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Yugoslavia (former) The Military and Society
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    For most of the 1980s, the YPA was considered the strongest unifying institution in the country. The military played a fundamental role in preventing the dissolution of the federal state after the death of Tito and the dramatic rise of ethnic tensions in the 1980s. By 1990, however, serious problems had developed in YPA ranks and in its relationship to society as a whole.

    The YPA remained very popular in Serbia in the 1980s. A former federal secretary for national defense served as president of Serbia in 1984, and a retired chief of the YPA general staff held that position in 1988. The predominantly Serbian leadership of the YPA made high profile appeals for national unity and public order. To non-Serbs, however, these calls seemed to be demands for greater centralism to the detriment of the federal system.

    The YPA faced growing criticism and antimilitary attitudes from civilians of other nationalities. Although the organization remained unified, divisive tensions paralleled Yugoslavia's growing social problems. Nationalist movements in several regions of the country posed the most immediate threat: to many observers, ethnic strife complicated the YPA missions of defending against external threats and suppressing internal ones. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the civilian press, especially in Slovenia, subjected the military to unprecedented criticism and scrutiny. It called the YPA an undemocratic institution that favored Serbs over other nationalities. Investigative reports described the use of military labor to build expensive villas for the LCY and YPA leadership. The press questioned the use of military force in situations of internal unrest. Slovene reporters revealed Yugoslavia's role as an intermediary in Swedish arms sales to Libya (see Arms Sales , this ch.). The controversial story led to a military investigation of the reporters and an effort to silence public criticism of the YPA (see Courts, Detention, and Punishment , this ch.). In 1988 former secretary for national defense asserted that hostile elements were tarnishing the military's reputation and stirring ethnic unrest among military personnel. Alleged uprisings plotted by ethnic Albanians in the YPA were mentioned prominently in his speech. He claimed that attacks on the YPA destabilized the country's constitutional order by undermining one of its most important institutions.

    In the 1980s, physical attacks on YPA personnel increased. In 1985 alone, thirty attacks were reported. Nineteen soldiers were attacked during mass demonstrations protesting the arrests of the journalists who had publicized the arms deal with Libya. While asserting that most attacks were motivated by nationalists and separatists, the military did not reveal that the majority of incidents involved recent, non-Serbian YPA conscripts. For example, in 1987 an ethnic Albanian conscript murdered four soldiers in a federal army garrison in Serbia in what may have been an ethnically motivated incident.

    As in all Yugoslav institutions, the delicacy of the ethnic balance in the YPA had a serious impact on the military's effectiveness. Article 242 of the Constitution requires that the senior YPA command and officer corps reflect proportional representation of all nations and nationalities. However, the proportion of Serbs in the YPA was higher than that in the total population. In 1983 Serbs made up more than 57 percent of the YPA officer corps. And an even higher percentage of Serbs reportedly occupied the high command positions. Virtually every former federal secretary for national defense or chief of the YPA General Staff was a Serb. Among the other nationalities, Montenegrins had a strong military tradition and close ties to Serbia. They made up over 10 percent of the officer corps but only 3 percent of the total population. Croats and Slovenes were the most seriously underrepresented nationalities in the YPA officer corps. They made up only 15 and 5 percent, respectively, of all officers, and 20 and 8 percent respectively of the civilian population. Croats confronted some discrimination in the YPA because of lingering doubts about their loyalty to the Yugoslav state. Muslims, Albanians, Macedonians, and Hungarians constituted a small fraction of the officer corps. Serbian officers and noncommissioned officers commanded YPA forces that included mostly non-Serbian soldiers. Serbian officers tended to have a strong all-Yugoslav outlook while the non-Serbian conscripts they commanded brought with them a strong bias toward their own region. Nationalism was particularly intense among the increasing number of ethnic Albanian conscripts from Kosovo.

    Every YPA unit included soldiers of each nationality. With the exception of the Serbs, conscripts usually were not trained or stationed in their home republics or provinces. This practice ensured troop loyalty during internal security actions by the army. For example, Macedonian soldiers would likely have fewer reservations about using force to restore order among the population of Kosovo than against their fellow Macedonians.

    Because the YPA was assigned the role of maintaining the federal Yugoslav state, nationalist friction among members of the armed forces was an especially important problem. By 1990, this situation raised serious questions as to whether the YPA could contain ethnic tension in its own ranks, much less the entire country. As in other facets of Yugoslav life, Tito's leadership had inspired cooperation toward unified military achievement; following his death, fundamental ethnic hostilities began to surface. Doubts also arose about the dependability of troops from certain nationalities in defending Yugoslavia against external attack. In 1990 such doubts fell especially on the Croats, ethnic Albanians, and Slovenes because of political and economic conditions that had emerged in their regions in the 1980s (see Regional Political Issues , ch. 4).

    A series of Croatian demands for military autonomy brought forceful suppression of the Croatian separatist movement by Serbdominated YPA forces in 1971 and 1972. The Croats sought permission to perform compulsory YPA service in their home republic, instead of automatically being assigned elsewhere, and some even demanded formation of a separate army in their republic. The latter demand, with its implications for Croatian independence, prompted YPA intervention to keep the republic in the federal state. This crisis demonstrated the extent of the ethnic fault line in the YPA. In the decades following the massive Croatian collaboration with the Nazis in World War II, Croatian officers and soldiers had largely restored the group's reputation for military reliability. But the separatist crisis of 1971-72 resuscitated doubts about Croatian loyalty. In the aftermath of the crisis, many Croatian officers who either actively or tacitly supported Croat nationalists were purged from the YPA; this purge heightened Croatian hostility toward the national military establishment.

    In 1981 similar tensions existed in Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians there complained that YPA forces used excessive brutality in suppressing the massive nationalist uprisings that year. Periodic disturbances lasted throughout the 1980s (see Kosovo , ch. 4). Setting an ominous precedent for the future, the residents of Kosovo actively resisted YPA intervention and the semipermanent occupation of their province by YPA detachments. In 1987 the YPA held large-scale maneuvers in Slovenia. Because the Slovenes had also made serious demands for political and economic autonomy in the 1980s, those maneuvers seemed a possible prelude to YPA intervention in that republic. Some observers feared that, under the weight of nationalism, the YPA might eventually degenerate into rival armed ethnic militias fighting a civil war.

    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 Military and Society information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Yugoslavia (former) The Military and Society should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 27-Mar-05
Copyright © 2004 Photius Coutsoukis (all rights reserved)