My novel Dancing with Spies is set in and around the beautiful city of Dubrovnik (see photo) in 1991. At the start of the novel Dubrovnik is still nominally in Yugoslavia, but it is actually part of the breakaway state of Croatia
The country of Yugoslavia had only existed as an entity since 1919 when it was created by the victorious allies in the peace treaty of Versailles at the end of The Great War (or First World War).
It was cobbled together from the territories confiscated from the former Austro-Hungarian (or Holy Roman) Empire and Turkey and tagged on to Serbia which had been an independent nation since 1878. The new nation consisted of six different states with different ideologies, speaking three different languages, writing in two different alphabets and worshipping in three distinct religions. It didn’t really stand a chance.
It didn’t actually call itself Yugoslavia until 1929 and had hardly settled down to try to build its new identity when the Second World War burst upon it. The country was invaded by the Axis powers and the German Nazis particularly in the north set about exploiting the divisions and suspicions which existed between the different constituent states. They set up a puppet fascist regime in Croatia which was responsible for murdering large numbers of Serbs, Muslims and Jews and other ethnically different Yugoslavs. This greatly increased the tension between the rival groups in the country.
Marshal Josip Tito and his communist partisans, with Russian help, drove out the invaders by early 1945. Under his powerful leadership all opposition to his communist People’s Party was ruthlessly suppressed and for the next 25 years Yugoslavia had the outward appearance of a united federation of states.
However, when Tito died in 1980, no strong leader emerged to replace him. Yugoslavia entered a period of federal government where there was no uniting power. Gradually the constituent states began to take their own course towards independence. The northern states of Slovenia and Croatia developed stronger economies and resented propping up the remainder of the Yugoslav nation.
Meanwhile Slobodan Milosevic had emerged as leader of the Serbians who had the greatest population. His policy of repressing smaller dissident factions in the other states led to open rifts. In June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared their intention to secede from the Yugoslav Federation. The attempts of Milosevic to prevent this and to stop other states following their example led to a brutal civil war in which Dubrovnik was one of the first cities to suffer.
I will tell you about what happened to Dubrovnik next week.