About Serbia

About the Serbs
(Former Yugoslavia now Serbia)

Ethnic location: central and western part of the Balkan Peninsula (South-
East Europe)

Population: 10.2 million (1.8 million Serbs live outside their ethnic

Language: Serbian (Српски Језик)

Religion: Eastern Orthodox Christians

1 Introduction

Serbs belong to the South Slavonic group of Indo-European peoples. As
their tradition, culture, language, beliefs, and customs show, the ethno
genesis of Serbs goes far back into the past. Serbian ancestors,
Protoslavs and Old Serbs, were described in the 5th century BC by
Herodotus, under the names of Neuri and Budini, living north of the
Danube in the region between Dniepar and north-eastern Carpathian

The first mention of the name "Serbs" appears in the 1st century BC (69-
75), in the Historia naturalis by Plinius Caecilius Secundus, who states that
Serbs (Serbi) live on the coast of the Black Sea. In the 2nd century,
Claudius Ptolomaius writes in his Geographica that Serbs (Serboi, Sirboi -
Serboi, Sirboi) live behind the Caucasus, near the hinterland of the Black
Sea. The first mention of the Serbian name on their present ethnical
location appears in 822, in the work of Frank chronicler Einhardt (Annales
regni Francorum). He confirms that Serbs are very numerous in Dalmatia.

During the great migrations in Europe (5th to 6th century), Serbian
ancestors arrive to the Balkan Peninsula from several directions and settle
in the wide area between four seas (Black, Adriatic, Aegean, and Ionian).
It is on this location that the eldest Serbian feudal states Raska (later
Serbia) and Duklja (later Zeta or Montenegro) were formed. From the
second half of the 12th century Raska expanded by taking over the
Byzantine territory. The medieval Serbian state reached the height of
power under the rule of Nemanjic dynasty (1166-1371). From 1217 Serbia
was a kingdom, and from 1346 an empire. The Serbian Orthodox Church
acquired independence in 1219, thanks to its first Archbishop St. Sava
Nemanjic (1175-1235), a man of wide education, who inspired the revival
of Serbian literature, education, law and medicine. The medieval Serbian
state was most powerful during the reign of Emperor Dusan Nemanjic, who
consolidated the legal system of the empire by his Law issued in 1349
(with additions of 1354). Medieval Serbian art, architecture, and fresco
painting have been included into the World Cultural Heritage, sponsored
by UNESCO (monasteries Sopocani, Mileseva, Studenica).

An invasion by the Turks at the end of the 14th century cut short the
development of Serbian countries, and they fell under Turkish occupation
after the battles of Marica (1371) and Kosovo (1389). The occupation was
completed by the end of the 15th century and it lasted for several
centuries. The Turkish occupation was one of the most tragic periods in
the Serbian history. Serbian population was heavily taxed (harach) to
support the Turkish imperial machinery. But even more tragic was the
blood tax (danak u krvi) when pre teenage boys were separated by force
from their parents to be raised as Turkish soldiers (janicari), and pretty
young Serbian girls were taken to harems.

Serbian Orthodox churches and frescoes were destroyed and mutilated.
Rebellions were harshly punished - men were buried alive or impaled on
posts. Near the town of Nis, stands today a tragic reminder of the brutality
- skulls of Serbian people built into a tower (Cele Kula). Earthly remains of
St.Sava, the most worshipped Serbian Saint, were publicly burned by the
Turkish soldiers on the hill of Vracar in Belgrade.

On this sacred ground stands today the Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox
Cathedral. The Turkish occupation forced many migrations of the Serbs to
the west (up the White Craina in Slovenia) and the north (up to
Budapest). The greatest of the migrations happened in 1690, when Serbs,
led by Patriarch Carnojevic escaped to Pannonia (Austrian Empire). The
revival of the Serbian state started with the First Serbian Rebellion against
the Turks (1804-1813), led by Karadjordje Petrovic. It was also the first
instance of the break up of a feudal order after the French Revolution

From 1815, Serbia was a principality, and from 1882 a kingdom ruled by
the Obrenovic dynasty. During the Karadjordjevic dynasty (1903-1945),
Serbia liberated the territories of Old Serbia, Kosovo, and South Serbia
from the Turks (in 1912). In 1908 the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed
Bosnia, mainly populated by Serbs. After the assassination of the Arch-
Duke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the Empire declared war on
the Kingdom of Serbia. The Allies (France, England, Russia and USA)
sided with the Serbs.

The London Declaration of the Allies of 1915 recognized that the
traditional Serbian lands of Vojvodina, Lika, Dalmatia, Slavonija, Baranja,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, join
the Kingdom of Serbia. In 1918, the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro,
with the territories of Slovenia and Croatia, formed a new state - The
Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which in 1929 was renamed The
Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This multiethnic, multi religious state was headed
by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, the Liberator.

King Aleksandar was assassinated in 1934 in Marseilles, France, and
became the first victim of the growing Fascism in Europe. The Kingdom of
Yugoslavia was attacked in April 1941 by the Fascist Forces of the Axes
with Hungary and Bulgaria. The territory of Yugoslavia was occupied by
these Forces, and the Independent State of Croatia was created, which
declared war on the USA in December 1941. Serbia under occupation
provided home and shelter to thousands of deported Slovenes.

From 1941 to 1945, a systematic persecution and genocide was
committed against the Serbian people in both Serbia proper, Croatia and
Bosnia. About 1,000.000 Serbs perished. The most brutal were Croatian
Fascists, Ustashi. " We shall kill one part of the Serbs, we shall transport
another, and the rest will be forced to convert, " so said Dr. Mile Budak
Minister of Education and Creeds in Craoatia on July 22,1941. In the
concentration camp of Jasenovac, the most heinous crimes recorded in
history were committed on more than 700,000 men women and children. (
When in 1984 the Serbian Patriarch German consecrated the memorial
church in Jasenovac, he said "Forgive we must, forget we cannot.") It was
customary for Ustashi to torture Serbian people, tie them in bundles and
throw into pits. Examples of such crimes are numerous. In the village of
Prebilovci, near Medjugorje in Hercegovina, 870 people were massacred.
Nearly 50 years later their remains were exhumed and laid to rest in a
newly built memorial church. Both the church and the remains were
dynamited after the secession of Bosnia . in 1992.

In October 1941, the Nazi Germans executed over 7000 Serbs in the city
of Kragujevac, including classes of high school students during the school
session. In Vojvodina, Hungarian Fascists killed by drowning in ice covered
rivers of the Danube and Tisa thousands of Serbian men, women and
children. In 1941, General Draza Mihajlovic and his followers, Chetniks,
organized the first armed resistance in the Nazi occupied Europe. As a
Royalist, he opposed the Communist Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito.
During the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, General Draza
Mihajlovic and his Chetnics saved over 500 downed allied pilots mainly
from the United States.

In recognition, General Mihajlovic was awarded posthumously The Legion
of Merit by President Harry S. Truman (March 1948). General Mihajlovic
was captured by Tito's Communists and executed in 1946.

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was abolished by the Communist Decree in
1945. Yugoslavia was one of the founders of the United Nations.

The parliamentary life in Serbia has a very long tradition. In the Nemanjic
times, in medieval Serbia, there were Councils of Lords. One characteristic
of Serbian social system is a developed local government - local councils
and country meetings were instances where all decisions were made
during several centuries. Serbs retained this kind of local administration
even under the Turkish occupation. In the newly established Serbian state
(from 1804) national conventions were held regularly, and the first, very
democratic Constitution was introduced in 1835. At the beginning of the
20th century (1903-1915) Serbia had a highly developed parliamentary
system, according to European standards.

From 1945 Serbia was under the communist one-party rule. The
parliamentary system with several political parties (Socialist Party of
Serbia, Democratic Party, Serbian Revival Movement, Serbian Radical
Party, etc.) was reintroduced in 1990. There is a strong Student Movement
in the country. It organized protests in 1954, 1968, the 1992 strike, and
has become a major political force since November 1996, being
transformed into a Student Parliament in 1997 and continuing the
struggle for the autonomy of universities. In 1991/92 the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia as a multiethnic, multi religious and multicultural
state ceased to exist after the unilateral, unconstitutional secessions of
the Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and

In 1992 the Security Council of the United Nations imposed the most
draconian economic sanctions on the remaining republics of Serbia and
Montenegro, which today constitute the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

2 Ethnic location

The eventful Serbian history, full of wars, occupations and migrations that
ensued from them, influenced strongly the location and migrations of

They live in the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, in the Serbian
Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until the exodus of August 1995,
they also lived in the Republic of Serbian Craina in Croatia.

The population consists of 16,282,000 people, 8,500,000 living in the
above-mentioned ethnic locations, 1,782,000 in the republics of former
Yugoslavia, 60,000 in neighboring countries, 882,000 in other European
countries, 720,000 in North America, and about 170,000 in other parts of
the world.

3 Language

Serbs speak Serbian language. Old Slavs had a special kind of literacy,
but when they reached the Balkan Peninsula, they developed (under the
influence of Christianity and the Greek alphabet) a particular Slavonic
literacy (from 863) with a special alphabet (glagoljica). From the 10th
century it was perfected and became known as Cirilica (Cyrillic alphabet).
First documents written in Old Slavonic date from the 9th and 10th
centuries, and those in Serbian language from the 11th century (Temniski
zbornik - The Book of Temni). Following the linguistic and spelling reforms
by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic (1787 - 1864), based on the rule "write as you
speak", and "one sound one letter", the folk language became Serbian
literary language, with phonetic orthography. Thus, Serbs have the
simplest orthography and the most perfect alphabet in the world. Serbian
language is a very developed language (more than 800,000 words) with
rich and detailed grammar (nine kinds of words, seven cases, three
genders of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and precise expressions
for active and passive states or the times of action). Depending on the
pronunciation of the Old Slavonic sound "yat" Serbian language has three
dialects: ekavski (child = dete), ijekavski (child = dijete), and ikavski
(child = dite). Serbian Christian names indicate some basic qualities of
the person, i.e. Stojan (postojanost - steadiness), Ratko (ratnicka vrlina -
warrior qualities), Miroljub (peace-loving, mir = world- peace), etc. They
also derive from trees, flowers, or animals, especially female names, e.
g.: Borko (m.) or Borka (f.) (bor = pine), Golub (pigeon), Cveta (flower).
Many names derive from Christian tradition, e.g.: David, Nikola, Petar,

Serbian language has very precise terms for defining family relationships,
both on father's and mother's side, and marriages are not allowed down
to the cousins seven times removed. Definitions in the family genealogy
are varied up to the ninth or even fifteenth level of relationship, both in
the direct line and sidelines in the genealogical tree. Every family
relationship has a particular term to denote it, and some have even more
terms. To name only some of them: otac (father), mati (mother), sin
(son) kci (daughter), unuk (grandson), unuka (granddaughter), deda
(grandfather), baba (grandmother), brat (brother), sestra (sister), stric
(uncle - father's brother), ujak (uncle - mother's brother), svastika (wife's
sister), zaova (husband's sister), surak (wife's brother), dever (husband's

4 Folklore

Serbian folk believed that the Balkans were inhabited by different half-
gods or demons: dragons, fairies, vampires, witches. The greatest heroes
of the Serbian folk tradition were born out of the union of dragons with
mortal women, or fairies with mortal men. The dragons protect people,
defend the faith, care about fertility, and keep off demons that carry on
disease. Their offspring begotten with mortals are branded with a special
"dragon sign" and are exceptionally brave and capable. Many heroes of
the epic oral poetry belong to this sort of people - Milos Obilic, Banovic
Strahinja, Kraljevic Marko. There are also water dragons, carriers of
negative influences. Fairies of Serbian beliefs remind us of Greek
nymphs. They live near running waters - springs, rivers, and when angry
they stop their flow. They also live in the clouds and they can give
exceptional strength to warriors whom they had fed with their milk.

There are three main myths in the Serbian folk and popular tradition. The
most important among them is the Kosovo legend, which grew around the
terrible defeat suffered by the Serbian army, annihilated by Turks at the
battle of Kosovo in 1389. Events connected with that historical tragedy
acquired mythical proportions in the folk tradition and folk poetry, and
took on many details and meanings derived from the Christian tradition.
Thus Prince Lazar and his knights became identified with Christ and the
martyrs, the Prince's son-in-law Vuk Brankovic with Judas, and Milos Obilic,
who slew Turkish sultan Murat, with saintly warriors.

Another historical personage became the bearer of a myth. Prince Rastko
Nemanjic (1174 - 1235) became monk Sava, and in time was elected the
first Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Different traditions and
legends grew around his character - with the passage of time - he is
supposed to have thought the Serbs to till the land, to build watermills, to
keep flock. He was able to open springs in dry rocks by his wand, he
fought the . devil, he mastered the wolves, he created dogs to keep the
flocks, etc. He is also celebrated as a national saint.

Prince Marko (around 1335 - 1395) also became a folk hero, the most
popular character in the folk poetry of all the Slavonic peoples in the
Balkans (Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians). Many traditions joined in the
building up of this mythical hero - the old Greek stories of Heracles,
historical facts (Marko was heir to the Serbian medieval empire), traditions
of chivalry, and the idea of a folk hero. He was strong, just, brave, he had
a winged horse, and he wielded a club with which he fought both mortals
and supernatural beings.

Children's folklore retained many elements of old customs and rituals. It
contains many songs and games that initiate a child into ideas and
concepts of life. It is through such songs and games that a child learns to
synchronize its movements, to pronounce words correctly, to count. When
the stage of group games is reached, it is through traditional games
("ducks") that a child learns to differentiate between basic and irrelevant

With such games a child gets to know about agriculture, cattle breeding,
crafts. Girls play with dolls, boys play "heroic games" (wrestling, jumping,
stone throwing), preparing for their role in adult life. Some of the adult
games have survived only in children's folklore, with some reminiscences
of more serious magic rituals. Most of these games develop abilities and
quickness in children and teach them to use things from their
environment - sticks, stones, dry fruits, etc. Some of them can even be
dangerous if the players are not cautious or skilled enough.

5 Religion

In the early Middle Ages Serbs accepted Christianity, and according to
1991 . census, 95% of population belong to Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The old Slavonic pagan religion that Serbs had brought from their former
habitations survived for a long time along with Christianity. The cult of the
ancestors and the belief in the life after death, survived in the Memorial
Feasts at the Graveyards (zadusnice), days when people visit the graves,
light candles for the souls of the dead, and offer food and drink. There
are four main zadusnice feasts, always on Saturdays, usually on a second
Saturday before the beginning of the Lents (Easter Lent or Christmas
Lent), the Saturday before the Holy Trinity Day, before Saint Kiriak's Day
(12th October), and Saint Demetrius Day (8th November). In some strata
of Serbian society, especially among the elderly, some superstitions and
pre-Christian beliefs (malignant eyes, fairies, witches, vampires, unclean
objects) persisted until the fifties of this century.

Traditional beliefs, many of them changed by the influence of Christianity,
survived in ritual processions down to the 20th century, and then changed
into popular entertainment or tourist attractions, like lazarice - a
procession of maids on Lazarus Saturday, or koledari - a procession of
masked youths at Christmas.

6 Major holidays

Serbs honor the Christian religious feasts very much: Christmas Day,
Epiphany, Visitation of the Virgin, Palm Sunday, Eastern Sunday,
Ascension Day, Holy Trinity Day, Transfiguration, are duly honored by the
church and the laity. Christmas Eve (6th January) is widely celebrated as a
family feast which retained many traces of older pagan beliefs and the
cults of ancestors. On the morning of that day a dry oak branch and hay
are brought into the house as symbols of fertility and family prosperity in
the next year, and a meal of non-animal Lent foods is partaken by the
family (a Christmas Eve cake, baked beans and walnuts).

The main national saint, Saint Sava (Sabba), is deeply honored by Serbs
and celebrated on 27th January by schools (he is the patron saint of
education), many artisan guilds and families. Saint Vitus' Day (28th June)
is a great national feast, in which the memories of the old Slavonic God
Vitus joined with the memory of the terrible defeat of the Serbs in the
Kosovo Field in 1389. Other popular saints' days connected with many folk
customs, are St. George's Day (6th May), St. Demetrius' Day (8th
November), formerly celebrated by cattle breeders, as well as St. Eliah's
Day (2nd August), on which some customs reaching back to the
celebration of old Slavonic god Perun have still remained.

There are three special kinds of religious feasts among Serbs: slava - the
patron saint of the family, zavetine or litije - the village patron saint's day
procession, and zanatlijske slave - patron saints' days of different guilds.
It is believed that people who celebrate the same slava are brothers and
have a same ancestor. There are about 150 patron saints, the most
popular among them being St. Nicholas, St. Archangel Michael, St.
George, St. Demetrius, and St. John. In former times slava was celebrated
for seven days, but today there are only three days of slava celebration:
navece (the day before), slava (the saint's day itself), and okrilje or
sutradan (the day after). On that occasion the family is visited by kumovi
(godfathers and best men), friends, relatives from the female line and
neighbors. Obligatory slava objects are the icon of the saint, a tall candle
and a spring of dried basil. There are also ritual dishes: slavsko zito
(boiled and kneaded wheat grains) and slavski kolac (slava loaf, an
especially adorned ritual bread), blessed by priest before the main meal.
Slava is accompanied by toasts that are gems of folk oratory, and by

7 Rites of passage

a. The cycle of the year

Serbian folk tradition divides each year into two half-years, winter and
summer ("from St. Demetrius to St. George's Day", i.e., from 8th
November to 6th May, and "from St. George's Day to St. Demetrius"). In
the winter half, earth is tilled, seed is sown, and its growing watched. The
watch was accompanied with prayers to ancestors and when the crops
began to grow (around Easter), the ancestors were relegated back to the
"other" world.

The summer half of the year was devoted to the collection of crops and
fruits. When the granaries and basements were full, in the autumn,
weddings took place, and the succession of feasts began. Most of the
slavas fall in autumn, and they commemorate both one's Christian patron
saint and one's family ancestors. In the winter half of the year there are
also several kinds of masked processions in villages ( koleda, dodole,
lazarice), with ritual songs and actions intended to contribute to general

b. Life cycle

Serbs take birth, marriage, and death to be the main turning points in
human life. Up to the recent times they believed that birth and death were
passing from one world into a parallel one, and back. Death in one of
them means birth into another and vice versa. Both worlds rejoice in those
who arrive and mourn for those who go away. Both consider the Earth to
be their original ancestress. A midwife used to lay a new born child on the
earthen floor for a moment as if it had come out of the earth. The act of
burial was the act of birth in reversal. The child of earth, the dead, is
brought to the graveyard, a holy location fenced off as earth's womb. The
gates of the earth (similar in shape to female genitals) are broken open
and the earth's child is laid down into earthen womb from which it
originally came. Ritual customs surrounding a mother and her baby during
the first 40 days after birth are parallel to those appropriate for the 40
days after death.

The marriage ceremony is not only the establishment of connections
between two families. It is also a special rite of passage, the initiation rite
for youths and maidens. Oral folk poems follow every step of this most
important event in human life, from ritual ablutions, dressing and
bedecking the bride with ornaments, to her leaving the home and arriving
into her new family.

8 Interpersonal relations

Serbs are open, direct, and warmhearted people, cautious and reserved to
strangers at first, but very friendly, curious and helpful, once they get to
know them. Salutations are obligatory at encounter, as a sign of good will,
honest intentions, and good manners. They can be verbal, hand shakes,
cheek kissing. In old times the formula for salutation was "God helpsS
(Pomaze Bog), answered by "God help you" (Bog Ti pomogao), a
blessing. Today the usual formula of greeting is "Good day" (Dobar dan),
"Good morning" (Dobro jutro), "Good evening" (Dobro vece). At parting
one says "See you" (Dovidjenja), "Good night" (Laku noc). Travelers are
seen off with words "Lucky journey" (Srecan put). Handshakes are used,
with appropriate greetings, between acquaintances, friends, and equals,
and kisses are exchanged between close relatives, godfathers (kumovi),
and blood brothers. When coming to a family gathering, slava, or some
other feast, guests exchange kisses with host and hostess, kissing their
cheeks three times.

Stiff bearing indicates haughtiness and putting one's chest forward
challenge. Agreement is expressed by nodding, and disagreement by
shaking one's head from left to right. Surprise is denoted by hitting one's
forehead with a hand, and confusion by scratching one's head behind the
ear. Winking denotes a secret message, thumb between the index finger
and the third finger (sipak) as well as hitting the bent elbow of the left
arm with the right hand means rude refusal, offense and contempt. It is a
rule that a younger person greets the elder, the guest greets the host, a
rider greets a pedestrian, a man greets a woman, and a passer by - those
sitting or standing. Formerly, elder or important people were greeted by
bowing, kissing their hand, and taking of caps.

When coming on a visit it is a must to bring some gift. The quality and
the cost of the gift depend on the kind of the visit or the attitude toward
the host, so gifts range from drinks, coffee, or flowers, for a short friendly
visit, to expensive gifts for slavas, family feasts, birthdays, and weddings.
Boys and girls met, danced and played together on the occasion of great
feasts, or in the evenings after important work in the field (harvest,
husking corn, or carding wool), but always in the presence of reliable older
persons. From the middle of the 20th century, meetings of the young
people and their entertainment in the streets or restaurants goes on
without any control either in towns or villages.

9 Living conditions

Apart from the migrations caused by wars and foreign occupation, Serbs
were, until the middle of the 20th century, very attached to their home
counties and lived mostly in places where they were born. From that time
migrations to industrial and cultural centers began, as well as mass
economic immigration, mostly to the countries of Western Europe. This
caused depopulation and aging of Serbian villages. Health care and
health culture have much improved. All the larger towns have hospitals,
large health centers and pharmacies, and many villages have small
health centers with doctors on duty. The preventive medicine cut the
appearance of many diseases, and in general, Serbs have a healthy
young . generation.

The family budget is mainly spent on food, clothing, home appliances and
cars, then on holidays and vacations, and on building of weekend houses.
Serbian settlements are very varied, because of the natural and
geographic conditions, as well as the social, economic, and historical
differences in the development of particular areas. There were several
types of settlements in the near past, but they have become increasingly
uniform at present. There were stone houses along the coast of the
Adriatic, log houses in mountains and woods, brick houses in the Morava
valley, and mud houses in Pannonia. Each of these types had its own
internal arrangement, building techniques and external shape. Today
these differences are lost, houses are built of brick and concrete, their
form is modern, and many village houses have several stories. It is a
matter of prestige to build large houses with pools, wrought iron fences
and other luxuries. Most Serbs belong to the middle class, which is a
consequence of limitations imposed on private ownership in former
Yugoslavia. In the last few years, a smaller part of population and quite a
few of agile individuals are getting rich quickly.

There is a developed train, road, and river traffic, carrying people and
goods. The village carts, once very popular like horse drawn vehicles, are
rarity now, and many villages have good asphalt roads.

10 Family life

Women are always the mainstay of Serbian families, with men often away
- in wars or working and traveling around, plying their jobs, arts, or trades
in cities. Left alone to care about the whole farm a woman had to take
over man's work as well, and accept it as her chores, which made life very
hard for Serbian women. But it added value to the old cult of motherhood
that had always existed among the Serbs, and confirmed the honor and
distinction of women in Serbian society. An average Serbian family today
consists of parents and children. The census of 1863 described an
average Serbian household to have 6.5 members against 4 members in
1961, Now it has 3.5 members. In the earlier centuries Serbs lived in large
family communities (zadruga). The families are monogamous, marriage
is a great event and there are very luxurious wedding feasts,
accompanied with many customs and ritual actions by which success,
happiness, fertility, and wealth should be assured to the newlyweds
(sprinkling the newly wed couple with wheat grains, ritual introduction of
bride into the new household and thus, symbolically, into the cult of
ancestors). Apart from the civilian marriage (which is the only legal
marriage), many young people marry in church nowadays. Village
households have domestic animals as a rule, and many families in the
cities keep pets (dogs, cats, birds, fish).

11 Clothing

Until the end of the 19th century, women produced material and made
dresses for themselves and their families. Then the professional dress-
making took over, in towns and later in villages. Traditional Serbian folk
costumes developed through ages and reached the summit of beauty and
elegance by the end of the 19th century. Differences among the costumes
are very great and depend on the region from which they come, so that
the variety and perfection of the work are a wonder of imagination and
craft of the folk. Whatever the differences, these costumes are all of
appropriate cut, which allows freedom of movement and walking, and
assures the perfection of handwork, from the making of the materials to
the rich embroidery, done with thread, cord, silver buttons and gold
ornaments. Serbian traditional male costume consists most often of
tanned cow leather shoes, with upper part decorated with leather strips
(opanci), and the tip upturned above the toes (nos). The leather strips
keep them fastened to the legs. In some parts (Slavonija, Vojvodina),
village people wear rubber shoes and boots. Socks and half-socks
(nazuvice) are of knitted wool, often done in a decorative pattern.
Trousers have the shape of knickerbockers (caksire), with linen underwear
beneath them (gace). A strong and wide, finely woven sash, with
decorative pattern, serves as a belt (tkanice). Over the embroidered white
shirt of linen or silk, a short sleeveless jacket of waterproof cloth (gunjic -
jelek), or a larger, lined, long sleeved, braided with cord, jacked (anterija)
is worn. The head is covered with a fur cap (subara) or hat, and from the
end of the last century, with a special national cap (sajkaca), which was a
military cap at the time. In winter and rain, one wore capes of strong cloth
or leather, with a hood.

Traditional Serbian female dress consists also of opanci, embroidered
woolen socks that reached to the knees and nazuvice. Skirts were very
varied, of plaited or gathered and embroidered linen, with tkanice serving
as a belt. An important part of the costume were aprons (pregace)
decorated with floral motifs. Shirts were in the shape of tunics, richly
decorated with silver thread and cords was worn over the shirt. In some
areas it was replaced by an upper sleeveless dress of red or blue cloth,
knee-long, richly decorated and buttoned in front (zubun). Scarves and
caps bordered with cords were worn as headdress. Girls also wore collars,
or a string of gold coins around their throats, earrings, bracelets, and their
caps were decorated with metal coins or flowers. Young people do not wear
this kind of costume nowadays. It can be seen on elderly villagers, as
tourist attraction, or in museums. From the 19th century on, Serbs have
adopted the usual European way of dressing.

12 Food

Serbia is rich in agricultural and cattle breeding produce, vegetables and
fruit, so it is natural that Serbs have a very strong interest in food. They
take three meals a day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and five meals
during the exhausting summer work in the fields (breakfast, small
collation, lunch, collation, and dinner). Serbs eat a lot of wheat bread,
made with or without yeast. A special bread without yeast, pogaca, is
made for special occasions. In former times proja (a kind of corn bread)
was more common. Bread is also made of barley, millet and rye in the
mountains. Cheese, cream cheese (kajmak), boiled eggs and ham
(smoked or dry) are served as hors d'oeuvres. They are followed by
consommés and soups (like the famous Backa soup made of four kinds
of meat). Vegetable dishes made of string beans, potatoes, and cabbage
are very popular. The "wedding feast cabbage" is a special culinary treat,
made of large chunks of cabbage, mixed with several kinds of meat and
spices and boiled for 12 hours at least. Different dishes made with beans
are also very popular, as well as paprika and sour cabbage (sauerkraut)
leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and spices (sarma). There are
various salads: the most popular, srpska is made of tomatoes, paprika,
onions and dressing, and its variety with cheese is called sopska.. Sour
and sharp paprika filled with cheese and sour milk (yogurt) are also
served very often. Meat is eaten in all forms (boiled, fried, roasted), in
many kinds of dishes made of pork, beef, mutton, kid or chicken, or (as
the Serbs prefer) roasted on a spit. Fish is also popular, and regions
along the Danube are famous for their fishermen's pots (alaska corba).
Pitas are made with many fillings, salty or sweet, the most common sort
being gibanica (pita leaves filled with cheese, cream and eggs). On feast
days there is an abundance of different dishes, 12 sorts of small cakes
and several large cakes. These dishes are accompanied by brandy
sljivovica (plum brandy), cool or warmed up, by many good local wines,
home made fruit juices, and coffee to end the feast.

13 Education

The first written data about education of Serbs belong to the 9th century,
when the first school was opened by Christian missionaries and
educationalists Cyril and Method, the creators of Slavonic literacy. In the
Middle Ages Serbian monasteries were centers of education and they
remained to be so during the dark ages of Turkish occupation (14th -
19th centuries). At the beginning of the 18th century, the Serbs who fled
to Austria opened several higher schools there. Education received a
strong inspiration by the re-establishment of the Serbian state in 1804,
and many secular schools began to appear, together with the Great
School, an embryo of University in Belgrade, in 1808. Between the two
world wars, basic education (four years) became compulsory for girls too,
and after World War Two a compulsory eight year education was
introduced. Almost whole generations (95% of pupils) go forward to high
schools (there are about 500 of them in Serbia). There are six
universities, with 76 faculties, that receive 130,000 students every year,
and 60 highly specialized schools (with two year courses), entered by
40,000 students every year. Unfortunately, many young people go abroad
every year after having finished their education (brain drain). Parents
strive to provide for the education and specialization of their children,
expecting them to continue with independent life and work, to provide for
their families, and enter the economic and social life of the country.
Education is free for all.

14 Cultural heritage

a. Literature

The first period of Serbian literature belongs to secular and church
literature. The secular has not been so well preserved as the church one in
the upheavals of later times. It is represented by stories and novels
written in the contemporary literary fashion. The most original literary
genre of that time, a cross between secular and church literature, are
biographies of Serbian kings and archbishops. Their authors belong to the
ruling Nemanjic dynasty (St. Sava, Stevan Prvovencani), or distinguished
feudal families (Domentijan, Danilo). After 1690, Serbia was covered by
complete silence - people copy old works, nothing new was written. The
new age began with the work of great lexicographer, collector of folk oral
literature, and reformer of Serbian alphabet - Vuk Karadzic. At the
beginning of the 19th century, Serbian literature adhered to folk realism,
later replaced by social and national realism. Other literary trends, like
Enlightenment (Dositej Obradovic) or Romanticism (P.P.Njegos, J.P.
Sterija), did not develop fully. There are two main literary tendencies in
the new literature: one started from national standpoint without getting
further (S.Sremac, B.Stankovic, P. Kocic, A. Santic), the other was inspired
by European spiritual movements and strove to join European trends (L.
Kostic, J. Ducic). Literary creation of the new age reached its maturity and
exceptional value with the generation of writers who wrote between the two
wars: Nobel prize winner Ivo Andric, and Milos Crnjanski were among
them. Literature after World War Two was also of high value. The national
line was sustained by D. Cosic, M. Selimovic, and B. Copic in prose, Lj.
Simovic and M. Beckovic in poetry. M. Pavic and D. Kis in prose, and D.
Maksimovic, V. Popa, and M. Pavlovic in poetry, followed the European
literary trends. Oral folk literature lived and grew along with the written
one. There were two independent attitudes toward literary creation in it.
We can recognize folk literature born in or left over from ancient rituals. It
represents national folk "religious literature" (koleda, lazarice, dodole,
songs sung on St. George's and St. John's Day (7th July), kraljice,
octosyllabic epic poems sung in kolo, ritual circle of poems in decasyllabic
verse, puzzles and fables). The other distinctive form is the "secular folk
literature", It consists of poems originating from no longer recognizable
rituals, of love and family songs, or songs sung during work. The greatest
part of oral epic poems, that represent a special kind of "national history",
belong to this kind of folk literature. They are a memory deposit of those
events in the national history that should be remembered. Folk anecdotes
are a special kind of "pulp fiction", containing piquancy and details "not
worthy" of epic poetry. Short folk stories, rich in motives, structurally
complex, are similar to kinship poetry from any part of the world. The
verse of folk poems varies: lyrical poems range from four to thirteen
syllables, but octosyllabic and decasyllabic verse prevail in this genre. Epic
poems are mostly in decasyllabic, a considerable number of them being
in octosyllabic verse. Some are in so-called "long verse" of fifteen or
sixteen syllables (bugarstice).

b. Music

When Serbs arrived to the Balkans from their old Slavonic homeland, they
brought with them the old music of that part of the world. In meeting with
the remnants of cultural tradition of the old inhabitants of the Balkans,
and a gradual assimilation of the indigenous population, have made the
Serbian music acquire a different, Balkan sound. By accepting Christianity
at the end of the 9th century, Serbs fell under enormous influence of
Byzantium. Both church music composed in monasteries, and secular-
courtly music played at feudal courts, developed at that time. Most of the
texts of the old Serbian music (15th and 16th centuries) have been
preserved in the Chilandar monastery on the Mount Athos. At the
beginning of the 19th century it became evident that Serbian music (folk,
church, artistic) had a tendency to adapt itself to contemporary European
concepts of music. The most popular forms were choral music and music
accompanying plays (Kornelije Stankovic, Stevan Mokranjac). Ever since
the time of Romanticism one could see the composers striving to find
inspiration for their music in Serbian folk music and old church music (M.
Milojevic, P. Konjovic, S. Hristic, Lj. Maric, V. Milankovic, S. Bocic, J.
Marinkovic), but also to go a step further (V. Mokranjac). The
development of radio and TV, record players and tape recorders, has
enabled young people in Serbia to listen to and to like the same music as
their generation around the world. The young also like to listen to the
native Serbian light music, composed on the basis of the traditional
sound, but in essentially modernized rhythm.

c. Dance

The most typical Serbian folk dance is kolo. In a kolo, the dancers form
an open or closed ring of people who hold each other's hands, belts,
shoulders, etc. Kolo is a symbol of the sun's circle. The dance is
accompanied by music, sometimes singing, but it can also be a so-called
mute kolo (nemo kolo). Kolo dances differ in rhythm, step and also by
the direction in which the dancers move. When kolo dancers move in the
direction opposite the usual one, it is a kolo for the dead (mrtvacko kolo).
At medieval Serbian feudal courts people danced dances that were
popular in Europe at the times. After a long period under the Turkish rule,
the revival of the Serbian state in the 19th century produced a new and
important opening to European influence. The process was evident in the
acceptance of modern dances. But kolo was a compulsory dance at the
Serbian court until the beginning of World War Two. It is danced at parties
today. The young eagerly accept new dances, in the same way as they
accept modern light music, rock and pop. Particularly popular dances are
those not requiring a particular partner. Such dances resemble ancient
communal rituals. Dance (both folk and floor) is taught in prep schools as
well as in specialized institutions. Classical ballet is also present, but the
young seem to prefer modern ballet, with much freer movement. Social
entertainment dances exist still among the folk. These are the dances of
skill and strength, agility and cleverness. Some of them help girls to grow,
others are intended for boys. They help in the process of initiation.
Dances of adults have lost the essential elements of ritual, so that they
are considered to be pure entertainment.

15 Work

Working habits and the preparation of young people for future
occupations and productive work began at an early age among the Serbs,
by including children into household chores, according to their age and
capabilities (taking care of chicken, then sheep, gathering of fruits,
teaching girls to knit, to take care of household chores, to weave cloth).
Although farming and cattle breeding were main branches of economy,
Serbs developed many crafts and brought them to perfection in the Middle
Ages (making of tools and arms, stone cutting, wood carving, goldsmithy,
pottery making, leather making). During the Turkish rule Serbs had to
produce everything they needed for themselves, so that craftsmanship
was highly valued, and a particular caste of craftsmen was formed.
Serbian craftsmanship suffered badly during the German occupation from
1941 to 1945, and it was strongly suppressed during the communist rule,
when all private business and individual initiative were cut down. But in
spite of all this, some traditional crafts have survived and remained
productive until the present day, like pottery and ceramics (Pirot,
Arandjelovac), making of traditional leather shoes (Sabac, Natalinci),
weaving of carpets with lively colored designs (Pirot and Dragacevo), hand-
knitting of woolen sweaters, caps, jackets (Sirogojno), and stone-cutting
(Bukovik and Banja).

16 Sports

Strength, endurance and quickness were fostered in numerous folk games
and contests. There are still some children's games that have their roots
in distant past. Some traditional adult games and contests were a kind of
chivalrous tournaments and they included long jump, stone throwing,
mounting a pole, and pulling a rope, regular disciplines in village sport
games that have been taking place annually until today. Football (soccer)
is the most popular of all contemporary sports. It was introduced by
Serbian students returning to Switzerland at the end of the 19th century,
and the first football clubs were founded in Belgrade as early as 1903:
"Soko" - "The Falcon" and "Srpski mac" - "The Serbian Sword". "Crvena
zvezda" - "The Red Star", one of the most popular Serbian football clubs,
won the European and the world championships in 1991. The quality of
Serbian professional football is reflected in the number of Serbian football
players playing for the best European and world clubs. Beside football and
excellent results in team sports (volleyball, basketball, handball, water
polo), the Serbs show great affinity for chess and fighting sports
(wrestling, boxing, judo). Sports events have wide audiences both on
playing grounds and on TV.

17 Entertainment

There are many occasions and reasons for Serbs to relax and enjoy
themselves (state and religious holidays, family gatherings, birthdays,
weddings, day of recruitment, end of the school year). Every village or
town has several days during the year devoted to community celebrations.
Instrumental and vocal concerts are often held in squares, sport
stadiums, or great halls, as mass entertainment, especially popular with
the young people. There are quite a lot of professional, amateur and
children's theaters and cinemas, but they do not have such large
audiences. The main entertainment of the population is watching
television, especially local and foreign serials and films. Video clubs are
numerous and popular, especially among the young. The young also
crowd disco clubs and dances in halls of culture and youth clubs, and
dance to the tunes of jazz, folk, rock and pop music, as well as the
national melodies. Parties at home are also popular among the young.

18 Folk arts, crafts and hobbies

Folk art was an important part of everyday Serbian life. Folk songs, tunes,
dances, and oral folk literature (now gathered in many volumes),
accompanied numerous human activities and filled the time of leisure.
The same applies to the naive painting and sculpture. The gravestones
(kraj puta si) have very original, witty, or clever epitaphs, and they are
decorated by multicolored images and scenes invoking the character of
the dead. Woodcarving, rich in floral and geometric ornaments, adorns
parts of houses (ceilings, doors) furniture, musical instruments and
household objects. Women decorate both their dress and household linen
and curtains with knitting or embroidery. A typical folk object are linen
embroidered pictures decorating the kitchen walls (kuvarice), once a
matter of prestige and a picture of housewife's cleverness.

19 Social life

In the second half of the 20th century Serbian society underwent a swift
social transformation, with migrations from rural to urban centers, and
economic transition from agriculture to industry. Although dynamic and
quick, these changes did not cause great social upheavals. Two main
problems are the lack of employment and the lack of housing. They were
aggravated by the destruction of former Yugoslavia in the early nineties of
the century, by the war in the neighboring regions, and the arrival of more
than half a million refugees, together with the imposition of international
economic sanctions. These events also caused numerous family problems
(mixed marriages, separated families, etc.). Human rights are not limited
in any way: men and women, different nationalities and social strata, all
have the same rights. With the end of ideological single-mindedness
imposed by communists (1945 - 1990), the civil rights and freedoms
began to expand towards the scope and standards that Serbia had had in
the earlier periods of its history. Starting from the native democratic
tradition and the love for freedom, Serbs are now striving to revive and
improve democracy in their country. Although the country is rich in wine
and brandy (especially the famous sljivovica), alcoholism has never been
a major social problem in the country. It does not include an important
percentage of the populace. The same applies to the problem of drugs.
They are taken by a smaller number of young people, mainly in larger