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Yugoslavia (meaning "South Slavia" or "land of the South Slavs"), was created twice in the twentieth century—both times after a world war—and it disintegrated twice: the first time because of an invasion and partition during the Second World War and the second time at the end of the Cold War, when an internal conflict led to hundreds of thousands of dead, millions displaced, and a foreign intervention. Between 1918 and 1941 (formally 1945) Yugoslavia was a monarchy. The fragile democracy of the 1920s was replaced by a royal dictatorship in 1929. The country was invaded and partitioned by Germany, Italy, and their allies in 1941, but, despite a bloody civil war that, combined with wars for liberation, claimed one million lives, a united South Slav state reemerged at the end of the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1991–1992 Yugoslavia was a socialist federation, comprising six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Serbia also had two provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo. The Yugoslav successor states today are all formally democratic republics, but in the 1990s the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (comprising just Serbia and Montenegro) and Croatia were ruled by semi-authoritarian regimes, while Bosnia emerged from war as a de facto international protectorate. Kosovo, only nominally part of Serbia, has been an international protectorate since 1999. The region is gradually being integrated into international institutions, with Slovenia leading the way as a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO since 2004.

Political instability and ethnic conflict represent only one aspect—albeit the darkest one—in the rich and complex mosaic that is twentieth-century Yugoslav history. Perhaps as remarkable as the country's instability had been the perseverance of Yugoslavist ideals throughout the period. The turbulence of Yugoslavia's history reflects the history of Europe in the twentieth century. Periods of political and economic crises and wars were intersected by years of peace and stability.


Yugoslavia was situated in southeastern Europe. It bordered Austria and Hungary to the north, Romania and Bulgaria to the east, Greece and Albania to the south, and Italy to the west. After 1945 it had a total land area of 255,804 square kilometers (98,766 square miles). The long Dalmatian coast on the eastern Adriatic is cut off from rest of the Balkan peninsula by the Dinaric Alps, which together with the Julian Alps in Slovenia and the mountains of Montenegro, central and eastern Bosnia, and southwestern Serbia dominate the Yugoslav landscape. There are also fertile plains, especially in Vojvodina, Slavonia, and the Morava valley in central Serbia. The climate of the former Yugoslavia is moderately continental, with the exception of the Adriatic coast, where Mediterranean conditions prevail.

According to the 1991 census some 23.5 million people lived in Yugoslavia. Serbs (8.5 million) and Croats (4.65 million) were the largest among a number of ethnic groups living in the country, followed by approximately 2.3 million Muslims (Muslim Slavs, since the 1990s known as Bosniaks), 1.76 million Slovenes, 1.4 million Macedonians, and 550,000 Montenegrins. By far the largest non–South Slav group were ethnic Albanians (nearly 2.2 million), followed by around 380,000 ethnic Hungarians. Up until the end of the Second World War some 500,000 ethnic Germans and several thousand ethnic Italians also lived in Yugoslavia, but most were expelled, together with Italians living in those territories in Istria and Dalmatia that Yugoslavia gained in 1945. More than 720,000 people declared themselves as "Yugoslav" in 1991, ironically more than ever before. "Yugoslavs" sometimes came from ethnically mixed marriages and were considered "nationally undeclared."

Almost 25 percent of Serbs lived outside Serbia, mostly in Bosnia and Croatia, and some 20 percent of Croats lived outside Croatia, predominantly in Bosnia and Vojvodina. Bosnia had the most ethnically mixed population. Out of its 4.35 million people approximately 44 percent were Muslim, 31 percent Serb, 17 percent Croat, and 5.5 percent "Yugoslav" in 1991. Interconnected with the ethnic diversity was a religious one, although many Yugoslavs only nominally belonged to a religion. Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians mainly belong to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Croats and Slovenes are mostly Roman Catholic, while Bosnian and Sandžak Muslims and most ethnic Albanians are Sunni Muslim. There are also small Jewish, Protestant, and other religious communities. The former Yugoslavia had three, closely related, official languages: Serbo-Croatian/Croato-Serbian (spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro), Slovenian, and Macedonian. With the disintegration of the country, Serbo-Croatian "disintegrated" too, into Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. In areas where significant minorities lived, their languages (i.e., Albanian, Hungarian, Italian) were also in official use.

Interwar Yugoslavia was largely an agricultural society, but the industrialization and collectivization during the socialist period eventually changed the country's social structure. After 1945 people increasingly moved to urban centers, especially the capital Belgrade and other large cities such as Zagreb, Skopje, and Sarajevo. While in 1921 some three-quarters of all Yugoslavs depended on agriculture, by 1981 the figure was down to one-fifth. From the 1960s many Yugoslavs, mostly those living in rural areas, emigrated to Western Europe as "guest workers." Significant, often political, émigré communities had already existed in Western Europe, Australia, and the Americas. The latest wave of emigration to the West took place during the wars of the 1990s.


Interwar Yugoslavia had one of Europe's least-developed economies. Former Habsburg lands in the northwest were relatively industrialized, but the country was mostly agricultural, with small peasant farms predominant. After 1945 the economy became state-owned, though in the early 1950s, as part of the introduction of workers' self-management, state ownership was formally replaced by "social ownership." The late 1950s and early 1960s was the period of economic growth, and in 1965 new economic reforms were introduced. Yugoslavs enjoyed a favorable housing system and good, free health care, while from the 1960s private ownership was tolerated. The 1970s was a decade of relative prosperity—partly thanks to foreign credits—but the 1980s witnessed high inflation, growth of unemployment, and a drastic fall in living standards. Despite the federal government's efforts, regional disparity remained: Slovenia and Croatia were the richest republics and Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia the poorest areas in the country. Economic problems contributed to the overall crisis that led to the eventual disintegration of the country.


Unlike in the field of economy, the former Yugoslavia made a significant contribution to European and world culture and art. Ivan Meštrović was among the leading European sculptors in the first half of the twentieth century. Yugoslav surrealists played a prominent role in the interwar European scene, while Yugoslav naive art is internationally highly regarded. Of the contemporary artists, the best known is probably the Belgrade-born performance artist Marina Abramović.

Among the Yugoslav writers who achieved international reputation are Ivo Andrić, whoin1961won the Nobel Prize for Literature for novels such as Bridge on the River Drina (1945); Miroslav Krleža (The Return of Philip Latinovicz, 1932); Milovan Djilas, who produced political writings such as The New Class (1957) as well as fiction; Danilo Kiš (A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, 1976); MilošCrnjanski (Migrations, 1929); Milorad Pavić (Dictionary of the Khazars, 1984); and the poet Vasko Popa. Contemporary writers include Dubravka Ugrešić (The Culture of Lies, 1996) and Slavenka Drakulić (How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, 1993), both from Croatia; Bosnian/Croatian Miljenko Jergović (The Sarajevo Marlboro, 1994); Bosnian-born Aleksandar Hemon (The Question of Bruno, 2000); David Albahari (Bait, 1996; Goetz and Meyer, 1998) and Vladimir Arsenijević (In the Hold, 1994), both from Serbia; and Belgrade-born, British-based Vesna Goldsworthy (Chernobyl Strawberries, 2005).

Dušan Makavejev (The Switchboard Operator, 1967; WR: Mysteries of the Organism, 1971) and Emir Kusturica (When Father was Away on Business, 1985; Time of the Gypsies, 1989; Underground, 1995) are two of the best-known film directors from the former Yugoslavia. Dušan Vukotić won an Oscar for best animated short film in 1961. The Macedonian MilčoMančevski (Before the Rain, 1994), the Serbian Srdjan Dragojević (Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, 1996), and the Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanović (No Man's Land, 2001) represent the younger generation of post-Yugoslav directors.

The Yugoslav rock scene of the 1980s deserved to be recognized internationally for more than producing the Slovenian band Laibach. Goran Bregović, a former rock musician, became popular worldwide in the 1990s for his interpretation of Balkan gypsy music, originally composed for Kusturica's films.


During the Middle Ages the South Slavs formed several independent kingdoms: Croatia, Rascia, Zeta, and Bosnia. Rascia and Zeta formed the basis of a united Serbian kingdom that grew into a powerful regional empire in the fourteenth century. After initially being part of a large Slav entity in the early Middle Ages, Slovenes came under Austrian control, while the territory of the present-day Macedonian republic was part of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Serbian empires throughout the Middle Ages. Habsburg and Ottoman conquests meant that by the mid-fifteenth century most South Slavs came under foreign imperial rule. The exceptions were the city-state of Dubrovnik and tiny Montenegro (in the territory of Zeta), ruled by native prince-bishops.

The First World War and unification

The idea that the South Slavs, particularly Serbs and Croats, were one nation emerged in the 1830s. Proto-Yugoslav ideologists, mostly Croat intellectuals, reacted against Hungarian assimilationism but were also influenced by French revolutionary ideas and looked to German and Italian unification movements for inspiration. Despite the threat posed by separate Serb and Croat national ideologies throughout the nineteenth century, the Yugoslav idea survived and in the years preceding the First World War had prominent adherents among Habsburg South Slavs as well as in neighboring Serbia.

For an independent and united Yugoslavia to be formed, the Ottoman and Habsburg monarchies had to give way. The Ottomans' presence in Europe all but ended as a result of the First Balkan War of 1912. The Second Balkan War of 1913 doubled the territory of Serbia and enhanced its prestige among the South Slavs living in Austria-Hungary. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, was assassinated in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, more than half of the future Yugoslavia was part of Austria-Hungary: Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only Serbia (which included what is today Kosovo and Macedonia) and Montenegro were independent states. The archduke's assassin was Gavrilo Princip, a twenty-year-old member of Young Bosnia, a revolutionary youth movement that campaigned for the breakup of the Dual Monarchy and the unification of its South Slavs with Serbia. Although Young Bosnians were armed and financially aided by the Black Hand, a secret Serbian organization led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis, official Belgrade was not behind the assassination. Nevertheless, for Vienna and Budapest the murder of the archduke presented an ideal opportunity to bring to an end Serbia's threat to the empire. When an ultimatum was rejected by Belgrade, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July. The First World War had thus began.

Serbia's war aims included a territorial aggrandizement at the expense of the Habsburg Monarchy. In December 1914 the government of Nikola Pašić, evacuated in the city of Niš, declared that it aimed to "fight for liberation and unification of all our unliberated brothers Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" (Mitrović, 2003, p. 44). Serbia also supported the creation of the Yugoslav Committee, a group of exiled Habsburg South Slav politicians and intellectuals based in London from May 1915 until the end of the war. The committee's leaders were two Dalmatian Croats, Ante Trumbić and Frano Supilo, and its activities were largely propagandistic. Following Serbia's military defeat in late 1915, King Peter I, the government, and a decimated army reached the safety of the Greek island of Corfu after an epic retreat through the mountains of Montenegro and Albania during the winter of 1915–1916. The combination of such a precarious situation and pressure from the Entente powers to give up claims to Dalmatia and Istria in favor of Italy (in exchange for Rome's entry in the war on the Entente side, as promised Italy in the secret Treaty of London of April 1915) led Pašić to reconsider his government's "maximalist" aim: the Yugoslav unification. He turned instead to a "minimalist" aim: the creation after the war of an enlarged Serbia that would include Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and possibly Serb-populated parts of Croatia, at least until a pan-Yugoslav unification became possible. This did not necessarily contradict Pašić's ideology, his People's Radical Party being predominantly concerned with Serbian interests. However, in 1917 Serbia's official position would change again. The entry of the United States in the war and Russia's withdrawal following the revolution provided two turning points. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States championed the small nations' right to self-determination and opposed the policy of secret treaties. At the same time Pašić lost a powerful ally in Russia, which had viewed the Yugoslav unification with suspicion and would have probably preferred the creation of an enlarged Serbia instead.

In July 1917 the Serbian government and the Yugoslav Committee met at Corfu for talks. The conference resulted in a declaration that the future Yugoslav state would be a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy under Serbia's Karadjordjević dynasty. Neither the unification of the "trinominal" Serbo-Croat-Slovene nation nor the monarchical form of state had been questioned by either side. However, their discourses differed. While the Serbian government saw Serbia as liberator and unifier of the South Slavs, most members of the Yugoslav Committee preferred a unification between two equal partners: Serbia and Habsburg South Slavs. Crucially, the two sides could not agree whether the future state should be a centralized or a decentralized one. The Corfu Declaration stated that the form of government would be decided by a majority, without specifying whether that majority should be absolute or relative.

The Kingdom, 1918–1941

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (as Yugoslavia was officially called until 1929) was proclaimed in Belgrade on 1 December 1918 by Serbia's Prince Regent Alexander and a delegation of Zagreb's National Council. Therefore, it was not the creation of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1919–1920, as is sometimes wrongly claimed. Yugoslavia was one of several new nation-states on the map of east-central Europe. However, it was neither completely new nor a nation-state in the strict sense of the term, despite the South Slavs making up over 80 percent of the country's population of nearly twelve million. Serbs and Montenegrins made up some 40 percent of the population, Croats 23 percent, Slovenes 8.5 percent, Bosnian Muslims 6.2 percent and Macedonians just under 4 percent. The largest minorities were ethnic Germans (4.1 percent), Hungarians (3.8 percent), and Albanians (3.7 percent). Unlike Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia was essentially the successor of a prewar independent state (Serbia), but unlike Romania it was not simply an enlarged state, nor was it a restored state like Poland. Officially, only Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were recognized as three branches of the Yugoslav nation. However, Yugoslavia's creators acknowledged that old Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene traditions remained, as reflected in the country's official name. Even the most optimistic Yugoslav advocates recognized that a common Yugoslav identity had still to be created.

While intellectuals preferred a genuine Yugoslav "synthesis," the country's political leaders argued over the constitution. The Serbs generally preferred centralism, modeled on Serbia's 1903 constitution (inspired by the French and Belgian constitutions), while Croats, fearing Serb domination, called for a decentralized state, even a mini Austria-Hungary. The argument turned into an essentially Serb-Croat debate soon after the unification, although there were prominent Serbs opposed to centralism, as well as Croats and other non-Serbs who supported Belgrade's vision of the new state. A highly centralist constitution was adopted on 28 June 1921, thanks to the support the Serb-dominated government secured from Yugoslav Muslims and to the Croat Peasant Party's boycott of the Constituent Assembly.

It would be erroneous to reduce the politics of the 1920s to a Serb-Croat conflict. During that decade, and even more so during the 1930s, political conflict as well as cooperation often crossed "ethnic" boundaries. Chief exponents of centralism in the early 1920s were Pašić's People's Radical Party and the newly formed Democratic Party, led by a former Radical, Ljubomir Davidović, and by Svetozar Pribićević, a Croatian Serb and one of the leaders of the Croato-Serb Coalition, the largest political group in Croatia before the war. The Radicals, formed in the 1880s, had long ceased being radical, having turned into a government party with a strong base among the Serbs. The Democrats were formed in 1919–1920 by the Independent Radicals, sections of the Croato-Serb Coalition, and various liberal groups from Slovenia and other parts of the country. Their platform was pan-Yugoslav, but they failed to attract mass support among non-Serbs. Universal male suffrage made the Croatian (at that time still called Republican) Peasant Party, which had been but a minor party up until 1918, by far the strongest Croatian party and one of the largest in the whole of Yugoslavia. The party campaigned for Croatian autonomy and for republicanism; it was anti-centralist, at times it appeared to be separatist, and yet its leadership was not necessarily anti-Yugoslav. Stjepan Radić, the Croatian Peasants' leader, while calling for a Croatian state within Yugoslavia, wrote not long after the unification that "we, Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs really are one nation, both according to our language and our customs" (p. 319). The newly formed Communist Party of Yugoslavia was another anti-centralist and anti-monarchist party that did very well in the first elections in 1920, coming third after the Democrats and Radicals and just ahead of the Croatian Peasants. The Communist vote came predominantly from Montenegro, Macedonia, and Croatia; it was a protest vote from areas where social and nationalist discontent was high. A combination of a clampdown by authorities after a Communist activist assassinated the interior minister in 1921 and the stabilization of the internal situation led to the near-disappearance of the Communist Party, which would only begin to recover on the eve of the Second World War, when Josip Broz Tito assumed its leadership. The other two key parties were the Slovene People's Party and the Yugoslav Muslim Organization, the main Slovenian and Bosnian Muslim parties, respectively.

The 1920s were marked by political instability created by the "Croatian question"—the Croats' refusal to accept fully state institutions—and the inability of any political party to form a stable government. Between 1920 and 1929 four general elections were held and a dozen or so governments were formed by seven different prime ministers, with Alexander (king from 1921) regularly interfering in high politics. When Davidović's Democrats began to move against centralism and closer to the Croatian Peasants' position, Pribićević left them in 1924 to found the breakaway Independent Democratic Party and enter a Radicals-dominated government. But when Radić unexpectedly reached an agreement with Prime Minister Pašić, and his party entered the government in 1925, Pribićević resigned. The Independent Democrats' leader refused to cooperate with Radić, who had previously rebuffed the constitution and boycotted the parliament. In 1927 Radić left the government, unable to reach a working relationship with the Radicals. In a volte-face suppressing even the 1925 agreement with Pašić, Radić joined forces with Pribićević. The two former rivals became copresidents of the newly formed Peasant Democratic Coalition (SDK). Although Pribićević continued to believe in the "national oneness" of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, his newly discovered anti-centralism and the conflict with the Radicals made possible the coalition with Radić, who, as already suggested, did not reject the notion of a common Yugoslav identity.

In June 1928 the political crisis reached its culmination inside the parliament. A Radical deputy shot dead two Croatian Peasants' deputies and mortally wounded Radić. The boycott of parliament by the SDK and the failure of another government coalition, headed by Anton Korošec, the leader of the Slovene People's Party (and the only non-Serb prime minister during the interwar period), apparently persuaded the king that there was no other option but for him to take matters into his own hands. If the politicians could not unite the nation, the king hoped a strong state apparatus under his control would. On 6 January 1929, the Orthodox Christmas Eve, he dissolved parliament, banned all political parties, and declared that "the moment has arrived when there can, and should, be no intermediary between nation and King."

It was only after the introduction of the royal dictatorship that the state embarked upon creating the Yugoslav nation. In October 1929 the country's name was officially changed to Yugoslavia. The new name and new administrative divisions were meant to conceal and eventually put to an end any differences between the South Slavs, while legal and educational systems were to be made uniform throughout the country. Between 1918 and 1929 the "national oneness" Yugoslavism was official, but after 1929 the "integral" Yugoslavism became compulsory. Despite (or because of) this, the ideology failed. To non-Serbs, especially Croats, it was too Serbian, in practice and in terms of national mythology. The Serbs also came to reject the dictatorship, and not only because it put an end to parliamentary democracy, which they claimed to have achieved in their pre-Yugoslav kingdom. The king granted a new constitution in 1931, but this act did not restore democracy; if anything it cemented the dictatorship. From the mid-1930s onward, some Serbs increasingly began to complain that their history and identity were being sacrificed for a wider Yugoslav ideal. At the same time, many Croats accused them of manipulating Yugoslavism in order to Serbianize the country.

The dictatorship was ostensibly introduced as the last attempt to save the country from sliding into chaos after the murders in the parliament. But the new regime was too closely linked with the king, despite initially receiving support across the country and even from Vladko Maček, Radić's successor. The end of the dictatorship would indeed begin with the assassination of King Alexander in October 1934 by a combined action of Croat and Macedonian terrorists/revolutionaries—the Ustaše and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), respectively—though it would never be fully abandoned by the king's successors.

Two quasi-democratic elections in the second half of the 1930s—in May 1935 and December 1938—were significant, and not only because they clearly indicated that Alexander's successors, led by his first cousin Prince Regent Paul, were ready to relax, if not abandon, the dictatorship. The 1938 elections in particular demonstrated a growing Serb-Croat cooperation in opposition to the government, which, although Serb-dominated, included the largest Slovene and Bosnian Muslim parties. The ruling Yugoslav Radical Union was formed in 1935 by the merger of a section of the Radical Party led by Prime Minister Milan Stojadinović (1935–1939), the Slovene People's Party, and the Yugoslav Muslim Organization. The Serb-Croat opposition, led by Maček, Davidović, and several other opposition leaders, gave the government a close run. This clearly indicated that many "ordinary" Yugoslavs supported demands for decentralization and a return to democracy—the main aims of the united opposition, achievable only with the abolition of the 1931 constitution. Because of the government's pressure on the electorate to vote for its list, in an open ballot, the opposition's success was even more remarkable.

Throughout the 1930s Maček kept contact not only with the Serbian opposition but also with the regime, despite spending part of the early 1930s in prison for alleged anti-state activities. The contacts intensified after 1934, especially with Prince Paul, but the Croat leader did not get on with Stojadinović. Stojadinović, who showed an ambition to become a dictator, was forced to resign by the prince regent following the disappointing election results. The more flexible and less ambitious Dragiša Cvetković was appointed prime minister in February 1939. Cvetković and Maček, encouraged by Prince Paul, reached an agreement in August 1939. Croatia was at last given wide autonomy, within the bounds of the constitution. The Croatian Peasant Party (and the Independent Democrats) entered the government, and Maček became deputy prime minister. By entering Cvetković's government Maček abandoned his Serbian partners in opposition, along with demands for the abolition of the constitution and a return to democracy. Autonomy for Croatia was his chief goal; democracy could wait. The Cvetković-Maček agreement provoked discontent among some Serbs, Slovenes, and Bosnian Muslims, who demanded the same rights as Croatia. In any case, it could have been a major step toward some form of federation had it not been for the breakout of the Second World War.

Yugoslavia's foreign policy throughout most of the interwar period had been pro-French and pro-British. The country was a member of the French-sponsored Little Entente, which also included Czechoslovakia and Romania, and of the Balkan Entente, which did not include the revisionist Bulgaria. However, under Stojadinović, who combined the premiership with the post of foreign minister, Yugoslavia moved closer to Germany and Italy in the spheres of international trade and diplomacy. With France and Britain not in position to help and neutrality apparently no longer an option, Belgrade signed the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941. The signing of the pact led to popular protests and a military coup, carried out on 27 March. Prince Paul's regency came to an end as Alexander's son, King Peter II, was proclaimed of age in advance of his eighteenth birthday. On 6 April Germany and Italy and their allies Bulgaria and Hungary invaded and partitioned Yugoslavia. The king and the government fled to London. An enlarged Croatia, which included the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina and stretched right to northern Serbia (but had to give up most of Dalmatia to Italy), was proclaimed independent under the Ustaša regime on 10 April, a week before the Yugoslav army capitulated. Other parts of the country were either occupied by the Axis and their satellites or annexed by them.

The Second World War

During the Second World War in Yugoslavia (1941–1945), the fiercest fighting took place in ethnically mixed areas of Croatia and Bosnia. A parallel with the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s is striking. In the 1940s, just as in the 1990s, the conflict was in many respects a Serb-Croat war, with Muslims caught in between; and yet, in both cases, Serbia and Croatia were officially not at war with each other. However, not unlike the political conflict of the interwar period, the armed conflicts that broke out across what was the first former Yugoslavia were not simply ethnic wars between different Yugoslav groups, the murderous Ustaša campaign against the Serbs notwithstanding. Wars of resistance went hand in hand with civil and ideological wars. The conflict between the Ustaše and the resurgent Serbs represented just one dimension of a multilayered war setting. Like in the 1990s, there were also many "private" wars, often inspired by crime and personal vendettas.

Two resistance movements emerged soon after the occupation: a group of army officers led by Colonel (later General) Dragoljub-Draža Mihailović started the organized resistance, but they would be eventually joined, overtaken, and defeated by their main rivals, the Communist-led Partisans. Mihailović's movement, better known as the Četniks, was in fact a group of loosely connected, dispersed, mostly Serb forces. They nominally recognized Mihailović's leadership, especially after he was appointed the war minister by the London-based Yugoslav government in exile in January 1942, but often acted independently of him. This was especially true of Dalmatian and Montenegrin Četniks, who openly collaborated with Italian troops there. The Partisans, on the other hand, had an able leader in Josip Broz Tito, the general secretary of the Communist Party. They were well organized, disciplined, and more willing to fight than the largely passive Četniks. The main difference between the two groups, apart from their ideology and tactics, was that the Partisans were able to attract followers among all Yugoslav groups, despite initially being a force mostly supported by Serbs from the Independent State of Croatia.

What the two movements had in common was that they both fought for a Yugoslavia, as reflected in their official names: the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (the Četniks) and the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (the Partisans). The Četniks were predominantly royalist and fought for the restoration of the monarchy and, at least until the later stages of the war, the old order. The Partisans, however, were a revolutionary, Communist-led movement that promised to restore Yugoslavia as a federation of South Slav republics. The Četniks' fear and hatred of communism equalled and sometimes surpassed their hatred of occupying forces—so much so that some of them were prepared to join Germans and Italians in order to fight the Partisans. The Partisans, on the other hand, came to consider Mihailović their most dangerous "internal" enemy and in March 1943 even proposed to the Germans a cease-fire so that they could engage Četnik forces (the proposal was rejected by Berlin). Although the Yugoslav, and particularly Partisan, resistance has been considered as the most effective in occupied Europe, its effectiveness would have been undoubtedly much greater had the two movements cooperated instead of fighting each other.

The Partisans won the war against the Četniks, while also fighting the foreign occupiers, and with the help of the Red Army liberated the country in May 1945. The Communists would soon take over the restored Yugoslav state, causing some embarrassment to the British, who had switched their support from Mihailović to Tito in 1943–1944 but had apparently hoped there would be a place in postwar Yugoslavia for the exiled monarchy and the prewar political parties. Formally, even the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin opposed the immediate establishment of a Communist government in Yugoslavia.

The Socialist Republic, 1945–1992

As in 1918, the Yugoslavia of 1945 was the Yugoslavs' creation; it was not imposed by Soviet tanks or Anglo-American diplomacy. The post–Second World War restoration was perhaps even more remarkable than the country's unification at the end of the First World War. Four years of bitter fighting claimed just over one million dead (in a country of sixteen million), with many Yugoslavs, perhaps a majority, killed by other Yugoslavs rather than by the occupiers. Roughly one-half of all dead were Serbs, many of whom were murdered in Ustaša-run concentration camps, the largest of which was at Jasenovac. A large percentage of Montenegrins, Bosnian Muslims, and Croats also died in the war. Over two-thirds of Yugoslavia's Jews and almost one-third of Roma were killed between 1941 and 1945. Yet the war did not kill the Yugoslav idea. If anything, the Partisans' victory showed that a form of Yugoslavism had survived the dissolution of the state in April 1941.

The new, socialist Yugoslavia was organized as a federation of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. In addition, Vojvodina and Kosovo were granted autonomy within Serbia, the largest republic. Vojvodina initially enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy, but in 1963 Kosovo's status was upgraded from that of a "region" to a "province," too. "National oneness" was replaced by the "brother-hood and unity" version of Yugoslavism. The former was blamed for the interwar state's internal crises, while the latter was praised for solving Yugoslavia's "national question." The "brotherhood and unity" was one of the key founding myths of Tito's Yugoslavia, together with Yugoslavia's "own road to socialism," following the split with Moscow in 1948 and the country's leading role in the non-aligned movement. Founded in 1961, this was a movement of mostly third world countries ostensibly neutral toward the superpowers.

The concept of "brotherhood and unity" was based on the notion of a struggle for liberation and socialist revolution during the Second World War, to which all Yugoslav nations had contributed almost equally. The liberation from foreign occupiers and domestic collaborators also resulted in a "national liberation": the Communists "upgraded" Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes from "tribes" of a single Yugoslav nation into separate but closely related Yugoslav "nations." Macedonians, who had previously been considered, regardless of what they felt, as "southern Serbs," and Montenegrins, most of whom probably felt Serb but at the same time had a strong sense of a Montenegrin identity, were also recognized as separate nations and granted their own republics. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Muslim Slavs of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sandžak region (on the Serb-Montenegrin border) officially became the sixth Yugoslav nation. Instead of apparently being forced to declare themselves (ethnic) "Yugoslavs," as they had during the royal dictatorship, the Yugoslavs in Tito's Yugoslavia were free and indeed encouraged to declare their particular national identities: Serb, Croat, Slovene, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Muslim (not "Bosnian"). Those who chose to be "Yugoslav" were listed as "nationally undeclared."

Nevertheless, the idea of South Slav ethnic and cultural proximity had not been fully abandoned. Yugoslavia still meant "South Slavia." It was above all the state of the South Slavs, the others not being considered constituent nations and thus denied the right to have a republic, regardless of their numerical size. For instance, ethnic Albanians, who vastly outnumbered the Montenegrins, were never recognized as a nation but were consigned to the status of a "nationality" (i.e., minority), and unlike Montenegro, Kosovo, where most Yugoslav Albanians lived, never became a republic. Therefore Tito's Yugoslavia, certainly up to the mid-1960s, when the process of decentralization really began, was somewhere between a nation-state and a multinational state, with a strong socialist ideology.

Manifestations of Yugoslav nationalism were particularly visible during the conflict with the Soviet Union in 1948, when Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau). The clash between Stalin and Tito had more to do with the former wishing to curb the increasing independence of the latter than with ideological differences. Only once the Yugoslavs had finally come to terms with the separation from their ideological fathers in Moscow would they begin to develop their own brand of socialism. In 1950 a law on self-management was passed, giving power to the workers, and the party name was changed to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in 1952. The Yugoslav Communists wished to emphasize their true Marxist credentials and their rejection of Stalinism. Stalin's death in March 1953 probably came too early from the point of view of those who had hoped for more radical reforms in Yugoslavia. The two countries reestablished full relations in 1954, and in May 1955 Nikita Khrushchev, the new Soviet leader, came to Belgrade, thus symbolically "rehabilitating" the Yugoslav leadership. In 1954 Milovan Djilas, once one of Tito's closest comrades and in charge of ideology and propaganda, was purged for calling for an end of the party monopoly and for criticizing the nature of Communist regimes. The publication of his book The New Class in 1957 marked him as the first major Communist dissident but also earned him a lengthy prison sentence. However, Yugoslavia never returned to the Soviet bloc. A position in between the "West" and "East" benefited the country in many ways, while Tito clearly enjoyed a leading role in the nonaligned movement. His state visit to Britain in 1953 was the first instance of a Communist leader visiting a Western country.

The decade between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s was crucial in many respects. It witnessed political and economic reforms but also continued purges. In 1966 Tito removed from power Aleksandar Ranković, vice president of the republic and head of the secret police. Dissident intellectuals were also targeted, most notably Mihajlo Mihajlov and the "Praxis" group of Marxist philosophers. Tito's regime was able to control and eventually put to an end the political upheaval in Croatia of 1967–1971—better known as the "Croatian Spring"—but these events showed that nationalism did not disappear in 1945. For good measure, Serbia's "liberal" Communist leadership and some members of Macedonian and Slovenian republican party leaderships were purged in the early 1970s, alongside their Croatian colleagues.

A new constitution in 1974 turned Yugoslavia into a loose federation. While Tito was alive it did not matter much, but not long after his death in May 1980 arguments over the revision of the constitution emerged. Tito left no successor apart from an ineffective collective presidency, while the other main leaders of the revolution had either been long purged (Djilas, Ranković) or had died before Tito (Edvard Kardelj). In March 1981 Albanians in Kosovo began to demand republican status for this predominantly Albanian-populated province, while Serbs increasingly called for a return to the pre-1974 order. The Serb-Albanian conflict would be overshadowed, for the time being, by a constitutional conflict between Serbia and Slovenia that dominated most of the 1980s. The Slovenes not only resisted Serb calls for tightening up the federation but sought to loosen it up further. Not unlike the Croats in the interwar period, who had opposed the centralist constitutions of 1921 and 1931, the Serbs came to challenge the state by demanding the revision of the 1974 constitution.

Without Tito's prestige at home and abroad and with the end of the Cold War looming, Yugoslavia's international significance slowly diminished. The state had become synonymous with the party, and, as it turned out, it could not survive the party's collapse in January 1990. Moreover, the domestic economic crisis reflected the failure of the "self-managing" economy and was only worsened by a rapid decrease in Western aid, which once flowed in regularly. Initially successful attempts to introduce genuine economic reform by Ante Marković's government in 1989–1990 failed not so much because the reform came too late but because it was undermined by the three key republics: Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia.

It was in this atmosphere of economic and political crisis, when increasingly nationalist calls for the reassessment of the "Yugoslav contract" were heard, that Slobodan Milošević emerged from within the party. Although the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia have largely been portrayed as ethnic wars, an "intra-ethnic" conflict within the Serbian Party had a crucial impact on the origins of the wars> of the 1990s. In the second half of the 1980s Milošević defeated the moderate faction led by his former political mentor and friend, the late Ivan Stambolić (murdered in August 2000, as one of the last high-profile victims of the Milošević era), before reorganizing Serbia's Communists into the Socialist Party of Serbia, which won comfortably the republic's first multiparty elections in 1990. Milošević's rise and the victory of Franjo Tudjman's nationalist Croatian Democratic Union over the Croatian Communists the same year would have a direct impact on Yugoslavia's fate, as would the emergence of Alija Izetbegović in Bosnia. Nationalist, anti-Yugoslav, and anti-communist discourses, sometimes mixed with quasi-Yugoslav views, were readily accepted by the public, not used to critical thinking and open debate. This was understandable because socialist Yugoslavia, despite its relative "liberalism," had for years curbed free speech and any form of opposition to Tito and the party. Moderate, non-nationalist voices existed but were far removed from sources of power. Ironically, Titoist purges, which apparently were carried out in order to preserve the Yugoslav unity, had made possible the emergence of Milošević, Tudjman, and other leaders whose policies led to the destruction of the country and the outbreak of war.

The wars of Yugoslav succession

Croatia and Slovenia both declared independence from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991. An armed conflict between the Yugoslav People's Army and Slovenian territorials over the control of border posts broke out immediately. Croatia remained relatively peaceful during the summer, although the sporadic fighting between the Croatian authorities and the republic's Serb minority had begun as early as August 1990. The Slovenian war was short; during two weeks of fighting thirteen Slovenes lost their lives while thirty-nine Yugoslav Army soldiers and officers were killed. In early July the two sides agreed, under international mediation, that Slovenia would postpone independence for three months, while the army withdrew into barracks. Surprisingly, on 13 July the Yugoslav federal presidency decided to withdraw the army from Slovenia. In December 1991 Germany pressed for international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, which were finally recognized by the European Community on 15 January 1992. The united Yugoslav state thus formally came to an end. Slovenia, a virtually homogenous nation-state, left Yugoslavia relatively painlessly. Croatia, with its 12 percent Serbian minority, provided the scene for a savage Croat-Serb war.

The Croatian war had two main phases. During the first, which lasted between autumn 1991 and January 1992, roughly one-third of the republic came under the control of Croatian Serbs, who, backed by Serbia, established the Republic of Serbian Krajina. Thousands were killed on both sides, tens of thousands "ethnically cleansed," while the Yugoslav Army and Serb and Montenegrin volunteers destroyed the Danubian town of Vukovar and shelled Dubrovnik, on the Adriatic coast. The second phase came in August 1995, when during a Croatian blitz (unofficially aided by the United States) the Croatian Serb statelet was crushed. During the first half of the 1990s, between 150,000 and 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled their centuries-old settlements, most of them following the brief August 1995 war.

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina broke out in April 1992, following the international recognition of an independent Bosnia. The independence was resisted by Bosnian Serbs. By this stage, both Bosnian Muslims (hereafter Bosniaks) and Bosnian Croats overwhelmingly favored independence from Belgrade. However, while the Bosniaks wanted an independent Bosnian state, many Croats, especially those living in western Herzegovina, sought unification with Croatia. These Croats established a breakaway Herceg-Bosna, while the Bosnian Serbs' own statelet, Republika Srpska, stretched over some two-thirds of Bosnia's territory by 1993. The Yugoslav Army withdrew from Bosnia at the beginning of the war into the newly formed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up just of Serbia and Montenegro. However, the army's Bosnian-born Serb officer corps and soldiers remained to form the Bosnian Serb Army.

Even more than the war in Croatia, the Bosnian war was marked by ethnic cleansing—whose principal victims were Bosniaks—and the siege of towns. Bosniak-held parts of the capital, Sarajevo, were regularly shelled by Bosnian Serb troops, while snipers targeted the city's civilians. In 1993 the Bosniak-Croat war intensified, in central Bosnia and in the Herzegovinian city of Mostar. Although caught between Serbs and Croats, the Bosniak-dominated government survived, partly thanks to international humanitarian aid, sporadic UN military interventions against Bosnian Serbs, and UN sanctions on Serbia, which had been providing aid to Republika Srpska. Croatia came under some international pressure for its involvement in the Bosnian war but escaped without sanctions.

The turning point came in 1994. In March, under U.S. pressure, the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks ceased hostilities and formed a federation, while in August the government of Slobodan Milošević, feeling the consequences of international isolation, largely abandoned the Bosnian Serbs and their leader Radovan Karadžić. Nevertheless, links between the Yugoslav Army and the Bosnian Serb Army remained. In July 1995 the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladić, ledasuccessful offensive against Bosniak positions in eastern Bosnia. The town of Srebrenica, a UN protected "safe area," was overrun, and most of its male population—between seven and eight thousand men—were shot dead. This provoked a UN military intervention, which in turn encouraged a joint Bosniak-Croat offensive and coincided with the Croatian attack on Krajina and eventually western Bosnia. Facing a total military defeat in Bosnia as well as Croatia, with tens of thousands of Serb civilians ethnically cleansed, the Bosnian Serbs, represented by Milošević, agreed to a U.S.-backed peace plan in November 1995. Several weeks of difficult negotiations between Milošević, Tudjman, and Izetbegović, with Warren Christopher, the U.S. secretary of state, and his aide Richard Holbrooke, at Dayton, Ohio, resulted in a peace agreement. Bosnia survived as a united country but was de facto partitioned. Republika Srpska, reduced from over 70 to 49 percent of Bosnian territory, was recognized as one of the two highly autonomous entities. The other was the Croat-Muslim Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, informally also divided along the ethnic lines. The total figure for all Bosnian casualties has been widely estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000, although recent research suggests a lower figure, in the region of 100,000. It is estimated that some two million people—around half of Bosnia's population—were displaced during the war. By 2004 hundreds of thousands were still to return to their homes.

Despite acknowledging Milošević's crucial role in bringing peace to Bosnia, the West kept pressure on Belgrade, only partially lifting the sanctions. The Serbian government survived growing opposition at home, most notably during the three-month long demonstrations of winter 1996–1997 over rigged local elections. However, the greatest challenge would come from Kosovo. A conflict over a year long between the Serbian government forces and the Albanian guerrillas and terrorists, the self-titled Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), could not be resolved by U.S.–sponsored negotiations at Rambouillet and Paris in early 1999. NATO then decided to intervene militarily against Yugoslavia. The official explanation for the intervention was the suffering of Kosovo Albanians, tens of thousands of whom had been forced to leave their homes in 1998 and 1999. However, the Western fear of having to deal with another "Bosnia," the feeling of guilt in Western capitals for failing to prevent Serb atrocities in Bosnia, and the wish to see a regime change in Belgrade may have been other factors behind the intervention. Air strikes were launched on 24 March 1999, with the KLA in fact used by NATO as its ground troops. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav armed forces and various Serbian paramilitaries were able to carry out their war against the KLA, burning and looting Albanian villages in the process. Over eight hundred thousand ethnic Albanians were forced to flee into Albania and Macedonia, while many were internally displaced within the province. Thousands of Serb civilians also left their homes, moving into Serbia "proper" and Montenegro.

NATO strikes did not seriously degrade the Yugoslav military, but they damaged the country's infrastructure and eventually the population's morale. Belgrade was becoming increasingly isolated internationally; even Russia, while condemning NATO strikes, put pressure on Belgrade to accept a peace deal. On 3 June Milošević backed down, to the relief of the leaders of NATO countries, some of whom faced increasing opposition to the war at home. Both sides had to compromise: Kosovo remained part of Yugoslavia, if only nominally; a NATO-led UN force (KFOR) entered the province, but not a NATO force with a mandate to move freely across Yugoslavia, as proposed at Rambouillet; and Yugoslav forces withdrew. Albanian refugees returned home, celebrating the end of Belgrade's rule as a national liberation. More than half of the prewar Serbian population of Kosovo—estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000—fled the province. During the war several thousand Albanians were killed (the final figure could rise up to ten thousand) and possibly around one thousand Serbs died. NATO suffered two accidental casualties. Again, as in Bosnia and Croatia, the principal victims were civilians. The wars of Yugoslav succession were characterized by a conflict between the nation-state and a multinational state, not unlike the wars of the early twentieth century that saw the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy, on whose ruins, ironically, Yugoslavia had once emerged.

Milošević survived the war more isolated than ever but still firmly in power. During the war the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague indicted him for genocide in Bosnia and war crimes in Croatia and Kosovo. Already weak because of internal divisions, the pro-Western Serbian opposition was further weakened by the NATO intervention. However, the growing social discontent and significant financial and moral support by the West provided the opposition with a badly needed lifeline. Some observers believed Milošević would introduce a dictatorship, but contrary to most predictions he lost power in elections in September 2000. After initially refusing to concede defeat, the Yugoslav president backed down when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators stormed the federal parliament in Belgrade in early October and the police and army refused to intervene.

The new president was Vojislav Koštunica, the candidate of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, at last united, if only temporarily as it turned out. Koštunica defeated Milošević because he appealed to both conservative and liberal voters. He also won because the election campaign was run by Zoran Djindjić, a dynamic, able organizer and highly pragmatic politician. Djindjić, the new prime minister of Serbia and leader of the Democratic Party (DS), and Koštunica, who had broken away from the DS to form the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), would soon clash over the speed of reforms and the cooperation with Western institutions, including the Hague tribunal. The Djindjić government extradited Milošević to the tribunal on 28 June 2001 (ironically, the anniversary of the 1389 Kosovo battle and several other key events in Yugoslav history, mentioned in this entry) without major opposition (Miloševic died of a heart attack as his trial was nearing its end in March 2006), but a continued push for reforms and cooperation with The Hague would cost the prime minister his life in March 2003. Behind Djindjić's assassination was a former paramilitary leader who had once been a member of the French Foreign Legion and who kept close links to the regional mafia. Djindjić had been perceived as a threat both to the mafia and to suspected war criminals. Post-Djindjić Serbia faces an uncertain future. Boris Tadić, Djindjić's successor as the Democrats' leader, also succeeded him as president. Koštunica became the prime minister of Serbia, but as of 2004 his government was in conflict with the Democratic Party and survived only with support from Milošević's Socialists. The far-right Serbian Radical Party remained strong and in opposition. Its leader, Vojislav Šešelj, was also at The Hague, facing charges for war crimes.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was renamed Serbia and Montenegro in February 2003, but its survival is uncertain. Many citizens of Montenegro seek independence, while almost as many wish to remain in some form of union with Serbia. The status of Kosovo—an international protectorate, only formally part of Serbia—remains unsolved, although any other solution but independence from Belgrade is unacceptable to Kosovo Albanians and appears unlikely.

The end of the last millennium also saw the end of the political careers of two other key former Yugoslav leaders. Franjo Tudjman of Croatia died in December 1999, while Alija Izetbegović of Bosnia retired from politics in 2000, three years before his death. Post-Tudjman Croatia became a European Union (EU) entry candidate in June 2004, despite a difficult relationship with the Hague tribunal and even though most Serb refugees have not returned. Bosnia remains fragile, despite a strong international presence, and nationalist parties continue to enjoy the majority of support among all three ethnic groups. Former Bosnian Serb leaders Karadžić and General Mladić are wanted by the Hague tribunal but have been in hiding since 1996 and 1995, respectively. Macedonia was nearly drawn into a war with its large ethnic Albanian minority in 2001, but partly because of international pressure the country has been peaceful ever since.

Of all the former Yugoslav republics only Slovenia is politically stable and fully integrated into Western institutions. In April 2004 it joined NATO, and the following month it became an EU member-state. Other republics will slowly follow, and in a not too distant future former Yugoslavs will once again come under the same umbrella, albeit an EU one. In the meantime, increased economic, cultural, sport, and political communications among the former Yugoslavs give hope that stability will take hold in the western Balkans, despite a number of unresolved issues that remain. Europe should watch closely, not least because the Yugoslavs' attempts to build a viable multinational state in the twentieth century could provide valuable lessons for the EU project.

See alsoBalkans; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Izetbegović, Alija; Kosovo; Macedonia; Milošević, Slobodan; Montenegro; Sarajevo; Serbia; Slovenia; Srebrenica; Tito (Josip Broz); Ustaše.


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Dejan DjokiĆ