Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Official Yugoslav sources reported that political offenses increased dramatically during the 1980s. Each year several hundred individuals were arrested on political charges. Those arrested generally were either intellectuals arguing for greater freedom of expression or nationalists agitating for change in the composition of the federal republic. Violent incidents were rare when compared with peaceful expressions of dissident political ideas.
The Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 guarantees the citizen many basic rights and freedoms, including petition (article 157), opinion (article 166), press, media, speech, expression, association, and assembly (article 167), movement and abode (article 183), inviolability of the home (article 184), and confidentiality of communication (article 185). Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, writers, poets, sociologists, philosophers, and ordinary citizens received harsh punishments for exercising the basic political freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution as well as by international conventions to which Yugoslavia was a signatory. Major loopholes in the civil rights language of the Constitution legalized prosecution for undefined activities inimical to the established constitutional order (see Djilas, Praxis, and Intellectual Repression , ch. 4). By 1990 many proposals for a new Constitution called for elimination of the vague language that had allowed selective prosecution. Given the open political climate in other Eastern European states by 1990, Yugoslav government and LCY officials became increasingly sensitive to descriptions of Yugoslavia as a police state. Internal and external political events pressured the government and party toward competing with politically unacceptable opinions and ideas rather than imposing prison sentences on those who expressed them.
The federal criminal code of 1977 contained one chapter on petty offenses against the social system and security of the country. It included a number of political offenses and so-called "verbal crimes," another catchall category under which many types of opposition could be thwarted. Any article, pamphlet, or speech advocating changes in the socialist self-management system, disrupting the unity of nations and nationalities, or maliciously or untruthfully portraying sociopolitical conditions in the country was punishable by one to ten years in prison (article 133). Also known as the law on hostile propaganda, this was the most infamous and frequently applied criminal law against political activity. A conviction on charges of hostile propaganda did not require the prosecution to prove that the article, pamphlet, or speech in question was malicious or untruthful.
Article 133 carried a mandatory three-year sentence in cases with foreign involvement. Preparing, possessing, or reproducing such material for dissemination could bring a prison term of five years. A sentence for violating article 133 usually was followed by a ban on public appearance and expression for several years. The law criminalized open criticism of the one-party political system, the LCY, or Tito; possession of unsanctioned historical treatises or emigre newspapers; granting interviews or writing works published abroad; authoring political graffiti; and circulating petitions to delete article 133 from the criminal code. The hostile propaganda law was applied strictly against Yugoslav workers abroad, who often returned with émigré literature or newspapers in their possession. A less serious category of "verbal crime" was described as damaging the reputation of the state, its leaders, or symbols and spreading false rumors. Such activity was punishable by short prison terms of one or two months.
In the wake of the Kosovo unrest in 1981, more than 2,000 ethnic Albanians, many of them students and instructors at Pristina University, were arrested on charges of damaging official reputations. About 250 people received sentences under article 133 for terms of one to fifteen years. Another 250 people received fines or sentences of sixty days for lesser "verbal crimes." Although some violent clashes had occurred, most convictions were for shouting or painting slogans on walls or distributing pamphlets or poems.
Several other laws criminalized peaceful political or nationalist association and assembly. Such activities included participation in hostile activity (article 131), incitement to national hatred (article 134), association for the purpose of hostile activity (article 136), and counterrevolutionary endangering of the social order (article 114). The maximum sentence among those provisions was eight years in prison. Yugoslavs abroad who contacted émigré political parties or nationalist groups or who participated in demonstrations inside the country have been sentenced under these laws. After the Croatian nationalist crisis of 1969-71, over 500 Croats were sentenced using those provisions. Article 134 in particular was applied to silence individuals who raised the political, economic, or cultural grievances of a particular nation or nationality, or who complained of discrimination against such a group. The provision was used to prevent the public use of national flags and songs representing the ethnic groups of the Yugoslav federation.
In the absence of legal means of peaceful political expression, many individuals and groups resorted to violence. Several nationalist organizations maintained armed paramilitary or terrorist units. Their actions had the negative effect of justifying government repression of peaceful as well as violent dissidents. Nationalist groups aimed bombing and sabotage attacks at official targets in Yugoslavia and abroad.
The secret police relentlessly pursued underground nationalist groups. In 1984 twenty-three Croats identified with the separatist Croatian Militant Unity group were convicted for allegedly smuggling arms into the country and perpetrating a series of bombings. The next year, six Macedonians were imprisoned for a campaign of bombings during the early 1970s.
After two decades of unrest, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo increasingly turned to violence. They occasionally used firearms and explosives against the security forces, occupying YPA troops, and Serbs in Kosovo. This development indicated the adverse consequences of universal military training in a tense ethnic situation. Many ethnic Albanians involved in violent activity apparently had learned to handle weapons in the army or TDF. One group in Kosovo hijacked a government vehicle carrying small arms.
Data as of December 1990
Yugoslavia Table of Contents