Yugoslavia: Founding to World War II

Founding to World War II

The Paris Peace Conference (see Neuilly, Treaty of; Saint-Germain, Treaty of; Trianon, Treaty of) recognized the new state and enlarged its territory at the expense of Austria and Hungary with Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and other territories. King Alexander, who had been regent from 1918 for his invalid father, ascended the throne on Peter I's death (1921). In order to protect itself against Hungarian and Bulgarian demands for treaty revisions, Yugoslavia entered (1920, 1921) into alliances with Czechoslovakia and Romania, the three states forming the Little Entente in close cooperation with France. With its western neighbor, Italy, relations were strained from the first over the Fiume question (see Rijeka). Although this was settled in 1924 with Fiume given to Italy, Italian nationalists continued to entertain hopes of appropriating part or all of Dalmatia, which had been secretly promised to Italy in 1915 by the Allies in exchange for joining them in World War I. Yugoslav nationalists, on the other hand, claimed parts of Venezia Giulia on ethnic grounds, and relations remained tense.

Internal problems were still more acute. Late in 1920 the Serbian Pašić became premier and obtained enactment of the centralized constitution of 1921. The Croats, led by Radić, demanded autonomy. In 1928 Radić was shot and killed in parliament. After the Croats had set up (1928) a separate parliament at Zagreb, King Alexander in 1929 proclaimed a dictatorship, dissolved the parliament, and changed the name of the kingdom to Yugoslavia (sometimes spelled Jugoslavia). The royal dictatorship officially ended in 1931, but the new parliamentary constitution provided for an electoral procedure that insured victory for the government party. Troubles with Croatian and Macedonian nationalists culminated (1934) in Alexander's assassination at Marseilles, France. His son, Peter II, succeeded under the regency of Alexander's cousin, Prince Paul. The Croatian problem had been eagerly exploited by Hungary and Italy, which encouraged particularist movements against the Serbian centralists.

Prince Paul's gradual rapprochement with the Axis powers thus had the paradoxical effect of leading to the restoration (1939) of a more democratic government and the establishment of Croatian autonomy. In Mar., 1941, Yugoslavia adhered to the Axis Tripartite Pact. Two days later a bloodless military coup ousted the regent. The new government proclaimed a policy of neutrality, but in Apr., 1941, German troops, assisted by Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Italian forces, invaded Yugoslavia. Striking swiftly, the Germans joined with the Italians in Albania; a week later organized resistance was over. A Croatian puppet state was proclaimed under the leadership of Ante Pavelić, chief of the Ustachi (a fascist Croatian separatist organization; see Croatia). Dalmatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia were divided among Italy, Hungary, and Germany; Serbian Macedonia was awarded to Bulgaria. Serbia was set up as a puppet state under German control. Atrocities were committed by the Axis occupation forces and by the Ustachi.

While Peter II established a government in exile in London, many Yugoslav troops continued to resist in their mountain strongholds. There were two main resistance groups: the chetniks under Mihajlović and an army under the Communist Tito. In 1943 civil war broke out between the two factions, of which the second was more uncompromising in its opposition to the Axis. Tito was supported by the USSR, and he won the support of Great Britain as well. King Peter was forced to transfer the military command from Mihajlović to Tito. By late Oct., 1944, the Germans had been driven from Yugoslavia. The Soviet army entered Belgrade. Tito's council of national liberation was merged (Nov., 1944) with the royal government. In Mar., 1945, Tito became premier. Lacking real power, the non-Communist members of the government resigned and were arrested. In Nov., 1945, national elections—from which the opposition abstained—resulted in victory for the government. The constituent assembly proclaimed a federal people's republic.

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