Yugoslavia, Relations with

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The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was proclaimed on December 1, 1918, and was renamed Yugoslavia on October 3, 1929 by Alexander Karadjordjevic. The creation of the new enlarged South Slav state and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia together ruptured the once-strong bonds between Russia and the South Slav lands, especially Serbia.

Russian support for Serbia in the summer of 1914 had helped precipitate World War I, which destroyed the Romanov dynasty and eventually brought the Bolsheviks to power. Like its neighbors,

the new Yugoslav state was fiercely anticommunist. In 1920 and 1921 the kingdom joined Romania and Czechoslovakia in a series of bilateral pacts that came to be known as the Little Entente. The alliance was primarily aimed at thwarting Hungarian irredentism (one country's claim to territories ruled or governed by others based on ethnic, cultural, or historic ties), since the former kingdom of Hungary had lost approximately 70 percent of its prewar territory. The Little Entente also served as part of France's eastern security system designed to contain both Germany and Bolshevik Russia. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, relations between Moscow and Belgrade were but a shadow of that which had preceded World War I. Not only was Yugoslavia a supporter of the postwar settlements that had aggrandized its territory, but it also sought to isolate the Bolshevik revolution; moreover, it had little trade with the new Soviet state, in part because prewar relations between St. Petersburg and Belgrade had been based almost entirely on diplomatic and cultural rather than economic links. In addition, the rise of Nazi Germany left much of Yugoslav trade within the Third Reich's orbit.

In 1941 Germany occupied Yugoslavia. Two groups, the Chetniks, led by Dra a Mihailovic, and the Partisans, under Josip Broz Tito, a Moscow-trained communist, fought the Germans and at the same time vied for supremacy within Yugoslavia. Although Tito emerged victorious and Stalin's so-called Percentages Agreement with Winston Churchill gave Moscow 50 percent influence in Yugoslavia, the Red Army had not occupied the country, and thus the Soviet Union was unable to influence developments there as it could in other areas of central and southeastern Europe. Tito's popularity and mass following stood in contrast to the situation in the other countries of the future "bloc," where there were at best small native communist parties dominated by the Soviet Union.

As a result, the communist state created in Yugoslavia in 1946 was independent of Soviet stew-ardship even though its constitution was initially modeled on the Soviet constitution. From the outset, Tito pursued an independent domestic policy and an aggressive foreign one. His ambitions threatened both Stalin's leadership (by his promotion of national communist movements) and also peace in Europe (by such actions as the shooting down of American planes during the Trieste Affair, the Italian-Yugoslav border dispute, and his support for the communists in the Greek Civil War). When Tito attempted to create a separate customs union with Bulgaria without consulting the Soviet Union beforehand, and refused to abandon the effort as Stalin demanded, a break, usually referred to as the Tito-Stalin split, quickly followed.

On June 28, 1948, the Cominform, the umbrella communist propaganda organ directed by Moscow, expelled Yugoslavia, charging Tito with betraying the international communist movement. Stalin hoped that this would force Yugoslavia to submit to Soviet leadership, but he miscalculated. Instead, Tito turned to a West that was all too willing to forget his ideology and past actions and provide assistance to enable Yugoslavia to pursue its own command economy and an independent diplomatic and political stance that served as a counterforce to the Soviet leader. Yugoslavia, for example, supported the United Nations resolution authorizing resistance to the invasion of South Korea in June 1950. Tito soon became one of the founders of the nonaligned movement, which held its first conference in Belgrade in 1961.

Stalin's death in 1953 opened the door for a partial rapprochement with Belgrade. Issues such as navigation and trade along the Danube River were resolved, but the ideological rift never entirely healed. In May 1955 Nikita Khrushchev visited Belgrade, and the following year Tito visited to Moscow, and the Cominform, which dissolved in April 1956, renounced its earlier condemnations. Despite seemingly cordial relations, however, the strains between Moscow and Belgrade persisted, especially after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, which saw the independent-minded Hungarian revolt crushed, and the arrest and subsequent murder of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian prime minister, who had taken refuge in the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest from 1956 until 1958. In 1957 Tito angered Moscow by refusing to sign a declaration commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In the wake of the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s, another reconciliation took place, most notably in the area of trade. However, Yugoslavia continued to develop economic ties with western Europe, as witnessed by the hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs who went west for employment as well as by western investment in Yugoslavia. For Belgrade, improved relations with Moscow were but one part of a foreign policy that also looked to the West (despite anti-American rhetoric), China (after a reconciliation in the early 1970s), and the Third World for influence and economic advantages. Soviet leaders in turn realized that the ideological squabble with Belgrade served little purpose.

The death of Tito in 1980 began the fracturing of a Yugoslav state strained by economic problems and national resentments, and by 1990 the country fragmented. Similarly, the Soviet Union lost its empire in eastern Europe in 1989, and by 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved.

The break-up of the two states ironically brought both of them full circle. During the nineteenth century, Russia had been the sole great power supporter of Serbia. Although a "Yugoslavia" continued to exist after 1990, the name denoted a rump state that comprised only Serbia and Montenegro. As the wars in the former Yugoslavia raged, Moscow again served as Belgrade's principal benefactor, citing historical, religious, and cultural ties. From military aid to peacekeeping in the wake of Slobodan Milosevic's failed attempt to promote Serb authority through the brutal suppression of the Albanian Kosovars, Russia had regained an influence in Belgrade that it had not seen since the early days of World War I.

See also: balkan wars; communist bloc; communist information bureau; montenegro, relations with; serbia, relations with


Djordjevic, Dimitrije. (1992). "The Yugoslav Phenomenon." In The Columbia History of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, ed. Joseph Held. New York: Columbia University Press.

Glenny, Misha. (2000). The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 18041999. New York: Viking Penguin.

Hupchick, Dennis P. (2002). The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. New York: Palgrave.

Jelavich, Barbara. (1974). St. Petersburg and Moscow: Tsarist and Soviet Foreign Policy, 18141974. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Rothschild, Joseph, and Wingfield, Nancy M. (2000). Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II. 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Richard Frucht

Yugoslavia, Relations with

views updated May 21 2018


YUGOSLAVIA, RELATIONS WITH. The lack of any significant and tangible U.S. interests in the Balkans through most of American history has meant that the United States often has dealt with Yugoslavia in the context of larger international struggles and interests, particularly World War II and then the Cold War. American policy primarily has been dictated by greater concerns, not by any intrinsic value the United States places on Yugoslavia.

American relations with Yugoslavia date back to the creation of that multiethnic state in December 1918, a result of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I. Although Yugoslavia was ostensibly a reflection of Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination, the twentieth-century Yugoslav state brought together under one government several peoples, including the Serbs, the Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims.

In the period between the world wars, U.S. policy toward the new nation was practically nonexistent. There were no significant American economic interests in Yugoslavia. There was little American capital invested there, and the volume of trade was minimal. During World War II, Yugoslavia became a matter of concern to the United States once it too became a victim of Nazi aggression in March 1941. U.S. policy was to support resistance forces in Yugoslavia fighting against the German and Italian armies. Even so, the United States tended to let the British, who had more experience in the region, take the lead. Following Winston Churchill, the United States gave aid first to Chetnik forces loyal to the prewar royal government, and then shifted its aid to Josip Broz Tito's partisans toward the end of the war, when it became apparent that they were the more effective fighting force. The only hard and fast rule Franklin Roosevelt's administration had regarding the region was its steadfast resistance to the idea of introducing American combat troops anywhere in the Balkans. The American military refused to entertain the idea at any point in the war. With that one restriction, the single American concern was to damage the Axis powers.

After the war, American policy toward Yugoslavia became a function of the Cold War. From 1945 to 1948, while Tito (who prevailed in the internal power struggle) was Joseph Stalin's loyal communist ally, the United States was implacably hostile to the Yugoslav regime. After Moscow's heavy-handed attempts to dominate Yugoslavia led Tito to split with Stalin in June 1948, the United States slowly inched closer to Tito, supporting his regime rhetorically, economically, and finally militarily, all in the name of keeping Yugoslavia out of the Soviet orbit. The United States and Yugoslavia signed a bilateral military agreement in November 1951 that had the practical effect of incorporating the communist state into NATO's defensive plans for Europe. Tito came to rely on a steady stream of U.S. economic aid to prop up his economy, and the United States grudgingly tolerated his attempts to organize Third World nations into a neutralist bloc, as long as he remained independent of Moscow and thus a useful example for the United States of a communist leader who was not under the thumb of the Kremlin.

This remained American policy throughout the Cold War. It was not based on any fondness for Tito, his ideology, or his government, but on a desire to place a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union. When the Cold War came to an abrupt end, the United States was left with no policy for Yugoslavia. Having viewed the country through the prism of World War II and then the Cold War for nearly fifty years, Yugoslavia had no clear meaning for the United States in the absence of a common enemy.

Upon Tito's death in 1980, no single leader emerged to replace him. Instead, the Yugoslav government was run by the leaders of the republics, who shared a revolving presidency. The state limped along through the 1980s, but the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe in 1989 removed the last force holding the republics together. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia all declared their independence of Yugoslavia and set up separate states. The wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia presented a new challenge to American policy. Throughout the 1990s, America's struggle to define a coherent and effective policy vacillated between a desire to act to end the bloodshed and a fear of becoming trapped in a foreign policy quagmire.

President George H. W. Bush avoided any direct American role in Yugoslavia, and his successor, Bill Clinton, initially followed suit. Eventually the fear of a wider war that might destabilize Europe and international outrage over atrocities committed (particularly by Serb forces in Bosnia) forced the Clinton administration to act, both diplomatically and militarily. The United States brokered the Dayton agreement in 1995 that ended the fighting in Bosnia, and American-led NATO air strikes in 1999 forced the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic to allow NATO occupation of Kosovo. At the start of the twenty-first century, American military forces were part of NATO peacekeeping forces in both Bosnia and Kosovo, but the often stated preference of George W. Bush to withdraw American forces from peacekeeping missions seemed to signal a return to a more hands-off American policy in the region.


Beloff, Nora. Tito's Flawed Legacy: Yugoslavia and the West, 1939– 1984. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1985.

Brands, H. W. The Specter of Neutralism: The United States and the Emergence of the Third World, 1947–1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Heuser, Beatrice. Western Containment Policies in the Cold War: The Yugoslav Case 1948–53. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Lees, Lorraine M. Keeping Tito Afloat: The United States, Yugoslavia, and the Cold War. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Mark S.Byrnes

See alsoKosovo Bombing .