Dissolution of Yugoslavia 101: Independence Efforts and the Collapse of Communism

In the first article of our article series ''Dissolution of Yugoslavia 101'', the rising nationalism in SFR Yugoslavia was discussed through a football match. In this article, some important political events will be mentioned that triggered and accelerated the collapse of Yugoslavia before it was dragged into the inevitable crisis. Democratization efforts in Eastern Europe, which began in the 1980s, strengthened nationalist movements in Yugoslavia, turned the republics and nations living within the federal structure against each other, and the 47-year-old socialist federation found itself lost in a vortex.

Josip Broz Tito and the Flag of Former Yugoslavia. https://belgradewanderlusttours.com/event/rise-and-fall-of-yugoslavia/

Democratization efforts paved the way for the establishment of new parties and free elections within Yugoslavia. In the 1990 elections, the Communist Party in Croatia and Slovenia lost, while the newly formed nationalist parties won. Especially in Serbia and Croatia, while the rhetoric of nationalism took a legal dimension, it became widespread, spreading branches of parties to other republics within Yugoslavia. Thus, nationalist Franjo Tudman's HDZ in Vojvodina and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian Democratic Party in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bosnian Muslim Alija Izetbegovic's the Muslim Party of Democratic Action in Montenegro and Serbia opened their branches. In this way, nationalist parties continued their nationalist policies in republics outside their borders, and the breakup of Yugoslavia was accelerated in this way.

It would not be wrong to say that nationalist movements were the most important reason for the collapse of Yugoslavia. So much so that the economic deterioration of the federation was almost ignored and priority was given to nationalist programs. However, the Yugoslav economy was deteriorating and it was necessary to stop this trend and give life to the Yugoslav economy. Ante Marković, who was the last Yugoslav Prime Minister during this period and also defended the integrity of Yugoslavia, introduced new economic reforms. Marković aimed to revive Yugoslavia by making democratic and economic reforms under a confederate or federated structure and to rebuild a more modern Yugoslavia. The political party that Marković founded received great attention and became popular. But unfortunately, voters wanted to vote according to their ethnic identity. Voting for someone of unknown ethnicity could mean putting themselves in danger. For this reason, all constitutional reforms proposed by Marković were rejected by Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia in the first place. Thus, Yugoslavia's last chance before entering the bloody war was gone. Those living in exhausted Yugoslavia no longer wanted to fix it, but on the contrary, wanted to break it.

The first incident that escalated nationalist tensions in the 1980s took place in Kosovo in March 1981. It first started with the protests of students at the university, and then continued with people taking to the streets demanding independence for Kosovo. After the events spread to the whole of Kosovo, the Yugoslav army intervened in a bloody way. In 1989, at the request of Milošević, the Serbian Parliament introduced a new law abolishing the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina, which are dependent on Serbia. The attachment of these two autonomous regions to Serbia and the nationalist policies pursued by Milošević created fear in the Republic of Slovenia, which has a homogeneous population, unlike other republics. The allegation that Slovenian news magazine Mladina had connections with the CIA was brought forward by Serbia and the JNA, and Slovenia was asked to close down this magazine. However, the President of Slovenia, Milan Kučan, defended the freedom of the press and accordingly tried to amend the Slovenian constitution and wanted to prevent Serbia from interfering in its internal affairs. This situation brought Serbia who was acting with the JNA, face off Slovenia and brought Yugoslavia to the end of the line.

Milan Kučan and Slobodan Milošević. http://www.zlocininadsrbima.com/EN/NewsPiece.aspx?Naslov=Croatian-crimes-in-Vukovar-in-1991

At the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Kučan demanded more powers be given to the republics and the creation of a confederation structure for Yugoslavia. However, only Serbian proposals were accepted on a majority vote while Slovenian demands were overwhelmingly rejected. Thereupon, Slovenia left the congress, opening the door for the collapse of Yugoslavia; Croatian delegates left the congress immediately after the Slovenes. Thus, Slovenia and Croatia took the first step to leave Yugoslavia, now the expected end was approaching.

In Croatia, the election of the nationalist HDZ (The Croatian Democratic Union), led by Tudjman, brought Serbs living within the borders of the Socialist Republic of Croatia against Croats. The Serb minority, located in Eastern and Southern Croatia, refused to accept this established government and declared it racist. There was considerable resistance and opposition, especially in the Krajina region to the East. The Croats confiscated weapons and ammunition at police stations to prevent the Serbs from taking it; the JNA, the Yugoslav army, openly supported the Croatian Serbs. The Serbs were reminded of the war crimes committed by fascist Croats in World War II, claiming that if they accepted Croatian rule here, they would experience the same tragedy again. For this reason, they wanted to declare their independence in the region by holding a referendum in order to get the feature of an autonomous region. The conflict between the two communities reached its peak in mid-1991. Serbs looted weapons depots and barricaded streets. In this way, the Croatian-Serbian civil war began.

Photo by Tarik Samarah. http://www.warphotoltd.com/exhibitions/the-end-of-yugoslavia36

SFR Yugoslavia, with its unique texture and system, was able to keep six republics together for 47 years, gathering all ethnic diversity under the same roof with its Yugoslav identity and Yugoslav flag. Unfortunately, after Tito's death, the policy of "brotherhood and unity" came to an end and left its place to policies that foster national feelings and seek independence within the federation. The nationalist policies of Serbia, led by Milošević, took away the autonomy of the Kosovo and Vojvodina regions and created uncertainty and fear in all republics within the Federation. Not focusing on the deteriorating economy and putting economic reforms in the background meant that the last opportunity for the salvation of Yugoslavia was lost. The breakup in the last Yugoslav Congress soon led to Croatia and Slovenia declaring their independence, while Yugoslavia, which no one was trying to save, was disappearing along with its founder, Tito.


Krliç, Merdan. Eski Yugoslavya’da Siyasal Hareketlerin ve Günümüz Partilerinin İç ve Dış Politika Yaklaşımı. 2007. İstanbul Üniversitesi, Yüksek Lisans Tezi


“Mladina.” Wikipedia, 6 Aug. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mladina#Late_1980s:_Key_role_in_the_push_for_Slovenian_independence.

Pesic, Vesna. “Serbian Nationalism and the Origins of the Yugoslav Crisis.” Peaceworks, vol. 8, 1996, www.files.ethz.ch/isn/30963/1996_april_pwks8.pdf.

Sasso, Alfredo. “The Political Dimension of Ante Marković’s Reform Project. ‘We Must Develop Democracy and a Third Yugoslavia.’” Contemporary Southeastern Europe, 2020, doi:10.25364/02.7:2020.1.3.

“The Death of Yugoslavia: Enter Nationalism 1/6.” YouTube, uploaded by Ethnovision, 7 Jan. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj9Zw5fN3rE&list=PLdw7wnKe0wiUSNdugFGpnSfm6wt-9gvUt.

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Umut Açıkgöz

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