History of Serbia History of Serbia During the A.D. 500’s and 600’s, various groups of Slavs, including the ancestors of the Serbs, settled in the Balkan Peninsula in the area of present-day Serbia. Each group had its own leader until the late 1100’s, when Stefan Nemanja, a warrior and chief, formed the first united Serbian state. During the 1300’s, Emperor Stefan Dusan led the country in successful wars against the Byzantine Empire. The Serbian empire began to break up after his death in 1355. The Ottoman Empire, based in what is now Turkey, conquered Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389.
The Ottoman Empire ruled Serbia for more than 400 years, but the Serbs never lost their national pride. Djordge Petrovic, a Serbian peasant who was nicknamed Black George, led an uprising against the Ottomans in 1804. Another Serbian peasant leader, Milos Obrenovic, led a second revolt in 1815. The Serbs won some liberties in these struggles. Serbia regained independence only in 1878, following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat by Russia in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. In the First Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Serbia and the other Balkan states gained control of almost all of the Ottoman Empire’s territory in Europe.
During the early 1900’s, various economic and political conflicts developed between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. In June 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian from the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Austria-Hungary. The assassination touched off World War I, which began a month later when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. After the war ended in 1918, Serbia led the way in forming the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovens. The kingdom was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.
During World War II (1939-1945), the Axis powers–led by Germany and Italy–occupied Yugoslavia and divided it among themselves. Most of Serbia was occupied by the Germans. A group of Communists led by Josip Broz Tito drove out the occupation forces. After the war, Tito and the Communists founded Yugoslavia with a federal system of government. Under this system, a central government and the republics shared power.
Serbia became one of the country’s six republics. Differences between ethnic groups have often led to protests and violence in Serbia. Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of Kosovo’s population, have protested Serbian rule of the province and demanded greater independence. In 1987, Slobodan Milosevic, a strong supporter of Serbian unity and the expansion of Serbia’s borders, became chief of the League of Communists of Serbia. In 1989, he became president of the republic. Under his leadership, Serbia stripped Kosovo of their freedom to rule themselves. In 1990, Serbia dissolved Kosovo’s government. Albanians in Kosovo voted for independence in a conference held in 1991.
In May 1992, they elected a new president and parliament in an effort to move toward a self-government. Serbia declared the conference and the elections illegal. The Communist Party gave up its monopoly on power in Yugoslavia in 1990. Multiparty elections were held in Serbia that year, and Milosevic was reelected president. The League of Communists of Serbia, which changed its name to the Socialist Party of Serbia, gained control of the legislature. Opposition groups protested the continued rule of former Communists.
Serbia always had more influence than any other republic in Yugoslavia’s federal government. Other republics, especially Croatia and Slovenia, complained of this influence. In June 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence, and Yugoslavia began to break apart. Serbs living in Croatia fought against the Croats. Serbian forces soon occupied more than 30 percent of Croatia’s territory.
A cease-fire in January 1992 ended most of the fighting, but some fighting continued. In March 1992, the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence. Fighting then broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina, pitting ethnic Serbs, who opposed independence, against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. After a few months of fighting, Serbian forces held about two-thirds of the country. In April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro formed a new Yugoslavia.
Milosevic was reelected in December 1992. In 1994, he called on the Serbs to accept a proposed international peace plan, but the Serbs refused. In May 1995, Croatian forces began to retake areas in Croatia that were held by the Serbs.