Yugoslav Wars of Independence/Civil Wars (1991-95)

Figure 1.--Here children playing war games in Sarajevo in the midst of the Yugoslav Civil War. The Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre would become the iconic symbols of the war and it all unfolded on European television screens night after night. Image courtesy of the .militaryhistoryofthe20thcentury.com website.

The impact of the revolutions throughout Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism was different in Yugoslavia than the rest of Eastern Euriope. Yugoslavia had not been a part of the Soviet empire and the regime in Belgrade did not fall. The events did, however, enspire nationalist groups outside of Serbia who looked on the Serb-dominated government much as other Eastern Europeans looked on the Soviets. There was no rise of progressive, Western-oriented leaders, but the growth of nationalist forces led by former Communist finctionries. In many ways they were old-fashioned. reviving the nationalist agendas that had been supressed during Tito's rule. Pursuing these nationlist agendas commonly meant suppressing democratic practices and human rights--just the oppositecof what was occurring in the rest of Eastern Europe. At the center of this Slobodan Milosevic, but there were others like Tudjman were cut from the same cloth. Milosevic was a Serb leader, but also controlled the Yugoslav central government and used it in an effoirt to prevent the various other ethnic groups from seceeding. Here he had the advantage of the almost entirely Serb army/. In that effort he launched four and lost four wars, resulting several hundred thousand deaths and the sewing of ethnic hatred that still festers in the countries that formed from the former Yugoslavia. Milosivich supported Serb para-military groups to seize control of large areas of Bosnia and supress the Kosovars in Kosovo. None of the contending ethnic groups are without blame. Croat forces also carried out attricities against Sebs and Muslims in Bosnia. European countries were unable to deter him. Only the reluctant and tardy threat of Amercan force stoped Milosivich in Bosnia.

Slovenia (1991)

The prosperous republic of Slovenia and Croatia were unilling to subsidize less-developed Serbia or to participate in a finally corupt centralized federal government dominated by Milosivich and the Serbs. Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence (June 25, 1991). Slovenia took control of its border crossings. Quickly organized defense forces blockaded federal (largely Serbian) army bases. The slovenes captured about 2,300 federal soldiers. Milosivich ordered the federal army to regain control in Slovenia. The federal moved armored units throuhj Croatia toward Slvenia. The federal air force bombed the the Slovene capital Ljubljana (primarily the air port) and some border posts. Scattered fighting occured, finally ending in mid-July 1991. There were some deaths, but fighting was notv intense. The federal army made the mistake of using poorly motivated conscripts to restore federal authority. The federal army was forced to withdrew its tanks and troops, in part because of the deteriorating situation in Croatia which had also declared independence. The international community quickly recognized Slovenian independence. The European Community recognized Slovenia as an independent state (February 1992). Slovenia was also admitted to the United Nations (May 1992).

Croatia (1991-95)

The Czech experiment with democratic socialism stuck a cord with young croats. There were pro-Czech demonstratiins in Croatia (1968). The demonstrations were spontanenous and not organized through exisdting Communist Prty student groups. This did not help the Czechs who were supressed by the Soviet Red Army. There was, however, a practical development in Croatia. Students began organizing groups outside the control of ther Party. Within these groups there was fostered an interest in Croatian history and culture. Under Tito, nationalist thought had been supressed. There was, as a result, a kind of ethnic renewal in Croatia, And awkward economic facts began to surface. Many young Croats learned for the first time how the Yugoslav government was transfering funds from the relatively developed north (Slovenia and Croatia) to the less developed south (Serbia). There had been since the creation of Yugoslavia, a strong Croat separtist movement. The terrible ethnic killings and attrocities occuring during World War II showed just how deep these fellings were. As a result, separatist feeling grew in Croatia after the Czech revolution. Croat cultural organization that had been organized in the 19th century during the Austrian era were revived. The most important was was Matica Hrvatska (Matica means "queen bee"). Matica Hrvatska was founded in 1842 and to evade Government supression oprated as a cultural organization. The Croat revival began while Tito was still allive. Croat students sang patriotic songs, defying a Government ban (1971). Matica Hrvatska proposed an entirely new Croatian constitution. It would have given Croatia the right to secede from Yugoslavia. And Croatian would be recognized as the state language instead of Serbo-Croatian. Catholics began criticising the Serbian Orthodox Church. Croats moved to stop Serb education in Cyrillic. The Government responded with a wide spread crackdown, arresting prominent Croat-nationalist leaders. Among those arrested was Franjo Tudjman, a World War II partisan and former Communist leader. He would later becone the first president of an independent Croatia. The death of Tito (1980) removed the strongest voice for supressing nationist thought in Yugoslavia. Like Slovenia, Croatia also declared independence (June 25, 1991). Croatian independence was an even greater challenge to Milosivich than Slovenia. While Slovenia was relatively ethnically homogeneous, Croatia had a substantial Serbian minority, largely concentrated in easten and southern Croatia.

Bosnia (1992-95)

Fighting in Bosnia brokeout and became a vicious civil war (1992). Estimates suggested that 250,000 people were killed in the Bosnian Civil War. Another 20,000 people are missing and believed to have been killed. Over 300 mass graves have been found throughout Bosnia. Not all have been exhumed but the remains of about 18,000 have been exhumed as of mid-2004. Those killed include members of all three major groups (Croats, Muslims, and Serbs, but the majority of thise killed were Muslims killed (in many cases executed) by Serbs. The United Nations guaranted the safety of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. The United Nations had declared Srebrenica to be a safe haven. In the end Dutch U.N. peace keepers were ordered to abandon the Muslims to the Serbs. Bosnian Serb military and police units aided by special para-military forces proceeded to murder as many as 8,000 Muslim boys and men (1995). Bosnian military commander Ratko Mladic has been called 'the spiritual father and executioner of ethnic cleansing'. The chilling photograph on the previous page shows Mladic patting a Bosnian Muslim boy on the cheek. At the time, his men were killing Muslim men and older youth. Mladic even passed out candy to the children in the town square. Meanwhile his men were preparing the slaughter of the men and older boys. The younger children and women were allowed to leave. This has been well documented, although denined by the Serbs. Bosnian Serb officials in 2004 finally admitted Serb complicity. [Krilic] The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal have declared it an act of genocide. The U,N. and Bosniann investigators have found the remains of about 5,000 bodies in numerous mass graves throughout eastern Bosnia. More are being found all the time. About 1,200 victims have been identified as from Srebernica through DNA testing. Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, Bosnian Serb military commander, have been indicted by the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the Srebrenica and other Serb attrocities. The Srebrenica massacre was the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. Most Europeans thought that such attricities were no longer possible. The shock finally promoted an American led NATO intervention. The fighting in Bosnia ended with the Dayton Peace Accords (1995). Bosnia is now divided into a Serb-Bosnia Federation and a Croat-Muslim Federation. NATO troops act as peace keepers. Karadzic was arrested (2008), Mladic his ubntil (2011).


Serbian nationalism has deep roots in Kosovo. The medieval Serbian kingdom was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire after Lazar was killed at the disatrous battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. The medieval history of Serbs and Albanians is confused, but Serbs came to see the Albanians as colaborators with the Turks and thus traitors. The actual history is much more complex. Various of Lazar’s descendants ruled in a much reduced Serbia as Despots under the Turks until the late 16th century, and a further descendant George (16??-1711) established his rule there in the early 18th century. While Kosovo was seen as the heartland of the Serbian nation by many Serbs fewer and fewer Serbs actually lived there. After World War II, Kosovo became largely populated by ethnic Albanians. Reports of attacks on Kosovo's dwingling Serbian minority circulate in Serbia. Milosivich plays on these fears. He speaks at a commeoration of the Battle of Kosovo pledging that Kosovo will forever be Sebian. Serb authorities ininiate a program to exclude Kosovars from public jobs and universities. The Serbs also establish a brutal police state to stamp out Albanian resistance. Prominant Kosovars were arrested. The Albanians form the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Funding and supplies for the KLA are obtained in the United States. [Sullivan] The KLA carried out attacks on the Serbs in Kosovo. The result was a brutal Serb repression. The Serbs launched a military campaign to drive Kosivars out of Kosovo. Serb military and para-military forces terrorized civilians. Villages were razed and their inhabitants shot. Whole towns were emptied of Kosvars. There were shooting, rapings, and terrible attroicities, all imed at driving the Kosovars into neighboring Albania. This was clearly ethnic cleansing, others labeled in genocide. The press reports of the Serb attrocities and suffering of the Kosovars brought cries for international intervention. The actual use of force was needed in Kosovo. In both cases the United Nations was unable to act. Finally when the U.N. failed to act, the United States acted through NATO. After the NATO launched a bombing campaign, the Serbs were forced out of Kosovo but before leaving destroyed as much as possible. Estimates of the Kosovars killed by the Serbs vary widely. Press reports at the time sited figures of nearly 0.2 million people. Other accounts estimate as few as 10,000 Kosovars were killed. NATO is now keeping the peace in Kosovo, buth ethnic tensions still simner. The status of Kosovo is still unresolved.


Unlike other regions of Yugoslavia, there was little fighting in Macedonia. Unlike other areas of Yugoslavia, there were few well-establshed Serbian communities. There were long-established Serbian communities in both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia. Serbs had lived in both regions for years. Serbs had been resent, for example, in Krajina Croatia) ince the 16th century). With the rise of Serbia (19th century), Serb populations were planted in areas. These Serb populations were an argument to seize the land and form a Great Serbia as well as an imprtant support for that effort. The Serbian Government both funded and supplied these communities. It is easier to seize control of an area with a friendky civilian population. Thus the Serbs pulled back from Slovenia and did not attempt to seize control of Macedonia, rather they focused on Boisnia an Croatia.


Montenegro unlike other parts of Yugoslavia did not have strong local nationalist sentiment. For the most part, Montenegons identified with the Serbs. Montenegran authorities as Yugoslavia broke up supported Milošević's war-effort. Montenegro during the 1991–1995 Bosnian and Croatian Wars (1992-95), Montenegro committed its police and military forces to attacks on Dubrovnik, Croatia, supporting Serb fore. Montenegro mobilized its reservists who and fought on the Dubrovnik front. Prime Minister Milo Đukanović frequently visited Montenegran units involved in the fighting. Montenegro following a refeendum to join Serbia in the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY)-- a euphonism for Greater Serbia (April 1992). Monetenegro also supported Serb attacks on Bosnian towns. These actions were aimed at acquiring more territory as part of anb effortvto build Geater Serbia. There was a clear pattern of systematic violations of human rights that had become thge norm in the ret of Europe. Montenegrin General Pavle Strugar has been convicted for his role in bombing Dubrovnik. [14] Montenegram authorities arrested Bosnian refugees and transported them to to Serb camps in Foča. Here they suffered mistreatmenbt, torture, and execution of the men and older boys. The United Nations imposed an embargo on the FRY (May 1992). This severely affected the Montenegro economy which began to become a hun for governmrnt-supported smuggling.


Krilic, Samir. "Bosnian Serbs admit to massacre," Washington Post June 12, 2004, p. 11. The findings are based on the work of the Srebrenica Commission cwhich was omposed of Serb judges and lawyers, a represenarve for the victims, and an international expert.


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Created: 11:04 PM 4/12/2012
Last updated: 11:39 AM 6/20/2018