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Социјалистичка Федеративна Република Југославија
Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija

Capital Belgrade
Government Communist
Language Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Macedonian (official)
President Stjepan Mesić (last; 1991-1992)
Prime minister Ante Marković (last; 1989-1992)
Area 98,766 sq mi
Population 1989 23,724,919 (est)
Currency Yugoslav dinar

Yugoslavia (literally "Land of the South Slavs") was a country in the Balkan peninsula that existed from 1918 to 1992, with a short break during World War II, when it was occupied by Nazi Germany. It was a monarchy from its creation to 1945 and a communist country from 1945 to its dissolution.


The former state of Yugoslavia was created following the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–1920 as the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes." Since these were not the only ethnic groups existing in the country, the name was changed in 1929 to "Kingdom of Yugoslavia." During the span of its existence it was the largest and most important nation in the Balkan peninsula. While none of the countries created at the Peace Conference perfectly represented the Wilsonian ideal of national self-determination, Yugoslavia was more of a repudiation of this idea than probably any other. Most of its territory had previously been part of the recently destroyed kingdom of Serbia; the Austro-Hungarian Empire; or prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire.

World War II

Besides Britain and France, Yugoslavia was the only European country to openly defy Nazi Germany after the Munich agreement of 1938 but before being attacked or annexed. It earned this distinction as a result of a coup d'état in April 1941 triggered by Benito Mussolini's unsuccessful invasion of neighboring Greece. The coup overthrew a pro-Nazi prime minister and led to war with Germany.


Hitler invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941. The Yugoslavian government fled to London and joined the Allied governments-in-exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the French National Committee. At the Inter-Allied Meeting held of September 24, 1941 in London, the Yugoslavian government along with the other governments-in-exile and the Soviet Union, pledged their "adherence to the common principles of policy set forth" in the Atlantic Charter, to "respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."[1] On January 1, 1942, the Yugoslavian government agreed to the Declaration by United Nations, "being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essen­tial to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.... each Government pledges itself to cooperate with the Gov­ernments signatory hereto."[2]

Within Yugoslavia, Colonel Draja Mikhailovitch, a Serb, organized a Serbian resistance army on behalf of the Yugoslavian government known in the press as the "Chetniks". Yet Mikhailovitch soon found it more important to fight Communism than the occupater and at the end of 1941 started collaborating with Germans. Although both were allied with Berlin, there were still fights between the chetniks and the Croatian ustashe movement.[3]

Tito, led the communist Yugoslav Partisans. The Yugoslav government-in-exile in London continued to support Mikhailovitch. President Roosevelt in 1942 paid tribute to Mikhailovitch and his men. But at the 1943 Teheran conference, as part of the policy of appeasing Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill abandoned Mikhailovitch completely and agreed to support Tito. The U.S. sent arms to Tito and thus delivered Yugoslavia to communism, but also shortened the war as the Communist partisans were by then a much stronger force against the Nazis than the weak Mikhailovitch forces.[4]

Shortly after the Teheran conference, Churchill in a speech in February 1944 indicated that the allies were no longer sending supplies to Mikhailovitch. Two months later King Peter, the Yugoslavian Head of State was forced to dismiss Premier Purich, which meant the entire cabinet in which Mikhailovitch was Minister of War. A delegate of the partisans Subasich was made Prime Minister. Neither the Russians not the British ever invaded; Tito took control and never had to depend on the Russians or worry about their army inside his country. Mikhailovitch was executed after the war as a traitor.

Ethnic battles

Following the Axis invasion and partition in 1941, Yugoslavia became the scene of numerous interrelated ethnic and ideological conflicts fought by insurgents, occupiers, and various local bands and militias—in effect, a civil war fought within the wider context of global war. This view, now widely accepted, contrasts with the communists' black-and-white interpretation of the postwar period, which held that the war in Yugoslavia was merely an extension of a global anti-fascist struggle.

The Nazis also set up Croatia as a separate puppet state run by the fascist Ustashe, providing yet another combatant to the ensuing confusion.

During the war a bitter struggle was waged between two anti-Nazi forces, the Chetniks and the Communsit partisans under Tito. The defeat of the royalist and Serb nationalist forces, known collectively as the Chetniks, resulted from chronic disunity as well as their lacking appeal to non-Serbs. By contrast, their great rivals, Tito's Communists and the partisan movement they led, realized that they had to appear as a broader patriotic movement in order to acquire and retain the support of non-communist followers, all the while focused on establishing communist rule in postwar Yugoslavia. The Chetniks and their nominal leader, Mihailović, had been the first to take up the insurgency against the Axis occupiers. But they never developed either an effective central command structure or an ideological appeal that could transcend the boundaries of nationality, and thereby attract non-Serbs to their cause in significant numbers, even though they enjoyed official legitimacy for much of the war. In some regions there was a high degree of passive and sometimes even active cooperation of Chetnik forces—and others as well—with the Axis occupiers and their regional satrapies, such as "Serbian Residual State." The facts and perception of resistance and collaboration proved decisive not only to the military and diplomatic course of the war but also to the history of postwar Yugoslavia.[5]

All parties assumed—falsely—that sooner or later the Allies would invade. Many optimistic plans were based on the assumption of Western Allied support, and on its magical power to put everything right. Historians are unsure why there was such universal faith among all parties in Allied invasion or intervention. Was it Nazi disinformation? Faulty intelligence? Wishful thinking? Or a combination of all three? Meanwhile, there was an exiled royal government in London sponsored by Churchill. Besides receiving British aid, Mihailović served as war minister of the royalist government and chief of Supreme Command Staff in the homeland. But the Allies, the exiled government, and even young King Peter II eventually concluded (not without reason) that the Communist partisans were the only ones effectively resisting the Axis and transferred their support to Tito during 1944.

Insurgents in Yugoslavia caused the Nazis more trouble than in any other country with the exceptions of the Soviet Union.

Cold War

Tito was the new leader of a reunited Yugoslavia. In 1949, he broke with the Soviet Union and adopted a policy of armed neutrality in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The U.S. provided large amounts of military equipment. Yugoslavia prospered considerably from this policy and was able to trade on favorable terms with both superpowers and their economic blocs. Shortly after Tito's death in 1980, the state industrial ministry began marketing the last new European car brand, the Yugo, to the United States. The Yugo suffered, however, from the same quality deficiencies as the state-made cars of other communist countries and never caught on.


In 1991-1992 the internal republics comprising the country of Yugoslavia divided up and became five separate countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). In 2006 Montenegro became independent and in 2008 even Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared its independence.

It was said at the time that only Tito could have held the fractious nation together, although the monarchy had also managed tolerably well prior to the Nazi invasion.

Serbia and Montenegro both claim to be the successor country to the former Yugoslavia so each use the name "Yugoslavia."


  1. The Atlantic Conference : Resolution of September 24, 1941.
  2. Declaration by United Nations, January 1, 1942, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, vol. VI, p. 3.
  3. Matteo J. Milazzo, The Chetnik Movement and the Yugoslav Resistance. (1975); Jozo Tomasevich, The Chetniks: War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945 (1975)
  4. Walter R. Roberts, Tito, Mihailovich, and the Allies, 1941-1945 (1973) online edition
  5. Walter R. Roberts, Tito, Mihailović, and the allies, 1941-1945‎, (1987) excerpt and text search

Further reading

  • Banac, Ivo. With Stalin against Tito: Cominformist Splits in Yugoslav Communism. (1989). 294 pp.
  • Bennett, Christopher. Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course, and Consequences. (1995). 253 pp.
  • Djordjevic, Dimitrije, ed. The Creation of Yugoslavia, 1914-1918. (1980). 228 pp.
  • Gapinski, James H. The Economic Structure and Failure of Yugoslavia. (1993). 212 pp.
  • Hehn, Paul N. The German Struggle Against Yugoslav Guerrillas in World War II: German Counter-Insurgency in Yugoslavia, 1941-1943. (1979). 153 pp.
  • Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans: Twentieth century‎ (1983) 476 pages excerpt and text search
  • Judah, Timothy. The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. (1997). 347 pp.
  • Lane, Ann. Britain, the Cold War and Yugoslav Unity, 1941-1949. (1996). 220 pp.
  • Larson, David L. United States Foreign Policy Toward Yugoslavia, 1943-1963. (1979). 380 pp.
  • Magas, Branka. The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking Yugoslavia's Break-Up, 1980-92. (1993). 384 pp.
  • Pavlowitch, Stevan K. Hitler's New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia. (2008). 352pp
  • Ramet, Sabrina Petra. Balkan Babel: Politics, Culture, and Religion in Yugoslavia. (1992). 230 pp.
  • Roberts, Walter R. Tito, Mihailovich, and the Allies, 1941-1945 (1973) online edition
  • Silber, Laura and Little, Alan. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. (1996). 306 pp.
  • Singleton, Fred. A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples. (1985). 309 pp.
  • Vucinich, Wayne S., ed. At the Brink of War and Peace: The Tito-Stalin Split in a Historic Perspective. (1982). 341 pp.
  • West, Richard. Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. (1995). 448 pp.
  • Wheeler, Mark C. Britain and the War for Yugoslavia, 1940-1943. (1980). 351 pp.
  • Woodward, Susan L. Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War. (1995). 536 pp.
  • Woodward, Susan L. Socialist Unemployment: The Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990. (1995). 443 pp.