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Yugoslavia: Historical Setting
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting


Patriarchal Monastery near Pe, Kosovo; from thirteenth to eighteenth century, served as seat of administration for Serbian Orthodox Church

YUGOSLAVIA IS THE COMPLEX PRODUCT of a complex history. The country's confusing and conflicting mosaic of peoples, languages, religions, and cultures took shape during centuries of turmoil after the collapse of the Roman Empire. By the early nineteenth century, two great empires, the Austrian and the Ottoman, ruled all the modern-day Yugoslav lands except Montenegro. As the century progressed, however, nationalist feelings awoke in the region's diverse peoples, the Turkish grip began to weaken, and Serbia won its independence.

Discontent with the existing order brought calls for a union of South Slav peoples: Slovenian and Croatian thinkers proposed a South Slav kingdom within the Austrian Empire, while Serbian intellectuals envisaged a fully independent South Slav state. By the end of the century, the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating, and Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and other powers vied to gain a share of the empire's remaining Balkan lands. The conflict of those ambitions unleashed the forces that destroyed the old European order in World War I.

The idea of a South Slav kingdom flourished during World War I, but the collapse of Austria-Hungary eliminated the possibility of a South Slav kingdom under Austrian sponsorship. Fear of Italian domination drove some leaders of the Slovenes and Croats to unite with Serbia in a single kingdom under the Serbian dynasty in 1918. Political infighting and nationalist strife plagued this kingdom during the interwar years. When democratic institutions proved ineffectual, Serbian dictatorship took over, and the kingdom collapsed in violence after the Axis powers invaded in 1941.

During World War II, communist-led Partisans waged a victorious guerrilla struggle against foreign occupiers, Croatian fascists, and supporters of the prewar government. This led to the rebirth of Yugoslavia as a socialist federation under communist rule on November 29, 1945. Under Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslav communists were faithful to orthodox Stalinism until a 1948 split with Moscow. At that time, a Soviet-bloc economic blockade compelled the Yugoslavs to devise an economic system based on Socialist self-management. To this system the Yugoslavs added a nonaligned foreign policy and an idiosyncratic, one-party political system. This system maintained a semblance of unity during most of Tito's four decades of unquestioned rule. Soon after his death in 1980, however, long-standing differences again separated the communist parties of the country's republics and provinces. Economic turmoil and the reemergence of an old conflict between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo exacerbated these differences, fueled a resurgence of nationalism, and paralyzed the country's political decisionmaking mechanism.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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Section 6 of 208


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