The Republic of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (a disputed territory and partially recognized state), Republic of Croatia, Montenegro, Republic of Slovenia, and the Republic of Macedonia, were once a nation called ‘Yugoslavia.’
The region has been home to distinct ethnic groups for a long time, and past ethnic conflicts influenced the break-up of former Yugoslavia and the formation of independent states.
1918: Kingdom of Yugoslavia
World War I brought an end to two great empires – the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman. The States of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, were the territories of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which merged to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. This occurred just before the war ended, in December 1918 under King Peter 1 of the Serbian Royal House of Karadordević.
The term ‘Yugoslavia’ was then adopted at the Conference of Ambassadors of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, held on July 13, 1922, and on October 3, 1929, and renamed it to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia with Alexander I, son of King Peter I, as the king.
1934: Assassination of King Alexander I
In 1929, King Alexander I banned all political activity in the Kingdom and assumed complete executive powers, attempting to unify various ethnic groups under one identity. Totalitarian regimes were emerging in Germany, Italy, and Russia, all of whom were opposed to the nationalist policies pursued by King Alexander I.
Subsequently, on a trip to Marseilles in France, King Alexander I was assassinated by VMRO, a Bulgarian extremist group which had the support of Ustashe, a Croatian separatist organization.
1939: Croatian Banovina
Croatian leader Vlatko Macek received support from Germany and Italy in forming an administrative province – Croatian Banovina. It was part of Macek’s plans for an independent identity for the Croats.
1941: World War II and the break-up of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia
World War II left Yugoslavia isolated among hostile nations with only Greece in support. When Yugoslavia resisted Hitler’s pressure to join the war on the side of the Axis powers, Germany began bombing Belgrade along with other cities. Yugoslavia soon fell to the Axis powers, and Germany established a puppet state run by the Ustashe, and called it the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). This state comprised parts of western Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Slovenia was divided between Germany and Italy, which had annexed islands in the Adriatic Sea. Hungary annexed most of the northern territories whereas Albania occupied Kosovo, Metohija and parts of Montenegro. Bulgaria took over territories in the East and South.
1941-1944: The Croatian Holocaust
The Independent State of Croatia (NDH), formed with Germany’s support, pursued policies of Nazi Germany by setting up concentration camps to persecute Jews, Serbs and Gypsies. Over 750,000 people were killed during the Croatian holocaust. It was to form the basis of Serbian hostility against Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. During World War II, civilian and military casualties from Serbia and Yugoslavia exceeded 1.7 million and represented 10.7 percent of the total population.
1943: Monarchy was abolished and Josep Broz Tito took over
The Nationalist Liberation Army, led by the Communist leader Josep Broz Tito, extended support to the Allied military campaign. In 1943, as the Axis powers faced defeat, Marshal Tito was quick to proclaim the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia.
Single party elections were held in November 1945. Tito’s party won unopposed and he took charge as the head of state. He immediately abolished the monarchy and established a new federal state – Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, modeled on the Soviet Union, comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro along with the two autonomous regions – Kosovo and Metohija, and Vojvodina
1948: Fallout with the Soviet Union
Marshal Tito was a Communist who admired the Soviet model of development. However, he was soon disillusioned with the USSR under Stalin and decided to pursue his own path, independent of Soviet influence or control. Stalin disapproved of Tito and soon the two leaders fell apart. Soviet Union placed an economic blockade on Yugoslavia which forced Tito to look for support from the United States and other western powers.
1961: Founding member of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
Tito wanted to steer clear of the United States and the Soviet Union and follow his own brand of liberal socialism. His views on remaining non-aligned found resonance with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India. The three came together to become the driving force behind the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
1974: Autonomous status to Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metohija
Despite strong, sometimes heavy-handed, leadership that held the diverse ethnic groups together under one nation, ethnic tensions remained, as did calls for greater autonomy. The ‘Croatian Spring’ protests in early 70s against Serb domination forced Tito to announce reforms. In 1974, Tito eased federal control and amended the Constitution to give greater autonomy to Kosovo-Metohija and Vojvodina, recognition to Kosovo-Metohija and Bosnia and Herzegovina as provinces, and to recognize Albanian, Hungarian, and Serb-Croat as minority languages. While these were welcomed, the call for further autonomy was getting stronger.
1980: Death of Tito and rise of ethnic tension
Two events hastened the break-up of Yugoslavia; the death of Marshal Tito in 1980 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Marshal Tito was an iron-fisted leader, who managed to keep diverse ethnic groups together as one country. His passing away in 1980 gave an opening to voices of dissent within the country, and old ethnic tensions were once gain ignited. The Serbs pushed for dominance while other ethnic groups remained opposed. The collapse of the Soviet Union had an indirect influence on various republics and the call for independence became louder.
1991: Break-up of Yugoslavia begins
War broke out in 1990 and the region witnessed violent clashes and cases of ethnic cleansing, which lead to thousands of innocent civilians being killed. Croatia and Slovenia were the first to declare independence. The sequence of the break-up of Yugoslavia was as follows:
June 25, 1991: Croatia and Slovenia declared independence
September 8, 1991: Macedonia declared independence
March 1, 1992: Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence
April 27, 1992: Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
June 3, 2006: Montenegro declared independence from Serbia.
June 5, 2006: With Montenegro declaring independence, the Republic of Serbia formally came into existence.
February 17, 2008: The autonomous province of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on this day. The Republic of Kosovo is still not a member of the United Nations, but is recognized by 115 nations, including the United States.
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