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Yugoslavia: Government and Politics
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS


The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Socijalisticka Federativna Republika Jugoslavija -- SFRJ) came into existence in 1945 as a state with nominally socialist political institutions, dominated until 1990 by a single communist party. In that fortyfive -year period, the country's political structure evolved in three major stages: as an orthodox member of the monolithic Soviet-led communist bloc (1945-48); as a nonaligned communist dictatorship (1948-80) whose slogan was "brotherhood and unity" among its constituent republics; and as a decentralized federation, with no dominant leader and most aspects of political power centered at regional levels.

During the last two stages, Yugoslav political life emphasized "development from below," a principle that gave substantial economic and political decision making power to local communes and self-managed industrial enterprises. This feature, unique to Yugoslavia and present even during the powerful dictatorship of Josip Broz Tito (1945-80), focused political power in official and unofficial local groupings. Also unique to Yugoslavia was the concept of statutory autonomy in nearly all governmental functions for each of the six republics in the federation. The inefficiency of the national political system was masked until 1980 by the charisma of Tito, who provided enough national unity for economic and political reforms to be accomplished when necessary.

As early as 1948, the Yugoslav system experimented with political configurations unknown in previous Marxist or Stalinist practice. Although Yugoslavia began political reforms far ahead of other European communist states, opposition political parties only became legal in the late 1980s, a development stimulated partly by reform elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The League of Communists of Yugoslaviaretained substantial control over the government's appointive and legislative functions, but innovations made party control of the country's diverse ethnic and economic groups problematic as early as the 1960s; the political management of economic reform, urgently needed by 1980, was complicated by the same factors.

Tito was aware that without him the Yugoslav political system would be a fragile entity. Therefore, in his last years of power he attempted to restructure the system. His preparations for the regime that would follow him emphasized decentralization of power to accommodate the unique structure of the Yugoslav federation: six republics and two provinces of widely varying political and ethnic backgrounds, as well as contrasting economic levels. To prevent yet another occurrence of the hostile fragmentation for which the Balkans had become a symbol, Tito tried to equalize the political power of the republics, minimizing the potential for domination by one republic that might stimulate others to secede from the federation.

The institutionalized political balance that followed Tito's thirty-five years in office had several effects. Regional power meant that federal decision making required unanimous consensus among the republics. The veto power of each republic promoted pressure politics and negotiations outside statutory institutions in the process of reaching consensus; public accountability for decisions was thus obscured. At the same time, the unanimity requirement and equal rotation of top government positions among the republics and provinces fostered regional participation, provided an image of national unity, and prevented the emergence of a new dictator. In fact, no strong national leader emerged in Yugoslavia throughout the 1980s. The system gave the six republics free exercise of formal and informal political leverage on behalf of their own agendas, which often clashed.

Historical regional animosities and ambitions resurfaced in the first post-Tito decade. Serbia, with the strongest leadership of any republic, revived the concept of a strong centralized state under Serbian domination; but other republics, defending their sovereignty in a decentralized Yugoslavia, used Tito's consensual policy making apparatus to block Serbian ambitions. In the process, the LCY, sole legal all-Yugoslav party for fortyfive years, split in 1990 over the question of how much political diversity should be tolerated at the national level. At that point, the viability of the federation (whose demise was widely predicted as early as 1980) came under even more serious scrutiny.

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 Factba.se.

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