The Bosnian War (1992-1995)

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  • 0:01 Causes of the Bosnian War
  • 1:45 From Bad to Worse
  • 3:23 Legacy of the War
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despised by both sides of the Croat-Serb War, the Bosnians originally tried to maintain their neutrality. This lesson explains how neutrality turned into independence for one of Europe's few Muslim-majority societies.

Causes of the Bosnian War

As Yugoslavia started to fall apart in the 1990s, it seemed that disputes between the Croats and the Serbs threatened to take the entire region to its knees. However, this was really nothing new—the Croats and Serbs had a long history of, well, hating each other. Croatia was Catholic, and traditionally aligned with the whims of Central Europe, especially Germany.

In fact, many Croats had actually sided with the Nazis during World War II. Serbia, on the other hand, was Orthodox and, therefore, loyal to the Russians. After all, it had been a Serbian nationalist who had started World War I with his assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, and the resulting Russian guarantee of Serbian Independence.

But wait, isn't this a lesson on the Bosnians? Absolutely. It seems that the only thing that the Serbs and Croats could agree on was what to do with Bosnia, a rather large chunk of territory between Croatia and Serbia that was inhabited by a group of people known as the Bosniaks, who tended to be Muslim. Bosnia was a reminder of a time when the Ottoman Turks ruled the Balkans, and neither the Serbs nor the Croats felt that such a reminder should remain.

In fact, the Croatians went as far as to say that Bosnia was an invention of the Ottoman state, since the land had long been Croatian. Meanwhile, people on both sides of the Serbian-Croatian divide worried about Bosnia's historically close ties to Turkey, and worried about a resurgent Turkish presence in their own backyards. Amidst all this talk for their destiny, the Bosnian leadership largely told their citizens to just be quiet and hope no one noticed them.

From Bad to Worse

Unfortunately for the Bosnians, that simply wasn't going to happen. In March 1991, the Serbs and Croats signed the Karadordevo Agreement, splitting Bosnia between the two countries. The U.N. and the West, sensing the growing fight, limited all arms sales to the countries. They didn't really affect the Croats, who could smuggle arms through their porous borders, nor did it affect the Serbs, who had much of the former Yugoslavian army's equipment. However, it did limit the ability of the Bosnians to defend themselves. At the same time, Serbian and Croatian troops took positions within Bosnia. All the while, Bosnian leaders stressed the importance of non-engagement.

That said, the writing was on the wall. The Bosnians declared their independence in March of 1992, but by April the capital of Sarajevo was under siege by Serbian forces. In the countryside, the Serbians committed many atrocities in an attempt to regulate the ethnicity of a given area, known as ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world grew in its resolve to assist the Bosnians. A no-fly zone was imposed, but the tragedies continued. The worst of these happened in 1995, at the town of Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Bosnian men were murdered by Serbian groups. However, later that year, a peaceful solution was finally reached in Dayton, Ohio. Known as the Dayton Accords, the resulting treaty guaranteed the right of Bosnia to exist, but provided for significant rights for non-Bosniaks in Bosnia, especially the Serbs and Croats.

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