Yugoslavian History

Figure 1.--

The history of Yugoslavia and other Balkan states is less familar to many than the countries of Western Europe. We thus are oroviding some basic historical information to put the Yugoslav/Serbian royal family in historical perspective. We trace the country's history from the Ottoman Empire to the end of royal rule following World War II. Yugoslav history is strongly associated with the monarchy, in part because of the major role he nonarch played in the country's history. King Alexander to prevent what looked lik an actual civil war, seized power and ruled with dictatorial power.

The Slavs

The Barbarian tribes which invaded the western Roman Empire or best known to history. The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire as conronted by the same problem. The modern Serbs descend from the barbarian tribes who invaded the Byzantine Empire from the north. Barbarian raids into Byzantium continued throughout the 5th century. There is no historical consensus as to just which Barbarian tribes were involved. Historical sources mentioned Scythes, Bulgarians, and Goths. At the beginning of the 6th century, during the reign of Justin I (518-527), a raid of Slavs (Antis), who lived in steppes north of the mouth of the Danube, was mentioned in Byzantum records for the first time.

The Serbs

The Serbs by the second half of the 9th century had been converted to the Orthodox Christianity. Other Slavs like Albanians and Croats adhered to Roman Catholic church. The Byzantine Emperor designated provincial administrators ("Zupans") to rule in their name. There were a variety of military campaigns both with Byzantium and the encroiaching Bulgars. Even so the Slavs continued to accept the their position as a vassal entity within the Byzantine Empire. One Byzantine zupan, Stefan Voyislav (d 1050) proclaimed himself Prince of Serbia. He was succeeded by his son, Michael (d 1080) and grandson Constantine (d 1106) as Serbian Kings then by a great-grandson, Vladimir (d 1115) and Grubesha (d 1122). With the extinction of this line, the great-grandson of Zupan Vukan of Rascia, Stefan I Nemanya (d 1200), emerged as paramount Prince, or King of Serbia. The second of his two legitimate sons, Saint Sava (Archbishop of Serbia, d 1237), was to become the patron of the Kingdom, the elder Stefan II, became King of Serbia in 1217 and was ancestor of Stefan Dushan (Urosh IV), who proclaimed himself Emperor of the Greeks and Serbs in 1346 (d 1355), father of the last male of this line, Stefan Urosh V, murdered in 1367. Stefan II also left an illegitimate son, Vuk, Prince of Zeta, whose great-great-granddaughter Milica mairred Lazar Grebelyanovich, who deposed Stefan Urosh V and was killed at the Battle of Kosovo Polje 1389 when the Serbs suffered a disatrous defeat at the hands of Turkish Sultan Murat I.

The Ottomans

The Serbian kingdom was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire after Lazar was killed at the disatrous battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. Various of Lazarís descendants ruled in a much reduced Serbia as Despots under the Turks until the late 16th century, and a further descendant George (d 1711) established his rule there in the early 18th century.

The Southern Slavs

The independence of the southern Slavs had been a dream for the centuries of Ottoman rule, despite their profound religious and cultural difference which continue in the countries formed from Yugoslavia today. The final steps toward independence from the Ottoman Empire resulted in the establishment of the Karageorgevitch dynasty which is now two centuries old. The dynasty was established during the Napoleonic era when the map of Europe was being redrawn. A wealthy Serbian clan chief and merchant, Djordje Petrovic--known to his followers as Karadjordje (Black George, after his dark looks) --led the Serbs in an 1804 uprising against the Ottoman Empire that at the time controlled the Balkans. Karadjordjevic's revolution was successful for a time. He established a government in Belgrade and during 1811 was confirmed as lawful ruler and the right of succession was vested his family.


The Ottoman Turks returned to Belgrade in 1813. Karadjordje was forced to fled to Austria. His son, Prince Alexander, returned to rule Serbia in 1842, but was deposed in 1858. The Serbian Parliament in 1903 requested that Prince Peter Karadjordjevic--grandson of dynadty's founfer, Black George--came to the throne. King Petar I brought democracy and leadership to Serbia. He had John Stuart Mills' essay "On Liberty" translated into Serbian. The Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 resulted in the expansion of Serbia, the annexation by Austria of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This enraged both neighboring Serbia and the people of Croatia. Nationalist aspirations for independence from Austria finally led to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo during 1914 and within days the First World War had engulfed Europe.

World War I (1914-18)

The Austrian Army encountered difficulties in their offensive against Serbia suported by the Russians. Finally with the support of the German Army and the Bularians from the south, the Serbian Army was unble to hold the invading armies. Serbia occupied by the Central Powers. The Serbian Army executed a retreat to the Adriatic Sea in terrible winter conditions. There the Allies ecvacuated them by sea. The Serbs were later deployed in norther Greece where they became part of an Allied push to defeat Bulgaria ad liberate Serbia. The subsequent formation by the southern Slavs of an exile committe promoting national unity paved the way for the creation of a Yugoslav state. This committe and representatives of the Serbian Government in exile signed the Corfu Declaration in 1917 which provided for the establishment of a federated cinstitutional monarchy under the Karageorgevich line of Serbian kings.

Figure 2.--King Peter II between his brothers Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrej.

Inter-War Era (1919-39)

The disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the final months of World War I gave trmendous impetus to the southern Slav independence movement. representatives of three southern Slav peoples, before the end of the War in 1918, proclaimed by mutual consent a new "Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes" under the Crown of Peter I. The Montenegro National Assembly voted to join the other southern Slavs. Prince Alexander, Serbian Regent, during the illness of his father, Peter I, reigned under a provisional giovernment. The establishment of constitutional government was delayed by a series of boundary disputes with neighbiring countries, including former World War I ally Italy. Despite opposition by the Croats, a highly centralized Yugoslav Government was established by a conservative coalition. Alexander was crowned King in 1921 after the death of his father King Alexander I, who had acted as Regent for his ailing father since 1914, had earned national fame as a soldier in the Balkan Wars and the First World War. He married Princess Marie of Romania in 1922. They had three sons: Crown Prince Peter, Prince Tomislav, and Prince Andrej (figure 1). I have little information on how the princes were raised and dressed. The new kingdom faced many threats. Neighboring states coveted many countries territories and internal rivalries between the Serbs and Croats increased tensions still further. Some Yugoslavs believe that it was clear by 1929 that the King had no option but to impose a Royal dictatorship. Serbian domination of the government had caused resentment by Croats, Slovenes, and other natiionalities. A crisis resulted from the killing of a Croat national leader. Civil war seemed imminent. The King claimed he assumed power reluctantly and he promised to restore democracy to the newly renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia once unity had been achieved and bureaucratic corruption expunged. His goverment vigorosly repressed opposition. He was assassinated during 1934 in Marseilles by a Macedonian terrorist working with Croatian extremists, reportedly with Hungarian and Italian support. The French Foreign Minister, Louis Barthou, also died in the attack. King Alexander's son, Crown Prince Peter, was only 11 years old at the time of his death when he became King. Three Regents were appointed. His great-uncle Prince Paul--married to Princess Olga of the Hellenes (Greece)-- became the Prince Regent. Constant pressure from The German Government after the NAZI rise to power brought Yugoslavia increasingly into the German orbit through a series of trade and diplomatic agreements. This policy was unpopular, especially with the Serbs.

Figure 3.--Prince Paul, Princess Olga, Prince Alexander, Prince Nicholas and Princess Elizabeth.

World War II (1939-45)

All but one of Yugoslavs neighbors by 1941 were under NAZI domination or influence. Prince Paul to avoid bloodshed felt obliged to sign a formal pact with Germany and Italy. Shortly afterwards, however, on March, 27 1941, he was unseated in a coup and the young King Peter II was declared of age. Within a week, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Italy invaded Yugoslavia and the government was forced to surrender. While a military disaster for the Yugoslavs, the Germans action in forced them to delay the planned invasion of Russia. The precious weeks of delay was a critical element in the German failure to smash the Red Army before the onset of winter in 1941. King Peter II, with the Yugoslav Government, made his way via Athens, Jerusalem and Cairo to London where he joined numerous other governments in exile from NAZI occupied Europe. The Germand divided Yugoslavia to satisfy Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and demands and established a puppet Croat state proclaimed. The atrocities which followed, primarily directed at the Serbs is an important element in the emnity which emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992. After the collapse of the Yugoslavian army in 1941, two rival resistance groups to the occupying forces eventually formed. The first was the Royalist Chetniks, led by the loyalist General Draza Mihailovic, Minister for Defense in the exile government. The other was the revolutionary Partisans led by the communist Josip Broz, known to the world later as Tito. A bitter civil war followed as the same time they fought the Germans. The Allies, having initially supported Mihailovic, then threw their support behind Tito. Yugoslavia was the only occupied country to liberate pats of the country with partisan forces. The Germans were fonally cleared from the country when Partisans entered Belgrade during 1944 in the wake of Soviet tank brigades and established a Communist Government, but one independent from Moscow.

Cold War (1945- )

Tito conducted a vicious campaign against political opponents, especially those associated with the Chetnkiks Despite Westen aid , after the NAZI surrender (May 1945), Tito set up a Stalinist-style peope's republic in Yugoslavia. The communists abolished the monarchy (November 1945). This was done without a referendum and Yugoslavia remained a totalitarian single party state for more than four decades. King Peter II never abdicated. Tito took a hard-line attitude toward the West. He instituted a police state, thousands died in concentration camps, and democratic parties were suppressed. British and American planes were shot down along the border. The border was closed. This aggressive approach changed after the break with Moscow.

Dissolution of Yugoslavia (1991- )

Yugoslavia was formed after World War out of several countries, principalities and renmaants of the Austro-Hungarain Empire. Almost from the beginning the union of South Slvs proved almost ungovernable. The Croats in particular objected to what they saw as efforts by the Serbs to dominate the country. The Croats even joined with the NAZIs after the World War II German invasion. After the War, Tito held the country together with brute force. After Tito died Milosivich used Serb natioanlism to gain power. When he was unable to hold Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslavia (1991), Milosivich set our to create a Greater Serbia. He supported Serb para-military groups to seize control of large areas of Bosnia and supress the Kosovars in Kosovo. None of the contending ethnic groups are without blame. Criat forces also carried out attricities against Sebs and Muslims in Bosnia. European countries were unable to deter him. Only the reluctant and tardy threat of Amercan force stoped Milosivich in Bosnia. The actual use of force was needed in Kosovo. In both cases the United Nations was unable to act. Even in Serbinica where the U.N. guaranted the saftey of Bosnians, in the end Dutch U.N. peace keepers were ordered to abandon the Muslims to the Serbs. Finally when the U.N. failed to act, the United States acted through NATO. About 0.2 million people are believed to have been killed.


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Created: December 8, 1998
Last updated: 9:13 PM 4/12/2012