On April 7, 1963, a new Yugoslav constitution proclaims Tito the president for life of the newly named Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Formerly known as Josip Broz, Tito was born to a large peasant family in Croatia in 1892. At that time, Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in 1913 Broz was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. After the outbreak of World War I, he fought against Serbia and in 1915 was sent to the Russian front, where he was captured. In the prisoner-of-war camp, he converted to Bolshevism and in 1917 participated in the Russian Revolution. He fought in the Red Guard during the Russian Civil War and in 1920 returned to Croatia, which had been incorporated into the multinational but Serb-dominated kingdom of Yugoslavia.
He joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) and was an effective organizer before his arrest as a political agitator in 1928. Released from prison in 1934, he rapidly rose in the ranks of the CPY and took the name Tito, which was a pseudonym he used in underground Party work. He went to the USSR to work with Comintern–the Soviet-led international Communist organization–and in 1937-38 survived Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s purge of the CPY leadership. In 1939, Tito became secretary-general of the CPY.
In 1941, Axis forces invaded and occupied Yugoslavia, and Tito and his communist partisans emerged as the leaders of the anti-Nazi resistance. In 1944, Soviet forces liberated Yugoslavia, and in March 1945 Marshal Tito was installed as head of a new federal Yugoslav government. Non-communists were purged from the government, and in November 1945 Tito was elected Yugoslav premier in an election limited to candidates from the communist-dominated National Liberation Front. The same month, the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, comprising the Balkan republics of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, was proclaimed under a new constitution.
Although the Yugoslav republics were granted autonomy over some of their affairs, Tito held the ultimate power and ruled dictatorially, suppressing opposition to his rule. He soon came into conflict with Moscow, which disapproved of his independent style, especially in foreign affairs, and in early 1948 Joseph Stalin attempted to purge the Yugoslav leadership. Tito maintained control, and later in 1948 the CPY was expelled from Cominform, the confederation of Eastern European communist parties. Isolated from the USSR and its satellites, Yugoslavia was courted by the West, which offered aid and military assistance, including an informal association with NATO. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Yugoslav-Soviet relations gradually improved, but Tito was critical of the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and attempted to develop common policies with countries unaligned with the United States or the USSR, such as Egypt and India.
In 1953, Tito was elected Yugoslav president and was repeatedly re-elected until 1963, when his term was made unlimited. Although he used his secret police to purge political opponents, the average Yugoslavian enjoyed more freedoms than the inhabitants of any other communist country in Eastern Europe. Tito died in May 1980, just a few days before his 88th birthday.
After the collapse of communism in 1989, ethnic tensions resurfaced, and in 1991 the Yugoslav federation broke apart, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro remaining in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1992, civil war erupted over Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s attempts to keep ethnically Serbian areas in other republics under Yugoslav rule. In March 1999, NATO began airstrikes against the Milosevic regime in an attempt to end genocide in Kosovo and enforce the area’s autonomy. In October 2000, Milosevic was ousted in a popular revolution. He was then arrested and charged with crimes against humanity and genocide. He died on March 11, 2006, in prison in the Hague, before his trial ended.