Yugoslavia: The Outworn Structure
Yugoslavia did not have tremendous success as a unified political entity. Tensions among the various nationalities inside Yugoslavia's border always threatened to undermine the control of the Communists. In order to address these longstanding and threatening tensions, in 1971, the Yugoslavian Communist Party prepared a set of sweeping reforms to create semi-autonomous regions to provide some domestic independence for each nationality, while the Party would maintain centralized control over foreign policy. Just before these reforms were publicized, the CIA published this intelligence briefing on Yugoslavia, which both outlined the goals for the reforms, and the continuing resistance to any form of political change. There were many centers of concern and potential solutions seen by the Yugoslavian communist leadership (Tito & Kardelj most importantly) but dealing with the various regional differences remained the central goal of the central leadership. The last paragraph, in particular, lays out the CIA's assessment of the continuing dangers of nationalist divides, which effectively predicts the problems that would emerge in the late 1980s.
Central Intelligence Agency, "Yugoslavia: The Outworn Structure," 20 November 1970, CIA CIA Library (accessed June 27, 2007).
Tito's towering status has obscured the fact that "Yugoslavia" is an invention of this century. The constituent republics -- Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia- Hercegovina, Serbia (with its autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo), Montenegro, and Macedonia -- continue to be distinct nations in their own right, with different histories and ethnic and cultural compositions. Each has different strengths in its struggle for identity within the federation: some elements profit from particularism, others from integration. A number of other forces, such as the relative dominance of leading personalities, different rates of economic growth, and dissent outside of the Communist establishment, cut across nationalities and make Yugoslav stability particularly dependent upon strong and continuing central control. The point is that much of such control has eroded in the past four years or so.
It is Kardelj's [head of Yugoslav military intelligence service, the KOS] apparent desire to guarantee the autonomy of the republics in every tolerable sphere, but to prevent them from being able to paralyze the central government in matters deemed essential to the federation. In the interests of this change, Kardelj may be prepared to create political forces outside of the contending republic leagues of Communists, and may even be prepared to enforce republic acceptance of the restoration of key central powers by administrative diktat. In the latter case he would of course either have to restore the prerogatives of the central Party apparat, or to rely upon the Army.
The next few years may see a more open and even more bitter debate along the lines of those to date. The principal issue will be the survival of the federation. There is a real potential for catastrophe - the contingencies of Croatian secession, Serbian military rule, civil war, and Soviet intervention will haunt the debate. Precisely because the alternatives are so bleak, Tito, Kardelj, and other centralists will continue to search for means through which the federation structure can survive. But whether Yugoslavia thus evolves, or comes to other structures through more revolutionary means - the result, say, of the particularist genie remaining stubbornly outside of the bottle, and/or of Kardelj attempting to impose a centralist military solution -- significant consequences may be in store for Yugoslavia and, accordingly, perhaps for East and West.