Yugoslavia was created as a new state in 1918, composed of areas that had never been under a common unified government, and which for centuries had been under the domination of foreign powers. When the Communist Party came to power, it consisted of six distinct nations: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina (hereafter Bosnia), Slovenia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Serbia, itself, was further segmented into Serbia proper and Muslim Kosovo.
Post-World War II elections were dominated by Tito’s Communist Party. However, the Communist Party was a collection of the various regional Communist parties rather than a centralized, unified party.
Upon Tito’s death in May 1980, which removed the country’s unifying force, ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia. Nationalism rose in all of the republics and provinces. Slovenia and Croatia agitated for looser ties and the Albanian majority in Kosovo sought the status of a republic. Serbia, for its part, sought to maintain control over the entire country.
Following the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe, each of the republics held multi-party elections in 1990. Slovenia and Croatia elected governments that favored independence. For the moment, Montenegro joined with Serbia in favoring Yugoslav unity. Croatia took steps to strip Serbs of their rights in the republic.
On June 25, 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Army was ordered to restore national unity, but desisted, pulling out of Slovenia. In Croatia, however, a bloody war broke out in August 1991 between ethnic Serbs in a portion of the republic they inhabited and the new Croatian army and police force. Meanwhile, in September 1991, Macedonia declared its independence without resistance from the Yugoslav Army. United Nations forces moved into the region to monitor Macedonia’s northern border with Serbia.
In Bosnia in November 1991, Bosnian Serbs held a referendum which favored staying in a common state with Serbia. The following January the Bosnian Serb assembly proclaimed a separate republic of the Serb people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The government of Bosnia declared the Serb referendum unconstitutional, but itself approved a referendum for Bosnian independence. In response, the Bosnian Serbs declared their independence as the Republika Srpska.
The war in Bosnia between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims followed shortly thereafter. In March 1994, the Muslims and Croats signed an agreement, which reduced the warring parties to two. The conflicted ended in 1995 with the so-called Dayton Agreement. Three years of ethnic strife destroyed the economy of Bosnia, caused the death of about 200,000 people, and displaced half the population. Bosnia was organized into two geographical units, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosniak-Croat Federation). Elections are held for executive and legislative offices in both the provincial government and the separate Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities. The presidency of the Bosnian republic rotates among the three members (Bosniak, Serb, Croat). A national legislature makes laws for the republic, with two thirds of the delegates in both the upper and lower houses selected from the Bosniak-Croat Federation and one third from the Republika Srpska. Separate parliaments, which exercise regional power, are elected in the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska.
The unity of Serbia and Montenegro gradually weakened. By order of the Yugoslav Federal Parliament on August 4, 2003, Yugoslavia ceased to exist, with a federal government exercising only nominal powers. The two republics conducted their affairs as if they were independent, establishing customs along the traditional border crossings. On May 21, 2006, Montenegrins voted in favor of independence, just barely exceeding the 55 percent affirmative threshold set by the European Union for formal recognition as an independent country. On June 3, 2006, Montenegro declared its independence, with Serbia following suit two days later.
Ethnic tensions in Yugoslavia were resolved with its dissolution into six separate countries. One of them, Bosnia, further segregated into two political entities. Kosovo is effectually independent barring the upper tenth of its territory, largely inhabited by Serbs.