The most important decisions on the federalization of Yugoslavia and the mutual demarcation of federal units

FAR-reaching decisions about which federal units would form the new Yugoslavia and within which borders they would be constituted were made by the innermost leadership of the KPJ, which in wartime consisted of a few leaders around General Secretary Josip Broz Tito, whose word was usually decisive.

DELIMITATION UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF BROZ AND KARDELJ: The most important decisions on the federalization of Yugoslavia and the mutual delimitation of federal units

Photo: Museum of Yugoslavia/Archive of Yugoslavia/Archive of Fine Arts/Profimedia/Avnoja Museum in Jajce/Documentation “Novosti” and “Borbe”

Edvard Kardelj had a more notable role in making these decisions, and then the other two so-called the big four – Aleksandar Ranković and Milovan Đilas.

It remains for us now to show how and on what basis the KPJ’s narrowest leadership carried out the territorial delimitation. We come to the discovery of these unusually significant and far-reaching historical facts, about which there is almost no mention in the preserved and published minutes of the wartime sessions of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the KPJ, quite by chance in the reconstructed shorthand notes from the session of the Presidency of Avnoj on February 24, 1945, on the occasion of the request of the Anti-Fascist People’s Assembly of the Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) and the National Anti-Fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Croatia (Zavnoh) that four and three of their representatives enter the Presidency immediately before the second session of Avnoj – in proportion to the number of inhabitants in its territory, given that Avnoj was a unicameral representative body.

On that occasion, Secretary Mile Peruničić said: “All our countries, all our federal units, were not proportionally represented in Avnoj. Such were the conditions under which we worked.” On average, there were the least number of them in Avnoj from federal Serbia. Peruničić came to this conclusion based on a comparison of the number of residents of the federal units in the then borders (February 1945), and according to the 1931 census, and the number of their representatives in Avnoj.

From this view, we first learn that, in addition to the six federal units, at that moment there were also four areas whose status and affiliation had not yet been resolved: a) Vojvodina, b) Kosovo and Metohija, c) Sandžak and g) Pancevo and Zemun. And then the note gives the following explanation about the borders of individual federal units:

Photo: Museum of Yugoslavia/Archive of Yugoslavia/Archive of Fine Arts/Profimedia/Avnoja Museum in Jajce/Documentation “Novosti” and “Borbe”

Vladimir Bakarić, Tito and Kardelj

“Slovenia was taken within the borders of the former Drava Banovina; Croatia within the borders of the former Sava Banovina with 13 sections of the former Primorska Banovina and the Dubrovnik section from the former Zeta Banovina; Bosnia and Herzegovina within the borders determined by the Berlin Treaty; Serbia within the borders before the Balkan War with sections taken from Bulgaria by the Peace of Versailles; Macedonia – Yugoslav territory south of Kačanik and Ristovac; Montenegro in the borders before the Balkan War, with the Beran and Kotor regions and Plav and Gusinje”

This was, therefore, the original territorial status that the innermost leadership of the KPJ gave to each federal unit during the war. The first thing that is surprising is the fact that, with the exception of Macedonia, the various federal units were taken in the borders where they were at different historical moments in the span of over sixty years – from 1878 to 1939. And, what is worst, for some federal units, the borders that were most favorable for them were taken, while for others, the borders that were most unfavorable for them were taken. We will show that right away.


Slovenia was taken within the borders of the Drava Banovina, which were determined by the Law on the Name and Division of the Country into Administrative Areas from 1929. According to the rest of Yugoslavia, these are also its present-day borders. There is no doubt that it was the most favorable solution for Slovenia, because practically all Slovenians in the territory of the former Yugoslavia were in one federal unit. Even the Plenum of the Liberation Front, without the prior consent of Avnoj, made a decision on the annexation of the Slovenian coast and all annexed parts of Slovenia, which interfered with relations with foreign neighboring countries – Italy and Austria.

Macedonia received the most favorable territorial status. The border about 10 and 15 kilometers south of Kačanik and Ristovac is the present-day border of Macedonia with Serbia. The advantage of this solution is reflected in the fact that there were no Macedonians north of this border, while a considerable number of Serbs, Albanians, Turks and Muslims remained within the borders of Macedonia.[…] Only the Macedonian leadership was denied the opportunity to, like the Slovenian Liberation Front and the Croatian Zavnoh, make its decision to join the motherland of parts of neighboring states inhabited by Macedonians.

Bosnia and Herzegovina also received a very favorable territorial status, given that they were taken within their historical borders, confirmed at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Precisely thanks to this, this federal unit has access to the sea near Neum, thus cutting Croatian Dalmatia into two parts. This advantage of the territorial status of Bosnia and Herzegovina has, however, a different meaning for the peoples who live there. The borders confirmed by the Congress of Berlin are, from the point of view of the interest of a nation that all its members are in one federal unit, only favorable for Muslims.

Photo: Museum of Yugoslavia/Archive of Yugoslavia/Archive of Fine Arts/Profimedia/Avnoja Museum in Jajce/Documentation “Novosti” and “Borbe”

Delegates of the Second Session of Avnoj leave Jajce in December 1943

However, they are not the best solution for Croats and Serbs, who thereby separate themselves from their home units. Because, if the principle of national homogeneity of federal units is taken as the basis of federalization, then the remaining of a large number of Croats and Serbs outside the borders of Croatia and Serbia is seriously inconsistent with that principle. To that, many will surely say that due to the mixed population, just like in Switzerland, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ethnic boundaries between Croats and Serbs and Muslims cannot be drawn at all. This is undoubtedly true, but it shows not only the validity, but also the deficiency of the principle of national homogeneity, since it could be consistently implemented in the case of the Slovenes, as far as the Yugoslav borders allowed, but could not be implemented in the same way in the case of other Yugoslavs. people.

Montenegro was taken within the borders before the First Balkan War, which means that, like Serbia later, the results of the war of liberation against the Turks were not recognized. However, unlike Serbia, Montenegro was compensated for this to a large extent, because the sections of Berane, Plav, Gusinje, which Montenegro won in the last war against Turkey, and then the Kotor section (from Herceg Novi to Bar) were added to it. which was part of Austria-Hungary at the time of the Balkan wars. Apart from the war-time Avnojeva Montenegro, the regions of Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje, Đakovica and Peć remained, which Montenegro gained in the war against Turkey.

The territorial status that Croatia received during the war is subject to different interpretations. The initial basis for its territories was the Banovina Hrvatska established by the Cvetković – Maček agreement of August 26, 1939, which, in addition to the Sava and Primorska banovinas and the Dubrovnik county, also included the counties of Ilok, Šid, Brčko and Gradačac. It should also be added that within the historical borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina Primorska, i.e. Banovina Hrvatska, included the counties of Travnik, Fojnica, Bugojno, Livno, Prozor, Konjic, Mostar, LJubuški and Duvno, i.e. a good part of Herzegovina and central Bosnia. In fact, after so many centuries, it is the first territorial and administrative unit that included three historical Croatian provinces – Croatia proper, Slavonia and Dalmatia. During the Austro-Hungarian period and earlier, Dalmatia was part of Austria, and Croatia, Slavonia and later Vojna Krajina, part of Hungary.

However, the aforementioned territory established during the war did not completely coincide with the territory of the Banovina of Croatia, but was corrected, that is, reduced by the historical borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were given priority over the borders of the former Banovina of Croatia. Thanks to this, the Herzegovinian municipalities populated predominantly by Croatians were excluded from the framework of the Banovina Hrvatska. This was also done with the sections Brčko and Gradačac in northern Bosnia. Thus, the Avnoje Croatia had a slightly smaller territory than the pre-war Banovina Croatia. We should not, however, forget that the expansion of Croatia was already being considered at that time, and without the prior consent of Avnoj, a decision was made to join Istria, Rijeka, Zadar, and the annexed parts of Croatia and the Croatian Adriatic islands to free Croatia.


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