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The Yugoslav Wars

The Yugoslav Wars were a series of separate but related ethnic conflicts, wars of independence, and insurgencies that took place in the SFR Yugoslavia from 1991 to 2001. The conflicts both led up to and resulted from the breakup of Yugoslavia, which began in mid-1991, into six independent countries matching the six entities known as republics which previously composed Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia (previously named Macedonia). Yugoslavia's constituent republics declared independence due to unresolved tensions between ethnic minorities in the new countries, which fuelled the wars. While most of the conflicts ended through peace accords that involved full international recognition of new states, they resulted in a massive number of deaths as well as severe economic damage to the region.

During the initial stages of the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) sought to preserve the unity of the Yugoslav nation by crushing all secessionist governments. However, it increasingly came under the influence of Slobodan Milošević, whose government invoked Serbian nationalism as an ideological replacement for the weakening communist system. As a result, the JNA began to lose Slovenes, Croats, Kosovar Albanians, Bosniaks, and Macedonians, and effectively became a fighting force of only Serbs and Montenegrins. According to a 1994 report by the United Nations (UN), the Serb side did not aim to restore Yugoslavia; instead, it aimed to create a "Greater Serbia" from parts of Croatia and Bosnia. Other irredentist movements have also been brought into connection with the Yugoslav Wars, such as "Greater Albania" (from Kosovo, abandoned following international diplomacy) and "Greater Croatia" (from parts of Herzegovina, abandoned in 1994 with the Washington Agreement).

Often described as Europe's deadliest armed conflict since World War II, the Yugoslav Wars were marked by many war crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and mass wartime rape. The Bosnian genocide was the first European wartime event to be formally classified as genocidal in character since the military campaigns of Nazi Germany, and many key ex-Yugoslav individuals who perpetrated it were subsequently charged with war crimes; the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the UN in The Hague, Netherlands, to prosecute all individuals who had committed war crimes during the conflicts. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Yugoslav Wars resulted in the deaths of 140,000 people,[6] while the Humanitarian Law Center estimates at least 130,000 casualties. Over their decade-long duration, the conflicts resulted in major refugee and humanitarian crises.

The Yugoslav Wars have alternatively been referred to as:
"Wars in the Balkans"
"Wars/conflicts in the former Yugoslavia"[6][30]
"Wars of Yugoslav Secession/Succession"
"Third Balkan War": a term which was suggested in a book which was written by British journalist Misha Glenny, the title of his book alludes to the two previous Balkan Wars which were waged from 1912 to 1913. In fact, some contemporary historians have applied this term to World War I, because they believe it is a direct sequel to the 1912–13 Balkan wars.

The state of Yugoslavia was created in the aftermath of World War I, and its population was mostly composed of South Slavic Christians, though the nation also had a substantial Muslim minority. Clear ethnic conflict between the Yugoslav peoples only became prominent in the 20th century, beginning with tensions over the constitution of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in the early 1920s and escalating into violence between Serbs and Croats in the late 1920s after the assassination of Croatian politician Stjepan Radić. This nation lasted from 1918 to 1941, when it was invaded by the Axis powers during World War II, which provided support to the Croatian fascist Ustaše (founded in 1929), whose regime carried out the genocide of Serbs, Jews and Roma by executing people in concentration camps and committing other systematic and mass crimes inside its territory.

The predominantly Serb Chetniks, a Yugoslav Royalist and Serbian nationalist movement and guerrilla force, committed mass crimes against Muslims and Croats which are considered a genocide by several authors, and they also supported the instatement of a Serbian monarchy and the establishment of a Yugoslav federation. The Communist-led Yugoslav Partisans were able to appeal to all groups, including Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, and also engaged in mass killings. In 1945, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY) was established under Josip Broz Tito, who maintained a strongly authoritarian leadership that suppressed nationalism.

After Tito's death in 1980, relations between the six republics of the federation deteriorated. Slovenia, Croatia and Kosovo desired greater autonomy within the Yugoslav confederation, while Serbia sought to strengthen federal authority. As it became clear that there was no solution which was agreeable to all parties, Slovenia and Croatia moved towards secession. Although tensions in Yugoslavia had been mounting since the early 1980s, events in 1990 proved to be decisive. In the midst of economic hardship, Yugoslavia was facing rising nationalism among its various ethnic groups. By the early 1990s, there was no effective authority at the federal level. The Federal Presidency consisted of the representatives of the six republics, two provinces and the Yugoslav People's Army, and the communist leadership was divided along national lines.

The representatives of Vojvodina, Kosovo and Montenegro were replaced with loyalists of the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević. Serbia secured four out of eight federal presidency votes and was able to heavily influence decision-making at the federal level, since all the other Yugoslav republics only had one vote. While Slovenia and Croatia wanted to allow a multi-party system, Serbia, led by Milošević, demanded an even more centralized federation and Serbia's dominant role in it.

At the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1990, the Serbian-dominated assembly agreed to abolish the single-party system. However, Slobodan Milošević, the head of the Serbian Party branch (League of Communists of Serbia) used his influence to block and vote-down all other proposals from the Croatian and Slovene party delegates. This prompted the Croatian and Slovene delegations to walk out and thus the break-up of the party, a symbolic event representing the end of "brotherhood and unity".

The survey of Yugoslav citizens which was conducted in 1990 showed that ethnic animosity existed on a small scale. Compared to the results from 25 years before, there was significant increase of ethnic distance among Serbs and Montenegrins toward Croats and Slovenes and vice versa.

Upon Croatia and Slovenia's declarations of independence in 1991, the Yugoslav federal government attempted to forcibly halt the impending breakup of the country, with Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Marković declaring that the secessions of Slovenia and Croatia were both illegal and contrary to the constitution of Yugoslavia, and he also expressed his support for the Yugoslav People's Army in order to secure the integral unity of Yugoslavia.

According to Stephen A. Hart, author of Partisans: War in the Balkans 1941–1945, the ethnically mixed region of Dalmatia held close and amicable relations between the Croats and Serbs who lived there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many early proponents of a united Yugoslavia came from this region, such as Ante Trumbić, a Croat from Dalmatia. However, by the time of the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars, any hospitable relations between Croats and Serbs in Dalmatia had broken down, with Dalmatian Serbs fighting on the side of the self-declared proto-state Republic of Serbian Krajina.

Even though the policies throughout the entire socialist period of Yugoslavia seemed to have been the same (namely that all Serbs should live in one state), political scientist Dejan Guzina argues that "different contexts in each of the subperiods of socialist Serbia and Yugoslavia yielded entirely different results (e.g., in favour of Yugoslavia, or in favour of a Greater Serbia)". He assumes that the Serbian policy changed from conservative–socialist at the beginning to xenophobic nationalist in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In Serbia and Serb-dominated territories, violent confrontations occurred, particularly between nationalists and non-nationalists who criticized the Serbian government and the Serb political entities in Bosnia and Croatia. Serbs who publicly opposed the nationalist political climate during the Yugoslav wars were reportedly harassed, threatened, or killed. However, following Milošević's rise to power and the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars, numerous anti-war movements developed in Serbia. Protests were held against the actions of the Yugoslav People's Army, while protesters demanded the referendum on a declaration of war and disruption of military conscription, resulting in numerous desertions and emigrations.

With the escalation of the Yugoslav crisis, JNA became heavily dominated by Serbs. According to former commander of the fifth army in Zagreb Martin Špegelj, 50% of the command positions were held by Croats, whilst a few years later at the beginning of the war all key positions were held by Serbs.

Slovenian War of Independence (1991)
The first of the conflicts, known as the Ten-Day War, was initiated by the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army) on 26 June 1991 after the secession of Slovenia from the federation on 25 June 1991.

Initially, the federal government ordered the Yugoslav People's Army to secure border crossings in Slovenia. Slovenian police and Slovenian Territorial Defence blockaded barracks and roads, leading to stand-offs and limited skirmishes around the republic. After several dozen casualties, the limited conflict was stopped through negotiation at Brioni on 7 July 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia agreed to a three-month moratorium on secession. The Federal army completely withdrew from Slovenia by 26 October 1991.

Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995)
Fighting in Croatia had begun weeks prior to the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. The Croatian War of Independence began when Serbs in Croatia, who were opposed to Croatian independence, announced their secession from Croatia.

In the 1990 parliamentary elections in Croatia, Franjo Tuđman became the first President of Croatia. He promoted nationalist policies and had a primary goal of the establishment of an independent Croatia. The new government proposed constitutional changes, reinstated the traditional Croatian flag and coat of arms, and removed the term "Socialist" from the title of the republic. The new Croatian government implemented policies that were seen as openly nationalistic and anti-Serbian in nature, such as the removal of the Serbian Cyrillic script from correspondence in public offices. In an attempt to counter changes made to the constitution, local Serb politicians organized a referendum on "Serb sovereignty and autonomy" in August 1990. Their boycott escalated into an insurrection in areas populated by ethnic Serbs, mostly around Knin, known as the Log Revolution.

Local police in Knin sided with the growing Serbian insurgency, while many government employees, mostly police where commanding positions were mainly held by Serbs and Communists, lost their jobs. The new Croatian constitution was ratified in December 1990, and the Serb National Council formed SAO Krajina, a self-proclaimed Serbian autonomous region.

Ethnic tensions rose, fueled by propaganda in both Croatia and Serbia. On 2 May 1991, one of the first armed clashes between Serb paramilitaries and Croatian police occurred in the Battle of Borovo Selo. On 19 May an independence referendum was held, which was largely boycotted by Croatian Serbs, and the majority voted in favour of the independence of Croatia. Croatia declared independence and dissolved its association with Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991. Due to the Brioni Agreement, a three-month moratorium was placed on the implementation of the decision that ended on 8 October.

The armed incidents of early 1991 escalated into an all-out war during the summer, with fronts being formed around the areas of the breakaway SAO Krajina. The JNA had disarmed the Territorial Units of Slovenia and Croatia prior to the declaration of independence, at the behest of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. This was greatly aggravated by an arms embargo, imposed by the UN on Yugoslavia. The JNA was ostensibly ideologically unitarian, but its officer corps was predominantly staffed by Serbs or Montenegrins (70 percent).

As a result, the JNA opposed Croatian independence and sided with the Croatian Serb rebels. The Croatian Serb rebels were unaffected by the embargo because they were supported and supplied by the JNA. By mid-July 1991, the JNA moved an estimated 70,000 troops to Croatia. The fighting rapidly escalated, eventually spanning hundreds of square kilometers from western Slavonia through Banija to Dalmatia.

Border regions faced direct attacks from forces within Serbia and Montenegro. In August 1991, the Battle of Vukovar began, where fierce fighting took place with around 1,800 Croat fighters blocking the JNA's advance into Slavonia. By the end of October, the town was almost completely devastated as a result of land shelling and air bombardment. The Siege of Dubrovnik started in October with the shelling of UNESCO World Heritage Site Dubrovnik, where the international press was criticised for focusing on the city's architectural heritage, instead of reporting the destruction of Vukovar in which many civilians were killed.

On 18 November 1991, the battle of Vukovar ended after the city ran out of ammunition. The Ovčara massacre occurred shortly after Vukovar's capture by the JNA. Meanwhile, control over central Croatia was seized by Croatian Serb forces in conjunction with the JNA Corps from Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the leadership of Ratko Mladić.

In January 1992, the Vance Plan established UN controlled (UNPA) zones for Serbs in the territory which was claimed by the Serbian rebels as the self-proclaimed proto-state Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) and brought an end to major military operations, but sporadic artillery attacks on Croatian cities and occasional intrusions into UNPA zones by Croatian forces continued until 1995. The majority of Croatian population in RSK suffered heavily, fleeing or evicted with numerous killings, leading to ethnic cleansing. The fighting in Croatia ended in mid-1995, after Operation Flash and Operation Storm. At the end of these operations, Croatia had reclaimed all of its territory except the UNPA Sector East portion of Slavonia, bordering Serbia. Most of the Serb population in the reclaimed areas fled and became refugees. The areas of "Sector East", unaffected by the Croatian military operations, came under UN administration (UNTAES), and were reintegrated to Croatia in 1998 under the terms of the Erdut Agreement.

Bosnian War (1992–1995)
In early 1992, a conflict engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina as it also declared independence from rump Yugoslavia. The war was predominantly a territorial conflict between the Bosniaks, who wanted to preserve the territorial integrity of the newly independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb proto-state Republika Srpska and the self-proclaimed Croat Herzeg-Bosnia, which were led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia respectively, reportedly with a goal of the partition of Bosnia, which would leave only a small part of land for the Bosniaks. On 18 December 1992, the United Nations General Assembly issued resolution 47/121 in which it condemned Serbian and Montenegrin forces for trying to acquire more territories by force.

The Yugoslav armed forces had disintegrated into a largely Serb-dominated military force. The JNA opposed the Bosnian-majority led government's agenda for independence, and along with other armed nationalist Serb militant forces attempted to prevent Bosnian citizens from voting in the 1992 referendum on independence. They failed to persuade people not to vote, and instead the intimidating atmosphere combined with a Serb boycott of the vote resulted in a resounding 99% vote in support for independence.

On 19 June 1992, the war in Bosnia broke out, though the Siege of Sarajevo had already begun in April after Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence. The conflict, typified by the years-long Sarajevo siege and the Srebrenica massacre, was by far the bloodiest and most widely covered of the Yugoslav wars. The Bosnian Serb faction led by ultra-nationalist Radovan Karadžić promised independence for all Serb areas of Bosnia from the majority-Bosniak government of Bosnia. To link the disjointed parts of territories populated by Serbs and areas claimed by Serbs, Karadžić pursued an agenda of systematic ethnic cleansing primarily against Bosnians through massacre and forced removal of Bosniak populations. Prijedor ethnic cleansing, Višegrad massacres, Foča ethnic cleansing, Doboj massacre, Zvornik massacre, siege of Goražde and others were reported.

At the end of 1992, tensions between Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks rose and their collaboration fell apart. In January 1993, the two former allies engaged in open conflict, resulting in the Croat–Bosniak War. In 1994 the US brokered peace between Croatian forces and the Bosnian Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Washington Agreement. After the successful Flash and Storm operations, the Croatian Army and the combined Bosnian and Croat forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, conducted an operation codenamed Operation Mistral in September 1995 to push back Bosnian Serb military gains.

The advances on the ground along with NATO air strikes put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to come to the negotiating table. Pressure was put on all sides to stick to the cease-fire and negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Agreement on 14 December 1995, with the formation of Republika Srpska as an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States reported in April 1995 that 90 percent of all the atrocities in the Yugoslav wars up to that point had been committed by Serb militants. Most of these atrocities occurred in Bosnia.

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