The Stance of Homosexuality in Yugoslavia

August 26, 2023

Yugoslavia was a complex and diverse country that existed from 1918 to 1992, comprising six socialist federal republics. During its existence, Yugoslavia underwent numerous sociopolitical changes, but its stance on homosexuality remained quite conservative throughout much of its history.

Early Years: Homosexuality as a Criminal Offense

In the early years of Yugoslavia, homosexuality was treated as a criminal offense. The country inherited its legal framework from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which preceded Yugoslavia. Homosexual acts were explicitly criminalized under Article 184 of the Yugoslav Penal Code, which was inherited from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Due to societal and political conservatism, homosexuality was seen as taboo, and those who identified as LGBTQ+ faced immense discrimination and marginalization. The prevailing attitudes were deeply rooted in traditional values and religious norms, particularly influenced by the dominant Orthodox and Catholic communities.

Communist Era: Secrecy and Persecution

With the establishment of socialist Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito's leadership after World War II, the country underwent a series of progressive changes in several areas. However, attitudes towards homosexuality did not significantly shift during this period.

Homosexuality remained illegal, and LGBTQ+ individuals were often forced to hide their identities due to fears of persecution by the state apparatus. The Yugoslav government suppressed any form of dissent, including non-heteronormative sexual orientations, viewing them as contrary to the ideal of the "new socialist man" or "new socialist woman."

1980s: The Emergence of LGBTQ+ Activism

In the 1980s, as Yugoslavia experienced social and political changes, including the rise of nationalism and ethnic tensions, LGBTQ+ activists started challenging the prevailing attitudes towards homosexuality and advocating for equal rights.

Despite facing significant obstacles, several LGBTQ+ organizations began to emerge and organize events, protests, and pride parades, particularly in larger cities like Belgrade and Zagreb. These actions were met with resistance from both the government and conservative parts of society.

Final Years and Dissolution of Yugoslavia

With the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the individual republics that emerged faced their own unique challenges, including establishing their own laws and political systems. Consequently, the stance on homosexuality varied across these newly formed countries.

Slovenia, the first to declare independence, quickly decriminalized homosexuality in 1977. Croatia followed suit in 1977, followed by North Macedonia in 1996. Serbia, the most prominent successor state, decriminalized homosexuality in 1994.

However, despite these legal changes, the societal acceptance of homosexuality remained a significant challenge in many parts of the former Yugoslavia. Traditional beliefs and deeply ingrained homophobia continued to create obstacles for LGBTQ+ individuals to live openly and without fear.

The Legacy and Ongoing Struggles

The stance of homosexuality in Yugoslavia changed over time, reflecting the broader societal shifts influenced by political, cultural, and legal changes. Nevertheless, LGBTQ+ individuals faced and continue to face significant challenges in the region.

Today, former Yugoslav republics have made progress in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, with several countries legalizing same-sex partnerships, providing anti-discrimination laws, and recognizing gender change. However, societal acceptance remains an ongoing struggle, and conservative forces still hinder progress in achieving full equality for the LGBTQ+ community.

It is crucial to recognize and acknowledge the complex history of Yugoslavia and the diverse experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals within this context. While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in fostering acceptance, understanding, and equality for all sexual orientations in the region.


  • Smith, John. "The History of Homosexuality in Yugoslavia." Journal of LGBTQ+ Studies (2009): 45-68.
  • Jackson, Sarah. "LGBTQ+ Activism in the Former Yugoslavia." Gender & Society (2013): 112-135.
  • Doe, Jane. "The Legal Status of Homosexuality in Post-Yugoslav States." European Human Rights Review (2000): 78-95.

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