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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Former Yugoslavia


Map of the Balkan Peninsula from the CIA World Factbook.

Yugoslavia was created in the aftermath of World War I and was originally called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and renamed Yugoslavia by King Alexander in 1929 until its dissolution in 1992. The dissolution of Yugoslavia was a result of 4 intertwining conflicts that enveloped the western Balkan region. Yugoslavia was a country that lied on the southeastern borders of Europe that contained three major ethnic groups, the Serbs, the Croats, and Slovenes. Yugoslavia was a culturally and religiously diverse segment of the Balkans that contained Eastern Orthodox faiths, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Yugoslavia became an independent communist state 1948. It was a federation of six republics that included Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. There were also two autonomous unites, Kosovo and Vojvodina, that were located in Serbia.

The Yugoslav Wars encompassed a mix of ethnic conflicts and civil wars between several republics fighting for sovereignty from the government on Belgrade. On June 25th, 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence, resulting with a push from the Yugoslav People’s Army towards Croatia on the following day. Incursions include the War in Slovenia (1991) and the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). The Bosnian War, which intertwines with the Yugoslav war, took place from 1992 to 1995. Major conflicts of the Yugoslav wars consist of the Siege of Sarajevo (April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996) and the Srebrenica Massacre (July 11-22, 1995). Later in the wars, the Croats turned on the Bosnians. It turned into a war between three different armies, the Croats, the Bosnians, and the Serbians and their individual ideas. The Croats and the Serbs wanted what they considered to be their people and their land in the centralized territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Each side blamed the other for the committed atrocities while committing atrocities themselves.

The Siege of Sarajevo began on April 5th, 1992 and lasted for over three and a half years. The conflict spiraled out of control after a series of protesters were shot and killed by Serb gunmen at a peace rally. Once the fighting began, Serbs began shelling civilian areas from higher ground, destroying national landmarks, homes, and irreplaceable historical documents. The conflict also cut the cities supply of electricity, water, and communications. Sarajevo’s civilians were terrorized by wanton sniper shootings and aerial bombardment. The hidden snipers took out civilians on both sides, UN peacekeepers, firefighters, women and children; no one was safe from the snipers that hid amongst the high rise buildings. Serb forces overran several of the ‘safe areas’, killed refugees, mourners attending funerals, people attempting to flee, and took UN forces hostage. These are only select examples of genocidal violence that was the norm for the tumult that went through the regions. More than 10,000 people died in these raids.

The Bosnian town of Srebrenica was designated as a United Nations Safe Area during the Bosnian War in April 1993. Despite the presence of Dutch forces, Srebrenica was overtaken by a paramilitary force from Serbia known as the “Scorpions” and an even larger force known as the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) in July of 1995. Thousands of Bosnian Muslim men were separated from their families and killed, while the women and children were deported to Muslim territory. Those who tried to escape through the mountains were killed. Meanwhile, Dutch peacekeepers were taken hostage. It is estimated that within a five-day period, over 8,000 Muslims were killed and 25,000 to 30,000 women and children deported. Following the Srebrenica Massacre, negotiations between the UN and Bosnian Serbs ensued, resulting in Dutch forces retreating, leaving all supplies behind.

Areas occupied by the Bosnian Muslims or the Croats evicted nearly 100,000 Serbs from their homes. A cease-fire was announced on all sides of the conflict on October 10, 1995, but the shooting did not actually stop until October 15, when each side dug themselves into a defensive position on both sides of the Confrontation Line. This is when the division of Bosnia by its civilian’s ethnicity became a harsh reality. The Dayton Peace Accords were enacted on November 21, 1995 and signed in Paris, France on December 14, 1995. NATO’s Implementation Force (IFOR) deployed 60,000 armed personnel to make sure the Accords were followed. The armed forces stayed there from December 20, 1995 to December 20, 1996.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was founded in 1991 and made their first widespread appearance in 1993. In early 1998, the KLA began to attack Serb army bases and police stations. Months later in the middle of 1998, the KLA was gaining ground until an attack that went wrong sent Serbian troops to take back territory. The KLA wanted to provoke the Serbs into committing attrocities and the Serbs obliged. Along with the rumours the the KLA was connected to organized crime, the heroin trade, and the chaotic situation in Albania, the mixture of idelogies and the way the leadership was shadowed and diveded among Marxists and Islamists. Even with these issues with the organization they did have widespread support.

A brief cease-fire between ethnic Albanian and Serbian forces ended in several incidents around the contested western Balkans. One of which was the Panda Bar Massacre, a brutal KLA attack on Kosovo Serbian teenagers in the city of Pec on December 14, 1998. The Račak Massacre on January 15, 1999 was another act of violence attributed to the Milosevic regime. 45 Kosovo Albanians were found mutilated and shot at close range.

The Rambouillet Agreement lasted from January 30, 1999 till March 23, 1999. Ultimately, the Albanians and the Serbians were unable to reach a peace agreement. After that, the threats to Milosevic by NATO (to entice Milosevic to reach a peace agreement) now had to be implemented. The NATO air raids began on the night of March 24, 1999 and continued for seventy-eight days. The air raids reached Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Reactionary killings started soon after the first NATO bombs were dropped on Belgrade.

Twelve hours after the beginning of the NATO air raids. The Bela Crkva Massacre occurred on March 25, 1999 when Serbian forces found two ethnically Albanian families hiding under a bridge. The Albanians had fled their homes in the early morning when Serb forces started to burn their village. After twelve members of the two families were shot, the Serb forces went to other groups of fleeing villagers and proceeded to separate the men from the women and children. However the Serbian forces placed any boy twelve or over with the men; once the men were grouped together, they were ordered to remove their clothing and the Serbian forces looted for any valuables the men had on their person. After the search, the men were ordered to put their clothing back on. The women and children were ordered to walk along the railroad tracks towards Zrze. While the women and children were walking down the tracks, several women heard gunfire that lasted without interruptions for several minutes. Several men were wounded but were able to hide under the bodies of the other victims in the stream to escape death. Sixty-two Albanians were executed in the end.

The bombing of Yugoslavia ended on June 10, 1999 when Milosevic finally understood that Russia was not coming to his aid. The Serbs had lost the war. In the deal that was made within the Security Council Resolution 1244 Serbian forces had to withdraw from Kosovo and replaces by NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) who came in on June 12, 1999. Those peace forces are still there today although reduced in the number of troops on the ground. Under the deal Serbian forces would have been allowed to return later on to maintain a presence but that never occurred because the KFOR has never deemed the region safe enough for those Serbian troops to return.

In February 2002, Slobodan Milosevic went on trial for genocide committed in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. On March 11, 2006, Milosevic was found dead in his cell at The Hague, and the trial ended without verdict. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been on trial from 2009 to the present. Karadzic faces charges of genocide and war crimes that occurred during the Bosnian war.

Recommended Resources

Miki Jacevic Bosnian Survivor  
Pierre-Richard Prosper Special Counsel and Policy Advisor to the Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues  
David Scheffer U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues  

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