War and Peace

World War I and the Creation of Yugoslavia

“The creation of Yugoslavia was also understood in Belgrade as the result of that great victory of Serbia. And the Serbian leaders expected everybody to be grateful somehow, to be liberated from Austria-Hungary thanks to the Serbian forces and thanks to the huge number of victims, by Serbia. But on the other hand in Belgrade they didn’t understand the needs of Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Potgorica or Skopje. Because from one point of view Serbia did not have any experience with an ethnically mixed society because Serbia itself after the Ottomans left was a hundred percent Serbian.

On the other hand, Zagreb, Ljubljana and other cities were understood as Serbian hegemony. And it was also rightly understood that it was worse than it was in Austria-Hungary, because in Austria-Hungary they did have their national rights.

But here in the new centralised state, in fact they had fewer rights as nations. Maybe they had more rights as individuals because it was a democratic parliamentary state, which Austria-Hungary never was. But on the other hand, they didn’t have their collective rights which they used to have in Austria-Hungary, so already during the discussions of the first constitution in 1919‒1920, the huge differences in the understanding of Yugoslavia came out.

The idea is of how the future state should be organised: should it be a federation or should it be a centralised state? Can we construct the Yugoslav nation? Can we become a unitary nation and a unitary state of the Yugoslavs? So all those discussions started already in 1914, 1915, and those are the same discussions that we had just before the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, so in fact we spent all the twentieth century in the same discussion which started in the Great War.”

 

 

Dubravka Stojanović ©  Anemon Productions
Dubravka Stojanović
Dubravka Stojanović is a Serbian historian and professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Belgrade. She has worked on the issue of democracy in Serbia and the Balkans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; interpretations of history in new Serbian textbooks; social history; the process of modernisation; and the history of women in Serbia.