Serbia country profile - Overview
- 18 March 2015
- From the section Europe
Serbia became a stand-alone sovereign republic in the summer of 2006 after Montenegro voted in a referendum for independence from the Union of Serbia and Montenegro.
When the vote was followed by a formal declaration of independence by Montenegro, a special session of parliament in Belgrade declared Serbia to be the legal successor to the now defunct Union.
Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics still left in the old Yugoslav federation, had agreed in 2002 to scrap remnants of the ex-communist state and create the new, looser Union of Serbia and Montenegro.
The EU-brokered deal under which the union came into being in 2003 was intended to stabilise the region by settling Montenegrin demands for independence and preventing further changes to Balkan borders.
The same agreement also contained the seeds of the Union's dissolution. It stipulated that after three years the two republics could hold referendums on whether to keep or scrap it. Montenegro duly voted for independence in a referendum in May 2006.
The two republics had been united in one form or another for nearly 90 years. With separation from Montenegro, Serbia is cut off from the Adriatic Sea and becomes landlocked.
The end of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro marked the closing chapter in the history of the separation of the six republics of the old Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia which was proclaimed in 1945 and comprised Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.
Under Yugoslavia's authoritarian communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, the lid was kept on ethnic tensions. The federation lasted for over 10 years after his death in 1980, but under Serbian nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic it fell apart through the 1990s.
The secession of Slovenia and Macedonia came relatively peacefully, but there were devastating wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Serbia and Montenegro together formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1992 and 2003.
In 1998 violence flared in the autonomous province of Kosovo in Serbia. The Kosovo Liberation Army, supported by the majority ethnic Albanians, came out in open rebellion against Serbian rule. International pressure on Milosevic grew amid the escalating violence.
Nato launched air strikes in Kosovo and Serbia in March 1999. An exodus of ethnic Albanians to neighbouring countries gathered pace. The UN took over administration of the region after Serbian forces had been driven out.
Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008 after the failure of UN-brokered talks on the status of the province. Serbia said the declaration was illegal, and other countries are divided as to whether to recognise it.
Road to Europe
In late 2005, the EU began talks with Belgrade on the possibility of reaching a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. These were called off some months later because of the continuing failure of the Serbian authorities to arrest several war crimes suspects.
One of the most notorious of these, the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 by Serbian security forces and extradited to The Hague, weeks after a pro-Western government took office. European foreign ministers praised the arrest as a significant step for Serbia in its efforts to join the EU.
In December 2009 Serbia formally submitted its application to join the EU. The beginning of accession talks was delayed while two major Serbian war crimes suspects were still at large, but with the arrest of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic in 2011, this block to Serbia gaining EU candidate status was removed.
The European Commission duly recommended Serbia for EU candidate status in a report in October 2011, but insisted that the opening of membership talks was conditional on Serbia normalising its ties with Kosovo.
The deadlock over this issue was finally broken with the signing of an EU-brokered deal between Belgrade and Kosovo in April 2013. However, Serbia insists that the normalisation agreement - which grants a high degree of autonomy to Serb-majority areas in northern Kosovo - does not mean that it has recognised its former province's independence.
Serbia's EU accession talks began in January 2014.
Relations with Russia
Although the current Serbian government is pro-Western and sees eventual membership of the EU as being in the country's best interests, Serbia is traditionally an ally of Russia, which supported its opposition to Kosovo's independence.
In 2008, Serbia-Russia ties were further strengthened by the signing of a major energy deal, and in October 2009 Russia granted Serbia a 1bn euro (£0.9bn) loan to help it cover its budget deficit after the economy was hit hard by the global downturn.
When the nationalist Tomislav Nikolic became president in 2012, he declared his intention of developing ties with both the European Union and Moscow.