The Yugoslav Wars were a series of violent conflicts fought in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995 (with wars and ensuing infighting still continuing within the region). The wars were complex: they have been characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs (and to a lesser extent, Montenegrins) on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks (and to a lesser degree, Slovenes) on the other; but also between Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia (in addition to a separate conflict fought between rival Bosniak factions in Bosnia). The wars ended in various stages, mostly resulting in full international recognition of new sovereign territories, but with massive economic disruption to the successor states.
Often described as Europe's deadliest conflicts since World War II, they have become infamous for the war crimes they involved, including mass ethnic cleansing. They were the first conflicts since World War II to be formally judged genocidal in character and many key individual participants were subsequently charged with war crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations to prosecute these crimes.
Although tensions in Yugoslavia had been mounting since the early 1980s, it was 1990 that proved the decisive year in which war became more likely. In the midst of economic hardship, the country was facing rising nationalism amongst its various ethnic groups. At the last 14th Communist Party conference in January 1990, the Serbian-dominated congress voted down Slovenian proposals for an end to the one-party system and for economic reform. This prompted the Slovenian and Croatian delegations to walk out and thus the break-up of the party, a symbolic event representing the end of "brotherhood and unity".
The Yugoslav Wars may be considered to comprise of three separate but related wars:
The war(s) have alternatively been called:
Before World War II, major tensions arose from the first, monarchist Yugoslavia's multi-ethnic makeup and relative political and demographic domination of the Serbs. Fundamental to the tensions were the different concepts of the new state; the Croats envisaged a federal model where they would enjoy greater autonomy than they had as a separate crown land under Austria-Hungary. Under Austria-Hungary, Croats enjoyed autonomy with free hands only in education, law, religion and 45% of taxes. The Serbs tended to view the territories as a just reward for their support of the allies in World War I and the new state as an extension of the Serbian Kingdom. The Serbs sacrificed their own state (which was in that time a little bit larger than today's Serbia, including much of Kosovo and Macedonia) in order to realize the ideal of a "South Slav state". Tensions between the two ethnic groups often erupted into open conflict, with the Serb dominated security structure exercising oppression during elections and the assassination in federal parliament of Croat political leaders, including Stjepan Radić, who opposed the Serbian monarch's absolutism. The assassination and human rights abuses were subject of concern for the Human Rights League and precipitated voices of protest from intellectuals, including Albert Einstein. It was in this environment of oppression that the radical insurgent group (later fascist dictatorship), the Ustaše were formed.
The country's tensions were exploited by the occupying Axis forces in World War II, which established a puppet state spanning much of present day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Axis powers installed the Ustasha in charge of this "Independent State of Croatia", which having resolved that the Serbian minority were a fifth column of Serbian expansionism, pursued a genocidal policy against them. One third were to be killed, one third expelled, and one third converted to Catholicism and assimilated as Croats. The same policy was applied in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both Croats and Muslims were recruited as soldiers by the SS (primarily in the 13th Waffen Mountain Division). At the same time, former Royalist General Milan Nedić was installed by the Axis as head of the Serb puppet state. Both quislings were confronted and eventually defeated by the communist-led anti-fascist Partisan movement composed of members of all ethnic groups in the area, leading to the formation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The official Yugoslav post-war estimate of victims in Yugoslavia during World War II is 1,704,000. Subsequent data gathering in the 1980s by historians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović showed that the actual number of dead was about 1 million. Of that number, the Ustaše killed 330,000–390,000 ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia.
Despite the federal structure of the new Yugoslavia, there was still tension between the federalists, primarily Croats and Slovenes who argued for greater autonomy, and unitarists, primarily Serbs. The to and fro of the struggle would occur in cycles of protests for greater individual and national rights (such as the Croatian Spring) and subsequent repression. The 1974 constitution was an attempt to short-circuit this pattern by entrenching the federal model and formalizing national rights.
In the years leading up to the Yugoslav wars, relations among the republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been deteriorating. Slovenia and Croatia desired greater autonomy within a Yugoslav confederation, while Serbia sought to strengthen federal authority. As it became clearer that there was no solution agreeable to all parties, Slovenia and Croatia moved toward secession. By that time there was no effective authority at the federal level. Federal Presidency consisted of the representatives of all 6 republics and 2 provinces and JNA (Yugoslav People's Army). Communist leadership was divided along national lines. The final breakdown occurred at the 14th Congress of the Communist Party when Croat and Slovenian delegates left in protest because the pro-integration majority in the Congress rejected their proposed amendments.
The first of these conflicts, known as the Ten-Day War, was initiated by the secession of Slovenia from the federation on 25 June 1991. The federal government ordered the federal Yugoslav People's Army to secure border crossings in Slovenia. Slovenian police and Slovenian Territorial Defence blockaded barracks and roads, leading to standoffs and limited skirmishes around the republic. After several dozen deaths, the limited conflict was stopped through negotiation at Brioni on 9 July 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia agreed to a three-month moratorium on secession. The Federal army completely withdrew from Slovenia by 26 October 1991.
The second in this series of conflicts, the Croatian War of Independence, began when Serbs in Croatia who were opposed to Croatian independence announced their secession from Croatia. Fighting in this region had actually begun weeks prior to the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. The move was triggered by a provision in the new Croatian Constitution that replaced the explicit reference to Serbs in Croatia as a "constituent nation" with a generic reference to all other nations, and was interpreted by Serbs as being reclassified as a "national minority". The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) was ideologically unitarian, though at this stage predominantly staffed by Serbs in its officer corp, thus it also opposed Croatian independence, siding with the Croatian Serb rebels. Since the JNA had disarmed the Territorial Units of the two northernmost republics, the fledgling Croatian state had to form its military from scratch and was further hindered by an arms embargo imposed by the U.N. on the whole of Yugoslavia. The Croatian Serb rebels were unaffected by the said embargo as they had the support of and access to supplies of the JNA. The border regions faced direct attacks from forces within Serbia and Montenegro, and saw the destruction of Vukovar and the shelling of UNESCO world heritage site Dubrovnik.
In March 1991, the Karađorđevo agreement took place between Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic. The two presidents tried to reach an agreement on the disintegration process of Yugoslavia, but their main concern was Bosnia, or more precisely its partition.
Meanwhile, control over central Croatia was seized by Croatian Serb forces in conjunction with the JNA Corpus from Bosnia & Herzegovina, under the leadership of Ratko Mladic. These attacks were marked by the killings of captured soldiers and heavy civilian casualties (Ovcara; Škabrnja), and were the subject of war crimes indictments by the ICTY for elements of the Serb political & military leadership. In January 1992, the Vance-Owen peace plan proclaimed UN controlled (UNPA) zones for Serbs in territory claimed by the rebel Serbs as the Republic of Serbian Krajina and brought an end to major military operations, though sporadic artillery attacks on Croatian cities and occasional intrusions of Croatian forces into UNPA zones continued until 1995.
In 1992, the conflict engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was predominantly a territorial conflict between local Bosniaks and Croats backed by Zagreb on one side, and Serbs backed by the Yugoslav People's Army and Serbia on the other. The Yugoslav armed forces which had disintegrated into a largely Serb-dominated military force opposed the Bosniak-majority led government's agenda for independence and along with other armed nationalist Serb militant forces, attempted to prevent Bosnian citizens from voting in the 1992 referendum on independence to prevent Bosnia from legally being able to secede. This did not succeed in persuading people not to vote and instead the intimidating atmosphere combined with a Serb boycott of the vote resulted in a resounding 99% vote in support for independence. In June 19, 1992 Croat-Bosniak war broke out. The Bosnia conflict, typified by the siege of Sarajevo & Srebrenica, was by far the bloodiest and most widely covered of the Yugoslav wars. Bosnia's Serb faction led by ultra-nationalist Radovan Karadzic promised independence for all Serb areas of Bosnia from the majority-Bosniak government of Bosnia. To link the disjointed parts of territories populated by Serbs and areas claimed by Serbs, Karadzic pursued an agenda of systematic ethnic cleansing primarily against Bosniaks through genocide and forced removal of Bosniak populations. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States reported in April 1995 that 90 percent of all the atrocities in the Yugoslav wars up to that point had been committed by Serb militants. Most of these atrocities occurred in Bosnia.
The fighting in Croatia ended sometime in the summer of 1995, after the Croatian Army launched two rapid military operations, codenamed Operation Flash and Operation Storm, in which it managed to reclaim all of its territory except the UNPA Sector East bordering Serbia. Most of the Serbian population in these areas became refugees, and has been the subject of war crimes indictments by the ICTY for elements of the Croat military leadership. The remaining Sector East came under UN administration (UNTAES), and was reintegrated to Croatia in 1998.
In 1994 the U.S. brokered peace between Croatian forces and the Bosniak Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the successful Flash and Storm operations, the Croatian Army and the combined Bosniak & Croat forces of Bosnian & Herzegovina, worked together in an operation codenamed Operation Maestral to push back Bosnian Serb military gains. Together with NATO air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs, the successes on the ground put pressure on the Serbs to come to the negotiating table. Pressure was put on all sides to stick to the cease-fire and finally negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Agreement on the 14 December 1995, with the formation of Republika Srpska as an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina being the resolution for Bosnian Serb demands.
Evidence of the magnitude of rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina prompted the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to deal openly with these abuses. Reports of sexual violence during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and Kosovo War (1996-1999) perpetrated by the Serbian regular and irregular forces have been described as "especially alarming". Since the entry of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, rapes of Albanian, Roma and Serbian women by Serbs and members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, have been documented.
It has been estimated that during the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped. A Commission of Experts appointed in October of 1992 by the United Nations concluded that "Rape has been reported to have been committed by all sides to the conflict. However, the largest number of reported victims have been Bosnian Muslims, and the largest number of alleged perpetrators have been Bosnian Serbs. There are few reports of rape and sexual assault between members of the same ethnic group." Although men also became victim of sexual violence, war rape was disproportionately directed against women who were (gang) raped in the streets, in their homes and/or in front of family members. Sexual violence occurred in a multiple ways, including rape with objects, such as broken glass bottles, guns and truncheons. War rape occurred as a matter of official orders as part of ethnic cleansing, to displace the targeted ethnic group out of the region.
During the Bosnian War the existence of deliberately created "rape camps" was reported. The reported aim of these camps was to impregnate the Bosniak and Croatian women held captive. It has been reported that often women were kept in confinement until the late stage of their pregnancy. This occurred in the context of a patrilineal society, in which children inherit their father's ethnicity, hence the "rape camps" aimed at the birth of a new generation of Serb children. According to the Women's Group Tresnjevka more than 35,000 women and children were held in such Serb-run "rape camps". Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač, and Zoran Vuković were convicted for rape, torture, and enslavement committed during the Foča massacres.
Wars and conflicts
Articles on nationalism:
United Nations protectorate:
Military formations and volunteers:
Top military commanders:
Other notable commanders:
Key foreign figures: