CNN Balkan Conflict News

History

Roots of the Balkan troubles:
a history of ethnic skirmishes



More than four years of war have turned once-beautiful Yugoslavia into a living nightmare, and into one of the bloodiest battlefields in Europe's recent history. We see the images -- refugees bearing children and suitcases, war-wearied elderly women, crying soldiers. But many of us don't understand exactly how the turmoil began. Here's a brief look.

The rivalries between Serb, Croat and Muslim communities in Yugoslavia date back centuries. Created in the aftermath of World War I, the country was first known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The name Yugoslavia was adopted in 1929.

B-17 with P-38 escorts

During World War II, Croats joined the Nazis in exterminating Serbs and others. The Serbs took up arms -- and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed on both sides. Josip Broz Tito, a partisan leader, led the resistance against the Nazis, ultimately driving them from Yugoslavia.

Tito

Following the war, Tito was elected to lead the newly created Yugoslav Federation. Tito ruled with an iron fist, keeping ethnic rivalries in check. Despite such problems as astronomical inflation, the nation held together for a decade after Tito's death in 1980.

Statue of Lenin

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, democratic movements swept across much of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia. With the election of non-communist governments in four of Yugoslavia's six republics, the Federation began to crumble and ethnic divisions resurfaced.

By 1991, the prosperous Croatian republic sought to create a loose confederation or to dissolve the union entirely. Less wealthy Serbia opposed this. In June of 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Fighting soon began as the Yugoslav army, consisting primarily of Serbs, tried to prevent Slovenia from establishing its own border posts.

In July, fighting also broke out between Croatian forces and Serb militiamen. Among the other republics, only the smallest -- Montenegro -- sided with Serbia. The two remaining republics, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, voted in favor of independence.

Main battle tank

In 1992, the Serbian minority in Bosnia, helped by the federal army, attempted to carve out enclaves for itself, laying siege to Sarajevo. By the time the United Nations dismissed Yugoslavia from its General Assembly, some 20,000 people had died and up to 2 million had become refugees from fighting and "ethnic cleansing."

A plan to divide Bosnia into 10 provinces along ethnic lines was accepted by Muslims and Croats, but rejected by Serbs. Fighting resumed, and the Croats and Muslims, who were previously allied, began to battle.

The United Nations has attempted to mediate between the warring parties, and has placed more than 45,000 peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, dozens of ceasefires worked out by international mediators have broken down.



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