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Serbia Country Report: 2023

Mladić mural in Belgrade. Credit: Danas/B.Č.B.

Serbia Country Report

August 2023

By Bekir Hodzic, Genocide Watch

Genocide has defined Serbia’s modern history. During World War II, the Ustaše, a Croatian Nazi militia, committed genocide against Serbs, Jews, Roma and other non-Catholic minority groups. Chetniks, a Serb nationalist resistance force, committed genocide against Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims. These ethnic armies massacred hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs.

In Yugoslavia after Tito's death in 1980, Slobodan Milošević called for a "Greater Serbia" incorporating Serb populations in neighboring states. Serbia supported armed Serb militias to break away from Bosnia and join Serbia.

Slobodan Milošević stoked hatred between Yugoslavia's national, ethnic, and religious groups. After Croatia and Bosnia seceded, Serb paramilitary militias sought to "ethnically cleanse" them by expelling non-Serb populations from Serb areas, subjecting them to crimes against humanity, including forced deportation, mass rape and mass murder. At Srebrenica in July 1995, Bosnian-Serb forces committed genocide, murdering over 8,000 Bosnian-Muslim men and boys.

Map Image Credit: Britannica, Inc

The Serbian Army invaded Kosovo in 1998 to defeat Kosovar-Albanian rebel groups fighting for Kosovar independence from Serbia. Serb forces perpetrated war crimes against ethnic Albanians, including massacres of over 10,000 Kosovars, forced deportations, and mass rapes. US War Crimes Ambassador David Sheffer declared on April 9, 1999, "We point to indicators of Genocide." A NATO bombing campaign on Belgrade resulted in Serbia's surrender and Kosovo’s autonomy. Yet Serbia still refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) tried many Serbs for war crimes in Bosnia, resulting in high-profile Serb convictions. But in Serbia today, convicted war criminals are glorified by the government and media. Belgrade even contains a large mural devoted to Ratko Mladić, who ordered and carried out the Srebrenica genocide. Convicted war criminals hold prestigious political and social positions following their release from prison.

Denial dominates political discourse. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, denies Serb atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. School textbooks inculcate Serbian nationalism and incitehatred toward neighboring nations under the guise of patriotism.”

Media freedom in Serbia is restricted. Dissenting voices on television are silenced and the right to public assembly is curtailed. Recent protests against mass shootings drew vitriolic condemnations by officials. Tensions in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians have flared again, with violent ethnic clashes, Serbian military mobilization, and fear of renewed civil war.

Genocide Watch considers Serbia to be at Stage 6: Polarization and Stage 10: Denial. Genocide Watch recommends:

  • Serbia’s EU membership must be conditioned on an end to official genocide denial.

  • Serbia must cut ties with secessionist leaders in the Republika Srpska.

  • Serbia must reform its educational system to stop inculcating ethno-nationalism.

  • Serbia must recognize Kosovo's independence.

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