Why did yugoslavia collapse so rapidly

Why did Yugoslavia collapse so rapidly at the beginning of the Second World War? Discuss the internal and external factors.

This essay will primarily analyse the internal and external factors that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941. When considering internal factors one must look at the failure of the Yugoslav people in selecting a universal involvement of King Alexander II in Yugoslav affairs and the failures of the two successive regimes after his other hand the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia will be analysed as an external factor that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia. I believe that external factors dealt a mortal blow to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia that led to its collapse.

Yugoslavia was created at the end of the First World War and was comprised of 247, 542[1] square miles of land and a population of 11.9 million people. More importantly, however, was the heterogeneous make up of its population. Yugoslavia inherited a population with a diverse historical, cultural and religious background. The idea of Yugoslavia is a failed one that was constructed without collaboration among the different nations and was thus composed of conflicting ideas. It can be said that language and the spirit independence from foreign rule was shared among the population however the idea of national unity was noticeably missing. People identified themselves by their original nationality rather than by the Yugoslavian identity. This led to a major disagreement, between nationalities, on the form of the new state and hence the first internal cause of the dissolution of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia is planted. The debate over the form of the new state was dominated by two opposing political ideas. This conflict of ideas is known as the Serb-Croat question[2]. On one end of the political spectrum the idea of Centralism[3] was held by the Radical party of Serbia[4] who had the vision of a Yugoslavia dominated by Serbia with the capital as Belgrade. The Serbs viewed themselves as the liberators of the Croats and viewed the Croats as their own brothers. Hence in order for Yugoslavia to become a strong country there needed to be a unifying constitutional monarchy that would stem from a centralised state. And through this national unity the population of Yugoslavia would overcome historical and cultural boundaries. The Slovenes and Dalmatian Croats advocated the Radical Part of Serbia's proposal for a centralist Yugoslavian state. These two groups were among the first to develop the idea of a united country for the Slavs. They believed that the only way Yugoslavia could defend itself against the Austro- Hungarian Empire and Italy was through a united centralised country. On the other end of the political spectrum were the Federalist[5] ideas that were developed in Croatia after the revolutions of 1848[6]. Powerful Croatian political groups were pushing for an autonomous Croat state within a greater constitutional monarchy. This claim was made because Croatia did not was to be a political subordinate of Serbia like it had been in its age old relationship with Hungary. In addition to an autonomous Croat state, Croatian political groups wanted all historically Croatian territory to eventually become part of the Croatian republic. The Precani Serbs[7] (Serbs living in former Austro-Hungarian territory) in particular were against the Croat idea of Federalism. They felt as though they would be a lone Serb region in an overwhelmingly Croat region whereas under centralism the Precani Serbs would have a voice. On July 1917 these cultural tensions seemed to have been doused when the first formal steps were taken, by Serbs, Croats and Slovenes alike, to create a Kingdom for the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes. However this resolution was only skin deep and it left embedded cultural tensions between the different ethnic groups. This conflict remained unresolved which caused Yugoslavia to be a weak state in the European order and thus inevitably led to its collapse.

The involvement of King Alexander II in the affairs of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes severely weakened the country's sense of national unity and its various political institutions. In the constitutional crisis of 1928[8], King Alexander II declared himself dictator in order to address the issues regarding national unity. He retained all significant power within the country for himself, giving him the power to restrict basic human freedoms, appoint all elite officials of the government and make himself unimpeachable. It is easily seen why the afore mentioned claims, by King Alexander II, could lead to a national crisis however the most devastating blow dealt by Alexander II was in the political sector of the country. Upon claiming dictatorial status the King dissolved all political parties regardless of origin and ethnicity. Furthermore he banned the creation of all new political entities and any unauthorised political activity. In order to prevent opposition from mounting all major political leaders from the various different political parties were recruited to serve the government thus leaving several dominant political groups leaderless. Eventually the public rose up in opposition to Alexander II, forcing him to issue a new constitution for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the end of 1931. However this was not enough to save the kingdom as the damage had already been done. Alexander II successfully alienated all groups of the population. The Croatians felt cheated because they feared that he was trying to secretly create a Greater Serbia. The Serbians were discontent with the lack of political freedoms granted by the King. Furthermore this absolute dictatorship that lasted 3 years left the Serbian population with a hopeless excuse for political representation. After 1931 Serbia was left with only fragmented political groups with little public support. On the other hand political groups in Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia began to thrive post 1931. Croatia's peasant party[9] gained immense amounts of support in opposition to Belgrade and their leader Vladko Macek became the most powerful political figure in Croatia. Furthermore the Slovenian Populist Party and the Bosnian Yugoslav Moslem Organisation[10] rallied widespread support in their respective regions. Thus political discord within Yugoslavia grew even more intense due to the weakened state of Serbian political life compared to the political lives of Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia. Although King Alexander II had aimed to repair the divide within Yugoslavia during his rule, he only served to immensely weaken the country thus leaving it a feeble power on the eve of the Second World War.

he final internal factor that led to the downfall of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was the assassination of Alexander II. With his passing Yugoslavia was subjected to two successive inexperienced leaderships that caused Yugoslavia to be a feeble power that would eventually be dissected by Axis powers at the beginning of the Second World War. Upon King Alexander's death, his nephew Prince Paul became the leader of Yugoslavia. In 1926 Prince Paul ruthlessly advocated negotiations between Croatian leader, Macek and the government in order answer the "Croatian question.[11]" This move was disastrous in the long run for Yugoslav unity. In 1926 an agreement was drawn and signed that came to be known as Sporazum[12]. This granted Croatia autonomy in all areas except general defence, trade, foreign affairs and internal security. Unfortunately Sporazum was seen, by the public and leaders alike, as a move in creating an entirely independent Croatian state and therefore the agreement sparked the notion of separatism. This led to a wave of claims by other ethnicities for autonomy in their respective regions. Muslims began to advocate a free Bosnia and Slovenes began to demand federalism, even the Serb politicians began asking for the set up of an independent Serb republic. It wasn't long before the Sporazum caused the outbreak of violent protests. There were numerous demonstrations and protests meetings in the autumn of 1939, the most large scale of them being the anti-regime demonstration in Belgrade that was supported by over 15,000 protestors. The move on Paul's part to advocate negotiations between the government and Croatian leaders was a poor one because even though the agreement reached didn't actually represent the creation of an independent Croatian state, Sporazum was essentially the first formally documented dissection in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Ironically, in 1941 Hitler would use the ideas laid forth in the Sporazum agreement in order to break up the Yugoslav Kingdom. In addition the discontent felt among the public in the country led to the characterisation of the Yugoslav system as being vulnerable and unstable. Another cause of the collapse of the first Yugoslavia that was a result of King Alexander's assassination was the political coup of March 27, 1941. In the 1930's Prince Paul, had entered trade agreements with Germany, which allowed German supplies to pass through Yugoslavia to aid German troops involved with Hitler's Greek campaign and in return Hitler would steer clear of Yugoslavia. However a group of officers in the Yugoslav army took objection to any agreements with Germany and therefore staged a successful bloodless coup d'tat[13]. This move was disastrous as it caused Hitler to lose patience with the agreements made with Yugoslavia and thus leading him to invade the country. Having been a weak country with inexperienced leaders, Yugoslavia was not prepared for war and thus crumbled instantly. Although the new prime minister, General Duan Simovic had led the Yugoslav air force to victory and had been courted by the British Embassy, he was no match for Hitler's army. As Yugoslavia was not a priority, Hitler simply sought to quickly divide the country among axis powers thus rendering it harmless. Italy got vast amounts of land that included parts of Slovenia, Kosovo, West Macedonia and all of Montenegro, while Germany laid claim to all of Serbia and part of Slovenia. Due to the disastrous political coup Hitler was able to invade and defeat Yugoslavia and consequently cause it to collapse. Thus the two regimes that followed the death King Alexander simply served to weaken Yugoslavia to the point where the Axis powers were able to clinically destroy it.

Till this point in the essay, internal factors that led to the collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia have been assessed; however external factors played an even bigger role in disintegration of the Kingdom. Furthermore special detail will be given in order to address the rapid pace at which the kingdom collapsed. The invasion of Yugoslavia was not one of Hitler's primary objectives. He simply wished to break up the Kingdom rapidly and efficiently because according to Hitler, Yugoslavia was simply a small inconvenience in his long term plan to invade the Soviet Union. In order to successfully complete this task Hitler had to create an independent Croatian state and in this manner his army would be able to divide and conquer Yugoslavia. Select detail must be paid to Serbia and Croatia in order to understand the impact of the Axis invasion on the disintegration of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It is crucial to understand how the axis powers divided Serbia and Croatia in order to prevent them from providing any opposition. On the eve of the Second World War relations between the Croats and the Serbs were at their prime. The nation's two largest ethnicities had united in outrage to King Alexander II's assassination. Furthermore a coalition party, known as the United Opposition, had been formed by leading politicians of the two ethnicities. Thus the only way to defeat the country was to divide the Serbians and Croatians and in thus conquer them. The creation of an independent Croatia was thus Hitler's greatest challenge. In the previous paragraph the Sporazum agreement was mentioned. This agreement essentially laid the ground work for Hitler to create a completely autonomous Croatia. Since Croatia already had its own government, Hitler took it a step further and granted complete autonomy to Croatia. In Croatia was given to the Ustaa[14] party who were essentially a group of terrorist that had been handed absolute power by Hitler. The Ustaa party accepted all terms given by the Axis powers and furthermore wanted to ethnically cleanse the Croatian lands of all non- Croatian people. With former Croatian leader Macek in retirement, the dissolution of the United Opposition coalition and the Ustaa party in power, the relationship between Serbia and Croatia grew hostile. On the other hand, Hitler had a different agenda for Serbia. Axis powers bombed Belgrade for an entire day on April 6th 1941 and in addition cut off facilities and aid. Furthermore the Axis powers took control of all major urban centres and government buildings. And in this manner the Hitler was able to force an official surrender from Serbia on April 15th. Serbia was now under strict Nazi rule and thus any aims to re-unite Yugoslavia were shattered. With Serbia and Croatia divided and conquered the Kingdom of Yugoslavia instantly crumbled. And thus, in this manner, the Axis powers were able to cause the breakup of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The successful Axis campaign in Yugoslavia caused the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to collapse. However Yugoslavia was a weak country on the eve of the Second World War in large part due to the failures of King Alexander II and the regimes that followed him. It can be said that the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia tipped over the first domino that led to a chain reaction which ended in the collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In hindsight it is clear that the First World War was as important to the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the Second World War was to its destruction.



1. Lampre, John. Yugoslavia as History: Twice there was a country. 1996 Cambridge University Press

2. Bennett, Christopher. Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse: Causes Course Consequence. 1995 Hurst and Company

3. Ramet, Sabrina. The Three Yugoslavia's. 2006 Woodrow Wilson Centre Press

4. Volobit, Vladimir. Yugoslavia in the Second World War. 1987 Motovun Publishers Group

5. Hoptner, JB. Yugoslavia in Crisis1934- 1941. 1963 Columbia University Press.

Web Journals

1. Leed, Richard. Yes-No Question in Serbo-Croatian 1968 http://www.jstor.org/stable/304017

2. Seton-Watson, R.W. King Alexander's assassination: Its Background and Effects http://www.jstor.org/stable/2601978?seq=6

[1] http://flagspot.net/flags/yu_shs.html

[2] http://www.jstor.org/stable/2601978?seq=6

[3] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/centralism

[4] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/755803/Serbian-Radical-Party

[5] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/federalism/

[6] http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/balkans/croat181349.html

[7] http://paulstroud.co.uk/croatiafocus/Brian.Gallagher.210303.html

[8] http://www.questia.com/library/book/yugoslavia-in-crisis-1934-1941-by-j-b-hoptner.jsp p.19

[9] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143630/Croatian-Peasant-Party

[10] http://hubpages.com/hub/ISLAM-IN-BOSNIA

[11] http://www.jstor.org/stable/304017 p. 17

[12] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/560949/Sporazum

[13] http://emperors-clothes.com/archive/times410326.htm

[14] http://www.srpska-mreza.com/library/facts/gallery.html

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