of severe crisis after the unilateral declaration of independence of its southern province of Kosovo on 17 February 2008, which was gradually recognized by the United States and European Union countries. The crisis was fuelled by the demand by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to the Democratic Party (Serbia) (DS), which held governmental majority, of a restructuring of the governmental contract including an annex according to which Serbia can continue European integration exclusively with Kosovo as its integral part, as stated in the 2006 Constitution. The DS and G17+ refused, and Kostunica had to resign on 8 March 2008, while also asking the President to dismiss the parliament and schedule snap parliamentary elections.
These elections were held on 11 May 2008, barely a year after the previous one. The results showed a net increase of votes for Tadic’s coalition. After long and difficult negotiations, a new pro-European government was formed on 7 July 2008 with the new Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, candidate of the Democratic Party.
Serbia officially applied for European Union membership on 22 December 2009. Despite its setbacks in the political field, on 7 December 2009 the EU unfroze the trade agreement with Serbia and the Schengen countries dropped the visa requirement for Serbian citizens on 19 December 2009. A Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was signed in 2008 and entered into force on 1 September 2013.
New presidential election took place on 6 May 2012, on the same date as the parliamentary election. The election was called following President Boris Tadic’s early resignation in order to coincide with the parliamentary and local elections to be held on the same date. As no candidate won a majority, a runoff was on 20 May, and incumbent Boris Tadic lost to his opponent, Tomislav Nikolic from the Serbian Progressive Party.
Five years later, presidential elections were held in Serbia on 2 April 2017, the eleventh since the office of President was introduced in 1990. Incumbent President Tomislav Nikolic was eligible to run for a second five-year term, but opted not to do so. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was elected as President in the first round