Serbia and Montenegro

Culture Name

Serbian; Montenegrin; also Yugoslav or Yugoslavian

Alternative Names

The local name for the region is Srbija-Crna Gora


Identification. The name Yugoslavia previously designated six republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzogovia, Croatia, and Slovenia), but now includes just Serbia and Montenegro. The word means "land of the southern Slavs." Montenegro, which means "black mountain," takes its name from its rugged terrain. Within Serbia there are several national cultures. In addition to the dominant Serb tradition, there is a large Hungarian population in the northern province of Vojvodina, where Hungarian is the common language and the culture is highly influenced by Hungary (which borders the province to the north). In southern Serbia, the province of Kosovo is primarily Albanian, and has an Islamic culture that bears many remnants of the earlier Turkish conquest.

Location and Geography. Serbia is a landlocked territory in the Balkan Peninsula of Eastern Europe, bordering Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania. Montenegro is to the west of Serbia, also bordering Bosnia and Herzogovina, Albania, and the Adriatic Sea. Serbia covers 34,136 square miles (88,412 square kilometers); Montenegro has an area of 5,299 square miles (13,724 square kilometers). Together they are slightly smaller than the state of Kentucky. The terrain varies widely. In the north there are fertile plains that produce most of Serbia's crops, as well as marshlands along the Sava and Danube Rivers. At the northern border, the Danube River runs along the Iron Gate Gorge. Central Serbia is hilly and forested and is the most densely populated region of the country. In the east, there are the Carpathian and Rhodope Mountains, as well as the Balkan range, which forms the border with Romania. The Dinaric Alps rise in the western central region. Kosovo, in the south, is considered the cradle of Serbian civilization. Its geographical formation is two basins surrounded by mountains, including the highest peak in Yugoslavia, Daravica, with an elevation of 8,714 feet (2,656 meters). Kosovo's rocky soil does not produce much, with the exception of corn and rye, but there are grazing fields for livestock, as well as mineral resources of lead, zinc, and silver. Montenegro, the smallest of the former Yugoslav republics, is largely forested. Its terrain is rough and mountainous, better suited for animal husbandry than for farming. Its coastal plain along the Adriatic is narrow, dropping off to sheer cliffs in the north.

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and is the largest city in the country, with a population of 1.5 million. It takes its name, which translates as "white fortress," from the large stone walls that enclose the old part of the city. It is in the north of the country, on a cliff overlooking the meeting of the Danube and Sava Rivers.

Demography. Since the civil wars began in the early 1990s, the population has become more heavily Serbian. Many Croats have fled, particularly from Belgrade and Vojvodina, and many ethnic Serbs have fled from other former Yugoslav republics, Bosnia and Croatia in particular. The 2000 estimate for Serbia's population was 9,981,929, and for Montenegro 680,158. However, these numbers are uncertain due to forced dislocation and ethnic cleansing. Serbs constitute 62.6 percent of people in the area; 16.5 percent are Albanian; 5 percent Montenegrin; 3.4 percent Yugoslav; and 3.3 percent Hungarian. The remaining 9.2 percent are composed of other minorities, including Croats, Gypsies, and Magyars.


Linguistic Affiliation. Serbian, the official language, is spoken by 95 percent of the population. It is virtually identical to Croatian, except that Serbian is written in the Cyrillic, or Russian, alphabet, and Croatian uses Roman letters. Five percent of the people speak Albanian, most of these concentrated in the southern province of Kosovo. German, English, and French are commonly learned in school as second languages.

Symbolism. The national symbol of Serbia is a double-headed white eagle, a creature considered the king of animals. The new flag of Serbia and Montenegro is three vertical bars, blue, white, and red (from top to bottom). The flag of the former Yugoslavia was the same but with a red star outlined in yellow in the center.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. There is archaeological evidence that civilization in present-day Serbia dates to between 7000 and 6000 B.C.E. The first known inhabitants were the Illyrians, followed by the Celts in the fourth century, and the Romans a century after that. Slavic tribes, whose descendants today form most of the population of the region, arrived in the sixth century. The Byzantine Empire ruled the Balkans for centuries, until the 1150s, when Stefan Nemanja, a leader of a Serb clan, united many smaller clans to defeat the foreign power. Nemanja became king, and in 1220 passed the crown to his son Stefan II. The Nemanja Dynasty continued to rule for the next two hundred years, a period considered a golden age in Serbian history. During this period the Serb Empire expanded to include Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania, reaching as far as Greece in the south.

The Ottoman Turkish Empire to the south also was growing, however, and in 1389 arrived in Kosovo and demanded that Serbian forces surrender to them. The Turks ruled for nearly five hundred years. During their reign, many of the people were enslaved, and the cultural and economic development of the region was stifled.

Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the Serbs began to reassert their desire for self-rule, and in 1878, with the aid of Russian forces, Serbia defeated the Ottomans. In that same year, the Congress of Berlin declared Serbia independent, but it also partitioned the country so that Bosnia-Herzogovina, a region with a large Serb population, became part of Austria. Overall, the Congress's re-distribution of land decreased the domain of the Turks and the Russians and increased that of Austria-Hungary and Great Britain. This shift in the balance of powers exacerbated tensions among the various nations involved.

National borders in the Balkans shifted again with the First Balkan War of 1912, when Serbia, along with the other Greece and Bulgaria, took Macedonia back from Turkish rule. In 1913, in the Second Balkan War, Serbia took possession of Kosovo from Albania. They also attempted to take Macedonia from Bulgaria, which had claimed it the year before.

Tensions with Austria continued to build, and in 1914 Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist, assassinated the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand. Austria declared war on Serbia, and within several months occupied the entire region. The assassination of the archduke is often named as the immediate act initiating World War I, which would in many ways reconfigure the European continent. When the war ended in 1918, a kingdom uniting Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was named Yugoslavia. Despite strong disagreements among the different regions (particularly Serbia and Croatia) as to how to govern, Serbia prevailed, and Yugoslavia was declared a constitutional monarchy under the rule of the Serb king Aleksandar Karadjordjevic.

In 1941 Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Alliance of Germany, Italy, and Spain, hoping that this would allow them to expand their borders into Greece. Later that same year, however, they decided to pull out of the alliance, and closed their borders to prevent Hitler from invading. The Germans ignored this move, and proceeded to bomb Belgrade. Hitler divided the Balkans among Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Hungary. In Croatia, the people greeted German troops as a way to escape the rule of the Serbs, and Croatia, aligned with the Axis powers, became a Fascist puppet state. The Croatian government waged a campaign to rid the territory of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, ultimately killing 750,000 people.

The end of World War II saw the rise to power of Josip Tito, who ruled Yugoslavia under a Communist dictatorship from 1945 until 1980. All businesses and institutions were owned and managed by the government. Tito declared himself president for life. He did away with the monarchy, and while he greatly consolidated the power of the central government in Yugoslavia, he also gave republic status to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Tito managed to keep his nation unaligned with either the Soviet Union or Western countries. He refused to submit to the control of the Soviet Union, which held sway in many of the other Eastern European nations, and for this reason, in 1948 Joseph Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Communist Information Bureau.

When Tito died in 1980, the country established a collective presidency: each republic had a representative, and the body worked together to make decisions; the presidency of the country rotated among these different leaders. Slobodan Milosevic became president in 1989, advocating a vision of "Greater Serbia" free of ethnic minorities. Slovenia and Croatia disagreed with Milosevic's policies, and both regions declared independence in June 1991. Milosevic sent troops in, and thousands of people died before the 1992 cease-fire. The European Community granted recognition to the republics, and two other regions of the former Yugoslavia— Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzogovina—called for independence.

Milosevic refused to recognize the sovereignty of any of these states, and on 27 April 1992 declared Serbia and Montenegro the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. They officially withdrew troops from Bosnia, but many of these forces were Bosnian Serbs, who stayed on of their own accord and continued to perpetrate horrible violence against the Muslims in the area. In May 1992 the U.N. Security Council responded by passing economic sanctions against Yugoslavia.

In 1996 a peace treaty was negotiated between Yugoslavia and Croatia, and Bosnia was divided between Serbs and Croat Muslims.

In that same year, Milosevic was defeated in a presidential election but refused to accept the result. Protests and demonstrations ensued, which the government put down using violence. Elections were held again the following year, and Milosevic won.

In March 1998 the largely Albanian province of Kosovo began fighting for independence. Milosevic's government proceeded to destroy villages and kill thousands of Albanians in the region. An arms embargo by the European nations and the United States had no effect, and in early 1999 NATO intervened on the behalf Kosovo and bombed Yugoslavia. In June 1999 a peace treaty was worked out between Yugoslavia and NATO, but the underlying causes of the conflict were not resolved, and violence continues in the region, which remains under the temporary control of NATO and the U.N. Security Council.

A presidential election in September 2000 resulted in a victory for opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, but Milosevic refused to admit that he had lost. Protests ensued; Milosevic's troops attempted to put them down, but eventually troops joined the crowds in agitating for the president's ouster. Milosevic was forced to admit defeat. The European Union responded by lifting certain sanctions against Yugoslavia, including bans on commercial flights and oil shipments. Kostunica supports a free-market economy and increased autonomy for Montenegro, and acknowledges the possibility of self-determination for Kosovo. While his stance is much more moderate than Milosevic's, Kostunica has refused to advocate the prosecution of his predecessor as a war criminal.

National Identity. The people of Yugoslavia identify primarily with their region. Serbs are more likely than other groups to subscribe to an identity as Yugoslav; many minorities see this identity as attempting to subsume significant regional, ethnic, and religious differences. Montenegrins also have a tradition of Pan-Slavism, which led them to remain with Serbia even as other republics were demanding independence. However, Montenegro has had differences with Serbia, particularly over policy in Bosnia, Croatia, and, most recently, Kosovo. Religion also plays an important role in national identity, in particular for Muslims, the largest religious minority (and the majority in certain areas, such as Kosovo and parts of Bosnia).

Ethnic Relations. The Balkan Peninsula is a hodgepodge of cultures and ethnicities. While most of the people are of Slavic origin, their histories diverged under the varying influences of different governments, religions, and cultures. For example, Slovenia and Croatia are primarily Roman Catholic, whereas most of Serbia is Eastern Orthodox; in Kosovo and Bosnia there is a large Islamic population. The north has a strong influence from Hungary, and the south displays more remnants of Turkish culture. The union of these different cultures under a repressive regime makes for a volatile situation; for this reason the entire region has been referred to as the "Balkan tinderbox." The virulent animosity among different groups has, in recent years, led to civil war. The Serb government has brutally suppressed virtually all minorities to consolidate Serb power. Under Milosevic, a policy of ethnic cleansing has attempted to rid the country of Croat Muslims in Bosnia and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo when these groups have agitated for self-rule; the results have been ongoing violence and the oppression of ethnic minorities.

Yugoslavia also has one of the world's largest Gypsy populations, who are also treated with intolerance. In the 1980s there was a movement among Yugoslav Gypsies for separate nationhood, but it never materialized and eventually lost steam.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Belgrade is home to the old royal palace of Yugoslavia, as well as current government buildings. Many of these are in an area called New Belgrade, on the outskirts of the city. Belgrade also boasts centuries-old

Radio B92 is the only station that preserves its own network of correspondents.
Radio B92 is the only station that preserves its own network of correspondents.
churches, mosques, and several national museums. Due in part to its advantageous location at the junction of two rivers, the city has a history of possession by various foreign powers: It has been captured sixty times (by the Romans, Huns, Turks, and Germans, among others) and destroyed thirty-eight times. Many of the city's older structures were damaged by the Nazis during World War II. Some were later restored, but the recent civil war has again devastated the city.

The largest city in Montenegro is Titograd (known as Podgorica before Tito renamed it in 1946). It is an industrial center. Much of the architecture in Titograd reflects the Turkish influence of the Ottoman Empire.

Pristina, with a population of about 108,000, is the capital of the province of Kosovo. It served as capital of the Serbian Empire before the invasion of the Ottoman Turks in the fourteenth century. The city's architecture, exhibiting both Serbian and Turkish influence, testifies to its long history.

Novi Sad, a city with a population of 179,600, in the northern province of Vojvodina, boasts a fortress from the Roman era, as well as a university and the Serbian National Theater. It also is a manufacturing center.

Subotica, with a population of about 100,000, is Serbia's northernmost city and serves as an important center for commerce, agriculture, and intellectual activity.

In the cities, most people live in apartment buildings, although there are also older houses. In the countryside most houses are modest buildings of wood, brick, or stone. They are generally surrounded by courtyards enclosed by walls or fences for privacy. Even in rural areas, houses tend to be relatively close together. Some villages in Kosovo are laid out in a unique square pattern. The houses have watchtowers, and are surrounded by mud walls for protection from enemies.

Serbia is famous for its religious architecture: Huge, beautiful churches and monasteries are not just in the big cities, but also are scattered throughout the nation. Some date back centuries; others, such as the Church of Saint George in the town of Topola, were built in the twentieth century. They are awe-inspiring structures adorned with elaborate mosaics, frescoes, and marble carvings.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Staples of the Serbian diet are bread, meat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Breakfast generally consists of eggs, meat, and bread, with a dairy spread called kajmak. Lunch is the main meal of the day and usually is eaten at about three in the afternoon. A light supper is eaten at about 8:00 P.M.

Peppers are a common ingredient in many dishes. The national dish, called cevapcici, is small meat patties, highly spiced and prepared on a grill. Other Serbian specialties include proja, a type of cornbread; gibanica, a thin, crispy dough often served with cheese and eggs; sarma, cabbage leaves filled with meat; and djuvéc, a vegetable stew. Pita (a type of strudel) and palacinke (crepes) are popular desserts. Coffee is prepared in the Turkish style, boiled to a thick, potent liquid and served in small cups. A fruit concoction called sok is another favorite drink. For alcohol there is beer and a fruit brandy called rakija.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The Christmas feast is an elaborate occasion. On Christmas Eve, people eat Lenten foods (no meat or dairy products) and drink hot toddies (warm brandy with honey). The following day, the meal generally consists of roast pork and a round bread called cesnica. On Krsna Slava, a family's patron saint's day, another round bread, called kolac, is served, as well as zito, a boiled, sweetened wheat dish. For Easter, boiled eggs are a traditional food. The shells are dyed and decorated in elaborate patterns.

Basic Economy. The collapse of the Yugoslav Republic in 1991 wreaked havoc on the economy of the region. Trade links were interrupted, and ongoing warfare has destroyed many physical assets. Economic sanctions further stunted the growth of the economy during these years. There is currently an unemployment rate of 30 percent.

Industry accounts for 50 percent of the GDP and employs a large number of people in the fabrication of machines, electronics, and consumer goods. Three-quarters of the workforce is in the business sector (either agriculture or industry). Agriculture accounts for 20 percent of the GDP. Before World War II, more than 75 percent of the population were farmers. Today, due mainly to advances in agricultural technology, this figure has shrunk to fewer than 30 percent; this includes a million people who support themselves through subsistence farming. Crops include wheat, corn, oil seeds, sugar beets, and fruit. Livestock also are raised for dairy products and meat. A quarter of the labor force is in education, government, or services. The tourist industry, which grew steadily throughout the 1980s, has been virtually extinguished by the civil war of the 1990s.

Petrol, imported goods, food, or loot from occupied territories is bought and sold on the black market at the borders of Serbia.
Petrol, imported goods, food, or loot from occupied territories is bought and sold on the black market at the borders of Serbia.

Land Tenure and Property. Under the Communist system, virtually everything was owned by the government. However, even under Tito, many farmers opposed collective farms, and while the government did run several such large-scale operations, small, privately owned farms were permitted as well. Since Tito's demise, the country has been moving toward a capitalist economy. More privatization has been allowed, and people have begun to open stores and businesses. However, this economic development has been hindered by sanctions and by the chaos of civil war.

Commercial Activities. Serbia produces agricultural products and manufactured goods (textiles, machinery, cars, household appliances, etc.) for sale. However, the civil war has slowed or halted production in many areas, and along with economic sanctions, has created a situation of shortages and rationing. Many goods are bought and sold on the black market; they are brought into the country illegally and sold for high prices. Many people, especially in rural areas, also rely on their own gardens and animals to supplement their diets.

Major Industries. Industries include machine-building (aircraft, trucks, tanks, other weapons, and agricultural equipment), metallurgy, mining, production of consumer goods, and electronics. Serbia has one of the largest hydroelectric dams in Europe, and supplies electricity not just to the former Yugoslav republics but to neighboring countries as well.

Trade. Trade has been restricted by sanctions imposed by many Western countries. Major partners include the former Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzogovina, as well as Italy, Germany, and Russia.

Division of Labor. It is traditional for children to continue in the trade or occupation of their parents. However, with more educational opportunities, this is not necessarily the case now. There are approximately two million people in the socialized sector, of which 75 percent are in business (agriculture or industry) and 25 percent are in education, government, and other services. There is also a significant unemployment rate (26 percent in 1996).

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Before World War II the base of society was the peasant class, with a small upper class composed of government workers, professionals, merchants, and artisans, and an even tinier middle class. Under communism, education, Party membership, and rapid industrialization offered possibilities for upward mobility. Since the fall of Tito's government and the rise of the free-market economy, people have been able to attempt to better their status through entrepreneurship. However, economic sanctions have had the effect of decreasing the overall standard of living; shortages and inflation make even necessary items unaffordable or unavailable. This situation has created more extreme differences between the rich and the poor, as those who have access to goods can hoard them and sell them for exorbitant rates.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Most young people and city-dwellers wear Western-style clothing. In the villages, women wear the traditional outfit of a plain blouse, long black skirt, and head scarf. For festive occasions, unmarried women wear small red felt caps adorned with gold braid, and married women don large white hats with starched wings. Albanian men in Kosovo wear small white caps, which reflect their Muslim heritage.

Political Life

Government. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia elects a president for a four-year term (although during his eleven-year tenure, Slobodan Milosevic refused to recognize the outcome of these elections if they were not to his advantage). The president appoints a prime minister. The legislative branch of the government, called the Federal Assembly, consists of two houses. The Chamber of Citizens, with 138 seats (108 from Serbia and 30 from Montenegro), is elected by popular vote. The Chamber of Republics, with 20 representatives from each republic, is chosen by republic assemblies. However, since 1998, Serbia has superseded Montenegro's right to have representatives in the Chamber of Republics.

Both Serbia and Montenegro also have their own governments, which are similar in structure to the federal one. Each has its own president, legislature, and court system. The voting age is sixteen if one is employed, or eighteen otherwise.

Leadership and Political Officials. Serbia has a history of powerful, demagogic leaders who have maintained control by manipulating the media and other forceful methods. This has created a certain distance between the highest government officials and the people, which can manifest itself in the populace as either fear, admiration, or a combination of the two.

Today, there are eleven political parties represented in the Yugoslav Federal Assembly, four from Montenegro and seven from Serbia. Until the September 2000 elections, Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, and Milosevic himself, exercised ultimate power. Kostunica managed to unite eighteen opposition groups as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, but this coalition is fraught with dissension.

Social Problems and Control. There are local court systems in each republic, as well as a Federal Court, which is the highest court of appeals and which also resolves property disputes among the republics. There is a high rate of corruption in government and in business. Refugees, economic strain, and social unrest have also been major social problems. Political dissidents have been dealt swift and harsh punishments.

Military Activity. The military consists of an army made up of ground forces with border troops, naval forces, and air defense forces. It is under the command of the Yugoslav president, in conjunction with the Supreme Defense Council, which includes the presidents of both Serbia and Montenegro. All men are required to serve one year in the armed forces. The police (both federal and republican) have the responsibility of maintaining order in the country,

Church Island, Bay of Kotor. Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea.
Church Island, Bay of Kotor. Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea.
and in many cases are better armed than the military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The Communist regime instituted an extensive social welfare system, much of which is still intact. This system provides retirement and disability pensions as well as unemployment and family allowances. There is also a socialized health care system, and the government runs shelters and homes for orphans and the mentally and physically disabled. However, civil war and economic sanctions have left the government in many instances unable to pay its Social Security checks, and many older and disabled people have suffered as a result.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Western nongovernmental organizations, including Red Cross and USAID, have provided assistance in dealing with the sizable problems of food, housing, and medical needs. However, Yugoslavia is not recognized by the international community as a whole, and has been denied admission to the United Nations and other international organizations.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Traditionally, women perform only domestic work. Under communism, however, they began to take other types of jobs in large numbers. The number of women wage earners increased from 400,000 in 1948 to 2.4 million in 1985. The percentage of women who work outside the home varies greatly from region to region. Most women take positions in cultural and social welfare, public service and administration, and trade and catering. Almost all of the nation's elementary school teachers are women. However, even when women work outside the home, they are still expected to cook, clean, and take care of other domestic tasks.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Serbian culture is traditionally male-dominated. Men are considered the head of the household. While women have gained significant economic power since World War II, many vestiges of the patriarchal system are still evident in women's lower social status.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Wedding celebrations often last for days. Before a couple enters their new house for the first time, the bride stands in the doorway and lifts a baby boy three times. This is to ensure that the marriage will be blessed with children. Marriages are generally not arranged. Under Tito, women gained equal rights in marriage and divorce became easier and more common.

Domestic Unit. It is customary for several generations to live together under the same roof. Ethnic Albanians tend to have large families, of eight to ten children, and extended families often live together in a compound of houses enclosed by a stone wall. Even in Serbian families, which tend to be smaller, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family members often live, if not in the same house, then in close proximity to one another. The Serbian language does not distinguish between cousins and siblings, which is an indication of the particular closeness of extended families.

Inheritance. Inheritance customs follow a system of male primogeniture: The firstborn son inherits the family's property.

Kin Groups. Until modern times, rural Montenegrins lived in clans. Feuding among the different clans was legendary and could go on for generations. In rural areas the land was traditionally worked under the administration of zadrugas, groups of a hundred or more people made up of extended families, which were overseen by male elders. The zadrugas were religious groups, each with its own patron saint, and served the social function of providing for orphans, the elderly, and the sick or disabled. In the 1970s the organizations began to evolve from the traditional patriarchal system to a more cooperative one. They also declined in prevalence as the population became more urban than rural.


Infant Care. Infant care is largely the role of the mother. Godparents also play a significant part, and there is a fairly elaborate ceremony soon after birth that involves the godparent cutting the child's umbilical cord. Under the Communist regime, the government set up day nurseries to care for babies, allowing women to return to their jobs soon after childbirth.

Child Rearing and Education. The godfather ( kum ) or godmother ( kuma ) plays an important role in a child's upbringing. They are not related by blood, but are considered part of the spiritual family. He or she is responsible for the child if anything happens to the parents. The kum or kuma is in charge of naming the baby, and has a role of honor in the baptism and later in the child's wedding. Both boys and girls are expected to help with household chores.

Education is free and compulsory between ages seven and fourteen. Primary school lasts for eight years, after which students choose the vocation or field they will study in secondary school. This lasts three or four years, depending on the area of study. Seventy-one percent of children attend primary school. This number drops to 64 percent at the secondary level. Albanians, and Albanian girls in particular, are much less likely to receive an education. In 1990, all Albanian schools in Kosovo were closed down because the Serbian government did not approve of their curriculum, which emphasized Albanian culture. Some underground schools have been started, but many children continue to go without schooling.

Higher Education. The largest university, in Belgrade, was founded in 1863. There are other universities, in the cities of Novi Sad, Nis, and Podgorica. Kosovo's only university, in Pristina, was closed in 1990, when all ethnic Albanian faculty were fired and the Albanian students were either expelled or resigned in protest. Albanian faculty and students are now attempting to run an underground university. In 1998 the government took control of all the universities in the country, curtailing all academic freedom.


Kissing is a common form of greeting, for both men and women. Three kisses, alternating cheeks, are customary. Serbs are a hospitable people and love to visit and chat. When entering a home as a guest for the first time, one generally brings a small present of flowers, food, or wine. It also is customary to remove one's shoes and put on a pair of slippers before going into the house. Hosts are expected to serve their guests; slatko, a sweet strawberry preserve, often is provided.


Religious Beliefs. Sixty-five percent of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Nineteen percent are Muslim (most of these people live in Kosovo, and the majority are Sunni, although there are some Shi'ite as well); 4 percent are Roman Catholic; 1 percent are Protestant; and the remaining 11 percent practice other religions. Before

Belgrade city center. The city boasts both centuries-old and modern-day architecture.
Belgrade city center. The city boasts both centuries-old and modern-day architecture.
World War II there was a sizable Jewish population. It shrunk from 64,405 in 1931 to 6,835 in 1948. Many of those who were not killed in the Holocaust emigrated to Israel. Today the Jewish population is about 5,000, organized into 29 communes under the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Eastern Orthodox Church split off from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054, in what became known as the Great Schism. Many of the fundamental beliefs of the two churches remain the same, the fundamental difference being that the Eastern Orthodox religion does not recognize the authority of the pope. Instead they have a group of patriarchs who have equal status. The Serbian Orthodox Church was founded in 1219, and its rise was tied to the rise of the Serbian state at that time. A central figure in the church is Saint Sava, the brother of Stefan Nemanja, Serbia's first king. Since its founding, the church has promoted Serbian nationalism, and has struggled against the dominance of the central authority of the Greek Orthodox Church in Constantinople.

Religious Practitioners. The patriarchs hold the highest position in the Eastern Orthodox Church and are responsible for most official decisions. Priests are the primary religious figures in the community and are responsible for conducting services and counseling their parishioners. Unlike in Roman Catholicism, they are permitted to marry. There also are monks, who are celibate. Only monks, not priests, can obtain the position of bishop.

Rituals and Holy Places. Religious ceremonies are held in churches—elaborate, beautifully designed buildings, many of which date back hundreds of years. Each family has a patron saint, who is honored once a year in a large celebration called Krsna Slava. A candle is lit in the saint's honor, and special foods are consumed, including the round bread kolac. A priest comes to the house to bless it with holy water and incense. The family and priest stand in a circle around the kolac and sing a special song.

Christmas (observed on 6 and 7 January in the Eastern Orthodox Church) is a major holiday. Christmas Eve, called Badnje Vece, is feted with a large bonfire in the churchyard and the singing of hymns. On Christmas morning a selected young person knocks on the door and "brings Christmas into the house," poking a stick into the fireplace. The number of sparks that are released predicts how much luck the family will have in the year to come. Easter also is a big holiday. In addition to church services, it is celebrated by dying eggs and performing traditional kolo dances.

Death and the Afterlife. Funerals are large, elaborate occasions. In the cemetery, a spread of salads and roasted meats is presented in honor of the deceased; this is repeated a year after the death, at which point the gravestone is placed in the ground. Gravestones often bear photographs as well as inscriptions. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory, a concept of an afterlife in which one is rewarded or punished according to one's actions in this life.

Medicine and Health Care

Comprehensive health care is provided for pregnant women, infants, children up to age fifteen, students up to age twenty-six, and people over age sixty-five. All people are ensured treatment for infectious diseases and mental illness. However, at least one-fifth of the population does not receive health care. The post-World War II Communist government did a good job of eliminating many of the country's health problems, including typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and tuberculosis. Infectious diseases are problems in the less developed regions, such as Kosovo. The leading causes of death are circulatory diseases and cancer, due in part to the increase in environmental pollution and cigarette smoking since the 1970s. Traffic accidents and suicide also are significant health issues.

Secular Celebrations

The principal secular celebrations are New Year's Day, 1 January; International Labor Day, 1 May; Day of Uprising in Serbia, 7 July; and Republic Day, 29 November.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The communist government had a policy of fairly strict censorship but state-approved artists did receive funding. Today there are virtually no funds (public or private) for the support of the arts. The National Theater in Belgrade hosts ballet performances. There are also traveling folklore groups that perform around the country.

Literature. Serbian literature traces its roots to the thirteenth-century epic poetry of Kosovo. The nineteenth-century Serbian poets Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj and Djura Jaksic gained prominence beyond the nation's borders. Contemporary Serbian writers include Milorad Pavic, Vladimir Arsenijevic, and Ivo Andric, who won the 1961 Nobel Prize for literature for his novel Bridge Over the River Drina. The Montenegrin Milovan Djilas was a prominent critic of the Communist system, and composed works in a number of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and history.

Graphic Arts. Serbia is known for its textiles made of wool, flax, and hemp. These materials are also woven into carpets of complex geometric patterns. The decoration of Easter eggs is another traditional art form. They are colored with natural dyes and adorned with intricate patterns and designs.

Many churches and monasteries are decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Contemporary painting often incorporates religious and historic concepts as well as modern aesthetic principles. Serbia has produced several nationally recognized painters, including Milic Stankovic and Olja Ivanicki. Ivan Generalic is well known for his primitive-style depictions (some of them fairly political) of Yugoslav life.

A typical house in Montenegro. Most houses in rural areas are still relatively close together.
A typical house in Montenegro. Most houses in rural areas are still relatively close together.

Artists have not been deterred by the economic or political situation, and have begun displaying installations in bombed-out buildings in Belgrade, shows they call "Phobjects." Contemporary art also can be seen on the street in popular surrealistic political posters that are hung in towns and cities.

Performance Arts. One type of traditional Serbian music is performed on a guslari, a single-stringed instrument played with a bow, which the musician accompanies by singing ballads that relay both news and historical events. Another kind of folk music is called tamburitza. It is played by groups of musicians on stringed instruments similar to mandolins and banjos. The gadje, a bagpipe like instrument, also is common. Albanian music in Kosovo has a more Arabic sound, echoing the influence of the Turks, and Gypsies dance to a type of music called blehmuzika, using a brass band.

Serbian folk dances are called kolos, and are performed by professional troupes, or by guests at weddings and other special occasions. They involve a group of people holding hands and moving in a circle. A specific kolo music accompanies the dance. During the Turkish rule, when people were forbidden to hold large celebrations, they often transmitted news through the lyrics and movements of the kolo tradition. Traditional accompaniment to the dance is a violin, and occasionally an accordion or a flute. Costumes also are important parts of dance; even today, traditional regional dress is worn for the performances.

Western rock music is extremely popular with younger audiences, and Yugoslavia has produced some homegrown stars. Many of them use the form to convey political messages.

There also is a long tradition of filmmaking in the entire former Yugoslavia. The first film recordings date to 1905, and the first full-length film was made in 1910. After World War II the industry grew considerably, thanks to government funding for productions. In 1939, the director Mihail Popovic gained acclaim for his historical film Battle of Kosovo. In the 1980s, director Emir Kusturica, from Sarajevo, won first place at the Cannes Film Festival for When Father Was Away on Business. His films depicted the terror that the Communist government inspired in the people. The 1990s saw decreased production in the film industry, but some of the movies that were produced took on the difficult subject of the civil war, including Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, directed by Srdjan Dragojevic. Goran Paskaljevic, another Serbian director, produced the widely acclaimed film Powder Keg in 1998.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Serbia has produced several well-known scientists, including Mileva Maric Einstein (the first wife of Albert Einstein), Mihajlo Pupin, and Nikola Tesla. The civil wars that began in the early 1990s took a severe toll on the economy, and today there is little money available for the study of either the physical or social sciences.


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Gall, Carlotta. "Bosnians Vote with a Hope: To Break Ethnic Parties' Rule." New York Times, 12 November 2000.

Gojkovic, Drinka. The Road to War in Serbia: Trauma and Catharsis, 2000.

Greenberg, Susan. "The Great Yugoslav Failure." New Statesman, 9 August 1999.

Hawkesworth, Celia. Voices in the Shadows: Women and Verbal Art in Serbia and Bosnia, 2000.

Lampe, John R. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country, 2000.

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Milivojevic, JoAnn. Serbia, 1999.

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Muravchik, Joshua. "The Road to Kosovo." Commentary, June 1999.

Nelan, Bruce, et al. "Into the Fire." Time, 5 April 1999.

Ramet, Sabrina P. Gender Politics in the Western Balkans, 1999.

Ranesar, Romesh. "Man of the Hour." Time, 16 October 2000.

Sopova, Jasmina. "Talking to Serbian Filmmaker Goran Paskaljevic." UNESCO Courier, February 2000.

"Still Pretty Nasty." The Economist, 23 September 2000.

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Web Sites

U.S. Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency. "Serbia and Montenegro." In CIA World Factbook 2000,


Also read article about Serbia and Montenegro from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

This year (2006) me and two friends of mine visited Montenegro in the summer. I was impressed a lot by the nature of this country, but it turned out, I know very little about its history. Your article gave interesting information which helped me to understand more the culture of this region. Thank you! :)
Great article, very informative, however, Orthodox Christians do not believe in Purgatory. Priests, if they are widowed, can become Bishops. There are many theological differences with Catholics other than the leadership of the Pope.
Great article.I appreciate all the history as I have not been back for a long time.
Could any one help me tel me any forth coming cultural event taking place in serbia in October 2010.I awaits your reply on my email address.
I grew up in the place and walked lost of the Serbian and Montenegro lands on foot carrying mail for partizans. I can tell you that more hospitable there are none in the world. To illustrate this, I knocked on a door of a Montengrin house near Tumut and was invited to spend the night in. When I woke up I saw the host leaving in the full uniform of Nedic policeman. He looked at my red star, and said "Budi srecan" (Good Luck!) This guy could have had me shot in an instant, but because I was in his house he played by the Montegrin hospitality rules.
Awesome :D help on my project i thank you for it in the most awesome way i can
Tara Ruza Nelson
hello im tara i was named after Tara National park in Serbia my mum is Serbian i love this site because its taught me so much about my heritage
this article is really awesome..I loved it!!
it helped me learn a lot about serbian culture:):)
Nice article , however very disapointing to see that Michael Parenti´s absolutely brilliant book "how to kill a nation : the death of yugoslavia" did not make it to the biography or the article. Also Misha Gleny´s history of the Balkans is good. Anyone wanting to understand the politics of the old Yugoslavia should read these 2.
Hi everyone,

I thought I would enjoy but, people, please these info are just way to old!! Do not use these informations for your homeworks, please
Awesome , gonna go biking there next summer . THanks
Wilna Renee
Reading what was written about the Ottoman Turkish Empire reminded me of the oral histories my grandfather used to share with us about his father's country. I'm glad I found a place to read more about my family's heritage.
Julia casey
I’m curious to know if there is a hair cutting surbian
tradition for the first born son

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