Serbia and Montenegro

Serbia and Montenegro

Serbia and Montenegro, what remains of Yugoslavia, are also the two oldest historical-political entities of the former state of the South Slavs and the Balkans. Long included in the Ottoman Empire, the two countries became independent in the 19th century. They then became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 (Kingdom of Yugoslavia from 1929) and then, in 1945, of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. With the disintegration of this in the 1990s, Serbia and Montenegro remained the only two member states of the Yugoslav federation (Union of Serbia and Montenegro).

From its origins to the First World War

Serbia and Montenegro have had two almost parallel histories for a long time. The Serbs, of Slavic lineage, settled in the Balkans around the 6th – 7th century AD and were Christianized according to the Orthodox rite in the 9th century. They founded a state that reached the pinnacle of its power in the 14th century. In 1389, following the terrible defeat of Kosovo Polje, however, they were subjected to Turkish rule, on which they continued to depend until the 19th century. In 1829 Serbia gained relative autonomy within the Ottoman Empire and became completely independent in 1878, acquiring growing power in the region between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After the First World War (1914-18), the country became the heart of a new political formation: the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which in 1929 took the name of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Montenegro managed to escape Turkish domination for some time after the Serbian defeat of Kosovo Polje in 1389. About a century later, in 1499, it too fell largely under the control of the Ottoman Empire, from which it freed itself only during the 19th century. In 1918, after the First World War, Montenegro was united with Serbia and thus became part of the kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Since then, and up to the present day, the political destinies of Serbia and Montenegro have remained closely intertwined.

The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes

In addition to Serbia and Montenegro, the new state that arose in 1918 also included Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In it, however, it was Serbia that played a prominent role.

Marked by a substantial backwardness, threatened by the territorial claims of various countries including Italy, the new state was greatly weakened by the profound differences that characterized its various components: differences not only in socio-economic development and political traditions, but also religious and confessional (Slovenia and Croatia were in fact predominantly Catholic; Serbia was mostly Orthodox; Bosnia and Herzegovina, which at the time had been incorporated into Serbia, was instead largely Muslim). Under these conditions, the Serbian monarchy of Karagjorgjević implemented a policy of rigid centralism, also imposing, between 1929 and 1931, a real dictatorship. The consequence was that the autonomist tendencies were strengthened, in particular in Croatia, ustasha (“insurgents”).

World War II brought these tensions to the breaking point. The country was invaded by the Nazis in 1941. The Croatian Ustashas annexed Bosnia creating a fascist state closely linked to Italy. A pro-German collaborationist government also arose in Serbia. In this context, two resistance movements developed: the first, linked to the monarchy in exile and with strong anti-communist tendencies, had in Draza Mihajlović, the leader of the Chetniks (“Partisans”), its leader; the second, supported by the Communists and large masses of the people, was led by Tito, who obtained the support not only of the Soviets, but also of the British themselves. After forcing the Nazis to leave the country in late 1944 and achieving full success in the November 1945 elections, Tito and the Communists came to power.

Communist Yugoslavia

With Tito’s rise to power, the kingdom of Yugoslavia was transformed into a socialist federal republic, consisting of Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. It was placed under the dictatorship of the Communists who, according to the Soviet model, proceeded to the socialization of the means of production, the affirmation of the single party and the neutralization of all opposition.

At first closely linked to the Soviet Union, in 1948 the Tito regime broke off all relations with the USSR. At the same time, it opened up to Western aid, also giving a strong impetus to the movement of the so called non-aligned countries, that is, not aligned with the United States or in the Soviet bloc. The tear with the USSRit was partly stitched up around the mid-1950s. But it remained irreversible in its substance. Another peculiarity of Tito’s Yugoslavia was the attempt to introduce forms of workers’ self-management inspired by principles of “socialist democracy” into the factories. Forced to clash in the fifties and sixties with various internal oppositions to the same management group and with intellectuals, in the seventies Tito had to face the re-emergence of strong tensions between the various republics of the federation. In this context, strong autonomist tendencies rekindled, especially in the more developed regions (Croatia and Slovenia). The launch of a new constitution in 1974 did not solve the problem of keeping the federation,

The dissolution of Yugoslavia and the birth of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro

The crisis of the Yugoslav federation must be placed in the more general context of the collapse of the communist regimes in Central-Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union itself (1989-91). It is against this background that the hegemonic aims of Slobodan Milošević’s Serbia collided with the independence forces of the other regions of Yugoslavia.

The war began in 1991, after Slovenia and Croatia (in which non-communist governments had established themselves) proclaimed independence, almost immediately recognized by the international community, managing to frustrate the attempts of the Serbs to maintain control over them.. After Macedonia also declared itself independent, the epicenter of the conflict shifted to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which proclaimed independence in 1991. In this region, where a Muslim majority and two strong minorities, the Serbian (over 30 %) and the Croatian (about 20%), a civil war broke out marked by terrible violence, especially against the Muslim population, aimed at dismembering the newborn republic and annexing its territories partly to Serbia and partly to Croatia, who supported the conflict in every way.

A few years later, in 1998-99, a new crisis opened in Kosovo, an autonomous region of Serbia populated mostly by Albanians and traversed by strong separatist pressures. De facto deprived of any autonomy since the early 1990s, Kosovo became the object of a policy of systematic repression by Milošević. This ultimately resulted in NATO military intervention and a series of heavy aerial bombardments between March and June 1999, which resulted in the humiliation of Serbia and the recognition of the autonomy of the Kosovo region, which was placed under the administration of the UN. The military defeat favored the fall of Milošević and the victory of the democratic opposition in the 2000 elections.

In 2003 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which since 1992 included only Serbia and Montenegro, the name of Union of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2006, Montenegro, after a popular referendum, proclaimed its independence.

Serbia and Montenegro

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