For Croatia, 1945 marked the imposition of Communist rule and return to Yugoslavia. Shielded by their fight against Nazi Germany, Communists used the Second World War to get rid of domestic political competition as well. Tens of thousands fell victim to Communist crimes after WWII. After liberating Croatia from Nazis and establishing the new state of Yugoslavia, Communists went after the anti-Communist Croatian army units who had retreated to Austria and surrendered to British troops.
Britain, however, turned 340.000 soldiers and civilian refugees over to Yugoslav authorities who, according to different estimates, murdered 50.000–200.000 of them. Terror continued after Communists had secured power and by 1953, some 116.000 people had been repressed, including 26.947 killed. Although the terror later subdued, Croatia had tens of thousands political prisoners during 1948–88.
On 10 April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia - a collaborationist puppet state of Nazi Germany - was created under the leadership of Ante Pavelić, the head of the Ustasha movement, who used the title Poglavnik. Until 1943, Partisan troops consisted primarily of Serbians who opposed Pavelić’s policy of repression and genocide.
The State Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia (ZAVNOH) was established in 1943 to act as the provisional organ of Partisan authority. There were many non-Communist politicians among its members, including representatives of the Croatian Peasant Party, which had been the most powerful party during the inter-war period.
Despite being an independent politician and writer, Vladimir Nazor was appointed as the ZAVNOH’s president; Ivo Goldstein points out that this power structure was designed to keep the ZAVNOH’s activities under complete Communist controll by the ZAVNOH’s vice-president Andrija Hebrang. Following the liberation of German-occupied Dalmatia at the end of 1944, the ZAVNOH moved its headquarters to Šibenik in preparation for a takeover of power in Zagreb.
In April 1945, the ZAVNOH’s presidium gathered in Split to form the Executive Council of the People's Republic of Croatia and appointed Vladimir Bakarić (1912-1983), a major political figure in post-war Croatia, as its president. Bakarić was the leader of the Croatian government between 1945 and 1953, the speaker of the parliament between 1953 and 1963 and a member of the Yugoslav Presidency between 1971 and 1983.
After the liberation of Croatia in May 1945, the People’s Republic of Croatia became part of the Yugoslav federation under communist rule. The former Italian territories of Dalmatia and Istria were annexed by Croatia in the process. Historian Tihomir Cipek points out that the Communist regime enjoyed much stronger support than the previous Karađorđević dynasty. The Serbs, who constituted about 10-15% of the population of Croatia, were over-represented within the party and in local organisational cells.
They also formed the majority of the officer corps and security service. This could be explained, as suggested by Dennison Russinow, by the fact that the Partisans had been fighting for a long time in the Dinaric Alps, which were mainly inhabited by Serbs who preferred to join the Partisans rather than wait to be slaughtered by the Ustasha.
At the fourth ZAVNOH proceedings in Zagreb in July 1945, the Council changed its name to the People's Parliament of Croatia; this went hand in hand with the cessation of wartime activities and the shift towards a new policy of peace.
In July 1946, the People’s Republic of Croatia adopted the federal constitution without any amendments. Up until the 1950s, republican authorities only had control over education, social security and culture in this highly centralised country. At the end of 1946, elections to the Parliament of Croatia were held and the constitution of the republic was adopted on 18 January 1947 as an expression of its statehood and sovereignty within Yugoslavia; in reality it was in complete accordance with the provisions of the federal laws. In fact, the leaders of the Parliament led by Vladimir Nazor could not reach a decision on any consequential issues.
Enforcing Communism in Croatia was made possible thanks to the Nationalisation Act of December 1946 which was further amended in 1948. The Croatian Parliament adopted federal laws without amendments.
Since the beginning of the 1960s, Croatian politicians spoke ardently in favour of increasing the republic’s autonomy, especially in terms of finances. The constitution of 1963 and its subsequent amendments in the late 1960s and early 1970s indeed gave the republic a greater degree of autonomy.
After Aleksandar Ranković’s dismissal in 1966, there was much greater freedom in social and political life. In the second half of the 1960s, young politicians started rising to prominence, such as Miko Tripalo, a member of the federal government, and Savka Dabčević Kučar, the vice-president of the republican party authorities in Croatia. They managed to dominate party structures in Croatia despite facing a significant number of opponents within the party. They demanded the redefinition of the federation as a country of all Yugoslav nations rather than a supranational body. They called for an increase in the economic independence of the various republics, to leave funds at their disposal, to limit the power of federal offices, and to reduce financial burdens connected with supporting the poorest regions.
A major social revival resulted in support for greater autonomy among the most important cultural institutions, including the most prominent one of them all, Matica hrvatska. A variety of demands and figures appeared, but liberal democrats and national movements were the two dominant ones, with the latter coming to the forefront. The postulates of the party authorities were most radically supported by student activists. An emerging social movement called itself the Croatian Spring, as a reference to the transformations taking place in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s. Under pressure from politicians of the other republics and anti-reformists within the League of Communists of Croatia, Tito decided to dismiss all Croatian party activists with pro-reform attitudes. This purge took place at the XXIII proceedings of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia on 12 December 1971.
The period from the suppression of the Croatian Spring movement until the end of the 1980s is known as the “Croatian silence”. Slow but steady economic growth contributed to the fact that the situation in Croatia up until the 1980s was relatively stable. The political scene was somewhat apathetic; following the collapse of the Croatian spring, the party had been plagued more than ever by opportunists with a dogmatic understanding of communist ideology.
This was particularly true for politicians who came into power due to the suppression of the Croatian Spring movement, such as the president of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia Milka Planinc, as well as Jakov Blažević, Jure Bilić or Dušan Dragosavac. Their position gradually weakened throughout the 1980s.
At the turn of 1989, Communist authorities gave political groups the possibility of forming official entities. The first to do so was the UJDI (Association for Yugoslav Democratic Initiative) established at the beginning of 1989, which did not actually become a party, but brought together social activists calling for a democratic transformation in the country. Soon after, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) were officially formed.
The XIV SKJ congress held in January 1990 showed signs of the upcoming collapse of the country. Croatian and Slovenian politicians left the meeting in opposition to the return of a centralised state. Croatian communists already began preparing for the upcoming April 1990 elections.
On 19 May, a referendum was held as to whether Croatia should leave Yugoslavia, in which the vast majority of the population (over 90%) voted in favour of independence. The referendum was boycotted by the Serbian minority who were fearful of the nationalistic tendencies gaining strength in Croatia. These fears were also fuelled by the rhetoric used by Franjo Tuđman, the leader of the HDZ, who relativised crimes committed against the Serbian population during WWII. He presented the Independent State of Croatia as the example to inspire Croatia in its quest for independence and often slandered the Serbian minority in his speeches. Amendments to the constitution adopted on 25 July 1990 granted the Serbian minority the status of a national minority rather than a constitutional nation. Slobodan Milosević used Tuđman’s actions to instil fear among the Serbian population in Croatia.
Soon after the attack from the Yugoslav People’s Army, the Croatian parliament proclaimed independence on 25 June 1991; the civil war, however, wore on until 1995.
The use of repressions by the Croatian Communist authorities began at the end of April in 1945. They were extensively used up until the end of 1945, but mass persecution continued at a slightly lower rate through to the early 1950s due to the feud with Stalin. Ivo Goldstein quotes statistical data according to which 5,200 people were put on trial and 1,500 were sentenced to death in Croatia in 1945 alone. Between 1945 and 1947 there were around 3,500-4,500 people operating in Croatia called the Crusaders, which referred to underground activists connected with the Ustasha movement.
Right after the war, the Ustasha and their collaborators were the primary targets of repression. The Communists often fabricated evidence accusing people of collaborating with the Ustasha regime. With the Partisans’ approach on Zagreb, a large part of the NDH’s troops fled into Austria alongside the retreating German troops. They fought against Partisan units on Slovenian territory in mid-May 1945.
Between 14-15 May 1945, they reached Bleiburg in Austria, where British forces handed them over to the Partisans. Some of them managed to stay in Austria (20,000-25,000), but most soldiers were arrested and either immediately executed by the Partisans or imprisoned in Slovenia, where they were subject to interrogation. Individuals who were deemed to be most treasonous, were executed by firing squad without trial near Maribor in Slovenia. Many of them were also sent to prison camps in Vojvodina and forced to march the entire distance while being mistreated by the Yugoslav Peoples' Army.
These marches became known among Croatians as the “Way of the Cross”. Most of those who participated in the marches were either put in prison or forced into unfree labour. According to Vladimir Žerjević, 70,000 people were killed along the “Way of the Cross”, 50,000 of whom were of Croatian origin. In the summer of 1945, death sentences were imposed on former minister Mile Budak, on the Franciscan friar Miroslav Filipović-Majstroović because of his crimes against the Serbs in the Banja Luka region and the Jasenovac concentration camp, on the Prime Minister of the NDH Nikola Mandić and on the first commander of the Ustasha army, Juco-Juraj Rukavina. Firing squads also executed religious leaders such as the Mufti of Zagreb, Ismet Muftić, Evangelic bishop Philipp Popp and the metropolitan bishop of the Croatian Orthodox Church, Grigorij Ivanovič Maksimov Germogen.
In 1947, high-ranking officers of the Ustasha regime were executed, including Slavko Kvaternik (Pavelić’s deputy), the Minister of Finance Vladimir Košak, the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mehmet Alajbegović, and the Commander-in-Chief Miroslav Navratil. It is worth stressing, however, that NDH politicians who were most directly involved in the policy of genocide, such as Ante Pavelić and the minister of propaganda Eugen Kvaternik, managed to flee the country, primarily to South America.
Following Italy’s capitulation in 1943, the fascists and those accused of collaborating with Mussolini’s regime (some of them justly, though some wrongfully) were subject to repressions in Istria. Practically the entire Italian population inhabiting these territories fled the region. Mass population displacement together with land and property appropriation ensued from 1947 up until the mid-1950s.
After 1945, repression and collective responsibility were employed against Hungarians in the Međimurje region who were accused of collaborating with the enemy.
In 1948, the most popular pre-war party – the Croatian Peasant’s Party - also fell victim to repressions when twelve of its representatives were tried under the false charge of collaboration; this included Tomo Jančiković who was most likely murdered while in prison.
The year 1948 marked the start of repressions as a result of the feud with the USSR. It was Croatia where the most infamous concentration camp was created for those who sided with Stalin. According to estimations made by the historian Martin Previsić, a total of 15,700 people was convicted across Yugoslavia, 13,000 of whom were tried in the Croatian Goli Otok and Sveti Grgur camps. The concentration camps were managed by the federal security service.
They created a prisoner hierarchy structure inspired by the Soviet Gulag model. Prisoners in a higher position within the hierarchy had control over those with an inferior status. The goal of such practices was to “re-educate” and enforce acceptance for the official doctrine of Yugoslav Communism. Hard labour and physical abuse were tools to break convicts.
Most of them were harassed into “confessing guilt”, which then enabled them to leave the camp. However, upon their release, the ex-convicts were forced to sign a letter of commitment pledging that they would never speak of their concentration camp experience and that if they were to ever come across a supporter of Stalinism, they would instantly inform the security service.
The most well-known criminal sentencing was that of the high-ranked politician Andrij Hebrang (1899-1949) who was accused of sympathising with Stalin. He was imprisoned for Communist activities between 1929 and 1941. He was arrested by the Ustasha in 1942 and released soon after in a prisoner exchange between the Partisans and the Ustasha. In 1943, he became a member of the Politburo of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. On 24 April 1946, he was barred from the party and dismissed as Minister of Industry in June. He gradually lost all his public functions due to his open criticism of Tito’s lack of appreciation for the national element in the newly-founded country.
Stalin, on the other hand, considered Hebrang as a possible replacement for Tito as head of state which put a target on Hebrang’s back; ultimately, he was arrested and murdered. Along with the Minister of Finance Sreten Žujović, Hebrang provided the Soviet embassy with the transcript of an SKJ Central Committee meeting in March 1948, in which Tito was informing the party of his growing conflict with Stalin. He was unjustly charged for having cooperated with the Ustasha during the war, arrested on 7 May and murdered in 1949 or 1950. Žujović was released in 1952.
Another well-known example of repression against Stalinist supporters was the sentencing of Croatian Serbs, more specifically members of the Central Committee of the Croatian Communist Party - Rade Žigić, Stanko Opačić and Dušan Brkić - in 1950.
That very year saw the so-called Cazin rebellion following protests by Serbian peasants from western and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, which quickly spread into the region of Kordun in southern Croatia. The rebelling peasants were suppressed by the army; the courts swiftly proclaimed 18 death sentences along with over a hundred prison sentences.
In the second half of the 1950s, students from the University of Zagreb staged a protest against poor living conditions, but despite a few arrests, there were no major repercussions.
The mid-1960s in Croatia saw the well-known protest of an assistant professor at the University of Zadar, Mihajlo Mihajlov, who published the book Moscow’s Summer 1964: a Traveler’s Notebook. The publication was met with strong objections from state authorities who suspended the publication of the book’s excerpts in the magazine Delo. Mihajlov was imprisoned and put on trial, but was later released thanks to the intervention of Arthur Miller, the president of PEN International.
A year later, along with ex-Partisan soldier Daniel Ivin, Belgrade-born architect Pedja Ristić and artists Leonid Sejka, Miro Glavurtić and Franj Zenko, Mihajlov wanted to create an independent magazine called Put (Road), which was intended to be a platform for free exchange of thought. However, Mihajlov was arrested in Zadar shortly before the founding meeting in August 1966 and was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison (later reduced to 3.5 years). His trial exposed the limitations of the liberalisation of the country which took place after Alexandar Ranković’s dismissal.
After a while, political unitarism became the growing source of opposition among the country’s cultural elite. One manifestation of this increasing outcry was the Declaration on the Name and Status of the Croatian Literary Language from March 1967. The document expressed objections to the linguistic unification prompted by the agreement of Novi Sad in 1954, which stated that there is only one single language that exists for the Serbs and the Croats. The Declaration demanded equal treatment of the four languages (Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and Macedonian) and argued that the Croatian language was suffering under the imposition of Serbian as the national language.
The document from March 1967 was signed by key cultural institutions (such as Matica hrvatska, the Croatian Writer’s Association, the Croatian Philological Society, the Croatian PEN Centre) and major public figures alike, among them the writer Miroslav Krleža, the hugely popular historian Franjo Tuđman and former mayor of Zagreb Većeslav Holjevac. Some of the signatories of the Declaration were subject to penal action, but the repercussions were only temporary and many of them were soon able to return to politics.
Further repressions followed the dismissal of pro-reform activists in Croatia after a large strike was initiated by students in December 1971. The Militsiya brutally supressed the protest. Within several days 866 students were captured, 275 of whom were sentenced to prison or fined. Party meetings were held across Croatia and by 1972 over 700 people were dismissed or forced to resign. Major figures in cultural spheres and student life were sentenced in rigged trials for two to four years in prison.
During the period of the so-called “Croatian silence”, repressions were less and less frequent due to general social apathy. One exception to this rule were the convictions of Franjo Tuđman and Marko Veselica in 1984; both were sentenced to two years in prison for an interview they gave on Swedish television in which they criticised the political and social situation in Yugoslavia.
Following WWII, the economic situation in Croatia was as difficult as that of Yugoslavia as a whole. Dalmatia was the region which suffered the most from starvation and had the most badly destroyed cities such as Knin, Zadar and Slavonski Brod. Assistance provided by the UNRRA prevented widespread famine across the republic.
As a consequence of the 1945 agrarian reform, land exceeding 20-25 hectares was taken away from those considered the wealthiest part of society. The Church lost 85% of its land. 53,000 people from the poorest Croatian regions (mainly Lika and Kordun), 80% of whom were of Serbian origin, were displaced to the more fertile Vojvodina region. They were meant to populate the lands abandoned by the displaced Germans, but this policy also facilitated collectivisation. Within Croatia, the displacement of the German minority was the most apparent in the region of Slavonia.
Croatia’s economic reform of 1950 introduced self-management; it dates back to the first workers’ council that had been established in Solin already in 1949. Abandoning the tightly centralised management of the economy and, more importantly, the advent financial assistance and investments from the West led to economic growth throughout the 1950s. Between 1952 and 1960 the economic growth rate in Croatia reached 106% and stayed at an impressive rate of 76% throughout the 1960s.
Većeslav Holjevac was mayor of Zagreb from 1952-1963. His administration was marked by a range of infrastructure investments, such as the construction of the Liberty Bridge, new housing estates in the southern part of the city, an airport and an exhibition pavilion for the Zagreb Fair. Yet, Holjevac was later dismissed from his position for being too independent.
In the 1960s, it was Croatia and Slovenia that sought economic reforms and increased autonomy for the republics. As demonstrated by Ivo Goldstein, the upturn in the Croatian economy enabled the expansion of road infrastructure within the republic. Motorways connecting Zagreb to Rijeka and Ljubljana were built, as well as the Adriatic Highway from Rijeka to Zadar. The southern part of the country, down to Dubrovnik, was also connected to the road network.
Loans from the World Bank enabled not only the expansion of road networks, but also the construction of new railways and airports, in Pula, Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik. Infrastructural improvements led to a threefold increase in the number of tourists visiting the Adriatic Sea by the end of the 1960s, when over 28 million overnight visits were recorded. Tourist growth reached its peak at the end of the 1970s, when as many as 50 million overnight visits were recorded on the Croatian seaside.
The period between 1962 and 1970 saw the biggest economic growth in Croatia. Salaries grew by as much as 90%. However, unemployment remained a significant problem, resulting from the ineffective implementation of the 1965 economic reform. By the mid-1960s, the passport policy became more liberal, which enabled Croatians more than any other Yugoslav nation to emigrate to Western countries in search of job opportunities. At the same time, managers started to create enterprises modelled on Western businesses.
Once the borders were opened, the Socialist Republic of Croatia had its main foreign exchange input coming from people working abroad. The revenue of Croatian migrant workers amounted to as much as 60% of the total revenue of Yugoslavia. It was one of the factors which contributed towards Croatian resentment regarding the country’s economic centralisation and the notion that earned foreign exchange went straight to federal institutions.
At the Yugoslav Association of Economists meeting in Zagreb in April 1963, well-esteemed Croatian economists (Savka Dabčević Kučar, Ivo Peršin and Jakov Sirotković) presented the so-called “White book” describing “socialism in a developed country”. They claimed that the higher the economic development rate of a given region, the bigger its economic freedom should be. This debate was emblematic of the wide-ranging discussion between centralists and the supporters of decentralisation in the 1960s. The constitution of 1963 partly fulfilled Croatian aspirations of autonomy. Even though the status of the republics vis-à-vis the federation had not improved, the independence of enterprises, workers’ unions and local authorities had increased.
The period between 1965 and 1979 also proved that Croatia was developing faster than the other republics (with the GDP rate increasing by 5% each year), even if it wasn’t as rapid as in the previous decade between 1955 and 1965.
The worst period for the Croatian economy was in the 1980s, when, given the general crisis across Yugoslavia, the growth rate reached a mere 0.4% and Croatia, along with Slovenia, spent as much as 60% of its general development funds on Yugoslavia’s underdeveloped regions.
Society and culture
Croatia strictly adhered to the doctrine of socialist realism; one of its key elements was the cult of Tito’s heroic Partisan troops. Ivan Goran Kovačić and Vladimir Nazor were supporters of this narrative. In his most famous poem The Pit, Kovacić depicted brutal crimes committed by the occupiers with some help from their collaborators - the Ustasha. Nazor was the head of the Partisan authorities in Croatia and his experiences were described in his collection of poems entitled With the Partisans.
The most outstanding Croatian writer was Miroslav Krleža. During WWII, the Ustasha unsuccessfully sought his approval. The writer refused to get involved in politics and led a peaceful life in Zagreb. At the end of the war, he gave his support to the Partisans. According to one of the most important figures among the Partisans, Danijel Ivin, Krleža was worried about how his attitude would be perceived.
Milovan Djlias was enthusiastic about his involvement and wanted to make him “the flag of the revolution” which shows just how valued his artistic creation was. Even though he wrote his most important works before 1941 and was nowhere near as prolific after the war, Krleža, as a figure of authority, became one of the main apologists for Yugoslav ideology. He created the Yugoslav Institute of Lexicography in Zagreb in 1950. He was also the author of the famous Ljubljana Speech of 1952, which underlined the need for artistic freedom.
In the 1950s, another writer, Vladan Desnica, a Croatian of Serbian origin, made his entry into the literary world with his novel The Winter Summer Holiday. According to literary critic Jovan Deretić, the novelty of Desnica’s writing in the context of the literature of the period consisted in his complete rejection of any ideology, which cannot be found anywhere in the book set at a very specific time, in which the author uses grotesques to depict life in Zadar during the war and the conflict between the people from the city with those from the countryside. Desnica’s second novel, Springtimes of Ivan Galeb, proved his maturity as a writer and offered a philosophical and essayistic analysis of the artist’s life.
Jadran Film based in Zagreb was the main film production studio. Its first film, This People Must Live directed by Nikola Popović, was a product of the imposed idealisation of the Partisan movement. In the late 1940s, the studio made numerous documentary films, whose propagandist overtone was focused on showing the reconstruction of the country and the cruelty of the occupiers to give legitimacy to the Communist authorities. Once Jadran Film abandoned the socialist realist model, it started producing many more films, the most well-known being Ersatz directed by Dušan Vukotić in 1961. The film won Vukotić an Academy Award for Best Short Animation.
The end of the 1960s saw a significant cultural revival, which manifested itself in the form of the Declaration on the Name and Status of the Croatian Literary Language. During the Croatian Spring, many writers openly expressed their views, including Petar Šegedin and Miroslav Krleža; the latter withdrew from political life after the Croatian authorities were overthrown, and died in 1981.
One of the most interesting phenomena in the field of philosophy was the Praxis school, which published a journal of the same name between 1966 and 1974. Leszek Kołakowski hailed them as the most fascinating group in the world devoted to discussing Marxist theory. They criticised Leninism and explored issues typical of revisionism (alienation, reification, bureaucracy).
The school was founded by scholars connected with Universities in Zagreb and Belgrade, particularly: Gajo Petrović, Mihajlo Marković, Svetozar Stojanović, Rudi Supek, Ljubomir Tadić, Predrag Vranicki, Milan Kangrga, Veljko Korać, and Zagorka Golubović-Pešić. They held annual meetings on the Korčula island which attracted the most prominent scholars in the field of social sciences, including Kołakowski and Jürgen Habermas. Nevertheless, due to the policy of the Yugoslav authorities, the journal was shut down in the 1970s.
Just like in Belgrade, rock music flourished in Croatia. The most influential Yugoslav rock band, Azra, whose lead Branimir Johnny Štulić openly opposed the regime’s oppression, was founded in the 1980s. According to Petar Janatović, the author of the Rock Encyclopaedia, rock’n’roll was one of the areas which enjoyed relative freedom in Yugoslavia and was a means to “show the middle finger to the Soviet Union”.
In November 1945 a pastoral letter of the Episcopal Conference of Yugoslavia was read; its initiator was bishop Alojzije Stepinac. The letter demanded that the authorities give the clergy leeway to act as they wanted and criticised steps aiming at state secularisation and the authorities’ fight with the Church. The only exception was Istria, where the local clergyman Božo Milanović promised to express his support for communists in exchange for guarantees that he could act freely within his realm. Milanović argued in favour of accepting the border agreements – here he found common ground with the authorities as the Western allies wanted the borders of Istria to be determined by a plebiscite. In 1946, the aforementioned Stepinac was found guilty in a show trial in 1946.
The Church-state relations improved only following the political liberalisation and the Second Vatican Council.
Despite certain tensions, represented e.g. by a letter of the Episcopal Conference on Christians’ freedom, Yugoslavia and the Vatican tightened their mutual relations: diplomatic contacts were renewed in 1970, and in 1971 Tito visited Vatican. The dialogue between Catholic and Orthodox clergy remained at a standstill only to become one of the symptoms of growing enmity in the 1980s. The bone of contention was the role of Catholic clergy in the NDH’s crimes against Serbs.
The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) had 800,000 soldiers at the end of World War II. Its Commander-in-Chief was Josip Broz Tito. Between 1941 and 1945, the structure of the army consisted of two commanding officers on every level: the political commissar and the military commissar. The army was restructured in 1945 when the number of soldiers was reduced by half and the army changed its name to the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). It was one of the main factors guaranteeing legitimacy to the Yugoslav regime.
Josip Broz Tito acted as the army’s Commander-In-Chief between 1941 and 1980. Between 1941-1945, he was the head of the General Staff of the Partisan Detachments for National Liberation, which was later renamed the Supreme Staff of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. At the second AVNOJ proceedings in 1943, he was elected president of the provisional executive authority called the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which secured him the position of NOVJ Commander-in-Chief.
The constitution of 1946 gave the parliament the authority and power to elect the Commander-in-Chief, but given the Politbureau’s omnipotence under the aegis of Tito, the choice was obvious. Constitutional laws in 1953 ensured that the President of the Republic would also automatically be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Similar provisions were included in the subsequent Yugoslav constitutions with the only difference being that new constitutions from the 1970s granted authority to the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was also led by Tito.
After 1953, the Presidium received help from federal Secretaries of Defence (since 1971 federal Secretaries of Defence were equivalent to the Ministry of Defence): Ivan Gošnjak (1953-1967), Nikola Ljubičić (1967-1982), Branko Mamula (1982-1988) and Veljko Kadijević (1988-1992). They answered to Parliament, to federal authorities (federal SIV) and to the Commander-in-Chief. Conflict with the Eastern Bloc in the late 1940s and early 1950s generated the highest spending on armed forces for the federal budget - in 1952, the country spent 22-24% of its national budget on defence – these numbers fell again shortly after, going down to 10.8% in 1956.
In the mid-1950s, after the situation between Belgrade and Moscow was settled, the country’s military doctrine changed and was refocused on defending the country from NATO. The approach changed yet again after the attack on Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. This military incursion into Czechoslovakia inspired the initiative for a territorial defence system organised by the republics themselves, should there be an invasion by external aggressors.
According to tactics planned by General Gošnjak, the aim of territorial defence was to form partisan units. The formation of the People’s Defence forces of the republics began at the end of 1968 and the Law on All People’s Defence that was adopted by the federal parliament on 11 February 1969 started this particular form of militarisation of the country. The Army was restructured in such a way that the capital of each republic was supposed to take responsibility for establishing its Army’s leadership, as it was the republican authorities who oversaw territorial defence.
Serbian and Montenegrin dominance in the YPA’s ranks was manifest. In 1953, Serbians constituted 53% of the Army’s high-ranking officers (but 41.7% of the whole Yugoslav population), whereas Montenegrins made up 10.8% of the Army’s elders (compared to 2.8% of the population) and 20.3% of the higher cadre were from Croatia (with 23.5% of the population).
There was also a big disproportion in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serbs overwhelmingly dominated the party, military and security service structures; this was one of the many remnants of domestic disputes during World War II. This disproportion was at its most visible in the 1980s when Serbs and Montenegrins made up almost 70% of all high-ranking military officials.
The constitution of 1974 emphasised the crucial role of the YPA as the protector of the country’s unity. These changes, which led to an increased level of autonomy for the Territorial Defence forces and the fragmentation of the country, were not enthusiastically welcomed by top-ranking military officers.
Branko Mamula, a Serb from Croatia, became the Minister of Defence in the 1980s and later sought to subordinate territorial defence to the YPA in his quest to centralise the armed forces, and to invest further in armaments. He managed to achieve his goal when a law in 1987 transferred the control over territorial defence from the republics to the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces.
By virtue of constitutional amendments adopted in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990, control over territorial defence was returned to republican authorities, which resulted in conflict with the YPA. In Slovenia, this did not raise any problems due to the homogenous nature of the country, whereas in Croatia, the territorial defence involved different nationalities - the Serbs and the Croatians - serving side by side.
As the consequent republics declared independence, from October 1991 the YPA answered to the Serbian authorities. Serbia along with its autonomous provinces (despite abolishing autonomies in 1989) and Montenegro still had their representatives in the Presidium. In April 1992, the YPA officially became the Yugoslav Army consisting only of Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers.
Noticing tendencies moving towards the dissolution of the country, JNA Generals, Veljko Kadijević and Branko Mamula, spoke strongly in favour of keeping Yugoslavia a single entity.
As soon as the reserve of the Macedonian Army reported its first casualties in the war against Croatia in the spring and summer of 1991, Macedonians demanded the right to only serve in their own republic. Their request was denied by the federal ministry to little effect; Macedonia broke all ties with the Yugoslav army when the country declared its independence in September 1991 and adopted its first constitution in November 1991. In February 1992, laws were passed in Skopje regarding military service and an agreement was signed that very same month announcing the JNA’s withdrawal from the republic.
With the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, Alija Izetbegović, the president of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided in September 1991 to stop drafting new recruits into the YPA. In November 1991, Izetbegović still claimed that the ongoing war in Croatia in 1991 did not concern Bosnia. However, there were units based in Bosnia which were carrying out military operations in Croatia.
In December 1991, Slobodan Milošević demanded that YPA units be transferred to Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led to a gradual concentration of troops in Serbian strongholds. In June 1992, Izetbegović demanded the YPA’s withdrawal from Bosnia. Talks concerning the YPA’s status in Bosnia and Hercegovina were held in Skopje between Branko Kostić, a member of the federal Presidium, Izetbegović, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidium and Blagoje Adzić, the acting Minister of National Defence. Initially, the talks were postponed, but later the YPA joined them taking the Serbs’ side.
Andjelić, N., Bosnia-Herzegovina. The end of a Legacy, London 2003.
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Danijel Ivin- historian, former dissident
Petar Janjatović- journalist, musician critique
Gordan Jovanović- social activist, former dissident
Dagomir Olujić-journalist, former dissident
Predrag Ristić- architect, former dissident