Yugoslavia is what
remains of a much larger country, also called Yugoslavia, that broke up into several
independent nations in 1991 and 1992. The new Yugoslavia, like the former, lies on the
Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Belgrade is the nation's capital and largest
The name Yugoslavia means Land of the South Slavs. The name
comes from the fact that the first Yugoslav state was formed in 1918 with the goal of
uniting three groups of South Slavs: the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Yugoslavia's mix of
people gave the country a rich variety of cultures. However, differences in religion,
language, and culture eventually contributed to Yugoslavia's breakup.
From 1946 to 1991, Yugoslavia was a federal state consisting of six republics. In 1991 and
1992, four of the republics--Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and
Slovenia--declared their independence. Fighting then broke out between Serbs and other
ethnic groups in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A cease-fire ended most of the
fighting in Croatia in January 1992, but some fighting continued.
In April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro formed a new, smaller Yugoslavia. However, the United
States and most other nations refused to recognize the country.
In late 1995, the Croatian government and the leaders of the Croatian Serbs agreed to end
the war in Croatia. Also in late 1995, leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia
signed a peace treaty. A number of countries then recognized the new Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia became a Communist state in 1945 under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, who
ruled until his death in 1980. Under Tito, Yugoslavia developed its own form of Communism,
independent of control by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the most powerful
Communist country in the world until 1991.
The Communists in Yugoslavia banned all other political parties. However, they lifted the
ban in 1990. That year, the first multiparty elections were held in all the republics.
Non-Communist parties won control of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia.
Communists, renamed Socialists, continued to hold power in Serbia and Montenegro.
National government. In theory, Yugoslavia's government is democratic. It has an elected
parliament and an appointed president and prime minister. In practice, however, power is
in the hands of the president, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic became president in 1997
after serving two terms as president of Serbia. Because hecould not serve a third term as
Serbia's president, he had the Yugoslav parliament appoint him president of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic's party--the Socialist Party of Serbia--holds a majority of seats in
Yugoslavia's legislature. Milosevic's control of the parliament allows him to rule in a
Local government. Both Serbia and Montenegro have a popularly elected president and
parliament. Serbia includes the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. These two provinces had
many powers of self-government until 1990, when Serbia stripped them of their special
Courts. Yugoslavia has a variety of local and national courts. The Federal Court of
Yugoslavia is Yugoslavia's highest court.
Armed forces. The armed forces consist of air, ground, and naval forces and frontier guard
units. Men are drafted at age 18 for 12 months of military service.
About two-thirds of the people of Serbia have Serb ancestry, and about two-thirds of
Montenegro's people are Montenegrins. In Kosovo, about 90 percent of the people are ethnic
Albanians. Other ethnic groups in Serbia include Croats, Hungarians, Montenegrins,
Romanians, and Slovaks. Other ethnic groups in Montenegro include Albanians, Muslim Slavs,
Serbs and Montenegrins speak Serbo-Croatian and traditionally use the Cyrillic alphabet,
the same system of writing used in Russian and other Slavic languages. Yugoslavia's many
ethnic groups have their own languages, but most speak Serbo-Croatian.
Many of Yugoslavia's city dwellers live in older apartments or houses. Suburban residents
in the country often live in modern apartment buildings. Many of Yugoslavia's rural
families have small houses made of brick, stone, or wood.
Serbian cooks are known for grilled, highly seasoned meats and spicy salads. Common
beverages enjoyed by Yugoslavia's people include plum brandy and thick, sweet Turkish
Sporting events, especially soccer and basketball games, draw big crowds in Yugoslavia. In
winter, many people hike, hunt, or ski in the mountains of Montenegro. In summer, they
enjoy fishing, swimming, or other water sports in the Adriatic Sea.
Most Serbs and Montenegrins either belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church or practice no
religion. Many Hungarians and Slovaks are members of ethnic churches, such as the
Hungarian Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Slovak Evangelical Christian Church.
Education is free in Yugoslavia. A law requires children from ages 7 through 14 to attend
school. Yugoslavia has universities in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Podgorica, and Pristina.
Land and climate
Yugoslavia covers 39,449 square miles (102,173 square kilometers) in southeastern Europe.
The country has three land regions: (1) the Coastal Region, (2) the Interior Highlands,
and (3) the Pannonian Plains.
The Coastal Region is a narrow strip of land along the Adriatic Sea. The region has rocky
cliffs and little fertile soil. The Coastal Region has a mild climate. The temperature
rarely falls below freezing in winter. Summers in the Coastal Region are sunny, hot, and
The Interior Highlands are mostly hilly or mountainous. The Dinaric Alps parallel the
Adriatic Coast. The Balkan Mountains rise on Yugoslavia's eastern border. Earthquakes
frequently strike the Interior Highlands. In 1979, a major earthquake badly damaged towns
and villages in the southern Highlands and also caused great destruction in the Coastal
The Interior Highlands have bitterly cold winters with much snow. Heavy rains fall in
early summer. Summers are cool in the mountains but warm in the valleys.
The Pannonian Plains lie in northern Yugoslavia. The region is mostly flat, with some low
hills. It has the richest soil in Yugoslavia and is the country's chief agricultural area.
The Pannonian Plains have cold winters. Summers are dry and hot. Heavy rains in spring and
autumn frequently cause floods.
Rivers and lakes. Yugoslavia's most important river is the Danube. It enters the country
from Hungary and flows through the Pannonian Plains. The waterway then enters Romania
through a spectacular gorge called the Iron Gate. The Danube's main tributaries in
Yugoslavia are the Morava, Sava, and Tisa rivers. Yugoslavia's largest lake, Lake Scutari,
extends into Albania.
After the Communists took control of Yugoslavia in 1945, they began working to develop
Yugoslavia from an agricultural country into an industrial nation. The government
introduced programs to encourage industrial growth and to raise living standards. At
first, government agencies developed and carried out the programs. But in the 1950's, the
government began a system of self-management. Under this system, economic planning is done
by workers in individual enterprises, such as factories and mines. A workers' council in
each enterprise determines production goals, prices, and wages--all based on government
guidelines. In the early 1990's, the new Yugoslav government announced plans to move
toward a free-enterprise system that would give more power to business owners and
managers. But little progress has been made in that direction.
Agriculture still employs a large number of Yugoslavs. Farmers in Serbia and Montenegro
grow corn, potatoes, tobacco, and wheat. They also raise cattle, hogs, and sheep. Other
important crops in Montenegro include cherries, figs, grapes, olives, peaches, pears, and
plums. Farmland covers nearly half of Yugoslavia.
Forests, which cover about a fourth of the country, are an important natural resource.
Yugoslavia also has mineral resources. Mines yield bauxite, coal, copper ore, lead, and
zinc. Wells in the Adriatic Sea and in the Pannonian Plains in northern Yugoslavia produce
petroleum and natural gas.
Factories in Yugoslavia make aluminum, automobiles, cement, iron and steel, paper,
plastics, textiles, and trucks. A good system of roads extends from Belgrade, the capital.
Roads in the rest of the country, especially in Montenegro, are less developed. There are
airports in Belgrade, Nis, Podgorica, Pristina, and Tivat.
In Yugoslavia, the major newspapers and many radio and television stations are under
government control. The number of independent broadcasters is limited because the
government charges expensive licensing fees and also refuses licenses to radio and
television stations that are critical of the government.
Groups of Slavs began to move into the Yugoslav area in the A.D. 500's. They migrated from
what are now southern Poland and Russia and became known as South Slavs. Each Slavic group
formed its own independent state. For example, the Croats established Croatia, and the
Serbs founded Serbia. But by 1400, foreign powers controlled nearly all the lands of the
South Slavs. Austria ruled Slovenia, and Hungary ruled Croatia. The Ottoman Empire
controlled Serbia, which included what are now Macedonia and Montenegro. The Ottomans, who
were based in present-day Turkey, also ruled Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Venetians controlled
the coastal region of Dalmatia, now part of Croatia.
The movement for Slavic unity began in the early 1800's. Slovenia and Croatia were united
in 1809 under the rule of Napoleon I of France. They were formally returned to the
Habsburg ruler of Austria and Hungary in 1815, but this brief period of unity inspired
Slovenes and Croats to work for an independent nation of all South Slavs. Serbia, which
gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, was also interested in such a union.
But Austria-Hungary, which ruled Slovenia and Croatia, refused to grant those lands
independence. In addition, Austria-Hungary extended its control of the area by annexing
During the early 1900's, the movement to unite the South Slavs gained strength. On June
28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serb from Bosnia-Herzegovina, assassinated Archduke Franz
Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital. Austria-Hungary
accused Serbia of planning the killing and declared war on it, which marked the start of
World War I. Austria-Hungary was defeated in 1918. The South Slavs were then free to form
their own state.
A new nation called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed on Dec. 1,
1918. It consisted of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Dalmatia, Montenegro, Serbia, and
Slovenia. King Peter I of Serbia became king of the new nation. However, he was old and
sick, so his son Alexander ruled in his place. Peter died in 1921, and the son became King
Problems soon developed in the kingdom. The Slovenes and Croats believed that the Serbs
had too much power in the government. They demanded greater control over their local
affairs. In addition, the kingdom's many nationality groups made unity difficult.
The nation's Constitution, adopted in 1921, provided for a constitutional monarchy. But in
1929, King Alexander abolished the Constitution and began to rule as adictator. He named
the country Yugoslavia and tried to unite the nationality groups by enforcing the use of
only one language, Serbo-Croatian. He also created new political divisions that ignored
the ethnic groups' historical boundaries. Alexander's actions worsened relations between
the groups. He was assassinated in 1934 by a Macedonian from Bulgaria who was supported by
Croatian revolutionaries. His 11-year-old son, King Peter II, was too young to rule.
Alexander's cousin, Prince Paul, ruled in the boy's place. But Paul carried on Alexander's
policies, and the disputes continued.
World War II began in 1939 as a struggle between the Axis powers, led by Germany and
Italy, and the Allies, including Britain and France. Yugoslavia was unprepared for war, so
its government tried to stay on friendly terms with both sides. Under pressure from the
Germans, the Yugoslav government joined the Axis on March 25, 1941. But the Yugoslav army
rebelled. The army overthrew Paul's government, and 17-year-old Peter took the throne. On
April 6, Germany invaded Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav army surrendered 11 days later. Peter
and other government leaders fled to London and formed a government-in-exile.
German and other Axis troops occupied Yugoslavia. Croatia was proclaimed an independent
state, but it was actually controlled by the Axis. Croatia's leader, Ante Pavelic, ordered
the killing of many Jews and Serbs. A resistance movement against the Axis occupation
spread among the Yugoslav peoples. Some of them joined the Partisans, a group led by Josip
Broz Tito and the Communist Party. Other Yugoslavs joined the Chetniks, a group headed by
Draza Mihajlovic. The Partisans wanted to establish a Communist government. The Chetniks
supported the government of King Peter.
The two resistance groups fought each other, as well as the occupation forces. At first,
the Allies provided the Chetniks with weapons and supplies. But they switched their
support to the Partisans in 1943 because Tito's forces were more effective against the
Communist rule. The Partisans quickly gained the support of the Yugoslav peoples. The
Communists set up a temporary government in Jajce (now in Bosnia-Herzegovina) in November
1943. Aided by Allied troops, the Partisans freed Belgrade from occupation in 1944. The
Communists then began to govern from the capital. By the time World War II ended in Europe
in May 1945, Tito and the Communists firmly controlled Yugoslavia.
On Nov. 29, 1945, Yugoslavia became a republic called the Federal People's Republic of
Yugoslavia. The monarchy was abolished, and King Peter never returned to Yugoslavia.
Opponents of the Communist government were either imprisoned or exiled. Mihajlovic was
executed in 1946. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, a Communist
resister, was imprisoned on false charges of having aided the enemies. Only one political
party, the Communist Party, was permitted. The government took control of farms,
factories, and other businesses. The 1946 Constitution officially organized Yugoslavia as
a federal state--that is, one where each of the six republics largely controlled its own
affairs. Kosovo and Vojvodina became autonomous (self-ruling) provinces of Serbia.
Yugoslavia was a close Soviet ally, but Tito refused to let the Soviet Union control the
country. In June 1948, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin broke off relations with Yugoslavia.
The Cominform, a group of Communist nations, expelled Yugoslavia and withdrew all aid.
Yugoslavia turned to the United States and other Western nations for help. Beginning in
1951, the United States provided Yugoslavia with economic aid. Later, the United States
also granted military assistance.
After the split with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia began to develop its own style of
Communist society. Yugoslavia's republics and provinces received greater control over
local matters. In 1955, two years after Stalin's death, Soviet and Yugoslav leaders
reopened relations. But Tito refused to take sides in the Cold War, a bitter political
rivalry between the Communist nations and the Western democracies. Instead, he became a
leading speaker for uncommitted nations.
In 1971, a 23-member council called the Presidency was established to head the Yugoslav
government. A new Constitution in 1974 reduced the Presidency to 9 members. Tito remained
the country's top leader as head of the council until he died in May 1980. Then, a system
of annual rotation of the top post took effect. Eight members of the Presidency, one from
each republic and province, took turns serving one-year terms as head of the council.
Until 1989, the leader of Yugoslavia's Communist Party also held a seat on the council but
did not take a turn as head of the Presidency.
Recent developments. The Yugoslav economy started to decline in the late 1970's, and the
country began to experience severe inflation and other economic problems. A serious
economic gap grew between the country's developed republics, such as Croatia and Slovenia,
and its less developed republics, such as Macedonia and Montenegro.
In the late 1980's, many Yugoslavs called for a multi-party political system. In January
1990, the Communist Party voted to end its monopoly on power in the country. Many new
political parties formed. Each of Yugoslavia's republics held multiparty elections in1990.
Non-Communist parties won a majority of seats in the parliaments of Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia. In Serbia and Montenegro, the Communist parties, now
known as Socialist parties, won majorities.
For many years, tension had existed between ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, especially
between Serbs and Croats and between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. During the 1960's, some
Croats and Slovenes began to call for independence from Yugoslavia. These demands grew in
the 1980's. Croatia and Slovenia charged that the national government took away too much
of their income. They also claimed that Serbia, which had the most influence in the
national government, sought to control the other republics. Demands for independence also
increased among ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during the 1980's. But in the late 1980's,
Serbia gradually ended the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina. In 1990, Serbia dissolved
In May 1991, Serbia blocked the election of a Croat who was scheduled to become head of
the Presidency under the system of annual rotation. Partly as a result, Croatia and
Slovenia declared their independence in late June. Fighting then broke out between ethnic
Serbs in Croatia who claimed part of the republic and the Croat militia. In September
1991, Macedonia declared its independence.
In January 1992, a cease-fire between the Serbian and Croatian forces ended most fighting.
But Serbian forces still held some Croatian land.
In March 1992, a majority of Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina voted
for independence from Yugoslavia in a referendum (direct vote). Ethnic Serbs boycotted the
referendum. Fighting then broke out between Serbs who claimed part of the republic and
Muslims and Croats. Serbs soon gained control of about two-thirds of the republic.
In April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro formed a new Yugoslavia. In late 1995, the Croatian
government and the leaders of the Croatian Serbs made peace in Croatia. They agreed to a
plan that would gradually reunite the land still held by Croatian Serbs with the rest of
Croatia. Also in late 1995, representatives of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia signed a peace
plan for Bosnia. The plan called for dividing Bosnia into two parts, one part to be
dominated by a Muslim-Croat federation and the other by Bosnian Serbs.
In early 1998, Yugoslavia received international criticism after Serbian police attacked
villages in theprovince of Kosovo, killing dozens of people and burning many homes. The
Yugoslav government said the police attack was a crackdown on the rebel Kosovo Liberation
Army, which demands independence for the province. Fighting continued between the Serbian
and rebel forces. In late 1998, under pressure from the military alliance NATO (North
Atlantic Treaty Organization), both sides in the conflict declared a cease-fire. However,