Yugoslavia, a Century Later: Why Did the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes Form a Union in 1918?

Friday, October 19, 2018
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 International Affairs Building, 420 W 118th St)

Please join the Harriman Institute and the Njegoš Endowment for Serbian Language and Culture at Columbia University's East Central European Center for a talk with Dejan Djokić, Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Balkans at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In late October 1918 a provisional state of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs was proclaimed in Zagreb, with the aim of unifying soon with Serbia and Montenegro. Similar, pro-union manifestos were issued in Ljubljana and Sarajevo, while the Serbian army, together with its British, French, Italian, and Greek allies, had broken through the Salonika front in September and liberated much of Serbia by the end of October. Despite enormous challenges, sacrifices, and a catastrophic defeat, before the triumph of 1918, the Serbian leadership had generally pursued a pro-unification line through the war, as did exiled Croats and other South Slavs, of the London-based Yugoslav Committee. The proclamation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes on December 1, 1918 in Belgrade had the support of practically all relevant political, intellectual and religious groups. Yet, unsurprisingly perhaps, the Yugoslav unification today is often perceived as a naïve, catastrophic mistake if not a result of Serb/Croat manipulation or the Powers’ conspiracy. Was Yugoslavia not doomed to failure from the start, as its seemingly perpetual crises and the violent collapses in the 1940s and 1990s surely attest? Even if one is not susceptible to post-factum interpretations, it is nevertheless appropriate to ask why did the South Slavs form a union a century ago and why no alternative solutions were seriously explored. Djokić argues that a unified Yugoslavia represented the most logical solution to the Serbian and South Slav Question(s) and that complex events of late 1918 need to be understood in their historical context. He bases his analysis on, among other sources, numerous proclamations issued by key South Slav groups and individuals in 1917 and 1918. Djokić suggests that rather than merely an idealistic project, Yugoslavia actually made sense to all the key South Slav political actors, whose decision-making was driven by ideological as well as pragmatic considerations. It also made sense to most of Serbia’s allies, even if they were at times ambivalent vis-à-vis the creation of Yugoslavia or, in the case of Italy, opposed to it.

Dejan Djokić is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Balkans at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Elusive Compromise: A History of Interwar Yugoslavia (Hurst/Columbia University Press, 2007) and Pašić & Trumbić: The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Haus/Chicago University Press, 2010), and is currently working on two book-length studies: a history of Serbia (under contract with Cambridge University Press) and a collective biography of the last generation of Yugoslav soldiers.