Yugoslavia had been the creation of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and a part of the break up of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was an artificial unification of a variety of people – Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Albanians, Hungarians, Macedonians and others including gypsies. Before World War II these were people ruled by a monarch, Alexander, who changed the name of the region to Yugoslavia, hoping to give his subjects a greater common identity with his rule. Under Alexander, that portion of Yugoslavia called Serbia dominated, accompanied by bureaucratic and police repression, as Alexander ruled autocratically.
King Alexander was assassinated in 1934. His son, under a regent, ruled until 1941, when German armies invaded from Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and routed the Yugoslav military. Germany took a portion of Yugoslavia. Italy took control of other parts: Slovenia in the north, part of the Dalmatian coast, western Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Bulgaria took a part of Macedonia. Hungary took the region northeast of Serbia, Vojvodina, an area that included some Hungarians and a German minority, and German troops occupied Serbia and a part of Slovenia.
Croatia remained independent but an ally of Germany and Italy. Croatia extended its rule into Bosnia and Herzegovina (Hercegovina) – under a fascist regime that had some Moslem allies. Serb resistance to fascist rule began in Bosnia. The Croatian fascists retaliated with massacres second only to Germany's move against Jews, and the Croat regime opened concentration camps, exterminated Jews and gypsies, while Serbs took to the hills and forests in self-defense. Among the Serbs, a group supporting Yugoslavia's monarchy fought now and then against German occupation and sometimes collaborated with the Germans. The advantage in resistance to German occupation went to those who fought in the name of both democracy and patriotism – guerilla fighters under the leadership of Josip Tito, a half-Croat, half-Slovene Communist whose slogan was "brotherhood and unity." It was Tito's group that won aid from the British, the British recognizing Tito's organization as the one effective opposition movement against the Germans.
It was Tito's force that liberated much of Yugoslavia rather than the Russian army, and Tito wished to maintain his authority in Yugoslavia rather than become subservient to Moscow. Tito became Yugoslavia's president-for-life, and Yugoslavia became a federation of six nominally equal republics and two autonomous regions. The republics were Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The autonomous regions were Kosovo, which had an Albanian majority, and Vojvodina (northeast of Belgrade) which had a large Hungarian population. In keeping with his slogan of brotherhood and unity, and compatible with the old Marxist slogan of workers of the world unite, Tito and his Communist Party suppressed nationalism. And Tito's regime put a number of Croat nationalist leaders – and some other dissidents – in prison.
Tito's regime was dogmatic. It abolished organized opposition groups. It nationalized industries, the means of distribution and exchange. Tito collectivized agriculture and instituted centralized economic planning. Then his regime moved toward decentralization of its economy, what was called worker self-management and the Yugoslav road to socialism. In the 1950s and 1960s, Yugoslavia enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. Some of this was due to its having become a tourist destination and its export of metal goods and textiles, while Yugoslavia enjoyed good relations with the West. This included the United States, where strategists believed it worthwhile to play Tito's independence against Moscow's control.
Tito was a hero among many in Yugoslavia for having overthrown fascism, for having created a society with full employment and a sense of purpose. With prosperity, ethnic hatreds declined under routine intercourse among people. Many people in Croatia and elsewhere in Yugoslavia saw themselves as Yugoslavians rather than Croats, Slovenes, et cetera. Intermarriages between people of different ethnicities were developing – except in Kosovo, where the Christian Serbs and the Muslim Albanians were more divided.
Copyright © 2005-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.