Yugoslavia Conflict – Tori Denney

By the late 1980s, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Warsaw Pact countries accepted free market capitalism and democracy, so the Europeans and Americans questioned whether they needed NATO’s aid and protection anymore. For this small portion of time, there was almost a break in political, economic, and border disputes. Until the 1990s, the conflicts came again, beginning with the civil wars in Yugoslavia.

Going back, to earlier times, Yugoslavia found itself split into two empires; Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire. As many years went on, the cut borders for these two empires had been rearranged uncountable times.


All was well, until after the First World War(1914-1918) when both empires crashed and the state divided into multiple smaller regions. Gathering several of these regions together were the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, making their existence under one monarchy on December 1, 1918. Government situations were difficult. The Serbs saw themselves as the center republic for unity, while the Croats favored and fought for a more federal system and individuality. In 1928, King Alexander attempted to step in to bring his nation cultural unity and stability by calling it ‘Yugoslavia – the country of the Southern Slavs’. Though, he was then assassinated 6 years later and from then on, violence rapidly flew downhill.

By the time World War Two broke out in 1939, this nation was drowning. Other outside powers had gotten involved such as Germany, Italy and near states like Bulgaria and Romania, adding extra tension to the situations. There were many perspectives, sides and complications to the civil war. Some fought for the new king that had left to return, some fought to set up a new government, some allied with Germany and some didn’t. Eventually, a new group led by Josip Broz, who called himself Tito, took a stand, over the other groups fighting for control, to defeat the Germans. This group was the Partisans. With Tito now as leader, a communist government was established reflecting the Soviet Union. This new Yugoslavia was now divided into six republics to make up a federation. There was Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with two autonomous regions individually inside of Serbia – Kosovo and Vojvodina. Tito’s new plan was supported and recognized even though few countries were worried about their Soviet Union setup.

Next, in 1948, taken by surprise, Yugoslavia broke away from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). They declared that their own form of communism, developed uniquely different from Soviets and any neighboring states, would be more efficient. Through this process, in the 1950s and 1960s, they maintained to isolate themselves from foreign affairs and remain uninvolved and independent in the world around them, shooting for economic increase. Outsiders seemed blinded from what was really going on with Tito’s state. His actions in reality were not playing out how they were made to be. Internally, he was ruling using strict political control tactics, threatening people with opposite beliefs as him, and keeping secret police handy for intimation. He was foolish and unable to correctly manage economic obstacles, but somehow, by 1974, he was made president of Yugoslavia permanently for his life span. This made citizens wonder if any hope for the restructuring of the country would come as a result of the end of Tito, or if the death of Tito would lead to the end of the state also. The regions often found reason to go to war with each other because of ethnic and religious diversity. From the very beginning two empires, many differing groups have sprouted. All of the republics contained so many varieties in population of various ethnic groups and religions; one reason they cannot get along. For example, Croatia consists of populations of Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, Hungarians, Slovenes, Czechs, Albanians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims.


The biggest tears occurred during elections of 1990. Slovenia was the first of the republics to strive for independence. Slovenia, for a long time, had the most similar ethnic groups within it, their population believed they were ready to branch off on their own, and a new government was prepared for the task of individuality in human rights, freedoms and democratic pluralism. Afterwards, Croatia voted to split from a communist government. They in fact were very wealthy and capable of taking charge of their own nation, they just went as ethnically similar to Slovenia. Much later in the year, in November, Bosnia-Herzegovina held elections. It’s ethnic groups were based off of the three main groups; Bosniak(Muslim), Serb and Croat. Each Ethnic group voted for its own political party with chairs of representation matching their population. Although the ethnicities held their own fraction of power, Bosnia-Herzegovina along with Macedonia, did not claim independence right away. They both seemed to be able to tolerate Yugoslavia’s communism as long it was a looser foundation. Serbia and Montenegro on the other hand, convinced their voters that a major change in government would result in disaster regarding jobs and economy, so they stayed communist. Milosevic, leader of Serbia, was also very patriotic and had a strong sense that Serbia was destined to improve territory in region and regain ancient glory. Up in the air, was the thought that Yugoslavia could lose all of it’s republics. Yugoslavia still had a government, an army and still had to pay many bills that is could hardly be held responsible for. On June 25, 1991 Slovenia and Croatia officially announced their independence and seceded from Yugoslavia. The Prime Minister of Yugoslavia ordered their arm(the JNA) to take control of Slovenia, but the Slovenians already had a national guard well prepared to protect. After ten days, the mini war was over and there were very few deaths. The Slovenians could now undoubtedly take great care of their own territory. Fighting then broke out in Croatia. Croatia had not only seceded from Yugoslavia by now, but also a region of that republic actually declared itself independent from Croatia(the Krajina region). Every situation was becoming worse, but no one was sure how to resolve it. Ten thousand had been killed and hundreds of thousands became homeless refugees in Croatia by the end of 1991. The United Nations sent a former U.S. secretary of state to establish a cease-fire between the forces and get the leaders to negotiate. A truce was signed in January 1992 and United Nations were sent in to monitor the cease-fire and keep themselves between the two sides. Although the fighting seemed to have stopped, there were many possibilities for further future conflict. The signing of the treaty meant more land for the Croatian Serbs and allowing the cease-fire made them sure to keep it. In January 1992, the European nations finally recognized Slovenia and Croatia as independent and in February, Bosnia-Herzegovina showed interest on independence until April when it was also recognized. By pulling out, Bosnia-Herzegovina finally killed what was left of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Serbia and Montenegro were the only republics that stayed together as the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’. Bosnia-Herzegovina was like a mini Yugoslavia. It was not fit to secede and it was struggling. Government was not a strong enough institution to keep the lid on the tensions just under the surface between it’s three major groups. Soon Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats declared their regions of the country to be autonomous, and the rest of its government fought to maintain the integrity of the republic. The internal struggles of Bosnia-Herzegovina were expanded by outside powers; the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and Serbian president Milosevic had secretly agreed to divide Bosnia up between themselves, adding its territory, and desirable ethnicities to their countries. Croat regions would be added to Croatia and Serb regions to Serbia. The war in Bosnia lasted from April 1992 to October 1995. It involved several shifts in alliances and several international attempts to end the violence. At first the main fighting was between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian government forces. It was an alliance of the Croats and Bosniaks. The Serb ethnic regions fought to break away from Bosnia, and the forces of the JNA helped them. The UN placed an arms embargo on the region, to prevent from buying more weapons, and UNPROFOR units were sent to protect UN-designated areas that were to be safe from combat and allow refugees to find escape from the violence. Many attempts though like this only made worse. The Croats after all decided to turn on the Bosniaks, so now the fighting was between three different armies. Serb units overran several of the ‘safe areas’, killed refugees, took UN forces hostage and flaunted their actions to a world that seemed unable to do anything about it. News reports were all over this disaster and the terrible “ethnic cleansing” process. Reports that over 6,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred. Other stories of mass killings, concentration camps, forced evacuations of entire villages, and even ‘rape camps’ where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted filled the news. Each side accused the other of worse  behavior.


To resolve it all, the United States became more involved, supporting expanding NATO’s role in safer measure like forbid air flight. An agreement with Croatia changed the role of the UN forces that were fighting for the old truce lines there. The UN moved its units to the official ‘border’ of Croatia thereby allowing Croatia to ‘win back’ the land lost to the Serb forces. The Croats then teamed up with the Bosniaks again and pushed the Serbs out of many areas that they had claimed. Also, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. assistant secretary of state, forced the leaders to attempt to make peace at the bargaining table. So, for three weeks in November 1995, negotiations brought about peace accords in Dayton, Ohio. The Bosnian Peace Agreement then established the leaders of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the FRY to recognize each other’s borders and sovereignty, take back their armed forces, and allow aid to get to the inhabitants and displaced refugees of the region. A tentative new government was set up for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country would be divided into two republics now. One mainly Serb, and the other Croat-Bosniak. The Dayton agreement was not perfect because many compromises had been made between leaders who didn’t trust each other. But, finally the fighting had stopped in Bosnia. The next challenge was how to keep the peace. A NATO peacekeeping force decided to maintain a close watch on the armies after separating them. But, tensions flamed out again in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1998, and again the United States and Europe stepped in. Violence threatened to spread and the US and NATO was forced to send out airstrikes in March 1999. The 77 day air campaign was the last major warfare caused by the breaking up of Yugoslavia. This campaign achieved to negotiate settlement.

As you can see, many different attempts were made to stop the conflict. European nations and the United States had difficulties in achieving peace. Pressure from the United Nations was not successful, even assisted with military presence. What was required was a forceful and decisive military action and a commitment from European nations, the U.S., Russia and the United Nations as a whole to bring a close to the conflict. These nations that used to be known as Yugoslavia are monitored, but are now able to maintain enough peace and agreement to avoid any warfare and conflict. I suggest that the United States should not get involved, but still monitor any disputes across these borders.


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