I've heard a few people say that Yugoslavia was a great place under Tito, and back when it was unified. It was a kind of socialism that worked, things were well etc. I know you weren't there for it but you know a lot about it, so is this kind of speaking true?
It was one of the better socialist experiments, but the violent breakup of Yugoslavia more or less stems back to its economy failing in the ’70s and never quite recovering. Until the ’70s, Yugoslavia was very successful, doubly so for being a socialist nation, as it was third world like Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, etc — neither part of NATO, the first world, nor part of the Soviet Union, the second world. That third world status also let it play the first and second worlds against one another to its benefit in the early Cold War.
Admittedly my view of history is northern, and this is all somewhat simplified: Yugoslavia was completely destroyed during World War Two, but liberated by its own citizenry, giving it leverage to remain independent in the years immediately following the war. However that’s not to say partisan forces were not given military aid by Allied powers to fight against their common enemy of Grossdeutschland and its quislings in Yugoslavia. During the war, Slovenia was divided between Germany and Italy, while Croatia and Bosnia fell under the control of a fascist Nazi-aligned Croatian puppet state, and Serbia became a frontline.
The three big players during World War Two in Yugoslavia were the Ustase who were Croatian fascists, the Chetniks who were monarchists loyal to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia or Serbian nationalists with a history of defending Serbia from invaders, and the Partizani who were multi-ethnic socialists or communists or simply people who didn’t belong in either of the previous two groups. That’s a very generalized list, however, as civil wars are never that clean and tidy. These World War Two divisions would come back to plague Yugoslavia as it fell apart generations later, particularly between the two largest ethnic groups, Croats and Serbs, with Bosnia seeing the brunt of the fighting as it was the least ethnically and religiously homogeneous. Reading about Jasenovac can help explain why people were still upset after World War Two, despite however many times Tito talked about “brotherhood and unity,” while quickly dealing with or hiding ethnic issues.
By the end of the war, the Partizani were victorious, starting at first as a guerrilla group and ending as an army complete with small naval and air commands. Tito, as the military leader of the Partizani, was the de facto leader of Yugoslavia in the months immediately after the war, understandable due to post-war martial law, and when elections were held in late 1945, Tito’s party of socialists, communists, liberals and centrists won in a landslide of nine-to-one in an election that brought out ninety percent of those eligable to vote in Yugoslavia after the war, i.e. non-collaborators.
Speaking of collaborators, the end of the war saw retribution by partisan forces, though. Two examples of this were the foibe killings, where ethnic Italians were thrown down rocky crevices, and the Bleiburg massacre, where Allied forces in Austria refused to accept the surrender of fleeing fascists, held them, and then surrendered them back to the Partizani, who later death-marched them to prisoner work camps.
Anyway, as Yugoslavia was in ruins, thus started the rebuilding through large public work projects and a planned economy, and the country prospered. Come the ’50s, Yugoslavia then transitioned to a system of decentralized self-management, where the factory workers themselves owned their factories and machinery, and decided for themselves what to produce, instead of the state, with the state only controlling public resources. Showing success in the factories, this then transitioned to other aspects of Yugoslavian life. As time went on, the northern two republics, Slovenia and Croatia, prospered more than their southern republics due to the amount of their industrialization, and those northern republics would then begin seeing themselves putting more into Yugoslavia than they got back.
In ‘73 with the first oil crisis started as retribution for the West’s help to Israel, the United States and other first world nations were embargoed and required to source their oil from elsewhere by Middle Eastern oil-exporting countries, which slowed Yugoslavia’s economy as it was completely dependent on foreign oil that it could no longer afford. Yugoslavia then took out international loans in order to keep its economy from starving, but its economy stagnated, unable to fix itself after the oil crisis begun.
In ‘79 and on into the ’80s, the second oil crisis started after the Iranian Revolution, and a world-wide economic recession begun, neither of which were helpful to Yugoslavia. Despite all it’s self-determination, Yugoslavia’s economy was too indirectly reliant on other nations, which at this point its non-aligned third world status didn’t help it any when seeking help from outside, as the Cold War wasn’t likely to go hot anymore. Inflation soared in Yugoslavia, and guest workers in West Germany and Austria returned home, unable to find work abroad during the recession, leaving Yugoslavia with massive amounts of devalued money and far too many under- and unemployed workers, particularly younger people. By the late ’80s, Yugoslavia had more debt than any other European state. Yugoslavia’s economy was also fairly reliant on tourism, and people travel abroad less when they have less spending money or feel they need to save up and spend less.
During this time, Slovenia and Croatia felt more and more that they were merely subsidizing their southern neighbors, and continuously moved closer towards independence. Also during this time, a number of dissident youth magazines started across Yugoslavia’s republics, none of which the League of Communists in Yugoslavia appreciated or wanted. It was thought by some that only a return to a planned economy would save Yugoslavia — Slovenia and Croatia did not want this, and as various Soviet planned economies elsewhere in Europe fell, it looked more and more unattractive. Serbia also wanted to expand its political influence, particularly in the two autonomous regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo, which the other republics, especially the two northern republics, didn’t want. The ’80s were filled with ideas to save Yugoslavia that didn’t work, in part due to the economic divide between republics leaving them unwilling to accept what they knew would be bad deals for their own federal interests and aspirations of autonomy and independence.
In Slovenia, things particularly came to a boil when writers for the then anti-communist, anti-military, pacifist student magazine Mladina were arrested for possessing classified documents detailing what would occur in Slovenia should martial law be implosed upon it. The trial for those arrested, a writer who would go on to become a Prime Minister, two magazine editors and a non-commissioned officer in the military, was conducted in Serbo-Croatian instead of Slovene, which further alienated Slovenes, who saw it as an insult against their existence as an ethnic group and federal republic of Yugoslavia. In 1990, when Slovenia was unable to gain federal autonomy — republic self-management — it left the Fourteenth Congress of the League of Communists, with Croatia following suit shortly thereafter, both returning home and declaring themselves independent of Yugoslavia, sparking the ten-day Slovenian Independence War and the multi-year Croatian Homeland War — the second of whose violence then spread into Bosnia, particularly after it would declare itself independent two years later; in Bosnia, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks lived among one another, making the entire country a frontline in a war that would amount to a three-way tie for last.
Blah blah blah, I could certainly go on and add more detail and word things better, but I’ve been typing far too long on something that no one cares about. Anyway, there’s a bunch of unedited words on why late Yugoslavia was shitty. Other factors played a role in Yugoslavia’s breakup as well, particularly obvious ones like ethno-religious nationalism, but economic issues, including economic issues Yugoslavia couldn’t control, catalyzed them.
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