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Basic facts

Serbian Flag
  • Official name:  Србија и Црна Гора (Srbija i Crna gora) - the official name is Serbia and Montenegro (abbr: SCG), which is a union of the two equally ranked republics (ie what is left of Yugoslavia). Some people still refer to it as Југославија (Yugoslavia). The union include(d) two autonomous districts: The Kosovo in the south, which is under UN administration by now, and the Vojvodina in the north of Serbia. However, the autonomous status of the Vojvodina was abolished some years ago. This website is exclusively about Montenegro and the Srbska Republika - the Serbian Republic - which should not be confused with Republika Srpska (one of the two entities in →Bosnia-Hercegovina).
  • Area:  About 102,000 km² incl. Montenegro (equal to the size of Iceland or Kentucky); Serbia alone covers 88,361 km² (same as Scotland).
  • Population:  slightly less than 10.7 million* (2003); incl. Montenegro. Serbia without the Kosovo has around 7.5 million people (official figure).
  • Ethnic groups:  around 63% are Serbs, 16.5% Albanians (almost all of them live in Kosovo), 5% Montenegrins, 3.3% Hungarians, 12.6% others (Macedonians, Romanians, Roma etc). All of these figures are from 1991 and therefore definitely subject to change!*
  • Religion:  65% are Serbian-Orthodox, 19% Moslems, 4% Roman-Catholic, 1% Protestants, 11% others*
  • Time zone:  As in middle Europe: GMT +01 hr, with daylight-saving time (+1 hour) in summer.
  • Language: Serbian. Until the 1990ies, the language was referred to as Serbo-Croatian, but now it's regarded as a single language. In contradiction to →Croatian, the Cyrillic script is used in Serbia and Montenegro. Serbian as well as Croatian belong to the South Slavic language group. Serbian is also used in wide parts of →Bosnia. Serbian and Croatian are indeed quite familiar, but there are characteristic differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and partially even in grammar. To give an example, a long Serbian [e] is often pronounced [ije] (pron: iye) in Croatian. Hence, the Serbian word [ reka ] (=river) becomes [ rijeka ] in Croatian. On the other hand, a short Serbian [ e ] is sometimes pronounced [ je ] in Croatian. Serbian uses most of the Cyrillic letters you will also find in Russian, but there are several exceptions: Clickable Map of Serbia + Montenegro (Yugoslavia)
    • Ђ ( ђ ) Close to [ dsh ] (phon: ɟ ), read as the [ du ] in [ education ] (but softer). In Latin script, this letter is written Đ ( đ ).
    • J ( j ) Not very commmon in Slavic alphabets. Pronounced as the [ y ] (phon: j) in [ yes ].
    • Љ ( љ ) A mixture of 'L' and the 'soft sign', pronounced as the [ li ] (phon: lj) in [ million ].
    • Њ ( њ ) A mixture of 'N' and the 'soft sign', spoken as the [ ny/ñ ] (phon: nj) in [ cañon/canyon ].
    • Ћ ( ћ ) is close to the [ tch ] (phon: ɕ ) in [ kitchen]. In Latin script this letter is written Ć ( ć ).
    Because of these 'special' characters, some other typical Cyrillic letters are not used in Serbian and/or substituted by other letters, as there are я → ja (ya), ю → jy (yu), щ (shtch, not existent), ъ (hard sign, not used) and ь → ђ, њ, љ. A basic knowledge of Russian for example is very helpful, although some important words are completely different: 'Thank you' for example is [ спасибо = spasibo ] in Russian, [ благодарам = blagodaram ] in Macedonian but [ хвала = hvala ] in Serbian.
    For a table with the most important words in Macedonian and other Slavic languages please →click here.. Anyway, it's not so problematic to get by in English and even in German (chances are higher to meet someone speaking the latter).
  • *Source: CIA World Factbook   


    Serbia itself is landlocked - the entire Adriatic Sea coast belongs to rather mountainous Montenegro. Geographically spoken, Serbia can be divided into two main parts - the North and the South. Between the two parts, the mighty river Дунав (Dunav, Danube) flows from the west to the east. The Serbian part of the river Danube is 588 km long and therefore Serbia's most important river. In the east, the Danube marks the border to →Romania, in the west the border to →Croatia. The south is characterised by mountains and large plateaus - including the Kosovo. The highest peak is called Ðeravica, has an altitude of 2,656 metres and lies in Kosovo. The area north of the river Danube is mostly flat and characterised by a criss-cross of countless canals. The plain has very fertile soils and therefore it can be called Serbia's granary. Furthermore, smaller quantities of crude oil are exploited in the north. There are only six big cities (big city: defined as a town with more than 100,000 inhabitants) in the country: Among them Ниш (Niš), which is the centre of the southern part, Суботица (Subotica aka Szabadka) in the north, →Нови Сад (Novi Sad) and the dominating capital →Београд (Belgrade, Beograd) (the others are Kragujevać and Priština, Kosovo).


    Some thousand years ago, the region around present-day Serbia was inhabited first by Illyrian, later on by Celtic tribes. The Roman Empire conquered the land already during the 3rd century BC and named it Moesia Superior. The river Danube marked the northern border of the province. In the year 395 AD, the Roman Empire split into two parts. Ever since, Serbia belonged to the Byzantine Empire, whereas present-day Croatia became a part of the West Roman Empire.
    During the 6th century, first Slav tribes entered the region, namely Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. All of these tribes converted to Christianity around the year 895. This was mostly thanks to the two monks Cyril and Methodius. For the first time in history, an independent Serbian Kingdom was founded in the year 1217. During the reign of Stefan Dushan in the 14th century, Serbia experienced its heyday. At that time, many monasteries were built. Things changed dramatically after his death - Serb forces were defeated at the decisive battle of Косово Поље (Kosovo Polje, polje=field) by the Ottomans in the year 1389. Since then, Serbias was occupied by the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years. The first large and partially successful uprising took place in the year 1815. Serbia became quasi-independent and was granted greater autonomy in 1829. However, it couldn't gain full independence before the year 1878.
    In 1914, a young Serb assassinator killed Archduke Ferdinand in →Sarajevo. This event lit the powder keg. As a result of the assassination, the →Austro-Hungarian Monarchy annexed Serbia which marked the beginning of the First World War. After the end of the war and the defeat of the monarchy, →Slovenia, →Croatia and the Војводина (Vojvodina) united with Serbia, Montenegro and →Macedonia. The Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was eventually renamed Yugoslavia (Country of the Southern Slavs) in the year 1929.
    In 1941, Yugoslavia first joined the fascist Berlin-Rome-Tōkyō axis, a decision that initiated a coup d'état). As a result of the coup, Peter II. became king and made a U-turn by leaving the axis. This of course caused Hitler to march in and occupy the country, just to share it between Germany, Italy, →Hungary and →Bulgaria. Almost immediately, the Communist Party led by Josip Broz Tito became active and declared armed resistance against the occupiers.
    In 1945, after the end of World War II, the Communists finally took over and abolished the monarchy. Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia were granted the status of a republic inside the federation - Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia had this status already before the war. However, republican status was denied to Albanian-dominated Kosovo as well as to the Hungarian-dominated Vojvodina. The fact that these two regions hadn't had republican status before the war and never belonged to the 'old' Yugoslavia was used as the main reason for the denial. And so the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ie the 2nd Yugoslavia, was born. →Belgrade was declared capital of the federation.
    Traces of the NATO air raids
    Traces of NATO air raids in the centre of Belgrade
    In contradiction to most other countries within the Soviet sphere of interest, Tito broke almost all links with Stalin in the year 1948. This gained him financial and other sorts of aid from Western Europe and the United States. Things didn't change a lot until the 1980ies. Links to other communist countries were not very tight, too. To give an example, normal citizens of East Germany were not allowed to travel to Yugoslavia. However, the country, ie the Adriatic Sea coast, was highly popular with tourists from West Germany.
    This fragile, artificial structure called Yugoslavia didn't last longer than until 1986. It was at the latest in that year, that the seal was set on the collapse of the federation. The Serbian Academy of Sciences commited intellectual arson by calling for greater Serb domination in Yugoslavia. In 1987, Slobodan Milošević became the head of the ruling Communist Party and started mixing the party statutes with Serbian nationalist ideas. This frightened the people of the other republics, and so →Slovenia and →Croatia declared independence. Further events came hot on the heels of the declaration. The Serb dominated JNA (Yugoslav National Army) annexed Slovenia. After a few minor fights during the so-called 10-days war, the JNA pulled out their troops, because there weren't any Serb claims on the country. In 1992, the EU recognized Slovenia and Croatia as independent countries and imposed an arms embargo on the rest of Yugoslavia (at least!).
    Soon after, heavy fights erupted in Croatia over the so-called Krajina Serbs (for more information on the Krajina-Serbs see →History of Croatia). Inevitably, the now full-scale war between Croatia and Serbia was soon to expand into →Bosnia-Hercegovina. Bosnia tried to gain independence as well - and so did →Macedonia at the same time. The big difference was that Macedonia was only of marginal interest to Serbia. And so Macedonia was the one and only former Yugoslav republic that mamaged to get away without firing a single shot. In Bosnia-Hercegovina, the war was about to become particularly brutal. It developed into an ethnic conflict between all races and religions - both of them didn't play a big role before. →Sarajevo suffered a three-years siege, leaving an estimated 10,000 civilians dead. Serbia (as well as Croatia!) tried hard to gain as much control over Bosnian territory as possible. The UN, represented by the so-called UNPROFOR, was present but absolutely helpless. And so Serb militia could drag the Bosnian vice president out of an armoured vehicle just to shoot him in front of the UNPROFOR soldiers. Also, the UN was not able to prevent thousands of civilians from being slaughtered after the fall of Srebenica - actually one of the so-called UN protected areas. The incident is now known as the Srebenica massacre. The whole, awkward dilemma is well (not to say too well!) depicted by the British movie "Warriors".
    Bridge near Novi Sad: Primary target of NATO air raids
    Bridges were primary targets of NATO air raids
    The NATO intervened as late as 1994, sending in combat aircrafts. In 1995, all parties agreed on the Dayton Accord, which ended the war in Bosnia by dividing the country into two entities. Even today, KFOR troops remain in the country and Milosevic is committed for trial at the International War Criminal Tribunal. But this was only the end of the war over Bosnia. Serbia and Montenegro founded the Third Yugoslavia in 1992. Already years before, the autonomy status of Kosovo (actually, the area is referred to as Косово и Метохија (Kosovo i Metochiya)) was suspended by the central government. Permanent provocations, often performed by JNA troops, ignited a civil war starting in 1998. Around 90% of the Kosovo citizens are Albanians. As in Bosnia, an ethnic cleansing campaign was launched, making hundred thousands of Albanians flee the region - some of them to Albania, others to →Macedonia. Occasional massacres of civilians were reported as well. Consequently, militant Albanians, eg UÇK fighters, entered Kosovo and tried to fight back. This time, the UN and the NATO reacted a little bit faster. After numerous fruitless measures such as protest notes, threats, a full-scale trade embargo etc, the war was taken to Serbia for the first time during the conflict. For a good reason (rough terrain etc), the NATO was afraid of a long and bloody conventional war, and so combat action was limited to massive air strikes. After 78 days of daily air raids, the Serbian government gave in. Despite the fact that the military campaign was a sad thing, it also produced the gag of the year, namely the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. On the grounds that the CIA doesn't possess recent city maps of Belgrade. Which is really hard to believe. Heaven forbid that the military intelligence of the US is really that stupid!
    It's not quite clear how things will go on in Serbia. After the long overdue deposition of Milosevic things started to look much better. Democratic as well as economic reforms were initiated. However, the assassination of the prime minister Zoran Ðinđić in 2003 was quite a big shock and left many things open to question. Nevertheless, it's easy to believe that Serbia has developed into a normal, peaceful country when you walk around →Belgrade or →Novi Sad. But what's under the surface? How will things go on in Kosovo? What does the majority of Serbs think about the recent EU-friendly line of the government? I would like to believe that the bloody chapter called the Balkan conflict is over, but I'm afraid it isn't.

    Travel information

  • Prologue:  The Serbian government have substantially relaxed their extremely rigid visa policy in May 2003, and so it became easy to travel to Serbia (before 2003 it was already possible to enter Montenegro without a visa). And I'm thankful for this opportunity - Serbia is a very rewarding destination. We've only made it to →Novi Sad and →Belgrade, and both places were very cosmopolitan and people were friendly, too. What about the rest of the country!? We've also been to → Kotor in Montenegro years before, and that town became one of my very favourite spots in the Balkans.

  • Visa:  Since May 2003, many nationalities do not require a visa any longer. A passport which is still valid for several months upon arrival is all you need. The passport will be stamped and that's it. Welcome to Europe. At the border, we didn't trust the simplicity and asked whether it would be necessary to register with the police. The answer was 'no', but according to the border police we should collect the papers we'll get from hotel staff, confirming that we stayed there. However, no one asked for the paperwork when we left the country. Still it might be wise to not throw them away.

  • Money:  Ex-Yugoslavia had its own currency, but during the 1980ies, hyperinflation was plaguing the economy and the people. Later on, the Novi Dinar (New Dinar) was introduced. During the war, most people used the more stable Deutschmark.
    The new Serbian money
    The new, old Yugoslavian 200-Dinar banknote
    Now, the new Нови Динар (Novi Dinar) is used, but obviously not in Montenegro and of course not in Kosovo. The inflation rate is very low today. In 2003, the average rate was € 1 = 65 Dinar. There are 1, 2 and 5 Dinar coins. Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 etc. Dinar. The newest banknotes are slightly different - 'Narodna Banka Jugoslavija' (narodna = national) was replaced with 'Narodna Banka Srbije'. Since the currency is now freely convertible, there's no more black exchange market and no more unofficial street exchange rate. Just in case that anyone is trying to tell you something different - simply walk away.
    Thanks to the liberal financial policy, first ATM's were set up in →Belgrade and by the time you read this probably in other cities as well. Serbian ATM's are European standard and accept all major credit cards as well as Cirrus and Maestro cards. When we were in Serbia, ATM's were very new and we were not sure about the exchange rate, so we better stuck to cash.
    Attention: It's virtually impossible to exchange Serbian money outside Serbia. Neither exchange booths in →Hungary nor in the →Czech Republic accepted Dinar (which means that I'll have to go there again - with pleasure).

  • Costs:  For travelers, Serbia is an inexpensive destination. Almost everything is much cheaper than let's say →Skopje or →Hungary. Despite the two-tiered price system, i.e. foreigners have to pay a considerably higher price for a hotel rooms, it's possible to stay in the capital for around € 10 (we've paid € 22 for a double with bathroom and incl. breakfast). In food stalls, it's possible to have a decent meal for € 1 or so. Bus and train tickets are relatively cheap as well. Of course, international train tickets, for example to Hungary, are substantially more expensive.

  • Getting there:  By bus, train, plane or car - everything is possible. And most nationalities (sorry, Aussies!) do not require a visa for the neighbouring countries. There are several direct flight connections from major airports in Europe to Belgrade. But Serbia will never be popular with holidaymakers, so there will never be any charter flights.
    There are several long-distance buses, especially from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, running to Serbia. However, it's a gruelling journey with many stops at several border crossings. Nevertheless it's the cheapest way to get there - except for hitchhiking of course. There are also some buses to destinations in the neighbouring country, as for example to →Macedonia, →Bulgaria and →Bosnia-Hercegovina (for the latter the bus is the only option). It's not recommended to cross the border to Kosovo from Serbia.
    There are also some interesting train connections to Serbia. There are direct trains to Belgrade from →Sofia, →Zagreb, Thessaloniki (via →Skopje), →Budapest, Vienna, →Bucharest and also to Munich via →Ljubljana. The trip from Belgrade to Skopje takes around 9 ½, the fare is € 15. The ticket from →Novi Sad to Budapest costs € 30, the ride takes 6 hrs. There are also several trains from Belgrade to the Montenegrin coast. But the only way to get to Montenegro from →Dubrovnik and other towns in →Croatia is by bus. See the getting there chapter of Dubrovnik. Trains to destinations in Kosovo are still out of service.

  • Border crossing: : Serbia and Montenegro share border crossings with Albania (all of them in Montenegro and Kosovo), →Bulgaria, →Macedonia, →Croatia, →Bosnia-Hercegovina, →Hungary and →Romania. As far as I know, all border crossings can be used by foreign travelers, too. However, according to various reports, it's still not recommended to cross the Serbian-Kosovo border.

  • Food & drinks:  Čevapčići and Pljeskavica, Razvnjići and Duveč - grilled meat has many names in Serbia. But it can be really tasty. Sometimes, the meat is fried with cheese or vegetables and served with bread, rice or fried potatoes. Salads are very common, too. In Middle Europe, 'Serbian Bean Stew' is famous dish - but I've never seen that in Serbia. As a matter of fact, Serbian cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish and Hungarian food. Sweets are common, too, mostly resembling Turkish sweets, ie they are extremely sweet. There are also several Italian restaurants recently mushrooming everywhere. Anyway, traditional Serbian food is definitely worth a try.
    Beer, coffee, wine, a local brandy called Vinjak and all the typical soft drinks are highly common and usually very cheap.

  • WWW

  • www.gov.yu Official website of the government of Serbia & Montenegro. In Serbian and English.
  • www.serbia.sr.gov.yu Very informative website of the Serbian government. English version available.
  • www.serbia-tourism.org As the address already suggests. Slogan: "Three Times Love" (Orthodox Serbs kiss each others cheek three times when they meet - hence the slogan).

  • Do you have or do you know a good website about Serbia + Montenegro? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. Please note that commercial websites will be declined. For e-mail link see menu on the left.

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    Tabibito's top page The beautiful old town of Kotor and the Boka Kotorska