Post-war Yugoslavia: New Name, Government & Republics Video

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  • 0:02 Postwar Yugoslavia
  • 0:38 Background
  • 2:12 Rise of Communism and Rule
  • 5:37 Tito's Death and Dissolution
  • 8:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the rise of communism in Yugoslavia after the expulsion of the German invaders after WWII. We'll then look at its subsequent problems with ethnic violence and its eventual dissolution in the 1990s.

Postwar Yugoslavia

If you've ever baked a cake, then you know how incredibly important it is to have the exact proportions of ingredients. Having too much or too little of one ingredient or, worse, forgetting it altogether can ruin a cake, tart, or batch of cookies. Though postwar Yugoslavia was made up of numerous different ethnic and linguistic groups, its cohesion was balanced like the icing on a cake by the rule of Josip Broz, the head of Yugoslavia's communist dictatorship. When Marshal Tito (as Broz was nicknamed) died and his strong arm left the seat of Yugoslav power, the entire confederation began to unravel.


Yugoslavia was created in the aftermath of WWI. Prior to WWI, the Balkans had largely been the military playground of two major powers of early modern Europe: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. However, WWI destroyed what remained of the once mighty Ottoman Empire and drastically weakened the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This created a power vacuum in the Balkans, one many Slavic intellectuals hoped would be filled by a new, pan-Slavic state. Through the work of several nationalist groups working with Western countries, the Slavs got their wish and founded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was officially and internationally recognized in May 1919.

Yugoslavia's early history was tumultuous, as ethnic conflict arose often between ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The government under the king was dominated by a rivalry between Serbs and Croats and their competing political philosophies: Serbs preferred a strong, central government, which they would likely dominate, while Croats preferred a decentralized federation of states.

These concerns created numerous problems, but the issues became secondary with the rise of a strong, aggressive Germany in the late 1930s. After Germany consolidated its control of Eastern Europe in the late 1930s and began WWII with its invasion of Poland, Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941. It only took 11 days for the German army to completely overrun the country, and over 300,000 Yugoslav troops and officers were taken prisoner by the Germans.

Rise of Communism and Rule

The German occupation of Yugoslavia gave rise to a communist movement in the pan-Slavic state. Indeed, the communists were the chief organizers of the anti-German resistance movement during WWII, and the Yugoslav communist party (named the Partisans) reorganized its leadership for that purpose in July 1941. Later that year, Josip Broz - Marshal Tito - began organizing Albanian communists in the South and conducted guerrilla movements against German military installations throughout Yugoslavia. When the tide of the war turned, it was Tito's communists who fought alongside Russian troops, pushing the Germans out of Yugoslavia.

Tito's Partisans emerged from the war the most powerful political force in Yugoslavia, and soon after the war's end, most Western countries recognized Tito's government as the legitimate government of Yugoslavia. Earlier in 1945, Tito's government had held 'free' elections, though most political parties boycotted the elections in response to the tactics of Tito's Partisans, who suppressed non-communist publications and hindered non-communist politicians' ability to campaign. The overwhelmingly communist government which was elected adopted a Soviet-style communist constitution later that year. Though the constitution set up many of the offices of a federal republic, including multiple ministries and various administrative freedoms given to the non-Serbian provinces, in reality, most actual power within Yugoslavia was concentrated in the presidency and Marshal Tito.

Tito's postwar government followed Soviet examples and collectivized and nationalized most large landholdings in the country, whether they were held by large landowners, banks, churches, or other groups. They even instituted Soviet-style 5-year plans, which set out incredibly ambitious goals, intending to rapidly industrialize the Yugoslav economy and enrich and empower the incredibly poor majority of the population in the rural areas of Yugoslavia.

Despite the Soviet-style communism practiced in Yugoslavia, Yugoslav relations with the Soviet Union were surprisingly poor. Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and the Moscow government expected Yugoslavia to fall in line and follow Soviet directives, much like the other communist governments under Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. However, Marshal Tito resisted integration into the Soviet economy, fearing an unfair trade balance that would undoubtedly favor the Soviet Union. Resentments between the two countries due to looting and rape by Soviet troops in Yugoslavia during WWII further strained relations. When Yugoslavia refused to attend a conference between the Soviet Union and its client states in 1948, the Soviet Union expelled Yugoslavia from its group of communist nations and called for Yugoslav communists to overthrow Marshal Tito's government.

However, Tito's power was never threatened in Yugoslavia. The vast majority of communists in Yugoslavia supported Tito, and his government openly suppressed opposing politics, at times jailing and executing political prisoners or foreigners accused of attempting to subvert communism in Yugoslavia. Despite this early radicalism, Yugoslavia slowly softened its communist stance in the 1960s. The economy was slowly liberalized, and Tito even allowed for the devolution of some power to the regional republics within Yugoslavia. In 1970, the country even signed an initial economic treaty with the European Economic Community.

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