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Socialist Yugoslavia - 1991 - The Yugoslav People's Army

Throughout the political and economic turmoil of the late 1980s and 1990, two national institutions survived: the YPA and the federal government. After World War II, the YPA had played the theoretical role of defender of the country's vaunted independent international position against attack from east or west. The YPA remained a bastion of conservative political influence after Cold War threats subsided and after electoral and legislative setbacks had sapped the unifying power of the LCY in 1990.

Led by an officer corps heavily Serbian and Montenegrin, the YPA took a dim view of rampant political diversification that threatened the power of the central government. Especially troubling were Slovenian and Croatian assertions of republic sovereignty over local military units, which threatened the very existence of the YPA organization. The failure of the old system also threatened the life-style of the YPA officer corps, which had enjoyed privileges such as summer houses on the Adriatic and generous pensions as part of their elite status in Yugoslav society.

Several times in 1990 and early 1991, Serbian and federal officials threatened to use YPA troops to restore order or protect federal property. In January 1991, Defense Secretary Veljko Kadijevic, a Serb, threatened to send YPA forces into Croatia when that republic formed its own military establishment, and in March YPA units confronted mass demonstrations in Belgrade. After preliminary mobilization in the Belgrade crisis, a divided high command announced that it would not intervene in political disputes unless armed conflict erupted in one of the republics. Although this statement deferred the often-mentioned scenario of a military coup to hold the nation together, in the spring of 1991 the YPA intervened in dozens of battles between separatist Serbs and Croatian authorities in Croatia.

Forces of change began to affect the YPA by 1990. Disintegration of the LCY removed the ideological unity of the YPA (whose political power had been exercised through representation in party organizations) and negated its role as defender of the ruling party. LCY activity in the army was officially outlawed in late 1990, and all political organization in the military was to be banned in 1991 legislation. One response to depolitization was the formation in November 1990 of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia-Movement for Yugoslavia by a group of retired YPA officers to replace the old LCY as an advocate of preserving the existing federal structure. This party advocated continued socialism and condemned Slovenia and Croatia as capitalist puppets.

In February 1991, Slovenia and Croatia proposed that new, depoliticized professional military organizations be formed in each republic, and the two republics announced that they would slash support for the national military budget. At the same time, federal military spending decreased because of budget deficits, and the reliability of conscripts from Kosovo and other areas came increasingly into question. All republics save Serbia and Montenegro refused to provide recruits for the 1991 YPA action in Croatia; when draft evasion became a problem even in Serbia, the long-term future of the YPA became doubtful. Although the YPA was the fifth-largest armed force in Europe in 1991, its command structure and resource base were shown to be unreliable in combat. Nevertheless, as the authority of the Yugoslav federal government dwindled and arbitration of disputes faltered, the on- site power of the military often negated the civilian authority meant to restrain it. The unpredictability of YPA forces became a major obstacle for United Nations (UN) diplomats seeking an effective cease-fire between Serbian and Croatian forces at the end of 1991.

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Page last modified: 21-09-2013 15:09:05 ZULU