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Editor: Spencer C. Tucker
Date: 2008
Cold War: A Student Encyclopedia
Publisher: ABC-Clio
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Page 2288


Former Southeast European nation. Yugoslavia, with a 1945 population of some 15 million people, covered roughly 98,000 square miles, about the size of the U.S. state of Wyoming. It was bordered by Italy, Austria, and Hungary to the north; Romania and Bulgaria to the east; Greece and Albania to the south; and the Adriatic Sea to the east.

During the twentieth century, two states bearing the name “Yugoslavia” exemplified the international standard for ethnic strife and political fragmentation. Over the course of its seventy-year history, Yugoslavia staggered from crisis to crisis, swapping one volatile form of political union for another. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, renamed in 1929 the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (the land of the South Slavs), was created in the aftermath of World War I and disintegrated under German invasion in 1941. The Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, renamed in 1963 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, dissolved on its own in 1991 into a brutal civil war that for the first time since World War II unleashed in Europe the horrors of genocide and concentration camps.

The survival of both states depended on the political, social, and cultural harmony of the multinational, multiethnic, and multireligious population of the federation who during the Cold War lived an ostensibly peaceful life in six republics (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Page 2289  |  Top of ArticleSerbia, and Slovenia) and two autonomous regions (Vojvodina and Kosovo). The breakdown of relations between Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats badly weakened the interwar Yugoslavia, making it easy prey for the Axis powers in 1941. After World War II, Josip Broz Tito and the communists subdued the interwar nationalistic tensions and put Yugoslavia on the world map as a socialist, nonaligned, self-managed alternative to Western capitalism and Soviet-style communism. In the wake of Tito's thirty-five-year benevolent dictatorship, the apparent lack of common values accentuated historical differences that were exploited by power-hungry politicians, who hastened the bloody collapse of the country in the early 1990s.

Eleven percent of Yugoslavia's 1940 population had been killed in World War II, and that conflict and subsequent resettlements completely disrupted the region's agriculture, industry, communications, and infrastructure, bringing about widespread suffering and starvation. The communist-led Partisans under Tito emerged from the war as sole rulers of Yugoslavia without significant Soviet assistance. During 1945–1948, Tito's government adopted a Soviet-style constitution that provided for a federation united under a strong central government. Meanwhile, the Yugoslav Communist Party (KPJ) adopted a Stalinist model for rapid industrial development. Through forced collectivization, nationalization, and the establishment of a strict central planning system, the government took control of virtually all of the country's wealth.

The communist regime further consolidated its grip on power by punishing wartime collaborators and eliminating political and religious opposition. The show trial and execution of Chetnik leader General Draza Mihajlovic in Belgrade and the Zagreb trial and imprisonment of Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac sent strong signals to all opponents of the new regime, strengthening a siege mentality that remained a major hallmark of postwar Yugoslavia. Tito and his communist comrades recognized clearly the dangers inherent in national and religious chauvinism. To generate social tolerance, the communists introduced the brotherhood and unity concept under the national ideology of Yugoslavism as a substitute for individual ethnic nationalisms, but their efforts ultimately foundered.

Although Yugoslavia's communists began as devoted Stalinists, the image of Yugoslavia as the Soviets’ staunchest ally changed dramatically in reaction to the Soviet attempt to dominate all domestic and foreign aspects of Yugoslavian affairs. In the wake of the Yugoslav-Soviet split, by 1948 Tito was seen as a hero in the West. Yugoslavia's ensuing expulsion from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) and Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) led to a crisis that convinced Yugoslav leaders that a Soviet-led invasion was imminent. American and British assistance kept Tito afloat, saved the country from starvation in 1950, and contained much of Yugoslavia's trade deficit over the next decade. Yet neither Western economic aid nor U.S. military assistance resulted in Yugoslavia moving closer to the Western bloc. American officials wondered if the split with the Soviets was permanent, while Tito distrusted the United States and fretted over the Soviet reaction to American aid.

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The renaming of the KPJ as the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1952 as well as the introduction of a new economic mechanism, workers’ self-management, and market socialism of the 1960s confirmed that Yugoslavia was pursuing a unique, un-Soviet version of socialism. Yugoslavia's market socialism was based on worker-managed enterprises that used domestic and foreign forces as a management guide. Tito undoubtedly proved to be the most skillful politician in Yugoslavia's history because of his role in founding the Non-Aligned Movement, which became the keystone of the country's foreign policy during the Cold War. Yugoslavia's role in the movement stoked the competition between the Western powers and the Soviet bloc, and Tito encouraged the competition for his political gain while extracting valuable economic concessions from both sides. Despite the Yugoslav-Soviet rapprochement after Josef Stalin's death in 1953, Tito transformed one of the most isolated countries in the world into one that enjoyed reasonable diplomatic relations with more countries than any other communist regime.

During the 1960s and 1970s it appeared as if Yugoslavia's reforms were on the way to solving the most important domestic problems. Yet decentralization in 1960 in the wake of the fall of Aleksandar Rankovic, the chief of the secret police who resisted reforms, did not introduce liberalization. Instead, it created deep institutional fractures, such as the introduction of a confederated system of republics with greater autonomy than before. This would ultimately result in the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia. The rise of nationalism in Croatia and elsewhere further obstructed reforms and the liberalization movement. The 1974 constitution, one of the world's longest, aimed to provide political stability by using ethnic quotas, rotation of cadres, and the republics’ right to veto federal legislation but proved to be counterproductive. Steep increases in oil prices during the mid-1970s worsened the economic situation, which had been deteriorating for decades. Economic hardships were also partially attributable to the regime's inability to successfully tackle mounting foreign debts, budget deficits, and galloping inflation.

During his last years, Tito ignored worsening economic conditions. His death in 1980 deprived the country of strong leadership capable of unifying the nation and solving its mounting problems. Anti-Serbian rioting in Kosovo only contributed to the sense of crisis. The communist system of collective rotating leadership that replaced Tito's rule was unable to cope with the mounting crises. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic exploited the situation and greatly contributed to the breakdown of the sense of community by stockpiling weaponry, abolishing the autonomous provinces, and encouraging Serbian nationalism not in an attempt to preserve Yugoslavia but rather to create a greater Serbia.

Following a decade of political inertia and deepening economic crisis, the armed conflict in Slovenia in June 1991 between the forces of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Slovenian territorial defense forces marked the beginning of the collapse of Yugoslavia. The relatively minor dispute over Slovenia's independence carried over to Croatia, which had a substantial Serbian minority who demanded Serbian annexation and feared the new nationalist Croatian government led by Franjo Tudman. After pulling out of Page 2291  |  Top of ArticleSlovenia, the army, strengthened by local Serbian forces, outmatched the Croats and occupied one-third of Croatian territory by December 1991. The occupied territories received the status of United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs), and the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) replaced the Yugoslav People's Army.

This situation and sporadic fighting endured until May 1995, when the U.S.-trained Croatian Army overran the UNPA in western Slovenia. In August 1995 the Croats, in a lightning offensive, overran Serb-occupied Krajina. Both military actions received tacit approval from the West, but there was an exodus of Croatian Serb refugees who fled for fear of retaliation. The last UNPA in eastern Slovenia was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia in 1998 under the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords.

By the time the Bosnian state led by Alija Izetbegovic received international recognition on 6 April 1992, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats had already formed satellite states as a part of a covert agreement between Milosevic and Tudman. Republika Srpska led by Radovan Karadzic was backed by Serbia and the Yugoslav People's Army, while Croatia supported Bosnia and Herzegovina. A three-sided ethnic war soon erupted. By the end of 1992, the Serbs controlled about 70 percent of Bosnia and laid siege to Sarajevo for three years, carrying out ethnic cleansing and torturing and murdering thousands of people in concentration camps. Croatian forces launched a war against the Muslims in May 1993 and then laid siege to the city of Mostar. The Muslims were initially poorly armed but by fighting a largely defensive war managed to hold off their opponents using equally atrocious tactics.

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By the end of 1992, the Serbs controlled about 70 percent of Bosnia and laid siege to Sarajevo for three years.

Peace in Bosnia was secured by the American team of negotiators led by Richard Holbrooke, who invited Tudman, Izetbegovic, and Milosevic to Dayton, Ohio, to negotiate peace terms. After three weeks of intense negotiations, on 21 November 1995 the Muslim-Croat federation received control of 51 percent of the territory, while the Serbs received 49 percent. All three parties agreed to create a union in which each side would have control over its own defense, security, and taxes. The peace was enforced by 60,000 United Nations (UN) troops, reduced to a 24,000-strong international Stabilization Force (SFOR) in 1997.

The campaign of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air strikes, led by the United States, against Serbia's atrocious Kosovo policy lasted from late March until June 1999. These strikes were precipitated by Milosevic's rejection of the 1991 Rambouillet peace agreement, which stipulated that NATO forces would have unobstructed access to all of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to maintain peace in Kosovo. The steady suppression of the Albanian majority (90 percent of the population according to the 1991 census) erupted into an outright war with the paramilitary forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). During 1998 and early 1999, the conflict drove from their homes more than 200,000 people, while thousands were killed. The air strikes destroyed military targets as well as factories and infrastructure throughout Serbia, including Belgrade. Milosevic agreed to a peace plan on 3 June 1999 that created another international protectorate in the Balkans. A peacekeeping force, the Kosovo Force (KFOR) of 50,000 troops, was sent to Page 2292  |  Top of Articleensure the safe return of refugees and maintain peace in Kosovo, which remains a part of Serbia.

The name “Yugoslavia” was officially erased from the map on 14 March 2002, when the two remaining republics that comprised the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia voted to rename the country Serbia and Montenegro.



Cohen, Lenard J. Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia's Disintegration and Balkan Politics in Transition. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995.

Djilas, Aleksa. The Contested Country: Yugoslav Unity and Communist Revolution, 1919–1953. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Lampe, John R. Yugoslavia As History: Twice There Was a Country. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Naimark, Norman M., and Holly Case, eds. Yugoslavia and Its Historians: Understanding the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Pavlovitch, Stevan K. The Improbable Survivor: Yugoslavia and Its Problems, 1918–1988. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988.

Rusinow, Dennison. The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948–1974. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1977.

West, Richard. Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1994.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2400701135

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  • Kosovo
    • 4: 2291-2292
  • Milosevic, Slobodan
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
    • and the bombing of Serbia
      • 4: 2291
  • Yugoslavia
    • collapse of
      • 4: 2290-2291
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      • 4: 2289
      • 4: 2290
    • economic crisis in
      • 4: 2290
    • NATO air strikes against
      • 4: 2291-2292
    • Soviet-Yugoslav split