Following a decade of animosity stemming from Serbia’s military actions during the Bosnia war and its subsequent attacks against Kosovo, relations between Serbia and the United States are beginning to improve., In the early 1990s, as the former Yugoslavia began to break apart, Serbian nationalists led by Slobodan Milošević attempted to unite Serbs in breakaway regions such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Paramilitary units backed by the Serbian government attacked Bosniaks and Croats, committing numerous human rights abuses, including the wholesale slaughter of entire villages. The United States and its NATO allies were reluctant at first to become involved in the Bosnian war, but eventually by 1994-95, they carried out air strikes to neutralize the power of the Serbian military. Only a few years later, Serbia again gained international scorn as it attempted to violently suppress an independence movement in the province of Kosovo. Once again, the US and European countries intervened militarily to blunt Serbian attacks.
The power of Serbian nationalists began to wane by 2000 and Milošević was forced from power following contested elections. He was subsequently arrested and sent to The Hague to be tried for war crimes, but died of a heart attack before the trial ended. With a new government in power in Belgrade, relations with Washington began to improve. Trade sanctions were lifted, and the US even began to provide limited military training to a newly revamped Serbian army. But difficulties have continued to arise for the US-Serbian relationship. The Bush administration’s recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 provoked violent protests against the US Embassy in Belgrade. In addition, the violent assault of an American college student in upstate New York by a visiting Serbian student, who subsequently fled the country to avoid prosecution, has created strains between officials in Washington and Belgrade.
The first Serbian kingdom was created in 1170 by Stefan Nemanja, whose son was canonized as St. Sava and became the patron saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church which was founded in 1219. Serbia’s territories expanded under the rule of King Milutin, who seized territory in nearby Macedonia from the Byzantines. The territories reached their peak under Milutin’s son, Stefan Dušan (1331-1355).
Serbian power waned after Stefan’s death in 1355, and at the Battle of Kosovo on June 28, 1389, the Serbs were defeated by the Turks. Following the Battle of Smederevo in 1459, the Ottoman Empire exerted complete control over all Serb lands.
Serbs lived under the rule of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 370 years, though the Serbian Orthodox Church, despite several disruptions, transmitted Serbian heritage and helped preserve Serbian identity during this period. Movements for Serbian independence began with uprisings led by Karađorđe Petrović (1804-1813) and Miloš Obrenović (1815-1817), founders of two rival dynasties that ruled Serbia until World War I. Serbia became an internationally recognized principality under Turkish and Russian protection after the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829.
After waging war against Turkey in support of Bosnian rebels in 1876, Serbia formally gained independence in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin, largely thanks to Russian support. Following Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia, Serbia led a successful coalition of Montenegrin, Bulgarian, and Greek troops (the Balkan League) that in 1913 seized remaining Ottoman-controlled territory in Europe and established Serbia as a regional military leader.
The assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb (Gavrilo Princip) set off a series of diplomatic and military actions among the great powers that culminated in World War I. Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces occupied Serbia soon after World War I began. After 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 Habsburgs sought the protection of the Serbian crown within the 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, the Axis powers occupied Yugoslavia. Royal army soldiers, calling themselves Chetniks, formed a Serbian resistance movement, but the communist Partisans, with Soviet and Anglo-American help, succeeded in defeating the Chetniks and in forcing German forces from Yugoslavia by 1944. In an effort to avoid Serbian domination during the postwar 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 appearance of a federal system of government in Yugoslavia, Serbian communists ruled Yugoslavia’s political life for the next four decades under Josip Broz Tito. After Tito made several significant foreign policy decisions without consulting Moscow, Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet bloc in 1948, signifying a split with Moscow that left Tito independent to accept aid from the Marshall Plan and become a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Communist rule transformed Serbia from an agrarian society into an industrial society. But by the 1980s Yugoslavia’s economy started to fail. With the death of Tito in 1980, separatist and nationalist tensions emerged in Yugoslavia.
In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milošević propelled himself to power in Belgrade by exploiting Serbian nationalism, especially over Kosovo. In 1989, he arranged the elimination of Kosovo’s autonomy in favor of direct rule from Belgrade. Belgrade ordered the firing of large numbers of Albanian state employees, whose jobs were then taken by Serbs. As a result of this oppression, Kosovo Albanian leaders led a peaceful resistance movement in the early 1990s and established a parallel government funded mainly by Albanians living throughout the world.
Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia, leaving the country on the brink of civil war. On April 27, 1992, Serbia and Montenegro joined in passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Meanwhile, Serbs in Bosnia, led by strongman Radovan Karadžić, declared four self-proclaimed “Serb Autonomous Regions” within Bosnia. For Bosnian Serbs, their intentions were to separate from Bosnia and join with Serbia. A few months later, the Bosnian Serb army, led by Ratko Mladić, went on the offensive inside Bosnia. Backed by Serbia, the Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo, which lasted almost three years. Food became scarce, and between starvation and military assaults, more than 12,000 residents were killed.
While Sarajevo was under siege, Karadžić’s paramilitary units also carried out a systematic policy of “ethnic cleansing” to establish a “pure” Serb republic within Bosnia. Croats (who were accused other their own atrocities and attacks, including the siege of Mostar) and Bosniaks were subjected to forced relocations, assaults, rapes and executions. Entire villages were destroyed, such as Srebrenica, where 8,000 Bosniaks lost their lives. For three years, the slaughter was allowed to continue while Western European powers and the United States stood by, unwilling to get involved in the conflict.
It wasn’t until 1995 that military forces under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched air strikes against the Bosnian Serb army to prevent more attacks on United Nations safe-havens for refugees. Later that year in November, the warring parties signed the Dayton Peace Accords, bringing an end to the bloody conflict. In December 1995, NATO deployed a 60,000-troop Implementation Force to enforce the peace accords. IFOR transitioned into a smaller stabilization force in 1996. By 2004, the European Union assumed primary responsibility for military stabilization operations. Approximately 2,200 EU troops remain deployed in Bosnia
Karadžić and Mladić were indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague in July 1995 on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Karadžić alluded capture until July 2008 when he was arrested in Serbia. Mladić remains at large.
Two years later, another war threatened to erupt in Kosovo, when the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began an armed resistance in 1997. The KLA’s main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo.
In late 1998, Milošević unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against the separatist KLA, which included atrocities against civilian noncombatants. For the duration of Milošević's campaign, large numbers of ethnic Albanians were either displaced from their homes in Kosovo or killed by Serbian troops or police. These acts, and Serbia’s refusal to sign the Rambouillet Accords, provoked 79 days of bombing by NATO forces from March to June 1999 and led the UN Security Council to authorize an international civil and military presence in Kosovo, placing these international presences under UN auspices, calling for a process to determine Kosovo’s status, and calling for UN interim administration of Kosovo. Following Milošević’s capitulation, international forces, including the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led security force KFOR, moved into Kosovo.
Milošević resigned from office amid demonstrations that followed the disputed presidential election of September 2000. He was arrested by Yugoslav federal authorities in March 2001 on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement. But instead of being tried by Serbian courts, the government extradited him to The Hague to stand trial for charges of war crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charged Milošević with crimes against humanity, violating the laws or customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and genocide for his role during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Milošević conducted his own defense, but the trial ended without a verdict because he died during the proceedings of a heart attack.
In March 2002, the heads of the federal and republican governments signed the Belgrade Agreement, setting forth the parameters for a redefinition of Montenegro’s relationship with Serbia within a joint state. On February 4, 2003, the FRY parliament ratified the Constitutional Charter, establishing a new state union and changing the name of the country from Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro.
On May 21, 2006, the Republic of Montenegro held a successful referendum on independence and declared independence on June 3. Thereafter, the parliament of Serbia stated that the Republic of Serbia was the continuity of the state union, changing the name of the country from Serbia and Montenegro to the Republic of Serbia, with Serbia retaining Serbia and Montenegro’s membership in all international organizations and bodies.
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence following a 120-day last-ditch effort by the European Union, Russia and the United States to facilitate an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the latter’s status. The United States officially recognized Kosovo’s independence the following day. More than 50 nations recognized Kosovo as of late 2008. Serbia has rejected Kosovo independence. Government officials declared their intent to pursue all peaceful, political, and diplomatic means to retain Kosovo and sought a UN resolution to request that the International Court of Justice review the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. After a vigorous lobbying campaign, on October 9, 2008, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of Serbia’s proposal.
Official Website of the Serbian Government
History of Serbia (Wikipedia)
Serbia and Montenegro (Virtual Jewish History Tour)
National Tourism Organization of Serbia
: lead economist in the World Bank’s research department in the unit dealing with poverty and inequality. He is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
During the George W. Bush administration, the United States gradually lifted all previously imposed sanctions against Serbia, except on the owners of bank accounts and financial transactions of Slobodan Milošević’s closest associates. Also, the US included Serbia into the list of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which enabled tariff-free export of over 4,600 products from Serbia to the United States. A conference on trade and US investment in Serbia and Montenegro was held in November 2005. Along with the increase of trade exchange, the conference provided a new impetus to the development of bilateral economic cooperation.
However, there are still difficulties for the US-Serbian relationship. One is Serbia’s failure to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Since 2001, Congress has conditioned part of US aid to Serbia after a certain date of the year on a presidential certification that Serbia has met several conditions, the most important being that it is cooperating with the ICTY. Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal has been inconsistent, resulting in corresponding shifts in US aid to Serbia.
For many years, the United States conditioned its support for Serbia’s membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program on Mladić’s transfer to the tribunal. In a move that surprised many observers, in November 2006 the Bush administration reversed this policy and offered support for Serbia’s unconditional membership in PFP. The move was taken in response to a letter by President Tadić to NATO leaders promising to improve Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle to stronger US-Serbian relations is the problem of Kosovo’s status. The United States has strongly backed Kosovo independence, while almost all Serbian leaders have rejected the idea. An overwhelming majority in the Serbian parliament views Kosovo as an inalienable part of Serbia, and has called for a downgrading of relations with any country recognizing Kosovo’s independence.
After recalling its ambassador to Washington in February 2008 in the wake of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Serbia in October 2008 returned Ambassador Vujačić to Washington.
Within the US Congress, the Serbian Issues Caucus was established in the US House of Representatives in August 2004, led by Reps. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Melissa Bean (D-IL). The caucus scored its first success by preventing a resolution on the independence of Kosovo and Metohija from being adopted in the House Committee on International Relations on October 7, 2004. The Serbian Embassy has tried to form a “Serbian Caucus” in the Senate as well.
A total of 140,337 people identified themselves as Serbian in the 2000 US census. The states with the largest Serbian populations are Pennsylvania (18,306), Illinois (17,893), Ohio (16,859), California (12,760), and Michigan, (8,709).
In 2006, 13,552 Americans visited Serbia. Tourism has grown steadily since 2002, when 9,710 Americans traveled to Serbia.
A total of 2,442 Serbians and Montenegrins visited the US in 2006. The number of tourists has declined drastically since 2002, when 10,972 Serbians and Montenegrins came to the United States.
(by Steven Woehrel, Congressional Research Service)
A career diplomat who has served mainly in Eastern Europe is President Obama’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Serbia, the Balkan nation with which the U.S. has had sometimes tense relations since the breakup of Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s. One of four children born to parents Richard N. and Dolores (Senkfor) Kirby, Michael David Kirby was born circa 1954. He was likely inspired to pursue a Foreign Service career by the example of his father, a Foreign Service officer who, among other postings, was consul general in Hong Kong in 1963.
Michael Kirby earned a B.A. in History at the University of Pennsylvania in 1976 and then studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A career consular officer who joined the Foreign Service circa 1979, Kirby served early career assignments at the U.S. embassies in Copenhagen, Denmark; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Georgetown, Guyana; and at State Department Headquarters as a desk officer in the Office of Caribbean Affairs. In Tanzania and Guyana, Kirby served as vice consul.
Continuing on that career path, Kirby served as consul at the Consulate General in Krakow, Poland, from 1988 to 1991, and as regional consular officer at the Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany, from 1996 to 1998, supervising consular operations at U.S. embassies in the countries of the former Soviet Union except Russia.
Returning stateside, he served as director of the Office of Intelligence Coordination at the State Department from 1999 to 2001. Back overseas, Kirby was consul general at the embassy in Warsaw from 2001 to 2004, and consul general at the embassy in Seoul, South Korea, the State Department’s largest non-immigrant visa post, from 2004 to 2006.
Kirby was then appointed to his first ambassadorship in September 2006, serving as ambassador at the embassy in Chişinău, Moldova, from September 2006 to May 2008. He became the principal deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs in June 2008, when he almost immediately confronted with the embarrassing revelation that some State Department employees had been improperly accessing the passport files of various celebrities. More recently, in June 2010, Kirby was involved in the decision to recognize gender change on U.S. passports.
Michael Kirby is married to Sara Powelson Kirby and has two daughters, Katherine and Elizabeth.
With the war in Afghanistan spilling over into Pakistan, where the CIA has launched numerous drone attacks on insurgents, the Obama administration selected Cameron Munter, a veteran diplomat with experience in Iraq, to run the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. Munter also is used to working in countries undergoing some kind of political transition, although all of those previous assignments took place in Europe. Munter was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan on October 6, 2010.