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

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Serbia 2019 Crime & Safety Report

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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Serbia-specific 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.

Crime Threats

There is considerable risk from crime in Belgrade. As reported by the Serbian Interior Ministry, the overall crime rate in Belgrade decreased in 2018. There were decreases in the number of overall crimes reported by 7.5%. However, 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 many acts of violence, to include assassination by firearms and explosives.

Serbia’s Interior Ministry stated that the police and prosecutors have “shed light” on around 80% of the murders in Serbia. However, Serbian reports 29 people died in OC-related murders in 2018, doubling the number from the previous year. None of these murders resulted in a criminal conviction, and half the cases lack even a single suspect. Approximately 82 OC murders occurred over the last five years, and the 29 last year represents a dramatic spike. Out of the 82 murders, the killers remain unknown in 60% of the cases. Only seven cases have been prosecuted in a courtroom.

Local media reporting notes that in 2018, 40 OC attacks (including many of the murders referenced above) 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. citizens.

In October 2018, in Beton Hala, an upscale riverfront area with clubs and restaurants frequented by tourists and diplomats, masked hooligans armed with bats and pipes entered Komitet Nightclub, assaulted staff and patrons, and inflicted property damage to the club. The police eventually arrested five hooligans associated with the Partizan football fan club.

Later that month, a group of men, again believed to be football hooligans, chased several young women and a man into a downtown café (Koffein 2) very popular with expats and locals alike, and proceeded with a physical assault on the café’s staff and customers, again causing physical damage to the café. Police responded to the scene after multiple calls for assistance, but declined to arrest any of the perpetrators.

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 locals were ushered out of the area. City and federal officials have yet to hold anyone accountable in spite of internal investigations citing collusion and preplanning by 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 law enforcement and government 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 chose to patronize the following splavs that have been marked 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 are commonly referred to 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 the past several years, there have been instances of foreign fans violently assaulted and, in one case, killed. 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 when in close proximity to soccer arenas. Avoid attending any matches between Belgrade’s rival teams: Red Star, Partizan, and Rad.

Street crime does occur. Most crimes against visitors are crimes of opportunity. Pickpocketing in tourist areas is common, especially in the Knez Mihailova pedestrian street (“Walking Street”), at the Kalemegdan Fortress, and on the public transportation systems. Criminals often work in well-orchestrated groups using distraction and misdirection techniques to steal from unsuspecting victims.

Residential burglaries are not relegated to specific areas of the city; the diplomatic communities, despite increased police presence and security, are also susceptible to these crimes. Most incidents occur while occupants are away from home, so residents should ensure they lock all doors and arm all alarms. In 2018, no official U.S. residences in Belgrade were burglarized.

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

Cybersecurity Issues

The incidence of recorded cases of internet-based crime in Serbia grew by over 15% in 2017 and by over 20% in 2018, largely because of rapidly expanding internet use. Anecdotal evidence indicates that cyber criminals target employees of prominent companies due to the perception of wealth associated with these companies. The skill level of cyber criminals varies widely; a subset of these criminals can pose a threat to travelers and organizations with inadequate security postures. Despite a growing number of arrests, out of 252 reported cybercrimes in 2017, there was only one indictment. One challenge is insufficient technical equipment available to prosecutors in pre-trial and criminal proceedings, especially for the review of evidence.

Other Areas of Concern

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.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Within Belgrade, roads are poorly maintained and marked, and often have many potholes. 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, and many intersections, traffic circles, and major highways have little/no area to merge, multiple intersecting roads, and poor traffic signals. 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 a pedestrian the right of way. Aggressive drivers sometimes follow and taunt other drivers and may get out of the car to escalate a conflict further. 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 most of the country’s the serious accidents.

Police strictly enforce parking laws that require drivers to pay for parking via text messaging. Instructions for payment are clearly marked on parking signs within the designated parking areas. Serbia has also established new traffic legislation to conform to EU standards.

If you are involved in a vehicular accident, it is common practice for the vehicles to remain at the point of impact until the police arrive. This causes unnecessary backups, as minor fender-benders do not move to the side of the roads to ease traffic congestion. Additionally, 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.

Public Transportation Conditions

Belgrade has extensive public transportation networks with intercity bus and train 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 taxis services in advance to request transportation and avoid unscrupulous, unregistered drivers. Looking to take advantage of unwitting travelers, unregistered taxis often have either no meters or tampered ones set to calculate exorbitant rates.

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, and instead proceed to the taxi desk by the exit to receive a flat rate invoice determined by the rider’s final destination within Belgrade.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Belgrade. 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. Authorities are sensitive to, and intolerant of, transnational terrorism. Attempts at robust border control have produced mixed results.

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 terrorism concerns locally. Although the number of Serbians who have fought in Syria is small compared to those from Bosnia and Kosovo, the police and security services are monitoring events closely, and there is extensive media coverage of the participation of Serbian nationals in the Syrian fight. Several Serbian nationals have died fighting in Syria.

Across the Balkans, authorities have kept a vigilant eye on radical Islamists. Regional economic disparities persist, especially in minority areas in Sandžak and southern Serbia, fueling ethnic discord. There is a Muslim majority in these areas, and a strict branch of Islam (Wahhabism) is popular in some communities. There has been an increase in religious extremism associated with this group, mainly in struggles over the control of certain mosques in Bosnia. During Bosnia’s 1992-95 war between Croats, Muslims, and Serbs, a large number of volunteers from Muslim nations went to Bosnia to take up arms. Many of these fighters stayed in Bosnia and Serbia after the conflict. Some in the mostly moderate Muslim community converted to the more radical Islam preached by several ex-mujahedeen. There have been no notable incidents of religious extremism since a 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There are a number of nationalist organizations with varying levels of xenophobia directed against U.S. citizens and other foreigners. Anti-U.S. graffiti is visible throughout Belgrade. Reactions of some taxi drivers upon realizing their patron is an U.S. citizen can range from rude to threatening. Other reported examples of anti-U.S. hostilities include physical assaults and verbal attacks.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Belgrade. Demonstrations by political parties, unions, and other groups occur frequently in front of government buildings, protesting government policies, economic issues, and regional concerns. Even if demonstrations begin peacefully, they can quickly turn violent and should be avoided.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Immediately following Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in early 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, 4,000 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 migrants, usually over smuggling services or scarcity of resources. A number of violent incidents have occurred among the migrant population.

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 under-developed and received major damage from unprecedented flooding in 2014. Road damage reached an estimated $83 million, while damage to railway infrastructure reached an estimated $37 million. Most natural disasters will 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

Serbia is an upper-middle income country, according to the World Bank’s classification. 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 carried out 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. 

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.

LGBTI persons in Serbia remain marginalized, discriminated against, and subject to a lack of physical security in Serbia. Local media and by civil society organizations have widely reported several violent attacks against members of the LGBTI community. 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. In 2014, Belgrade held its first peaceful Gay Pride parade after a four-year government-imposed ban due to security concerns stemming from the violent anti-gay protests during the 2010 parade. The absence of violent counter-protestors at the 2014 march and subsequent parades can largely be attributed to a large police presence at the direction of the local government.

Drug-related Crimes

Serbia continues to work to combat illegal narcotics trafficking. Law enforcement interdiction activities occur regularly. 2018 saw police conduct several large drug enforcement operations. 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 declined significantly in recent years. While kidnapping of family members for failure to pay debts used to occur, as did kidnapping by rival criminal organizations, the frequency has declined to minimal levels.

Police Response

A lack of resources and training hampers police capacity to deter and solve crimes. 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; there are unconfirmed reports of first responders demanding bribes to provide services.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of a crime should contact the local police. The U.S. Embassy can help contact appropriate authorities and can help visitors understand the local criminal justice system/process. The American Citizen Services number is (+381-11) 706-4000.

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police: 192 or from a cell phone 011-192

Fire: 193 or from a cell phone 011-193

Ambulance: 194 or from a cell phone 011-194

Road assistance: 1987 or from a cell phone 011-1987

Belgrade’s Information Center: 1985 or from a cell phone 011-1985

Medical Emergencies

Although many doctors and health care providers are highly trained, medical facilities are limited and are not up to Western standards.

Ambulance: 194. Not available in large parts of rural Serbia.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS (Frankfurt Service Center)

Tel: +49-6102-3588-100

Fax: +49-6102-202-644

International SOS Assistance Inc.

3600 Horizon Blvd., Suite 300

Trevose, PA 19053

Phone: 267-716-2411

Web: www.internationalsos.com

Insurance Guidance

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.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Belgrade Country Council currently meets once a year and has approximately 50 members. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

92 Bulevar kneza Aleksandra Karadjordjevica, 11040 Belgrade

Hours of Operation: 0830-1700, Monday-Friday, except U.S. and Serbian holidays

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main: +381-11-706-4000

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

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy to contact you. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

Additional Resources

Serbia Country Information Sheet

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