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History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
1945 to 1992

Following World War II, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was proclaimed. Because of its great losses during the war and to prevent future bloodshed. Tito gave Bosnia a constitution and the status as an independent republic within the Yugoslav State, defined by its historic existence. Tito also created Macedonia as a separate republic.

Tito was initially linked to Stalin, but he soon split in order to establish his own brand of socialism. "Titoism" gave him a leading role in the Cold War as the leader of Yugoslavia - a "non-aligned state". Tito established strict rules against the expression of "nationalism," and his unique brand of totalitarianism successfully kept the peace within Yugoslavia. Tito had killed many of his opponents after he secured victory in 1945, and throughout his leadership he imprisoned activists for nationalist movements (including Alija Izetbegovic and Radovan Karadzic).

Post-war Yugoslavia was a socialist state based on the Communist party, the Jugoslavija Narodna Armija (JNA), the Police (or militia) and the concept of workers' self-management. For 45 years, Tito's totalitarianism kept ethnic peace within Yugoslavia. The concept that he continually advocated was called "Brotherhood and Unity."

Suggested reading:

General Framework Agreement for Peace. The Dayton Proximity Talks culminated in the initialing of a General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) in August 1995. 

The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny, Penguin Books, London, 1996. This book covers events in the Former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1996.

To End a War by Richard Holbrooke, Random House, New York, 1999. These very readable and critically acclaimed memoirs cover the diplomacy behind the Dayton talks, the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) and the background to the Implementation Force (IFOR), the forerunner to the Stabilization Force (SFOR).

The Bosnian-Muslims

When the FRY was founded there had been only two recognized ethnic groups, Bosnian-Croats and Serbs. In 1968, the Bosnian-Muslims were also declared to be a distinct nation. A new constitution adopted in 1974 led to increased decentralization of governmental powers, giving the six federal states of the republic more political and economic independence, and giving Vojvodina and Kosovo autonomous status. Economic and political developments from 1974 to 1980 set the scene for the ruin of Yugoslavia and the beginning of new conflict in the Balkans.

Bosnia, A Short History by Noel Malcolm, Macmillan, London, 1996. This is a highly respected history of Bosnia from 1180 until 1995.The   

Death of Yugoslavia by Laura Silber and Allan Little, Penguin Books, London 1996. This is a very clear book covering the period 1986 to 1995. It was written to accompany a BBC television series.

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West, Penguin Books, New York, 1982. This is a chronicle of Rebecca West's travels in the Former Yugoslavia in 1937 with insightful digressions into the history, politics and culture of the region.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, translated by Lovett F. Edwards, University of Chicago Press, 1977. This historical novel earned its author, a former distinguished Yugoslavian diplomat, the Nobel Prize for literature in 1961. It conveys much of the history, culture and politics of the Balkans.

 

 

Death of Tito...

On May 4, 1980, Tito died at age 88 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. After his death, there was increasing resentment of centralized government control. The state-run socialist economy continued to stagnate, as was the case in most of communist Eastern Europe. It was compounded by two facts: a return of the masses of Yugoslav guest-workers who returned home in the face of a depressed economy in Western Europe; and by the end of the favorable position Yugoslavia had held as a non-aligned nation between the US and USSR during the Cold War. 

Nationalist demands and calls for increased autonomy grew among the various ethnic groups of Yugoslavia. Deteriorating economic circumstances led to ethnic tensions, as nationalist politicians sought scapegoats to blame for the difficult economic times. Increasingly, there were fears by other groups of Serb domination in the region. 

In the spring of 1981 clashes occurred in Kosovo between the Serb administration and numerous Kosovo Albanians calling for status as the seventh republic, but not for independence. This situation led to bloody and violent demonstrations, which were severely suppressed by the police as well as by tanks of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA).

In February 1984, the city of Sarajevo successfully hosted the Winter Olympics - an international symbol of peace and tolerance. In May 1986, Slobodan Milosevic, a former manager of a gas company, became head of the communist party of Serbia and stressed Serbian ultra-nationalism. 

The 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1989 provided Milosevic with an opportunity to clearly state his support for the Serb nation, demonstrating pure Serbian chauvinism by claiming tighter control over Kosovo. 

In March 1989 the autonomous status of Vojvodina and Kosovo was annulled, and those regions, against their collective wills, again became integral parts of Serbia. The dismantling of Tito's multi-ethnic Yugoslavia was underway.

... end of a nation

In 1990 elections were held within Yugoslavia. Only in Montenegro and Serbia did the communist parties win, while nationalist parties came into power in the four other federal republics. 

The nationalist victories were in many ways a reaction against a fear of increasing Serb power. After the elections Croats and Slovenians abandoned the idea of a unified Yugoslavia, left the FRY, and were recognized by European countries as independent states. 

Franjo Tudjman, the new Croatian president promised the voters "a strong, democratic and independent Croatia within its historical borders." Serb President Milosevic stated that "in case of the ruin of Yugoslavia, the borders of Serbia must be redefined, because a future Serb state must include all areas where Serbs live."

Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the lead of Slovenia and Croatia, holding a referendum on independence on February 29 and March 1. The referendum was boycotted by many of Bosnian Serbs. When the results of the referendum were announced on March 2 and the peoples' desire for an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina was officially announced, 

Serb paramilitary set up positions around Sarajevo. On April 6 BiH was recognized as an independent state by the European Community, and Serb paramilitary forces fired on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. Paramilitary forces had been bombing and shooting in towns throughout Bosnia in March and April. The siege of Sarajevo, as well as the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had begun.

The peace will be signed in Paris more than three and half years later.

Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001

"WE DON'T WANT WAR"

Although local Serb militia and Yugoslav Army troops under the control of Serbia had seized several towns and expelled or killed Muslim residents at the beginning of April 1992, many Bosnians thought ethnic harmony was still possible.

Natasa Gaon was among tens of thousands of people who gathered on April 6, 1992, in the centre of Sarajevo demanding peace -- a day after Serb gunmen had killed two women peacefully protesting against a Serb blockade of the town.

"We were shouting: 'We don't want war'. All of us thought we could still preserve the city and the country as they should be, undivided," recalled Gaon, from a mixed ethnic background, who was a 20-year-old student of literature at the time.

The response from Serb gunmen atop the Holiday Inn hotel was gunfire which killed several people and wounded dozens more.

European Union recognition of Bosnia's independence, declared by Muslims and Croats but opposed by Serbs who wanted to stay in the Yugoslav federation, followed that afternoon.

The killing and the EU's move that day are generally regarded as marking a point of no return. Bosnia was at war.

OUTGUNNED

Within weeks of the outbreak of war, Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo, captured about 70 percent of the country and expelled or killed hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs. Poorly-armed Bosnian government forces were no match for them.

Serbs, one third of the population, claimed they were only protecting themselves against Muslim and Croat dominance. The West stood by, blaming the violence on ancient ethnic hatreds.

It turned a deaf ear to the Bosnian government's pleas to lift a U.N. arms embargo. But it soon learned about "ethnic cleansing," detention camps and large-scale torture, rape, and the killing and expulsion of Muslims.

WEST GUARDS PEACE

The war also saw a fierce conflict in 1993 for territory between former allies Muslims and Croats. When all the fighting was over, NATO sent tens of thousands of troops to keep the peace and the West gave billions of dollars reconstruction aid.

More than six years on, less than half of all refugees and displaced people have returned to their pre-war homes and just a fraction of them to areas where other ethnic groups predominate.

The economy is in tatters, at less than half of pre-war level.

Many Bosnians as well as international analysts fault the awkward administrative structure laid down by the Dayton, which gives little power to the central institutions.

"The state simply doesn't function now," said Michael Doyle, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, adding only the international community's robust military and civilian presence keeps the country glued together

By the time the U.S.-brokered Dayton treaty ended the Bosnian war in late 1995, splitting the former Yugoslav republic into autonomous halves largely along ethnic lines, over 200,000 lives had been lost and more than two million people made homeless.

Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and their then-patron, former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, have been charged with genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for their roles in Bosnia. Karadzic and Mladic remain at large.

 

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Copyright 2001 The Razors Edge
Updated : 11 August 2005