First of all, who is “we”?
Here’s an excellent talk by historian Michael Parenti in which he not only deals with that question, but also the question you asked in your post, among other things.
Even though Yugoslavia’s story goes back a long way, let’s start with the Second World War, in which the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and butchered by the Nazis, Italian Fascists, and local fascist parties like the Croatian Ustashe and Bosniak Muslim Jihadis recruited by the Nazis. These elements fought one of the most vicious counter-insurgencies of the modern era, against two main groups of resisters: The Chetniks, who were basically conservative nationalists. They weren’t just Yugoslav monarchists, they were Serbian first and foremost; and the Partisans, who were multiethnic leftists led by Josip Broz Tito. The Chetniks sometimes collaborated with the Axis, but the Partisans had purer motives, and largely succeeded in liberating Yugoslavia without Red Army help.
Independent Yugoslavia was thus not under the Soviet boot, and so it was feasible, a few years later, for Tito to split with Stalin after Tito’s economists explained to him that the Soviet Union wasn’t really a good model to follow. Yugoslavia developed a form of socialism with a great deal of power decentralized and devolved to workers’ councils, rather than dictated from Belgrade. Look up workers’ self-management, autogestion, Titoism, and so on. Economically, it has a lot in common with anarchism and council communism. The Yugoslav economy did very well, taking a ravaged country that was not terribly wealthy before the war, and building considerable broad-based prosperity.
There was no “Yugoslav Wall,” and citizens could travel and emigrate. It was not a free country, but most of Tito’s repression was directed at ethnic nationalists and such. Discontent still erupted, and some of the first 1968 protests occurred there. Tito got a bit too ambitious, and borrowed money from the IMF with few other options, and before there was a clear understanding of just how much of a loan-shark that institution is/was.
In 1980, Tito died, and the usual story is that his successors could not keep a lid on ethnic tensions. That’s part of it, but the full story is that Washington (and London, Bonn/Berlin, Paris, etc.) did not look kindly on a state developing outside (and against!) the neoliberal capitalist model, and getting away with it. Documents from that era state this, and not only were the harsh IMF reforms tearing apart the economy and society, groups like the National Endowment for Democracy were funding and supporting separatist elements in the different republics.
The war broke out in the early 90s, and notably the Slovenians were able to get out of the war and out of Yugoslavia very quickly, because there were few Serbs living there unhappy with their new leaders. I’m not saying that Serbian nationalism wasn’t a big factor, but a lot of that was due to Milosevic and company being completely unwilling to let Serbs (and other anti-secessionists) get marooned in breakaway republics, under regimes that were tearing apart the union. To Americans, this should sound familiar.
It took a few years and some domestic and international political wrangling, but NATO intervened briefly in 1995 to assist Bosnia and Croatia’s exit, and on a much greater scale in 1999 to dismember the rest of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, effectively creating a semi-independent Kosovo). The motive wasn’t humanitarian. The Serb atrocities were usually larger, but that’s often due to circumstances of ability and opportunity. Hell, the Kosovo Liberation Army started the last phase of the war, and Serbs (and Romani/Gypsies) have been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo ever since.
Yugoslavia never recovered from all of this, and thus several of these republics are part of the general European neoliberal system, even if they aren’t in the EU. They can look over at Greece, the only NATO member to adamantly refuse to participate in the 1999 bombings, and see the results of decades of welfare for the rich and free markets for the rest. Interestingly, in Greece, there is apparently a movement of people responding to the crisis by taking control of workplaces and running it themselves … like a workers’ council! The powers that be don’t like that.