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The Land, The People of Yugoslavia

Titograd, rural depopulation, capital of Montenegro, capital of Slovenia, capital of Serbia

The population of Yugoslavia recorded in the country’s last census in 1991 was 23,528,230. This figure was nearly double the 11,984,911 counted in a slightly smaller country in 1921 and nearly 50 percent more than the 15,841,566 recorded in 1948. Until the 1960s the country experienced rapid population growth, attributed to a high birthrate typical of developing nations. By 1981 the average annual rate of population growth in more developed regions—Slovenia, Vojvodina, Croatia, and Serbia proper (Serbia minus Vojvodina and Kosovo)—was 0.39 percent. In the less developed regions—Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Kosovo—it was 1.46 percent, still well below the rates typical of developing nations. Serbia was the largest and by far the most populous of the six republics. In 1991 Serbia had about 9.8 million people, Croatia 4.8 million, Bosnia 4.4 million, Macedonia 2 million, Slovenia 1.7 million, and Montenegro 584,000.

Yugoslavia’s population was ethnically mixed. According to the 1991 census, Serbs made up 36 percent of the total population, Croats 20 percent, Muslim Slavs (also known as Bosnian Muslims) 10 percent, Albanians 9 percent, Slovenes 8 percent, Macedonian Slavs 6 percent, “Yugoslavs” (people who declined to declare themselves members of any specific ethnic group) 3 percent, Montenegrins 2 percent, and Hungarians 2 percent. The government recognized the Serbs, Croats, Muslim Slavs (beginning in 1968), Slovenes, Macedonian Slavs, and Montenegrins as six nations, that is, South Slav ethnic groups with homelands in Yugoslavia. More than a quarter of the 8.5 million Serbs lived outside Serbia, mostly in Bosnia and Croatia, while 20 percent of the Croats lived outside Croatia, mostly in Bosnia and Vojvodina. The populations of Bosnia and Vojvodina were particularly mixed. In 1991, 44 percent of the inhabitants of Bosnia identified themselves as Muslims, 31 percent as Serbs, 17 percent as Croats, and 5 percent as Yugoslavs. Vojvodina was a mosaic of Serbs (about 51 percent of the population), Hungarians, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians, Rusins (also known as Carpatho-Rusyns or Subcarpathian Ukrainians, after their homeland in the Carpathian Mountains), and others.

The second or post-1945 Yugoslavia had three official languages: Serbo-Croatian (or Croato-Serbian), Slovenian, and Macedonian. In the first Yugoslavia, Macedonian was considered a Serbian dialect, although it is more closely related to Bulgarian. Serbs, Croats, Muslim Slavs, and Montenegrins all spoke regional dialects of Serbo-Croatian. The Serbs and Montenegrins wrote Serbo-Croatian in the Cyrillic alphabet, while the Croats and Muslim Slavs used the Latin alphabet. Many Croats considered their written language a distinct literary language.

The primary difference that distinguished Yugoslavia’s ethnic groups was religion. The Serbs, Macedonian Slavs, and Montenegrins were traditionally Orthodox Christians, while the Croats and Slovenes were Roman Catholics. The Muslim Slavs and Albanians were primarily Sunni Muslims. The only census after World War II that asked for religious affiliation was taken in 1953. In that census, 42 percent of Yugoslavia’s population declared Orthodox Christianity as their religion, 32 percent declared Roman Catholicism, 12 percent declared Islam, 1 percent identified themselves as Protestants, 1 percent declared some other faith, and 12 percent said they had no religious affiliation. Religion also determined which alphabet each of Yugoslavia’s peoples usually used: the traditionally Orthodox peoples preferred the Cyrillic alphabet, while the rest used the Latin alphabet.

The percentage of Yugoslavia’s population classified as urban grew explosively after 1950 but remained one of Europe’s lowest throughout the country’s history. The urban population rose from barely 20 percent in 1921 to 25 percent in 1951, and up to 46 percent in 1981. Migration from the countryside to the cities accounted for almost all of the rapid urban growth and its counterpart, rural depopulation. The percentage of the population dependent on agriculture for its livelihood declined from 75 percent in 1921 to 64 percent in 1951, then down to 20 percent in 1981.

Yugoslav cities with populations over 100,000 in 1991 were, in order of size, Belgrade, the federal capital and the capital of Serbia; Zagreb, the capital of Croatia; Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia; Skopje, the capital of Macedonia; Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia; Banja Luka, a major city in western Bosnia; Zenica, Bosnia’s major industrial center; Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina and a major agricultural-industrial center; Nis, an industrial center in southern Serbia; Rijeka, Yugoslavia’s and Croatia’s major seaport; Kragujevac, an automobile and armaments manufacturing center in Serbia; Split, a major Croatian seaport; Tuzla, a Bosnian industrial center; Mostar, the capital of Bosnia’s Herzegovina region; Titograd, now called Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro; and Osijek, a major Croatian agricultural center.

In the second Yugoslavia the education system included free preschool and free and compulsory schooling from age 7 to 15. The illiteracy rate declined from about 50 percent of those over ten years old in 1921 to about 25 percent in 1948, then down to less than 10 percent, most of them older persons, in the 1980s. The rate was different for men and women: in the 1980s, 4 percent of men and 15 percent of women could not read or write. In 1988 regional illiteracy rates ranged from 1 percent in Slovenia, the most developed part of the country, to 18 percent in Kosovo, the least developed part. In the 1980s the proportion of the labor force that had completed elementary education was about 60 percent. Thirty percent had completed secondary education and 6 percent had earned a university or other higher education degree. At its founding in 1918, Yugoslavia inherited three universities: the University of Zagreb, the University of Belgrade, and the University of Ljubljana. By 1965 there were three more: the University of Sarajevo, the University of Skopje, and the University of Nis. In the 1980s Yugoslavia had 17 major universities and numerous minor or branch campuses. The average annual enrollment in post-secondary education reached about 400,000 students, of which about 45 percent were women.

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