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Yugoslavia Table of Contents


Ethnographic History

The South Slavs lived for centuries on two sides of a disputed border between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches, between the Islamic crescent and the Christian cross. Those on the Eastern side (today's Serbs, Montenegrins, Muslim Slavs, and Macedonians) had lived under Byzantine and Turkish influence; those on the Western side (the Slovenes and Croats) under the religious authority of Rome and the secular authority of Vienna, Budapest, and Venice. Besides the South Slavs, the Yugoslav state contained a mélange of minority peoples, many of them non-Slavic, who professed different religions, spoke different languages, and had different and often conflicting historical assumptions and desires. With over twenty-five distinct nationalities, Yugoslavia had one of the most complex ethnic profiles in Europe. Over seventy years after Yugoslavia's creation, serious doubts remained that a federation of such disparate elements could continue as an integrated state.

The Constitution of 1974 divided the country's ethnic groups into two categories: nations (see Glossary), or ethnic groups whose traditional territorial homelands lay within the country's modern boundaries, and "nationalities," or ethnic groups whose traditional homelands lay outside those boundaries. The Yugoslav "nations" were the Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Muslim Slavs, Serbs, and Slovenes (see fig. 7). Yugoslavia's "nationalities" were the Albanians, Bulgars, Czechoslovak, Hungarians, Italians, Romanians, Ruthenians, Slovaks, Turks, and Ukrainians (see table 4, Appendix). Other ethnic groups also present included the Austrians, Germans, Greeks, Gypsies, Jews, Poles, Russians, and Vlachs (a Romanian group). The other ethnic groups totaled less than 0.1 percent of the country's population and did not enjoy special constitutional status as communities; as individuals, however, they were entitled to the same rights and freedoms guaranteed all other Yugoslavs in the national Constitution.

Data as of December 1990