Myth Of The 20th Century – Episode 4: Origins And Breakup Of Yugoslavia

Welcome to the Myth of the 20th Century. The podcast airs on Fridays.

— Brought to you by —

Adam Smith, Alex Nicholson, Mark Brown, and Nick Mason.


The Yugoslavic people have a history stretching back centuries to the Ottoman Empire, but the concept of a “Southern Slav” national identity was first developed in the 20th century while within Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yugoslavia came into existence in 1918 after the end of WWI as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as a reward for fighting on the side of the Entente, and following fascist invasion in WWII emerged after the war as a communist country under the leadership Josip Broz Tito until his death in 1980. Shortly thereafter, moves by the different ethnic nationalities to assert more autonomy began, and as economic troubles mounted in the ‘80s and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, secession of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and later Kosovo from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav federal government began, kicking off the Yugoslav Wars.

After the Dayton agreement in 1995 and later NATO bombing campaigns against Serbia in 1998-99, Kosovo and later Montenegro were the last regions to declare independence. Today, the former Yugoslavic republics remain at an uneasy peace, but maintain trade relations and no longer openly engage in ethnic conflict. Their complex relationship and breakup to this day gives the rest of the world the concept of “Balkanization” when describing a process whereby a once unified country fragments along ethno-nationalist lines.


1914- Serbian nationalist Gavarilo Princip shoots Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary
1914-1918- WWI and the destruction of Austria-Hungary
1918- Yugoslavia formed after WWI
1941-43- WWII fascist occupation
1948- break between Tito and Stalin
1974- constitutional reform
1980- death of Tito
1981- Kosovo protests
1990- breakup of the Soviet Union
1991- Slovenia leaves (Ten-Day War)
1991-95- Croatia War of Independence
1992-95- Bosnian War
1995- Dayton accords
1998-99- Kosovo War


– The Breakup of Yugoslavia, Department of State, Office of the Historian, (1990-1992)
– The Balkans – Nationalism, War and the Great Powers – 1804-2012, Misha Glenny (2012),
– The Balkans, Slavoj Žižek (2012),
– A House of Cards – The Collapse of Yugoslavia, Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History (2014),
– The USA Cannot Balkanize, Mark Yuray (2016),
– The USA Cannot Balkanize, Part II, Mark Yuray (2016),
– Interview with Mark Yuray (2017),
– Consultation with Anton Silensky (2017),

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  1. SecretForumLurker January 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Great podcast. Could have split the US balkanization discussion off as a separate podcast as it broke the flow but was really interesting. Roughly after 2:20 you guys go off the rails and should have split this separately. That was more a commentary on America, entertaining but off topic.

    If Mark Yuray is a Yugoslav expert and a Croat, then how can he say the US cannot balkanize? It makes me question his grasp of America. Americans as Americans in 1947 had a shared experience that Americans of today know nothing about or could even feel. Did anyone see the map of America with racial filters on? Look at Michigan or Illinois; where is the diversity? Pretty easy to see how the old “Indiana Territory” (that included Ohio up through Wisconsin) truly looks like it did then with similar people that has several cities of immense density that holds the diversity. Blind spot by him.

    Mass migrations into regions makes sense, and it is already happening. Very few states have an identity but California and Texas do. Regional identity has even been massaged down due to the pop culture programming.

  2. The US very well could Balkanize – Mark’s insight however was to demonstrate that there are significant demographic differences between the United States and the former Yugoslavia. Whereas the US does have some regions that are ethnically majority white, hispanic, or black, the degree to which that is true is much less or much less contiguous than a place like Serbia or Croatia. The US might be more closely described as Bosnia, with at least three distinct ethnic groups vying for control over a given territory.

  3. HardShadow Saarlander January 29, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Once again, great work on the podcast guys.

    The framing of Milosevic as Hitler incarnate is actually comedic in hindsight. The histrionics of the media and their bloodthirsty calls for violence against the Serbian people should haunt them, given that Milosevic was found not-guilty of many of his supposed crimes.

    1. Marcus Montisursinensis January 29, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      Actually, the Grim Reaper found him not guilty, not the court in the Hague, where he died during the trial.
      The very idea of the Nurnberg-style trials is quite nasty. “Civilized world” (aka the Blue Empire) teaching the Balkan people and the Africans how to behave well.

  4. Marcus Montisursinensis January 29, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    The term “balkanization” does not refer to the 1990s, although it might have returned to fashion at that time.
    Balkanization was a process of many rather small independent states emerging on the Balkan Peninsula as a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, starting with Greece in 1820s and ending with the two Balkan Wars 1912-1913 and the Ottoman loss of Thessalonike (after Greece, the new states being Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania).
    The inherent problem of balkanization are territorial pretensions of those states against each other (e.g. Serbia and Bulgaria being arch-enemies until 1945) or the ideas of a historical mission of being the hegemon of all South Slavs.
    Note: both parents of Slobodan Milosevic committed suicide (in two separate events).
    Considering my opinion as a Croat:
    1.) Kosovo is Serbia.
    2.) The highest political establishment in Serbia has imbibed the idea of Serbian hegemony over South Slavs in 1840s and held it ever since until the 1990s. The victory of Serbia in WW1 and the subsequent establishment of Yugoslavia was not a result of Serbian bravery, but Anglo-French victory. Likewise, the defeat of Croatian (and Slovakian) pro-Axis state was not a result of Serbian bravery, but the fact that the Germans did not conquer Moscow, but the Russians did conquer Berlin, Budapest, Vienna and Belgrade. After WW1 a narrative of the brave Serbian soldier emerged in the West. It remained unchallenged after WW2. In 1990s, a narrative of a suffering Bosnian Muslim/Albanian emerged. Narratives may vary, from 100% to 0% true. The Serbian establishment could not see the narrative change: from being archetypal hero to becoming the archetypal Hitler-like villain.
    3.) I argue that many Serbs from Serbia have always held Croatian Military Frontier Serbs (parts known as Lika, Kordun, Banija), former Habsburg hereditary soldiers with a lot of Vlach blood as second-class Serbs; in 1990 and 1991 Milosevic used those as proxies to start a war in Croatia. In 1995 he simply betrayed them.
    4.) Instead of starting the war in Croatia, Milosevic should have conceded to divide Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia according to the Cvetkovic-Macek agreement of 1939, with possible smaller Muslim state in the middle, that could be held in check by the two surrounding countries. This might have worked, since the foreign powers did not support Slovenian and Croatian secession until late 1991. Instead, we now have Turks and Saudis competing for influence in Al-Bosnia, and Kosovo (and Albania) serving as Airstrip One of the Blue Empire.

    1. Chiraqi Insurgent January 30, 2017 at 12:21 am

      Regarding 4., it couldn’t happen because Serbia had an overwhelming advantage at the outset (and was given the green light by the U.S. with the caveat that it be done quickly and with minimum bloodshed) and felt it was morally justified in cleaning house both in Croatia and Bosnia due to the WWII narrative. It claimed exclusive ownership rights to Yugoslavia and was dismissive of all others’ views/grievances. Within Bosnia (the new Yugoslavia), Bosnian Muslims are now playing the role of the Serbs from the 90s, and their attempts to force both Bosnian Serbs and Croats to give up their respective identities for a “Bosnian” one will ultimately lead to its disintegration. And then we’ll be right where we started in the first place.

  5. Right. 64% of Serbia’s male population was either killed or injured in WWI but Serbian bravery in WWI is just a “myth”.


    1. Marcus Montisursinensis February 18, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      I will recall Thomas Aquinas thoughts on courage as a virtue that both overcomes man’s fears (cowardness) and restrains man’s unreasonable zeal [to overcome those fears] (recklessness).
      After victories in two consecutive Balkan wars (over the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, respectively; the latter was the second war against Bulgaria within three decades), optimism and firm belief that Serbia is the Piedmont of Southern Slavs brought to, in my opinion absolutely reckless decisions.
      With Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the north and the north-west and Bulgaria in the east, with no border with any of their major allies (Russia, Britain or France), with Romania as the bridge to Russia neutral until 1916, the geographical position of Serbia was not favorable. Even without Germany’s interference under Mackensen in 1915.
      Battles cannot be won without bravery, but also not without military infrastructure and human resources.
      Certainly, Serbian soldiers in WW1 were very brave (surviving a march similar to that of Hannibal through the Alps; though I argue that Serbian elites were not brave, but reckless gamblers, repeating the same thing with gen. Simović’s coup of March 1941, staged by British secret services).
      So, what is the truth, what is a legend, what is a myth and what a narrative?
      The narrative of the brave Serbian soldier, as well as the narrative on Milošević=Hitler is a Western narrative produced by the Western mind for its own consumption. The tall Serbian soldier with his moustache, the exotic ally from the East. For this narrative, it is of no importance whether it coincides with the truth 100% or 50% or 0%. Serbian elites believed the Western narrative, which encouraged their own messianic dreams, in which it was impossible for Croats and Slovenes not to be impressed by everything Serbia did for them.
      Thus, after 1918, Italy got far less than she wanted (the trans-Adriatic territories of Venice ) because she did not perform well. Serbia got South-Slavic portion of Austrian-Hungarian Empire (even those portions promised to Italy) and Montenegro, a hasty marriage with tough consequences.

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