The Tragedy of Yugoslavia - Part One (Background)
On July 20, 1917, a group of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes met in London and signed the Corfu declaration, stating their intention to unite all south Slavic people under one government following the inevitable collapse of the Hapsburg Empire in Austria-Hungary. These "Yugoslavs" (meaning South Slavs) made their intention clear - a constitutional monarchy, with equal rights for various nationalities, to be ruled by a Serbian dynasty. Their wish was granted following the defeat of the Central Powers, in the form of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Following a gradual shift to authoritarian rule, a war which saw German, Soviet, and Italian armies rampaging through the Balkans, and a communist revolution, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia evolved into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This reformed state was ruled by Josip Broz Tito, who soon split from his Soviet ally in 1948 (due to a number of factors, including Stalin's several assassination attempts on Tito), cementing Yugoslavia's status as a non-aligned power during the Cold War. This allowed for Yugoslavia to gain western aid from the more extensive Marshall Plan, as well as found the Non-Aligned Movement with several African and Asian countries.
However, Yugoslavia was ultimately a doomed state. The mixture of various ethnic groups (Croats, Slovenes, Serbs, Bosniaks) as well as the various religions (Islam and Orthodox Christianity) could only be held together by force - either a communist dictatorship or absolutist monarchy. Ultimately, as communism fell across Europe, and the tides of nationalism swept through Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia could never survive.
In 1974, Yugoslavia adopted a new constitution - one which drastically increased regional autonomy and essentially turned Yugoslavia into a loose federation, rather than a single united country. The office of the presidency was replaced with a council of 9 representatives - one from each republic. These republics, controversially, included Kosovo and Vojvodina, which most Serbs viewed as rightful Serbian land. The Serbs grew increasingly paranoid of seeing a stronger Yugoslavia at the expense of the Serbian people - a major factor in Yugoslavia's demise.
The death of Tito marked the beginning of the end for Yugoslavia. Tito, with his dogmatic Marxist views, independence from the USSR, and willingness to use force to combat ethnic nationalism, was irreplaceable. Tito was a popular leader, and quite possibly the only unifying force present in Yugoslavia. In his place was a power vacuum - and this vacuum, combined with increased regional autonomy and increasing ethnic nationalism, could not possibly end well.
In 1987, a Serbian politician named Slobodan Milosevic began a spectacular rise to power as Yugoslavia began to slowly unravel, as he gave a speech which strongly supported the rights of Serbs in Kosovo - a speech often referred to as the "end of Yugoslavia" due to its strong Serbian nationalistic undertone. This speech garnered him the support of the Serbian communist party, leading him to become president of Serbia in 1988. Over the next few years, Milosevic began to further the decline of Yugoslavia, both by backing protests in other parts of Yugoslavia and cutting off electricity to Croatia.
The next few years would see unprecedented slaughter across the entire Balkan region - a bloody episode which will be detailed in part two.