Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Serbia was the largest of the Yugoslav republics in population and territory. Serbs also had the largest ethnic representation in the other republics. Throughout the twentieth century, the Serbs saw themselves as the basis of whatever greater-Yugoslav federation existed, because of their central role in nineteenth-century liberation struggles and in both world wars. After 1945 this concept was represented in a consistent Serbian drive for strong federal government and a strong, centralized LCY. Virtually all the steps in postwar political decentralization diminished Serbian dominance by giving equal status to all republics and weakening federal institutions. Under Aleksandar Rankovic, Serbia conducted a Serbianization campaign against ethnic minorities in Vojvodina, Kosovo, and BosniaHercegovina to advance Yugoslav unity. Rankovic's fall in 1966 weakened this drive, and the party reforms of the 1960s and 1970s weakened Serbian influence on party appointments in other republics. The long political dominance of the Croat Tito also diminished Serbian power.
The 1974 Constitution rekindled the Serbian drive for dominance by limiting Serbian control of Kosovo and Vojvodina, constituent provinces with large non-Slav ethnic groups. By applying the consensus principle to the assemblies of the republics, the 1974 Constitution gave Kosovo and Vojvodina virtual veto power within the Serbian parliament. This was a serious obstacle to Serbian control over Kosovo in the face of a strong Albanian separatist movement in the province. Therefore, recapture of the Serbian provinces became the chief political goal of all Serbian leaders after 1974. In 1980 a new generation of Serbian political leaders appeared, led by the moderate Ivan Stambolic. Stambolic used conciliation and his considerable national stature to seek the approval of the other republics for reducing provincial autonomy. Failing in this effort, Stamboli was displaced in 1987 by his protégé, Slobodan Milosevic. As head of the League of Communists of Serbia, Milosevic used the nationalist appeal of the Kosovo issue and a national economic crisis to overcome the Stambolic faction. Milosevic's ascendancy was a triumph for the concept of a monolithic Serbian communist party permitting no dissent and aiming for ultimate dominance of the LCY.
In 1988 Serbian officials began orchestrating mass demonstrations to support the Serbian position in Kosovo. These demonstrations led to purges of the party leadership in both Kosovo and Vojvodina. The main goal of the purges was to ensure passage of amendments to the Serbian constitution that effectively abolished the autonomy of the provinces in the name of Serbian political unity. Party leaders in other republics condemned both the purges and the amendments. Serbia was expected to make a strong effort to influence a new round of amendments to the federal Constitution, scheduled for 1992, toward recentralizing political institutions under greater party control.
At the end of the 1980s, Milosevic completely dominated Serbian politics, using mass demonstrations and media campaigns in every republic except Slovenia to stir support for Serbia against the Kosovo drive for separatism. In 1989 Serbia established direct popular election of its president and assembly delegates, but nomination of all candidates remained under party control. The idea of legalizing opposition parties received little attention by the Serbian party, which through 1990 gave only lip service to "pluralism" within the party. Nonpolitical alternative groups such as the Serbian Writers' Association were permitted. By 1990 the dictatorial and manipulative image of Milosevic, particularly his unyielding approach to the Kosovo issue, had isolated Serbia politically within the federation. Only Montenegro continued to vote consistently with Serbia on federal issues. By contrast, Milosevic's tough nationalist approach to "Serbian unification" made him very popular with his fellow Serbs, who often compared him to Tito. In 1989 Milosevi was elected by a wide margin to a second term as president of Serbia, on a platform of political and economic reform. The SerbSlovene conflict escalated in 1990 when the Serbian government ordered the severing of commercial ties with Slovenia in retaliation for the Slovenian prohibition of Serbian nationalist demonstrations in Ljubljana.
Data as of December 1990
Yugoslavia Table of Contents