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Serbia–United States relations

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Serbian–American relations
Map indicating locations of Serbia and USA


United States
Diplomatic Mission
Serbian Embassy, Washington, D.C.United States Embassy, Belgrade
Ambassador Đerđ MatkovićAmbassador Kyle Randolph Scott

Serbia–United States relations are bilateral relations between the Republic of Serbia and the United States of America. They were first established in 1882 with the Kingdom of Serbia.[1] From 1918 to 2006, the United States maintained relations with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro), of which Serbia is considered the legal successor.[2]

At the end of the 19th century, the United States sought to take advantage of the Ottoman Empire's retreat from the Balkans by establishing diplomatic relations with the region's newly emerged nation states, among which was Serbia. The two countries were allies during World War I. After the war, Serbia united with Montenegro and territories previously held by Austria-Hungary to a create a unified South Slavic state that would come to be known as Yugoslavia. The country had diplomatic relations with the United States up to the start of World War II. During World War II in Yugoslavia, the United States supported the Serbian royalist Chetniks over their rivals, the communist Partisans.[3] The Chetniks ultimately lost out to the Partisans and Yugoslavia became a single-party communist state with Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito at its head. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Yugoslavia and the United States had little diplomatic relations. The end of the war also resulted in the mass emigration of refugees from Yugoslavia, many of whom were Serbs that ended up moving to the United States. This helped create the first major Serbian diaspora in the United States. Some of the Serbian refugees who settled in the United States after World War II were anti-communist exiles who attempted to undermine Tito during the Cold War, using the United States as a venue for their anti-communist aims.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia, the United States engaged in both combative and economic conflict, particularly with Serbia, known at the time as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (one of socialist Yugoslavia's successor states). The United States imposed sanctions and spearheaded a NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. During this period, another wave of Serbian emigration ensued, and many Serbian refugees moved to the United States. In the 2000s, diplomatic relations between the United States and Yugoslavia were restored, but were changed when Montenegro seceded in 2006, after which Serbia was the successor state to continue relations previously held by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, a move which the US recognized.



Diplomatic relations between the then-Kingdom of Serbia and the United States were established in the 19th century. In 1879, the Serbian Consulate-General in New York was opened. On February 3, 1882, the Serbian Parliament adopted a contract and Convention of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Serbia and the United States, given by King Milan Obrenović. The United States Senate adopted both documents on July 5, 1882 without debate or amendments. On November 10, 1882, Eugene Schuyler became the first United States ambassador in Serbia.[1]

US support of Serbian monarchists during World War II[edit]

A memorial plaque for Operation Halyard in Pranjani, Serbia.

During World War II in Yugoslavia, the United States initially supported the royal government of Yugoslavia. When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, the United States decisively supported the Chetniks in the first years of the war. This support took place in the form of extensive clandestine relations between the Office of Strategic Services and Chetniks with William Donovan's administration.[3][4] Such cooperation was highlighted by complex operations such as Operation Halyard, in which several hundred American pilots were rescued by Chetniks.[3] However, OSS support for the Chetniks was compromised by the United Kingdom's MI6 policy of favoring the Yugoslav Partisans over the Chetniks. In 1943, the US government's support for the Chetniks over the Yugoslav Partisans was such that president Franklin D. Roosevelt discussed with Winston Churchill in a private conversation that he imagined that Yugoslavia's boundaries would be completely redrawn into three separate states, with Peter Karađorđević Jr. being the monarch of an independent Serbian kingdom at the end of the war.[5] The USAF and the British RAF began bombing Belgrade indiscriminately in April 1944 when they thought that Nazi occupation could not be removed by home-grown resistance alone.[6] The United States intelligence circles gradually conceded its influence on Yugoslav guerrilla operations to the British. At the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman dedicated a Legion of Merit to Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović,[7] but the award wasn't revealed publicly until 2005.[8][9]

Cold War relations (1945–1991)[edit]

After the end of World War II, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) was formed. One of the first diplomatic contacts made with the new communist government was the US Department of State's request for the US Army to testify at the Mihailović trial.[10] However, the request was shunned and early relations between the United States and the government of Josip Broz Tito became strained, as American diplomats were furious over Mihailović's execution in 1946.[11][12] Relations degraded even further a month later, when two USAF C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft were shot down over Yugoslavia in the space of two weeks.[13] More USAF aircraft were shot down over Yugoslavia up to 1948.[14] As a result, U.S. senator Thomas Dodd staunchly opposed American financial aid to Tito's government,[15] even saying that "Tito had bloodied hands." In one of Josip Broz Tito's early visits to the United States, protesters in San Pedro drowned an effigy of him.[16]

The communist governments in Europe deferred to Stalin and rejected Marshall Plan aid from the United States in 1947. At first, Tito went along and rejected the Marshall plan. However, in 1948 Tito broke decisively with Stalin on other issues, making Yugoslavia an independent communist state. Yugoslavia then requested American aid. American leaders were internally divided, but finally agreed and began sending money on a small scale in 1949, and on a much larger scale 1950-53. The American aid was not part of the Marshall Plan.[17]

Yugoslavia began opening more diplomatic dialogue to western nations after the Tito–Stalin split, which assured that Yugoslavia was not to become a member of the Warsaw Pact. On January 1, 1967, Yugoslavia was the first communist country to open its borders to all foreign visitors and abolish visa requirements.[18] Regular commercial air travel between the United States and Yugoslavia was introduced with Pan Am and JAT Yugoslav Airlines.[19][20] Due to this, trade opportunities reopened between the United States and Yugoslavia, and American businesses began exporting to Yugoslavia. Likewise, by the 1980s Yugoslavia was even exporting many of its manufactured automobiles from Zastava Automobili's assembly line in Kragujevac to the United States. U.S. president Jimmy Carter discussed issues regarding Palestine and Egypt with Tito and referred to him as a "great world leader".[21] Subsequently, the Reagan administration presented their policies towards Yugoslavia in a Secret Sensitive 1984 National Security Decision Directive NSDD 133. "U.S. Policy towards Yugoslavia." A censored version declassified in 1990 elaborated on NSDD 54 on Eastern Europe, issued in 1982. The latter advocated "efforts to expand U.S. economic relations with Yugoslavia in ways which will benefit both countries" serving as "a useful reminder to countries in Eastern Europe of the advantages of independence from Moscow".

Serbian radicals in the United States during the existence of Yugoslavia[edit]

Nikola Kavaja hijacked American Airlines Flight 293 on June 20, 1979 with the intention of crashing it into the League of Communists building in Belgrade.

For much of the socialist period, the United States was a haven for many Serbian anti-communists living outside Yugoslavia. On 20 June 1979, a Serbian nationalist named Nikola Kavaja hijacked American Airlines Flight 293 from New York City with the intention of crashing the Boeing 707 into League of Communists of Yugoslavia headquarters in Belgrade.[22] The aircraft, however, landed in Shannon, Ireland, where Kavaja were arrested.[23]

A group of six Serbian nationalists, among them Boško Radonjić, placed a home-made bomb in the home of the Yugoslav consulate in Chicago in 1975.[24] Radonjić later became the leader of the Westies gang in New York City, where he participated in organized crime and racketeering.[25] He eventually became one of the most feared gangsters in the New York City underworld, and developed extensive friendships with Vojislav Stanimirović, John Gotti and the Gambino family. After Sammy Gravano turned John Gotti in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in December 1990, Radonjić was highly suspected to have attempted to fix the trial on John Gotti's behalf.[26] As a result of this, Radonjić was arrested on December 1999 during a spectacular rerouted plane going to Cuba to a lockdown at Miami International Airport when he was tracked down by the FBI.[27] He was arrested in the United States again in January 2000 for further investigation of the 1992 Gotti trial.[28] Upon release in 2001, he left the United States and moved back to Serbia where he lived until his death in 2011.[29] He was also an admirer and long-time friend of Radovan Karadžić until the latter went into hiding in 1996.[30]

In the 1980s, Vojislav Šešelj taught political science at the University of Michigan[31] after being expelled by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1981.[32] In June 1989, he traveled to the United States again to meet with Momčilo Đujić in San Marcos, California, where Đujić named him Chetnik Vojvoda (duke in Serbian).[33][34][35] He went on to form the Serbian Radical Party in 1991[36] and was accused by the ICTY tribunal of leading the Beli Orlovi militants in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in war-state Republic of Serbian Krajina.[37] Radovan Karadžić pursued post-graduate medical studies at Columbia University from 1974 to 1975,[38] but did so without any specific political agenda at the time being; he later became the war-time president of the Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War and subsequently went into hiding in Serbia until his capture in 2008 for ICTY charges of war crimes and genocide.[39]

Deteriorating relations and war with FR Yugoslavia (1991–2000)[edit]

Seated from left to right: Slobodan Milošević, Alija Izetbegović, Franjo Tuđman signing the Dayton Peace Accords at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on November 21, 1995.

The first form of sanctions initiated by the US against Yugoslavia took place already from 1990 as the Nickels Amendment, which was sponsored by senators Don Nickles and Bob Dole. The amendment was passed due to concerns about Albanians being arrested in Kosovo.[40] The amendment officially came into legal effect from May 6, 1992; although it applied only to $5 million-worth of US foreign aid, it was reported as instrumental in denying SFR Yugoslavia its last application for IMF loans[41] before its breakup and hyperinflation episode.

The breakup of Yugoslavia began in 1992, the territories consisting of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo composed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In the midst of the Yugoslav Wars, the United States as well as an overwhelming majority of states from the United Nations severed economic ties and imposed sanctions on FR Yugoslavia on May 30, 1992.[42][43]

The Panić–Ćosić–Milošević triangle and the United States[edit]

The Yugoslav government of the newly formed FR Yugoslavia (successor to SFR Yugoslavia) ended up having three ideologically-opposed leaders occupying executive positions. From 1992, while Slobodan Milošević was the president of the Federal Republic of Serbia, national theorist Dobrica Ćosić was named President of FR Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Milan Panić, a business magnate based in Newport Beach, California, accepted Milošević's invitation to be Prime Minister.[44] Panić was subsequently elected as Prime Minister in the 1992 Yugoslav parliamentary elections. The United States did not revoke Panić's citizenship even though his occupation of an executive position in the Yugoslav government clearly contradicted the United States Constitution.[45] Nevertheless, Panić would become a person of interest in US diplomatic circles, given his business and residence backgrounds. At a CSCE meeting in Helsinki in July 1992, US Secretary of State James Baker abruptly dismissed Panić's appeal to reduce the sanctions to Yugoslavia, even after an agreement (between Panić, Milošević, and Dušan Mitević) was reached by which Milošević would resign in return for sanction-relief. This ended up severely damaging Panić's unique diplomatic position internationally, as well as his standing in Yugoslavia. The Los Angeles Times published an article which described Panić as a doubtful upholder of potential American-Yugoslavian peacemaking,[46] when in fact, many years later made to be known, Panić was actually invited by Baker in the first place rather than voluntarily coming to Helsinki.[47]

Panić and former US ambassador to Yugoslavia John Douglas Scanlan cooperated on a deep level[48] in a campaign to challenge conservative politicians which echoed Baker's disapproval of giving Yugoslavia sanctions-relief in return for Milošević's planned resignation. One of Panić's advisors, academic Ljubiša Rakić, was dispatched to explain to Larry Eagleburger that the H.W. Bush administration was mistaken in seeing Panić as a Milošević puppet. Eagleburger replied, "Don't worry, we are going to do our own thing".[49]

The three-pronged government lasted only from May to December 1992, as Panić and Ćosić decided to challenge Milošević in institutionally-revised elections in December that same year. The December election ended up as a failure for the opposition to Milošević, as Ćosić pulled out of the campaign in the last moment due to health problems. Multiple politicians of the opposition parties criticized the US-instigated fossil-fuel sanctions in the midst of a cold 1992-93 winter, saying that they actually further helped sympathy for Milošević and not against him.[50]

Post-Dayton lull and US macroeconomic influence in Yugoslavia (1995–1998)[edit]

On November 21, 1995, Serbian president Slobodan Milošević travelled to the United States to sign the Dayton Peace Accords with Croatian president Franjo Tuđman and Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović near Dayton, Ohio. Months later, sanctions against Yugoslavia were finally lifted in October 1996.[51]

In 1997, a group of 17 economists wrote a letter titled "Program Radikalnih Ekonomskih Reformi u Jugoslaviji", advocating liberal macroeconomic policy by creating alarming predictions of the Yugoslav economy from 1998 to 2010.[52] Not by coincidence, the letter was first published by B92, arguably the most West-friendly media outlet in Yugoslavia at the time.[53] This would be the base for what would become a highly controversial political party in Serbia, G17 Plus, which began as an NGO funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.[54] The original writers of the 1997 letter subsequently divided, as some either shunned or even criticized G17's fundamentals, whereas others would end up occupying positions in the post-Milošević government from 2000.[53]

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia[edit]

Smoke from bombed Novi Sad's refinery in 1999.

The United States reinstated sanctions against Yugoslavia in March 1998 when the Kosovo War started.[55] Shortly after the controversies at Račak and Rambouillet, American diplomat Richard Holbrooke traveled to Belgrade in March 1999 to deliver the final ultimatum requesting entry of UN forces into Kosovo.[56] Milošević rejected the ultimatum, so the United States completely severed ties with Yugoslavia on March 23, 1999. Bill Clinton became the first president to declare war while bypassing a Congressional majority.[57] The establishment of the bombing campaign was contested by one of the tightest votings (213-213) in the entire history of the House of Representatives.[58] The United States declared war on Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999 to take part in Operation Allied Force led by U.S. general Wesley Clark.[59] Out of all the territories in Yugoslavia at the time, Serbia was bombed the most due to its concentration of military targets.[60][61] As a result of Slobodan Milošević granting entry to KFOR in Kosovo, the war against Yugoslavia ceased on June 10, 1999.[62]

Post-war relations[edit]

Bulldozer Revolution (2000)[edit]

A group named Otpor!, originally formed by students in 1998 with the financial assistance of USAID, International Republican Institute, and NED, was one of multiple significant participants in the Bulldozer Revolution, from which Milošević was overthrown.[63] USAID donated over $30 million for Otpor to "purchase cell phones and computers for DOS's leadership and to recruit and train an army of 20,000 election monitors" as well as to supplement them with "a sophisticated marketing campaign with posters, badges and T-shirts."[64] After the Bulldozer Revolution on October 5, 2000, the United States reestablished a diplomatic presence in Belgrade.[65] In 2013, the Associated Press published an article which reported that a CIA operative, Francis Archibald, participated in the organization of the October 5 coup and that the overthrow was "regarded inside the CIA as a blueprint for running a successful peaceful covert action".[66]

Transition with DOS and its party remnants (2001–2008)[edit]

Sanctions against FR Yugoslavia were lifted in January 2001.[67] The United States under the Bush administration denied giving any aid to Yugoslavia even several months after UN sanctions were lifted[68] before Vojislav Koštunica promised to cooperate with demands from The Hague regarding the Slobodan Milošević trial.[69]

In March 2001, American economist Joseph Stiglitz traveled to Belgrade to talk to a prominent Democratic Opposition leader, Zoran Đinđić, about the potential consequences of IMF-sponsored austerity.[70] On June 25, 2001, Stiglitz published a paper, "Serbia's Advantages in Coming Late", about the necessity for Serbia not to rush privatization and not to pursue "shock therapy", which was the established macroeconomic advise of the Bretton Woods institutions.[71] Đinđić, however, did not live long to analyze the advice of the Bretton Woods institutions or the anti-austerity plan of Stiglitz, as he was assassinated on March 12, 2003. This accumulated to a crescendo when G17 Plus got into an intense standoff with the Serbian government, composed mostly by DOS, due to the fact that G17 Plus continuously lobbied for the dissolution of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro.[72] Later, in May 2006, Montenegro declared independence from the Serbo-Montenegrin state union; the United States immediately respected the results and urged the new government in Podgorica to keep close ties with Serbia.[73] The United States recognized Serbia as the official successor state of the Serbia and Montenegro and the preceding Yugoslav state.[74]

Outside of fiscal policy, American influence was evident in executive positions. In September 2002, it was announced that the Military Court in Belgrade was to press charges against Momčilo Perišić, who was the vice president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time, for espionage in the favour of the CIA.[75] The trial never took place, although upon his release from The Hague on February 28, 2013, it was announced by Perišić's lawyer Novak Lukić that his client was "ready to be judged" on the same 2002 accusations of espionage.[76] As of 2015 no further investigation has taken place.

2008–12: Tadić era[edit]

The evacuated embassy of the United States in Belgrade after the 2008 Serbia protests.

On February 15, 2008, it was announced that the pro-Western Boris Tadić won the 2008 Serbian presidential election. The 2008 elections were particularly important to Serbia's relations with the United States, as the main challenging party which lost the election, SRS, disintegrated when Tomislav Nikolić split with Vojislav Šešelj over integration into the European Union. When Nikolić split from SRS and began pursuing a pro-European profile (a reversal from SRS's eurosceptic position), he was being advised by American lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates.[77]

Only a few days after this election result, the declaring of independence by Kosovo on February 17, 2008 spurred off widespread unrest in Serbia, during which the embassy of the United States was evacuated and then torched by a mob.[78][79] One man of Serbian nationality was killed inside of the embassy during the unrest.[80] Serbia temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Washington, D.C., but the U.S. embassy in Belgrade was closed only for several days. Ambassador Cameron Munter said that no degrading of relations were expected regardless of the unrest.[81]

SNS-era (2012–)[edit]

On April 19, 2012, shortly before the 2012 Serbian parliamentary election, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani traveled to Belgrade to attend a news conference with Belgrade mayor candidate Aleksandar Vučić.[82][83] The US Embassy to Serbia gave a statement that it did not support any specific candidate in the upcoming election.[84] Belgrade mayor Dragan Đilas slammed the conference which Giuliani attended, telling press that "Giuliani should not speak about Belgrade's future as a man who supported the bombing of Serbia."[85] After the 2012 presidential elections in Serbia, a large number of local news outlets and even some intellectuals interpreted Philip T. Reeker's visit to Belgrade in July 2012 as an attempt to create a parliamentary coalition between the Demokratska Stranka and the Serbian Progressive Party as opposed to the Progressive-SPS bloc which had been composed by the election results.[86][87][88] The election ultimately gave SNS along with its partners a victory, while Demokratska Stranka was removed into the opposition. The newly elected government ultimately continued largely the same Euro-Atlantic integration programs pursued by the Tadić administration. According to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, only 20% of Serbs approved of U.S. leadership, with 57% disapproving and 22% uncertain, the fifth-lowest rating for any surveyed European country that year.[89]

Immigration, brain drain, and professionals from Serbia[edit]

There is a sizable Serbian American diaspora in the United States; in 2007 a total of 172,834 people of Serbian nationality or descent were recorded to be inhabiting the U.S.[90] The first documented wave of Serbian immigrants to the United States was recorded in the 1970s when many Serbian factory workers emigrated to Detroit to manufacture automobiles for Ford.[91] In 2011, Serbia was ranked second in the world (after Guinea Bissau) in human capital flight according to USAID.[92] Brain drain to the United States and Canada has been cited as a chronic phenomenon in Serbia,[93] especially from 1990 to 2000 during the decade of UN sanctions and war.[94]

Trade and investment[edit]

The Fiat 500L is manufactured in Serbia and sold in the United States as well as around the world.

Serbia's strongest exports to the United States include Fiat automobiles manufactured in Kragujevac. Fiat purchased Zastava Automobili in 2008 and subsequently managed the factory in Kragujevac so that it would produce new Fiat automobiles as opposed to Zastava models (the last Zastavas were produced in 2008); in May 2013 alone, 3,000 Fiat 500L units were shipped from Serbia to Baltimore for sale in the United States. The Fiat 500L is the first automobile to have been exported from Serbia to the United States since the Zastava Koral before 1992, and is proving to be a popular model with a large amount of advertising in the United States.[95] Serbia is also the largest exporter of raspberries in the world (as of 2009), and much of the raspberries consumed in the United States are grown in Šumadija.[96] In 2015, the two states discussed to find ways to increase investments in Serbia.[97]

Transport Links[edit]

On November 10, 2015 Serbian flag carrier airline Air Serbia announced it would begin flights from its hub at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Flights began on June 23, 2016 and currently operate using Airbus A330-200 aircraft. Prior to the flight's launch, there had not been any commercial non-stop service between the United States and Serbia since 1992.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Relations of Serbia and the United States at Wikimedia Commons