Located in the Balkans, overlooked Serbia has a rich history going back to the Roman Empire and is known for its historical sites, a vibrant cultural scene, a varied and beautiful landscape, and a country still struggling with the breakup of Yugoslavia with a taste for genocide - maybe this explains why it is overlooked.
History of Serbia
Celts replaced the local tribes in the 3rd century BC and made their capital in present day Belgrade. Like much of Europe in this period, the Romans came and conquered the area in the 2nd century BC, and gradually expanded until 106 AD. When the Roman Empire split into an East and West, much of Serbia remained under the Eastern Roman Empire.
As the Byzantine Empire lost influence in the Balkans, Slavic tribes settled in the area and established a Serbian state by the 9th century. This led to conflict with the adjacent Byzantine Empire who still saw the area as their rightful domain.
Despite this conflict, Serbia continued its upward trajectory, becoming an empire in 1346 reaching down into modern day Greece in the south, Bosnia in the north, much of the Adriatic coast in the west, and modern day Bulgaria and Romania up to the Black Sea in the east. At this point it was bigger than the Byzantine Empire.
The decline started in 1371 when the king died without an heir. Feuding between the nobility fragmented the empire just as the Ottoman Empire came knocking. The Byzantines 'Empire' had been reduced to just the area around Constantinople and a weakened Serbia was left to face this powerful threat, succumbing in 1459.
Uprisings against the Ottomans in 1804 and 1815 led to statehood in 1829. Further Serb-Ottoman conflict in 1862 led to Ottoman troops leaving, making the country effectively independent. Serbia in 1876 declared war on a declining Ottoman Empire in support of uprisings in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria. Formal independence followed two years later.
An alliance of Christian countries formerly under Ottoman control called the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro) defeated the Ottomans in the First Balkan War. Bulgaria, unhappy with the spoils from its victory started the Second Balkan War against its former allies but ended up losing. The expansion of Serbia during this time became a concern for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo by the Bosnian-Serb Gavrilo Princip, gave Austro-Hungary a casus belli against Serbia. A series of escalations led to the devastation of World War 1.
Siding with the Allies, Serbia was occupied by the Central Powers in 1915. It's battered army withdrew but still made a major contribution to the final Allied victory in 1918.
In 1917 the exiled government of Serbia with a Yugoslav Committee comprising anti-Habsburg southern Slavs from the Austro-Hungarian Empire agreed to unify Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other Austro-Hungarian lands. However, bringing about a single Yugoslav identity proved a challenge.
Despite being neutral in World War 2, Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by the Axis powers in 1941.The territory was fought over by royalist Chetniks and communist partisans headed by Tito. The Serbian puppet states fought against both but in the end it was Tito's forces that prevailed resulting in the monarchy being abolished and a single party Communist state. Policies of decentralisation posed questions for the unity of Yugoslavia and in particular Serbia, with historically significant Kosovo attaining more rights.
In 1989 a reduction in autonomy for Kosovo and Vojvodina sparked tensions across Yugoslavia as nationalism in the other provinces led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. Serb communities opposed the breakup which led to the Yugoslav wars. Serbia and Montenegro remained of what was Yugoslavia. Kosovo split off from Serbia in 1998 leading to a short war in which NATO intervened.
In 2006 Montenegro declared itself independent and Serbia became a single independent state again. In 2008 Kosovo also declared independence leading to much tension in Serbia as Kosovo was at the heart of the Serbian medieval state and is deeply important in Serbian cultural memory. The Ottoman Empire led to the fall of the Serbian Empire, but it was at the first Battle of Kosovo (1389) that Serbia stopped the immediate expansion into its territory. For Serbia it was less pyrrhic victory and more pyrrhic draw as the stalemate left it so depleted that Ottoman expansion could not be prevented in later years.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state and relations are managed by the EU, a union which Serbia aspires to join. By joining the EU, Serbia must know that any arguments with Kosovo will be a moot point. If and when Kosovo joins the EU, any boundaries between them will be largely irrelevant.