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Note that Brejevina and Sarobar are fictitious places in a fictional country possibly based on Yugoslavia but not named as such (the actual novel "The Tiger's Wife" refers to Sarobor - do read it carefully) Most reviewers consider that Sarobor is based on Mostar in Bosnia.
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Pre-modern History

 Yugoslavia was a federation of republics, set up by the first post-1945 leader, Josip Broz (Tito). His aim was said to be to prevent the domination of the whole by any one ethnic group. However, while he was alive he dominated the whole. In 1945 he wished to include Albania and perhaps also Bulgaria within the federation.

The pre-1939 state had been ruled mainly by the Serbs under the former Serb Royal Family whose language is spoken in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The mainly Catholic and former Hapsburg Croats and Slovenes resented this domination. After Tito's death the leaders of the republics found it increasingly difficult to work together.

Slovenia and Croatia soon elected non-communist governments and showed signs of wishing to join the European Union. Yugoslavia ceased to exist during 1991, and has currently been replaced by several smaller states:

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina;
  • Croatia (Hrvatska);
  • Kosovo (Kosova).
  • Montenegro (Crna Gora);
  • Serbia (Srpska);
  • Slovenia (Slovenija);

The first problem was and is Kosovo (Kosova in Albanian). Serb nationalists regard Kosovo as the heartland of Serbia because of early battles against the Turks (although in reality the ancestors of the Albanians were there before the Serbs arrived). Muslim Albanians are now a majority in the province. Unfortunately Tito did not make it a Republic, only an autonomous province of Serbia. The Serbian government revoked the autonomy. Vojvodina, the other autonomous province, also lost its autonomy, although it has a large minority of non-Serbs (in this case Hungarians and Croats).

What is the attitude of the other powers? Probably the consensus was that the preservation of some kind of Yugoslav state would have been the most desirable solution but that looks increasingly impossible to achieve. Serbs claimed that independent Slovenia would come under the control of Germany or Austria and Croatia of Hungary. It seemed likely that Slovenia would at least need close economic links with its neighbors Austria and Italy in order to survive. It has now joined the EU. Croatia is due to join the EU in 2013.

Croatia seemed in danger of complete disintegration as its likely shape after Serbian annexations might not be viable. Vojvodina would be in danger of control by Hungary (if Hungary itself were not so weak). These considerations meant that the old Yugoslavia still looked desirable to outsiders. But as the inhabitants refused to recreate it the outsiders had to accept the new situation and devise a policy to deal with it. The European Union and the UN tried to mediate in the wars but had no success, other than trying to set up a peace conference between politicians who had no desire to talk to each other.

The wars were the continuation of struggles which have been going on since the early 19th century at least. Following the destruction and partition of Bosnia the most likely next step would have been a renewed war between Croatia and Serbia and in Kosovo and Albania. The refugees driven out of their homes might well have become a perennial problem like the Palestinians, Armenians, Kurds and others.

EU and NATO action may have prevented these malign possibilities, especially after the fall of the Milosevic regime in Serbia.

Interesting reading

Sir Fitzroy Maclean - numerous, e.g. Disputed Barricade (London Cape 1957)


Alastair Finlan - the Collapse of Yugoslavia


The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 (Essential Histories)

See Balkans for more books.

Last revised 21/03/12

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