Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (abbreviated as SFRY, and previously known as the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, abbreviated as FPRY) was a people's republic in Europe. It was succeeded by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The University of Rochester gives the following overall assessment of the SFRY:

The history of Yugoslavia since 1945 embraces a period of rapid economic, political, and social modernization reflected in urban and industrial growth, improvements in literacy and economic well-being, changes in the traditional patriarchal family structure, moderation of ethnic hostilities, and integration into the international economy. However, in dialectical fashion, it also embraces a period of economic decline and intense ethnic reaction. In a very real sense, the route to the collapse of the Yugoslav federation, like the collapse of the Soviet federation, was paved by the policy toward nationalities that each had pursued, but it was precipitated by involvement in the global economy.[1]

Yugoslavia also had a system of "Socialist Self-Management" which was sought a compromise between State Socialism and Syndicalism.


Prerevolutionary Yugoslavia was an economically underdeveloped nation, plagued by high levels of illiteracy, high mortality rates, low life expectancy, and epidemics of disease.

The country remained largely undeveloped throughout the interwar years. Seventy-seven percent of the population were peasants. Illiteracy rates of those older than 10 ranged between 83.8% in Macedonia and 8.8% in Slovenia, with the national figure being 51.5% in 1921. Mortality and fertility were both high, epidemics were common despite innovative programs created by Andrija Stampar, the Croatian public health leader, and the government was ineffective in providing preventive and curative health services as well as needed infrastructure. High taxes and declining agricultural prices during the depression years of the 1930s may have contributed to the peasants’ hostility to the government and to their support for the Partisans during World War II, which was as much a civil war as a war against the German invaders.

— University of Rochester, [1]

According to the Helsinki Committee:

The overall social development of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1941 was overwhelmingly slow, so that the country was at the lower end of European trends (population poverty, illiteracy, low level of health culture, poor mobility, etc.), with a rather closed perspective. […] In the inter-war period, the housing infrastructure outside cities was either poor or non-existent, lacking electricity, water and sewage connections. Living conditions in municipal workers’ or peripheral settlements were poor.[2]

In contrast, the SFRY was a time of tremendous improvement and hope for the people:

This picture of the increase in the standard of living will become more complete if one takes into account the achieved level of technological development, high health and hygiene standards and higher educational level of the population. Should the question of progress be posed from the aspect of everyday life, it would be reflected in the wish for electricity, paved roads, a comfortable apartment or house, a marriage of love and not an arranged marriage, fertile land, job security, as well as the wish for the children to be better off in the future. It is precisely these issues that are conversation topics in the prize-winning feature film Train Without a Timetable (Veljko Bulajić, 1959): “There is also electricity and a state road over there, and you can have a radio in the house. It can play and sing for you all day long! Just like in a dream…” This dream was part of the changes brought by the 20th century to everyday life, including increased opportunities and needs. Yugoslavia was attuning the rhythm of the century to its own development level and political priorities.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

It is often assumed that the SFRY's discontinuation in the early 1990s was purely the result of internal contradictions, but official reports indicate that the white bourgeoisie also pursued a policy of deliberate destabilization against them.[3][4]

Although opinions vary by country, the consensus in the former Yugoslavia is that the discontinuation was harmful overall,[5] including Bosnia, Herzegovina,[6] Croatia,[7] Macedonia,[8] Montenegro,[9] Serbia,[10] and Slovenia.[11]


The prerevolutionary economy in Yugoslavia was stagnant:

From 1921 to the outbreak of World War II, the country was not characterized by any exceptional economic progress. In that, however, it was no different from the majority of neighboring countries, whether it be, for example, Greece, Hungary or Bulgaria. Partly this was the consequence of demographic growth, but since we are talking about several decades, it is clear that on the whole the economy was stagnant and that it is not possible to talk about any significant progress in relation to economic development on Yugoslav territory in the time before the establishment of the common state.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The lower classes abolished this state of affairs once they established the people's republic. Originally the socialists organized a planned economy closely based on that of the USSR,[12] but after the 1940s they transitioned to a semiplanned economy, based on workers’ self-management within state-owned enterprises:

After 1945 the communist government nationalized large landholdings, industrial enterprises, public utilities, and other resources and launched a strenuous process of industrialization. After a split with the Soviet Union in 1948, Yugoslavia had by the 1960s come to place greater reliance on market mechanisms. A distinctive feature of this new “Yugoslav system” was “workers’ self-management” which reached its fullest form in the 1976 Law on Associated Labour. Under this law, individuals participated in Yugoslav enterprise management through the work organizations into which they were divided. Work organizations might be either “Basic Organizations of Associated Labour” (the subdivisions of a single enterprise) or “Complex Organizations of Associated Labour” uniting different segments of an overall activity (e.g., manufacture and distribution). Each work organization was governed by a workers’ council, which elected a board of management to run the enterprise.

— Encyclopædia Britannica, [13]

This system led to dramatic economic growth:

Development in the years after World War II, if we put aside the years of the Soviet blockade, is characterized by significant economic growth and development, if the latter is expressed, again, by the per capita GDP. While in the first twenty years or so the GDP per capita increased just under 40 percent, in the period from 1952 to 1979 it increased just under 5 times. As in both cases it was a matter of rebuilding the country after great war devastation, there is no doubt that Yugoslavia after World War II achieved an incomparably better economic development than it did after World War I.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The socialists initiated a great process of urbanization:

A great wave of urbanization took place in the second half of the century when settlements with larger residential buildings and skyscrapers were built. New cities or larger urban complexes, such as New Belgrade, New Zagreb, New Gorica, Velenje and Split 3, were also built. From the aspect of urban planning, the reconstruction of Skopje after the disastrous earthquake of 1963 was especially successful. These new settlements were based on contemporary urban planning and architectural concepts such as residential buildings with social amenities, surrounded by green areas and having no direct access to major roads. Kindergartens and schools, parks, health centers, trading and small-scale craft facilities were also built according to plan.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The dismal housing situation was improved dramatically, as was access to essential services (electricity, water, sanitation, etc.):

Each year, from the early 1960s through the 1980s, 100–150 thousand apartments were built and one third of them was built by the socially-owned sector. These apartments were given to workers on the basis of their occupancy right acquired in the enterprises and institutions where they were employed. A survey shows that in the years of peak housing construction, that is, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, all three-member worker households had electricity, almost all of them had water and sewage connections, one third had central heating and eight out of ten had a bathroom and toilet in the apartment.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

Unfortunately, the Yugoslav economy eventually began to stagnate, a problem which was made worse by the interference of the IMF, as well as the inflamed regional tensions which resurfaced after Tito's expiration:

Inflation and unemployment emerged as serious problems, particularly during the 1980s, and productivity remained low. Such defects in the system were patched over by massive and uncoordinated foreign borrowing, but after 1983 the International Monetary Fund demanded extensive economic restructuring as a precondition for further support. The conflict over how to meet this demand resurrected old animosities between the wealthier northern and western regions, which were required to contribute funds to federally administered development programs, and the poorer southern and eastern regions, where these funds were frequently invested in relatively inefficient enterprises or in unproductive prestige projects. Such differences contributed directly to the disintegration of the second Yugoslavia.

— Encyclopædia Britannica, [13]

Worker's self-management

Yugoslavia attempted this organizational strategy with mixed results. It gave workers more influence in individual enterprises but at the same time had problems such as unemployment.[14]

Foreign policy

The Non-Aligned Movement was established in 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia through an initiative of the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesian President Sukarno, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.[15][16] This led to the first Conference of Heads of State or Governments of Non-Aligned Countries.[17] The term non-aligned movement first appears in the fifth conference in 1976, where participating countries are denoted as "members of the movement". The NAM, in general, was good in opposing both imperialism and colonialism.

Tito split from the USSR in 1948, also saying that the USSR was to blame for starting the Cold War as well as saying that Stalin's policies were akin to Hitler's. Relations between the two nations quickly deteriorated and an invasion of Yugoslavia was planned for 1949 using the militaries of Yugoslavia's neighboring Eastern Bloc states. Yugoslavia was kicked out of the Cominform, and Stalin sent a series of assassins after Tito, all of which failed. Famously, Tito replied to Stalin in a letter:

Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. [...] If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second[18]

Yugoslavia under Tito supported the MPLA in Angola, which became largely reliant on Yugoslav arms since the Soviets stopped supplying them.



Prerevolutionary Yugoslavia was beset by terrible healthcare conditions, a situation which was only made worse by WWII:

As regards the health care of the population in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, it was at the lowest level according to the European standards. According to 1930 data, there were 12,204 medical personnel members, including 4,545 doctors and 208 dentists. There were also 172 hospitals and 22,895 hospital beds. In Yugoslavia up to 1939, there were 18,193 medical personnel members, including 5,131 doctors and 380 dentists, implying that there was one doctor per 3,060 inhabitants and one dentist per 41,324 inhabitants. Of this number of doctors, 927 worked in 169 hospitals with 23,534 beds (only 429 more than twenty or so years earlier).

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

Although there had been some reduction in the mortality rate under the prerevolutionary government, the improvement became much faster in the people's republic, and it coincided with drastic improvements to infant mortality and life expectancy when compared to the prerevolutionary period. The socialists made the provision of healthcare a key aspect of their policy:

Health policy in the former Yugoslavia was based on the promise of growth: expansion of existing health facilities and construction of new ones, an increase in the supply of health care workers and drugs and, ultimately, an improvement in health status. The promise was repeated so often that people came to consider such social benefits “to be their natural due,” a major premise of socialism.

— NYU, [19]

This resulted in enormous increases in the health conditions of the country:

By 1978, the number of hospital beds, in comparison to 1939, tripled from 19 to 60 beds per 10,000 population; the number of medical schools rose from three to eleven, resulting in a five-fold increase in the number of physicians; and health insurance was extended to cover 82 percent of the population. The infant mortality rate of 3 5.6 per 1,000 population in 1978 was only one-fourth of the pre-World War II figure. Moreover, diphtheria, malaria and typhus had been eliminated.

— NYU, [19]

These improvements are also discussed by the Helsinki Committee:

In socialist Yugoslavia, the situation radically improved. Up to 1950, there were only 5,138 doctors and 196 dentists, while already in 1952 there were 6,548 doctors (since the first generations of post-war medical students had graduated), while the number of dentists decreased to 184. Until 1987, the Yugoslav population was treated by 43,869 doctors and 9,232 dentists, which means that there was one doctor per 533 inhabitants and one dentist per 2,535 inhabitants. In 1950, compared to 1939, the number of hospital beds increased more than twofold – there were 53,760 hospital beds. By 1960, this number had also increased more than twofold, so that there were 102,329 hospital beds, while until 1988 this number increased to 142,957.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The socialists expanded healthcare access across the entire republic:

In addition, thanks to the development of the road network, better communications and different social policy, health care became accessible to a significantly greater number of people. Apart from doctors, the number of other medical personnel also increased. According to the 1962 data, there was a total of 112,946 medical workers; in 1975 — 193,374, and in 1987 — 303,105. […] Understandably, the most advanced medical services were provided in urban centers, but spa rehabilitation centers were being developed and basic health care also reached rural areas. Until 1989, in addition to hospitals, 8,384 general and specialist medical centers and 4,425 dental surgeries were opened.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

They also significantly reduced infant and child mortality:

The improvement of state-sponsored social care for the population also resulted in a great decline of infant and child mortality rates due to which the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had ranked among the most backward European countries.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

Life expectancy increased dramatically:

Life expectancy was also significantly increasing. In 1931, the life expectancy for females and males was 46.1 and 45.1 years respectively. Already in 1948, the life expectancy levels had increased to 53 years for females and 48.6 years for males... Up to 1981, the life expectancy at the Yugoslav level increased to 73.2 for females and 67.7 for males. Its increase continued, so that in 1990 the expected life expectancy for females in Yugoslavia was 74.9 and for males 69.1 years, whereby regional differences were reduced.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The mortality rate declined rapidly in the people's republic; eventually, mortality rates in the SFRY became lower than those in Western Europe:

Finally, the mortality rate also declined: from 21 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants in 1921 to 15 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants until 1939. After 1945, the mortality rate continued to decline from the maximum 14.2 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants to the minimum 8.1 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants in 1966. At the end of the observation period, the mortality rate was 9 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants, thus being lower than in Germany (9.2), France (9.3) or Britain (11.2).

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

In summary:

Nutrition and hygiene greatly influenced the health of the population. […] The post-war development of medicine and health institutions made possible a greater availability of doctors and an almost five-fold increase in the number of hospital beds (in 1986 there were about 143,000), while all services were covered by mandatory health insurance. Regular medical check-ups and mandatory vaccination of the population were also organised. Occupational medicine and an occupational safety system provided greater security for the employed. Pensions and homes for the elderly instilled confidence in end-of-life care. Thanks to better health and hygiene as well as improved socio-economic conditions, the estimated life expectancy for those born in the early 1980s was 68 years for men and 73 for women, that is, twenty or so years longer than that for the generations born in the 1940s. For the same reasons, infant mortality declined from 143 per thousand in the 1930s to 27 per thousand in the mid-1980s, ranging from 12.6 per thousand in Slovenia to 54.3 per thousand in Kosovo.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]


Another area in which the socialists dramatically improved Yugoslavia is that of education. Prerevolutionary Yugoslavia was extremely backwards with regards to education:

In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, despite specific efforts to raise the educational level of the population, no significant breakthroughs in this field were made. In 1921, the number of illiterate persons older than 10 years was even 4,402,059 (50.5 percent of the population), while by the 1931 census their number had increased to 4,408,471 (44.6 percent of the population older than 10 years).

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The situation rapidly and dramatically improved in the people's republic:

According to the 1948 census already, this number was considerably smaller — 3,162,941 (25.4 percent of the population). This decrease was the result of a mass literacy campaign during the war and in its aftermath. [C]onsiderable efforts were made towards educating the population, so that the number of illiterate persons older than 10 years continually declined, accompanied by an increase in the total population, so that in 1961 there were 3,066,165 (21 percent) such persons; in 1971 — 2,549,571 (15.1 percent) and in 1981 — 1,780,902 (9.5 percent). Of this number 1,576,238 were aged over 39 or, in other words, born before 1945.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The SFRY drastically expanded access to education:

After 1945, the educational network expanded rapidly, both in terms of the number of schools and in terms of teaching diversity, while the number of compulsory years of elementary education increased and in 1958 compulsory eight-year elementary education was introduced. In the territory of Yugoslavia in 1946, there were 10,666 elementary schools with 1,441,679 students and 23,270 teachers which, considering the number of teachers, was a big decline compared to 1939. By 1975/78, the number of elementary schools in Yugoslavia had grown to 13,442, but after that it started to decline, mostly due to the merger of smaller schools, which was made possible thanks to improved transport and greater student mobility.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]


Gender relations

Prerevolutionary Yugoslavia held a strongly reactionary view of women's rights, which was rapidly changed in the people's republic:

Women’s emancipation in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was the result of individual efforts, while in socialist Yugoslavia it was the result of an organized policy. Although a feminist movement existed in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, it remained on the margins of social influence, while the status of women was best expressed in the Civil Code under which a married woman was denied legal capacity. This anachronous legal provision was abolished as early as 1946, with termination of the validity of the Civil Code.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

The SFRY actively promoted women's emancipation:

Women understandably obtained the right to vote, marital relations were liberalized, the political activism of women was promoted through the Anti-Fascist Womens’ Front and other mass organizations, and women were increasingly assuming social and political functions, while the legal solutions in all spheres of life tried to ensure gender equality. A considerable increase in the number of divorces can also be considered an expression of women’s emancipation.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

Women's educational access improved dramatically:

At literacy courses conducted during the period 1948–1950 as much as 70 percent of attendees were women, although the literacy and schooling of female children met with resistance in conservative environments, mostly for religious and patriarchal reasons. From 1921 to 1981, the percentage of illiterate women declined from 60 percent to 14.7 percent.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

Women were integrated into the economy, from which they had previously been largely excluded:

After 1945, the share of the male population in the economically active population was decreasing, while the rate of the economically active population within the female population was relatively stable and ranged from 30.7 percent to 35.1 percent. This means that the absolute number of the economically active female population (and thus the share of the economically active population) was increasing in proportion to an increase in the share of the female population in the total population. However, this was not the case with the male population. This is a very credible testimony to women’s emancipation compared to the prewar period, which was especially evident after 1961.

— Helsinki Committee, [2]

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kunitz, Stephen (2004). "The Making and Breaking of Yugoslavia and Its Impact on Health". American journal of public health. 94 (11): 1894–1904. doi:10.2105/ajph.94.11.1894.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 Yugoslavia from a Historical Perspective (PDF). Belgrade: Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. 2017. ISBN 978-86-7208-208-1. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |editors= ignored (|editor= suggested) (help)
  3. Papadopoulos, Marcus (2018-02-02). "The Defining Year Was 1991: The Demise of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union". Archived from the original on 2020-03-18.
  4. Herman, Edward; Peterson, David (2007-10-01). "The Dismantling of Yugoslavia (Part I)". The Monthly Review. 59 (05). Archived from the original on 2014-07-08.
  5. "Many in Balkans Still See More Harm From Yugoslavia Breakup". 2017-05-18. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  6. ""Yugo-nostalgia" is widespread in Serbia and Bosnia - survey - WorldEnglish - on". 2017-05-26. Archived from the original on 2017-05-26. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  7. "Zašto su u Hrvatskoj jugonostalgični?". Deutsche Welle. 2015-10-01. Archived from the original on 2015-10-01.
  8. "Macedonians "miss Yugoslavia", poll shows". 2010-11-25. Archived from the original on 2020-03-26.
  9. "ISTRAŽIVANJE O CRNOGORCIMA: Većina govori srpski i žali za SFRJ". 2017-03-14. Archived from the original on 2017-05-31.
  10. "Serbia Poll: Life Was Better Under Tito". 2010-12-24. Archived from the original on 2019-04-30.
  11. Waterfield, Bruno (2007-12-29). "Many in Slovenia yearn for old Yugoslavia". Ljubljana. Archived from the original on 2009-10-08.
  12. "Another Look at the Question of Yugoslav Socialism". 2010-07-03. Archived from the original on 2020-02-13.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Allcock, John; Lampe, John. "Yugoslavia". {{cite web}}: Text "Britannica" ignored (help); Text "History, Map, Breakup, & Facts" ignored (help)
  14. "Class Struggle in Socialist Poland: With Comparisons to Yugoslavia".
  15. Nehru, Jawaharlal (2004). Jawaharlal Nehru. : an autobiography. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143031048. OCLC 909343858.
  16. "Non-Aligned Movement". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  17. Petranović, Branko; Zečević, Momčilo (1988). "BEOGRADSKA KONFERENCIJA NEANGAŽOVANIH. NESVRSTANOST - Brionska izjava predsednika Tita, Nasera i Premijera Nehrua, jula 1956." (PDF). Jugoslavija 1918–1988: Tematska zbirka dokumenata (in Serbo-Croatian) (2 ed.). Belgrade: Izdavačka radna organizacija "Rad". pp. 1078–1084. ISBN 9788609001086.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  18. Medvedev, Zhores A.; Medvedev, Roy A.; Jeličić, Matej; Škunca, Ivan (2003). The Unknown Stalin. I. B. Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-58567-502-9.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Sarić, Muhamed; Rodwin, Victor. "The Once and Future Health System in the Former Yugoslavia: Myths and Realities". Retrieved 2020-03-26.