Conflict in the Balkans: Causes & Events

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  • 0:02 Where and Where are…
  • 1:32 The Break-up of Yugoslavia
  • 2:28 Bosnian War
  • 3:48 Kosovo War
  • 5:41 The Former Yugoslavia Today
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

Various conflicts arose when Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s, including the Bosnian War. Kosovo also separated from Serbia during this time, adding to the chaos in the Balkan Peninsula.

What and Where Are the Balkans?

On a sunny June morning, a man from Country 'A' traveled to Country 'B' and murdered a visitor from Country 'C.' The dominoes fell, and soon, 32 nations were caught up in a struggle we know today as World War I. That assassination made the Balkan Peninsula infamous.

Once aptly nicknamed the 'Powder Keg' of Europe, the Balkan Peninsula juts down from central Europe into the Mediterranean Sea. Its best-known resident may be Greece, but the peninsula encompasses at least ten nations as of 2015.

For centuries, the numerous people groups of the region were pawns of the European empires who struggled to maintain control. Following WWI and the splintering of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans reorganized. The new nation of Yugoslavia emerged, ultimately comprised of six socialist republics: Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia, which also administered two provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina). The young Yugoslavia was plagued with conflict among its highly diverse ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups. Strong leadership in the form of communist partisans finally emerged in opposition to the invading Axis powers in WWII.

The Break-up of Yugoslavia

Several powerful factors in the 1980s destabilized Yugoslavia, leading to its collapse. First, Josip Tito, the nation's communist leader, died. And then the Soviet Union was also losing its grip on Eastern Europe, fueling an increase of nationalism among Yugoslavia's ethnic groups.

In 1990, Slovenia and Croatia elected non-communist parties into power, and soon declared themselves independent. For about ten days, the Yugoslav army resisted Slovenia's independence, but soon withdrew. This inspired Croatia's Serbs to secede and ask to join Serbia, sparking bloody violence between those two republics' militias. Macedonia's declaration of independence led the U.N. to send a peacekeeping force and impose an arms embargo to quell any additional violence.

Bosnian War

Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is comprised of three distinct ethnic groups (Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim), also overthrew its communist leadership in 1991. However, the Serb population within Bosnia preferred remaining part of Yugoslavia, sparking a three-year civil war. Ethnic cleansing and war crimes ravaged civilians, about half the population was displaced and hundreds of thousands of people were killed. The U.N. established 'safe havens,' some of which were overrun by Serbs who slaughtered refugees. U.N. peacekeepers became the frequent targets of violence and threats. NATO airstrikes complicated the situation. It was what U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke deemed, 'the greatest collective failure of the West since the 1930s.'

United States president Bill Clinton stepped into the Bosnian War after his election, determined to bring an end to the conflict. In 1995, the Dayton Accords finally negotiated peace, dividing Bosnia into two semi-independent entities: one for Muslims and Croats, the other for Serbs.

Kosovo War

Back in 1989, when Yugoslavia was first breaking apart, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic took advantage of the chaos to consolidate his own power by stripping away the autonomy of Serbia's two provinces. And while the other Yugoslav republics were declaring independence, Albanians within Serbia were doing the same thing. They separated themselves from Serbia and declared the Republic of Kosovo. This action was overshadowed by the other regional developments and most Western powers didn't recognize the new nation. However, Albanians continued in a struggle for autonomy over the next decade, prompting a major Yugoslav military crackdown.

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