Many factors contributed to Yugoslavia's collapse in the early 1990s. Beginning shortly after Josip Broz Tito’s death in May 1980, until United Nations troops invaded on December 20, 1995, Yugoslavs in the six historic regions strove to carve out the independent countries that exist there today. Continued U.S. involvement in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina hinges on whether former Yugoslavian regions continue to bring war criminals to the War Tribunal that was established by the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995. Thus far, the former Yugoslavia has largely failed at doing that.
The Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which Sarajevo is its capital and largest city, is a republic consisting of two regions:
Bosnia, the largest and historically most significant region, located in the north with its thickly forested land; and
Herzegovina with its large, rocky hills and farmland in the southern part of the republic.
Living on a small strip of land along the Adriatic Sea, Serbs and Croatians constitute half the population, and Bosnian Muslims make up 40 percent. Religiously speaking, most members of the republic are Sunni Muslim (sometimes called Bosniaks), Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Islamic.
Important dates in Yugoslavian history
Following is a brief historical synopsis that includes U.S. involvement:
1914: Gavrilo Princip, a patriot from Serbia, assassinated Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo, which led directly to World War I.
1918: The first unification of the six regions of Yugoslavia, assembled by King Peter I of Serbia, was called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
1934: Five years after King Alexander I of Yugoslavia seized control and began to rule as a dictator, Croatian leaders assassinated him. Alexander’s son was too young to rule, so his cousin, Prince Paul, ruled instead of the child.
1941: Pressured by the German Nazi government, Yugoslavia allied with the Axis Powers, but the Yugoslav military formed resistance armies, including the “Partisans,” organized by Josip Broz Tito, which overthrew the pro-German government. Germany and other Axis powers then invaded the country and seized power.
1943: With assistance from the United States and other Allies, the Partisans freed Belgrade and began communist rule from the nation’s capital in 1944.
1945: Yugoslavia became a recognized republic by the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union on November 29, 1945, and became known as the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, under Tito’s communist leadership. Tito was a close ally of the Soviet Union, but refused to allow Joseph Stalin's regime to take over the country.
1948: When Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet Cominform and the Soviet Union withdrew support, Tito appealed to the U.S. and other western nations for economic aid.
1955: Four years after the U.S. had begun to provide military and economic aid — and two years after Stalin’s death — Yugoslavia reopened relations with the Soviet Union. Tito, refusing to take sides in the Cold War, became an advocate and speaker for the world's uncommitted (neutral) nations.
1974: Tito established a nine-member council, the "Presidency," to provide leadership following his death, and to ensure continued independence from the Soviet Union.
Tito’s expansion attempts
Following World War II, Tito began to reach beyond Yugoslavia’s borders, which aroused suspicion and concern among the Allies. At the 1945 Potsdam Conference, concerns regarding Yugoslavia’s aggression towards Greece led to discussions at its foreign ministers’ meeting by U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Ernest Bevin of the U.K., and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov.
Yugoslavia was considered to be a puppet government of the Soviet Union, attempting to expand communist rule into other countries, as hypothesized in the Domino Theory. Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson brought the theory before the U.S. Congress to persuade them into accepting responsibility for supporting such countries under communist pressure as Greece, i.e. containment.
The Truman Doctrine, which embraced containment, resulted from American intervention in Greece. Tito’s claims to former Italian territory at the head of the Adriatic were mentioned in Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech on March 5, 1946. Churchill feared the Soviet Union's further expansion into Europe. Because of Tito's training in the Soviet Union, his attempts to gain the Adriatic territory raised the question about Italy's future political leanings.
Tito’s death and beyond
Tito died on May 4, 1980, amidst growing concerns regarding the nation’s economy, which was suffering from severe inflation. Failed attempts were made to bring down inflation by building up economies in the less-developed regions of Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. Such programs resulted in a serious economic gap between the nation’s richest and poorest regions.
Wide-ranging debates regarding the country’s future — including establishing other political parties opposed to the Communist Party to allow citizens to choose how to govern the country — further destabilized the country’s political structure in the mid-1980s.
Given the unraveling of Eastern European communism in 1989, and the Soviet Union in 1991, the Yugoslav Federation no longer felt the threat of communist intervention from their big eastern brother. The time of radical political change was ripe. The network of military alliances, held tightly together during the Cold War years, had radically changed. President George H.W. Bush spoke of a peace dividend and a “New World Order” that could now be harvested.
But instead of peace, the rise of ethnic nationalism began to create problems with no single ethnicity, and each group aligning with neighboring countries of their ethnic roots. Bosnian Muslims looked toward Muslim Alija Izetbegovic, the first president of the newly formed Bosnia-Herzegovina, for leadership; Bosnian Serbs to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic; and Bosnian Croats to Franjo Tudman, fascist president of Croatia.
Appeals for nationalism were found in such events as President Milosevic's speech to a crowd of more than one million people on June 28, 1989. He recounted the 600-year-old Battle of Kosovo when the Serbian nation and their Christian Orthodox faith resisted the spread of Islam by the "Ottoman Islamist Empire." While appealing to their sense of patriotism and nationalism, he also reassured them that the Autonomous Province of Kosovo would remain an integral part of Serbia and Yugoslavia, despite the current and often violent problems. He demanded separatism by the Muslim Albanian majority living in Kosovo. In November 1989, Molosevic became president with 65.33 percent of the vote, with his nearest rival only earing 16.4 percent.
Although each ethnic group tolerated the other and mixed in public life, privately those ethnic groups remained separate and did not intermarry, which further widened the rift of differences between them. Bosnia became a problematic area in the 1990s.
Fighting over Bosnian territory
In the early 1990s, Bosnian Serbs began to chisel out portions of Bosnia for themselves. Serbian leader Milosevic sent the Yugoslav National Army, along with Serb nationalist forces, across the Drina River into eastern Bosnia, and killed hundreds of thousands of Bosnians. As Serbian rebels continued with an “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia, the Bosnian Croats also carved out portions of Herzegovina, fearing a Serbian takeover. The Bosnian Croats formed the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosnia and engaged in their own “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnian Muslims in an attempt to create an all-Croat homeland. Hostilities between the two ethnic groups intensified and fighting broke out in Zagreb with the Bosnian Croats who were directly supported by the Croatian government.
The joint Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was formed in 1994 after the Bosnian Croats and Muslims agreed to a ceasefire. The two groups joined forces to fight Bosnian Serb troops, who were directly supported by the Serbian government and led by Milosevic. Croatians launched a huge assault against the Krajina Serbs, killing approximately 14,000 Serb civilians and creating 300,000 Serb refugees the following year. In retaliation, the Serbs launched a counterattack on Zabreb that resulted in only a few deaths, but more than 100 injuries.
There is some debate about whether the U.S. was implicated. There were reports that NATO planes were used to disable Serb command and control centers in the Krajina regions, which made the Serbs an easier target for Croatia. At the same time, Croatian troops were being trained by the private consulting firm, Military Professional Resources, which was licensed by the U.S. State Department. Some believe the U.S. actually instructed Croatia when to proceed with their attack and promised to reward them by returning the Krajina region to them if the Bosnian Croats joined the Muslims in the new federation.
Postwar Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina
After three and a half years of fighting, the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, on December 14, 1995. Three weeks of intense negotiations at the Wright Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, preceded the signing with the U.S. and other allies having taken an active role in those talks. Significant progress has been made in the restoration of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the U.S. and other countries, including a sharp decrease in inter-ethnic violence, restored freedom of movement from country to country, and more than one million refugees and others returned to their former homes by October 2004.
However, such progress has been met with opposition within the country by nationalist parties that exert control within all levels of the Bosnian government. Some complain that Bosnian efforts have failed owing to the cumbersome governmental structure set up by the accord. More than $15 billion was spent, $13.6 million of it in incremental military costs and more than $1.5 billion in economic aid, by the U.S. between 1991 and 2004. Determining how much U.S. involvement was required to ensure their interests was debated in Congress during 2005. Their involvement could include continuing to hand over indicted war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Current challenges facing Bosnia-Herzegovina
Crime and corruption continue to be the horns of a dilemma to the economically struggling country. The establishment of a High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) in 2003, along with a new criminal code and procedure, were attempts to break down the connection nationalist political parties have with certain enterprises and organized crime. Of key importance in the international efforts in that country, Bosnians view corruption as the second most serious problem after unemployment. Due to its success in establishing macroeconomic stability with low inflation and a stable currency, Bosnia has received praise from the International Monetary Fund.
Nevertheless, Bosnia is one of the poorest European countries, with close to half of its population living near or below the poverty line. The international community encouraged Bosnia to reduce the size and expense of separate governmental agencies and lower levels of government, while the U.S. and other countries continued to contribute resources to aid in strenghtening them. Without continued international support, the threat of economic collapse and a return to nationalist rule looms heavily over the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.