Serbia and Montenegro History


HISTORY

Serbia

The Serbian state as known today was created in 1170 A.D. by Stefan Nemanja, the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty. Serbia's religious foundation came several years later when Stefan's son, canonized as St. Sava, became the first archbishop of a newly autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church (1219). Thus, at this time, the Serbs enjoyed both temporal and religious independence. After a series of successions, Serbia fell under the rule of King Milutin who improved Serbia's position among other European countries. Milutin was also responsible for many of the brightest examples of Medieval Serbian architecture. Moreover, Serbia began to expand under Milutin's reign, seizing territory in nearby Macedonia from the Byzantines. Under Milutin's son, Stefan Dusan (1331-55), the Nemanjic dynasty reached its peak, ruling from the Danube to central Greece. However, Serbian power waned after Stefan's death in 1355, and in the Battle of Kosovo (June 15, 1389) the Serbs were catastrophically defeated by the Turks. By 1459, the Turks exerted complete control over all Serb lands.

For more than 3 centuries--nearly 370 years--the Serbs lived as virtual slaves of the Ottoman sultans. As a result of this great oppression, Serbs began to migrate out of their native land (present-day Kosovo and southern Serbia) into other areas within the Balkan Peninsula, including what is now Vojvodina and Croatia. When the Austrian Hapsburg armies pushed the Ottoman Turks south of the Danube in 1699, many Serbs were "liberated" but their native land was still under Ottoman rule.

Movements for Serbian independence began more than 100 years later with uprisings under the Serbian patriots Karageorge (1804-13) and Milos Obrenovic (1815-17). After the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29, Serbia became an internationally recognized principality under Turkish suzerainty and Russian protection, and the state expanded steadily southward. After an insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875, Serbia and Montenegro went to war against Turkey in 1876-78 in support of the Bosnian rebels. With Russian assistance, Serbs gained more territory as well as formal independence in 1878, though Bosnia was placed under Austrian administration.

In 1908, Austria-Hungary directly annexed Bosnia, inciting the Serbs to seek the aid of Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece in seizing the last Ottoman-ruled lands in Europe. In the ensuing Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Serbia obtained northern and central Macedonia, but Austria compelled it to yield Albanian lands that would have given it access to the sea. Serb animosity against the Hapsburgs reached a climax on June 28, 1914, when the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip--the spark that lit the powder keg of World War I.

Soon after the war began, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces occupied Serbia. Upon the collapse of Austria-Hungary at the war's end in 1918, Vojvodina and Montenegro united with Serbia, and former south Slav subjects of the Hapsburgs sought the protection of the Serbian crown within a kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Serbia was the dominant partner in this state, which in 1929 adopted the name Yugoslavia.

The kingdom soon encountered resistance when Croatians began to resent control from Belgrade. This pressure prompted King Alexander I to split the traditional regions into nine administrative provinces. During World War II, Yugoslavia was divided between the Axis powers and their allies. Royal army soldiers, calling themselves Cetnici (Chetniks), formed a Serbian resistance movement, but a more determined communist resistance under the Partisans, with Soviet and Anglo-American help, liberated all of Yugoslavia by 1944. In an effort to avoid the Serbian domination during the post years, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro were given separate and equal republican status within the new socialist federation of Yugoslavia; Kosovo and Vojvodina were made autonomous provinces within Yugoslavia.

Despite the attempts at a federal system of government for Yugoslavia, Serbian communists played the leading role in Yugoslavia's political life for the next 4 decades. As the Germans were defeated at the end of World War II, Josip Broz Tito, a former Bolshevik and devout communist, began to garner support from both within Yugoslavia as well as from the Allies. Yugoslavia remained independent of the U.S.S.R., as Tito broke with Stalin and asserted Yugoslav independence. Tito went on to control Yugoslavia for 35 years. Under communist rule, Serbia was transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society. In the 1980s, however, Yugoslavia's economy began to fail. With the death of Tito, separatist and nationalist tensions emerged in Yugoslavia. In 1989, riding a wave of nationalist sentiment, Serbia's leadership reimposed direct rule over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, prompting Albanians in Kosovo to agitate for separation from the Republic. Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia. On April 27, 1992 in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro joined in passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Montenegro

Montenegro's history is almost inextricably tied to Serbia's. Similarly to Serbia, Montenegro was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks for the duration of their reign in the Balkans. When the Turks were removed from the area, Montenegro became an independent principality within the Austro-Hungarian Empire but did not become an independent sovereign state until 1878.

During World War I, Montenegro fought on the side of the Allies but was defeated and occupied by Austria. Upon Austrian occupation, the Montenegrin king, King Nikola I, and his family fled to Italy. Consequently, the Serbian king, Petar Karadjordjevic, was able to exploit the chaotic conditions in Montenegro at the war's end, paving the way for the violent and unwanted Serbian annexation of Montenegro. Montenegro was the only Allied country in World War I to be annexed to another country at the end of the war. The majority of the Montenegrin population opposed the annexation and on January 7, 1919, staged a national uprising -- known to history as the Christmas Uprising -- against the Serbian annexation. The uprising became a war between Serbia and the Montenegrins that lasted until 1926. Many Montenegrins lost their lives, and though many hoped for an intervention by the Great Powers to protect their sovereignty, none came and Montenegro was effectively absorbed into the new kingdom of Yugoslavia.

When Yugoslavia was invaded and partitioned by the Axis powers in April 1941, Montenegro was appropriated by the Italians under a nominally autonomous administration. This caused a great divide within the Montenegrin population. Many nationalists who had been frustrated with the experience of Yugoslav unification supported the Italian administration. Also, there were advocates of the union with Serbia who began armed resistance movements as well as many communists who, by nature of their political beliefs, were opposed to the Italian presence. As war progressed, the local strength of the communists grew and Montenegro served as an effective base for communism in the region; it was an important refuge for Tito's Partisan forces during the most difficult points in the struggle. After the war, the communist strategy of attempting to unify Yugoslavia through a federal structure elevated Montenegro to the status of a republic, thus securing Montenegrin loyalty to the federation.

The breakup of the Yugoslav federation after 1989 left Montenegro in a precarious position. The first multiparty elections in 1990 showed much public support for the League of Communists, confirming Montenegrin support for the federation. Montenegro joined Serbian efforts to preserve the federation in the form of a "Third Yugoslavia" in 1992. Though Montenegro reaffirmed its political attachment to Serbia, a sense of a distinct Montenegrin identity continued to thrive. Outspoken criticism of Serbian conduct of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina added to the continuing strength of Montenegrin distinctiveness. Recently, both the people and the government of Montenegro have been critical of Slobodon Milosevic's campaign in Kosovo.
source: State Department Background Notes 1999

  • Brief History

  • Main Country Page

  • Vital Statistics





  • home vital stats history listings embassy listings guide books faq

    home history stats embassies