Posts Tagged Tito

Review: THE BALKANS IN FLAMES; YUGOSLAVIA FROM BIRTH TO DEATH 1919-99

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This three-part PBS documentary explains how and why the ill-conceived state of Yugoslavia descended into chaos and barbarity not once but twice, first in the 1940s and again in the 1990s.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, re-named Yugoslavia in 1929, was established in 1918 at the end of the First World War. It brought together Serbia and Montenegro, which had been independent before the War, with Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The King of Serbia became Head of State and both the army and administration were dominated by Serbs. There were problems from the beginning. Serbia and Montenegro had fought on the Allied side in the War, the other nationalities on the other. Serbs and Montenegrins were Orthodox in religion and used the Cyrillic script, Croats and Slovenes were Roman Catholic and used the Latin. Although Bosnia-Herzegovina contained large numbers of both Serbs and Croats they were outnumbered by Bosnian Muslims (known as Bosniaks). In addition the Kingdom had large Hungarian and Albanian minorities. Not exactly a recipe for stability, as was demonstrated when on a state visit to France in 1934 the King was assassinated in Marseilles by Croat separatists.

The German and Italian invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941 led to its disintegration. An independent state of Croatia was established controlled by the Ustase, an extreme Croat nationalist movement led by Ante Pavelic, whose aim was to produce an ethnically pure Croat state targeting Serbs, Roma and Jews. Concentration camps were set up, the most notorious being Jasenovac. The Serb minority in Croatia, concentrated in the Krajina and Eastern Slavonia, was terrorised and massacres took place, with as many as 200,000 Serbs killed. The northern Serb province of Vojvodina was occupied by Hungary. Civil war erupted in Serbia and Bosnia between a collaborationist Royalist regime, Serb nationalists (known as Chetniks) and Communist partisans led by Tito. Communist support grew as the War progressed and when German and Italian forces withdrew in 1945 Tito`s forces took control of the whole country and carried out violent reprisals against collaborators, Ustase and anti-Communists.

Tito ruled Yugoslavia until his death in May 1980. Under the slogan “Brotherhood and Unity” he hoped to overcome national divisions by establishing Communist administrations in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, under the authority of a central government in the Serb capital Belgrade. Serb influence was further diluted within Serbia itself by the creation of separate administrations in Vojvodina and Kosovo. Under Tito`s iron hand this appeared to work well. Having broken with Stalin in 1948 Tito assumed leadership of Non-Aligned countries affiliated with neither the U.S.A. nor the Soviet Union, thereby giving Yugoslavia a prominent role on the world stage. Industrialisation, worker participation in state-run companies and the rapid growth of a tourist industry on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia produced apparent stability and relative prosperity in the 1960s. The re-emergence of nationalism in the Croatian Communist Party in the early 1970s was countered by the imprisonment of its leaders. However the economy faltered in the 1970s. Prosperity was unevenly spread, with Slovenia and Croatia resenting subsidising the other republics. Albanian unrest simmered in Kosovo. There were growing fears that Yugoslavia might not survive after Tito`s death.

Tito

Was its collapse inevitable? I do not think so, but the circumstances certainly existed for ambitious nationalist politicians to exploit. The atrocities committed in the 1940s were well within the living memories of millions and passed on to their children and grandchildren. As economic problems grew worse in the 1980s it was Yugoslavia`s tragedy that such politicians emerged, notably Slobodan Milosevic, who became Head of the Serb Communist Party in 1986, and Franjo Tudjman in Croatia. The first crisis erupted in Kosovo, where demonstrations by the Albanian majority against discrimination by the Serb-dominated administration led to counter-demonstrations by Serbs. Milosevic visited Kosovo and championed the cause of the Serbs, making him a nationalist hero not only in Serbia itself but amongst the large Serb minorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Predictably, this in turn produced a counter-reaction. By mid-1990 both Slovenia and Croatia were threatening to secede from Yugoslavia, followed shortly afterwards by Bosnia-Herzegovina. Albanians in Kosovo demonstrated for the right to secede from Serbia. Old hatreds were being re-kindled. The result was a decade of warfare and ethnic cleansing involving the deaths of hundreds of thousands and atrocities not seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War, ended only by the intervention of NATO forces in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia and again in 1999 to bring hostilities in Kosovo to an end.

Why was this? Slovenia`s secession in 1991 was almost bloodless because it was homogenously Slovene, but this was not the case in either Croatia or Bosnia. Almost 40% of Serbs lived outside Serbia as minorities in either Croatia or Bosnia. This didn`t matter as long as they remained all together in Yugoslavia However, when in 1990 Croatia elected a government led by Franjo Tudjman`s HDZ party committed to independence, Serbs who formed a majority in the Krajina region of Croatia, backed by Milosevic`s government in Belgrade and the predominantly Serb Yugoslav Army, declared their own secession from Croatia. For them, Croat nationalism meant the Ustase, and the hatred and fanaticism can only be understood in the context of memories of the 1940s. Sporadic fighting in that region continued until August 1995, when the Croatian Army, trained and equipped by the U.S., recaptured the region in Operation Storm. The Serb population fled in their cars and tractors and were eventually re-settled as refugees in Serbia proper. There was also extensive fighting between Serbs and Croats in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, eventually settled by the Dayton Peace Agreement (see later) in December 1995.

Milosevic`s aim was to bring together all Serbs in former Yugoslavia in the same state. Inevitably this involved conflict with non-Serbs in both Croatia and Bosnia, which declared its own independence in April 1992. Fearing minority status under Bosniak (Muslim) rule, Bosnian Serbs set up their own state, Republika Srpska. elected their own President, Radovan Karadzic, who in turn appointed Ratko Mladic as commander of a Bosnian Serb Army which commenced a 3 year bombardment and siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo (where a memorable Winter Olympics had been held as recently as 1984). Some 20% of Bosnia was predominantly Croat. For a year Croats and Bosniaks fought side by side against the Serbs, but in the spring of 1993 the Croats changed sides, Tudjman and Milosevic plotting together to divide Bosnia into Serb and Croat regions at Bosniak expense. In 1994, under U.S. pressure, the Croats changed sides again in return for U.S. backing for an independent state of Croatia. Finally in August 1995, after the massacre of some 8000 Bosniak men and boys by Mladic`s Serb forces in Srebrenica, NATO decided that enough was enough and intervened militarily to bring the siege of Sarajevo to an end and force the warring factions to the conference table at an airbase in Dayton Ohio.

Milosevic

Dayton brought the wars in Croatia and Bosnia to an end. Yugoslavia was no more, replaced by Independent Republics in Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia (recently re-named Northern Macedonia). Bosnia was divided into two regions, Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat Federation. It did not, however, deal with the problem of Kosovo. For Serbs it was their historic heartland which for them had an almost mystical significance. The Albanian majority, however, had had enough of Serb repression. A guerrilla force the K.L.A. carried out attacks on Serb targets, to which Milosevic`s forces responded with increasing ferocity. Historically Serbia had always looked to Russia for support, but Boris Yeltsin`s Russia was at a low ebb in the 1990s and humanitarian demands for western intervention against Serbia grew. NATO bombardment of Belgrade and other Serb targets in the spring of 1999 again brought Milosevic to the conference table and an independent state of Kosovo was set up. Thus by 1999 what had been a united Yugoslavia in 1990 had been replaced by seven separate states.

The three-part PBS documentary covers all of this in graphic detail and provides a valuable and objective guide to this complex unravelling of a country. German re-unification and the collapse of Communist regimes in the Soviet satellite states had been almost bloodless. The reason why this was not the case in former Yugoslavia is a combination of historic conflicts, populist nationalist politicians and the indifference of the rest of Europe until it was almost too late.

Slovenia and Croatia are now members of the European Union. Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo are all candidates for accession. Bosnia has not yet met the conditions for membership and its future is uncertain.

Henry Falconer

Tito photo credit: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Milosevic photo credit: Stevan Kragujević, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the former Yugoslavia attribution: Yusuf Ziya Safi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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