A History Of YugoslaviaAuthor: Russell Shortt
Yugoslavia is a difficult country to pin down, follow successive maps across the twentieth century and you see it move around, becoming smaller and smaller as the decades roll by. The country was a confusing melting pot consisting of many different peoples, languages, religions, and cultures. Ancient peoples had inhabited the lands that made up Yugoslavia for thousands of millennia before the Roman Empire took control of the region in the first century CE. Slavic tribesmen breached the Empire's borders during the fifth and sixth centuries, they then allied themselves with the Avars, reaching as far as Constantinople and thus precipitating the arrival of Serbs and Croats into the region. In the subsequent centuries Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania had virtually independent histories. Slovenia was consecutively under Frankish (eight century), Bavarian (ninth century) and Austrian (fourteenth century) rule until 1918. A Serbian empire emerged in the thirteenth century but was brought under Turkish rule in the fourteenth century and remained so until the nineteenth century. A Croatian kingdom had emerged in the tenth century, however it was conquered by Hungary and remained part of the Hungarian empire until the end of the First World War. Montenegro had remained an independent principality, resisting Turkish incursions until 1499 when it eventually succumbed. It was granted independence by the Ottoman Empire in 1799. Similarly Bosnia emerged in the medieval period but was overran by the Ottomans in the mid-fifteenth century before falling to the Austro-Hungarians in 1878 and remaining so until the end of World War One. Likewise the Macedonians were overran by the Ottoman Empire and were subsequently annexed to Serbia in the post war treaties. Finally Albania remained in Ottoman hands until the sick old man of Europe passed away in 1918.
The beginning of the nineteenth century saw the burgeoning of a Pan-Slavic movement that sought Slavic unity. In the 1860s, the movement became popular in Russia, to which Pan-Slavs looked for protection from Turkish and Austro-Hungarian domination. The Balkan territories were massively re-defined by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878; Serbia, Montenegro and Romania became independent and the principality of Bulgaria was created. The Treaty also represented a turning point in European history as it marked the ending of the Three Emperor's League of Germany, Austria and Russia and thus renewing Austro-Russo rivalry in the Balkans, it also marked the beginning of Britain's re-emergence in European affairs after years of isolation under Gladstone. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire went into serious decline, sensing an opportunity a wave of nationalism swept across the Balkans. War broke out in 1912, when Montenegro invaded the Ottoman Empire and were soon joined by Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. They drove the Turks out of Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, which all declared their independence. However, the Serbs turned against Bulgaria and occupied Kosovo and Macedonia. Austria-Hungary had annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908; in 1914 the Emperor's heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand arrived in the region attempting to quell the unrest. He was promoting the idea of southern Slavs playing a greater role in the empire as a bulwark against Serbian expansionism. However he was assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, leading to a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia which escalated into World War One.
During World War One, Serbia and Montenegro were overrun by the Central Powers. In exile on Corfu, representatives of the South Slavic peoples proclaimed their proposed union under Peter I. Montenegro's last monarch, Nicholas I, was deposed in 1918 and Montenegro was united with Serbia. In December 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formally proclaimed. It included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro while the regions of Kosovo, Vojvodina and Macedonia were consumed by Serbia. From it's very beginnings it was known as by its colloquial name, Yugoslavia, meaning land of the southern Slavs. Both Pan-Slav nationalists and Serb nationalists supported it‘s creation, the Pan-Slavs hoped that everybody would get behind the new state, unite as Slavs and banish all past differences. For the Serbs, the long desired goal of uniting all the Serb people from all across the Balkans into a united state, was at long last achieved. However, from the beginning countless difficulties were encountered in trying to unite the fledgling country economically and politically because of the diversity of languages, cultures and religions. In 1929, King Alexander I banned all political parties, assumed executive power and re-named the country Yugoslavia in an attempt to curb separatism. However, it had the effect of alienating non-Serbs from the idea of unity, it also encountered opposition from Germany, Italy and Russia. Alexander was assassinated during an official visit to France in 1934 by a marksman with links to a Croatian separatist group. He was succeeded by his eleven year old son Peter II and a regency council headed by his cousin Prince Paul.
Prince Paul submitted to German pressure and signed the Tripartite Treaty, it was an attempt to keep Yugoslavia out of the war but it was hugely opposed by the people, a successful coup d'etat was launched two days later and King Peter was given full powers and Yugoslavia withdrew from the Treaty. Two weeks later - Germany, Italy and Hungary invaded Yugoslavia, overrunning it within eleven days. The beleaguered country was then split up amongst the Axis powers - the Independent State of Croatia had been established in 1929 as a Nazi puppet state but it had being very limited in its activities until now; German troops also occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as parts of Serbia and Slovenia; other parts of the country were occupied by Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy. The Yugoslav resistance that opposed the occupation consisted of two groups - the communist led Yugoslav Partisans and the royalist Chetniks. The former were led by Josip Broz Tito and possessed pan-Yugoslav leanings while the latter were led by Draza Mihaljovic and were pro-Serbian. The Chetniks were initially supported by the exiled royal government and the Allies but they concentrated more on fighting the Partisans and began to build links with the occupying forces that they were supposed to be fighting, by the end of the war they had evolved into a fully collaborationist Serb nationalist militia. On the other hand, the Partisans developed from a small guerrilla force into largest resistance movement in Europe achieving notable successes against the Axis powers. They expelled the Axis powers from Serbia in 1944 and the rest of Yugoslavia in 1945.
Marshal Tito was seen as a national hero and was elected by a referendum to lead the new independent communist state. Tito dealt with the nationalist aspirations by creating a federation of six nominally equal republics - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia while the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina were given autonomous status. At the beginning there was a general optimism regarding the future, Communist rule restored stability and relations with the West remained good, guaranteeing loans. However, in the early 1970s ethnic tensions began to rise as a result of uneven development and a crippling national debt. The six republics and two provinces began to become more and more autonomous. Tito died in 1980 and was replaced by a fragile collective leadership that the world thought would immediately fall apart. But it didn't, it dragged on through economic stagnation for another decade. An IMF/World Bank Shock Therapy package was introduced into the country in 1990, one factor of the package was that if a business was insolvent for a 30 day period, it had to settle with its creditors either by giving them ownership of the business or by being liquidated, resulting in sacked workers without severance payments. In less than two years, over 600,000 people were laid off and over 500,000 were not paid for sustained periods of time to help stave off impending bankruptcy. Despair abounded. Slobodan Milosevic had taken control of the Serbian Communist Party in 1987 and began reviving the vision of a 'Greater Serbia' which would consist of Serbia and the two provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina; large sections of Bosnia and Herzegovina and indicated that it would include Macedonia as well.
In 1989, Serbia revoked the autonomy of Kosovo, suppressing protests by the majority Albanian population in Kosovo. Slovenia and Croatia elected non-Communist governments in 1990 and declared their independence on 25 June, 1991. The federal army, which was largely controlled by the Serbs immediately entered Slovenia, however the EU negotiated a fragile peace, although faction fighting continued in Croatia between Croatian forces and federally backed Serbs from Serb areas in Croatia. But the domino effect continued with Macedonia declaring its independence in September 1991 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in October of that year. In January 1992, the UN sent a peacekeeping force into Croatia in attempt to maintain a fragile cease-fire that had been negotiated. In early 1992, the Serbs seized 65% of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, proclaiming the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina; while Croatia seized control of almost a fifth proclaiming it the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. The poorly equipped Bosnian Muslims only held onto the remaining land (less than a fifth) although they retained control of the capital Sarajevo. A campaign of ethnic cleansing ensued in Bosnia, mainly carried out by the Serbs, resulted in the murder of 200,000 people and by 1993, Sarajevo was besieged, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro and called for an immediate cease-fire in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In late 1995, Milosevic arrived in Dayton, Ohio to thrash out a peace settlement, resulting in a peace accord among Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia (Yugoslavia). Two self governing entities were created within Bosnia - the Bosnain Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. In 1997 tensions increased in Kosovo, non-violent civil disobedience against Serbian rule had evolved into guerrilla warfare, the Serbs reacted with violent suppression leading to NATO retaliating by bombing targets within Yugoslavia. In the following days, tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees were pouring out of the province with accounts of brutal atrocities being committed by Serb forces. Montenegro, the only other remaining Yugoslav Republic began to distance itself from Serbia and their handling of Kosovo. In June 1999, Milosevic agreed to withdraw from Kosovo and NATO peacekeepers entered the region. By 2002, Montenegro was pushing for greater autonomy, it and Serbia agreed on a restructured federal union, Yugoslavia was no longer, the new union was simply named Serbia & Montenegro. However, calls for full independence continued and Montenegro declared its independence on 3 June 2006 and on 5 June Serbia declared itself a sovereign state and political heir to the union.
Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt, http://www.exploringireland.net http://www.visitscotlandtours.com