The Roots of War
Turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and no doubtedly you will find a reference to Bosnia. You can read the happenings of the day and then ponder what is going on. From these events one can draw many conclusions and still be left with a sense of confusion. The problem with the analysis of the events is that the average individual has little if any reference to the history of the region. A true anaylisis of the events must start with the knowledge of not only the current events but also the history of the cultures, political makeup and turmoil of the region. What this paper is intended to accomplish is to give the reader a sense of why Yugoslavia splintered, why the groups attempted to extinguish members of the other nationalities, and why peace has become so hard to bring about and maintain.
The Balkans has long been a hot bed for civil and political unrest. The region has seen many wars and disputes over nationalities, religion, and land, dating back for hundreds of years. The rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, the infusion of Catholicism and Muslim beliefs, two world wars, communism and capitalism have been introduced, and several attempts at unifying the region as one nation-state have all been underlying factors in the area (Lawday 34). Still one thing remains the same; the region is still without peace. The fighting that has accrued in the 1990’s is not something that is new or unique to the times. In fact the civil war was nothing more than the wick on the powder keg finally burning to the end.
The first attempt at unifying these groups in 1918 brought with it many different ideas from the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats, bad experiences with limited autonomy under imperial rule led them to desire a confederate state of Yugoslavia. The Serbs viewed this a chance to reinstate what they believed to be the legitimate heir of Czar Dusan’s empire from medieval times (Remington 366). A confederation of sorts was born, but in 1929 King Alexander Karadjordjevic disbanded parliament and established a Serbian dictatorship (Remington 366). King Alexander viewed this as a necessity due to the fact the three-tiered parliament of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes could not come to agreement. The Croatian took this dissolution as an imposition of rule by the Serbs and assassinated King Alexander in 1934. Never the less the monarchy continued to rule for seven more years.
Hitler invaded the Yugoslav State in 1941 and drove out the monarchy setting up a token Kingdom of Croatia, run by Croatian Fascists. This leadership did not last long as Josip Broz Tito, with the help of the Soviet Union, drove the Nazis out of the region in 1945 (Walt 134). At the end of WWII the lands of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia were united under one Yugoslavia and ruled by Tito.
The name Yugoslavia itself means Land of the Southern Slavs (Lawday 34). This unification was thought to be one that would bring a never-ending peace, what was not taken into account was the fact that the single unifying factor of these people was they were all Slavs only in origin. They did not have any religious, historical, or language commonalties.
Tito used these differences in pitting the ethnic factions against one another to enhance his Communist rule. Tito accomplished this by reminding the Serbs of the massacres of Serbs during WWII by Croat Fascist. At the same time Tito, a Croat himself, pointed out the killings of Croats by Serbian Nationalist in WWII. What this effectively did was accomplish Tito’s main political theory of ruling Yugoslavia: a weak Serbia equals a strong Yugoslavia (Lawday 35). Tito broke ties with the Soviet Union in 1948, but continued the communist rule. He was subsequently elected as president for like in 1958 and ruled until his death in 1980 (Walt 134). Tito’s death left behind a legacy of ethnic hatred in wounds that had been left open to seethe since WWII. What Tito’s death failed to leave behind was a strong political institution to stabilize Yugoslavia. His death further proved that Yugoslavia was not a strong nation comprised of various peoples with ethnic diversity living together in peace, but rather an artificial creation built out of convenience and comprised of mortal enemies (Weisberger 18).
Yugoslavia inherited a bloody past of nationalist and communalist hatred (Remington 367). The Serbs in Bosnia as well as the Serbian minority had instilled the hatred in memories of the genocidal treatment during WWII. The Croats feared the Serbs would attempt to regain an autocratic rule over the region. The Croats felt a need to empower themselves to prevent such a rule. There was also a third group vying for power in the region. This came from the Ethnic Muslims in the middle land of Bosnia. The Bosnia’s felt the pressure form both the Croats and the Serbs who would eventually claim the lands of the Muslims as their own.
Yugoslavia was on a course for an inevitable split, but some how survived until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By this time Yugoslavia’s part communist, part capitalist economy was in shambles The richer Croatia and Slovenia in the north wished to rebuild ties to the Western world, while Serbia in the south was attempting to rebuild through the East.
Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s Tito’s successors took turns rotating in and out of power. All had to wrestle with the problems of nationalistic interests and economic differences throughout the region. Ethnic leader began to arise, bringing with them the promise of strong ethnic freedom and revitalization (Remington367).
Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbain party boss was the first of such to rise. He used his grand charismatic ability to build a vision of a return for Serbia to its place of power and gave hopes for the safety of all Serbs not only in the Southern Serbian region, but also the Serbs in the minority in surrounding regions were Croats are in majority. Franjo Tudjman and the Croatian Democratic Union took control of Croatia. The Muslim party headed by Alija Izetbegovic rose to power in what would become Bosnia (Remington 367).
The failure of the rulers in Yugoslavia to squash the rise of these leaders was making it increasingly harder to keep the splintering union in tact. Finally the struggle culminated June 25, 1991 as Slovene and Croatia declared themselves independent (Remington 367).
Fighting broke out shortly after the declarations pitting Croatian and Slovene armies against those of the Yugoslavian army directed by the Serbs. Communication between the leaders ceased and Serbain attention focused to control all of Yugoslavia minus Croatia and Slovene. The Muslim and Croatian leaders in Bosnia joined together and declared Bosnia free from Yugoslavia in October of 1991 (Remington 367).
The fighting continued, mainly on the Bosnian soil. Total war it the region was unavoidable. Then in a secret meeting in the town of Karadjordjevo, in the Northern providence of Vojodina Slobodan Milosevic and Franco Tudjman shook hands and made an agreement that would forever change the region. Both leaders agreed to carve up the Muslim lands of Bosnia for themselves (Udovicki 19).
Serb forces enjoyed both military and diplomatic advantages in the land grab. The diplomatic advantage was proven as Serbia was able to hold off the recognition Slovenia and Croatia for six months and of Bosnia and Macedonia for even longer (Ramet 380). The Serbs were able to make this seem like a civil war and this kept the Western World to limited intervention. In fact the only response from the West between July of 1991 and January of 1992 was to place Bosnia on the general arms embargo the UN had imposed on all five former Yugoslavian states (Ramet 380).
The UN was unknowingly encouraging the Serbs to continue aggression in the region. Bosnia’s Croat and Muslim forces were pressured to find any arms to mount a defensive from the Serb attacks. The Serbs who controlled the former Yugoslavian army and all its equipment was not feeling the pressure of the embargo. The Serbs were certainly feeling the advantage in the struggle and in fact had seized nearly thirty percent of Croatian territory by January 1992.
The actual fighting in Bosnia seemed like its own separate civil war, as the three sides Muslim, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats were all at odds. The Bosnian President and Muslim Alija Izetbegovic wished to maintain a free Muslim republic. The Bosnian Serb leader and right hand man to Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic had an alternate plan for the parts of Bosnia occupied by the Serbs (Ramet 381). Karadzic wished to join all of the Serbs in Bosnia with those in Serbia. The problem was in the simple geography of the situation. The Bosnian Serbs lived along the Croatian border; while on the Serbian border lived Coats. The Bosnian Muslims who constituted a forty-four percent majority in Bosnia were stuck in the middle (Remington 366).
The fighting continued with the international community dragging its feet, clearly finding little vested interest in the entire ordeal. The next few years saw fighting continue, attempts at negotiations fail, and peace plans rejected. One such plan was the Vance-Owen plan that would have divided Bosnia up into ten ethnic cantons. The Croats and Muslims caved into international pressures and signed this plan, but the Serbs vehemently refused in January 1993 (Ramet 381).
The Coats feeling the weakness of the West in their region decided to strike a deal with the Serbs The deal would divide Bosnia into three parts with the Serbs taking 52 percent, Croats 18 percent, and leaving the Muslims 30 percent. It looked as if this plan was going to bring peace, but the Muslims this time rejected the primarily Coat-Serbian plan.
The European Union decided it was time to make an attempt at resolving the conflict in June of 1994. By this time the Croats had joined forced with the Muslims to create a Croat-Muslim federation headed by Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. The UN and European Union mediators devised a third plan that would give the Coat-Muslim federation 51 percent of Bosnia and the other 49 percent would go to the Serbs. The UN also promised to lift economic sanctions off the Serbs if they signed and threatened to lift the arms embargo on the Croat-Muslims if they refused. The Serbs took the latter for what it was and called the bluff refusing to sign (Ramet 384). So the fighting continued.
The US decided to step in and try to resolve the conflict. Over the next year the US saw some small signs of movement toward resolution. Finally on November 1, 1995 leaders of all sides met in Dayton Ohio to start peace talks (US Dispatch 27). On November 21, the parties agreed on a settlement and initialed the Dayton Peace Accords.
The Dayton Peace Accords called for a continued cease-fire in the region that would begin the peace process. The accords further called for the return of Sarajevo to the Federation of Bosnia but it was to be open to all people of the country. A land corridor named the Gorazde Strip will remain open to link the land of the Federation together. Election, a constitution, and human rights were other topics contained in the agreement.
Have the Dayton Peace Accords worked? It is still too early to make that type of analysis. The UN has committed troops and seen a great resistance from dissident groups throughout Bosnia. It has been and will continue to be a slow grinding process to bring peace to the Balkans. The slowness of the process should come as no surprise to outsiders; it makes only perfect sense for it to be slow. These peoples have been at odds for hundreds of years and have had many factors accumulating to their hatred of one another. The West in its quick fix attitude has found it difficult to deal with these groups and at time almost gave up. The continued presence of UN troops in Bosnia and the movement toward fulfillment of the accords may eventually bring about a final resolution in this conflict. The UN must always keep in mind that the resolution will take many, many years and must be prepared for a long involvement.
Lawday, Davis. “Doomed by the Ancient Disease.” US News and World Report 19
Ramet, Sabrina. ” The Bosnian War and the Diplomacy of Accommodation.” Current
History 93.586 (1994): 380-386
Remington, Robin A. “Bosnia: The Tangled Web.” Current History 92.577 (1993):
Udovic Jasminka. “Uncivil War.” Village Voice 18 May 1993: 19-20
US Department of State Dispatch Vol 6 Sup 5 Dec 1995
Walt, Vivienna. “What are they Fighting For?” Mademoiselle 99.11 (1993): 134-135