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Yugoslavia, former country in southeastern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. The country existed from 1918 to 1941, when German-led Axis forces invaded and dismembered it during World War II. It was reestablished in 1945, but in 1991 political and ethnic conflicts led to its second disintegration. In the first period, Yugoslavia was a kingdom. In the second period, it was a federation consisting of six republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina (often referred to simply as Bosnia), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. In addition, two autonomous provinces existed within the republic of Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo. Belgrade was the federal capital.

Yugoslavia, meaning “land of the South Slavs,” was created as a constitutional monarchy at the end of World War I (1914-1918). It was known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes until 1929, when it was renamed Yugoslavia. The kingdom was destroyed and divided by Axis invasion and occupation in 1941. At the end of World War II (1939-1945), Yugoslavia was recreated as a federal republic by the Partisans, a Communist-led, anti-Axis resistance movement. Under Josip Broz Tito, founder and leader of the Partisans, Yugoslavia emerged as a faithful copy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), with a dictatorial central government and a state-controlled economy. Tito broke with the USSR in 1948, and he decentralized the Yugoslav government and gradually eased repression. Economically, the government experimented with looser controls under the labels of workers’ self-management and market socialism. Yugoslavia was unique among Communist countries in its relatively open and free society and its international role as a leader of nonaligned nations during the Cold War.

Following Tito’s death in 1980, ten years of economic crisis and growing political and ethnic conflicts led to the federation’s disintegration in 1991 and 1992. The breakup was bloody, resulting in civil wars in two successor states, Croatia and Bosnia. Serbia’s leadership, which tried to preserve the federation and then to extend the republic’s boundaries to create a Greater Serbia, was involved in both civil wars. Together with Montenegro, Serbia formed what its leaders claimed to be the successor state to Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.


Yugoslavian history

Allcock, John B. Explaining Yugoslavia. Columbia University Press, 2000. Unravels the complexity of Yugoslavia's troubled past and present.

Djilas, Aleksa. The Contested Country: Yugoslav Unity and Communist Revolution, 1919-1953. Harvard University Press, 1991. Analysis of pre-World War II Yugoslavia and the country's postwar Communist movement.

Djilas, Milovan.Trans. John Loud. Fall of the New Class: A History of Communism's Self-Destruction. Knopf, 1998. Essays examining Yugoslavia's Communist regime, its rise to power, and its eventual collapse.

Harris, Nathaniel. The War in Former Yugoslavia. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1998. Description of the events that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the outbreak of war; for younger readers.

Judah, Tim. History, Myth, and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. 2nd ed. Yale University Press, 2000. Scholarly but highly readable history of the Serbian people.

Lampe, John R. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Discusses the peoples and the territories that would make up Yugoslavia, starting in 800.

Maass, Peter. Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. Knopf, 1996. Sensitive examination of the ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Silber, Laura. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. Penguin, 1996. Behind-the-scenes view of Yugoslavia's disintegration.

Singleton, Frederick Bernard. A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples. Cambridge University Press, 1985. From Roman times to the years after Marshall Tito.

Walter, Elizabeth B. Barefoot in the Rubble. Pannonia, 2000. A childhood story of surviving the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavia after World War II.

West, Richard. Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Carroll and Graf, 1996. Tito's role in the history of 20th-century Yugoslavia.

Zimmermann, Warren. Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its Destroyers. Times Books, 1996. Analysis of the causes of the breakup of Yugoslavia.


Rusinow, Dennison, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Late Adjunct Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh. Author of The Yugoslav Experiment and other books. Editor of Yugosla via— A Fractured Federalism.

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