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Yugoslavia (former) The Political Elite and Intellectuals
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a tiny intelligentsia dominated the process of social and political change that transformed Yugoslav society. South Slavic writers, journalists, and scholars articulated popular aspirations and acted as catalysts for the rising nationalism of the peoples enclosed by the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. In interwar Yugoslavia, despite the prevalence of revolving-door cabinets, a group of about forty to fifty educated and politically experienced figures formed a semipermanent ruling circle. The bureaucratic and professional class was a broader middle stratum of about 200,000 white-collar workers concentrated in urban centers. Government service, which required secondary and university schooling, was virtually the only employment opportunity available for ambitious individuals.

    Yugoslavia's interwar ruling elite represented the tip of a very broad-based social pyramid. Society was overwhelmingly rural and uneducated; only about half of the population could read, and less than 10 percent lived in cities. The elite was drawn from the sons of the middle and upper strata: large landowners and bureaucrats and a handful of industrialists, financiers, and military officers. No rising industrial bourgeoisie threatened their hold on the state apparatus. The elite was also overwhelmingly Serbian; most Croatian intellectuals and the minuscule number of educated Macedonians and Albanians were excluded. Their exclusion from the only path to upward mobility--the government bureaucracy--exacerbated the bitter nationalism and separatism of the era (see Political Life in the 1920s , ch. 1).

    The turmoil of World War II and political takeover by the CPY brought radical changes to Yugoslavia's ruling circle. The communists ousted the prewar elite and replaced it with a new ruling class chosen by party loyalty. During the war, the party was composed largely of peasants and workers. Party leadership was significantly more rural than the prewar elite; in 1945 only 5 percent of Communist Party leaders came from Belgrade, the former bastion of power. In 1952 Yugoslavia's communist political leadership class numbered about 51,000; it grew to 93,000 in the 1960s and added another 100,000 members in the mid-1970s after constitutional redefinition of the self-management system.

    In the immediate postwar period, service in Tito's anti-Nazi Partisan forces or pre-1941 membership in the Communist Party of Yugoslavia were the main prerequisites for a successful elite career. Over 75 percent of pre-1944 party members pursued professional political or military careers following World War II. They also tended to linger in their positions. Active and retired persons with pre-1941 party membership accounted for less than one-half percent of total party membership in the late 1960s, but they held over 15 percent of the leading positions in the party and society at large. By the 1980s, the LCY had lost its working-class base and become a party of state employees. Party members accounted for 94.1 percent of the Croatian parliament in 1982. Communists accounted for over 95 percent of all government administrators until the LCY abandoned its monopoly of power in 1990. Until that date, nomination of delegates to fill positions at all levels of the government-- which led to automatic election--was based on support from the party elite. The party monopoly led to formation of uncontrollable and non-elected oligarchies in each of Yugoslavia's eight federal units (see Local Government and the Communes , ch. 4).

    With few exceptions, the men who took power in Yugoslavia after World War II were the sons of peasants and workers. This pattern persisted through the 1960s, when 68.4 percent of Yugoslavia's political leaders had fathers who had been peasants or workers and more than 75 percent had grandfathers from those backgrounds. The same pattern applied to the country's professional classes as a whole. In 1960 nearly one-third of all white-collar workers had been peasants themselves in 1946, and nearly three-fourths came from peasant or worker families.

    As the Partisan generation aged, education became more important in professional advancement. By the early 1970s, about 90 percent of the country's professionals had gained their positions at least nominally on the basis of educational credentials. Older employees upgraded their job qualifications through continuing-education programs. Expanding opportunities in higher education, liberal admissions standards, and substantial public financing for education all contributed to upward mobility in the 1960s and 1970s. As many more Yugoslavs received formal educational training and reached privileged positions, however, mobility declined. The probability that children of workers or peasants would become university students fell compared to the chances of the children of professionals.

    The rise of a substantial technical intelligentsia was a major social development in postwar Yugoslavia. The technical intelligentsia, which provided scientific and management support for industrialization, came to enjoy considerable popular prestige. Although they could find higher-paying jobs in the West, relatively few members of this class joined the massive worker emigration to Western Europe that began in the late 1960s. Before Tito's death in 1980, the technical elite--who supported enterprise autonomy--had a hostile relationship with party and government officials who favored democratic centralism. In the mid-1960s, party hard-liners attacked the "technocrats" for their "petit bourgeois mentality" and labeled them class enemies who subverted self-management.

    The communist regime's relationship with artists and scholars was likewise a troubled one. Artists and scholars were constantly at odds with the government's efforts to control nationalism and free expression. Numerous Croatian intellectuals lost their jobs or were imprisoned after the Croatian Spring of the early 1970s, and trials of dissident writers and scholars took place regularly for the next two decades throughout the country (see Djilas, Praxis, and Intellectual Repression , ch. 4). Intellectuals came to the fore again in the late 1980s, when national differences divided the Communist Party. Albanians were the most manifestly disaffected intellectuals in the 1980s, as they fought Serbian restrictions on autonomy for Kosovo. The Kosovo issue also drew Serbian intellectuals into the political arena. A "memorandum" written by leading members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and leaked to a Belgrade newspaper in 1986 described the Serbian nation as being in greater jeopardy than at any time since World War II. Likewise, Slovene intellectuals led the push for democratic reforms that swept over the country from Slovenia southward in the late 1980s (see Intellectual Opposition Groups , ch. 4).

    Data as of December 1990

    NOTE: The information regarding Yugoslavia (former) on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Yugoslavia (former) The Political Elite and Intellectuals information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Yugoslavia (former) The Political Elite and Intellectuals should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 27-Mar-05
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