Serbian General Information
Name of Country Serbia and Montenegro
Population 10.8 million people (July 2005 estimate)
Ethnic Groups Ethnic Serbs make up 62.6% of the population. Albanians, the largest ethnic minority, 16.5%, with ethnic Montenegrin 5%, Hungarians 3.3% and others 12.6% (1991).
Religions 65% of the Serbian population is Christian Orthodox, 19% are Muslims, 4% are Roman Catholics, 1% are Protestants and 11% practise other religions.
Languages 95% of the population speak Serbian and 5 % speak Albanian. The Cyrillic script is used. In Australia, if an interpreter is needed, it is important to book a Serbian interpreter for Serbian clients even though many Serbs may understand and speak Croatian.
After the emergence of the first Serbian state in the mid-tenth century (Raska) some family dynasties marked the course of Serbian medieval history. The Dynasty of Nemanjic (ca 1166-1371) ruled longest and established the First Kingdom of Serbia in the mid-14th century.
The Turks invaded Serbia at the end of the 14th century and occupied Serbia for over three centuries, during which Serbs were taxed to support the Turkish imperial rule. Pre-teenage boys were separated by force from their parents to be raised as Turkish soldiers and converted to Islam, and girls were taken to Turkish harems. Serbian Orthodox churches were destroyed and vandalised. After two Serbian uprisings in 1804 and 1815 and subsequent wars against the Ottoman Empire, the independent Principality of Serbia was formed and granted international recognition in 1878. Internal politics marked this period and revolved largely around the dynastic rivalry between the Obrenovic and Karadjordjevic families.
At the turn of the 20th century the Serbian dynasties entwined their foreign policy with neighbouring Europe. After the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in 1914 in Sarajevo, Austro-Hungary declared war and occupied Serbia. France, England, Russia and the USA sided with Serbia in the ensuing world war.
In 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established. In 1941 Germany attacked and occupied this kingdom. The western part of the country was turned into a German puppet state ruled by Croatian Fascists, who committed systematic persecution and genocide against the Serbian people. After World War II a new government headed by Josip Broz Tito took control and proclaimed the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. From 1945 Serbia, as well as six other Yugoslav republics, was under communist rule until 1990 when a multi-party system was introduced.
In 1991-1992, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural state ceased to exist after the unilateral secessions of the Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. The resulting conflict grew into a civil war for the next 6-7 years. The war in the Former Yugoslavia escalated particularly in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo until the involvement of NATO and USA forces.
After the war Serbia remained united with Montenegro in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). In 2001 the Serbian Government responded to international pressure and arrested former president Slobodan Milosevic on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power and extradited him to The Hague, The Netherlands, to face trial for war crimes. Western leaders then pledged more than $1 billion in economic assistance to FRY. In 2002 the Belgrade Agreement redefined Serbian and Montenegrin relationship as a joint federation, which was remodelled and renamed 'Serbia and Montenegro' in 2003.
History of Migration to Australia
This eventful Serbian history, full of wars, occupations and migration ensuing from them, strongly influenced the migration and location of Serbs.
The history and heritage of former Yugoslavian communities, such as the Serbian community, have added an important chapter to the history of multicultural Australia. The earliest recorded immigrants from the Balkans region came to Australia during the Ballarat gold rush in 1854. Following the outbreak of World War I people from the Balkans were interned in Australia as illegal aliens. They experienced racism from local communities and trade organisations.
In the period between the two World Wars economic and social conditions deteriorated in the Balkans and there was significant migration to Australia to escape high unemployment and dissatisfaction. The 1933 census estimates that there were 7,000 Yugoslav-born people in Australia.
Following the end of WW II, large numbers of displaced people from the former Yugoslavia migrated to Australia for political reasons, settled here and participated in post war development. In the 1950s Australia initiated a spate of inter-government agreements designed to assist non-British immigration. In 1970 an official migration document was signed between Australia and Yugoslavia. Yugoslav migration to Australia held steady into the 1980s, shifting its focus towards the poorer southern districts. The 1986 census recorded over 150,000 Yugoslav-born Australians.
During the civil war in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995) millions of people were displaced and fled to many parts of the world, including Australia. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia were the largest group of people accepted under the Australian humanitarian immigration program during the 1990s. Almost without exception, Serbs arrived as 'quota refugees'. This means they applied for refugee status from offshore, arrived with permanent visas and went through a government funded resettlement program. From 1999 to 2001 over 33,000 Serbian refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in Australia. 74% of the Serbs who settled in NSW from 1996 to 2001 were born in Bosnia or Croatia. 85% of those people are refugees. Ethnically, Serbs born in Bosnia or Croatia identify as Serbs, clearly linking themselves to other Serbs through their shared language, religion, etc.
The Serbian population in NSW settled mainly in Liverpool, Fairfield, Blacktown and Wollongong where many institutions now give community and cultural support. Language and cultural barriers seriously affect the resettlement of Serbian refugees in Australia. While Serbian people have a high rate of employment, Serbs with overseas university and other tertiary qualifications experience problems getting these qualifications recognised. There is a lack of government support and programs to employ university educated migrants.
Serbian Community in NSW
Approximately 19,700 people or 0.3% of the population living in NSW were born in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Approximately 20,500 people or 0.3% of the NSW population spoke Serbian. (2001 Census)
Some Cultural Aspects of Serbian Life
Serbia's heritage is based mainly on the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is very important in the religious, social and cultural life of Serbian people. Connection to the church is very strong and nearly every Serb celebrates Serbian Orthodox Christmas and Easter.
Much of Serbian music and dance has been based on Serbia's strong tradition of folk music, and even today modern musicians mix folk themes with street jazz and poetry. Serbian food is varied due to Serbia's close contact with other cultures such as Turkish, Hungarian and Greek.
In Serbia family is an integral part of community life and family honor is very important. Younger generations often live close to their relatives and all generations remain in close contact and supportive relationships with one another. Rights and duties in Serbian families are more often defined by family relationships than in contemporary Western societies. There are some inter-ethnic families, where partners from different ethnic origins married, e.g., a Serbian person married a Croatian or Bosnian partner. During the war in the 1990s many people fled for their lives, and had to leave some family members behind. As a result, many families have been torn apart and this has been extremely traumatic for the families concerned.
Attitudes towards People with Disability
There is much variation in the way people with disability are treated, but across Serbian communities attitudes generally tend to be negative. This negative view is generally stronger towards people with mental illness or intellectual disability than towards someone with physical or sensory disability. The community tends to be more supportive of persons with physical disability. Many people feel pity towards people with disability.
Family honor is an important part of Serbian community life. Sometimes this means that suffering is hidden and this may include hiding disability. When there is a family member with a disability often the whole family will experience social stigma. People will not want to marry into a family were there are family members with disability. A common belief is that disability is inherited and people are fearful of marrying into a family where a person with disability lived/ lives, in case the disability is passed on from one generation to the next.
Currently, Serbia has approximately 800,000 people with disability who are fighting for their rights and equal opportunity in Serbian society. Economic sanctions imposed on the Serbian government by the USA and European Union had negative effects on funding, treatment and support for people with disability in Serbia.
Current Serbian legislation states that people with disability have the same rights as other people in the community. In reality, however, this is not followed. For instance, people with disability have difficulty using public transport and accessing appropriate services or public buildings, such as hospitals, churches and post or police offices.
Due to the war in the former Yugoslavia, the number of people with disability, mainly physical disability and mental illness resulting from torture and trauma, increased greatly in Serbia. Disability became more common and visible in the community. People who acquired a disability because of the war were often more accepted after the war and since the war the stigma and isolation of people with a mental illness has reduced significantly. Overall, there appears to be more integration of people with disability in day-to-day life.
Many of the Serbian refugees who fled to Australia have experienced torture and trauma and the war has had a huge impact on their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. The effects of trauma have been an added pressure for Serbians who settled in Australia. Many people are accessing specialist services, such as trauma counselling here. Sometimes dealing with a 'new' war-acquired disability or the birth of a child with disability may trigger and magnify former trauma experiences from war. Torture and trauma are likely to play a role in most families and may emerge in any dealing with the Australian health or disability system.
Central Intelligence Agency (2005), CIA World Fact Book. [Internet], Washington, Central Intelligence Agency. <www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> [Accessed 30 June 2005]
Jupp, J. (1991). Immigration, Sydney University Press, Sydney, pp:69-81.Chapter Six: Populate or perish:post-war immigration, [Internet] Melbourne: Monash University. <www.arts.monash.edu.au/.../docs/jupp.html> [Accessed November 2004]
US Department of State. (2004). Background Notes: Serbia and Montenegro. [Internet], <www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5388.htm> [Accessed November 2004]
TESOL at Sydney University: References for teachers, [Internet], Sydney: University of Sydney. <www.alex.edfac.usyd.edu.au/...index.htm> [Accessed November 2004]
Serbian Medieval History. (n.d.),[Internet] Washington, D.C.: Serbian Unity Congress. <www.suc.org/culture...index.html> [Accessed November 2004]
History of Serbia, (n.d.), [Internet], Brainy Encyclopedia. <http://www.brainyencyclopedia.com/...history_of_serbia.html> [Accessed November 2004]
Anthropology of East Europe Review. Vol.11, Nos.1-2 Auturm, 1993 Special issue: War among the Yugoslavs [Internet], DePaul University. <www.condor.depaul.edu/~rrotenbe/...botev.html> [Accessed November 2004]
Central Intelligence Agency (2004), CIA World Fact Book. [Internet], Washington, Central Intelligence Agency. <www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/> [Accessed July 2005]
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