Yugoslavia Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Until 1992, the map of Europe looked very different from the one we know today. In this lesson, we will learn a little bit about one of these European countries isn't on the map anymore: Yugoslavia, which existed in southeastern Europe from 1918 to 2003.

A New Country in Europe

Can you imagine what might happen if your country came together with its neighbors to become an entirely new region? It's not that much of a big deal if you live on an island like Hawaii, but many times in history new countries have been made from old ones to create an entirely new location and culture. One example is Yugoslavia, which means 'land of the south Slavs'. This region in southeastern Europe was originally meant to be a home for this Slavic group. However, Yugoslavia never worked out, fighting frequently, and falling apart in 2003.

Map of former country Yugoslavia, located in southeastern Europe
Map of Yugoslavia

Becoming Brand New

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was born in 1918. Part of it previously belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which broke apart after World War I. Other parts of Yugoslavia had been their own countries, like the former Kingdom of Serbia. While some people thought this new nation of Yugoslavia was a great idea, many Croatian and Albanian peoples who lived in the area wanted to rule themselves. The result was a newly-formed state that had a lot of problems up front.

Picking Sides

With Yugoslavia in such a poor state in the early 20th century, they were quickly taken over when World War II broke out. Both Germany and Italy managed to take control when the royal family escaped; they put in new leadership, a nationalist group called the Ustashas, who did what Italy and Germany wanted. The Ustashas also began killing people they thought were their enemies, including Serbs, Jews, and Roma (commonly called Gypsies).

Yugoslavian Ustashas taking prisoners during World War II
Ustashas with prisoners

A man named Josip Broz, nicknamed 'Tito', was one of the most famous fighters who tried to defeat the Ustashas. Tito managed to win the fight during World War II because he gained the help of the nations fighting Germany and Italy. Since Tito was a communist, someone who believes in economic equality, he got the help of the Soviet Union, who were also communist. After the war, he emerged as the leader of Yugoslavia, although his views of communism led to a falling out with the Soviet Union.

Coming Together, Pulling Apart

While Yugoslavia had previously been a difficult place to live, Tito took total control of the country, meaning he is remembered as a dictator, a total ruler—but he was a good ruler: he kept the different ethnic groups from fighting each other and managed to improve the quality of life for most people. When Tito died in 1980, however, the Yugoslavian nation began to crumble.

Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz, commonly known as Tito
Tito photo

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