Serbia conjures many and widely varied images. A Slavic culture since 6th century CE, secular state with guarantee of religious freedom — though 85% Serbian Orthodox, and a population of 7 million that is 83% Serbian, this relatively monocultural country has a long history — and a tumultuous modern era.
In addition to its Slavic cultural foundations, Serbia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for several centuries, which remains a notable element of Serbian culture today. Soon after Ottoman retreat, Yugoslavia, a composite of 6 countries, was born: first as a pan-Slavic kingdom (1918-1941), then a socialist republic (1945-1992), in which Serbia as such had a leading role; together with Montenegro, a federal republic under this name continued from 1992 to 2003.
A March 1941 coup d’etat in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia led to the instillation of a weak government — and was overrun by Axis Powers just 1 month later, then partitioned among Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria to the war’s end. In Serbia, the Holocaust resulted in mass murder of Serbs, Jews, and Roma, and the country was second in Europe (after Estonia) to be declared Judenfrei — Jews having been executed on the spot, as in Poland and USSR, rather than deported to camps.
Communist purges in Serbia, of Germans, Serbs, and Hungarians, took place 1944-45 and resulted in 55,000-100,000 deaths — a figure that remains elusive and controversial to this day. This period of chaos and mass violence ultimately ushered in the second Yugoslavia, this time socialist, with Belgrade as its capital.
Serbs, at 36%, made up the primary ethnic group. With a ‘Titoist’ single political party government 1948-1990, Josip Broz Tito (president, 1953-1980) remains a cult figure to this day; his mausoleum, “House of Flowers,” is maintained as a shrine — to him, and to Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001) — a series of violent actions among various of the former partner nations — ultimately resulted in 140,000 deaths and multiple charges of war crimes including genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war rape, and are widely considered the most violent wars in Europe since World War II.
Serbian culture, Slavic with a recent Ottoman influence of several centuries and an especially violent and traumatic modern era, much of which remains unresolved, is not easy to define. Orthodox religion is a strong component, beneath which still lies ancient Slavic traditions; visual and performing arts, literature and music, and aesthetics overall are highly valued. Relationship is primary, especially in the form of family and close friends; there is a staunch pragmatism, of living in the moment — and a certain defensiveness and defiance, accompanied by dark humour, understandable in light of recent history.
On the Hofstede cultural scale, Serbia scores very highly for power distance or hierarchy (86) and even higher for uncertainty avoidance or risk aversion (92); the culture scores especially low for individualism (25), and for indulgence or leisure (28) — and on the median for masculinity or distinct gender roles (43) vs femininity or overlapping roles, and for long-term orientation or planning (52). Though not easy to describe, it can surely be said that Serbs are passionate — and tend to be proud, both personally and nationally.