Tito did not nominate a successor. After his death in 1980, an eight-member Presidency was formed with representatives from the six republics and the two autonomous provinces. The Presidency was rotational, with a new representative from each republic taking on the leadership role each year. The forces of centralism and fragmentation increasingly confronted each other in this forum.

Ethnic tensions rose following Tito’s death, and the Yugoslav federation began to unravel.

Economic meltdown

Economic conditions worsened, partly due to by austerity measures introduced under international pressure. Strikes became more frequent (there were 900 in 1987) and large-scale enterprises, which had run on "false" credit, collapsed. Such crises prompted calls for further changes in the country's constitution and economy, which fell into two broad trends:

  • Greater decentralization and more republic financial and political autonomy, particularly in the wealthier republics of Croatia and Slovenia.
  • Greater central management and the redistribution of resources, to help out the poorer regions, particularly in Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

By 1982, Yugoslavia had $20 billion in foreign debt. Unemployment was up, real wages down and inflation rising sharply. International Monetary Fund intervention was directed through the federal government, restoring some of the power ceded in the 1974 constitution.


There was fierce infighting within the communist parties of the Republics, and in 1987 Slobodan Milošević became the party head in Serbia, with his mission to re-centralize Serbia. The autonomy of Vojvodina was quickly rescinded, and Milošević then turned his attention to Kosovo: with loyal allies in Montenegro and with Macedonia largely dependent upon Serbia, he controlled half of the Presidency's eight seats, and thus had the power to push constitutional recentralization.

In Kosovo, Milošević's bid to control the local party led to overt resistance from Kosovo's Albanians—from intellectuals to miners. Military rule was again imposed, and in 1989 Milošević delivered his infamous "Kosovo Polje" speech, on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, where he integrated Serbian nationalism into his communist-style centralism. Slovenian and Croatian leaders expressed solidarity with the Kosovo Albanian stand, and denounced Serbia’s actions as illegal. Milošević nonetheless installed a virtual puppet regime in Kosovo.

Countdown to war

In multiparty elections in 1990, former communists won only in Serbia and Montenegro. The moderate pan-Yugoslav Reform party founded by Yugoslavia Prime Minister Ante Marković, had limited success and was eventually marginalized by the nationalists and communists everywhere except Macedonia.

The eight-member presidency continued to meet, with Milošević firmly controlling four votes. In May 1991 he mobilized that block vote to prevent the Croatian representative, Stipe Mesić, from heading the presidency.

This was the last straw for Croatia and Slovenia; both declared independence on June 25, 1991. The war in Slovenia started two days later.

Macedonia voted for independence in September 1991 and successfully negotiated the peaceful withdrawal of Yugoslav army from its territory.