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Localizing the International: Yugoslavia and the Trieste Controversy, 1945-1954


Scholars have traditionally looked at the Trieste controversy as an early indicator of Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union. Consequently, this approach often regulates the role of local actors and perspectives as subordinate to the desires of larger powers in the unfolding East-West struggle. This thesis seeks to focus on one of the local actors, Yugoslavia, in order to address two central questions: How did Yugoslavia respond to the Trieste crisis? What did this response represent in the larger context of the Cold War from the Yugoslav perspective? This paper reveals that the Yugoslav response adapted significantly over time, but Yugoslav policy maintained at its core a concern for reclaiming national territory, protecting the Slavic population of the area, and rejecting foreign interference in the affairs of smaller states. Much of Yugoslavia’s argument centered around what it viewed as a long history of aggressive Italian imperialism against the South Slav peoples and accusations that Italy was courting Western support on illegitimate grounds. As the controversy continued to grow and Yugoslavia found itself isolated in the wake of the Tito-Stalin split, however, foreign interference became pivotal in Yugoslav arguments to explain the escalation of the event beyond its local context and foreground the continual denial of self-determination for South Slavic people. Eventually, the Trieste controversy transformed from an acute Italo-Yugoslav foreign policy issue into a symbol of Yugoslavia rejecting the Cold War bloc system as a threat to the independence of small states and a hindrance to the development of peaceful coexistence based on respect for sovereignty and self-determination.

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