Serbia as part of Yugoslavia (1918-1991)
Serbia was part of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1991. This can be devided down to the following periods:
- 1918-1941 The Kingdom of Yugoslavia
- 1941-1945 The WWII
- 1945-1991 SFR Yugoslavia
- 1991-1995 The Breakup of SFR Yugoslavia
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918-1941)
With the end of World War I and the downfall of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire the conditions were met for proclaiming the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in December of 1918. The Yugoslav ideal had long been cultivated by the intellectual circles of the three nations that gave the name to the country, but the international constellation of political forces and interests did not permit its implementation until then. However, after the war, idealist intellectuals gave way to politicians and the most influential Croatian politicians opposed the new state right from the start.
The Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) headed by Stjepan Radic, and then by Vlatko Macek slowly grew to become a massive party endorsing Croatian national interests. According to its leaders the Yugoslav state did not provide a satisfactory solution to the Croatian national question. They chose to conduct their political battle by systematically obstructing state institutions and making political coalitions to undermine the state unity, thus extorting certain concessions. Each political or economic issue was used as a pretext for raising the so-called "unsettled Croatian question".
Trying to match this challenge and prevent any further weakening of the country, King Aleksandar I banned national political parties in 1929, assumed executive power and renamed the country Yugoslavia. He hoped to curb separatist tendencies and mitigate nationalist passions. However the balance of power changed in international relations: in Italy and Germany Fascists and Nazis rose to power, and Stalin became the absolute ruler in the Soviet Union. None of these three states favored the policy pursued by Aleksandar I. In fact the first two wanted to revise the international treaties signed after World War I, and the Soviets were determined to regain their positions in Europe and pursue a more active international policy. Yugoslavia was an obstacle for these plans and King Aleksandar I was the pillar of the Yugoslav policy.
During an official visit to France in 1934, the king was assassinated in Marseilles by a member of VMRO - an extreme nationalist organization in Bulgaria that had plans to annex territories along the eastern and southern Yugoslav border - with the cooperation of the Ustashi - a Croatian fascist separatist organization. The international political scene in the late 30's was marked by growing intolerance between the principal figures, by the aggressive attitude of the totalitarian regimes and by the certainty that the order set up after World War I is was loosing its strongholds and its sponsors were loosing their strength. Supported and pressured by Fascist Italy and nazi Germany, Croatian leader Vlatko Macek and his party managed to extort the creation of the Croatian banovina (administrative province) in 1939. The agreement specified that Croatia were to remain part of Yugoslavia, but it was hurriedly building an independent political identity in international relations.
World War II and it's Effects (1941-1945)
At the beginning of the 40's, Yugoslavia found itself surrounded by hostile countries. Except for Greece, all other neighboring countries had signed agreements with either Germany or Italy. Hitler was strongly pressuring Yugoslavia to join the Axis powers. The government was even prepared to reach a compromise with him, but the spirit in the country was completely different. Public demonstrations against Nazism prompted a brutal reaction. Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade and other major cities and in April 1941, the Axis powers occupied Yugoslavia and disintegrated it. The western parts of the country together with Bosnia and Herzegovina were turned into a Nazi puppet state called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and ruled by the Ustashe. Serbia was occupied by German troops, but the northern territories were annexed by Hungary, and eastern and southern territories to Bulgaria. Kosovo and Metohija were mostly annexed by Albania which was under the sponsorship of fascist Italy. Montenegro also lost territories to Albania and was then occupied by Italian troops. Slovenia was divided between Germany and Italy that also seized the islands in the Adriatic.
Following the Nazi example, the Independent State of Croatia established extermination camps and perpetrated an atrocious genocide killing over 750.000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. This holocaust set the historical and political backdrop for the civil war that broke out fifty years later in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991-1992.
The ruthless attitude of the German occupation forces and the genocidal policy of the Croatian Ustasha regime generated a strong Serbian Resistance. The Serbs stood up against the Croatian genocidal government and the Nazi disintegration of Yugoslavia. Many joined the Partisan forces (National Liberation Army headed by Josib Broz Tito) in the liberation war and thus helped the Allied victory. By the end of 1944, with the help of the Red Army the Partisans liberated Serbia and by May 1945 the remaining Yugoslav territories, meeting up with the Allied forces in Hungary, Austria and Italy. Serbia and Yugoslavia were among the countries that had the greatest losses in the war: 1.700.000 (10.8% of the population) people were killed and national damages were estimated at 9.1 billion dollars according to the prices of that period.
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1991)
While the war was still raging, in 1943, a revolutionary change of the social and state system was proclaimed with the abolition of monarchy in favor of the republic. Josip Broz Tito became the first president of the new - socialist - Yugoslavia. Once a predominantly agricultural country Yugoslavia was transformed into a mid-range industrial country, and acquired an international political reputation by supporting the de-colonization process and by assuming a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement. Socialist Yugoslavia was established as a federal state comprising six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro and two autonomous regions - Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija. The two autonomous regions were at the same time integral part of Serbia. Because of such an administrative division and due to historical reasons, the Serbs - the most numerous of the Yugoslav peoples - lived in all six republics and both autonomous regions. The trend to secure the power of the republics at the expense of the federal authorities became particularly intense after the adoption of the 1974 Constitution that encouraged the expansion of Croatian, Slovenian, Moslem and Albanian nationalism and secessionism.
Shown below are the political and ethnic maps of former Yugoslavia. The ethnic map gives some background to the events that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990's.
The Breakup of Yugoslavia (1991-1995)
Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina forcibly seceded from Yugoslavia, whilst Macedonia did so peacefully. The break-up of Yugoslavia was endorsed by the international powers that recognized the right of self-determination to all nations except the Serbs which generally wanted to continue living in Yugoslavia. The secessionist republics were quickly granted recognition by the international community in clear breach of the principle of inviolability of international borders of sovereign countries and without fulfilling the criteria that a given state has to meet to be recognized internationally. Serbia and Montenegro opted to stay on in the federation and at the combined session of the parliaments of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro held on April 27 1992 in Belgrade, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was passed thus reaffirming the continuity of the state first founded on December 1st 1918. Since 2003 this entity is officially called Serbia and Montenegro.