One of the youngest nations of Europe, Yugoslavia was created after World War I as a homeland for several different rival ethnic groups. The country was put together mostly from remnants of the collapsed Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Demands for self-determination by Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and others were ignored. Yugoslavia thus became an uneasy association of peoples conditioned by centuries of ethnic and religious hatreds. World War II aggravated these rivalries, but Communist dictatorship after the war controlled them for 45 years. When the Communist system failed, the old rivalries reasserted themselves; and in the early 1990 s the nation was rent by secessionist movements and civil war.
Within several years these conflicts had drastically altered the size of the country. As it existed in 1990, Yugoslavia was bounded on the north by Austria and Hungary, on the northeast by Romania, on the east by Bulgaria, on the south by Greece, and on the west by Albania, the Adriatic Sea, and Italy. It was 600 miles from north to south and 250 miles from west to east at its widest part. Its total area was 98, 766 square miles. Three years later the country’s area had been reduced by 60 percent and its population of 23 million cut by more than half. The provinces of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina had seceded, leaving Serbia and Montenegro as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The description below covers Yugoslavia, as it existed prior to disintegration. Yugoslavia has a mountainous terrain. The northwestern area consists of the Karawanken and Julian alps in Slovenia. The latter range contains Mount Trig lav at 9, 396 feet.
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The Dineric Alps occupy much of the west with peaks reaching more than 8, 000 feet. To the south the Sar Mountains and adjacent ranges belong to the Rhodope massif, which extends southward into Greece. The major area of flatland lies in the northeast and is part if the large Mid-Danube, or Pannonian, Plain. Along the shore of the Adriatic Sea is a small coastal plain known as the Dalmatian coast. The longest river in Yugoslovia is the Sava, which flows from the Austrian border eastward for 584 miles to join the Danube at Belgrade. The Danube flows for 367 miles through Croatia and Serbia.
Its major tributaries are the Sava, Drava, Tis a, and Morava. Other rivers are the Drina, Bosna, Neretva, and the Vardar. There are more than 200 lakes of which the largest is Lake Scutari on the Albanian border. The mountainous nature of the country causes considerable climatic differences from one place to another. The Dalmatian coast has a typical Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.
The Mid-Danube Plain has a continental climate with cold winters, hot summers, and moderate precipitation. The mountain regions have on the whole colder and shorter summers and more severe winters compared with other regions. The major environment hazard in Yugoslovia is earthquakes. The whole region is subject to earthquakes of considerable severity, and in 1963 the city of Skopje was almost entirely destroyed by one. Yugoslavia has numerous deposits of lignite, or brown coal, exist, but there is little good-grade black coal. There are some small petroleum and natural gas field.
The major source of energy is waterpower, which provides about one third of the country’s electricity. Yugoslavia is a major European producer of lead and copper. Other minerals include iron ore, zinc, silver, gold, nickel, mercury, and antimony. About 37 percent of the country is forest covered.
The predominant species are oak, beech, and other deciduous trees, with such evergreens as pine and fir in the mountains. The soils of the Mid-Danube Plain are the best in the country for farming. Yugoslavia has a wide range of animals, including deer, foxes, wolves, jackals, bears, and rarely, lynxes. Birds include grouse, partridge, swans, buzzards, woodpeckers, and pelicans. The Adriatic Sea contains anchovies, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and other fishes. The inhabitants of Yugoslavia were of varied ethnic origins.
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According to the 1981 census the largest group was the Serbs, who numbered 8. 1 million, or 36 percent of the population. Like the majority of Yugoslavs, they speak a Slavic language. They belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Croats totaled 4. 4 million, 20 percent of the population.
They speak a language similar to that of the Serbs but are Roman Catholics. The Slovenes totaled 1. 8 million and lived in the northwestern corner of the country. They have their own Slavic language and are Roman Catholics.
Other Slavs include the Macedonians – 1. 3 million – and the Montenegrin’s – 600 thousand. Both groups are Eastern Orthodox. There were about 2 million Muslims, descended from Slavs who converted to Islam during the long Turkish occupation. In 1991 the census showed a total population of 23, 475, 887, with the ethnic proportions remaining about the same. A non-Slavic people, the Albanians, live in the southern part of the country.
They number about 1. 7 million and are the fastest-growing ethnic group. Many are Muslims. There are smaller groups of Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Slovaks, Czechs, and others who live mostly in the northeastern province of Vojvodina.
The largest city is Belgrade, in Serbia, with about 1. 6 million inhabitants. Zagreb, in Croatia, is the second largest, with over 930, 000. Other cities with more than 250, 000 inhabitants are Skopje, Sarajevo, Ljubljana, and Novi Sad. Yugoslav culture has been influenced by the Slavs, Turks, Italians, and Austrians.
In general the impact of the long Turkish occupation is seen in the food, folk costumes, and architecture of many of the people. Modern Yugoslav art is best known for it sculpture. Ivan Metro vic achieved world fame for his dramatic statues. He spent the later years of his life in the United States and had a number of gifted followers, including Anton Augustin. Such present-day painters as Mila Milunovic, Petar Dobro vic, and Milan Konjovic have been influenced by the French school. The earliest Yugoslav literature was religious in nature.
The first popular literature appeared in medieval Serbia, mainly in the form of epic poems describing the struggle of the Serbs against the Turks. These poems were chanted by minstrels who traveled from village to village. In Dubrovnik and other places on the Dalmatian coast, a more sophisticated literature influenced by the Italian Renaissance developed. Poetry and drama were particularly popular.
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In the 19 th century Serbian writers laid the foundations of a modern literature. Vue Karadzic reformed the language and collected folk poetry, while Petar Petrovic Nje go produced epic poetry on the theme of liberty. In Croatia, Ljudevit Gay, and in Slovenia, France Preeren, were leading figures in the development of their peoples’ literature. Among modern writers are the Serbs Branimir Comic, Branko Opic, and Ivo And ric, whose novel ‘The Bridge in the Drina’ has been translated into many languages.
The Croat writers Vladimir Naz or, Miroslav Krleza, and Slav ko Kolar are also popular. Yugoslav folklore is very colorful. Each ethnic group has its own costumes, songs, and dances. The most popular folk dance is the kolo, a circle dance performed to lively music. Soccer is the most popular sport, and Yugoslavia has produced some star players. Yugoslav basketball teams have also had some success in international competitions.
Winter sports are popular, especially in the Alps of Slovenia. The winter Olympic games of 1984 were held in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Farming is a major occupation, employing about 29 percent of the labor force. Most farms are owned privately and are small. The major crops are corn, wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, sugar beets, sunflowers, tobacco, and alfalfa. About one third of the agricultural area consists of pastures for grazing sheep, pigs, and cattle.
Much of this is in the mountains. The growing of fruit includes plums, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, quinces, and cherries. Figs and olives are grown mainly along the coast. Grapes are widely grown and wine produced, some for export. Fishing is carried out along the Adriatic coast and on the Danube River.
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Forestry is concentrated manly in the mountain forests of the northwest. It supports pulp and paper and furniture industries. Much of Yugoslavia’s industry is located in the northwest, where it was originally established by the Austrians. The oldest iron and steel plant is at Jesenice in Slovenia, and the largest is at Zen ica in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The processing and refining of metallic minerals gives considerable employment.
There is an engineering industry based mainly in the north and around Belgrade. The automobile industry has been developed with foreign aid. A small, low-cost car called the Yugo, based on an Italian Fiat model, is manufactured for export. Ships are built in the Adriatic ports of Rijeka, Pula, and Split. Textiles and chemicals are also produced, and fruits, fish, and tobacco are processed. Factories and other economic enterprises in Yugoslavia have not been run by the state as in other Communist countries.
They are operated by “workers councils”, which compete with one another for customers and advertise as in the West. The problems of rail construction in a mountainous country such as Yugoslavia have favored the development of a highway network. There are two major highways – one running from the Austrian border to Greece and the other along the Adriatic coast. The latter is used by the large numbers of tourists who visit the coastal cities and resorts.
Tourism is a major source of foreign income. The major ports are Rijeka, Split, PloCe, Koper, and Bar. Yugoslav Airlines is state owned and flies to many foreign destinations. The main international airports are at Belgrade and Zagreb.
Postal, telegraph, and telephone services are run by the state. Radio and television broadcasting are also under the control of a state organization. Education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 15. All education is free, including that at the university level.
There are special schools for the smaller ethnic minorities. Each republic has its own university. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The republic of Serbia contains the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Each republic and province had its own constitution and assembly. Local affairs were handled by smaller assemblies.
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At the top of this system of assemblies was the Assembly of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was divided into two chambers – the Federal Chamber and the Chamber of Republics and Provinces. There was a State Presidency with nine members. It functioned as a collective presidency with a president at its head. The position of president rotated every year among the representatives of the republics and provinces. Until 1990, only one political party, the League of Communists, was permitted. Any attempt to form parties based on ethnic origins was strongly opposed.
The ancestors of the Yugoslavs appeared in the region in the 7 th century. The Slovenes formed a small state that was absorbed by the 9 th century by the Franks, a Germanic people. The Croats developed an independent state under King Tomi slav at the beginning of the 10 th century. At the end of the 11 th, however, Croatia came under Hungarian control. By the 12 th century the Serbs had established a powerful state, and the 14 th century Stefan Duan, king of Serbia, extended his empire to include Macedonia and much of Greece. A major disaster overtook the South Slavs with the Turkish invasion of southeastern Europe in the 15-century.
Turkish control of the region lasted for five centuries. At the same time Slovenia and Croatia became part of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. Uprisings broke out at various times. In 1555 the Slovenes and in 1573 the Croats revolted against Hapsburg rule to no avail.
In 1804 the Serbs rose against the Turks under their national hero, Kara george, and again in 1815 under Milo Obrenovic. In 1830 Serbia won partial independence from Turkey with Obrenovic as king, and in 1867 full independence was achieved. During the period of Turkish control, the small state of Montenegro maintained its independence. The city-state of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) also remained free of foreign control by skillful diplomacy. In 1812 and 1913 Serbia was victorious in the Balkan Wars against Turkey and Bulgaria. In 1914 the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria by a Serb gave Austria-Hungary the excuse to declare war on Serbia, and event that led to World War I.
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After the war the breakup of Austria-Hungary made possible the creation of a new state for the South Slavs. In 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was proclaimed; it was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. The kingdom endured as an uneasy coalition of mutually hostile ethnic groups. In 1939 an agreement was reached to give Croatia autonomy, but in 1941 Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany, Italy, and Hungary.
Serbs resisted the occupation forces, and the Communist Partisans under the leadership if Josip Broz, known as Tito, became the dominant group. The Croats and Slovenes, however, sided openly with Germany and Italy. In 1945 the country became a republic with the Communists as its rulers. Although Serbs remained the dominant population, Tito himself was half Croat and half Slovene.
In 1948 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet bloc for refusing to submit to Soviet orders. Tito managed successfully to steer a nonaligned path between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. After Stalin died in 1953, this task became easier. Then Tito died in 1980, and the fragile federation he had held together began to unravel. The League of Communists relinquished their constitutionally guaranteed monopoly on power, and in 1990 the first free multiparty elections were held since Tito took power. In May 1991 Serbia and its allies blocked the election of a Croat to the federal presidency, leaving the country without a president.
A new Serbian leader emerged – Slobodan Milosevic, who renewed the age-old promise of a Greater Serbia. This goal entailed taking parts of other republics where Serbian minorities lived and uniting them with Serbia. On June 25, 1991, Croatia and Serbia declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Federal troops made up mostly of Serbs poured into Slovenia, resisted by Slovenian militia. The Serbs invaded Croatia. At the end of 1991 Germany, followed by the European Community and the United States, recognized the independence of Croatia and Slovenia.
A cease-fire went into effect, leaving Slovenia and Croatia largely at peace fro the time being. But Serbia had taken about one third of Croatia’s territory. The violence spread next to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Early 1992 the republic voted for independence, but the large Serb minority boycotted the referendum. Recognition by the European Community and the United States followed in April. A new Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro, was proclaimed in April of 1992.
Meanwhile, a civil war had erupted throughout the republic as Serb militia shelled cities and towns. The situation in Bosnia was complicated by religious differences. Many of its residents, Serb and Croat alike, were Muslims. Serbs tended mostly to be Serbian Orthodox, while Croats were mostly Roman Catholic. These rivalries added to the ethnic hatreds.
Croat and Serb Christians also turned their weapons on the Muslim minority. A campaign of terrorism and genocide, which they termed ethnic cleansing, was started by the Serbs against Muslim. Many Muslims were killed outright. Muslim women were raped, and men and boys were put into concentration camps. At least two million people became refugees, and about 140, 000 were missing – presumed dead. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had occupied more than 70 percent of Bosnia.
Many of its cities were in ruins, among them Sarajevo, the capital. The United Nations imposed economic sanctions but obtained no peace settlement. Croatia and Serbia had determined to divide Bosna between them, leaving small enclaves for Muslims to inhabit. In Serbia itself the sanctions had created havoc.
Hyperinflation was running at the unparalled percentage rare of quadrillions per year, posing a threat to the survival of the state.