Serbia and Montenegro

Serbia and Montenegro facts and information about the country.


The Illyrians inhabited the region followed by the Scordiscs, a Celtic tribe, in the fourth century B.C.E. Little is known about the origin of the Illyrians but they are generally accepted to be the ancestors of modern Albanians. The Romans annexed the region 100 years later. In the sixth century, the Slavs occupied large areas of the Balkan Peninsula, which included present-day Serbia and Montenegro. Slavicization of the territory was a long and erratic process.

In 1389 the Ottoman Turks invaded Serbia and remained there for the next 500 years. The Serbs finally overthrew the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and became independent.

In 1912 Serbia took part in the First Balkan War and joined with Greece, Bulgaria, and Montenegro to liberate Macedonia from the Turks. After Macedonia was freed, Bulgaria initiated the Second Balkan War in 1913 against Greece and Serbia to gain control over Macedonia. It lost, and Serbia took over control of some parts of northern and central Macedonia.

Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria (1963–1914) was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by a Serb, Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918), a member of the Serbian nationalist group known as the Black Hand. As a consequence Austria and Hungary tried to invade Serbia, and their sction was the catalyst for World War I. After the war Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes joined with Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and some parts of Macedonia to form Yugoslavia in 1929.

In 1941 the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia, and thousands of Serbs lost their lives. Yugoslavia retained its independence even after the war, and Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), a member of the Communist Party, came to power in 1945. The monarchy was abolished, and Yugoslavia was declared a federal republic. In 1953 Tito became the president of Yugoslavia. In 1963 a clause was introduced in the constitution that stated that the president of the country would be elected for life.

After Tito’s death in 1980, the presidency became rotational. In 1987 Slobodan Milo`´sevic´ (b. 1941), a member of the Serbian Nationalist Party, became president. The Slovenes and the Croats demanded their independence, and to avoid a civil war the European Community imposed sanctions. The deteriorating condition of the country forced the European Community to grant independence to the Croats and the Slovenes. Following this, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina also demanded independence. Eventually, after a bloody war, the Security Council of the United Nations intervened, and Bosnia-Herzegovina got their independence. After that, only Serbia and Montenegro remained part of Yugoslavia.

In 1998 in the autonomous province of Kosovo, ethnic Albanians demanded their independence, and the federal army of Yugoslavia tried to suppress the agitation. Hundreds were killed, and thousands fled from the region in the struggle that followed.

Although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) did not intervene at first because Kosovo was a part of Yugoslavia, that organization launched air strikes and started bombing Belgrade when no compromise was in sight. In 2000 the people of the country demanded Milo`´sevic´’s resignation, and Vojislav Kostunica (b. 1944) was elected president. In February 2003 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was dissolved, and the state of Serbia and Montenegro was established.


The state of Serbia and Montenegro consists of Serbia, Montenegro, and the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo. Serbia and Montenegro is made up of most of the territory formerly known as Yugoslavia; it was named Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. The country’s neighbors are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania. The Serbian territory is landlocked, while Montenegro has a coastline that is roughly 125 miles long with no islands off the coast.

Most of the land in Serbia is flat and low lying with some hilly terrain in the Kosovo region. The southern Montenegrin regions of the country are mountainous. The highest point is Daravica at 8,714 feet. The major rivers are the Danube, Drina, Lim, Morava, Sava, and Tara. Climatic conditions vary in the country according to the physical features of the different regions. The northern region of Serbia experiences continental climatic conditions with harsh, dry winters and hot, wet summers. Some areas there also experience heavy snowfall. The southern regions have a Mediterranean climate with wet and humid summers and mild winters.


Agriculture and industry contribute to Serbia and Montenegro’s economy. The Serbs cultivate crops such as grains, fruits, vegetables, tobacco, and olives. They also raise cattle, sheep, and goats. The major industries include machine building, metallurgy, mining, and consumer goods like textiles, footwear, foodstuffs, and appliances. Electronics, petroleum products, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals are other industries. The country is also rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, antimony, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, gold, pyrite, chrome, and hydropower. The major trading partners of the country are Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria, France, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The people here import machinery and transport equipment, fuels and lubricants, manufactured goods, chemicals, food and live animals, and raw materials.

The economy of Serbia and Montenegro has suffered severe blows as a result of the recent wars in the region. The country’s economic condition remains volatile, in spite of efforts at reparation. The smaller republic of Montenegro has severed economic ties with Serbia. Both the republics now have separate central banks, different currencies (Montenegro uses the Euro, while Serbia uses the Serbian dinar), different customs tariffs, state budgets, police forces, and governments.


Serbia and Montenegro are known for the folk motifs and the modern surrealist art forms found in the country. The literary scene is also rich in tradition and has been deeply influenced by the political turmoil in this region. The country has come a long way from reciting folk songs and epics by rote and has produced talented authors such as Ivo Andric´ (1892–1975), who won a Nobel Prize for his book Na Drini Cuprija (The Bridge on the Drina, 1945), about Bosnian history from the 16th century (when the bridge was built) to World War I. Modern Serbian literature came into being when Serbia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Serbian music and dance forms are based on strong folk traditions and share similarities with

Vampires and Serbia

The word vampire entered the English language in 1732 through an English translation of a German report of a vampire -staking in Serbia. In East European countries, such as Serbia, people feared vampires so much that even government officials went out hunting and staking vampires. The myths about vampires go back thousands of years and are found in most of the important cultures of the world.

The Serbs believed that vampires were most active during a full Moon, on the eves of St. George’s Day (May 4) and St. Andrew’s Day (November 30). Vampires are said to be immortal. If bitten by a vampire, the victim is believed to become a vampire as well.

Bats are often associated with vampires due to the similarity between the feeding habits of bats and vampires. Over the centuries this association became stronger and was made famous by many authors of vampire books, such as Bram Stoker.

those of Bulgaria. The Turkish influence is also evident. Indigenous folk music (narodna muzika) is a popular musical genre throughout Serbia and Montenegro. Rock, jazz, pop, and other musical genres are also prevalent here. Brass bands, a tradition passed down from gypsy musicians, are extremely popular, especially in southern and central Serbia.

Serbs and Montenegrins are big fans of outdoor sports such as soccer. They avidly follow every tournament played by the country’s national soccer team, both within the country and abroad.

The official language spoken in Serbia and Montenegro is Serbian. This language was developed by the philologist and language reformer, Vuk Stefanovich Karadzich (1787–1864).


Serbs have three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They consume large amounts of wheat bread made with or without yeast. Special bread without yeast, pogaca, is made for special occasions. Cheese, cream cheese (kajmak), boiled eggs, and ham (smoked or dry) are served as hors d’oeuvres. Serbs also love soups (such as backa soup made with four kinds of meat). Vegetable dishes made of string beans, potatoes, and cabbages are also popular. Meat is used in many forms in dishes of pork, beef, mutton, or chicken. Fish is also popular.

On feast days Serbs cook different dishes, at least 12 types of small cakes, and several large cakes. These are often accompanied by brandy slivovica (plum brandy), local wines, homemade fruit juices, and coffee.

Public/Legal Holidays


Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 31–January 1 January 1 marks the beginning of the Western, or Gregorian, calendar, and is celebrated as New Year’s

Day all over the world, starting with the many festivities planned for the evening of December 31 (New Year’s Eve).

Traditionally the Serbs make personal New Year’s resolutions and have a big dinner on this day. It is a national holiday, and schools and offices are closed. Most Serbian families exchange gifts on New Year’s Day.


Observed by:General Public Observed on:April 27 On National Day, or Constitution Day, the federation of Serbia and Montenegro, the successor of the erstwhile Republic of Yugoslavia, was proclaimed in 1992. On this day the people organize various national-level events to celebrate the occasion. Delegates and guests from other nations attend and address the people of Serbia and Montenegro. Demonstrations to show solidarity with the cause of the people are held even in foreign countries where there may be some Serbians and Montenegrins.


Observed by:General Public Observed on:May 1 May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day, also known as May Day and Workers’ Day, depending on the country, in many parts of the world to commemorate the important role played by workers in building nations and societies. While the earliest celebrations of May Day are ascribed to the pagan rituals that were practiced by farmers, peasants, and villagers in Europe well before the Middle Ages, conflicting opinions exist about the origins of the occasion. Although Labor Day in some countries, such as Australia, has local origins, the most plausible source for the international observance is the Second International.

In 1889 the Second International, a consortium of socialist organizations, declared May 1 a day to recognize the importance of workers around the world and scheduled the first demonstrations and celebrations for the following year, 1890. They coordinated this observance with the strike called by the U.S. labor union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), demanding an eight-hour workday. In Serbia and Montenegro workers hold marches and demonstrations on the streets.

See also Volume III: LABORDAY


Observed by:General Public Observed on:May 9 Victory Day commemorates the defeat of German Fascists by the Allies during World War II in 1945. This is one of the most celebrated national holidays in Europe. People witness military parades and other festive demonstrations. War veterans and major administrators of the country visit the Tomb of the Unknown Hero on Mount Abala in Belgrade to honor the dead. The national media broadcast patriotic programs and songs. War memorial services are held in different places across the country. This day is also the anniversary of the establishment of a 40-year-long Communist regime in the region.


Observed by:General Public Observed on:November 29 On this day in 1945 the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was declared and established as a Communist state, under the leadership of President Josip Broz Tito. Serbia was a part of the republic at that time.

Religious Holidays


Observed by:Orthodox Christians Observed on: January 6–7 Christmas is a day of celebration for Christians all over the world; in Serbia and Montenegro, Christmas is celebrated on January 6 and 7 according to the Julian calendar (named for Julius Caesar), as in other Orthodox Christian countries.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the head of the family goes into the forest and cuts a young oak tree. This is then blessed by the local priest and, after stripping off the branches, is burned in the fireplace. This ritual is called the burning of the badnjak (oak tree) and has pagan origins. Pagans used to burn the tree as a sacrifice to appease their gods and to ensure an abundance of food, happiness, and wealth in the coming year. Modern Serbs do not go to the forest to cut an oak tree. They only take tiny parcels made of oak wood to church, have them blessed, and burn them. Serbs cover the floors of their homes with hay, reminiscent of the manger in which Jesus was born. Families eat a meal of meat-

less foods, such as a Christmas Eve cake, baked beans, and walnuts at dinnertime.

On Christmas Day the Serbs celebrate with an elaborate dinner that features roasted piglet, sweet cakes known as koljivo, and ´cesnica, a special kind of bread.´Cesnica is baked with a coin inside it; during the meal, whoever finds the coin is considered lucky and is said to have a happy year ahead.



Observed by:Orthodox Christians Observed on: January 14 This day is the beginning of a new year according to the Julian calendar, which preceded the Gregorian calendar commonly used in the West. Festivities are seen all across the country. This is a day set aside for family, and Serbians usually stay at home and relax.


Observed by:General Public Observed on: January 27 St. Sava (1176–1235) is the patron saint of Serbia. This day is the feast day of this national saint, who is the patron of education. For this reason, schools, universities, academies, and artisan guilds celebrate this day on a large scale.

St. Sava became the first Archbishop of Serbia at age 70 and was the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. His father was a king of Serbia but relinquished everything to set up a monastery along with his son Sava. St. Sava was instrumental in spreading Christianity in Serbia. He opened many educational academies and promoted peace in the region.


Observed by:Christians Observed on: Saturday of Lazarus–Easter In the Eastern Orthodox Church, as in other Christian sects, Easter is the central observance of the liturgical year, and the date of most church holidays is determined by the date on which Easter falls. Every Sunday is dedicated in the Eastern Orthodox Church to Jesus’ Resurrection, and 100 days are dedicated to Easter—50 before it in preparation, and 50 after it for glorifying him. Easter is the feast of feasts. The 50 days prior to Easter are a part of the period of Triodion, the period for strengthening one’s faith. The means are well known: repentance, prayer, and self-control. The 50 days following Easter are the Pentecostarion (from the Greek pentikonta,meaning “fifty”).

Holy Week begins with the phrase: “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany.” His arrival coincided with the Jewish Passover (Pesach). The church relates preparation and redemption to the events of this week.







Observed by:Eastern Orthodox Observed on:Day before Palm Sunday The ceremonies of Holy Week begin with the Saturday Morning of St. Lazarus, the day before Palm Sunday. On this day the rising from the dead of St. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, is celebrated.




Observed by:Christians Observed on:Last Sunday before Easter Palm Sunday remembers Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem amid throngs of palm-bearing devotees. See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;



Observed by:Christians Observed on:Monday before Easter On Holy Monday, the faithful remember how Jesus cursed a fig tree that had leaves and no fruit—a reminder of the hallowness of ouward piety.




Observed by:Christians Observed on:Tuesday before Easter Tuesday of Holy Week commemorates the parable of the Ten Virgins. See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;



Observed by:Christians Observed on:Wednesday before Easter Holy Wedsnesday commemorates the anointing of Jesus with myrrh at the house of Siomon the leper. See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;



Observed by:Christians Observed on:Thursday before Easter Maundy Thursday celebrates four events: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the marvelous prayer, and Judas’s betrayal.

Observed by:Christians Observed on:Friday before Easter Good Friday celebrates Jesus’ Passion on the Cross. To take away our sins he willingly endured the Cross and death. On this day the faithful attend a special service in their local churches, offer prayers to God and remember the suffering and death of Christ. The confession from the cross of the penitent thief, crucified with Christ, is celebrated. During the procession, the faithful kneel and pray for their spiritual welfare, then reverently kiss the crucifix.

The Vespers of Friday afternoon are a continuation of the royal hours. During this service the removal of Jesus’ body from the Cross is commemorated with a sense of mourning for the terrible events that occurred. As the priest reads the Gospel, he removes Jesus’ body from the cross, wraps it in a white cloth, and takes it to the altar. The priest then carries the cloth on which the body of Jesus is painted or embroidered around the church before placing it inside the sepulcher, a carved bier that symbolizes the tomb, reminding the faithful that during Jesus’ entombment he descended into Hades to free the dead of the ages. After several hymns are sung, the priest sprinkles the sepulcher and the whole congregation with fragrant water. On this day the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is officiated.

In Serbia and Montenegro, a ritual called the Stations of the Cross is performed. This is a reenactment of Christ’s final journey when he carried the cross before his crucifixion. Orthodox families observe a strict fast and attend church, where they kiss the Grave of Christ (Plastanica). Fish and oil are not used on Good Friday, and only nuts, fruits, and vegetables are eaten.




Observed by:Christians Observed on:First Sunday after Lent In Eastern Orthodox Churches what is called Easter in English-speaking countries is called Pas,tele in Romania, after the Hebrew observance Pesach (Passover). On Easter Sunday (Saturday midnight) Jesus’ Resurrection is celebrated. Before midnight the Odes of Lamentation of the previous day are repeated. The Orthros of the Resurrection begins in complete darkness. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. In many churches the priest leads the people outside the church, where he reads the Gospel that refers to the angel’s statement: “He is risen; he is not here.” Then the people wait breath-

People light candles before the solemn liturgy in a monastery in Belgrade on Orthodox Easter. Traditionally Orthodox, Serbs observe Easter according to the Julian calendar (APPhoto/Srdjan Llic)

lessly for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection. From this moment the entire service takes on a joyous Easter atmosphere.

On Easter in Serbia and Montenegro families gather together to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, and color Easter eggs and paint beautiful designs on them. These intricate designs are unique to Serbia. Some eggs are dyed red to symbolize Jesus’ Resurrection. It is a tradition here that the very first egg that is colored is kept aside for the head of the family. This egg is called cuvarkuca (protector of the house).

Easter Sunday afternoon the faithful gather once more for prayer with lighted candles and greet one another joyously, saying: “Christ is Risen.” The fruit of faith in the Resurrection is love so this day is called Sunday of Agape (brotherly love), a day dedicated to Christian principles, especially forgiveness and charity. At this time Christians seek to end mis-


Apart from being valuable gifts, towels are part of the Serbian dress code. Women and girls wear towels tied to belts as a part of their clothing. Girls wear them on their right while women wear them on their left side. Towels have a very old association with the people of Serbia and are used on numerous occasions like births, weddings, and funerals. They are used to decorate the house, and the way a towel is used is said to reflect the artistic ability of the women.

understanding and arguments among those with whom they may be at odds.

A traditional Serbian Easter meal consists of lamb soup, roast lamb, salad, and delicious cakes. Feasting and exchanging greetings and Easter eggs continue even on the next day Easter Monday.




Observed by:Serbian Christians Observed on: June 28 The festival of Vidovdan is of national importance and symbolizes death and resurrection, despair and hope, to the people of Serbia. It originated with the peasant community who used to practice many customs and rituals that have pagan origins related to the pagan god Svevid or Vid. Young girls soaked an herb called vidovica, in water and washed their faces with it.

The day has been also celebrated as St. Vitus’s Day or the Feast of the Holy Prince Lazarus by the Serbians ever since Christianity was introduced in the region. Saint Vitus was an Italian Christian saint.

In addition Vidovdan is the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. Prince Lazarus (Lazar Hrebeljanovic, fl. 14th century) was a virtuous ruler who led the Serbs in many wars. He raised a multinational force on this day in 1389 to engage the Turks in the Battle of Kosovo Polje on St. Vitus Day. During the battle Prince Lazarus was killed, and the Serbs were badly defeated while defending their homeland. On this day special prayer services are held in all churches of Serbia. Memorial services are also held for the Serbian heroes. It is believed that on this day the rivers turn red, colored by the blood of Kosovan heroes. In Montenegro women used to wear black scarves on their heads, and the men’s caps were embroidered with black to mourn the loss in the Kosovo Battle.


Regional Holidays


Observed in:Novi Sad Observed by:General Public Observed on:May The International Agricultural Fair is held annually in Novi Sad. Thousands of exhibitors come from all parts of Serbia and Montenegro and neighboring countries to participate. Exhibitions of food, beverages, agricultural products and tools, livestock, and packaging techniques, are held during this event.

The Agricultural Fair is one of the most popular events held in the country, and also provides a sound platform for the cultivators to showcase their skills as well as their products.

Rites of Passage


In a traditional Serbian wedding, the bride is escorted into the church by the groom’s brother. Other people who are important to the couple, like their parents and the godparents, will be present throughout the ceremony. During the wedding service, the priest binds the couple symbolically with a cloth. This white binding cloth is called the peshkir, and this tradition signifies that the couple is now bound together for life.

A traditional towel is an important wedding gift presented to the Serb couple by close friends and relatives. It symbolizes the closeness they share with the couple. Towels are also given to the friends and relatives of the couple. The size, quality, and patterns on the towels vary. For instance, the groom’s brother and the best man are given specially decorated towels that are more luxurious compared to the towels others receive.

Further Reading

Branimir Anzulovic, Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide (New York: New York University Press, 1999); David C. King, Serbia and Montenegro (Salt Lake City: Benchmark Books, 2005); Michael A. Schuman, Serbia and Montenegro (New York: Facts on File, 2004).


So empty here ... leave a comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *