Yugoslav Wars were a series of violent conflicts
fought in the former Socialist
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. The wars were
characterized by bitter ethnic
conflicts between the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly
between Serbs on the one side and Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians on the other; but also between Bosniaks and Croats in
Bosnia and Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia. The wars ended with massive economic
disruption to Yugoslavia.
Often described as Europe's deadliest conflicts since World War II
, they have become infamous for the
they involved, including mass
. 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
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.
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 two sets of
successive wars affecting all of the six former Yugoslav republics,
- :1. War in Slovenia
- :2. Croatian War of
- :3. Bosnian War
- ::* NATO
bombing in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995)
- :1. Kosovo War
- ::* NATO
bombing of FR Yugoslavia (1999)
- :2. Southern Serbia
- :3. Macedonia conflict
The war(s) have alternatively been called:
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
Croatian land of Slavonia) are within
Central Europe (not in the
- "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
- "Ten Years War": a term coined by the Italian scholar Alessandro Marzo Magno to encompass
the whole 1991-2001 period.
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
opposed the Serbian monarch's absolutism
The assassination and human rights abuses were subject of concern
for the Human Rights
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
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
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
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
The official Yugoslav post-war estimate of
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
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
who argued for greater autonomy,
, 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
SFR Yugoslav dissolution wars (1991-1995)
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
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
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
The Federal army completely withdrew from
Slovenia by 26 October 1991.
Croatian War of Independence
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
A destroyed house in Croatia, with
Serb nationalist symbols and messages written on the walls.
Fighting in this region had actually begun weeks prior to the
Ten-Day War in Slovenia. The move was in part 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".
coupled with a history of distrust between the two ethnic groups
dating back to at least both World Wars
and the inter-war
The federally-controlled Yugoslav People's Army
ideologically Unitarian, and predominantly staffed by Serbs in its
officer corp, thus it also opposed Croatian independence and sided
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 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.
One western author criticised Croatia's
move to independence as an "irresponsible and unnecessary secession
of Croatia and Slovenia from Yugoslavia, which broke up a
magnificent country, set off a vicious war in Croatia, and revived
many of the Ustase-Cetnik horrors of World War II".
In March 1991, the Karađorđevo agreement
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
. 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.
Vance-Owen peace plan
proclaimed UN controlled (UNPA) zones for
in territory claimed by the rebel Serbs
as the Republic of Serbian
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 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 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
Bosnia conflict, typified by the siege of Sarajevo & Srebrenica, was by far the bloodiest and
most widely covered of the Yugoslav wars.
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
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.
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
was reintegrated to Croatia in 1998.
the U.S. brokered
peace between Croatian forces and the Bosniak Army of the
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After the successful
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
an end to the war in Bosnia. The war ended with the
signing of the Dayton Agreement
the 14 December 1995, with the formation of Republika Srpska
as an entity within Bosnia
and Herzegovina being the resolution for Bosnian Serb
Conflicts in Albanian-populated areas (1996-2002)
Kosovo, Macedonia, and southern Central
Serbia, the conflicts were typified by ethnic and political
tension between the Serbian and Macedonian governments and Albanian national minorities which sought
autonomy, as was the case in the Republic of Macedonia, or
independence, as was the case in Kosovo.
The conflict in Kosovo
a full-scale war in 1999, while the Macedonia conflict
Southern Serbia conflict
(2001) were characterized by armed clashes between state security
forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
The war in Kosovo ended with NATO
against Serbian forces in 1999, with a mainly
bombing but partly ground-based campaign under the command of Gen.
Wesley Clark. The NATO intervention is often counted as yet another
The military conflicts in southern Serbia and in Republic of
Macedonia ended with internationally-overseen peace agreements
between the insurgents and the government. Kosovo was placed under
the governmental control of the United
Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo
military protection of KFOR
Rioting and unrest in Kosovo
broke out in 2004, with minor unrest in 2008 upon Kosovo's
declaration of independence from Serbia.
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 sometimes 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
" 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
, Radomir Kovač
were convicted for
rape, torture, and enslavement committed during the Foča massacres
During the Kosovo War thousands of Kosovo Albanian women and girls
became victims of sexual violence. War rape was used as a weapon of
war and an instrument of systematic ethnic cleansing
; rape was used to
terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and
force people to flee their homes. According to a report by the
Human Rights Watch
group in 2000,
rape in the Kosovo can generally be subdivided into three
categories: rapes in woman's homes, rapes during fighting, and
rapes in detention. The majority of the perpetrators were Serbian
paramilitaries, but they also included Serbian special police or
Yugoslav army soldiers. Virtually all of the sexual assaults Human
Rights Watch documented were gang rapes involving at least two
perpetrators. Since the end of the war, rapes of Serbian, Albanian,
and Roma women by ethnic Albanians -- sometimes by members of the
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) -- have also been documented. Rapes
occurred frequently in the presence, and with the acquiescence, of
military officers. Soldiers, police, and paramilitaries often raped
their victims in the full view of numerous witnesses.
A brief timeline of the Yugoslav Wars
- 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
- 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
- Economic crisis in Yugoslavia has begun. Albanian students
demonstrate in Kosovo, demanding federal unit status.
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
- 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
- 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.
- Slovenia and Croatia declare independence in June, Macedonia in
September. War in Slovenia lasts ten
- 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
- 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
- Approx. 600,000 non-Serbian refugees.
- Bosniak-Croat conflict begins in Bosnia.
- Fighting begins in the Bihać region
between Bosnian Government forces loyal to Alija Izetbegović, and Bosniaks loyal
to Fikret Abdić who is supported
- 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".
treaty between Bosniaks and Croats arbitrated by the United States, Federation of Bosnia and
- F.R. Yugoslavia stabilizes economy structure with Economic
- Srebrenica massacre
reported, 8,000 Bosniaks killed.
- Croatia launches Operation Flash
and Operation Storm, reclaiming all
UNPA zones except Eastern Slavonia, and resulting in exodus of
250,000 Serbs from the zones. War in Croatia ends.
launches a series of air strikes on Bosnian Serb artillery and
other military targets.
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
- FR Yugoslavia recognizes Croatia and Bosnia &
- Fighting breaks out between Serbian forces
and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
- Following a fraud in local elections, hundreds of thousands of
Serbs demonstrate in Belgrade against the Milošević regime for
- Eastern Slavonia peacefully reintegrated
into Croatia, following a gradual three-year handover of
- NATO starts a military campaign in Kosovo and bombards FR
Yugoslavia in Operation
- Following Milošević signing of an agreement, control of Kosovo
is handed to the United Nations, but still remains a part of
Yugoslavia's federation. Fresh fighting erupts between
Albanians and Yugoslav security forces in Albanian populated areas
outside of Kosovo, with the intent of joining three municipalities
- Franjo Tuđman dies. Shortly
after that, his party loses the elections.
- Slobodan Milošević is voted out of office, and Vojislav Koštunica becomes the new
president of Yugoslavia.
- With Milošević ousted and a new democratic government in place,
FR Yugoslavia comes out of isolation. The political and economic
sanctions are suspended in total, and FRY is reinstated in many
political and economic organizations, as well as becoming a
candidate for other collaborative efforts.
- The Conflict in Southern Serbia ends with
the Albanians surrendering their bid to attach the regions to
Kosovo, and making this the only conflict into which Milošević
initially led his nation where they would emerge victorious
(Milošević himself having been internally ousted by the end).
Relatively few casualties were reported in this war. However, as the
battles in southern Serbia were being phased out, they were only to
be replaced by more sinister
fighting south of the border in the Republic of
Macedonia where ethnic Albanians and Macedonian security
forces would wage war on each other between January and
November. The fighting ended following internationally
sponsored peace talks which set the framework for amendments to the
Macedonian constitution which would benefit its significant
- In June, Milošević was handed over by Yugoslav authorities to
UN personnel, and subsequently transferred to the Hague to stand
- Milošević is put on trial in The Hague on charges of war crimes in Kosovo.
- FR Yugoslavia is reorganized into the State Union of Serbia and
- Alija Izetbegović
- Slovenia joins the European Union and NATO.
- Clashes take place in Kosovo between Albanians and Serbs.
of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo Albanian
leader in Pristina
- Montenegro holds referendum on independence and dissolves the
union with Serbia.
- Death of
Slobodan Milošević in The Hague prison.
International Court of Justice (ICJ) finds
Serbia not guilty
of committing genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but finds that it failed to prevent the genocide
in Srebrenica and orders it to hand over war criminals who are
suspected to hide inside its borders.
- Kosovo declares
independence on 17 February 2008. The UN is still divided
over the recognition of the state.
- Radovan Karadžić
captured in Belgrade, 21 July 2008.
- Majority of the UN states backed a Serbian judicial initiative on
Kosovo aimed at determining whether the secession was
April, Croatia joins NATO.