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Serbia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Serbia; Europe > Serbia > Belgrade

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

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.

Please review OSAC’s Serbia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

As reported by the Serbian Minister of Interior in October 2016, the overall crime rate in Belgrade has decreased in relation to the same period of 2015. There have been decreases in the number of aggravated thefts by 13%, robberies by 12%, and stolen vehicles by 11%.

The high crime rating primarily reflects the activities of organized crime (OC), as Serbia is a main trafficking route from the east to Europe. Rival OC gangs target each other in a competitive market resulting in many acts of violence (assassination by firearms and explosives). Belgrade (and Novi Sad) was the setting for the murders of several OC affiliates in 2016. Media and police report the cause as an ongoing turf war over drug distribution rights. In 2016, there were at least nine ambush-style, aggravated murders directly connected to OC elements. There is a risk of collateral damage to the general population as a result of these attacks, but there is no indication that Americans have been targeted specifically.

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 establishments are owned by Balkan OC elements and serve as social clubs and bases of operation for criminal gang members. Foreign travelers should be mindful of their personal safety if they 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 social establishments. In the summer of 2016, two British diplomats were the victims of an assault while leaving an off-limits splavs. The circumstances surrounding this assault and the manner in which the attack took place present a strong suspicion that these diplomats were targeted because of their positions.

Serbia has a large contingent of sports clubs that support 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 few years, there have been instances of foreign fans being violently assaulted and, in one case, killed. This risk also extends to sports pubs where patrons or passersby have been attacked for wearing an opposing team’s jersey. These football hooligans are often the culprits in turf wars between criminal organizations and have strong ties within the political structure in Serbia. Americans are urged to use caution when attending local soccer matches and when in close proximity to soccer arenas. Americans are urged to 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”) and on the public transportation systems. Criminals often work in well-orchestrated groups utilizing distraction and misdirection to steal from unsuspecting victims.

Residential burglaries do occur and are not relegated to specific areas of the city; the diplomatic communities with their increased police presence and security are also susceptible to these crimes. Most incidents occur while occupants are away from home, so residents are advised to ensure all doors are locked and alarms are armed, if present. In 2016, no official U.S. residences in Belgrade were victimized.

Vehicle theft is a concern with Volkswagen and Opel being popular targets for thieves. Cars left unattended or unlocked with items visible from the outside fall victim to crimes of opportunity. Secondary locking devices (steering wheel, transmission locks) and fuel kill switches are recommended, as thieves can easily overcome vehicle alarm systems. Audible vehicle alarms do not draw much attention and are generally ignored.

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. The Serbian government estimates that at any given time, approximately 1,000 migrants reside in Belgrade. Altercations between migrants can happen, usually over smuggling services, scarcity or resources, or because of the urgency to reach their intended destinations before the transit routes are blocked. In an altercation between migrants in November 2016, an Afghan man was stabbed to death.

Cybersecurity Issues

Internet-based crime is rising fast in Serbia, increasing 50% from 2014 to 2015, largely because of the rapid expansion of Internet usage. These higher Internet access rates coupled with the country’s high unemployment rate make cybercrime a viable employment alternative in Serbia. Anecdotal evidence indicates that employees of prominent companies are targeted by cyber criminals due to the perception of wealth associated with these companies. The skill level of cyber criminals varies widely; however, a subset of these criminals can pose a threat to American travelers and businesses with inadequate security postures. Serbia’s top "cyber cop," Vladimir Urosevic, said that despite a growing number of arrests, nine out of ten cybercrime acts go unpunished, mostly because of the difficulty of tracking criminals online.

Other Areas of Concern

Serbia does not recognize the borders of Kosovo as international borders and, therefore, has no mechanism to allow foreigners to enter Serbia from Kosovo without a prior arrival in Serbia. U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to 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 from the 1990s Balkan conflicts remain an ongoing concern, and there are areas in Serbia that should be treated with caution. In August 2012, two Serbian soldiers were killed while clearing unexploded ordnance. A civilian explosive ordnance disposal technician was killed by a mine in September 2012. Both incidents occurred on Mount Kopaonik, a popular ski resort. In general, stay on established paths, especially in areas that were part of the conflict.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Within Belgrade, roads are poorly maintained and marked, and are littered with potholes. Roads are often too narrow for larger vehicles (city buses, minivans, utility vehicles imported from abroad) 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 merge areas, multiple intersecting roads, and poor traffic signals. Some secondary roads, particularly in the mountainous south, are in poor repair and during the winter are not cleared of snow or are closed entirely.

Driving is a challenging experience; impatient drivers coupled with high speed, reckless/aggressive driving, and a sometimes ambiguous concept of lanes, make for a dangerous mix. Many accidents are caused by driving under the influence, aggressive driving, and not respecting a pedestrian’s right of way. Aggressive drivers have been known to 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 driving long hours do pose a risk, as they may fall asleep at the wheel. Among Serbians, it is considered common knowledge that transiting foreigners driving under these conditions are responsible for the most serious accidents.

Parking laws are strictly enforced now that paying for parking can be completed 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 can 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 between cities emergency medical response may be delayed significantly and may not meet Western standards.

Public Transportation Conditions

Belgrade have public transportation networks with intercity bus and train service. However, buses are often crowded, and some lines and vehicles are poorly maintained. Taxis are readily available within Belgrade and can be hailed from most street corners. Riders can contact reputable taxis services directly to request transportation in advance in order to avoid unscrupulous and unregistered drivers. Looking to take advantage of unwitting travelers, unregistered taxis often either have 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 being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Serbia’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

Riders from Nikola Tesla Airport (BEG) should be most wary of obtaining legitimate taxi service.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BELGRADE AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

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 encroaching. However, Serbia continues to be a transit route to Western Europe from Africa and the Middle East, and the country’s attempts at robust border control have shown 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, and there is a general concern that combatants may return to Serbia radicalized, creating possible terrorism concerns locally. 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, especially in minority areas in Sandzak and south Serbia, persist, fueling ethnic discord. There is a Muslim majority in these areas, and a strict branch of Islam (Wahhabism) is practiced by 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, have converted to the more radical Islam preached by several ex-mujahedeen.

  • The recent incident of religious extremism was the November 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The attacker, Mevlid Jasarevic, a 23-year old Wahhabi, born and raised in Novi Pazar in western Serbia, opened fire with an automatic weapon on U.S. Embassy Sarajevo as he paced in front of the Embassy for several minutes. The shooter had come to the attention of authorities during an incident involving a number of foreign ambassadors jointly visiting Novi Pazar in late 2010. Subsequent to the attack on the U.S. Embassy, police conducted raids in three towns in the Sand┼żak region and took 15 Wahhabi persons of interest into temporary custody.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

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

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 sometimes regional concerns. Even if demonstrations begin peacefully, they can quickly turn violent and should be avoided.

The Serbian government is working toward greater acceptance of homosexuals. In 2014, Belgrade had its first, peaceful Gay Pride parade after a four-year hiatus due to violent, anti-gay protests during the 2010 parade. The success of the 2014 and subsequent parades can been attributed to a large police presence at the direction of the local government.

In April 2016, a gentrifying art district in downtown Belgrade known as Savamala was demolished by masked men, purported to be OC elements, operating construction vehicles in the middle of the night. Calls to the local police were disregarded, and no police attempted to stop the destruction, as locals were ushered out of the area. Savamala was slated for redevelopment into a new Belgrade Waterfront attraction, but due process for evictions and permits were not obtained. 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 diplomatic communities, it does not signal confidence in the rule of law, as OC elements are able to operate with impunity and with the apparent complicity of law enforcement and government authorities.

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 protestors battered down the entrance to the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy suffered considerable damage, and one protestor died in a fire. Security forces are conscious of their failure to protect foreign missions during these attacks and have pledged that such incidents will never occur again. 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.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Belgrade is rated by Overseas Buildings Operations as a Level 2a (moderate) seismically active area.

In May 2014, Serbia experienced massive flooding and landslides. Obrenovac was the hardest hit, but many villages and towns along the Sava river’s watershed were affected. Over 30,000 people were evacuated and put into temporary shelters for several weeks while waiting for the flood waters to subside.

Critical Infrastructure

According to Serbia’s 2014 EU progress report, the country’s physical infrastructure is under-developed and was damaged by the 2014 floods. Damage to national and local roads was estimated at US$51 million and US$32 million, respectively, while costs to railway infrastructure were estimated at US$37 million. Most natural disasters will cause disruption of critical infrastructure services (ambulance, fire, police response).

In the inland waterways subsector, 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 made, the river infrastructure needs enhancement. More investments need to be made for infrastructure upgrades. While severe weather conditions during winter 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 between the neighboring countries could help overcome these obstacles. In addition, capital investments are needed to cover expenditures for modernization of the river ports, aiming at enhancing trade.

Economic Concerns

Serbia is not a highly developed country, and production technologies typically lag two or three generations behind. Nevertheless, espionage can be a concern during tendering procedures. To this end, Parliament adopted the Law on Protection of Business Secrets in 2011 that defined business secrets and prescribed maximum penalties of around U.S.$30,000 for revealing business secrets.

Intellectual property right (IPR) protection is a much bigger concern, especially in the computer software, music, and film industries. Consumers have low purchasing power, which is a reason for high piracy rates. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) estimates the level of music piracy in Serbia around 80%. According to the 2014 Business Software Alliance Global Software study, as much as 69% of software in Serbia was obtained and used illegally in 2013, a decrease from previous years. The progress is largely a result of improved enforcement efforts of the Tax Administration and Market Inspection and increased educational activities of the Business Software Alliance. Serbian IPR laws and regulations are almost fully in-line with European regulations; however, there is significant room to improve the enforcement of laws.

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.

Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) issues remains controversial, and a number of cases involving violent attacks on members of the LGBT community have been reported widely in local media.

Drug-related Crimes

Serbia continues to work to combat illegal narcotics trafficking. Law enforcement interdiction activities occur regularly. 2014 saw a renewed push by police and political elites to conduct drug enforcement operations. Several police actions yielded over 100 arrests and the seizure of large quantities of drugs and weapons. There are conflicting reports that the most high-profile drug dealers escape operations because of corruption, but there is a general feeling that enforcement activities have increased.

Kidnapping Threat

Abductions have declined significantly in recent years; kidnapping of family members for failure to pay debts does occur, as does kidnapping by rival criminal organizations.

Police Response

Police capacity to deter and solve crimes is hampered by a lack of resources and training. The U.S. Departments of State and Justice and other Western European countries provide significant training in criminal investigation, organized crime, and anti-terrorist operations. However, 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, and there are unconfirmed reports of first responders demanding bribes to provide services.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens who are 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.

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. Hospitals usually require payment in cash for all services and may not accept U.S. health insurance.

Ambulance: “194”
Not available in large parts of rural Serbia

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Military Medical Academy (For adults)
Crnotravska 17, Belgrade
Emergency Department/Urgent Care Center
Tel: (381-11)3608-157 or (381-11) 266-2755, ext. 31157 or 31532

Map with medical facilities link: http://g.co/maps/J94GD

24 hour Pharmacies
Prvi Maj
Kralja Milana 9, Belgrade
Telephone: (381-11) 324-1349

Prima Pharmacy
Nemanjina 2, Belgrade
Telephone: (381-11) 361-0999

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. RSO strongly recommend supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation.

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. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

92 Bulevar kneza Aleksandra Karadjordjevica
11040 Belgrade, Serbia

Hours of Operation: 0830-1700, Mon-Fri, except American and Serbian holidays

Services for U.S. citizens, including passports and notarial services, are offered by appointment only. A duty officer is available 24-hours in case of a life or death emergency involving a U.S. citizen. Main: +381-11-706-4000

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main: +381-11-706-4000
Website: http://belgrade.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