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A brief History of Yugoslavia

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bullet "...the peace negotiations between the Orthodox [Christian] Serbs, the Catholic Croats and the Muslim Bosnians had collapsed again. And there is no doubt that the religions that are so involved here had neglected in the period of more than forty years since the Second World War to engage in mourning, honestly confess the crimes which had been committed by all sides in the course of the centuries, and ask one another for mutual forgiveness....I think there can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions!" Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel, commenting in 1993 on conflict within the former Yugoslavia. 1

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Maps of the Balkans, Yugoslavia and Kosovo:

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yugo.gif (23757 bytes) koso.gif (21613 bytes)
FYROM refers to the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

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A brief history of Yugoslavia:

The Yugoslavia which emerged from World War II was a six republic federation. From north-west to south east, the political entities were Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

At various times during the past millennium, the country know known as Yugoslavia, and its surrounding countries, straddled the borders of three faith groups: Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Roman Catholicism. Various sources give conflicting stories of the area's past. The following is our initial attempt at describing the history of Yugoslavia. Although this data came from usually reliable sources, we are uncertain about its reliability. We will attempt to improve this in the near future:

bullet Prior to 6th century CE: Kosovo and the surrounding area were occupied by the Illyrian people, who became present-day Albanians.
bullet 6th & 7th centuries CE: The Serbs arrived in Kosovo and the surrounding area.

bullet 12 & 13th century: Rastko (1174-1236 CE) created the first Serbian national church. After a brief alliance with Rome, the church became part of Orthodox Christianity.

bullet 14th century: The Ottoman Turks conquered what is now Yugoslavia at the Battle of Kosovo in the Field of Blackbirds in 1389 CE. Serbian Prince Lazar could have avoided the conflict by agreeing to pay tribute to Murad I, the Turkish Sultan. However, Lazar and his army rejected this option. They swore the Kosovo Covenant. This committed them to fight to the death of the last man rather than submit to control from a foreign power. Islam was introduced by the Turks during their occupation.

bullet 15th century: Muslim influence was extended to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

bullet 16th century: Slovenia and Croatia came under the influence of Austria. Roman Catholicism was introduced. Thousands of Serbs were forcibly relocated to the Croatian border with Bosnia.

bullet 19th century: After Russia defeated the Turks, Serbia was granted independence. But Kosovo and Macedonia remained under the control of the Turks. The Austro-Hungarians got control of Bosnia-Herzegovina and retained Croatia and Slovenia.

bullet Pre-World War II: With the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and the conclusion of World War I, Yugoslavia became a kingdom under King Alexander. His dictatorship included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. A fascist separatist movement, the Ustase, was established by the Croats to promote their independence.

bullet World War II: The Nazis over-ran Yugoslavia. The country was partitioned. The fascist Ustashe (Croatians; primarily Roman Catholics) established a puppet Nazi state, which included Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Large numbers of Serbian Orthodox believers, Jews and Roma (Gypsies) were exterminated. The killings were perpetrated by the Nazis, the Ustashe, and occasionally by the Bosnian Muslims.  The 21st division of the German Waffen SS was recruited almost entirely from ethnic Albanians. "In the winter of 1944-45 it carried out the last ethnic cleansing exercise of the war. It did this in Kosovo, against the Serbs." 3During the war, Jews were relatively safe in Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs largely protected them from the Holocaust. A civil war followed World War II; as many as 1 million Yugoslavs were killed.

bullet 1945 to 1980: Joseph Tito unified the 6 republics into a communist dictatorship, independent of Russia. He was able to suppress religious and cultural rivalries among the Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox and Muslims during his lifetime. But, as noted in the quotation at the start of this essay, no concerted attempt was made by the political or religious leaders to settle centuries-old religious hatreds. An opportunity was missed that might have avoided (or reduced) ethnic cleansing and genocide during the 1990's.

Tito angered the Serbs by granting autonomy to the north-eastern province of Vojvodina and the southern province of Kosovo in 1974.

bullet 1980's: Tito died in 1980. In 1987, while investigating allegations that the minority Serbs in Kosovo were being attacked by the ethnic Albanian majority, Slobodan Milosevic had promised his fellow Serbs that "No one will ever beat you again." Milosevic quickly became a Serbian hero, and was able to force changes to the Yugoslav constitution through its Parliament in 1989. 2 This terminated the autonomous status of the provinces of Vojvodina (in the north) and Kosovo (in the south). Milosevic "removed Kosovo's autonomy, established direct Serbian rule over the province, expelled the Albanians from the Kosovo parliament, the state bureaucracy, and state owned industries, and closed the state-run school system and most of the medical system to them." The Albanians in Kosovo became a majority with few rights in their own country. Leading Kosovo intellectual, Ibrahim Rogova, promoted a nonviolent approach to resolve the system of Apartheid under which they were persecuted.

bullet1990's: The unravelling of Yugoslavia accelerated.

bullet 1990: The north-west province of Slovenia voted the Communist party out of office. Slovenia won its independence from the rest of Yugoslavia in 1991.

bullet 1991: Croatia made a bid for independence. Croats and Serbs started a civil war. The U.N. assisted in establishing a cease-fire, starting in 1992.

bullet 1991: Macedonia declared independence. It was admitted to the UN under a provisional name in 1993, and was recognized by the U.S. and Russia in 1994.

bullet 1992: Bosnia declared independence. A civil war among the Croats, Serbs and Muslims erupted. The world was horrified by new images of starving prisoners in concentration camps. The civilian population was heavily targeted by armies on all sides. Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel commented: "Similarly, there is no doubt that the Catholic and Orthodox churches in particular have identified themselves all too much with their own political leadership in the most recent controversies and not made a commitment for peace openly, opportunely and energetically." 1

bullet 1995: The Dayton Accord, brokered by the U.S., established a fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Representatives from Kosovo were excluded from the talks. It probably would not have been possible to get the principal parties in the Bosnian conflict to the Dayton bargaining table if Kosovo was on the agenda. The conflicts in Kosovo was not discussed; "Rugova's nonviolent strategy lost its credibility." 2

bullet 1996-7: Following the Dayton Accord, many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo decided that their nonviolent approach was getting nowhere. The Kosovo Liberation Army began a guerrilla campaign.

bullet 1998: The situation had become critical. The Serb army destroyed several villages in Kosovo in order to evaluate Western reaction. The West responded with "rhetoric and...meetings," 2  but no credible threats. The Yugoslavian government then escalated the conflict.

Yugoslavia had been gradually disintegrating since the death of Tito. The country lost much of its territory and population during the 1990's as Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina achieved independence. By 1999-APR, Yugoslavia consists of only four provinces: Vojvodina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Montenegro had a large degree of local autonomy. The government and Serbian people of Yugoslavia are totally opposed to losing any more territory to independence or autonomy movements. This led to a massive civil war in Kosovo, and a lower-scale program of ethnic cleansing in Vojvadina.

NATO became involved in 1999 in an extensive bombing campaign summed up as: "Serbs out, peacekeepters in, refugees back." On 1999-JUN-12, a ceasefire was arranged and KFOR peacekeepers entered Kosovo.

According to Wikipedia:

"The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charged [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milošević with crimes against humanity, violating the laws or customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and genocide for his role during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Before the end of the bombing, Milošević, along with Milan Milutinović, Nikola Šainović, Dragoljub Ojdanić and Vlajko Stojiljković were charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with crimes against humanity including murder, forcible transfer, deportation, and "persecution on political, racial or religious grounds".

Further indictments were leveled in October 2003 against former armed forces chief of staff Nebojša Pavković, former army corps commander Vladimir Lazarević, former police official Vlastimir Đorđević, and the current head of Serbia's public security, Sreten Lukić. All were indicted for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war." 4

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Related essays:

bullet Religious aspects of the Yugoslavia-Kosovo conflict
bullet Religious aspects of the Yugoslavia-Vojodina conflict
bullet Religiously-based civil unrest and warfare - worldwide

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  1. Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel, "A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the
    Parliament of the World's Religions
    ", pp. 43-44)
  2. James Hooper, "Albanians feel betrayed by Americans," Current History, 1999-APR.
  3. Richard Gwyn, "Demonizing the Serbs, to save face," Toronto Star, 1999-APR-23, Page A25.
  4. "Kosovo War," Wikipedia, as on 2011-AUG-12, at:

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Maps courtesy of ITA's Quick Maps.

Essay author: B.A. Robinson
Originally published: 1999-APR-7
Latest update: 2011-AUG-13
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