The 1990s break-up of Yugoslavia unleashed a series of bitter wars marked by atrocities, genocide and massacres that left more than 130,000 people dead. Here is some background to the Balkans wars, one of the darkest periods in Europe’s post-World War II history.
Bickering after Tito Dies
Communist Yugoslavia was a federation of six republics: Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Following the death of autocratic leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, the federation plunged into crisis with bickering between ethnic groups and surging nationalist sentiment.
The 1990s break-up of Yugoslavia unleashed a series of bitter wars marked by atrocities, genocide and massacres that left more than 130,000 people dead.
The first multiparty elections in the republics in 1990 resulted in crushing victories for their nationalists. But the largest republic, Serbia, wanted to create a single Serb state. It rallied fellow Serbs throughout the rest of Yugoslavia, notably in Bosnia and Croatia, towards this goal.
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Slovenia, Croatia Independence Wars
In June 1991 the parliaments of the most prosperous republics, Slovenia and Croatia, declared independence, triggering an immediate reaction by the Serbia-controlled army (JNA). After a 10-day conflict with local armed forces and police, the JNA withdrew from Slovenia.
But in Croatia Serbian-dominated JNA troops sided with ethnic Serb rebels who opposed independence, launching what would become a four-year war against Croatian forces in which 20,000 people were killed. The eastern town of Vukovar was razed during a siege by Yugoslav forces in autumn 1991 while the medieval Adriatic town of Dubrovnik was severely damaged.
War Erupts in Bosnia
In Bosnia, the most ethnically and religiously diverse republic, the Muslim and Croat population organised an independence referendum in February-March 1992. The vote was fiercely opposed by its Serbs, who made up about 30 percent of the total population. They boycotted but 60 percent of Bosnia’s citizens still voted for independence.
Communist Yugoslavia was a federation of six republics: Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Bosnia won international recognition as an independent republic, including admission into the United Nations. But in April 1992 war broke out, pitting Bosnia’s Serbs against its Muslims and Croats.
The Serbs were led by Radovan Karadzic and armed by the JNA; they declared that territories under their control belonged to an entity called Republika Srpska under the authority of Karadzic. Soon after, Bosnian Croats turned against the republic’s Muslims.
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Siege of Sarajevo, Srebrenica Massacre
Almost from the very beginning of the war, Bosnian Serb troops enforced a siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo which lasted 44 months. The city’s 350,000 residents struggled to get basic necessities and at least 10,000 were killed by sniping and shelling by Serbs.
In July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces took over a UN-protected “safe area” of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and massacred some 8,000 Muslim men and boys. Described by international courts as genocide, it was the worst mass killing in Europe since the end of World War II.
NATO Strikes, Peace Deal
In August 1995, amid spiralling atrocities, NATO unleashed air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions. In November 1995, the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia agreed to a peace deal following three weeks of talks in the US city of Dayton, Ohio.
Bosnia won international recognition as an independent republic, including admission into the United Nations.
The Dayton Peace Accords put an end to the devastating wars and divided Bosnia into the Serb Republika Srpska and a Muslim-Croat Federation, both falling under a central government. In December 1995, a NATO peacekeeping force deployed to the fragile country.
War then broke out in 1998 in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo between ethnic Albanian rebels seeking independence and Serbian armed forces. The fighting ended in 1999 after an 11-week bombing campaign by NATO, by which time some 13,000 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands had fled their homes.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008. It is recognised by around a hundred countries, but not by Serbia, five European Union countries, and Russia and China.
© Agence France-Presse