The various ethnic groups






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Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic state in which the component peoples have a history of hating each other.

The most recent troubles were a continuation or resumption of the civil war during the period of occupation by Nazi Germany 1941-5, when a Nazi-sponsored Croatian state massacred Serbs. This in turn was a response to the Serbian-dominated royal state of Yugoslavia which had suppressed non-Serb nationalities (or, at least some them thought it had).

While ruled by the strong dictatorship of Josip Broz (Tito) these national groups suppressed their hatred. Since his death they have revived.

(Did ordinary people hate each other? Probably much less than their leaders. There was plenty of marriage between the religious "tribes".)

The conflict was probably heightened by the collapse of the communist economy and the resulting unemployment. The northern republics were economically more successful than Serbia and the southern republics.

Actual fighting began with the attempted secession from Croatia of ethnic Serbs living in the Krajina area during early 1991. The proclaimed secession of Slovenia and Croatia at the end of June 1991 led to an attack by the Serb controlled Yugoslav Federal Army and Air Force on targets in Slovenia and later in Croatia.

The fighting in Slovenia ended when the "federal" forces withdrew, though the Serbs did not recognize Slovenia's independence and war seemed still possible. However, as Slovenia was soon recognized by the European Community as an independent state any attack would have been regarded as an international war. (Though given the paralysis of European decision making, they might not have got any help).

Slovenia has joined the EU.

War in Croatia spread to every area. In particular the Serbs tried to occupy parts of eastern Croatia (Slavonia) where there were mixed populations of Serbs and Croats.

Fighting broke out in Bosnia after it declared itself independent and some of the constituent Serbs declared themselves independent of Bosnia. The destruction in Bosnia was even worse than in Croatia. The savagery was unusual even by the standards of 20th century wars: concentration camps, mass killings, systematic rape of "enemy" women, mostly by Serbs. However, Croats also tried to annex parts of Bosnia and drove Muslims and Serbs from their property, with atrocities.

Macedonia seemed likely to become involved too with the added complication of disputes with Greece and Bulgaria, but did not become involved. War also broke out in Kosovo. The involvement of Turkey or Iran as a protector of Muslims seemed also possible. In this case Greece would have been involved as an ally of Serbia.

Some commentators feared that the war would prove a foretaste of much larger conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Could a Third World War be beginning here, where the First began? Such a war might not be a simple conflict between blocs but a generalized breakdown of peace into a sea of civil wars. These would be especially hard to suppress. Out of it might come a World Army as the only force capable of suppressing civil and regional wars and maintaining world peace. Such seems unlikely at present.

A peace agreement was signed in Dayton, Ohio in November 1995 to end conflict in Bosnia. Will it last any longer than others? Many of the parties claim they have given away "sacred" territory, a bad sign. The test would be if the refugees go back. How can they be protected from massacre? NATO troops are to keep order in Bosnia. Is this possible, without casualties? They claim they will stay only a year. What will happen next? (2011 - the EU and NATO forces are still there).

A new phase of the war broke out in March 1999 when NATO troops bombed military sites in Serbia as a response to ethnic cleansing in Kosova.

The wars have been suppressed by the presence of Peacekeeping troops from NATO and the EU.

In December 2007 there remain two potential sources of conflict: Kosovo and Bosnia. The Albanians in Kosovo continue to want independence. Serbia, backed by Russia, continue to resists the idea.
In Bosnia the Serbs continue to refuse to cooperate with the other groups.

Kosovo has declared independence, protected by NATO and EU forces. But the Serb minority in the state still don't willingly recognise the government and demand to be connected to Serbia. While they continue to wish this EU forces cannot leave.

Overall situation 2010
The former Yugoslavia seems to be more at less at peace. Possibly, slowly, the series of new states will gradually work out a way of living together without hatred and fighting. One sign of this is that rail travel has resumed between Zagreb (Croatia) and Beograd (Serbia) along what was once the main trunk route of Yugoslav Railways. Most of them should eventually become members of the European Union. Slovenia is now a full member and uses the euro. Croatia has begun accession talks. Serbia remains suspended as the government has not handed over to the International Criminal Court the worst of the war criminals, especially Ratko Mladic, the Serb military leader in Bosnia (although his political boss Radovan Karadic has been sent to the Hague to stand trial).

The main remaining problems are in Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia the Serb part of the population continue to want separation of their Republika Srpska from the agreed Federal Government which does not function without the influence of what is in fact a Governor representing the EU (the High Representative). In Kosovo the Serb districts of the north continue to regard themselves as part of Serbia. Only the peacekeeping troops prevent renewed war.

In May 2011 former commander of the Bosnian Serb forces Ratko Mladic was arrested in Vojvodina to be charged with Genocide and other war crimes. He is expected to be extradited to the UN War crimes court in the Netherlands, to join his former political commander Radovan Karadzic, already being tried.

Serbia seems to have been promised EU membership in return. Will the citizens of the other states really vote to admit this state with such a bloodthirsty reputation?

Barbara Demick - Besieged

Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street
Die Rosen von Sarajevo: Eine Geschichte vom Krieg

Last revised 18/04/12


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