Communist dictatorship in Serbia. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1992)
Serbia is a country in South-East Europe, on the Balkan pensinsula, the biggest and most important republic in former Yugoslavia. After loss of freedom to Osman Empire, Serbia nevertheless kept its religion and identity, restoring its independence in XIX century and becoming after the I WW cornerstone for Yugoslavia. During the II WW Yugoslavia was occupied by German, Italian and Bulgarian forces. The partisan war started, where national and communist partisans fought at the same time against invaders and each others.
After communist’s victory in the civil war, in 1945 massive terror against non-communist forces was started, witnessed by several massacres – in Bleiburg, Jazovka – with hundreds of thousand victims. In 1946 the leaders of Serbian national partisans – chetniks were captured and executed. After communist seizure of full power terror continued, now mostly by arrests and torture. Only between 1948-63 at least 55 633 people were arrested in communist Yugoslavia, one fifth of them was send to infamous Goli Otok prison island. Even as compared to other communist countries Yugoslavia was quite liberal, the arrests of dissidents continued there through all communist period.
Support for the Communist Partisan movement was not as strong in Serbia as in other regions of occupied Yugoslavia. Bearing this in mind, it is worth mentioning the quick decline of the so-called Republic of Užice in autumn 1941 in Western Serbia which, as a liberated territory, was meant to be the first region controlled by the Partisans. All attempts to ensure cooperation between the Communist Partisans and the Yugoslav Army in the homeland failed; ultimately, both parties fought each other brutally over influence of territories.
In Kosovo and Metohija, areas which were dominated by anti-Serbian Albanians, even the Communists sought unification with Albania – something that the CKY deemed impossible in 1944. Serbia was the only country still without its own provisional government in the form of a People’s Anti-Fascist Council for National Liberation at the AVNOJ proceedings in November 1943. The Communist regime was not introduced in Serbia until after the Soviets had attacked the Balkans and occupied Belgrade on 20 October 1944 with the help of Tito’s army.
According to Ljubodrag Dimić, proceedings for the Great Anti-Fascist Assembly for National Liberation of the Republic of Serbia were held between 9-12 November 1944; the final declaration set forth that Serbia shall enter the Yugoslav federation on a voluntary basis. On 11 November 1944, the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Serbia (ASNOS) was established and acted as the highest legislative and executive body. The ASNOS was the most important organisation within the republic until 1947 when the Serbian constitution was adopted. The United People’s Liberation Front of Serbia was formed on 14 November 1944. It consisted of the CKY as well as the Yugoslav Republican Party and the People’s Peasant Party. The People’s Liberation Front of Vojvodina was established on 20 October 1944 and the People’s Liberation Front of Kosovo and Metohija on 11 April 1945.
The Communist Party of Serbia was formed in May 1945. By virtue of agreements between the parliaments of Vojvodina and the Republic of Serbia between April-September 1945 and the provisions of the third AVNOJ proceedings in August 1945, Vojvodina was incorporated within Serbia as an autonomous province.
Martial law was introduced in response to Albanian resistance and lasted from February until June 1945. The Communists brutally crushed any opposition when they entered Yugoslavia. Another round of protests broke out in December 1946. The third AVNOJ proceedings between 7-10 August 1945 brought an end to the process of Serbia’s federal formation by assimilating Kosovo and Metohija as well as Vojvodina into Serbia as autonomous provinces.
Exiled politicians of the People’s Movement (Slobodan Jovanović, Jovan Banjanin and Milan Gavrilović among others) drew up a memorandum presented at the conference of foreign affairs ministers in London on 10 September 1945. Their demands for unison condemnation of the CPY for its policies were not met. When referring to the plot against the opposition, they warned of the risk of a civil war and called for free elections.
The results of the elections for the Serbian Constituent Assembly on 11 November 1945 were similar to those of the Yugoslav elections. There was a turnout of 90% and support for the People’s Front reached 88.5%. 10.5% of all voters cast secret ballot votes. In Serbia, the results were as follows: 88.5% for the People’s Front, 11.5% of all votes cast by secret ballot and a voter turnout of 77.16%. In Vojvodina, 85.5% of voters expressed their support for the People’s Front, 14.5% cast their vote via secret ballot and 92% of the local population participated in the elections. In Kosovo and Metohija, 97% voted for the People’s Front, 3% of all voters used the secret ballot and the turnout stood at 97%. The opposition parties (The Republican Party, The Independent Democratic Party and the People’s Peasant Front) were purposefully marginalised by the People’s Front.
The Communists caused a split within the Democratic Party which led to the marginalisation of Milan Grol, a member of the provisional coalition government created by virtue of the agreement between Tito and the royal government in exile. Efforts were made to present Grol as a marginal politician. Parties like the National Radical Party and the Peasant’s Union were not allowed to stand for election either.
The constitution of the People’s Republic of Serbia was adopted on 17 January 1947 and according to its provisions Vojvodina and Kosovo were granted autonomy, whereas the parliaments of both autonomous regions passed a statute defining their rights and responsibilities in April 1948.
Blagoje Nešković was not just a doctor and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, but also became the leader of the Serbian Communist Party. He was the head of the first Serbian government between 1945 and 1952 until he was expelled following accusations of supporting Stalin. He withdrew from politics and embarked upon an academic career at the Medical University in Belgrade.
Belgrade gained great significance with its role as the capital city of Yugoslavia; naturally, it was the home of many governmental institutions. The rapid growth of the city was very noticeable and best symbolised by the construction of the district New Belgrade which began at the end of the 1940s. The Serbs dominated the federal institutions, diplomacy and, most of all, the Yugoslav People’s Army.
As noted by Stevan Pavlovitsch, the Serbian issue was highly complicated. Tito had recalled that in Serbia the Communists were met with fierce resistance, which is why it was often said that Belgrade was “occupied by the Serbs from the West”, seeing as only around half of the party’s members were Serbian in the 1950s. The regime was heavily reliant on Serbs hailing from Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; there, the Serbian population was much more willing to join Tito’s Partisan Army in the face of the genocidal fascist Independent State of Croatia during WWII.
During the dispute which broke out in the 1960s, Serbian Communists spoke against increasing the republics’ autonomy. The fifth plenary meeting of the League of Communists of Serbia was held between11-13 April 1965 during which the Communists objected to nationalism, associating it with the views of the Serbs and the Croatians who saw the increased autonomy of their republics as an opportunity for speedy growth.
In July 1966, at the fourth plenary meeting of the LCY, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksandar Ranković, perceived as Tito’s potential successor, was forced to resign. He was accused of abuse of power in the context of the state’s system of repressions. As a result of this demission, 50% of the Serbian Security Service employees were replaced. The sixth plenary meeting of the Serbian LC was held in September 1966. Serbian political leaders, such as Latinka Perović and Jovan Veselinov, criticised Ranković’s activities by using a Communist rhetoric and calling it a sign of “nationalism, centralism and statism”.
One example of this was the abuse of the Security Service against Albanians in Kosovo. Kosovo’s political representatives spoke increasingly vocally about the need to give the autonomous provinces the same rights as the republics. When this matter was put forward in 1967, Tito and Kardelj gave only evasive answers. Writer Dobrica Ćosić, a member of the republican authorities in Serbia, objected to any increase in Kosovo’s autonomy at a Serbian SKJ Central Committee meeting in May 1968. He accused Kosovo’s Communists of national egoism and spoke about difficult situations for Serbians in Kosovo.
The Serbian SKJ dissociated themselves from his statement and Ćosić was then excluded from the Central Committee. On 27 November 1968, a day before Albanian Flag Day, a demonstration took place in Kosovo in protest over the republic’s status. The discontent of Kosovars was inherently linked to their dire economic situation and the fact that they regarded Albania as a nation with its own nationality, rather than it being a constitutive part of a greater nation. Soon, tanks were spotted on the streets. In 1969, Metohija was removed from the name of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo, as it referred to the concept of a “land of churches”, which was at the centre of the medieval Serbian state.
Amendments to the constitution (VII-XIX) in December 1968 brought more independence to the Autonomous Provinces by making them a constitutive element of Yugoslav federalism.
The rise of Albanian nationalism and Serbian migration from Kosovo became serious problems in the 1970s. According to Marina Blagojević, the first two decades after WWII were marked by Communist repressions against the Albanian population, which, after Ranković’s demission in 1966, began to significantly dominate institutions in Kosovo. Blagojević estimates that approximately 100,000 Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo in the 1960s and 1970s.
Political liberalisation in Yugoslavia was exhibited in the second half of the 1960s in Serbian politics through the phenomenon of so-called “Serbian liberalism”. In opposition to accusations of egoism against Slovenia and Croatia, demands were put forward to modernise and decentralise the country. Politicians such as Latinka Perović, the secretary of the League of Communists of Serbia between 1968 and 1972, Marko Nikezić, the president of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia between 1968 and 1972 and Mirko Tepavac, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, believed that Serbia had sufficient economic resources to achieve a significant level of development.
They called for the creation of sizeable enterprises and organisations modelled on Western corporations and associations. They believed that the country should not interfere in the economy, which in turn should become a domain of experts. In their view, such an organisation of the economy was supposed to enable not only its modernisation, but also the democratisation of social and political life; ultimately, this was supposed to prevent authoritarian rule. At the second conference of the League of Communists of Serbia in June 1970, Marko Nikezić claimed that Serbia never intended to form a centralised system and that it should exercise the same rights and responsibilities for the federation as the other republics.
In September 1970, he declared that the League of Communists of Serbia is not “the guard of Yugoslavia”. He was undoubtedly aware that the interests of the different nations and republics were conflicting. By introducing reforms, Serbian liberals wanted to break free from the pressures of “Croatian nationalists”. They did not support Croatian reform proposals, nor did they actively fight them, believing that they could lead to the eradication of liberalism from national politics.
They also had opponents within their own republic - Petar Stambolić, a member of the SKJ presidium, Dragoslav Marković, the leader of the Serbian Assembly, and Stevan Doronjski and Miloš Minić, highly influential politicians from Tito’s inner circle. On 9 October 1972, Tito met with key Serbian politicians from both federal and republican spheres. Initially, the talks were broken off, as party members voiced their strong support for Nikezić.
As pointed out by Michał Zacharias, it was unheard-of for any officials, even for the Croatian authorities, to question Tito’s authority. On 12 October 1972, they were all removed from their positions. This purge ended with 6,000 people being removed from their official functions.
The problem of autonomous provinces yet again caused a storm in Serbia after the new constitution of 1974 was promulgated. Stevan Pavlovitsch pointed out that this led to a paradoxical situation where the laws passed in Belgrade could be vetoed in the autonomous provinces, yet Serbia was not given the right to reject provisions made in Pristina or Novi Sad.
In January 1975, the Presidium of the League of Communists of Serbia filed a motion with the Constitutional Court for a revision of the constitution, arguing that Serbia “did not realise its historic right of being a nation-state within the Yugoslav federation”. In 1977, the so-called “Blue book” was created, which revealed the party’s problems regarding the republic’s relations with the autonomous provinces concerning political, economic and decision-making matters. Tito acted as a mediator in the talks, although he did not treat the dispute seriously.
Following the death of the Yugoslav leader in 1980, the other leading politicians proved incapable of bringing about real change; a period of stagnation was the consequence. In the mid-1980s Serbian Communist authorities allied with intellectuals who distanced themselves from Communism, but combined democratic and nationalistic ideals. They spoke of human rights, the rights of individuals, connecting them with the issue of Serbia’s status within Yugoslavia, as Serbians were the only ones whose republic did not coincide with its ethnic borders. The Crisis in Kosovo boiled over yet again at the beginning of the 1980s, when the Albanian population demanded republican status for Kosovo.
Milošević’s rise to power in 1987 as the first secretary of the League of Communists of Serbia was the first sign of multiple changes. He appealed to nationalist sentiment and sought to return to centralisation. In order to achieve that goal, he needed the support of the Presidium, which he eventually gained in Montenegro. By the fourteenth LCY meeting in 1990, he had already organised a majority in the Presidium. The final blow for the opposition came when the Slovenians and the Croatians left the proceedings.
Milošević announced border adjustments, acknowledging the injustices of previous divisions and thus abolished the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo in 1989. On 28 September 1990, the Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Serbia adopted a new republican constitution. Despite electoral freedom, Milošević’s post-Communist Socialist Party of Serbia won the elections in 1991. Subsequent secessions of other republics (1991-1992) and the outbreak of a civil war left Serbia and Montenegro as the only remaining parts of Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavian Idea and Political Development.
Stevan Pavlovitsch states that the concept of Yugoslavism dates back to the first half of the 19th century. Since 1830, Serbia had increasing autonomy within the Ottoman Empire and, striving to achieve complete independence, sought to build a strong state organism. It took great interest in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, northern Albania, and Montenegro in particular. The Montenegrins saw themselves as the heirs of medieval Serbian culture, emphasising that they were never conquered by the Turks.
In the first half of the 19th century, the Illyrian movement emerged in Croatia with the explicit aim to unite all Slavs under the Habsburg Monarchy. In the 1860s, the concept of Yugoslavism appeared with its focus on the shared roots of the South Slavs despite the schism in the Christian church, an idea introduced by two clergymen – Franjo Rački and Josip Juraj Strossmayer.
In 1906, a Croat-Serb coalition won the parliamentary elections of Croatia (the Sabor). The Serbs pledged to respect the historical rights of the Croatians in the unification of all Croatian lands in exchange for having their equal status recognised. On the eve of WWI, ties with Serbia as well as the desire for cooperation and unification were strong.
Towards the end of WWI, in 1917, the Corfu Declaration was signed, due in part to the activities of the Yugoslav Committee in London led by Ante Trumbić, a Split-born politician representing the Croat-Serb coalition. It expressed the Serbs’ desire to merge all South Slavic lands inhabited by Serbs and Croatians, who had believed that a unified country would raise their status within the Habsburg Monarchy to a level equalling that of Austria and Hungary. In October 1918, the National Council of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs was created in Zagreb, declaring the aspiration to create a country of Southern Slavs. After the signature of the armistice between Austria-Hungary and the Allies, the members of the National Assembly expressed their wish to unify with Serbia and Montenegro. On 1 December 1918, they presented their proposal to the king of Serbia, Aleksandar Karađorđević, which in turn led to the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) was not very warmly welcomed onto the international stage, apart from Serbia which was ruled by the House of Karađorđević. WWII stirred up further animosities between the various ethnic groups. The independent State of Croatia was engaging in genocide politics against the Serbs within Croat territory, seeing as the resistance movement consisted mainly of Serbs. Draža Mihajlovć’s Chetniks, although proclaimed defenders of Yugoslavia, were a primarily Serbian movement. The partisans wanted the restauration of Yugoslavia just as much as the Chetniks did, but on fundamentally different grounds.
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) was entirely dependent on the USSR in the period of illegal activity since 1921. Milan Gorkić (aka Josip Čižinski) became its leader in 1932 and recruited Tito to the party only two years later.
Tito was a former soldier of the Austro-Hungarian Army, a prisoner of war between 1915 and 1920, and later a free man in the USSR. Upon returning to Yugoslavia, he joined the Communist Party, but after being arrested in 1928 for the possession of weapons and propaganda materials, he refrained from getting involved in politics. He spent six years in prison, where he began studying communism. He left for Moscow soon after his release from prison (1934-1936). His knowledge of Russian helped gain him popularity during his time in the Soviet capital. The main tasks assigned to Tito and Gorkić were to establish a People’s Front and send volunteers to Spain. Cominform’s new directives on the People’s Front drastically changed the CPY’s political agenda. From then on, instead of promoting the dissolution of a country seen as oppressive towards other people, they started to advocate the creation of a federation, which would satisfy all the nations. Tito ultimately emerged victorious in the power struggle with Gorkić, finally returning to Yugoslavia at the end of 1937, where he began his cooperation with Milovan Đilas, Ivo Lola Ribar, Alexandar Ranković and Edvard Kardelj.
From August 1938 until January 1939, Tito sought Moscow’s endorsement for his politics which he was able to secure in the end. His activities in Yugoslavia aimed to consolidate party structures and remove his adversaries.
The occupation of Yugoslavia began in April 1941, when the occupants (Italy, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary) finally divided the Yugoslav territories. As part of this move, the fascist Independent State of Croatia and the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, governed by Milan Nedić, were established.
After the breakout of the Nazi-Soviet War on 22 June 1941, Tito was forced to act on his own, lay out the groundwork for the future government and wait for the victorious Red Army to enter Yugoslavia. In the autumn of 1941, he conducted fruitless talks with Draža Mihailović; Tito continuously accused the Chetniks of collaborating with the occupants. Instead of following the Soviet instructions to create the People’s Front, he sought to create his own National Committee for Liberation and to fight the Chetniks. As a result, the National Unity Front was founded in 1942. It incorporated all anti-fascist organisations and was controlled by the CPY. In November 1942, the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) was established in the town of Bihać.
At the conference in Tehran, it was agreed that the Yugoslav Partisans would form the legitimate resistance movement in Yugoslavia. Over 29-30 November 1943, the second session of the AVNOJ took place in Jajce, during which the council was proclaimed as the highest legislative power, the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia was elected to act as the temporary government, and Tito was named the Marshal of Yugoslavia. The future Yugoslavia was defined as a federation of equal nations. The future political system was supposed to be shaped by the democratically elected representatives of the free nations.
During Tito’s visit in Moscow in September 1944, the Soviets encouraged him to come to an agreement with the royalist Yugoslav government-in-exile. On 16 June 1944, Tito reached a settlement with the last Ban, Ivan Šubasić, who proclaimed the formation of a coalition government. On 20 October 1944, the Soviet troops marched into Belgrade and on 1 November, Šubašić and Tito agreed on the principles based on which the future country was to function: Reconstruction of a federation, leaving the choice of the political system to the nation in a referendum, and appointing a Regency Council controlled by the AVNOJ. King Peter II accepted that agreement in January 1945. The new government was formed in March 1945.
The newly established country was strongly centralized. The Party and the Political Bureau had unlimited power. The slogan “brotherhood and unity” refers, on one hand, to the mutual tolerance between the nations, and to the unity of the communist ruling party on the other. However, initially, there was no party federalisation, as the communists had to remain a homogenous whole.
During the third AVNOJ conference in Belgrade in August 1945, the name of the institution was changed to The Provisional Government of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia. The provisions of the Yalta Conference and of the UN Charter were ratified then, apart from the formation of a presidium and organs of the state. A resolution was adopted which granted Yugoslavia land which had been in foreign hands since 1918 (such as Istria, Zadar, and the Kvarner Islands). All adult citizens, including women, were granted the right to vote. Partisan fighters under the age of 18 were also given the right to vote, unlike collaborators who fought against the partisans. This decision led to the resignation of all non-Communist ministers. Following these developments, all non-Communist parties boycotted the elections held in November 1945, but it was possible to cast a vote using a secret ballot („ćorava kutija”). With a turnout of 88%, the National Front secured over 90% of the votes.
The National Assembly, elected on 11 November 1945, declared the abolition of the monarchy already as part of the first proceedings on 29 November 1945. On 31 January 1946, a new constitution, based on the Soviet model from 1936, was approved by acclamation by the parliament. Thus, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was proclaimed. The National Assembly presidium became the highest organ of state power. Tito was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.
The constitution of 1946 established a federation of six republics and two autonomous regions and defined the authorities’ decision-making procedures; this did not, however, lead to a separation of judicial and legislative powers. A presidium, composed of federal cabinet ministers and the republics’ prime ministers, was the highest organ of the Parliament. The central constitutional organ was the Ministerial Council.
After a few months, systematic persecutions of political opponents began, including not only collaborationists, but also members of the Partisan movement and anyone who raised objections against the new regime. March 1946 marked the apprehension of Draža Mihailović who was sentenced in a show trial three months later. Among the more prominent cases were also the sentencing of August Košutić, a prominent member of the Croatian Peasant Party, for having conspired with the Partisans, as well as indictment against Dragoljub Jovanović, a key figure of the People’s Peasant Party, and the trial of cardinal Aloysius Stepinac charged with collaboration.
On 28 June 1948, Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform. In his attempt to consolidate the Eastern Bloc, Stalin denounced Yugoslavia as an internal enemy. Even though Yugoslavia’s ruling party had pledged loyalty to the USSR at the fifth CPY plenary session held in July 1948, they shifted to anti-Soviet propaganda campaigns in late 1948.
At the second CPY plenary session between 28-30 January 1949, the tightening of state control was proposed as part of the fight against Cominform. The party expressed the need for a more effective exercise of power, which practically meant having a total monopoly, despite urging the local Party centres to undertake their own initiatives.
Paradoxically, Yugoslav communists achieved the highest level of centralisation between 1948 and 1953, when the country became highly centralised and political repression was severe, despite previous promises that the country would not go back to the ways of the interwar period. On the other hand, the decentralisation of the country, which occurred in the later decades, was a sign of the legitimation of its own power and political system established in opposition to both the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Stalinism. A “re-reading of Marx” proved crucial, as it led to the proclamation of workers’ self-management in 1950, which opposed Soviet “bureaucratic perversions”. In theory, this interpretation was meant to be genuine communism in the form of self-management of factories through their workers. In an attempt to legitimise the authorities, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was renamed The League of Yugoslav Communists (LCY) in 1952 – a clear reference to the Communist League of 1848.
In 1953, the presidium was dissolved and replaced with the Federal Executive Council (SIV), which consisted of thirty members led by the president. The separate republics did not have their own presidents – this title was awarded only to the leader of the entire federation. Josip Broz Tito acted as president of the country, leader of the SIV and Secretary-General of the Central Committee of the League of Yugoslav Communists.
In 1958, the Seventh Congress in Ljubljana (the last to take place outside Belgrade) adopted the new programme of the League of Yugoslav Communists. The programme reinforced self-governance and introduced the possibility of criticising national policies; this was no longer deemed a sacred topic.
A constitution dubbed The Self-Management Charter was adopted in 1963, and the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was renamed as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In the 1960s, the federalist movement gained the upper hand over those who favoured centralisation. The dangers of the unitarist tendency to ignore the differing economic characteristics of the republics were first discussed at the 8th Congress of the League of Yugoslav Communists in 1964.
A reorganisation of the League of Yugoslav Communists took place in 1966 - the number of representatives of the Executive Council was reduced to eleven members and the institution obtained executive and administrative authority. A presidium of the Central Committee of the League of Yugoslav Communists was established and put in charge of formulating national policy.
In the 1960s, the number of party members was limited, which was interpreted as a sign of social and political stability. However, there were still discussions regarding the distribution of decision-making processes and competencies between the individual republics and the federation as a whole. At a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the League of Yugoslav Communists in 1966, Aleksandar Ranković, who had overseen party recruitment and state power ministries, fell from power and was ousted from the party. This led to a significant liberalisation of social and political life. Especially in Slovenia, Croatia (particularly the Croatian Spring movement), Serbia (see Serbian Liberalism) and Macedonia, supporters of deep reforms became increasingly vocal. To this effect, several amendments were made to the constitution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which considerably increased the republics’ executive power. In 1972, as a result of the far-reaching demands of politicians opposed to the dominance of federal structures over republican ones, the Yugoslav leader decided to mount a purge and remove the pro-reform politicians from power. His aim was to preserve the unity of both the party and the country.
The constitution of 1974 was to guarantee state continuity following Josip Broz Tito’s eventual death. According to the provision of the new constitution, the Yugoslav Presidium consisted of eight members - one representative of each republic or province. The document proclaimed Tito as president for life. The prerogatives of the federation were limited to foreign policy, the economy and defence. Another proof of the system’s decay was the unsuccessful reform of 1976, the Law on Associated Labour, whose aim was to reform the self-management system by creating the illusion of social subjectivity.
After Tito’s death on 4 May 1980, control fell into the hands of the Presidium, which was incapable of introducing the necessary changes to the republics’ extensive competences. A move towards secession was becoming more and more visible, especially among Kosovo’s Albanians. For lack of a party leader as charismatic as Tito, the republics started looking after their own interests and disregarding the federal organs. Within a complex state organism such as Yugoslavia, the interests of the individual territorial units were often contradictory.
At the 14th SKJ congress in 1990, the demands of the Serbian authorities were rejected, delegates from Slovenia and Croatia left the meeting, and the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina alongside Macedonia rejected the proposal to bring back centralism. In the face of the global situation and gradual emancipation of the Central and Eastern European nations from Soviet dominance, a united Yugoslavia no longer appeared as an integral part of the politics of the superpowers. The climax of the process of gaining independence by the republics came between 1991 - 1992, leading to the dissolution of the country, as well as civil wars in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In October 1944, Vojvodina was placed under military government and on 14 November 1944 came the day of reckoning for all Germans and Hungarians who were accused of collaborating. Until mid-1945, over 14,000 people were arrested in Vojvodina, of whom at least 10,500 were executed by firing squads.
According to Moše Pijade, 171,000 people were arrested in Serbia between 1945 and 1953. Srđan Cvetković claims that they constituted half of all detainees in the entirety of Yugoslavia. According to Cvetković’s estimations, most terror victims in Serbia were German (35,000), Hungarian (6,000-7,000) and Serbian (70,000-80,000).
In Serbia, anti-establishment sentiment began to grow in the 1960s. The economic reform of 1965 that was commonly perceived to be a failure, poor conditions of work at the University, less than acceptable conditions of studying (overcrowded dorms and lecture rooms) – all these factors contributed to the anger that built up among both the student body and lecturers alike.
Student protests drew inspiration by similar actions abroad, primarily those in Poland; the Yugoslav protesters expressed solidarity with students in Poland and support for Leszek Kołakowski and Zygmunt Bauman, who had been pushed out of employment. First protests took place from 2 to 9 June 1968. The protesters adopted radically left-wing slogans and accused the government of letting a small minority amass most of the wealth instead of building real socialism. The leader of the protests was Vlada Mijanović. Although the manifestations ended after a week and Tito expressed his approval for the students’ demands, this milieu became the hotbed of Yugoslav opposition.
In 1975 the professors of the University of Belgrade associated with the Praxis group – Zagorka Golubović-Pešić, Trivo Inđić, Mihajlo Marković, Dragoljub Mićunović, Nebojša Popov, Svetozar Stojanović, Ljubomir Tadić, and Miladin Životić – were barred from their professions. They were accused of “activity contradictory to the policy of Yugoslav socialism”. According to the new law they were to make moral and political evaluations of their actions. They returned to the Centre for Philosophy and Social Theory at the Social Sciences Institute of the University of Belgrade in June 1981.
In 1974 Mihajlo Mihajlov was arrested in connection with articles in Western media outlets. He was the second most important dissident in Yugoslavia besides Milovan Đilas. Due to the OSCE summit held in 1977 in Belgrade, Mihajlov was released on the condition that he would emigrate to America, where he gave numerous lectures at universities, worked for Radio Free Europe and published the periodical CADDY Blten (Commitee for Aid Democratic Dissidents in Yugoslavia).
After the professors’ dismissals, the so-called Free University began its activity. Lectures were organised, always followed by a discussion. The selected topics concerned political matters, history and art. The lectures lasted until 1984 and ended with the arrest of eight people, one of whom was murdered under suspicious circumstances. Six persons faced trial.
In June 1980 a group of the 36 most important dissidents petitioned the Presidency of the SFRY for amnesty for political prisoners. They referred to the provisions of the law on the possibility of projects to amend the Constitution. The dissidents’ next act was a petition concerning the annulment of the notorious Paragraph 133 from Article 1 of the legal code. Said provision concerned “hostile propaganda” and constituted were used frequently as the legal basis against the accused. As the dissident Gordan Jovanović reminisces, it was a great success for their group as from then on nobody was tried under Paragraph 133.
In the second half of the 1970s a petition movement operated in Belgrade under the leadership of Srđa Popovic, a well-known attorney who defended dissidents multiple times. The petitions concerned, for example, abolishing passport confiscation as a form of repression, defence of political prisoners, and censorship.
In 1979 an attempt was made to establish an independent periodical called Časovnik; its creators and editors were Ignjatović, Selić and Đilas. However, the first issue was confiscated after having published just several hundred copies.
The most popular petition dates to 16 December 1981 and was prepared by Dragomir Olujić and Pavluško Imširović, Trotskyists and leading activists of the opposition movement; within a few days it was signed by thousands of people. Some days later another petition was formulated, this one protesting the actions of the government in Poland; it was signed by a group of around 20 people, who constituted the most significant dissidents in Belgrade. Its aim was to re-involve Milovan Đilas in the opposition’s activity, as the seasoned politician had kept his distance from politics since getting out of prison in the 1970s.
The Free University was dismantled on 20 April 1984, when several dozen people were arrested; most were released after four days, but six of them faced trial. A week after his release, on 30 April 1984, Radomir Radović, one of the participants, was found dead.
One of the key regions for the Sovietisation policy was the northern part of Serbia known as Vojvodina. Although it served as Yugoslavia’s granary due to its fertile soil, as much as one third of its farmland was lying fallow after the country’s liberation. In the effort to recultivate the land and avert post-war famine, the communists forced the Germans and the Hungarians imprisoned in camps to work; as a result, 2.2 million hectares (95% of the farmlands) were recultivated by July 1945.
The Agrarian Reform and Colonisation Act of August 1945 referred specifically to Vojvodina. This is where the populations from Yugoslavia’s poorer regions - Montenegro, Lika and Kordun - were resettled. As much as 80% of its population was Serbian, but there were also many Croatians in the region. The colonists were given 400,000 hectares of land to use for farming. The displaced population constituted as much as 13% of the locals, which significantly increased the number of Serbians in the total population level. Land was given out as a reward for fighting in the Partisan army, but it also facilitated the process of Sovietisation for the Communists through the collectivisation of agriculture. Over 36,000 families, which amounts to 216,000 people, received a plot of land.
Branko Petranović points out that over 2,000 inhabitants of Vojvodina were arrested in May 1947, out of whom more than 720 were convicted and sentenced to time in prison for failing to meet mandatory food supply totals. In Serbia alone 10,000 people were arrested for opposing collective farming and over 1,220 of them were tried.
In the 1960s, the Serbs spoke out against reforms and economic autonomy accusing Slovenia and Croatia of egoism. Investments requiring federal support that were part of the five-year plan of 1961-1965 were mainly given to Serbia, which caused an outcry from the Slovenians and Croats. The “Iron Gate” hydroelectric plant on the Danube river was built during that period, as well as the Danube–Tisa–Danube Canal in Vojvodina. The most considerable controversy surrounded the construction project of the Belgrade-Bar railway. Its profitability was put into question, and its creators were accused of favouring the Serbians by seeking to connect territories only inhabited by them.
The attempts made at the turn of the 1970s to modernise the Serbian economy failed because of the adjudication of so-called “Serbian liberalism”. The republic failed to reach its targets of economic growth due to outdated technologies, a national debt that had tripled over the previous decade, and ill-judged investments (such as the construction of the Smederevo steelworks). Serbian frustration resulted from the republic’s own economic backwardness compared to Slovenia or Croatia. Some Serbian economists claimed that the richer republics acquired their wealth by taking advantage of cheap raw materials from Serbia and other exploitative measures.
On the other hand, Belgrade was the financial and economic centre of Yugoslavia, which - much to Zagreb’s and Ljubljana’s discontent - put the Serbian economy first. The plan to eliminate civilisational backwardness within the autonomous province of Kosovo, which was part of Serbia, was a failure. This was particularly stunning when considering that, as pointed out by the historian Ljubodrag Dimić, as much as 58% of the Fund for Underdeveloped Regions went towards investments in that particular province.
The rate of economic growth in Serbia stood at 5.8% between 1948-1960, 6.1% in the 1960s and 5.9% in the 1970s. In the 1980s, there was a decline of 0.3%. In 1990, the GDP per capita in Serbia was recorded to be 2,500 USD.
Society and culture
During the Agitprop era the ideological framework was firmly established, and socialist realism was the prevalent artistic doctrine. Socialist realism was the style of artists like the painter Petar Lubarda, who sincerely praised the authorities’ efforts to rebuild the country. Some themes explored in his art include the construction of railways and bridges, as well as the activities of the workers’ youth, the latter being the leitmotif running through his works during the second half of the 1940s.
Seeking to dissociate themselves from the pre-war reality, the Communists changed the name of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1947. All long-standing members resigned in protest.
With increasing importance attached to education, the number of college students grew significantly. In 1948, half of all Yugoslav students (24,000) were studying in Belgrade.
At the third plenary meeting in December 1949, the CPY’s Central Committee announced its plan to relinquish state control over culture. According to Predrag Marković, one of the signs of change was the 1950 exhibition of French paintings from the collection of the National Museum in Belgrade, which featured paintings by Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh who had previously been derided as “decadent”.
A true breakthrough was the 1951 exhibition of Petar Luburda’s paintings which demonstrated a complete abandonment of the socialist realist aesthetic and proved that Luburda was pursuing new forms of artistic expression. Art historian Miodrag Protić claims that it was the artists and art critics themselves who brought about the break from socialist realism.
One of the most notable Serbian artistic phenomena has to be the artistic “Mediala” group which was established in Belgrade in the 1950s. Artists affiliated with the group did not reject old artistic currents and instead consciously drew inspiration from the Renaissance tradition, as well as from Salvador Dali’s surrealism, while trying to discover new forms of artistic expression. The group counted among its members artists like Leonid Šejka, Olja Ivanjsicki (descendants of Russian immigrants from the 1920s), Miro Glavurtić and Marija Čudina.
Abandoning the socialist realist, idealised myth of the Partisan movement was noticeable in much of the literature of the early 1950s – for example in the writings of Oskar Davičo and Dobrica Ćosić (Far Away is the Sun), which depicted people unwillingly entangled in historical events. Instead of focusing on the community, which was typical of the socialist realist era, the focus was on the individuals along with the complexities of their inner lives.
A huge event for Serbians was the publication of a translation of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago just a few months after its first publication, which, on one hand, proved that the Soviet model had been abandoned, but, on the other, was also used for propaganda purposes in connection to the conflict with the Eastern Bloc and the condemnation of Yugoslavia at the Communist summit of Moscow in 1957. It was a similar case with the publication of Karlo Štajner’s 7000 days in Siberia and the writings of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.
The major writer of the mid-1960s was Danilo Kiš whose trilogy Garden Ashes, Early Sorrows and Hourglass were considered some of the biggest accomplishments of Serbian culture. His book A Tomb for Boris Davidovich from 1976 enjoyed widespread popularity, as it was an in-depth analysis of the mechanisms of Soviet Communism.
In 1967, Belgrade started hosting the Belgrade International Theatre Festival (BITEF) following the initiative of Mira Trahjković and Jovan Ćirilov; it became the most important festival in Yugoslavia and presented the most avant-garde performances.
Daniel Goulding claims that tight state control over the film industry was relaxed in 1951, but the first outstanding films were made in the 1960s with the rise of the so-called “Black Wave” or “New Yugoslav Film”. The movement paid homage not only to Czechoslovak cinema, but also to the French New Wave. What contributed to this was the fact that some of the filmmakers studied in the Prague Film School (Goran Paskaljević) and in Paris (Aleksandar Petrović). Other directors include Živojin Pavlović and Želimir Žilnik. In their films, they criticised the myth of the war for national liberation (they mentioned such problems as crimes committed by the Partisans against the civilian population) and explored the negative consequences of social changes and urbanisation in Yugoslavia, which had a significant impact, alienating many individuals in the process.
On the other hand, propaganda oftentimes received the most significant funding; one prime example is Battle of Neretva directed by Velimir Bulajić and starring Sergej Bondarczuk and Orson Welles with a poster designed by Pablo Picasso. Another expensive production was The Battle of Sutjeska directed by Stipe Delić, where Richard Burton played the role of Tito. These films mixed modern forms of artistic expression together with propaganda messages to depict the myth of WWII. There was no mention of Yugoslav collaborationists; the occupiers were exclusively German and Italian.
When speaking of relative cultural freedom in Yugoslavia, both Leszek Kołakowski and Jasna Dragović-Soso emphasised that following one’s own style was possible as long as it did not disturb the foundations of the regime. One such example was the outstanding director Lazar Stojanović, who was sentenced to three years in prison for his film The Plastic Jesus (1971) which was not screened in Yugoslavia until the 1990s. The director used grotesques to mock all signs of authoritarian ambitions among politicians and the censors were mostly appalled by his comparison of the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito with Adolf Hitler.
Since the 1950s, state authorities and censorship were more tolerant towards jazz and blues. Indeed, genuine protest against the regime was brought about by the new wave genre at the turn of the 1980s. The major Serbian bands from that period are Električni Orgazam, Disciplina Kičme and Riblja Čorba.
In the 1980s, many Serbian intellectuals got involved in political matters. The most important representative of that trend was Dobrica Ćosić, who protested the “egoism of the other republics” in the 1960s, for which he was removed from his position within the Serbian party authorities. Since 1960, his writings had become more and more focused on the issue of national history. At the end of the 1970s, he got actively involved in the dissident movement. In the 1980s, he became one of the most ardent supporters of nationalism and spoke of all the hardships that the Serbians had been through because of the Albanians and Croatians.
One of the most well-known speeches given by Serbian intellectuals was the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts of 1986, in which they fiercely criticised the situation for Serbians within Yugoslavia.
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.
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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