Most Serbs are Orthodox Christians. Religious freedom prevails and other ethnic groups can practice their religions. At the same time, the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church functions as something of a state church in practice.
The Serbian Orthodox Church has great influence in society and has been able to claim a number of benefits that other communities do not have, for example in the tax area.
During the 1990s, religion became an important part of people’s identity and was used in nationalist propaganda between the groups. The financial difficulties after the war seemed to further strengthen the position of religion. Poor areas with many Muslims, such as Preševo and Sandžak, have seen an increased Islamic influence. In a 2010 survey, 78 percent of those surveyed described themselves as religious, compared with 59 percent ten years earlier.
- Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Serbia, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.
Border agreements with the EU
The government and the EU sign an agreement that gives the EU border and coastal surveillance authority Frontex the right to work in Serbia, which borders four EU countries. Serbia lies along the so-called Balkan route for migrants from mainly Africa and Asia on their way to Western and Northern Europe. In 2015 and 2016, more than one million people are estimated to have used the Balkan route.
Trade agreement with Eastern Bloc
Serbia signs an agreement to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This is happening despite objections from the EU, which is largely skeptical of Serbia’s close relations with Russia. An EEU membership is incompatible with the EU membership that Serbia initiated negotiations on in 2014. When and if Serbia eventually becomes a member of the EU, the country must leave the EEU. In addition to Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the EEU. Serbia will be the first Member State that was not part of the Soviet Union.
“Mini-Schengen” in the Balkans
Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia decide to form what is called a mini-Schengen, with the EU’s passport-free zone as a model. The agreement is signed at a Novi Sad meeting by President Vučić as well as Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev of Albania and Northern Macedonia respectively. From 2021, it will be possible to travel between the countries with only ID cards, and free movement will also be achieved for goods, capital and services. It is hoped that the three other Western Balkan countries – Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro – will also join the agreement.
President attends demographic summit
President Aleksandar Vučić participates in a right-wing nationalist summit in Hungary focusing on what is called family policy – which means resistance to immigration and encouragement for Christian couples to have more children. The host, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has long advocated increased childbearing among Hungarians, while he strongly opposes immigration. Vučić says increased childbirth is also a priority in Serbia. Other participants include Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Continued demonstrations against the government
For the 37th Saturday in a row, protesters gather for new protest marches against the government under the slogan “1 in 5 million” (see February 2, 2019). They make demands for free and democratic elections, formulated in 42 points. Demonstrations during the slogan continued every Saturday, albeit to a lesser extent than at the beginning of the year. Several opposition leaders have said they will boycott the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2020 unless the entire sitting parliament resigns prematurely.
Critical life sentences are introduced
Approves a legislative amendment that introduces life sentences without the possibility of release in the criminal code; The decision on the amendment is made despite criticism from the Council of Europe – the law contravenes the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, which states that all life sentences must be convertible at any time. According to the new law, life inmates can have the sentence converted after 27 years in prison, except in the case of rape followed by murder or serious crimes against children or pregnant women. In those cases, no opportunity is allowed to have the sentence converted. So far, the maximum sentence in Serbia has been 40 years in prison.
Conversations with Kosovo should resume
Serbia and Kosovo agree that the EU-led negotiations will resume – even if a breakthrough in the deadlock between the countries fails – in connection with a Berlin summit between the EU and the leaders of the Western Balkans. Both French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel make clear to President Vučić and his counterpart from Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, that the conflict between the countries must be resolved if they are to move forward on a future EU membership. The situation is locked after Kosovo’s decision to impose 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia, as a result of Serbian lobbying to prevent Kosovo’s membership in Interpol (see November 2018).
Serbia promises help for Notre-Dame restoration
The government promises a million euros for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was severely damaged during Easter week. The gift is to confirm the friendship with the French people, it is called. Two government-run Serbian newspapers have attracted attention after the fire by writing that it constituted “God’s punishment” for Kosovo’s flag being in the cathedral, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of World War I 2018.
Demonstration in support of the President
Tens of thousands of protesters march in Belgrade in support of Aleksandar Vučić, in a force demonstration after months of opposition protests against the president. In addition to Serbia, protesters from Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Northern Macedonia and Montenegro participate. According to government-run media, the protest rallies over 100,000 people.
Jail sentences for journalist murder
Four former intelligence officers are sentenced to long prison sentences for the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija in 1999. Curuvija was the editor and owner of two independent newspapers and a harsh critic of the then president Slobodan Milošević. Reporters Without Borders calls the verdict “historic” as it is the first time in modern times anyone has been convicted of murdering a journalist in Serbia. The climate has hardened again, in 2018, seven journalists were exposed to physical attacks and nearly 100 media workers were exposed to threats or pressures.
The Presidential Palace is surrounded
Thousands of protesters surround and block the practice of the presidential palace in Belgrade for several hours. It is part of an escalation of protests against President Aleksandar Vučić, who is accused of authoritarian rule and of silencing the media. The night before, dozens of people have entered the state television company RTS premises. The protesters accuse RTS of joining the government’s lead band. Among those participating in the storm are the former mayor of Belgrade Dragan Đilas and Boško Obradović, leader of the Dveri right-wing party.
The protests enter the fourth month
For the 14th Saturday in a row, protesters gather to protest against Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. In Belgrade, more than 10,000 people participate and demonstrations are also being conducted at over 20 other locations in the country.
The opposition is launching a boycott
The opposition Alliance for Serbia (SZS) is launching a boycott of the work of both the national parliament and several local assemblies, as part of the ongoing protests against President Aleksandar Vučić. The Alliance writes that the boycott will continue until he meets the protesters’ demand for “free and fair elections”. The Alliance also writes that it does not want to give legitimacy to a “totalitarian regime” that chokes all opposition and considers political rivals as state enemies.
Continued protests against the president
Tens of thousands of people are gathered again, now for the ninth Saturday in a row, in Belgrade and a host of other places to protest against President Aleksandar Vučić. The protesters use the slogan “1 in 5 million”, after Vučić dismissed the protests and said he would not give in to the demands “if you were 5 million”. The protests are held without any clear political profile other than opposition to the government, and the organizers are abstaining from formal support of the opposition bloc Alliance for Serbia. They demand free media and free choices.
Weekly protests against the president
For the seventh Saturday in a row, the opposition is organizing protest marches against President Aleksandar Vučić’s regime. Tens of thousands of people are reported to have participated in the marches in Belgrade and other cities. The demonstrations began on December 8 in protest against the attack of the leader of a small left party, Borko Stefanović, and beaten before a political meeting on November 23. The umbrella organization Alliance for Serbia, which encompasses parties from across the political scale, accuses the ruling SNS of being behind the attack, which the authorities deny. Vučić is accused by the opposition and voluntary organizations for governing monopoly and for taking total control of the media.
President of Russia on state visit
Tens of thousands of Serbs take part in a parade when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the country. Many of them have been bused in from other parts of the country to participate in the tribute of Putin and his Serbian colleague Aleksandar Vučić. Putin promises support and cooperation in a number of areas, accusing the United States of “destabilizing” the region.