The collapse of Yugoslavia
For centuries the South Slavic territories were under the control of two competing empires, the Ottomans and Hapsburgs. The Turks controlled Bosnia and Serbia, while Croatia and Slovenia was part of the Hapsburg empire, and then the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The Yugoslav nation was formed after WWI. Nevertheless, the county was dominated by the Serbs, and a significant source of tension was the Croatian request for greater sovereignty.
In 1941 Yugoslavia was fast taken over by German troops, and a severe fight happened within an oppressive Nazi-supported Croat state and defence actions, the two most significant of which were the Chetnik guerilla movement, consisting of Serbian freedom-fighters, and the Partisan communist movement, under the command of Josip Broz Tito.
After WWII, Tito’s communist party attempted to combine the six republics – Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and balance the competing interests of the various ethnic groups. While a degree of peace and group intercommunication was done under Tito, underlying antagonisms and tightness continued as a handy tool for any leader who wanted to stir up nationalist feeling, and historical pain has been used by all sides in the contemporary dispute as a weapon in their hunt for power.
At Tito’s death in 1980, there were three significant difficulties: the conflicting ethnic interests persisted, the economy was ineffective, and the nation’s institutional construction was inadequate of preserving Yugoslav union.
During the 1980s, Yugoslavia was destabilised by an acute economic and political crisis. It seemed ethnic violence could explode in the autonomous region of Kosovo, with its sizeable Albanian preponderance.
A critical political evolution was the election of Slobodan Milosevic, first as communist party leader and then as President of Serbia in 1989. Milosevic stimulated and exploited Serbian nationalism to gain political support.
Serbia’s increasing influence in the central government in Belgrade and its severe suppression of Albanian dissidents caused a boost of nationalist actions in the other republics, particularly in Croatia and Slovenia. It was assisted by the breakdown of communism over Eastern Europe in 1989-1990 and the progress to multi-party elections, which led nationalist parties to power in most Yugoslav republics.
The critical conflict was within, on the one hand, Slovenia and Croatia, both of which desired more sovereignty, and, on the other, Serbia, which desired to combine the eight million Serbs, 25% of whom resided in republics other than Serbia, into a position of power within Yugoslavia.
Croatia, primarily, was a difficulty with its 600 thousand Serbs, and the hard policies of President Franjo Tudjman only added to the Croatian Serbs’ concerns.
Map of disintegration of Yugoslavia
The total population in republics and autonomous provinces of former Yugoslavia (1991)
Bosnia-Herzegovina: 4.4 million (18.6%)
Croatia: 4.8 million (20.3%)
Macedonia: 2.0 million (8.5%)
Montenegro: 0.6 million (2.5%)
Slovenia: 2.0 million (8.5%)
Serbia: Inner Serbia – 5.8 million (24.6%), Vojvodina – 2.0 million (8.5%), Kosovo – 2.0 million (8.5%)
Total population: 23.6 million