The formation of Yugoslavia


Thesis Statement: The formation of Yugoslavia was the product of international will, but its destruction and disintegration is the result of ethnic and religious hatred among its communities.

I-The Formation of Yugoslavia

A-The communities of Yugoslavia

B-The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats & Slovenes

C-The collapse of the kingdom

II-The Formation of modern Yugoslavia

A-Tito’s secret resistance

B-The communist regime in Yugoslavia

C-The neutrality of Yugoslavia

III-The Disintegration of Yugoslavia

A-The death of Tito

B-The outbreak of communal violence

C-The disintegration of the state

IV-Violence and destruction in Yugoslavia

A-Bosnia Herzegovina


C-Outlooks for the future


The Formation of Yugoslavia

During the 1990s, Yugoslavia has been the major issue on the headlines in most of the media. Yugoslavia’s prominence worldwide, however, sprang from the disintegration of this country that had survived ethnic and religious divisions for almost a century, in addition to the outbreak of civil wars within its sectors. The ethnic-religious conflict in Yugoslavia was the seed of destruction for this country that for many years represented the ability of different cultural, religious and ethnic communities to co-exist. Today, Yugoslavia is fragmented and divided, suffering deeply from bloody violence and destruction. The first round of violence that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina is over, but the consequences will continue to impose themselves on the relationships between the ethnic communities for many years. The second round of violence taking place in Kosovo is still going on, and its aftermath will certainly force its impact on the area for many years to come. The formation of Yugoslavia was the product of international will, but its destruction and disintegration is the result of ethnic and religious hatred among its communities.

The communities of Yugoslavia

As a country and state, Yugoslavia only existed for eight decades, starting in 1918 and disintegrating in 1991. Located in Southeastern Europe, an area often known as the Balkans, it constituted six republics, namely Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. The major characteristic of this country was its highly diversified culture as it was made up of three distinct ethnic and religious groups, namely the Christian Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croats and Slovenes, and the Muslim Bosnians (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Kingdom of Serbs & Croats & Slovenes

The formation of Yugoslavia dates back to World War I. Before, the Yugoslav republics were mainly under the reign of the Austria-Hungary Empire (Cohen, p.4). Large portions of the country were also dominated by the Ottoman rule during the fourteenth century. At the end of World War I, the Austria-Hungary empire collapsed, and instead, Yugoslavia was formed as a kingdom known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes under the rule of King Peter I. King Peter, a Serb, spent most of his time trying to settle border disputes with his neighbors, especially Bulgaria and Greece. When he died in 1921, he was succeeded by his son, Alexander I (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Collapse of the Kingdom

During the reign of King Alexander, the state was dominated by the Serbs who were given the senior positions. The Croats found themselves repressed and unfairly treated by the Serbs tried to resist the highly centralized Serb rule, but this only resulted in ethnic sensitivities and even the limited outbreak of violence (“Yugoslavia, CD-ROM). Eventually, King Alexander realized that the ethnic conflicts were only threatening his rule. Accordingly, he decided to reform the political system. His first step was to change the name of the kingdom into “Kingdom of Yugoslavia” (Southern Slavs). Other attempts at reform took place and the King finally declared in 1931 the termination of the dictatorship, hoping to introduce democratic measures to the system. Nevertheless, he was assassinated during a visit to France in 1934, by a Macedonian terrorist who was linked to Croatian separatist groups (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

Following the death of King Alexander, Yugoslavia under the reign of his minor son, Peter II, drifted towards closer relationships with Germany even though it had declared neutrality at the beginning of the war. However, under pressures from Hitler, the country joined the Tripartite Pact that included Germany, Italy and Japan. A coup d’etat was engineered that ousted the King in 1941, declaring Yugoslavia as a neutral country. A month later, the Nazi armies invaded Yugoslavia and ended its independence (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Formation of Modern Yugoslavia

Despite the surrender of the army and the division of the country among Italy, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria, the Yugoslav’s immediately organized a resistance army under the leadership of Josip Tito, a Croat Communist.

Tito’s Secret Resistance

The movement was known as the Council for National Liberation. By the end of 1943, Tito’s forces had liberated more than 100,000 sq. km. Of Yugoslavia. This success stimulated attention from the allies, and the British and American forces immediately provided aid to the resistance. The last occupation troops were driven out of Yugoslavia by September 1944 (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Communist Regime in Yugoslavia

The success of the communist Yugoslavs under the leadership of Tito against the Nazi occupation secured the communists the key positions in the state. Tito became the prime minister during that year. Yet, aware that he would be opposed because of his ethnic origin, Tito made sure to eliminate the leaders of the opposition and established a firm communist rule in Yugoslavia. Industries were nationalized and the labor unions were organized such that they would provide the essential support for the government. In 1953, Tito finally became president of Yugoslavia and ten years later, the country changed its name to The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Neutrality of Yugoslavia

Tito did not want Yugoslavia to fall into the sphere of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he made sure that Yugoslavia did not intervene in the political quarrels between the US and the USSR, hence, maintaining the independence of the country. At the same time, he maintained good relations with the Soviets, Chinese, Americans and other nations of Europe. The last years of Tito, however, witnessed a lot of instability, especially as the economy deteriorated and the tensions between the Serbs and the Croats reached violent levels (“Yugoslavia,” CD-ROM).

The Disintegration of Yugoslavia

The Death of Tito

Following the death of Tito in 1980, power was no longer in the hands of one single person. Rather, a collective leadership was formed. Aware of the precarious situation of his country and its pluralist nature, before his death, Tito warned his fellow citizens against falling to conflict, “If the Yugoslavs could not put their house in order, ‘somebody else’ would do it for them,” thus referring to the Soviet Union. However, Tito himself may not have been able to avert what was to be the inevitable (Magas, 78-79).

The Outbreak of Communal Violence

Tito’s death took place during a time when Yugoslavia was entering a phase of crisis. Inflation increased multifold, and unemployment increased while salaries dropped by 24%. The huge foreign debt of Yugoslavia continued to increase dramatically, and food shortages were dangerously spread. As a result, civil tension increased quickly, reflected in numerous strikes and demonstrations, as for the example the four million who demonstrated in 1988 to protest the government’s failure to act. In December 1988, Prime Minister Branko Mikulic resigned from office, leaving behind him a problem without a solution (Cohen, 45-46).

The Disintegration of the State

The speed at which the events and tensions arose led to a serious questioning of the unity of the country. The viability of Yugoslavia as a united nation was suspected by a number of radical nationalist leaders such as Slobodan Milosovic who assailed the federal order in 1988. This was due to the increasing tensions in Kosovo during that year. The inhabitants of the Muslim dominated province wanted a number of Serb officials to resign from the province’s government. The Serbs considered these demands to represent a threat to them as it reflected aspirations on the side of the Muslims for national independence. As a result, Milosovic reacted violently, arresting hundreds of Kosovars. At the same time, more than a thousand Muslims protested by declaring an open hunger strike. The situation even worsened as the economic and political collapse was accompanied by the collapse of the Soviet block in 1989 (Magas, 159-161).

Violence & Destruction in Yugoslavia

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Between 1989 and 1992, the political system in Yugoslavia began to collapse. The disintegration was worsened as nationalist radicals took on the leaderships of their communities. The situation was further worsened as each side called for help from external supporters. For example, Croatia received help from Germany and France; the Serbs received help from Russia, and the Bosnians received aid from Turkey, Albania and a number of other countries. Eventually, Yugoslavia was dismembered into a number of countries: Croatia with Croats forming the majority of the population, despite the presence of Serb and Muslim minorities; Bosnia & Herzegovina with a Muslim majority but also large Croat and Serb Community, Macedonia with a population equally constituting of Muslims, Serbs and Croats; Serbia, constituting of a Serb majority, a Croat minority and a Muslim minority of two millions that in turn constituted a majority in the province of Kosovo; in addition to Montenegro. Only Serbia and Montenegro decided to remain as part of the federation of Yugoslavia (Hedges, 25-26).

Despite the division of Yugoslavia into smaller states, the ethnic-religious divisions were not clear, and tensions between the minorities continued to exist such that by the end of 1991, war was inevitable (Magas, 336-337). The civil war took place in Yugoslavia’s weakest spot, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Between 1991 and 1995, murder, rape, ethnic cleansing and genocide were common activities and practices taking place in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The international community, backed up by military support from the US and NATO was finally able to establish a weak but surviving peace in the country. The peace persisted, even though peaceful and friendly relations among the three communities in conflict were never resumed (Hedges, 30).


In 1997, another round of violence began to take place, but this time, in Serbia itself. During the Bosnian civil war, Serbia played a major role in supporting the separatist Serbs. In 1997, however, the situation was different because Milosovic was leading his war in his own country, against the Muslim majority in Kosovo. The Muslims constituted 2 million of the inhabitants of the province, that is, more than 90%. The Muslims were protesting, demanding the autonomy that they once enjoyed during the rule of Tito. Milosovic, however, responded by force, and eventually, the situation began to deteriorate in the province, especially as the Serb forces were authorized to arrest, torture and kill indiscriminately (Hedges, 31).

The failure of Ibrahim Rugova, the Muslim leader who adopted a Gandhi-like peaceful policy of resistance, and the increasing Serb violence against the Muslim community forced a large number of Kosovars to form their military militias to protect the villages and attack the Serb security and police forces. Eventually, as the violence increased, the militias began to unite their forces in what came to be known as the KLA, that is, the Kosovo Liberation Army (Hedges, 32).

Ethnic and religious hatreds and tensions were much more serious this time, not only because of the memories of the war in Bosnia, but also due to the nature of the conflict over Kosovo. The Serbs considered Kosovo to be a sacred land where Orthodoxy flourished, and at the same time, resented the harassment of the Serb minority by the Muslims in the district. The Muslims, on the other hand, resented the Serb domination and believed that Belgrade wanted to force them out of their homes (Hedges, 36-37).

Outlooks for the Future

Mass killings of Muslims took place during 1997 and 1998 at the hands of security forces. As Milosovic failed to respond to the protestations of the UN, the US and Europe, NATO finally organized air strikes against Serbia, in addition to the imposition of economic sanctions. NATO, led by the US demanded that a pluralist system be established, and that Kosovo be granted its autonomy under the protection of international troops to be placed in the province. The Serb rejection of this solution has resulted in the continuity of the air strikes to the present day. While the US believes that a peaceful co-existence between the Serbs and the Muslims is possible, there does not seem to be the slightest hope of resolving the conflict in a peaceful way. The only solution, it seems is to have Serbia divided whereby the Muslims would become independent. Although this option is rejected by the Serbs, it is the only way through which the two communities would not be mixing with each other (Hedges, 38).


The disintegration of Yugoslavia could only be expected as a fate for a country that is composed of different ethnic and religious communities that shared hatred and tensions more than peace and understanding. The case being as such, it can only be recommended that the Yugoslavs find a way to divide the territories and resources they have today in an acceptable manner, rather than waste their time and efforts on failing, self-destructive and inhuman attempts to eliminate each other.  Co-existence in Yugoslavia has proven to be impossible, and therefore any attempt to keep the country intact is impossible.

Works Cited

Cohen, Lenard J. Broken Bonds. Boulder: Westview Press, 1993.

Hedges, Chris. “Kosovo’s Next Masters?” Foreign Affairs, May/June, 1999: 24-


Magas, Branka. The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-up 1980-

1992, New York: Verso, 1993.

“Yugoslavia” Microsoft Encarta96 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM, 1993-1995,

Microsoft Corporation, 1997.