HISTORY OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Together with east-central Europe, the Balkans formed the heartland of
an Old European civilization that flourished between 7000 and 3500 BC. There
is evidence of dense settlement, particularly in the Pannonian Basin, along
the Sava and Danube
rivers, and spreading northward into modern Hungary along the Tisa and southward
down the Morava-Vardar corridor. Food production had developed to the point
that it was possible to support a measure of craft specialization, including
pottery making and the smelting of copper, and small towns were formed.
Several important sites in Serbia provide insights into Old European culture,
particularly those at Starcevo and Vinca, near Belgrade, and at Lepenski
Vir, on the Danube above the Iron Gate.
After 3500 BC the region was gradually infiltrated by seminomadic pastoral
peoples, believed to be speakers of languages of the Indo-European family,
who came southward and westward from the Russian steppes. Their extensive
trade routes carried amber, gold, and the bronze that was the basis of their
superior military technology. These peoples were divided into tribal groups,
one of which, the Illyrians, became firmly established throughout the western
part of the peninsula. By the 7th century BC they had acquired the capacity
to work with iron, and this skill became the basis both of their extensive
trade with the emerging Greek city-states and of the power of the native
aristocracies. East of the Morava-Vardar the land was periodically subordinated
to the warrior kingdoms of the Dacians and Thracians.
Beginning about 300 BC, bands of Celts began to penetrate southward.
Their superiority rested in part on their mastery of iron technology, which
they used to beat both swords and plowshares. The extent of Celtic expansion
is indicated not only by their material remains but also by place-names.
The name Singidunum, by which the Romans knew the settlement on the site
of Belgrade, is at least partly of Celtic origin.
The Roman Empire
At the end of the 3rd century BC the Romans began their expansion into
the Balkan Peninsula in search of iron, copper, precious metals, slaves,
and agricultural produce. The Roman struggle for domination, against the
fierce resistance of the native peoples, lasted three centuries. The Illyrians
were finally subdued in AD 9, and their land became the province of Illyricum.
The area that is now eastern Serbia was conquered by Crassus, proconsul
of Macedonia, in 29 BC and incorporated into the Roman province of Moesia.
Roads, arenas, aqueducts, bridges, and fortifications attest to the thoroughness
of Roman occupation. The names of several modern towns reveal Roman origins,
including Sremska Mitrovica (Sirmium) and Nis (Naissus). In 395 a fundamental
and permanent division was imposed on the empire along a line that ran roughly
northward from the modern Montenegrin-Albanian border on the Adriatic to
Sirmium, whence it followed the line of the Sava and Danube rivers. This
line created a cultural
boundary that has had profound consequences for the development of the entire
The Coming of the
Slavs to Balkans
Roman domination in the region was of relatively short duration. Military
clashes with the Goths began early in the 2nd century, and the Goths were
followed by Huns, Bulgars, and Avars over the next 200 years. The collapse
of the Western Empire in the face of the advancing Germanic Ostrogoths at
the end of the 5th century left the Balkans nominally under the rule of
Constantinople, but the disruption of imperial administration in reality
had gone so far that effective control was no longer possible.
Along with other seminomadic peoples during this time, there began to
move into the area tribes of Slavs, a group of Indo-European-speaking peoples
who had long been settled in central Poland but who moved southward to occupy
the sparsely populated areas left by the raids of the more warlike peoples.
The relative strength of the forces in the area is suggested by the Slavs'
effective vassalage to the Avars, a Turkic people of warrior-nomads who
led their Slavic subjects in raids against cities of the Byzantine Empire.
It was not until the defeat of a combined Avar-Persian invasion in 626
that Byzantium was able to reassert its strength. The emperor Heraclius
formed an alliance with two of the stronger Slavic tribes, the Serbs and
the Croats, who at that time were settled north of the Carpathian Mountains.
With the aid of the Byzantine navy the Serbs and Croats occupied the hinterland
of the Dalmatian coast before pushing the Avars and Bulgars eastward.
The division of the Roman Empire between Roman and Byzantine rule--and subsequently
between the Latin and Orthodox churches (see the article on Great
Schism) --was marked by a line that ran northward from Skadar
through modern Montenegro, symbolizing the status of this region as
a perpetual marginal zone between the economic, cultural, and political
worlds of the Mediterranean peoples and theSlavs. During the decline
of Roman power, this part of the Dalmatian coast suffered from intermittent
ravages by various seminomadic invaders, especially the Goths in the
late 5th century and the Avars during the 6th century. These were soon
supplanted by the Slavs, who became widely established in Dalmatia by
the middle of the 7th century. Because of the extremeruggedness of the
terrain and the lack of any major sources of wealth such as mineral
riches, the area that is now Montenegro became a haven for residual
groups of earlier settlers, including some tribes who had escaped Romanization.
The basis of social organization among the Serbs--indeed, among all the
South Slavs--was the zadruga, a large extended family governed by
a fairly democratic consensus of its adult members under the leadership
of a patriarch. The zadruge were typically united on a village basis
around a single lineage under a headman. Larger political units covering
a district might be gathered under a zupan, or chieftain, who would
sometimes have his seat at a particular fortified strong point, called a
Because the zadruga system was based on ties of kinship and locality,
it militated against the sustained collaboration of larger groups, although
several zupani might on occasion be gathered under the uneasy leadership
of a veliki zupan, or "grand zupan," who might manage to
establish control over a substantial part of the territory and even declare
himself king or emperor.
The first Serb state emerged about 850 when a zupan called Vlastimir
led a union of southern Serbs in resistance to Bulgarian expansion. His
acknowledgment of the suzerainty of the Byzantine emperor was significant
in that the Serbian court then became an important channel for the spread
of the Eastern tradition of Christianity. The emperor Michael III commissioned
two brothers from Thessalonica, Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius, to undertake
the task of evangelizing the Slavs. Michael encouraged them to preach in
the vernacular, and, to facilitate this task, Cyril invented a script that
was based upon Greek but adapted to suit the phonetic peculiarities of the
Slavonic tongue. He used as his standard the dialect spoken by the Slav
tribes of Macedonia, which thus was preserved as Old Church Slavonic.
The dissemination of Christianity to the Slavs was not actually begun
by the "apostles to the Slavs," but it received an enormous stimulus
from the translation of the scriptures and liturgy, and the wider significance
of their work was considerable. Not only was the influence of the Eastern
church permanently assured over the greater part of the Balkans, but the
Cyrillic alphabet also became one of the most visible cultural badges separating
the Serbs (together with other Orthodox Slavs) from the Croats and Slovenes.
The Nemanjic Dynasty
Following the death of Vlastimir, his successors lost ground, initially
to the first Bulgarian empire, then to the Macedonian empire of Samuel,
and finally to Byzantium. Some time toward the end of the 11th century,
there arose a new Serb state known as Raska, based on the settlement of
Ras in the region of modern Novi Pazar. In 1169 Stefan Nemanja became veliki
zupan of Raska, and, seizing the opportunity offered by a disputed succession
in Constantinople, he began to extend his territory. By the time of his
retirement to a monastery in 1196, he had consolidated control over the
rival Serb realm of Zeta, centred in what is now Montenegro. His son, Stefan
Prvovencani (the "First-Crowned"), became the first Serbian king
in 1217. As the Byzantine and second Bulgarian empires disintegrated, the
Serbian Nemanjic rulers expanded their holdings southward. Uros II (reigned
1282-1321) occupied Skopje and made it his capital.
The youngest son of Stefan Nemanja became a monk at Mount Athos, under
the name Sava. In 1219 Sava was consecrated archbishop of Zica, near modern
Kraljevo, at the confluence of the Ibar and Zapadna Morava rivers, where
an autocephalous Serbian church was separated from the Bulgarian-influenced
archbishopric of Ohrid. He was later canonized as St. Sava. To escape the constant harassment of raiding
parties of Tatars, however, the seat of Nemanjic ecclesiastical order was
moved south to Pec, in the Metohija Basin. In 1375 it was elevated to a
Under Stefan Dusan (reigned 1331-55), the ninth ruler in the dynasty,
the Nemanjic empire attained its greatest extent, incorporating Thessaly,
Epirus, Macedonia, all of modern Albania and Montenegro, a substantial part
of eastern Bosnia, and modern Serbia as far north as the Danube.
Ironically, it is conceivable that the greatest achievement of the Nemanjic
dynasty was not its territorial expansion but its success in developing
for the first time a unified "high culture" for all Serbs,
based largely on religious cohesion. The court was committed to the
Orthodox church, acting to suppress Bogomilism and ending attempts at
the Latinization of the western areas. Many churches and monasteries
were built that have remained among the architectural glories of the
Orthodox church; Milesevo (c. 1235), Pec (1250), Moraca (1252), Sopocani (c. 1260), Decani (1327), and Gracanica (1321) are the most renowned. The frescoes of the
Raska school are known for their capacity to blend a reverential sense
of the awe in which secular authority is held with a deep sense of religious
devotion. Literary work extended beyond the copying of a considerable
number of manuscripts to include pieces of independent creative merit,
such as the manuscript biography of Stefan Nemanja prepared by St. Sava
and his brother Stefan. Courtly culture became a religious culture,
and both church and state benefited from their close partnership. The
ecclesiastical authorities acquired prestige and influence, while the
court was given powerful symbolic support and was "civilized"
in every sense.
During the 13th and 14th centuries the level of economic development
rose, although during times of armed strife considerable damage was suffered
by the population. Crops such as hemp, flax, grapes, and oil-yielding plants
became more widespread. The plains of Kosovo and Metohija in particular
became areas of dense population and fairly intensive cultivation, probably
supporting more people than today.
Mining grew considerably in importance. Copper, tin, silver, and gold
had all been exploited in Roman times, but production intensified as the
demand for coins and luxury goods expanded in the new imperial courts and
the centres of ecclesiastical authority. Trade also expanded, particularly
in the hands of Ragusan and Italian merchants, who led caravans along the
old Roman routes. Administration improved; the high-sounding titles adopted
by officials ("despot," "caesar," or "sebastocrat")
were more than mere mimicry of Byzantium. An important step in the direction
of separating administration from the personal whim of the ruler was taken
by Dusan, who in 1349 promulgated his Zakonik, or code of laws.
In this part of the Adriatic littoral, from the time of the arrival of
the Slavs up to the 10th century, these local magnates were often brought
into unstable and shifting alliances with other larger states, particularly
Bulgaria, Venice, and Byzantium. Between 931 and 960 one such zupan, Ceslav,
operating from the zupanija of Zeta in the hinterland of the Gulf of Kotor
(modern Montenegro), succeeded in unifying a number of neighbouring Serb
tribes and extended his control as far north as the Sava River and eastward
to the Ibar. Zeta and its neighbouring zupanija of Raska (roughly modern
Kosovo) then provided the territorial nucleus for a succession
of Serb kingdoms that, in the 13th century, were consolidated under the
Although the Serbs have come to be identified closely with the Eastern Orthodox
tradition of Christianity, it is an important indication of the continuing
marginality of Zeta that Michael, the first of its rulers to claim the title
king, had this honour bestowed upon him by Pope Gregory VII in 1077. It
was only under the later Nemanjic rulers that the ecclesiastical allegiance
of the Serbs to Constantinople was finally confirmed. On the death of Stefan
Dusan in 1355, the Nemanjic empire began to crumble, and its holdings were
divided among the knez (prince) Lazar Hrebeljanovic, the short-lived Bosnian
state of Tvrtko I (reigned 1353-91), and a semi-independent chiefdom of
Zeta under the house of Balsa, with its capital at Skadar. Serb disunity
coincided fatefully with the arrival in the Balkans of the Ottoman armies,
and in 1389 Lazar fell to the forces of Sultan Murat I at the Battle of
After the Balsic dynasty died out in 1421, the focus of Serb resistance
shifted northward to Zabljak (south of Podgorica). Here, a chieftain named
Stefan Crnojevic set up his capital. Stefan was succeeded by Ivan the Black,
who, in the unlikely setting of this barren and broken landscape and pressed
by advancing Ottoman armies, created in his court a remarkable if fragile
centre of civilization. Ivan's son Djuradj built a monastery at Cetinje,
founding there the see of a bishopric, and imported from Venice a printing
press that produced after 1493 some of the earliest books in the Cyrillic
script. During the reign of Djuradj, Zeta came to be more widely known as
Montenegro (this Venetian form of the Italian Monte Nero is a translation
of the Serbo-Croatian Crna Gora, "Black Mountain").
The Ottoman Empire gained a foothold on the European mainland in 1354,
and by the time of Dusan's death in 1355 the Turkish march northward had
already begun. Dusan's successors were unable to sustain his achievements,
and almost immediately the state began to disintegrate under rival clan
leaders. The fall of Adrianople (modern Edirne, Tur.) to Turkish troops
shocked the several factions into momentary unity under Vukasin, the king
of the southern Serbian lands, and his brother John Ugljesa, the despot
of Serres (modern Sérrai, Greece), but their forces were defeated
in 1371 at the Battle of Cernomen, on the Marica River, where both were
The Ottoman conquest of the Balkan Peninsula was not a smooth progression.
Slav leaders were not infrequently willing to ally themselves with the Ottomans
in the hope of securing aid against rivals. In this way they were able to
retain a nominal independence for some years in return for a variety of
forms of vassalage. (One of the most celebrated of these leaders was Marko
Kraljevic, the son of Vukasin and a chieftain of Prilep, who is immortalized
in many of the heroic Serbian folk ballads.) In 1387 or 1388 a combined
force of Serbs, Bosnians, and Bulgarians inflicted a heavy defeat on the
Ottoman army at Plocnik, but a turning point came when the Bulgarian tsar
Ivan Shishman broke with the alliance of Slavonic powers and accepted Ottoman
suzerainty. No longer threatened from the east, the armies of Sultan Murat
I were able to concentrate their weight against Serb resistance. Led by
the Serb Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic (he did not claim Dusan's imperial title),
the Serbian army met Murat's forces in battle. On St. Vitus' Day (Vidovdan),
June 28 (June 15, Old Style), 1389, on the Kosovo Polje, the Serbs suffered
a defeat that has become hallowed in several great heroic ballads. The vision
of Lazar on the eve of the battle, the alleged betrayal by the Bosnian Vuk
Brankovic, and the killing of Murat by Milos Obilic have been given assured
immortality in Serbian folk literature.
Forced to accept the position of vassals to the Turks, Serb despots continued
to rule a diminished state of Raska, at first from Belgrade and then from
Smederevo. Serbian resistance cannot be considered to have ended until the
fall of Smederevo in 1459.
The Ottoman Period
When the Serb people fell under Ottoman control, they became a part of
one of the great empires of world history. At the centre of the Turkish
system was the sultan and his court--often referred to as "the Sublime
Porte" (or simply "the Porte")--based in Constantinople.
The origins of the empire in conquest were reflected in its administrative
structure, which revolved around the extraction of revenues principally
in order to support a military caste. All authority and the right to enjoy
possessions were regarded as deriving from the sultan, who "leased"
them to subordinates at his own will and for his benefit. The most common
of these relationships was the timar. The timarli held the right to support
themselves from taxes raised in their area. Typically, the holder of such
a position was a spahi, or mounted warrior, and from his territory he was
expected to support and arm himself in a state of readiness for the service
of the sultan.
All Muslims were regarded as belonging to a single community of the faithful,
the ummah, and any person could join the ruling group by converting to Islam.
Each non-Muslim religious community was called a millet, and Ottoman administration
recognized five such groups: Orthodox, Gregorian Armenian, Roman Catholic,
Jewish, and Protestant. Each group was under the direction of its religious
head. Thus, the Serbs, being Orthodox, had as their titular head the patriarch
of Constantinople.With the passage of time, however, national consciousness
was recognized by the Ottoman authorities, and Constantinople became a specifically
Greek centre. The Serbs had their own patriarchate at Pec. Ecclesiastical
authorities were expected to assume many civil functions, including the
administration of justice, the collection of taxes, and later also education.
The situation of the Christian population was not one of unmitigated
oppression. Christians were exempted from military service, and in some
regions the tax burden was lighter than it had previously been, although
they were taxed more heavily than the Muslim population. It was even possible
for subject peoples to rise, on condition of their conversion, to the highest
positions in the system. By far the most typical route of advancement was
the system of devsirme, which involved the conscription of Christian boys
between the ages of 10 and 20 approximately every five years. The boys were
taken to Constantinople, forcibly converted to Islam, and employed in a
variety of posts. The most able would be trained for administrative positions,
while the others joined the corps of Janissaries (yeniçeri). The
Janissary corps was an elite, celibate order of infantrymen that, as firearms
became more significant in warfare, came to be the most effective part of
the Ottoman military.
Ottoman society was principally rural in character, the majority of the
population living on small, mixed farms that produced little marketable
surplus or in small pastoral communities. Trade and manufacture were not
particularly encouraged by the Ottomans, whose principal concerns were with
the extraction of revenue through taxation and the maintenance of order.
Commerce was regarded only as a possible source of excise duty. Levels of
literacy remained low for the indigenous peoples.
A few knew a little Greek--the lingua franca of trade--and knowledge of
Old Church Slavonic was mostly confined to the clergy. Culturally, therefore,
the population remained highly differentiated, living most of their lives
within the confines of local peasant communities, with their own dialects--the
vehicle for folk songs and poetry--dress, and customs.
of the Ottoman Empire
The territorial expansion of the Ottoman Empire was brought to a halt
during the 17th century, which reduced the need for a large, completely
dedicated, and highly mobile corps of Janissaries. Having lost their specifically
military function, the Janissaries began to look for opportunities to obtain
land or office. The declining flow of booty shifted the burden of the revenue
needs of the empire onto the system of taxation. This in turn led to both
a steady rise in the level of exactions from the Christian population, through
a spread of tax farming, and a growth in the number of holders of former
timarli who tried to turn their holdings into agricultural estates.
The disintegration of the old system brought with it growing dissatisfaction
on the part of the Christian population. Armed uprisings by the peasantry
were particularly common in the northern areas, where imperial control was
weakest and the Janissaries least disciplined. The greatest of these took
place in 1690, when Serbs rose in support of an Austrian invasion after
the Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna. However, the subsequent retreat
of the Austrians left the native population seriously exposed to Turkish
reprisals, and in 1691 Archbishop Arsenije III Crnojevic of Pec led a migration
of 30,000-40,000 families from Old Serbia (Kosovo, Metohija and Raska region)
and southern Bosnia across the Danube. As a consequence, parts of the Austrian
Military Frontier came to contain some of the major centres of Serbian culture.
At the same time, the spread of Albanian Muslims into lands left vacant
by the great migration was to provide a continuing source of communal tension.
It was also the period of intensive islamization when a considerable number
of Christians were forced to convert to Islam in order to evade heavy taxation
By the middle of the 18th century, the disintegration of Ottoman rule
produced a highly unstable situation in Serbia. In an attempt to hellenize
the church within the empire, the patriarchate at Pec was abolished and
the Serbian church brought under the control of the Greek patriarch. In
northern Serbia, local Janissaries were virtually beyond the control of
the Porte, and their exactions passed from the collection of taxes to open
plunder. When war broke out between Turkey and an Austro-Russian alliance
in 1787, the Austrian emperor called on the discontented Serbs to rise against
their overlords, and this they did with some success. The treaties of Sistova
(1791) and Jassy (1792) that concluded hostilities included a defense of
Serb civil rights. The Janissaries were expelled from the pashalic of Belgrade,
but they soon returned, and a period of endemic political disorder set in.
In 1804 an uprising broke out in the Sumadija region, south of Belgrade.
It was led by George Petrovic, called Karageorge (Black George), a successful
trader, who had served with the Austrians in the war against Turkey in 1787-88.
In 1805 a Skupstina (Assembly) was summoned by Karageorge, and it submitted
a list of proposals to the sultan. The proposals included a number of concessions
to local autonomy that were unacceptable to the sultan, and a large force
was sent to quell the rebellion. The Serbs continued to hold out, however,
and they were strengthened by the arrival of Russian reinforcements in 1808.
However, threatened by Napoleonic invasion in 1812, the tsar Alexander I
concluded a treaty with the Turks. The withdrawal of Russia left the Serbs
open to Ottoman reprisals, and by the end of 1813 Karageorge and the remainder
of his followers were compelled to retreat across the Danube.
The return of the Turks was accompanied by a widespread reign of terror.
Preoccupied with the business of the Congress of Vienna, the major powers
showed little interest in the fate of the Christian population, which rose
again in self-defense in April 1815, led by Milos Obrenovic. The Turks were
driven from a wide area of northern Serbia, and they were soon forced to
negotiate. The fall of Napoleon meant that Russian interest was rekindled,
and under threat of Russian intervention several important concessions were
made to the rebels, including the retention of their arms, considerable
powers of local administration, and the right to hold their own assembly.
The region remained a Turkish principality, with a resident pasha and Turkish
garrisons in the principal towns, but in effect an independent Serbian state
dates from this time.
under the prince-bishops
The year 1516 saw a shift in the constitution of Montenegro that many
historians regard as having ensured its survival as an independent state.
The last of the Crnojevic dynasty retired to Venice (he had married a Venetian)
and conferred the succession upon the bishops of Cetinje. Formerly, the
loyalty of minor chieftains and of the peasantry to their rulers had been
unstable. It was not unusual for political control throughout the Balkans
to pass from Slav rulers to the Turks, not because of the defeat of the
former in battle but because of the failure of local magnates to secure
the support of their subjects. In
Montenegro the position of vladika, as the prince-bishop was known, brought
stability to that country's leadership. The link between church and state
elevated it in the eyes of the peasantry, gave it an institutionalized form
of succession that prevented its becoming a matter of contest between minor
chieftains, and excluded the possibility of compromising alliances with
Nevertheless, this period was a difficult one for the small, landlocked
Montenegrin state, which was almost constantly at war with the Ottoman Empire.
Cetinje itself was captured in 1623, in 1687, and again in 1712. Three factors
explain the failure of the Turks to subdue it completely: the obdurate resistance
of the population, the inhospitable character of the terrain (in which it
was said that "a small army is beaten, a large one dies of starvation"),
and the adept use of diplomatic ties with Venice.
From 1519 until 1696 the position of vladika was an elective one, but
in the latter year Danilo Nikola Petrovic was elected to the position (as
Danilo I) with the significant novelty of being able to nominate his own
successor. Although Orthodox clergy in general are permitted to marry, bishops
are required to be celibate; consequently, Danilo passed his office to his
nephew--founding a tradition that lasted until 1852.
During the reign of Danilo two important changes occurred in the wider
European context of Montenegro: the expansion of the Ottoman state was gradually
reversed, and Montenegro found in Russia a powerful new patron to replace
the declining Venice. The decline of Turkish power, however, was accompanied
by a gradual stabilization of Montenegro's Orthodox identity. Catholicism
retained a toehold in the area, and only recently have Catholics identified
themselves as Croats.
The replacement of Venice by Russian patronage was especially significant,
since it brought financial aid (after Danilo I visited Peter the Great in
1715), modest territorial gain, and, in 1799, formal recognition by the
Ottoman Porte of Montenegro's independence as a state under Petar Petrovic
Njegos (Peter I). Russian support at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, following
the final defeat of Napoleon, failed to secure for Montenegro an outlet
to the sea, even though Montenegrins had participated in the seizure of
the Gulf of Kotor from French control in 1806.
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era signaled the beginning of
the transformation of the feudal order throughout the Balkans. The wars
of this period precipitated changes in international relations, and in their
aftermath entirely new social and political processes began to shape the
lives of the South Slav peoples. They remained overwhelmingly peasant societies,
but the old chiefly and aristocratic dynasties were increasingly challenged
by the rising middle classes, who saw "national interest" in different
One of the principal consequences of the wars for the Serbs was the extension
and deepening of channels of communication between the Serbs living in Serbia
itself and those living in a diaspora across the Danube and throughout the
Habsburg lands. The latter had prospered as traders, members of the free
professions, and soldiers and in several cases had been accepted into the
ranks of the nobility. There was therefore a substantial Serbian middle
class in these areas that was lacking in the lands which had long remained
under Ottoman tutelage, and this middle class played a crucial role in the
growth of national consciousness.
Dositej Obradovic (1743-1811), a philosopher and linguist, came from
this group. Attempting to introduce philosophical ideas to his countrymen
in their own tongue, Obradovic wrestled with the problems of standardizing
a Serbian literary language. He was followed in this endeavour by Vuk Karadzic,
who had participated in the uprising of 1804 and fled across the Danube
with Karageorge in 1813. Karadzic conceived a grand project for the creation
of a Serb literary language, which included the revision of its orthography,
the collection of songs, poems, folk sayings, and stories in the living
language of the people, the compilation of a grammar and dictionary, and
a demonstration that this language could be used as the vehicle for great
literature. Karadzic's revised orthography abandoned letters in the Old
Church Slavonic alphabet that had no function in the living language and
devised new signs to represent sounds of the Serbian language for which
there were no existing letters. These proposals met with bitter resistance
in ecclesiastical circles, but they were sympathetically received by influential
secular intellectuals such as Obradovic, the Slovene Jernej Kopitar, and
the Croat Ljudevit Gaj. Karadzic's contacts with these other great figures
in the development of the literary languages of the South Slavs helped to
create a sense of cultural cohesion throughout the region that contributed
significantly to the emergence of political unity. In Serbia itself, the
process of political unification that Milos Obrenovic initiated, along with
the growth of political and economic cooperation between Serbs on both sides
of the Danube and the Sava, brought the inevitable triumph of Karadzic's
Liberation of Serbia
In June 1817 Karageorge returned from exile. He and Milos had never enjoyed
an easy relationship, and, when Karageorge was murdered in mysterious circumstances,
Obrenovic's complicity was suspected. A feud erupted between the Karageorgevic
and the Obrenovic families that continued throughout the century.
Almost in spite of its rulers, the Serbian state expanded steadily through
its first half century. In 1830 the Ottoman government granted the Serbian
principality full autonomy, Milos was recognized as hereditary prince, and
church was given independent status. In 1833 Milos used the pretext
of restoring order across the southern border to annex further territory.
He attempted a program of domestic reform, but his tendency to behave like
a pasha aroused great opposition. He abdicated in 1839, but neither of his
sons (Milan and Michael) managed to control the dissenting chieftainly factions
and gangs of bandits. A coup d'état in 1842 brought the Karageorgevic
family to power. The Skupstina elected Alexander, the third son of Karageorge,
as prince. Alexander's studied neutrality between Austria and Russia made
him unpopular, and he was deposed in 1859. The aged Milos was recalled from
retirement, and in 1860 he was succeeded by his son Michael, who continued
the work of consolidating the state and modernizing its administration.
Michael was assassinated in 1868, probably by supporters of the Karageorgevic
dynasty. They did not reap the reward for their efforts, however, as the
Skupstina called his cousin Milan to the throne. Still a minor, and a highly
Westernized young man, Milan took little interest in his task and was very
unpopular. It may be said that he was saved by the Bosnian insurrection
In Bosnia, where the local Muslim nobility were more repressive of their
reaya than were Turks elsewhere, the whole province burst into revolt after
a particularly bad harvest the previous year. Hoping for an opportunity
for liberation of the Christian population, Serbia had been encouraging
dissent, and in July 1876, in order to defend the church and Orthodox Christians
from repression, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey; they were
joined by Russia in 1877. Following the defeat of the Turks, the Treaty
of San Stefano (March 1878) proposed a radical redrawing of the frontiers
of the Balkan states, including the creation of a large Bulgarian state
extending westward to include Ohrid. For a variety of reasons this solution
was unacceptable to all the Great Powers, and a revision was undertaken
in the Treaty of Berlin (July 1878). The new treaty reduced the territory
of the Bulgarian state and allowed additional territory to Serbia and Montenegro,
but it also placed Bosnia and Herzegovina under Austrian administration
and allowed Austrian garrisons in the sanjak of Novi Pazar, thus ensuring
the separation of Serbia and Montenegro and keeping alive Austrian hopes
for the development of a strategically and economically important railway
The Berlin settlement was vital for the subsequent political development
of the region. First, it produced a momentous change in Serbia's opinion
of Austria, which previously had been generally favourable. Thenceforth,
the two were bitter rivals. The treaty also sowed the seeds of acute Serb-Bulgarian
conflict, so that these two states became rivals for the remainder of Turkey-in-Europe.
In Croatia, progress toward a unified state had been stalled by the Ausgleich
of 1868, which established the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Dalmatia
was now ruled from Vienna, while Croatia-Slavonia was subordinated to Budapest.
In the latter region Croats were exposed to a campaign of Magyarization.
The abolition of the Military Frontier in 1881 brought large numbers of
Serbs into an expanded civil Croatia. Extreme Croatian nationalists saw
them as a threat rather than as potential allies against the Magyars, who
had no difficulty in playing the Slav parties off against one another.To
the east, Serbs living under the Austrian crown had been rewarded for their
articipation in an army that quelled the Magyar revolution of 1848-49 by
the creation of the semiautonomous Vojvodina ("Duchy"). This included
part of the former Banat of Temesvár, most of Backa, and a small
part of Baranja (Baranya)--all of which had long been integral parts of
the Hungarian kingdom. Even during the time of Turkish occupation, this
region had begun to receive Serb migrants, and these had increased in importance
after the Ottomans were forced back across the Danube. Also, Magyar nobles
had introduced large numbers of peasant colonists from the Rhineland and
Upper Austria, adding further to the ethnic mix. The Ausgleich eradicated
the autonomous status of the Vojvodina and exposed Serbs also to the full
force of Magyar attempts at assimilation. Extensive land reclamation was
coupled with colonization by Hungarian speakers. Railway construction strengthened
the economic ties with Budapest, and industrialization brought with it Hungarian
entrepreneurs, technicians, and officials. Stimulated by improved communications,
large estates underwent rapid commercialization. Agricultural wage labour
replaced the traditional peasantry, so that socially and economically the
region acquired much of its modern character. Indeed, during the last quarter
of the 19th century, the Vojvodina became known as the "breadbasket
of the empire." After the restoration of the Karageorgevic dynasty
in 1903, the Serb population began to turn to Serbia for their political
future, rather than trying to defend their identity within a Hungarian state.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Austrian protectorate had dramatic consequences.
Railway and road construction, linked to the rapid expansion of mineral
extraction, advanced. There were improvements in administration, communications,
health, and public order. None of this made for social peace, however, for
conflict over land reform was closely linked to lines of religious conflict.
In Serbia itself political life went through a period of acute disorder
following the Bosnian uprising. In 1881 King Milan entered into a secret
agreement with Austria by which Serbia gained valuable export conditions
for agricultural goods on the understanding that, if Serbia refrained from
interfering in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austrian support would be forthcoming
for Serbian expansion into Macedonia. Encouraged by this, Milan undertook
a disastrous expedition against Bulgaria in 1885. Its failure, together
with the scandals of his personal life, led to Milan's abdication in 1889.
After a confused regency, his son Alexander assumed control of the government
in 1893, but the factionalism and corruption of the court did not abate.
In the face of massive popular and official hostility, Alexander married
his mistress Draga Masín in 1900. The royal couple were brutally
assassinated by officers in the palace in Belgrade in 1903, bringing to
an end the Obrenovic dynasty. The Parliament invited Peter Karageorgevic
to return, and a period of reform and economic development was instituted.
Opposition to the Obrenovics had been in part economic. The state had
become heavily paternalistic toward the peasantry. A combination of population
growth and the steady commercialization of agriculture left many peasants
in debt. The failure to address the problems of agriculture led to the rapid
emergence of the Serbian Radical Party and the Agrarian Socialists, both
expressing widespread rural dissatisfaction.
The accession of Peter II in 1830 heralded an era of modernization and
political integration, in spite of further wars against the Turks. The suppression
of a brief civil war (in 1847) resulted in significant attenuation of the
vestiges of tribal chieftainships. The otiose position of "civil governor"
was replaced by a senate, and much progress was made in the suppression
of blood feuding.Upon Peter's death in 1851 a major constitutional change
was introduced by his nephew, Danilo II. Because he was already betrothed,
Danilo was precluded from becoming vladika; therefore, he assumed the title
of gospodar (prince) and, by making it a hereditary office, separated the
leadership of state from the episcopal office. Danilo also introduced a
new and modernized legal code. The first Montenegrin newspaper appeared
A turning point in the fortunes of Montenegro came with the Serbian declaration
of war against Turkey in 1876, which Montenegro (under Nicholas I) joined
immediately and Russia the following year. Although the territorial gains
awarded to Montenegro by the Treaty of San Stefano were reduced at the Congress
of Berlin in 1878, the state virtually doubled in area and, for the first
time, its borders were enshrined (albeit rather vaguely) in an international
treaty. Most significantly, Montenegro secured vital access to the sea at
Antivari (modern Bar) and Dulcigno (Ulcinj). Although the hostility of the
other Great Powers to a Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean placed
restrictions on the use of these ports, Montenegro was now far more open
to communication with the developing capitalist economies of western Europe.
Trade expanded, the cultivation of tobacco and vines began; a bank was founded;
motor roads were built; a postal service was initiated; and in 1908 the
first railway (from Bar to Virpazar on Lake Skadar) was opened. The majority
of the investment in these developments was by foreign (especially Italian)
interests. Economic openness had its other side, however, in the swelling
flow of emigrants, especially to Serbia and the United States.
The steady expansion of educational opportunity and contact with the
outside world produced pressure further to modernize the consititution,
with the result that the legal code was thoroughly revised in 1888 and parliamentary
government introduced in 1905--although Prince Nicholas' autocratic disposition
made for frequent conflict between parliament and the crown. (Nicholas took
the title of king in 1910.)
The peaceful economic expansion that the country experienced after 1878
was terminated by the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, in which Montenegro sided
with Serbia and the other Balkan League states to oust Turkey from its remaining
possessions. The Treaty of London (1913) brought territorial gains on the
Albanian border and in Kosovo, and it also resulted in a division of the
old Turkish sanjak of Novi Pazar (Raska region) between Serbia and Montenegro.
This brought Montenegro to its greatest territorial extent and for the first
time gave the two Serb states a common border. Discussions began about the
possible union of the two countries, but these were interrupted by World
War I, when Austrian troops drove Nicholas into exile in Italy. Following
the end of hostilities in November 1918, the Assembly in Cetinje deposed
the king and announced the union of the Serbian and Montenegrin states.
Consequently, although Montenegrin representatives had had little contact
with the Yugoslav Committee or with the Serbian government-in-exile of Nikola
Pasic during the war, Montenegro was taken into the new Kingdom of the Serbs,
Croats, and Slovenes. Of all the constituent parts of this newly unified
state, Montenegro had suffered conspicuously the greatest proportionate
loss of life during World War I.
The Balkan Wars and
World War I
In the spring of 1908 it became known that the British and Russians were
corresponding about the possibility of setting up an independent Macedonia.
In an attempt to forestall the division of the empire, a group of Young
Turks, junior military
officers, staged a coup d'état, overthrowing Sultan Abdülhamid
II and declaring a new constitution. Taking advantage of the situation,
Austria, with the secret agreement of the Russian foreign minister, annexed
Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serbs were enraged and threatened war, but,
when it became clear that the Russians were not willing to support them,
they were forced to resign themselves to the annexation. Serb anxieties
were heightened in September when Prince Ferdinand declared Bulgaria's formal
independence, with himself as tsar. Taken together, these developments reinforced
Serbian determination to liberate the areas inhabited by the Serbian population
The closing decades of the 19th century had seen deepening conflict and
confusion in Macedonia, as the Turkish capacity to keep order decayed and
the ambitions of the Great Powers and the surrounding states sharpened.
Despite their competing
expectations of territorial expansion in the area, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro,
and Greece concluded in 1912 a series of secret treaties creating a Balkan
League, the explicit intention of which was to eject the Turks from Europe.
On Oct. 8, 1912,
Montenegro declared war on Turkey, precipitating the First Balkan War. The
Turkish army was defeated with a rapidity that surprised most observers.
By the Treaty of London (May 1913) Turkish possessions in Europe were confined
to a small area of eastern Thrace. The situation was unstable, however,
for several unresolved issues were left for arbitration by the Great Powers
and Bulgaria was greatly dissatisfied by its share of Macedonia. The Bulgarians
opened hostilities against Serbian and Greek forces in June but were forced
to an armistice by the end of July.
By the Treaty of Bucharest (August 1913), Montenegro expanded to a common
frontier with Serbia, doubling its population. Serbia was awarded substantial
territories to the south, including central and northern Macedonia. On Austrian
insistence, however, Serbia and Montenegro were forced to yield part of
the territory they had occupied to form a newly independent Albanian state.
Because Greece obtained Salonika, Kavála, and coastal Macedonia,
the Serbs were denied the direct outlet to the sea for which they had hoped.
The international situation was therefore, if anything, more dangerous at
the end of 1913 than in 1911. The Austrians saw in the emergence of a strong
Serbia an end to their own Drang nach Osten ("drive to the east"),
while Serbian animosity against Austria was intensified. During a visit
to Sarajevo on June 28 (Vidovdan; Serbia's national day), 1914, the Austrian
archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip,
an adherent of Young Bosnia organization. Seeing in the event official Serbian
complicity, the Austrians issued a precipitate and ill-considered ultimatum
that included demands for the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers and
the dismissal of anti-Austrian teachers and military officers. The Serbian
reply, though conciliatory, was considered unsatisfactory, and in July the
two countries went to war.
The Austrian offensive of Aug. 14, 1914, was forced back within two weeks;
after desperate fighting a second attack in November was also repelled.
In the winter of 1914-15, however, a terrible outbreak of typhus struck
Serbia, devastating both the civilian population and the military. When
the German field marshal August von Mackensen opened a third offensive in
October 1915, assisted by the Bulgarians, the Serbs, deprived of reinforcements
and supplies and weakened by disease, were forced to retreat across the
mountains to the Adriatic coast, whence they were shipped to the safety
of Corfu suffering great casualties on the way.
The rise to power of the Greek prime minister Eleuthérios Venizélos
in November 1916 brought the Greeks into the war on the Allied side. It
became possible to open a new front against the Bulgarian-German forces
in Macedonia, with the Serbian army playing a key part alongside British,
French, and Greek units. After two weeks of hard fighting, the Bulgarians
surrendered. The collapse of the Macedonian front was one of the most important
factors precipitating the end for the Central Powers. Following the recapture
of Belgrade on Nov. 1, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian forces agreed to an armistice.
During the early period of the war, a number of prominent political figures
from Slav lands under the Dual Monarchy fled to London, where they set up
a Yugoslav Committee with the aim of conducting propaganda on behalf of
One of the committee's most important achievements was the discovery by
Franjo Supilo of the Treaty of London, a secret document drawn up in April
1915 by which the Italians were promised Istria and large areas of Slovenia
and Dalmatia in return for their participation on the Allied side. In spite
of the apparent connivance of the Serbs in this agreement, the stagnation
of the war during 1916 and early 1917, added to the general indifference
of the major Allied powers to the fate of the national minorities within
Austria-Hungary, slowly compelled the Yugoslav Committee to seek common
defense with the Serbian government-in-exile. In July 1917 representatives
of the two groups met in Corfu and signed the Corfu Declaration, which called
for a single state governed by a democratic and constitutional monarchy,
in which there would be equality for the two alphabets, three national names
and flags, and religious toleration. The details were left to a future constituent
assembly, and in particular no mention was made as to whether its structure
was to be federal or unitary. At the same time, on Habsburg territory, Croatian
and Slovene deputies to the diets in Vienna and Budapest began preparing
the ground for independence through a National Council. On Oct. 29, 1918,
as Serbian troops marched to the Danube, the Sabor in Zagreb declared the
union with Hungary to be severed.
From this date there was a state that united within itself Serbs, Croats,
and Slovenes, but the state was not yet Yugoslavia. Serbia and Montenegro
had made no commitment to it. Indeed, in spite of the Corfu Declaration
the Serbian leader Nikola Pasic regarded the new state with some dismay.
The Serbs' war aims had been concerned principally with the defense of their
territorial gains of 1912-13, and if they thought of expansion at all it
was only in terms of a "Greater Serbia" that might encompass the
Serbian parts of Bosnia. Nonetheless, as it became apparent that the Italians
were not content with the territories allocated to them by the 1915 Treaty
of London, the "Yugoslavs" sought the effective support of the
advancing Serbian army. All sides were constrained by the major Allied powers
to reach an accommodation, and a conference held in Geneva on November 6-9
concluded with a declaration of union by representatives of the Yugoslav
Committee, the National Council, and the Serb political parties. In September
the Montenegrins rose against Austrian occupation, and on November 26 a
assembly in Podgorica declared for union with Serbia under the Karageorgevic
dynasty. On Dec. 1, 1918, a delegation from the National Council invited
the prince regent Alexander to proclaim the new union, and on December 4
the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was announced to the world.
The South Slav
The new kingdom faced major problems at its birth. More than 12 percent
of the citizens of this "South Slav state" spoke non-Slavonic
tongues--mostly Albanian, Hungarian, and German. The Christian population
was mainly divided between
adherents of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, but more
than one-tenth of the total population were Muslims. Parts of the kingdom
had already begun to industrialize and to commercialize, but most of its
subjects were still living in primitive and isolated communities dependent
on subsistence agriculture. No modern rail or road link connected Belgrade
and Zagreb; in fact, the rudimentary Serbian rail system pointed toward
the Greek port of Salonika, whereas that of the northern regions was integrated
with the Austrian and Hungarian systems.
Elections in November 1920 produced a constituent assembly made up of
no fewer than 15 parties, most with specifically ethnic constituencies.
The fundamental divergence of opinion between them concerned the choice
between a unitary or a federal state. Serb experience had always revolved
around the creation of a strong state, that of the Croats and Slovenes around
the struggle to defend the nation against too strong a state. The defeat
in principle of the federal idea led to the withdrawal of the Croatian Peasant
Party under the leadership of Stjepan Radic, and, following the assassination
of a minister by a young communist in 1921, the Communist Party was declared
illegal. This allowed an alliance of the principal Serb parties, together
with the Muslims, to press through a highly centralized constitution, modeled
on that of prewar Serbia. It was promulgated on Vidovdan, June 28, 1921.
With few exceptions, the decade 1919-29 was characterized by growing
bitterness on the part of non-Serb groups. When in June 1928 a Montenegrin
deputy shot two Croatian deputies to death in the Skupstina and mortally
wounded Radic, the days
of the Vidovdan constitution were numbered. It became evident that the Serbs
were unwilling to contemplate a federal state at any price, while the Croats
were unprepared to consider anything else. Frustrated by the inability of
the politicians to make progress, on Jan. 6, 1929, King Alexander dissolved
the Skupstina and declared a personal dictatorship. In an attempt to weaken
traditional regional loyalties, the name of the state was changed to Yugoslavia,
and the former regions were reorganized into nine banovine (governorships)
and the prefecture of Belgrade. In spite of the popular appeal of some of
Alexander's measures, others only exacerbated hostility to the regime, including
the suppression of patriotic gymnastic societies, interference with the
judiciary, the suppression of the free press, and the arrest and even torture
of many critics of royal centralism.
A new constitution was promulgated in 1931. It nominally returned the
country to representative government, but its provisions were so heavily
centralist that it failed to secure the support of the Croats and of many
liberal groups. During a state visit to France in 1934, the king was assassinated
by an agent of the Croatian terrorist organization, the Ustasa. A regency
was established, headed by Prince Paul, the uncle of the heir to the throne,
Peter II. Discussions between the government and Croatian Peasant Party
leader Vladimir Macek resulted in the Sporazum ("Agreement") of
August 1939, which granted Croatia a new and semi-independent status under
its own ban and Sabor. There was a revival of hope that a solution to Yugoslavia's
constitutional problems might be found, but this hope was dashed by the
onset of war in 1941.
Notwithstanding its tempestuous politics, the period immediately following
World War I was a prosperous one for the Yugoslav kingdom. The growing demand
for food both at home and abroad gave a strong stimulus to agriculture.
One of the earliest measures announced in 1918 was a program of land reform
that abolished serfdom and announced the expropriation of large estates.
The redistribution of land was not coupled effectively either with investment
or with the rationalization of holdings. Nevertheless, the reform ensured
that Yugoslavia would remain a country of small farmers even after World
Industrialization was a consistently enunciated policy of all postwar
governments. Extractive industries, forestry, power generation, and metallurgical
concerns were built up with foreign capital. Some manufacturing (notably
textiles) developed with the aid of tariff protection, and machinery was
acquired as war reparation from the Central Powers.
The Western financial crisis of 1929 left Yugoslavia relatively untouched.
It was not until 1931 that real economic difficulties set in, as the cushion
of war reparation was removed, the German banking system collapsed, French
economic support was withdrawn, and Britain departed from the gold standard.
Yugoslavia gradually was drawn into a more binding relationship with Germany,
which began to recover under the Nazis. Favourable terms were extended to
Yugoslav exports, and Yugoslav companies were incorporated into German cartels.
By 1938 trade with Germany accounted for 53 percent of exports and 65 percent
Since 1933 the king had taken the initiative in building closer ties
with Yugoslavia's Balkan neighbours--a policy that bore fruit in the Balkan
Entente with Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. However, by the late
1930s it became clear that this
modest measure of collective security was no match for the real threat to
the independence of the state: German expansion. Following the 1938 Anschluss,
the Yugoslavs worked hard to maintain a position of independence, but German
pressure to associate with the Axis powers grew with the fall of Czechoslovakia,
the Italian invasion of Albania, and the German- Soviet Nonagression Pact
of August 1939. In March 1941 Prince Paul and his ministers finally agreed
to sign the Tripartite Pact.
The response was one of public outrage, especially in Belgrade. In a
bloodless coup d'état led by several air force officers, the regents
and their senior ministers were sent into exile. King Peter's majority was
proclaimed prematurely, and, amid massive and emotional demonstrations of
popular support, a government of national unity was formed.
World War II
Yugoslav bravado threatened to spoil Germany's plan for an attack against
the Soviet Union, and on April 6, 1941, German troops invaded. Within two
weeks Yugoslav resistance was crushed. King Peter and his ministers fled,
later setting up a government-in-exile in London.
Parts of the kingdom were divided among Germany, Italy, Hungary, and
Bulgaria. A puppet regime was installed in a greatly diminished Serbia under
a former minister of war, Milan Nedic, and an enlarged Independent State
of Croatia, which included Bosnia and Herzegovina, was headed by the leader
of the Ustasas, Ante Pavelic. The Croatian regime set about
a policy of "racial purification" and open genocide that went
beyond even Nazi practices in its extermination of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.
From 1941 to 1945 more than million of Serbs were brutally exterminated
in numerous concentration camps run by Ustasas (Jasenovac concentration camp). The Croatian Roman Catholic
clergy headed by Archbishop Stepinac openly collaborasted with Ustasa movement
taking part in great scale forceful conversion of the Orthodox Serbs to
Roman Catholicism. There were almost no protests from the Roman Catholic
Church authorities against the genocide against the Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.
(The genocide over the Serbs in the Independent State of Coratia).
Although the Yugoslav Royal Army disintegrated rapidly in the face of
the Axis attack, groups of its personnel did not surrender but went into
hiding with their weapons. Under the name Chetnik (Cetnik), a term that
recalled the groups of armed units who harassed the Turks during the 19th
century, these groups emerged under the leadership of Dragoljub Mihailovic,
an experienced and respectable officer who had fought in the Balkan Wars
and World War I. A second armed resistance movement was created by the Communist
Party; it came to be known as the Partisans (Partizani) and was headed by
a former metalworker and infamous communist organizer from Zagreb named
Josip Broz, who now operated under the code name Tito. The Chetnik organization
was almost exclusively composed of Serbs whose vision of the future of Yugoslavia
was of a strongly unified country in which Serbia and its royal dynasty
would play the leading role. The Partisans, on the other hand, were firmly
led by the Communist Party, which soon showed that it intended to overthrow
the monarchy and create a socialist and a communist state like Soviet Union.
The two groups were soon fighting each other with as much hostility as they
were the occupiers.
A series of offensives by German and Italian forces, with the collaboration
of Ustasa units, forced the partisans to remain on the move, mostly in Bosnia
and Herzegovina. In the meanwhile the communists organized a "temporary
government" in competition with the exiled royalist goverment in London.
Under British pressure, King Peter withdrew support from general Mihailovic.
On Oct. 20, 1944, Belgrade fell to a combined operation of Yugoslav communist
and Soviet troops. After the conquest of the city massive series of retaliation
against all anti-communists ensued. Thousands of Serbs all over Serbia were
executed by the communist police.
Even after German forces in Yugoslavia surrendered in May 1945, Mihailovic
was unwilling to give up the struggle, but his force was beaten and dispersed
in central Bosnia. Mihailovic himself evaded capture until March 1946. He
was tried by communists for alleged treason and executed in July. This event
finally marked the beginning of unrestrained communist dictatorship.
A new constitution establishing the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia
was promulgated on Jan. 31, 1946, replacing the monarchy with a federation
of six republics and the two autonomous Serbian provinces of Kosovo- Metohija
(Kosmet) and the Vojvodina. The "loyal opposition" was quickly
but relatively gently eased from power, but those suspected of collaborating
with the former enemy were punished or killed and their property confiscated.
The major productive forces and means of communication and exchange were
nationalized, and a rigid central planning apparatus was put in place, power
being exercised by the Communist Party through a close interlocking of state
and party functions.
Despite their adoption of this Soviet-style "dictatorship of the
proletariat," Yugoslav communists had never had an easy relationship
with the Soviet Union, dating to Tito's independence in conducting the "national
liberation struggle." Relations soon turned acrimonious, the Yugoslavs
being accused of ideological, economic, and political indiscipline and they
in turn protesting the misconduct of Soviet advisers. In June 1948 Yugoslavia
was expelled from the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), the Soviet
bloc's apparatus of communist internationalism, and a diplomatic and economic
boycott was begun by the socialist countries.
Yugoslavia responded by embarking on a distinctive "Yugoslav road
to socialism." One significant development was the movement of nonaligned
countries, in which Tito's active involvement legitimated his independence
from the Soviet Union while underlining the respect for national identity
that had become so central to his domestic policy. In June 1950 the Basic
Law on the Management of State Economic Enterprises by Working Collectives
took the first steps toward what came to be known as socialist self-management.
Largely the creation of Yugoslavia's leading ideologist, the Slovene Edvard
Kardelj, self-management involved a looser system of planning control, with
more initiative devolved to enterprises, local authorities, and a highly
decentralized banking structure. At the same time, revision of the constitutional
law began a process of political decentralization, giving enormous powers
in revenue collection and the provision of social services to the opstina
(commune). A new constitution, adopted in 1963, strengthened self-management
and extended it beyond industrial organizations into services and the administration;
it also gave greater importance to the republics and autonomous provinces.
Related to this constitutional reform was a series of economic measures
designed to move the country toward "market socialism" by abolishing
many price controls and requiring enterprises to compete more effectively
with one another and within the "international division of labour."
Measured in growth rates, the reforms were a success, in that the 1950s
and '60s were years of unparalleled ecconomic prosperity. Yugoslavia emerged
as a major international tourist destination, and some branches of manufacture,
such as metal goods and textiles, became highly profitable on both the domestic
and foreign markets. Industrialization and urbanization created a society
that was radically different from the economically backward peasant economy
of the prewar years.
Yet beneath this growth were certain fundamental weaknesses. Instead
of creating a genuine market, the strength of the republics resulted in
a series of local monopolies in many products. More seriously, the country's
prosperity followed deeply rooted historical cleavages, with the northern
republics of Slovenia and Croatia drawing steadily away from the others.
Efforts to correct this imbalance through the diversion of resources into
projects in the poorer regions were resented by the more-developed republics.
By the late 1960s, unemployment and inflation had become chronic, and all
these problems were aggravated by the rapid rise of prices in the 1970s.
Growing economic crisis contributed to the sharpening of political conflict.
Within Serbia itself, a purge of liberals from the League of Communists
culminated in the expulsion of the Praxis group of philosophers from the
University of Belgrade. In a bid to reaffirm party authority, a new constitution
in 1974 vested Tito with a lifetime presidency; afterward, leadership was
to pass to a collective presidency composed of one representative from each
of the republics and autonomous provinces, with a new chairman selected
The post-war communist period proved to be fatal for the Serbian people.
The Serbian national and religious tradition was deliberately suppressed
both in education and in state controlled media. The Orthodox Church was
formally given freedom but in reality it was under great pressure and many
priests suffered imprisonment and various kinds of threats because of their
pastoral activity among the people. All spheres of public life were strictly
controlled by the Communist Party and any kind of free and democratic activity
was forbidden. This situation caused a general exodus of many young and
educated people to the countires of Western Europe and America.
Disruption of ex-Yugoslavia
and the Civil War
Tito's death in May 1980 marked the beginning of the rising ethnic tensions.
It was obvious that neither the problem of Yugoslavia's ethnic diversity
nor that of its economic management could be easily solved. By 1983 the
foreign debt had become so large that the International Monetary Fund was
asked to intervene with Yugoslavia's creditors. Partly under its guidelines,
the government under Ante Markovic embarked on yet another reform of self-management,
this one including the freeing of technical and managerial functions from
political interference and the closing of unprofitable enterprises. Implementation
of the reforms drove unemployment even higher, precipitating a series of
strikes and street demonstrations, and they were vigorously resisted by
communist officials from regionsthat might have greater difficulty in competing
in an open market.
The largest of these regions was Serbia, where the leadership of the
party and the presidency of the republic were assumed by Slobodan Milosevic,
a banking official from Belgrade . Attacking the entrenched communist establishment
lost touch with the real concerns of the people and seeking a restoration
of Serbian national consciousness, Milosevic used various meassures to strengthen
his political power in Serbia and Montenegro. The parallel processes began
in Croatia and other republics. Soon it was evident that there was no real
restoration of democracy and civil society in Yugoslavia and the country
was plunged into severe ethnic strifes. Matters came to a head in May 1991
when relations between the ex-Yugoslav republics became very tense. In June
the Slovene and Croatian governments implemented their earlier threats to
withdraw from the federation. Macedonia followed suit in September.
The Yugoslav People's Army attempted to seize control of Slovenia's international
borders in order to prevent the disruption of the federation, but the largely
conscript federal troops were outmaneuvered by the Slovene national guard
and withdrew to Croatia. There, communities of Serbs, seriously threatened
by the rising Croatian nationalism and revived Ustasa national ideology,
had been organizing their own self-governing krajine (regions) in which
they demanded the right to retain union with the rest of the federation.
The krajine were successfully defended against Croatian forces until the
negotiation of a cease-fire in May 1992, which was subsequently policed
by United Nations (UN) troops in four protected areas that covered almost
one-third of Croatian territory. In 1995, after the intensive military operations
these areas, which were predominantly inhabited by the Serbs, were occupied
by the Croatioan Army and reintegrated into Croatia. More than 200.000 Serbian
refugees were forced to leave the areas in which they had lived since the
In February and March 1992, Muslims and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina
approved a referendum calling for secession from Yugoslavia disregarding
the political will of the Serbian population who wanted to retain the union
with Serbia and Montenegro. In the meanwhile the rising Moslem funtamentalist
ideas, openly supported by the highest Bosnian authorieties, made additional
threats to the Serbs who strongly disliked the idea of living in a Moslem
dominated country. Here, Serbs were interspersed throughout the population
in a mixed pattern that did not permit the defense of coherent krajine.
Instead, a bitter and protracted civil war erupted in which regular forces
and irregular armed bands expelled entire populations from areas brought
under their control. Defying a series of economic sanctions brought against
Serbia and Montenegro through the UN, calling the bluff of international
military intervention, and ignoring sustained exposure by international
news media, Bosnian Serb forces continued their campaign until (by mid-1993)
they held effective control over roughly two-thirds of Bosnian territory.
By linking these areas to the Serb krajine in Croatia, the Serbs laid the
foundations (although at a hideous cost in atrocities and refugees) for
the unification into one political formation of all people who considered
themselves to be Serbs. As the nucleus of such a state, a new Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, was proclaimed in April
1992. The civil war in ex-Yugoslavia was finished in 1996 by the Dayton
Agreement in which the Bosnian Serbs were granted a separate Serbian entity
- Republika Srpska - within the internationally recognized Bosnia and Hercegovina.
After the end of the civil war Serbia and Montenegro were found in a difficult
political and ecconomic situation with more than 600.000 Serbian refugees
from all parts of ex-Yugoslavia and rather unstable situation in Kosovo
The selected articles on Serbian history, by Dr. Dusan