Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Death of Yugoslavia

The title of this post is borrowed from an outstanding documentary produced by the BBC in 1995. The documentary was, however, released much too early to chronicle the final death of Yugoslavia.

States sometimes die a very slow death. In the case of Yugoslavia, the process of dissolution has taken fourteen years. However, the final step in the process may have occurred today as the people of Montenegro voted on a referendum to dissolve the federal union with Serbia.

Yugoslavia was created in the aftermath of World War I as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, in the midst of separatist violence, the state was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (that is, the Kingdom of the South Slavs). Military defeat led to the dissolution of the Kingdom during World War II, but a socialist Yugoslavia was established after the triumph over fascism in Eastern Europe.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ruled by Marshal Tito until his death in 1980, brought together six ethnically-based republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Within Serbia, there were two autonomous regions--Kosovo and Vojvodina. Tito is generally credited with keeping separatist tendencies in check, in large measure because he was an effective dictator. In 1990-91, a combination of economic problems, resurgent nationalism, political manuevering, and many other factors led to a series of secessions by the constituent republics. Following the Balkan wars of the early 1990s, all that was left of Yugoslavia was a federation combining Serbia and Montenegro. The name "Yugoslavia" was dropped in 2001 as Serbia and Montenegro loosened their political ties.

Today, if at least 55 percent of Montenegrins voted for independence (as projections suggest they did), the last of Yugoslavia's constituent republics will have opted for secession from the old Serbian-dominated state.