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Yugoslav Wars
Yugoslav Wars Montage2.jpg
Clockwise from top left: The building of the parliament of SR Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo burns after being hit by shellfire during the Siege of Sarajevo; Signing of the Dayton Agreement; The Vukovar water tower displays the Croatian flag during the Siege of Vukovar, symbolizing the town's resistance; Column of JNA tanks in Slovenia
Date 1991-1995
Location Territory of the former SFR Yugoslavia:
Result New countries independent


(1991 only)


Republic of Serbian Krajina

Yugoslav People's Army Yugoslav People's Army
(1991 only)



Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia CR Herzeg-Bosnia
(up to 1994)


Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovinaa


Federal Republic of Yugoslavia FR Yugoslavia
Republika Srpska Republic of Srpska

Republic of Serbian Krajina

 AP Western Bosnia (1993 on)



Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic of
Bosnia and Herzegovina

(bombing operations, 1995)


Republika Srpska Republic of Srpska

Republic of Serbian Krajina

 AP Western Bosnia

Croatia Franjo Tuđman
Croatia Janko Bobetko

Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Mate Boban

Slovenia Milan Kučan
Slovenia Janez Janša

Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefer Halilović
Federal Republic of YugoslaviaSerbia Slobodan Milošević
Federal Republic of YugoslaviaMontenegro Momir Bulatović
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Branko Kostić
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Vojislav Šešelj

Yugoslav People's Army Veljko Kadijević
Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić
Republika Srpska Ratko Mladić

Republic of Serbian Krajina Milan Martić
Republic of Serbian Krajina Milan Babić

 Fikret Abdić
Casualties and losses
Croatia 20,000+ killed

Slovenia 18 killed

Bosnia and Herzegovina 64,000+ killed Serbs 36,000+ killed
a From 1992-1994 the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was at the time representative mainly of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. From 1994-1995, after the Washington Agreement, the state was also representative of the Bosnian Croat ethnic group.

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.[1] 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.[2] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations to prosecute these crimes.[3]

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,[4] 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:

  • "War in the Balkans": largely inappropriate, partly because the war affected only the Western Balkans but also because certain areas which saw fighting (eg. most of Slovenia, the Croatian land of Slavonia) are within Central Europe (not in the Balkans).
  • "War in (the former) Yugoslavia"
  • "Wars of Yugoslav Secession/Succession"
  • "Third Balkan War": a short-lived term coined by British journalist Misha Glenny, alluding to the two previous Balkan Wars fought 1912–1913[5]
  • "Ten Years War": a term coined by the Italian scholar Alessandro Marzo Magno to encompass the whole 1991-2001 period.[6]


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.[7] 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[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.

SFR Yugoslav dissolution wars (1991-1995)

Former Yugoslavia wartime animation 92-95.gif

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.


Ten-Day War

JNA M-84 MBT during first operations in Slovenia.

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.

Croatian War of Independence

A destroyed house in Croatia, with Serb nationalist symbols and messages written on the walls.

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[citation needed] 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.

Bosnian War

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[11]. 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.

The building of the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina burns after being hit by Serbian tank fire.

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] Most of these atrocities occurred in Bosnia.

Fronts of Bosnian war.

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.

War Crimes

War rape

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.[16] 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".[17] 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.[18]

It has been estimated that during the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.[19][20] 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."[21] 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.[17] War rape occurred as a matter of official orders as part of ethnic cleansing, to displace the targeted ethnic group out of the region.[22]

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".[23][24][25] Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač, and Zoran Vuković were convicted for rape, torture, and enslavement committed during the Foča massacres.[26]

A brief timeline of the Yugoslav Wars

The War Crimes Tribual accused Slobodan Milošević of "attempting to create a Greater Serbia"', a Serbian state encompassing the Serb-populated areas of Croatia and Bosnia, and achieved by forcibly removing non-Serbs from large geographical areas through the commission of the crimes.[27]


Students in Kosovo demand greater rights for the Albanian minority during the worldwide May 1968 protests.


Demonstrations in Croatia, known as the Croatian spring, are condemned by the communist government. Many participants were later convicted as nationalists, including Stipe Mesić and Franjo Tuđman. Government crisis follows.


A new SFRY constitution is proclaimed, granting more power to federal units, and more power to autonomous provinces Kosovo and Vojvodina of Serbia, giving them all a single vote in all relevant decisions in the federal government, which is now headed by the joint Presidency with a rotating President. Muslims were recognized as a constituent nation of Yugoslavia, becoming the primary ethnic group of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.


Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito dies.


Economic crisis in Yugoslavia has begun. Albanian students demonstrate in Kosovo, demanding federal unit status.


The controversial Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts claims Serbia has a weak position in Yugoslavia.
Slobodan Milošević rises to power in Serbia, promising to defend and promote the interests of Serbs across Yugoslavia and challenge politicians who were deemed to be repressing the interests of Serbs. Antibureaucratic revolution demonstrations overthrow Communist party leadership and bring pro-Milošević governments to power in Vojvodina, Kosovo and Montenegro. The other republics' leaderships oppose Milošević's coups


Anti-bureaucratic revolution in Vojvodina


Kosovar Albanians continued to demonstrate throughout 1989 after Milosevic adopted amendments to the Serbian Constitution that took away Kosovo’s control over the police force, civil defense, economic, civil and criminal courts, social and education policy. The amendments also effectively prohibited the use of Albanian as an official language in Kosovo and forbade the sale of property to Albanians. This was followed by the closure of the Albanian language newspaper, and the Kosovo Academy of Sciences. Some 80,000 Kosovo Albanians were fired from state employment.


The League of Communists of Yugoslavia dissolves on republican and ethnic lines at its 14th Congress with Slovene and Croatian delegations leaving amid claims that Milošević is usurping power.
The first democratic elections are held in socialist Yugoslavia. Nationalist parties win the majority in almost all republics.
Student protests in Belgrade against Milošević end with police crackdown: one student is killed.
Croatian Serbs start a rebellion against the newly elected Croatian government led by Franjo Tuđman, severing land ties between Dalmatia and remainder of Croatia.
Albanian miners go on strike in Kosovo, which Milošević ends with a police and army crackdown.
Constitutional changes in Serbia revoke some of the powers granted to Kosovo and Vojvodina, effectively giving Serbia 3 out of 8 votes in the federal council. Along with allied Montenegro, this gives extreme power to the Serbian elite. With these votes, Serbian representatives attempt to institute martial law to stop democratic changes - their attempt fails as Bosnia's representative (an ethnic Serb) votes against in the crucial last vote.
A shelled Croatian hotel resort of the Dalmatian coastline in Kupari near Dubrovnik (1991).


Slovenia and Croatia declare independence in June, Macedonia in September. War in Slovenia lasts ten days.
The Yugoslav army leaves Slovenia, but supports rebel Serb forces in Croatia. The Croatian War of Independence begins in Croatia. Serb areas in Croatia declare independence, but are recognized only by Belgrade.
Cities of Vukovar, Dubrovnik and Osijek are devastated by bombardments and shelling. A flood of refugees from the war zones and ethnic cleansing overwhelm entire Croatia. Countries of Europe are slow in accepting refugees.
Macedonia declares independence in September.


Vance peace plan signed, creating four UNPA zones for Serbs and ending large scale fighting in Croatia.
Bosnia declares independence. Bosnian war begins.
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia proclaimed, consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, the only two remaining republics.
United Nations impose sanctions against FR Yugoslavia and accepts Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia as members. FR Yugoslavia claims being sole legal heir to SFRY, which is disputed by other republics. UN envoys agree that Yugoslavia had 'dissolved into constituent republics'.
Approx. 600,000 non-Serbian refugees.
Bosniak-Croat conflict begins in Bosnia.
Two Croatian Defense Council (HVO) T-55 Main Battle Tanks pull into firing position during a three day exercise held at the Barbara Range in Glamoč, Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Fighting begins in the Bihać region between Bosnian Government forces loyal to Alija Izetbegović, and Bosniaks loyal to Fikret Abdić who is supported by Serbs.
Sanctions and in F.R. Yugoslavia, now isolated, create hyperinflation of 3,6 million percent a year of the Yugoslav dinar; this had never been known previously. The inflation exceeds that experienced in the Great Depression of 1929.
The Stari Most (The Old Bridge) in Mostar, built in 1566, was destroyed by Bosnian Croat forces. It was rebuilt in 2003.
The Republic of Macedonia is accepted by the UN, but under the provisional name "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".


Peace treaty between Bosniaks and Croats arbitrated by the United States, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina formed.
F.R. Yugoslavia stabilizes economy structure with Economic Implementation Framework.


Srebrenica massacre reported, 8,000 Bosniaks killed.
Croatia launches Oluja, reclaiming all UNPA zones except Eastern Slavonia, and resulting in exodus of 250,000 Serbs from the zones. War in Croatia ends.
NATO launches a series of air strikes on Bosnian Serb artillery and other military targets.
Dayton Agreement signed in Paris. War in Bosnia and Herzegovina ends. Aftermath of war is over 100,000 killed and missing and 2.5 million people internally displaced among the former republics. Serb defeat in Croatia and West Bosnia allows Croatian and Bosniak refugees to return to their homes, but many refugees of all nationalities are still displaced today.
After signing the Dayton Agreement, Yugoslavia is granted with looser sanctions, still affecting much of its economy (trade, tourism, industrial production and exports of final products), but allowing for its citizens to exit Yugoslavia, for a limited time.

See also


  1. ^,M1
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Constitution of Union between Croatia-Slavonia and Hungary.
  8. ^ Elections, TIME Magazine, February 23, 1925.
  9. ^ Appeal to the international league of human rights, Albert Einstein/Heinrich Mann.
  10. ^ Staff. Jasenovac concentration camp, Jasenovac, Croatia, Yugoslavia. On the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  11. ^ "Profile: Ratko Mladic". The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  12. ^ Mestrovic, Stjepan G. 1996. Genocide After Emotion: The post emotional Balkan War. London and New York: Routledge. p. 36.
  13. ^ Mestrovic, p. 36.
  14. ^ Mestrovic, Stjepan G. 1996. Genocide After Emotion: The post emotional Balkan War. London and New York: Routledge. p. 7.
  15. ^ Mestrovic, p. 8.
  16. ^ Simons, Marlise (June 1996). "For first time, Court Defines Rape as War Crime". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ a b de Brouwer, Anne-Marie. Supranational Criminal Prosecution of Sexual Violence. Intersentia. p. 9. ISBN 9050955339. 
  18. ^ de Brouwer, Anne-Marie. Supranational Criminal Prosecution of Sexual Violence. Intersentia. p. 11. ISBN 9050955339. 
  19. ^ "Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Conflict: A Framework for Prevention and Response". United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  20. ^ "Film award forces Serbs to face spectre of Bosnias rape babies". The Independent. February 20, 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  21. ^ United Nations Commission on Breaches of Geneva Law in Former Yugoslavia
  22. ^ de Brouwer, Anne-Marie. Supranational Criminal Prosecution of Sexual Violence. Intersentia. p. 10. ISBN 9050955339. 
  23. ^ de Brouwer, Anne-Marie. Supranational Criminal Prosecution of Sexual Violence. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9050955339. 
  24. ^ new Internationalist issue 244, June 1993. Rape: Weapon of War by Angela Robson.
  25. ^ Netherlands Institute for War Documentation Part 1 Chapter 9
  26. ^ Human Rights News Bosnia: Landmark Verdicts for Rape, Torture, and Sexual Enslavement: Criminal Tribunal Convicts Bosnian Serbs for Crimes Against Humanity 02/22/01.
  27. ^ Decision of the ICTY Appeals Chamber; 18 April 2002; Reasons for the Decision on Prosecution Interlocutory Appeal from Refusal to Order Joinder; Paragraph 8

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