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Serbia - People

Serbia is multiethnic, multicultural and multifunctional society. According to the census in 2011, Serbia has a population of 7,120,666 inhabitants (excluding Kosovo and Metohia). As a result of its turbulent history, there are around 40 different nationalities living in Serbia. The majority of minorities lives in Vojvodina. Serbs comprise the majority of the population – 82.86 per cent, while there are numerous minorities: Hungarians (3,91%), Bosniaks (1,82%), Roma (1.44%), Yugoslavs (1,08%), Croats (0,94%), Montenegrins (0,92 %), Albanians (0.82%), and many others. Languages spoken include Serbian 88.3%, Hungarian 3.8%, Bosnian 1.8%, Romany 1.1%, and others 4.1%. The official language is Serbian, and the official script is the Cyrillic script. In the multiethnic environments Hungarian, Slovenian, Romanian, Croatian language are also used. The Latin script is widely used and taught at schools.

After several decades of growth, the population of Serbia has been continuously decreasing starting in 2002 (based on the data of the Statistical office of the Republic of Serbia). In 2002, the number of inhabitants was 7 893 125, while in 2008 the number of inhabitants was 7 350 222 (the index value of 93.1). The same situation was present in Belgrade, capital of Serbia until 2002, and then the tendency of increase was observed (from 1 576 124 inhabitants in 2002, to 1 621 996 inhabitants in 2008, the index value of 102.9). The subjects older than 65 years represent 17.18% in the total population, which is higher than the average value of 15.1% in EU countries, while the share of those under age of 14 years (15.5%) was lower, compared to the EU average of 17%.

In 2009 the estimate from the National Statistics Bureau was that the country will have 6.8 million people by 2023, compared to the current 7.3 million inhabitants. The birth rate in the richest northern part of Serbia has registered a decline since 1989, while in central Serbia the population has been falling since 1992. The generally low living standard is the main reason behind the decision by young couples to have one child or not to have children at all.

Serbian heritage includes a number of traditions and customs that originate from ancient times and old pre-Christian belief systems surviving till this day. Different rituals and ceremonies follow them in certain occasions and for different reasons, usually believing they will bring help and benefit. The purpose of those customs can be different: protection of the family, getting children, prosperity, rainmaking, driving away the storm clouds, curing the patient… Serbian customs are deeply rooted in centuries old rich tradition and are closely connected to certain events, holidays, opportunities and hardships. With time passing, there were more and more customs.

Over the centuries, great migrations, conquests, wars, voluntary or involuntary mixing of nations have very much blended nations and their customs. However, there are a few nations in the world that had so many migrations as Serbs did. From the arrival to the Balkans centuries ago to the migrations in the last decade of the twentieth century, Serbs, oppressed by diverse hardship, were forced to migrate often, but they never left their traditions and customs behind.

The demographic distribution and ethnic outlook of the Serbs exerted paramount influence on the shape of the modern Yugoslav state from the very beginning. The Serbs were Yugoslavia's most populous and most dispersed nationality. Although concentrated in Serbia proper, in 1981 they also accounted for substantial portions of the population of Kosovo (13.2 percent), Vojvodina (54.1 percent), Croatia (11.5 percent), and Bosnia and Hercegovina (32.2 percent). Historically, the first cause of this scattering was the severe oppression of Serbs under Ottoman occupation, which led to migration to the unoccupied territory to the west. After World War II, Yugoslavia's first communist government tried to define the country's postwar federal units to limit the Serbian domination believed largely responsible for the political turmoil of the interwar period. This meant reducing Serbia proper to achieve political recognition of Macedonian and Montenegrin ethnic individuality and the mixed populations of Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Hercegovina.

The Serbs' forefathers built a rich kingdom during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, then suffered under Ottoman occupation for 370 years (1459-1829). During the Ottoman era, the Serbian Orthodox Church preserved the Serbs' sense of nationhood and reinforced the collective memory of past glory. The church canonized medieval Serbian kings; fresco painters preserved their images; and priests recited a litany of their names at daily masses. Until the nineteenth century, virtually all Serbs were peasants; the small percentage that lived in towns as traders and craftsmen wore Turkish costume and lived a Turkish lifestyle. Until the twentieth century, peasant Serbs lived mainly in extended families, with four or five nuclear families residing in the same house. An elder managed the household and property.

The independence movement of the nineteenth century brought significant cultural changes to the Serbs. During that century, the scholars Dositej Obradovic and Vuk Karadzic overcame stiff opposition from the Orthodox Church to foster creation of the modern Serbian literary language, which is based on the speech of the ordinary people. Karadzic adapted the Cyrillic alphabet to the form still used in Yugoslavia.

After World War I, the Serbs considered themselves the liberators of Croatia and Slovenia--nations whose loyalty the Serbs found suspect because they had seemed unwilling or unable to rise against Austria-Hungary in the independence struggles that preceded World War I. The Serbian political elite of the interwar Kingdom of Yugoslavia was extremely centralist and accustomed to wielding unshared power. On the eve of World War II, the Yugoslav Army officer corps and the civilian bureaucracy were dominated by Serbs (two Croats and two Slovenes were generals; the other 161 generals were either Serbs or Montenegrins). Serbian hegemony in interwar Yugoslavia triggered a militant backlash in Croatia, Macedonia, and Kosovo; during World War II, Croatian nationalist fanatics butchered Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies with a brutality that appalled even the Nazis.

The Serbs' memories of their medieval kingdom, their 1389 defeat by the Ottoman Turks, their nineteenth century uprisings, and their heavy sacrifices during twentieth century wars contributed significantly to their feeling that they had sacrificed much for Yugoslavia and received relatively little in return. In the late 1980s, a passionate Serbian nationalist revival arose from this sense of unfulfilled expectation, from the postwar distribution of the Serbs among various Yugoslav political entities, and from perceived discrimination against the Serbs in Kosovo in the 1970s and 1980s (see Serbia , ch. 4). In this process, the Serbian Orthodox Church reemerged as a strong cultural influence, and the government of Serbia renewed celebrations of the memories of Serbian heroes and deeds. These events caused leaders in Slovenia and Croatia to fear a resurgence of the Serbian hegemony that had disrupted interwar Yugoslavia.

The Serbian-Albanian struggle for Kosovo, the heartland of Serbia's medieval kingdom, dominated Serbia's political life and café conversation in the 1980s. Between 1948 and 1990, the Serbian share of Kosovo's population dropped from 23.6 percent to less than 10 percent, while the ethnic Albanian share increased in proportion because of a high birth rate and immigration from Albania. The demographic change was also the result of political and economic conditions; the postwar Serbian exodus from Kosovo accelerated in 1966 after ethnic Albanian communist leaders gained control of the province, and Kosovo remained the most poverty-stricken region of Yugoslavia in spite of huge government investments. After reasserting political control over Kosovo in 1989, the Serbian government announced an ambitious program to resettle Serbs in Kosovo, but the plan attracted scant interest among Serbian émigrés from the region.

In the republics of Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Serbs' situation was more complex and potentially more explosive than in Kosovo. Despite denials from the governments of both republics, Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina complained bitterly in the late 1980s about ethnically based discrimination and threats. The Serbian government reacted with published exposés of World War II atrocities against Serbs and the Croatian chauvinism that had inspired them.

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Page last modified: 20-09-2013 19:03:26 ZULU