OSAC logo

Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

42 all time - 12 last 7 days

Serbia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Serbia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Serbia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Serbia at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belgrade as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The considerable risk from crime is due to the activities of Organized Crime (OC) groups, as Serbia is a main trafficking route from the east to Europe. Rival OC groups target each other in a competitive market, as an ongoing turf war between OC groups over drug distribution rights, resulting in violence to include assassination by firearms and explosives.

In 2019, there was one OC-related attempted murder and six OC-related murders in Serbia, a significant decrease from the previous year. None of these murders resulted in a criminal conviction, and most lack even a single suspect. All seven involved firearms.

Local media reporting notes that in 2018, 35-40 OC attacks occurred in Belgrade, most involving firearms or car bombs. The attacks occurred at random times and in all areas of the city, including affluent neighborhoods. There is a continuous risk of collateral damage to the general population from such attacks, but no indication that any incident targeted U.S. nationals.

In December 2019, media reported an assassination attempt against a Nikšić-based businessman (and former police official and opponent of incumbent Montenegro authorities) in Belgrade’s Crowne Plaza hotel. A sniper fired at Davidovic through a window of the hotel bar, where he sat a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). His wounds were not life threatening. Later, in a parking lot in New Belgrade, police located a car on fire with a rifle with optical aim inside. There are no known reoccurring issues of this nature at the hotel.

In September 2019, an unknown assailant attacked a vehicle technical inspection service shop with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), destroying the front door and causing material damage to the walls. There were no reported injuries, and the investigation is ongoing. The shop owner had been the target of a previous attack July by an unknown individual with a firearm.

In 2016, masked men, purported to be OC elements, demolished a gentrifying art district in downtown Belgrade, known as Savamala, with construction vehicles in the middle of the night. Local police disregarded emergency calls; authorities made no attempt to stop the destruction as individuals ushered locals out of the area. City and federal officials have yet to hold anyone accountable despite internal investigations citing collusion and preplanning involving local police and city officials. Though this event does not directly affect the safety and security of diplomatic communities or visitors, it creates serious questions about the rule of law, as OC elements seem able to operate with impunity and with the apparent complicity of authorities.

Serbia is known for its vibrant nightlife. Belgrade has become a major spring break destination for European partygoers who seek out its pubs, bars, clubs, and floating discos (splav). A number of these establishments owned by Balkan OC elements serve as social clubs and bases of operation for criminal gang members. Be mindful of personal safety if you choose to patronize the following splavs that are off-limits to U.S. Embassy personnel: Plastic, Splav Slep, and Mr. Stefan Braun. Rapidly escalating confrontations ending in violent assaults, sometimes involving weapons, have occurred at these establishments.

Serbia has a large contingent of “sports fan clubs” that support Serbian professional sports teams. Club members are often 15-25 years old and known as “football hooligans.” A number of these clubs have very strong ties to criminal, right-wing, and ultra-nationalist organizations. Authorities often struggle to curb violence inside sporting events and around their venues. In recent years, there have been instances of violently assaults on foreign fans and, in one case, a murder. This risk also extends to sports pubs, where hooligans have attacked patrons or passersby for wearing an opposing team’s jersey. These hooligans are often the culprits in turf wars between criminal organizations, and have strong ties within the political structure in Serbia. Use caution when attending local soccer matches, and near soccer arenas.

Street crime does occur. Most crimes against visitors are crimes of opportunity. Pickpocketing in tourist areas is common, especially on Knez Mihailova Walking Street, at the Kalemegdan Fortress, and on the public transportation system. Criminals often work in well-orchestrated groups, using distraction and misdirection techniques to steal from unsuspecting victims. Embassy employees and their family members have experienced multiple pickpocketing incidents. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Residential burglaries are not specific to certain areas of the city; the diplomatic communities, despite increased police presence and security, are susceptible to these crimes. Most incidents occur while occupants are away from home, so residents should ensure they lock all doors and arm alarms. In 2019, official U.S. residences in Belgrade did not experience any burglaries.

Vehicle theft is also a concern. Volkswagen and Opel vehicles are popular targets for thieves. Unattended or unlocked cars with items visible from the outside often fall victim to crimes of opportunity. Consider using secondary locking devices (e.g. steering wheel or transmission locks) and fuel kill switches, as thieves can overcome vehicle alarm systems easily; criminals and the public alike generally ignore audible vehicle alarms.

Cybersecurity Issues

Internet-based crime and cybercrime in Serbia is on the rise, with the most common types including online fraud and forgery, abuse of payment cards, and unauthorized access to computers and networks. Serbia has identified cybercrime as a growing threat in connection with money laundering, especially through a type of online fraud which consists of email account “hijackings” and fraudulent account changes, typically initiated by email. Companies in various industries have been targets, resulting in substantial fraudulent money transfers to foreign accounts. In these cases, criminal money flows are difficult to trace as they convert into virtual currencies. The skill level of cybercriminals varies widely; a subset of these criminals can pose a threat to travelers and organizations with inadequate security postures. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

The emergency road assistance line in Serbia is 1987. Within Belgrade, roads lack proper maintenance and markings, and often have many potholes. Flooding occurs due to poor drainage even in areas at a high elevation. Roads are often too narrow for larger vehicles to drive within the marked lanes. Parking is difficult due to small spaces. Roads, including newly built highways, are not designed or engineered with safety in mind; many intersections, traffic circles, and major highways have little/no area to merge, multiple intersecting roads, and poor traffic signaling. Some secondary roads, particularly in the mountainous south, are in poor repair and not cleared of snow (or are closed entirely) during the winter.

Driving is a challenging experience; impatient drivers coupled with high speed, reckless/aggressive driving, and sometimes ambiguous lanes make for a dangerous mix. Many accidents involve driving under the influence, aggressive driving, and not yielding to pedestrians’ right of way. Aggressive drivers sometime follow and taunt other drivers, and may get out of the car to escalate a conflict. With Serbia being a popular transit country, foreign motorists who have driven long hours from their home countries pose a risk on Serbian roads, as they may fall asleep at the wheel. Many Serbians believe that transiting foreigners driving under these conditions are responsible for some of the country’s most serious accidents.

Exercise caution on roads in southern Serbia in the winter, especially along Serbia’s Ibarska Magistrala (Route 22), the highway between Belgrade and Čačak, because of the higher rate of accidents. Winter fog significantly reduces visibility, and is especially heavy in the Vojvodina region between Belgrade and the Hungarian border.

Police strictly enforce parking laws that require drivers to pay for parking via text messaging. Payment Instructions are located on parking signs within the designated parking areas. Serbia has also established new traffic legislation to conform to European Union (EU) standards.

It is common practice for those a vehicular accident to remain at the point of impact until the police arrive. This causes unnecessary backups, as even minor fender-benders block roads. If an accident takes place in a rural location, emergency medical response may take a significantly long time to respond and may not meet Western standards.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Belgrade has extensive public transportation networks with intercity bus and tram service. However, buses are often crowded, and some vehicles are in a poor state of repair.

Taxis are readily available from most street corners within Belgrade. Riders can contact reputable taxi services in advance to request transportation and avoid unscrupulous and/or unregistered drivers. Looking to take advantage of unwitting travelers, unregistered taxis often have either no meters or tampered ones set to calculate exorbitant rates. Ridesharing mobile apps are available in Belgrade; however, they are currently unregulated, and their use remains a controversial subject in Serbia.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Serbia’s air carrier operations.

Riders from Nikola Tesla Airport (BEG) should disregard private taxi drivers soliciting service when exiting the terminal. Instead, proceed to the taxi desk by the exit to receive a flat rate invoice determined by the rider’s destination.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belgrade as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Because Belgrade sits on the land route between the Middle East and Western Europe, transnational/international terrorism concerns are on par with the rest of the Balkans. With no terrorist attacks in 2019 and low levels of ISIS recruitment activities, the main terrorism concerns in Serbia remain the potential movement of money and weapons through the region; recruitment and return of foreign terrorist fighters; the revitalization of terrorist ideologies; and opportunities for self-radicalization to violence. Authorities are sensitive to, and intolerant of, transnational terrorism. Attempts at robust border control have produced mixed results, but Serbia is building its counterterrorism efforts in cooperation with the United States and international partners.

The conflict in Syria is a source of concern to Serbian and regional authorities. The conflict has attracted fighters from a variety of Muslim communities in the Balkans. There is a general concern that combatants may return to Serbia radicalized, creating possible local terrorism concerns. Although the number of Serbians who have fought in Syria is small compared to those from neighboring Bosnia and Kosovo, the police and security services are monitoring events closely, and there is extensive media coverage of Serbian nationals participating in the Syrian fight. Several Serbian nationals have died fighting in Syria.

Across the Balkans, authorities have kept a vigilant eye on radical Islamists. In Serbia, regional economic disparities persist, especially in minority areas in Sandžak and southern Serbia, creating the potential for ethnic discord. The Muslim majority in these areas is mostly moderate, although a stricter branch of Islam (Wahhabism) is popular in some communities. The growth of Wahhabism can trace to fighters from Muslim nations who came to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s, staying in Bosnia and Serbia after the conflict. There have been no notable incidents of religious extremism in the region since a 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo; the attacker was originally from Sandžak.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Belgrade as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations by political parties, unions, and other groups occur frequently in front of government buildings, protesting government policies, economic issues, and regional concerns. Avoid protest activity. Even if demonstrations begin peacefully, they can quickly turn violent. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Immediately following Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, over 150,000 demonstrators rallied in Belgrade to denounce the bid by Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority to create their own state. Groups twice broke away from larger demonstrations and attacked embassies of countries—including the U.S.—that had recognized Kosovo. During the violence, several hundred protesters battered down the entrance to the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy suffered considerable damage, and one protestor died in an ensuing fire. In 2019, the Belgrade Court of Appeals acquitted all persons charged in the attack. Security forces are conscious of their failure to protect foreign missions during these attacks, and have pledged that such incidents will never occur again. In early 2019, the Higher Court in Belgrade partially confirmed an indictment against five police officers for a “grievous criminal act against the general safety,” but dismissed charges for “abuse of official position,” related to omissions in securing the U.S. Embassy during the attack. Kosovo remains a political flashpoint, but progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and advances in Serbia’s path to EU membership have reduced the likelihood that widespread violence will erupt again over this topic. Ethnically mixed areas in southern Serbia remain tense.

The European Commission estimates that since 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants have transited Serbia in the hopes of settling in Western European cities. However, with the closing of the Croatian and Hungarian borders, and increased border security presence throughout the Balkans, the flow of refugees and migrants has dropped to pre-2015 levels. Roughly, 5,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in Serbia waiting for an opportunity to be smuggled across the northern borders. Though there have been few reported incidents of crime committed by the migrants, there are occasional reports of petty theft and altercations between them, usually over smuggling services or scarcity of resources. Violent incidents have occurred within the migrant population.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There are a number of nationalist organizations with varying levels of xenophobia directed against U.S. nationals and other foreigners. Anti-U.S. graffiti is visible throughout Belgrade. Reactions of some taxi drivers upon realizing their patron is a U.S. national can range from rude to threatening. Other reported examples of anti-U.S. hostilities include physical assaults and verbal attacks. Many Serbians blame the United States and U.S. nationals for the NATO Intervention in 1999, and for Kosovar independence in 2008. Anti-U.S. sentiment is widespread and can be more prevalent around certain anniversaries and some national holidays, including: February 17 (anniversary of Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence), between March 24 and June 10 (the anniversary of the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia in response to events in Kosovo), and potentially June 28 (St. Vitus’s Day or Vidovdan).

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations rates Belgrade as a Level 3 (high) seismically active area. Flooding along the Danube and Sava Rivers is also a seasonal hazard.

Critical Infrastructure

Serbia’s physical infrastructure is generally not as highly developed as that of other European countries, but has undergone significant improvement in recent years. The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) ranked Serbia 51 out of 141 countries in infrastructure, up from number 111 in the 2014/15 survey. Parts of the country are prone to seasonal flooding, which periodically cause disruption of critical infrastructure services (e.g. ambulance, fire, police response).

Serbia has implemented river information systems in both the Danube and Sava rivers, and has completed a number of projects for enhancing navigation. Despite the progress, the river infrastructure still requires more investment. Severe winter weather conditions lead to the disruption of navigation due to river surface icing or thick fog; targeted large-scale investments in technology-intensive, innovative solutions, and collaboration with neighboring countries could help overcome these obstacles.

Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft

According to the World Bank’s classification, Serbia is an upper-middle income country. However, many areas and industries in the country are not highly developed, and production technologies may lag generations behind those used in wealthier European countries. Industrial and commercial espionage can be a concern, for example, during tendering procedures. Serbia’s Law on the Protection of Business Secrets prescribes maximum penalties of around $30,000 for revealing business secrets.

Intellectual property right (IPR) protection is a more significant concern, especially for computer software, music, and films. Consumers’ low purchasing power is one factor behind high piracy rates. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, the level of piracy in the software industry fell from 80% in 2007 to 67% in 2017. This progress is largely the result of improved enforcement efforts conducted by the Tax Administration and Market Inspection, as well as new specialized investigative bodies for more efficient IPR protection. Serbian IPR laws and regulations are almost fully in line with European standards, but enforcement is still a problem. As of February 2019, the EU is implementing a project on IPR protection and enforcement in Serbia.

Personal Identity Concerns

There are problems related to discrimination and societal violence against minorities, especially members of the large Roma population.

Societal and domestic violence against women, children, and persons with disabilities also occurs. The Serbian police and social welfare systems have been inadequate in appropriately addressing domestic violence and violence against children, frequently treating it as a family matter.

LGBTI+ persons in Serbia remain marginalized, discriminated against, and subject to a lack of physical security in Serbia. Local media and civil society organizations have widely reported violent attacks against members of the LGBTI+ community. However, authorities rarely prosecute these cases as hate crimes, and the sentences are not usually commensurate with the severity of the offense. The Serbian government has taken steps to enhance LGBTI+ physical security and decrease discrimination, including the adoption of a hate crime provision and a complaint procedure for discrimination through the Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality. against same-sex public displays of affection. Many Serbians belonging to the LGBTI+ community do not reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity and avoid reporting incidents to police. Though a growing number of police officers have received training on how to work with LGBTI+ individuals, including when they are victims of crime, many have limited experience and knowledge.

In 2010, a violent anti-gay riot erupted at Belgrade’s first Pride Parade, leaving many participants injured and resulting in over 100 arrests. In 2014, Belgrade held its first peaceful Gay Pride parade after a four-year government-imposed ban due to security concerns, a decision that both the Serbian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights later determined to be unconstitutional. Since 2014, security has been adequate, and the violence of 2010 has not recurred; small groups of counter-protestors regularly verbally harass participants at these gatherings, but their numbers continue to decline. In 2019, Serbia’s openly LGBTI+ Prime Minister freely marched in the Pride Parade with a small security detail. The underlying prejudices, however, that fueled the violence in 2010 remain present in Serbia, especially outside of Belgrade. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Travelers with disabilities may encounter difficulties in accessing older buildings, outdoor tourist sites, hotels, and public transport. Sidewalks and paths to buildings and tourist sites are often uneven. Hotels frequently do not have elevators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Serbia continues to work to combat illegal narcotics trafficking. Law enforcement interdiction activities occur regularly. 2019 was a record year in narcotics seizures, with over six tons of drugs seized in the country – a statistic that does not include a recent bust of the largest marijuana farm in Europe, where authorities discovered 650 kilograms of marijuana ready for sale, as well as almost four tons of raw cannabis. The biggest drug seizure in Serbia for the year took place in November, when authorities seized 77 kilograms of heroin and arrested the suspected narcotics dealer. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol have reported that groups from Serbia are becoming increasingly important in the cocaine trade. European police officers note that Serbian criminals cooperate well with members of criminal groups from neighboring countries, referring to the groups as the “Balkan Cartel.” Europol estimates that Balkan criminal networks are behind “at least 30%” of cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Europe.

The Serbian media routinely report large police actions yielding many arrests and the seizure of large quantities of drugs and weapons. There are conflicting reports that the most high-profile drug dealers escape arrest and prosecution because of corruption, but there is a general feeling that enforcement activities are increasing.

Kidnapping Threat

Abductions have occurred in recent years. While kidnapping of family members for failure to pay debts or kidnappings by rival criminal organizations have occurred in the past, the frequency has declined to minimal levels. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Serbia does not recognize the borders of Kosovo as international borders, and has no mechanism to allow foreigners to enter Serbia from Kosovo without a prior arrival in Serbia. U.S. Embassy employees may cross the Serbia-Kosovo border on personal travel. However, Serbia generally will not allow travel of foreigners from Kosovo to Serbia if the traveler did not cross a Serbian border (by air or from other countries by road) first.

Unexploded land mines and ordnance (UXO) from the 1990s Balkan conflicts remain an ongoing concern; treat certain areas, including Mount Kopaonik (a popular ski resort), with caution. In general, stay on established paths, especially in areas that were part of the conflict.

Police Response

The police emergency line in COUNTRY is 192. The United States and Western European countries provide significant training in criminal investigation, organized crime, and anti-terrorist operations. The lack of modern equipment, technology, organization, and communication between units, as well as bureaucratic systems, long hours, and low pay for police are major challenges for law enforcement.

 

Emergency services are only available in the larger cities and are not universal. Response times vary greatly. For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line is 194, but this may not be available in large parts of rural Serbia. The fire emergency line is 193. Although many doctors and health care providers are highly trained, equipment and hygiene in hospitals, clinics, and ambulances are limited and are not up to Western standards. Psychological and psychiatric services are limited, even in the larger cities, with hospital-based care only available through government institutions Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Review information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. Consider supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation (medevac). Hospitals usually require payment in cash for all services and may not accept U.S. health insurance. Some private hospitals may require advance payment or proof of adequate insurance before admitting a patient.

U.S. name-brand medicines are often unavailable in Serbia. You can get many medicines and basic medical supplies at private pharmacies.

U.S. citizens have suffered serious complications or died while seeking medical care from non-traditional “healers” and practitioners in Serbia. Some providers practice homeopathy, herbal remedies, and other non-traditional treatments in Serbia, promoting them as natural alternatives to traditional medicine. Ensure you have access to licensed emergency medical facilities in such cases.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Serbia.

OSAC Country Council Information

Belgrade has an OSAC Country Council comprising approximately 50 members. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

 U.S. Embassy Contact Information

92 Bulevar kneza Aleksandra Karadjordjevica, 11040 Belgrade

Regular hours: 0830 – 1700, Monday – Friday, except U.S. and Serbian holidays

Telephone: +381-11-706-4000.

Website: https://rs.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

OSAC Risk Matrix

OSAC Travelers Toolkit

State Department Traveler’s Checklist

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Related Content

Processing

Warning

Error processing!