Developments in Serbia

Published: 17 June 2009 Updated: 5 October 2015

Since the Balkan wars, Serbia has moved closer to Europe and is now a candidate country to the EU. Still, the social, economic and political problems remain a huge challenge.

Socialist Yugoslavia was held together under the strong political leadership of Joseph Tito, but after Tito died in 1980 ethnic tensions grew with violent conflicts and widespread violations of human rights as a result. In 1995 fighting ended when the so-called Dayton Agreement was signed. 1998-1999 saw a new war in the Serbian province of Kosovo, prompting NATO to bomb Serbia. The war in Kosovo led the United Nations to take over the administration of Kosovo that later declared it’s independence.

Although the wars never took place in Serbia proper the country was hit hard by the world's condemnation.  In 2000, Serbia's leader Milosevic lost elections and this became the beginning of an improved relation with Europe. Following demands from the EU Serbia chose to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Hague. Milosevic was extradited to The Hague in 2001, but died in 2006 before the trial had come to an end. In 2008, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb Republic Radovan Karadzic was arrested and three years later came the arrest of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić.

Today, Serbian is trying to find its new role in Europe. During a relatively short period, the country has been through the breakup of Yugoslavia, the dissolution of the union with Montenegro and Kosovo's independence.

Negotiation on EU membership

In 2014, negotiations between Serbia and the EU on a future membership started (accession negotiations) started. Key demands on Serbia's are reforms within the judiciary and public administration, as well as a commitment to fight corruption and organized crime. After two years of negotiations under EU mediation, Serbia and Kosovo succeeded (2013) to reach an agreement on northern Kosovo. Serbia did not recognize the independence of Kosovo, but the agreement meant that both promise not to block each other's path towards EU membership.

Human rights

The independent media played an active role when Milosevic lost the election in 2000. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Constitution from 2006, but there is pressure and threats against the media and individual journalists. Discrimination against minority groups, particularly Roma and LGBT people, is a problem.

There are also positive signs. In 2010, the Serbian Parliament approved a resolution condemning the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in 1995 and 2015 eight Bosnian Serbs involvement in the massacre was arrested. In 2014 a Pride Parade was held in Belgrade for the first time in four years.


Serbia's economy still suffers from the Balkan wars. The emergence of a modern service sector has been slow. More than a quarter of all employees work in state companies and public administration. Subsidies to large governmental and unprofitable companies dig deep holes in the treasury.

High unemployment rate, a significant trade balance deficit, a large budget deficit, growing foreign debt and a declining GDP are major challenges for the future. An aging population means that pension payments accounts for a quarter of the state budget.

Social conditions

In 2000, one third of the population lived below the national poverty line. Since then the situation has improved, but poverty is still widespread. As a result, an extensive criminality has emerged with trafficking, smuggling, corruption and money laundering.

Violence against women and discrimination in the workplace is a problem. Women are also under represented in politics and decision-making.

In March 2013 close to 27 per cent of the population was estimated to be among youth below 30 years, more than half was without work.

In the 1990s half a million young people left Serbia. This, together with a negative population growth, puts Serbia on the fifth place in the world in terms of elderly as part of the population.

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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