We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Yugoslavia: Ethnic Composition
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Yugoslavia's People > Ethnic Composition


Serbs comprised more than a third of the total population in the 1981 census. They were followed by the Croats (19.7 percent), Muslim Slavs (8.9 percent), Slovenes (7.8 percent), Albanians (7.7 percent), Macedonians (6.0 percent), Montenegrins (2.6 percent), and Hungarians (1.9 percent). In the 1981 census, about 1.2 million people, or 5.4 percent of the country's population, declared themselves to be ethnic Yugoslavs, a fourfold increase since 1971. Yugoslav scholars disagree about the reason for this rise in avowed Yugoslavism. Demographers have attributed the increase to an upswing in popular identification with Yugoslavia as a state following the death of Tito in 1980 and to minority group members declaring themselves Yugoslav nationals. Given the national tensions of the late 1980s, analysts eagerly awaited the 1991 census for new trends in Yugoslav national identification.

Yugoslavia's overall ethnic makeup did not change drastically in the seventy years after the country was founded in 1918, despite the fact that the population grew by more than 70 percent during that time. Exceptions to this pattern of stability were the marked increase of the Albanian population and a steep decline in the numbers of Jews, ethnic Germans, and Hungarians after World War II.

Most of Yugoslavia's six republics and two provinces showed significant ethnic diversity. Only Serbia proper, Slovenia, and Montenegro were largely homogeneous. Croatia had a substantial Serbian minority of about 12 percent. Macedonia had Turks, Vlachs, and a fast-growing Albanian population. Muslim Slavs, Serbs, and Croats made up the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but no single group predominated. Kosovo was predominantly Albanian with Serbian, Montenegrin, and Muslim Slav minorities; and a Serbian majority shared Vojvodina with Hungarians (at 24 percent, the largest minority in that province), Croats, and many less numerous groups.

Complicating the ethnic situation was the fact that most nationalities were not confined within the borders of the country's republics, provinces, or districts (opstine, the next largest jurisdiction). For example, in 1981 about 98 percent of all Yugoslavia's Slovenes lived in Slovenia and about 96 percent of its Macedonians lived in Macedonia; but only 60 percent of the Serbs lived in Serbia proper, and only 70 percent of the Montenegrins lived in Montenegro. In the postwar era, the share of a republic's population that belonged to that republic's dominant national group generally declined. Thus, in Slovenia, where Slovenes accounted for 98 percent of the population in 1948, they accounted for only 90 percent in 1981.

Yugoslavia's federal and republican constitutions guarantee equal rights for all ethnic groups, including the right to participate in public life, government, and the armed forces. Minority nationalities have the right to organize groups to exercise their cultural rights and promote their national interests. Article 119 of the federal criminal code, however, prohibits propaganda and other activities aimed at inciting or fomenting national, racial, or religious intolerance, hatred, or dissension between nations and nationalities. The federal and republican constitutions also provide for proportional representation of the nations and nationalities in assemblies, commissions, the highest levels of the army's officer corps, and other government institutions.

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

Yugoslavia Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 43 of 208


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

(din.) Yugoslav Dinar (YDN)
Convert to Any Currency