A New Serbia: Christian Nation Moves Past Conflicts

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It wasn't long ago that Serbia was in the crosshairs of the United States military.

The U.S., under then-President Clinton, led a punishing NATO air assault that drove Serbia out of Kosovo: a heavily Muslim region the Christian Serbs consider their historic heartland.

Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was overthrown by his own people shortly thereafter. He died in 2006 while on trial for war crimes including ethnic cleansing.

Serbia Emerges

Serbia today is emerging from the darkness of that era. Milosevic has been replaced by a peaceful, democratic government that is looking to strengthen its relationship with the United States.

"This is a very different Serbia if you compare it with the Serbia that most people remember from the 90s," said Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremik.

He sat down with CBN News recently at the Serbian Mission in New York City.

"We are now a democratic country," stated Jeremik, who helped lead the democratic movement against Milosevic. "We're a country that is on its way to joining the European Union, to becoming a fully-fledged, EU member state."

Serbia is also working on rebuild its relationship with the United States. Vice President Joe Biden visited Belgrade earlier this year to meet with Serbian officials. A main topic of their conversation was Kosovo. It is an issue that continues to cause friction between the U.S and Serbia.

A wave of Muslim immigrants from neighboring Albania has transformed this southern Serbian province into a heavily Islamic enclave.

Although some Christian Serbs still live there, Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008. It was a move supported by only a small number of countries, including the U.S. under then-President Bush.

The Serbs are urging the international community to refuse to recognize Kosovo's autonomy.

"If it is allowed to stand, then a door is going to open up to secessionists around the world who believe they have the right to secede," Jeremik told CBN News. "And for them to do it uniltaterally, in the hope that they are going to get away with it."

Ethnic and Religious Violence 

The Balkans region which the Serbs call home has become synonymous with ethnic and religious violence over the years. But Serbia is attempting to peacefully resolve the Kosovo issue.

"Throughout our history, we always ended up going to war with each other," said Jeremik. "This is the first time somebody is using legal, diplomatic and political means to voice strong disagreement--yet, peacefully."

In December, the UN Security Council will rule on Kosovo's claims of independence.

Until then, the UN and NATO are helping to govern the area, which has become a target for Islamic extremists.

"There are Wahhabi groups that are operating in the region," warned Jeremik. "Some in Kosovo, some in other parts of the region."

Saudi Arabia has become one of Kosovo's top donors--raising fears that Saudi Wahhabi Islam will take root.

In addition, Kosovo natives living in the U.S. have been charged in two separate terrorism cases since 2007, in New Jersey and North Carolina.

Christian Churches

And over 100 Christian churches in Kosovo have been destroyed by rampaging Muslims.

"150 churches and monasteries--Christian churches and monasteries--were destroyed," Jeremik told CBN News. "And I'm talking about churches and monastaries from the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17h century."

It's another reason Serbia wants to see the Kosovo issue resolved--and the West in Serbia's corner.

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Erick Stakelbeck

Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Correspondent

Erick Stakelbeck is a sought after authority on terrorism and national security issues with extensive experience in television, radio, and print media. Stakelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst for CBN News.  Follow Erick on Twitter @Staks33.