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Yugoslavia Intro: All you need to know about Former Yugoslavia

7 min read
Why did Yugoslavia Collapse?

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was made of six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The largest among them is Serbia, while Montenegro is the smallest.

Yugoslavia had a land area of 255,400 square kilometers and was the 9th largest country in Europe. The terrain was varied, with fertile plains in the north, limestone ranges in the east, mountains and hills predominantly in the southeast and a seaside, mainly in Croatia and Montenegro, but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia.

The SFR of Yugoslavia had 22 national parks and 495 natural monuments.

In 1991, the country had around 23,5 million inhabitants.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

The official languages of Yugoslavia were Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Macedonian. The languages were all South Slavic, so people from different areas could understand each other. Most of the population spoke Serbo-Croatian – over 12 million people. 2 million spoke Slovene, while Macedonian was spoken by 1,200,000 inhabitants.

The Constitution granted national minorities and ethnic groups the right to their own language. Around half a million people used Hungarian, mainly in the north, and Italian was spoken in parts of Croatia.

How did Yugoslavia Collapes

Yugoslavia. For many, a long-forgotten failed nation. For others, an all-too painful, and recent, memory. A once-united federation made up of six neighboring republics, Yugoslavia’s existence was never a simple one. With constant ethnic and religious division, it seems that it was only a matter of time before a breakup would be imminent. But was that the only cause of Yugoslavia’s collapse? And how did the ethnic disputes actually lead to the destruction of an entire federation?… The presence of division and discord between the different ethnic groups within the borders of Yugoslavia had existed for a long while.

This was not by any means a new developmentwithin the years before the collapse of the federation, but the matter did worsen following World War Two… Previously, Yugoslavia had actually been the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, made up of the Kingdom of Serbia and the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. This Kingdom was then transformed temporarily into the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, and shortly after, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was at this time that Yugoslavia became a union between Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia. Before the expansion of republics and particularly ethnic groups within Yugoslavia, there was already significant disunity between the Serbs and other ethnic categories, which served as a shaky foundation from the start. While nationalism was a raging problem within the federation from day one, there was a short stint of partial harmony thanks to President Josip Broz Tito. Tito was a wonderful promoter of unity and brotherhood, and his efforts to curb the dangerous nationalism within his federation were impressively effective for some time.

Moreover, during Tito’s term as president, Yugoslavia became a regionally powerful nation industrially and had a well-effective economy. It appeared that the troubles of Yugoslavia were a thing of the past – until Josip Tito died Leading up to the president’s death, the growing economy had begun to show favor to only some regions within the federation, and though Tito supported brotherhood, it appears he may have gone too far to support the individual republics’ right to national self-determination. The end of Tito’s administration also came around a time of economic trouble for the federation as a whole.

Yugoslavia was now heavily in debt after the 1973 oil crisis and trade barrier complications with the West, which quickly reversed the success that the federation’s economy had originally achieved. This also exacerbated the ethnic divisions, most notably between the south of the federation, which was viewed as vastly unproductive and undeveloped, and the entities of Slovenia and Croatia. With these new challenges and the death of the president who worked so hard to create unity within the federation, the ethnic divide was now the center point of Yugoslavia.

One of the main causes of this was the fact that each republic failed to be split along ethnic lines, meaning that there were different groups within every border, and oftentimes each ethnic group was quite nationalistic. Furthermore, there was also a creation of two autonomous provinces within Serbia itself, known as Kosovo and Vojvodina, that complicated matters even more. When protests broke out in the late 1980s, as ethnic Serbs throughout Serbia and the autonomous provinces tried to fight back against, particularly, the Albanian majority of Kosovo, the thought was that Serbia’s communist leader, Slobodan Milosevic, would react by creating some type of unity. Instead, he justified the Serbs’ outrage directed at the Albanians and began to push for reduced autonomy of both Kosovo and Vojvodina. Eventually, after a series of protests known as the “Rallies of Truth”, supporters of Milosevic managed to oust the governments in both autonomous provinces, which then cleared the way for allies of Milosevic to be put in their place.

The leadership of Montenegro was also deposed in 1989 after a second coup d’etat, and there too was placed a supporter of Milosevic. This was only the beginning of the conflict between Serbs and Albanians… Croatia and Slovenia were now joining the Kosovo dispute, coming to the support of the Albanian majority, which greatly angered the Serbs. Protests continued to be held and both police and military forces were called in to deal with what the Serbs viewed as an attack against Serbia and Yugoslavia as a whole –

mostly in reaction to Kosovo’s calls to become the 7th republic within the federation. One Bosnian politician and current President of Yugoslavia, Raif Dizdarec, tried to calm the tensions in 1989 with a heartfelt speech to the Serbian protestors. “Our fathers died to create Yugoslavia. We will not go down the road to national conflict. We will take the path of Brotherhood and Unity,” he said.

Though the protestors reacted to his speech positively, it failed to end the protests- likely given the fact that the Serbs sawthe actions of the Kosovo Albanians as the root of this national conflict. The lines were now clear – it was the Serbs against the Albanians, Croats, Slovenes, and even the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The conflict was nowhere near over… As the bickering republics aimed to resolve the disputes politically, the divide seemed to only widen, and Yugoslavia was forced into a multi-party system across all six republics.

This was a major blow to the communists in the federation, as most of them were beaten by the end of the 1990 elections. The fall of communism coincided with the same decline throughout the neighboring Soviet Union and its other allies and pushed the nationalistic identity within the Yugoslav federation even further. This sparked even more ethnic tension because there were minorities within each republic, such as the 12.2% of Serbs in Croatia, that were suddenly being threatened by their home’s opposition to their ethnic identity.

In this specific instance, the new Croatian leader, Franjo Tudman, claimed that he would protect the Croatian people from Milosevic and the Serbian threat, which created backlash from the ethnic Serbs in Croatia. These Serbs established a new separatist organization known as the SAO Krajina, in which they demanded to be reunified with Serbia in the case of Croatian succession from the federation. This soon triggered what was nicknamed the “Log Revolution”, where Serbs in Croatia attempted to take control of the Serbian majority town of Khin and appealed to the federal military for support. When Croatian helicopters filled with armed special forces were sent in to quell the revolt, the Yugoslav Air Force decided to interven and ordered the Croatian helicopters to turn back and stay away from Khin or else they would be shot down.

The Croatians followed the command and returned to their base in Zagreb. As tensions continued to boil over, a period known as the Yugoslav Wars broke out in 1991 throughout the federation. Yugoslavia was now doomed, and the efforts that had been made by dominant Serbia and any other supporters of the union were now appearing to be completely in vain. In June of that same year, both Slovenia and Croatia officially declared their independence, despite disapproval from other republics.This independence was delayed by three months through the Brijuni Agreement but was nonetheless imminent. Macedonia declared independence in September of the same year.

On January 9, 1992, the Republic of Serbian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded and Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole declared independence on March 3rd. The Serbian Republic within was to follow after which point they laid siege to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, sparking a new stretch of the Yugoslav Wars… All that was now left of the once six-republic-strong federation was Serbia and Montenegro.

Yugoslavia was rapidly dissolving and there was no hope for recovery. In addition to the ethnic disputes and now full-blown wars, the effects of communism collapsing and the struggling Yugoslav economy had also contributed to the decay of the federation. Still, no factor seemed quite as obvious nor relevant as the ethnic divide.

This is what led to the utter chaos within the dying union, and what would eventually cause the official dissolution of Yugoslavia, now only made up of Serbia and Montenegro, on February 4, 2003. The federation transformed into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, which was no more successful or stable than its predecessor, and itself broke up on June 3, 2006…

As far as the conflict with Kosovo, its autonomy and status as an independent nation continues to be debated throughout the world. Many countries, such as the United States, do recognize Kosovo as its own nation, but Serbia and its close allies beg to differ – a sign that the ethnic conflict sadly did not disappear with the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself.

These disputes and wars made the existence of a unified federation in the Balkans more or less impossible. Each individual nation had its own, strong national identity, and the inability to properly place border lines to separate each ethnic group proved to be an untameable issue for all of Yugoslavia.

While the economic and political challenges that the federation faced were clear exacerbating forces pushing toward the final collapse it was truly the ethnic division and lack of brotherhood that destroyed Yugoslavia from the inside-out.

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