Currency unit

Yugoslav dinar




Central Europe









 Former Yugoslavia history







Yugoslavia means the state of the South Slavs. There were the following linguistic and religious groups within its borders: Serbs; Croats; Slovenes; Macedonians (these are all Slavs); Albanians; Hungarians, Romanians.

The area owes its ethnic diversity to migrations of Slavs into territory formerly part of the Roman Empire, at that time occupied by the Illyrians (whose descendants are believed to be the Albanians). Most of the area was later occupied by the Ottoman Empire. At that time some of the inhabitants converted to Islam, especially in Bosnia.

The Christians are split into two main groups: the Croats and Slovenes who are mostly Catholics; the Serbs and Macedonians who are Greek Orthodox. The Croat language is almost the same as the Serb language, but they are written with different alphabets, reflecting the history of their conversion to Christianity, from the west and east respectively. (Sir Fitzroy Maclean, the British diplomat who liaised with Tito during the second world war, says that not even Yugoslavs can distinguish the two peoples by spoken language alone. This suggests that the dispute resembles that in Northern Ireland where the peoples are only distinguishable by religion and historical mythology.)

During the Napoleonic period part of the present territory formed the Illyrian provinces of Napoleon's French Empire.

The state was created at the end of the first world war. It was built out of: Serbia, which had been independent before; Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina which had been provinces of the Habsburg monarchy (Austria-Hungary) - these already called themselves Yugoslavia and did not wish to join Serbia; Montenegro, which had been an independent Serb principality throughout the Turkish occupation and had been joined to Serbia; Macedonia, which was disputed with Bulgaria. At first the state was called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

It was headed by the king of Serbia and between the world wars some of the non-Serbs felt they had been incorporated into a Greater Serbia. To some extent it was a creation of the Great Powers who wished to restrain the chaotic nationalisms of the Balkans which had sparked off the first world war. The tensions between the two main peoples showed itself in the interwar period. King Alexander was assassinated in 1934 at Marseille by a Macedonian hired by the Croatian Ustashe. Out of fear of the imminent war in 1939 the regent Paul had agreed to set up a federal state in which Croatia would have had its own institutions. However, invasion by the Germans and Italians occurred before this plan could be put into effect. The Italians at once encouraged the Ustashe (trained in Italy and modeled on the Italian fascists, though more bloodthirsty and ruthless). Paul himself had tried to get support from Hitler and Mussolini for Yugoslav neutrality. Mussolini appointed a relative of the Italian king as King of Croatia - but he didn't move there.

Later during the second world war the whole country was occupied by the Germans who also separated off Croatia which they ruled through the Ustashe's leader Ante Pavelic. The Ustashe brutally killed many - 700,000 has been reported - Serbs and Jews. Slovenia was partitioned and annexed to Italy and Germany. Kosovo also was annexed to Italian-occupied Albania. Serbia was occupied by German forces and ruled directly. Macedonia was joined to Bulgaria, Germany's allies. Hungary occupied parts of the Vojvodina.

Two resistance movements formed: the Chetniks led by the royalist General Draza Mihailovich; the Partisans led by the Communist Josip Broz Tito (=Commander), who were favored by Winston Churchill because he had been advised they were more likely to harm the Germans. They received large amounts of military supplies. Did they use these to fight the Germans or to fight the Chetniks? The Chetniks fought more against the Partisans than against the Germans, and indeed in many areas collaborated with the German forces. Churchill may have later regretted his choice. Mihailovich was tried and shot by the Communist government. Soviet troops briefly occupied part of the country during the final defeat of the Germans.

Post 1945
At the end of the war Tito, a Croat (Slovene mother), formed Yugoslavia into a federation along the lines of the Soviet Union. Thus each nationality had its own state but the whole was controlled by Tito and the Communist party. Moreover, as in the Soviet Union, the component parts had not joined voluntarily. There was first a civil war between anti-Communists (Chetniks and Ustashe) and Tito's Partisan army. At its end the anti-communists (many of them Croatian Ustashe) were massacred - mass graves began to be revealed after the events of 1991. The civil war also had elements of a war between the Serbs and Croats, as the Communists appear to have been more Croat than Serb.

Tito also sent Yugoslavs to Albania to set up a Communist state there as part of his plan to create a Communist Balkan federation which would have included Bulgaria and perhaps Romania. The British and Americans sent many Yugoslavs back to the country against their will. Most were anti-communist and were killed on arrival. This is now a notorious error similar to the sending of Russians who fought against Stalin back into the Soviet Union, also in 1945-6.

Although he was at first allied with the Soviet Union, he refused to allow Soviet troops into the country and broke with Stalin in 1948 over Stalin's desire to control the Yugoslav party in the same way as in the other east European states. (Tito pointed out that Yugoslavia was the only east European Communist state where the party had come to power by its own efforts.) Stalin planned to form a Balkan Federation which he would control. The other Balkan countries followed Stalin, and Yugoslavia became isolated.

Yugoslavia then became an independent communist country and was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement. Tito in fact was a model for the one-party states or tyrannies which formed throughout the post-colonial world. He received a good deal of support from NATO as he played up the threat from Stalin's empire. However, he took aid from both sides. In the period before 1939 he had been an orthodox Communist living part of the time in the USSR and faithfully following Stalin's policy changes. On gaining power he began to differ from Stalin and his successors. His beliefs seem to have genuinely changed. His main achievement was to keep the country together.

Post Tito
Following the death of Tito in 1981 the system began to unravel. He left behind a very weak federal government consisting of a collective presidency so that no-one should follow him as a strongman. The president of each of the six republics was to serve in turn. Perhaps he did not care what would happen after him. When communism collapsed in the rest of eastern Europe there were calls for multi-party elections in Yugoslavia too. However, this removed the only real cement of the state - the Communists at least had a neutral attitude to religious differences and "nationalists" were locked up.

By 1991 the big question was whether the separate republics would break away. Croatia and Slovenia then claimed the adoption of western multi-party democracy and a free market system (but the claim of Croatia may be spurious), and said they wanted to join the European Community. Serbia did not adopt a fully multi-party system but continues with a communist party (renamed Socialist) but much more like a classic fascist regime. As in Bulgaria, elections confirmed the former Communist party in office. However, demonstrations in Serbia in March 1991 suggested to the optimistic that this might be only a transition period to a multi-party system. The opposition has since failed to gain power after the government party monopolized television and other media.

The leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, ended the autonomy of two non-Serb provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina. This act may have destabilized the whole system. The former is inhabited mainly by Albanians but has sentimental value for Serbs as the site of battles against the Turks and a site where Serbia was believed to have begun; the latter has a population of Hungarians, Romanians and Croats as well as Serbs.

The precipitating event was probably the 14th Congress of the Communist Party when Slobodan Milosevic refused compromise and tried to vote down all Slovenian proposals. When they walked out of the Conference, followed shortly by the Croats, Yugoslavia was finished.

The Kosovo Albanians now demand a Republic of their own, entirely separate from Serbia. Thi led to increased civil disturbance. Now that Albania has adopted democracy there could be international implications if the new Albania demands better rights for the Albanians in Yugoslavia or even to annex them. The Kosovars might request to join Albania. At present Albania with its collapsed economy is in no condition to demand anything and is in danger of being swallowed up by its neighbors but in the future may be strong enough to demand the right to protect the Kosovar and Macedonian Albanians.

The election of Franjo Tudjman as president of Croatia also alienated the Serbs as, although a former Communist general, he had published antisemitic pamphlets and did not repudiate the Ustashe period. Instead he adopted the same symbols they had used. This raised a fear that Croats might again attack Serbs. He died before he could be tried at the Hague.

The state no longer exists, having even less substance than the Soviet Union.




(Dialects usually classified as the same language, written in different scripts)





< P>Greek
Tea Obreht - The Tiger's Wife

Tea Obreht - the Tiger's Wife (novel)

Die Tigerfrau

La Femme du tigre







In 1990 it was a Communist single party state evolving, perhaps towards a multi-party system, or possibly to dissolution. However, Croatia and Slovenia, formerly part of the Austrian Empire, were evolving fastest and Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia were evolving very slowly.

The former Communist Party has renamed itself as Socialist.

Tito set up a strange system in which the head of state was a committee made up of a representatives from each republic. Each took it in turn to be the president of the Presidency. There was also a Federal Prime Minister responsible to the Presidency. There was an assembly which was never elected with multi-party choice. Even before the civil war this system performed badly and it was difficult to secure agreement. The Prime Minister who ran the government was unable to exert much influence over the republics, especially after Slobodan Milosevic became president of Serbia with a policy of asserting Serbian grievances and desire to dominate the whole. By the end of 1991 it was unclear whether there was any government separate from that of Serbia. The army was the last institution but it seemed to be under no-one's control.

New State
In June 1992 the parliament of the new state of Serbia and Montenegro elected a single president and in July 1992 appointed a prime minister, a California businessman, dismissed 29 December 1992, following the re-election of Milosevic. Its institutions were unimportant in comparison to Serbia's.

In July 1997 Milosevic was elected president, apparently intending to give the post real power, after he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself in Serbia.

He was eventually voted out in an election in 2000 and sent to the international War Crimes Tribunal at Den Haag, charged with crimes against human rights. He died with the trial not completed.

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.







Josip Tito tried to make the Yugoslav economy a middle way between the western and Soviet systems. State enterprises were made self-managing, with elected managers and self-accounting. The evidence is that it was little more successful than a conventional Stalinist system. Presumably this was because the discipline of the market was hardly present. As the Communist system collapsed there was uncertainty about whether they would adopt a full-blown western system.

Productivity is low and inflation was very high until the currency was linked to the Deutschmark (1989).

But the Serbian government apparently decided to issue money itself (January 1991) to meet its fiscal deficit and the losses of its state owned industries. This of course destabilized the currency and created near hyperinflation, which set in after the civil war began. It probably caused the other republics to secede economically by issuing their own harder currencies linked to European currencies.

30% of the national income came from Slovenia, which accounts for the desire to prevent it seceding from the federation.

Tourism which was an important source of foreign exchange ceased and all other forms of industry were hampered by the war.







This is the first area of the world where a war took place among working nuclear power stations. As they are of Soviet design, without containment and are considered dangerous by western standards even in normal operation, this is a considerable hazard. Federal (Serbian) air force has bombed close to the main Croatian power plant.






Human Rights

During the war some of the worst atrocities have occurred, reminiscent of Nazi behavior during the second world war. These include: concentration camps, with mass executions; systematic rape of women prisoners and civilians; torture; starvation; burning of villages; deportations of people of the "wrong" religion.

Climate effects

Last revised 3/02/12



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