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The Balkan Wars, 1991-1995, A Sketch

A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire downtown Sarajevo, April 6, 1992

A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire downtown Sarajevo, April 6, 1992

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was established in 1943; its breakup, beginning in 1991, was protracted and bloody.

Over the several years, five of Yugoslavia’s six constituent republics, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia, declared independence and were met with varying degrees of violence.

Their opponents for the most part were Serb nationalists and paramilitaries, backed by Serbia’s government and the Yugoslav People’s Army, headquartered in Belgrade.

Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina became embroiled in wars that took a particularly heavy toll on civilian populations, with total casualties estimated at 15-20,000 (Croatia, 1991-1995) and more than 100,000 (Bosnia, 1992-1995).

In February 2008, Kosovo became the last region of the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to declare independence (it had been an autonomous province).

Leading to the breakup were the first multi-party elections in Yugoslavia (1990), which were mostly won by nationalist parties, committed to the protection of the interests of their respective ethnic groups.

As Croatia and then Bosnia moved toward independence, in both cases backed by the majority of their respective populations, Serb nationalist parties in both republics organized armed resistance to the central governments, citing the defense of ethnic Serb rights.

According to all available data, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) made up a disproportionate number of Bosnian war victims (about 66% of the total, and 83% of the civilian deaths).

The war there was characterized by an artillery siege of Sarajevo that lasted almost four years and by some of the worst atrocities committed on European soil since 1945, including the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. The massacre, among others, led to the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia).

In August 1995 the Croatian Army recaptured Serb-held parts of its country in a swift and decisive military operation, followed by the mass-exodus of ethnic Serbs from Croatia.

Later that year, the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords, which established a unified state of two entities (Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska).

The final chapter began with Kosovo’s declaration of independence and battles between the Yugoslav Army and the Kosovo Liberation Army. When international mediation failed, and in the face of reports of ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population, NATO intervened.

An 11-week bombing campaign that was begun in March 1999 forced the Yugoslav army out, and a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) entered Kosovo as part of an international peace plan to end fighting and establish Kosovo as an independent country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both have cited NATO’s intervention in Kosovo as precedent for Russian intervention in Crimea, and Crimea’s secession from Ukraine.