History Of The Conflict In The Balkans

Essay, Research Paper

The conflict in the Balkans is interesting because for years,

reporters and politicians have touted it as being the result of

ancient ethnic hatred but that isn?t the case. The people of the

region lived together peacefully for centuries and any conflicts that

have arose among people were based not on ethnic origin but other

things like class, ruling party, etc. In fact, any problems that have

arose in the former Yugoslavia have more to do with the issues raised

by nationalism that developed during World War II and not centuries of

three different peoples living together.

This paper will explore the history of the conflict in the

Balkans from the time shortly after Josip Tito passed away until just

before the Dayton Accords. Additionally, it will be shown that at

each of the three distinct points of the conflict, the international

community and the United States had it within their power to stop the

violence. The three distinct phases are Kosovo, secession, and Bosnia

and at each point, the lack of action or overreaction of the

international community failed to solve the problem.

The first phase of Yugoslavian disintegration can be

attributed to the conditions of the people living in Kosovo, an

autonomous province of Yugoslavia. In 1981, the socioeconomic

conditions in Kosovo were far worse than those in the other republics

of Yugoslavia. Poverty was rampant and unemployment was around twenty

percent as compared to about two percent in Slovenia that same year.

The standard of living in Kosovo was deplorable and whatever aid that

was given to the province by the federal government was mismanaged

(Samary, 65).

Another significant problem with this particular province was

that while the Serbs claimed the province as the ?Cradle of Serbian

Empire? because of a legendary battle and defeat that happened at

Kosovo in 1389, the Albanians constituted approximately eighty percent

of the population of Kosovo. In reality, Kosovo could be claimed more

by the Albanian majority than by the Serb minority. Many of the

valiant warriors who fought and died at the Battle of Kosovo were in

fact Albanian warriors, a fact seldom acknowledged by the Serb

leadership. Furthermore, historical evidence suggests that Illyrians,

the ancestors of Albanians, formed their first communities in Kosovo.

The ?Serb Empire? was not as grand and powerful as modern Serbia

would contend. Relations between Albanians and Serbs were good in the

Middle Ages because of the many reasons that tensions exist today

between nation states i.e. customs, trade, immigration, and so on

(Samary, 36). Kosovo, by nearly all accounts but the Serb

interpretation of the Battle of Kosovo, is an Albanian area.

Albanians were given majority rule of Kosovo in the 1960?s by

Tito in order to act as a hegemon to the power of Serbia. Under

independent rule, the region was able to make available an Albanian

curriculum and Albanian culture grew in importance. Economically,

however, Kosovo was still suffering since whatever gains the economy

made were outdone by the gains in population made by the Albanian

Muslims who averaged six to eight children per family. The power in

Kosovo was vested in a small group of elite Albanians who did well at

advancing national identity and improving education and other public

works but who were poor at managing and maintaining a functional

economy. Whenever federal funds were given to the province, those

elites at the top either wasted the money on grandiose projects and

ornate buildings or on their new and privileged lifestyles (Bennett,


On March 11, 1981, the students of Pristina University, in

Kosovo, organized a protest against the deplorable living conditions

on the campus. At the protest, they voiced their malcontent with the

poverty and unemployment if life in Kosovo. They then marched to the

provincial League of Communists only to have the demonstration halted

by the police. The leadership of the League of Communists demanded

that the leaders of the protests be brought into custody fearing that

if the leadership of the protests remained, the protests would

continue. The police complied and in a moment of solidarity with the

student leaders, students poured into the streets demanding that their

classmates be released from custody. The unrest was escalated by

excessive police brutality and on April 3, 1981, Belgrade imposed

martial law (Bennett, 89).

It is suggested that this particular time in the history of

Yugoslavia is when the disintegration of Yugoslavia occurred. Tito

had died less than a year before the incident in Kosovo and the

Yugoslav Army (JNA) was pointing their weapons at fellow Yugoslavians.

For the first time in Tito?s Yugoslavia, the federal government had

sided with one ethnic group over another and because of this change in

policy toward Kosovo, Serbia was able to acquire control once more

over the province with the help of the JNA. Sixteen hundred Albanian

college students, secondary school students, and adults were taken

into custody and handed a heavy prison sentence (Bennett, 90).

In the late 1980?s, Slobodan Milosevic came to power in

Serbia. His first actions were directed against Kosovo Albanian

dominance in the province. He removed virtually all of the Albanian?s

rights, their leadership role in government, their party, and their

parliament. He further removed their control of their

Albanian-language library and the administration of their school

system. This was the classic case of human rights violations.

Milosevic took away their right to govern themselves and as a result,

he gained the attention of the United States Congress. A pro-Albanian

coalition formed among those who had ethnic Albanian constituents

(Alphonse D?Amato), of those who habitually cultivated the support of

ethnic groups (Bob Dole), and of those who saw Kosovo as a human

rights problem (Representative Tom Lantos).

Annual human rights reports submitted to the White House by

the Department of State read like a prison record when it came to

Serbian abuses of the people of Kosovo. Unfortunately, Congress was

not in agreement with how to treat the reports of the abuses in

Kosovo. The Bush administration was more interested in keeping

Yugoslavia together and concerned more about the breakup of the Soviet

Union and the potential tragedy that such a thing might cause.

Therefore, Kosovo, in the words of Warren Zimmerman, ?remained a part

of Serbia, albeit a much-abused one (Zimmerman, 3).?

In my estimation, the problems of Kosovo were not viewed as

important or of any interest to the national security or economic

prosperity of the United States therefore no action was needed. I

disagree with the stand that the Bush administration took on Kosovo.

The State Department catalogued massive human rights violations by the

Serbian leadership in Kosovo yet the Bush Administration did nothing.

Little was said about what was going on in the region and even less

was said by the American press because of the instability in the

former Soviet Union.

Up until this point, the official party line in Washington, DC

was that the Bush administration would continue to support a united,

territorially strong, and independent Yugoslavia. It would seem that

history had yet another crossroads in Yugoslavia. The strategic

importance of Yugoslavia was lost with the breakup of the Soviet

Union. The movement towards more democratic government was creating

an air of instability and uncertainty in the region. Finally, the

inter-ethnic conflicts between Serbs and Croats, people of Kosovo and

Serbs, Slovenes and the rest of Yugoslavia added to the unstableness

of the situation (Zimmerman, 4).

While the political unity of Yugoslavia was paramount for the

White House any financial aid that would be given to Eastern Europe

would be based on that particular nation?s ability to move toward

democracy and a free market economy. Because of this commitment to a

movement toward democracy, the United States eagerly awaited the

results of the election in 1990. These elections, however, brought

into power nationalists of many colors. In Slovenia and Croatia, the

election brought to power two leaders who advocated the secession of

their respective republics from federal Yugoslavia. Additionally, the

reelection of Milosevic in Serbia aroused fears that Yugoslavia would

be dominated by a Greater Serbia. The future of Yugoslavia was

uncertain and finally became an issue of importance in the State

Department and the White House.

Yugoslavia?s existence itself was at stake and the State

Department had to ask itself two questions. One, what are the chances

that Yugoslavia will disintegrate? Two, what will disintegration

mean? The Central Intelligence Agency was the first to predict the

breakup of Yugoslavia in September of 1990. This breakup, as examined

by experts in the embassy in Belgrade and in Washington, was certainly

seen as potentially violent and leading to war. The State Department

did make attempts to alert the Western Allies in NATO of the potential

for armed conflict but it fell upon deaf ears (Zimmerman, 5).

One of the fundamental problems with United States policy in

Yugoslavia was that democracy and unity seemed to contradict each

other. A democratic movement in Croatia and Slovenia elected

separatist governments. The United States wanted a united Yugoslavia

but Croatia and Slovenia were flirting with independence and if the

rest of Yugoslavia were to order the JNA into those republics to quell

the violence, would the United States support this action. Clearly,

the objective of keeping a united Yugoslavia would be obtained but

human rights violations as well as continuing armed conflict in

defense of the separatist governments meant that peace in the Balkans

would be lost.

At this point, the United States should have chose either

unity or democracy. Clearly, both were not what Yugoslavia was headed

for. A united Yugoslavia meant a strong central government controlled

from Belgrade while a free and democratic Yugoslavia meant the

potential for disintegration. By the end of 1991, United States

policy shifted toward support for democratization and a free market

economy and away from its former support of continues unity. On May

23, 1991, Secretary of State, James Baker, issued a statement of five

principles of interest in Yugoslavia by the united states. First was

democracy and last was unity. Finally, the United States had actually

set some sort of priority on their objectives.

On June 21, 1991, Slovenia declared independence. Slovenia?s

discontent with the rest of the Yugoslav federation can be traced back

to the 1970?s when during the oil crisis that took the entire world by

storm, Slovenians returned home from their then non-existent Western

European jobs. Slovenia?s per capita income was twice that of the

rest of Yugoslavia with zero unemployment making the republic a

popular place for migrant Serbs and Albanians from Kosovo. This

migration in the 1970?s was not welcomed because after Tito?s death,

Serbs throughout the Federation attempted to usurped the educational

institutions of Slovenia and to institute a single, unified ?Yugoslav?

curriculum. The Slovenes saw this as an attempt to eliminate their

national identity and because of this rejected it flatly.

As a result of the attempts of the communists in Yugoslavia to

reform the education system of Slovenia, the republic?s government

undertook a massive campaign, mostly television advertising, to raise

national awareness of the issues and to attempt to build support for a

nationalist movement. It worked. Throughout Slovenia, one could find

tee-shirts with ?Slovenia my Homeland? silk screened on them. The

campaign for national pride had worked.

The Yugoslav communists attempted a media campaign as well and

had the economy not taken a nose-dive in the mid 1980?s they might

have been successful. However, the Slovene media touted the economic

recession as the fault of the other, poorer republics. The

politicians argued that Slovenia was suffering not because of the

recession but because they had to subsidize the other, less developed

republics. What arose from this stage of the game was the beginnings

of an intense nationalism would later propel Slovenia out of the

Yugoslav federation and into an independence movement.

As a result of this tension between what apparently had become

Milosevic (in control of Serbia, Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Montenegro)

and Kucan of Slovenia, the Slovene people made their way toward

independence. It started with the youth movement. Mladina, a Slovene

political weekly, began and ran stories about the JNA, Yugoslavia,

Milosevic, and others who were basically labeled enemies of the

Slovene people. A new artist movement caught the attention of many in

Europe through art, literature and music. This movement began with a

group of teenagers looking for an alternative to mandatory military

service and ended with an alternative to continued federation with


On May 31, 1988, the attacks that the JNA had received from

Mladina were avenged with the arrest of Janez Jasna, the military

correspondent for Mladina and a candidate for the presidency of

Slovenia?s Youth Organization. The charge was leaking military

secrets. Later, three other people were indicated in this conspiracy

when documents were discovered in the offices of Mladina. These

documents were believed to be the plans for a takeover of Slovenia by

the JNA although the JNA and the Yugoslav government never confirmed

the suspicions. The people of Slovenia and its leadership viewed this

attack on Mladina and its youth as an attack on Slovenian sovereignty.

With Kosovo now under the control of Serbia, the time had come

to turn the attention of the JNA and the government towards Slovenia

which was, at this time, still teetering on the issue of independence.

In typical fashion, Milosevic turned his propaganda machine on the

Slovenes blaming them for everything from the price of clothing in

Serbia to the price of tea in China. At approximately the same time,

Milosevic attempted to cripple the economy of Slovenia by boycotting

Slovenian goods and services in Serbia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo. What

Milosevic managed to do was not to punish Slovenes for their

insurrection but instead punish the Serbs who were dependent on

Slovene goods and services. The economy of Serbia was in a downward

spiral. Hopeful to raise a billion dollars in investments, Milosevic

asked Serbs from all over the globe to contribute to his

reconstruction and revitalization fund. Out of the billion dollars

that he was expecting and counting on, Milosevic managed to get a

whopping twenty-five million dollars… hardly enough to solve the

economic woes that inflation, poor quality, and over employment were

causing (Bennett, 108).

Obviously, Milosevic was killing himself and Serbia with these

sanctions and other economic activities. In his zeal for a

nationalist movement, Milosevic managed to forget that one needs an

economy for a nation to exist and he was systematically destroying

his. In Kosovo alone, police operations costs amounted to about half

of all of Yugoslavia?s military budget and Milosevic?s refusal to let

anyone outside of Serbia to handle the situation further crippled any

hope for a unified Yugoslavia. Serbia?s actions in Kosovo were one of

the key factors in Slovenia, and shortly thereafter, Croatia?s

decision to leave Yugoslavia. Had Serbia not treated the people of

Kosovo as second class citizens within a now, new Greater Serbia, the

Slovenes and the Croats would not have feared them as much. As it

stood, however, the Serbs had seemingly made it clear that no

Yugoslavia would exist without a Serb holding the reigns.

Therefore, Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federal

government. Slovenia was scheduled to declare independence on June

26, 1991 but late in the afternoon on the previous day, Croatia

declared independence from federal Yugoslavia. Croatia had seceded

without tackling one, very critical question. What was the status of

Serbs living in Croatia. Throughout history, Serbs had been moved

into the Krijina region of southern Croatia to defend the

Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Ottomans to the south. By the

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