History of Bosnia and Herzegovina

From Academic Kids

This is the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Ancient history

Bosnia has been inhabited at least since Neolithic times. In the early Bronze Age, the Neolithic population was replaced by more warlike tribes known as the Illyres or Illyrians. The Illyrians spoke an Indo-European language.

In the year 168 BC the land of Illyres became the Roman province of Illyricum. In year 10, following a four-year rebellion of Illyres, Illyria was divided and the northern strip of today's Bosnia along the south side of the Sava River became part of the new province of Pannonia, while the rest of what is today Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Dalmatia, western Serbia became part of the Roman province of Dalmatia.

Latin-speaking settlers from all over the empire settled among the Illyrians, and Roman soldiers were encouraged to retire in the provinces of Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Dacia across the river Danube. The town of Blagaj on the Buna River is built on the site of the Roman town of Bona. Illyria and Pannonia were later included in the Western Roman Empire (following events from the years 337 and 395 when the Empire split).

The Romans lost control of Pannonia and Dalmatia in 455 to the Ostrogoths. The Ostrogoth Kingdom was defeated by Eastern Roman Empire in the 'Gothic War' from 535-553 by the Emperor Justinian, and for a time in the mid-Sixth Century the Dalmatian province became part of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Middle Ages

The Slavs, who had originated in areas spanning modern-day southern Poland, were subjugated by the Turkic Avars in the 6th century, and together they invaded the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries, settling in what is now Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the surrounding lands. The Serbs and Croats came in a second wave, invited by Emperor Heraclius to drive the Avars from Dalmatia.

Around 925, Bosnia was briefly ruled by Tomislav, the king of Croatia. From the 930s to the 960s eastern Bosnia, together with part of western Serbia, was ruled by Serbian Prince Časlav Klonimirović, who liberated his state from Bulgarian rule and acknowledged the sovereignty of the Byzantine Empire.

The first mention of the name "Bosnia" is in the De Administrando Imperio of Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus in 958. Heading 32 of the De Administrando Imperio describes the territories under Serbian control, in which he mentions the "small region" (χοριον) of "Bosona" (Βοσωνα), in which lie the two inhabited cities, Kotor and Desnik. Though the location of Desnik is still uknown, Kotor was located to the south of present day Sarajevo. In the early Middle Ages, the term Bosnia described the region of the Bosna river valley. Later this term spread to cover most of what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1019 the Byzantine Emperor Basil II forced Serb and Croat rulers to acknowledge Byzantine sovereignty. Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV who rose to power in the 1060s exerted influence over Bosnia. Prince Mihailo of Zeta (also known as Duklja), took control of Hum (Herzegovina), and declared his independence from the Byzantine Empire before 1077. Mihailo was crowned as King of Serbia by Pope Gregory VII. Mihailo's son Konstantin Bodin conquered much of Bosnia after 1083, but his rule of Bosnia lasted only a short time, and discord among his heirs led to the breakup of the kingdom shortly after his death in 1101.

Missing image
The Charter of Kulin, 1189

When Croatia became part of the Hungarian kingdom in 1102, most of Bosnia became vassal to Hungary as well. Since 1137, Bela II of Hungary claimed the duchy of Rama, a region of northern Herzegovina. His title included "rex Ramae" since 1138, likely referring to all of Bosnia. However, by the 1160s the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus defeated Hungary and restored Bosnia to the Eastern Roman Empire for a time.

There are various historic documents that include unclear or conflicting information as to the ethnic identity of the inhabitants of medieval Bosnia. For example, the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja (Ljetopis popa Dukljanina), created around 1172-1196 mentions Bosnia (Bosnam) as one of the two Serbian lands, while describing the four southern Dalmatian duchies (including most of today's Herzegovina) as Croatian lands, a description rather inconsistent with other historical works from the same period. Coupled with other inaccurate or simply wrong claims in the text, it cannot be considered reliable.

After some centuries of rule by Croatia, Serb principalities, and the Byzantine Empire, an independent Bosnian state flourished in central Bosnia between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries.

Beginning with the reign of ban Borić in 1154, Bosnia was a semi-independent banovina under the sovereignty of the king of Hungary. The second ban, Kulin, issued the first written Bosnian document written in Cyrillic in 1189.

See also the list of Bans and Kings of Bosnia.

The official documents by Bosnian rulers are a source of some controversy. The Charter of Ban Matej Ninoslav (son of Radivoj) dated 1240 includes references to Srblyin and Vlach that can be interpreted in modern ways as well as vague medieval denominations. Ban Stjepan II Kotromanić used the word "Serbian" to describe his langugage in a letter of his dated 1333, and then used the word "Croatian" for the same thing in another letter of his dated 1347.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Herzegovina was made up of separate small duchies: Zahumlje (Hum), centered around the town of Blagaj and Travunia-Konavli, centered on the town of Trebinje. These states were sometimes ruled by particularly influential dukes but never powerful enough to form a larger, independent state. Over the course of several centuries, they were under Croatian, Bosnian, Zetan and Nemanjić Rascian rule. Their territories included modern Herzegovina and parts of Montenegro and southern Dalmatia. The name Herzegovina was adopted when Duke (Herceg) of St. Sava Stjepan Vukčić Kosača asserted its independence in 1435/1448.

Bosnian Christian Hval's Miscellany, ca. 1400
Bosnian Christian Hval's Miscellany, ca. 1400

The religion of the original Slavic population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was mixed: there were Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but also many were Krstjani ("Christians"), an indigenous Bosnian Church. This "early protestant church", as some call it, was accused by the Catholic and Orthodox authorities of being a dualist heresy and linked to the Bogomils (Patarens).

Several important rulers of Bosnia were Krstjani, but they would often renounce their confession or even perform conversions in return for military or other support from the Holy See. Be that as it may, all Bosnian bans and kings were Catholics.

By the mid-14th century, Bosnia reached a peak under ban Tvrtko Kotromanić who came into power in 1353. Tvrtko made Bosnia an independent state and is thought by many historians to have been initially crowned in Mili near today's cities of Visoko and Sarajevo.

He went on to claim not only Bosnia and Hum, but the surrounding lands as well:

  • in 1377 he was crowned King of Serbia and Bosnia in a Franciscan monastery in Mile, in the city of Visoko near Sarajevo. This coronation is believed to have happened as a token of reaffirmation of his suzerainty over Serbia, and some believe he adopted the name Stephanus (Stjepan/Стјепан) to emulate the Nemanjić dynasty. The exact location of the coronation is disputed, as some historians claim that this actually occurred in the Serb Orthodox Mileševo monastery by the grave of Serb patron saint St. Sava.
  • by 1390, Tvrtko I expanded his empire to include Croatia and Dalmatia, and added the title of King of Croatia and Dalmatia.

Stjepan Tvrtko I's full title listed subject peoples and geographical dependencies, following the Byzantine norm. At the peak of his power, he was King of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hum, Usora, Soli, Dalmatia, Donji Kraji etc.

After the death of Tvrtko I, the power of the Bosnian state slowly faded away. The Ottoman Empire had already started its conquest of Europe and posed a major threat to the Balkans throughout the first half of the 15th century. Finally, under the king Stjepan Tomašević Bosnia officially "fell with a whisper" (šaptom pala) in 1463 and became the westernmost province of the Ottoman Empire. Herzegovina fell to the Turks in 1482. It took another century for the western parts of today's Bosnia to succumb to Ottoman attacks.

Ottoman era

The arrival of the Ottoman Turks marked a new era in Bosnian history. The Turks created the Province of Bosnia which included sanjaks of Bosnia and of Herzegovina, among others. They also introduced the so-called spahi system (actually the timar holder system) which changed the local administration and the agriculture, but was generally an arrangement similar to European feudal fiefs.

All of the Krstjani believers eventually converted to either Orthodoxy, Catholicism or Islam. There are conflicting claims on the exact ratios or whether or how much of it was voluntary or not. Since earliest Turkish defters clearly distinguish Bosnian Christians from Catholics or Orthodox, it is now general consensus that the number of Bosnian Christians in the times of Ottoman conquest did not exceed a few hundred people.

During the Ottoman period, the Christians were treated as "dhimmis" by the Ottoman authorities, the People of the Book who weren't able to ascend in the government hierarchy (unless they converted to Islam) but were otherwise subject to the same restrictions as the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were not required to join the army, but they paid a special tax called jizya (glavarina in Bosnia). Due to the constant border wars with the Catholic countries (Croatia, Austria, Hungary) as opposed to already occupied Orthodox countries (Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece), the Catholics were looked upon slightly less favorably than the Orthodox.

Many Christian children, regardless of whether Orthodox or Catholic, were forcibly separated from their families and raised to be members of the Yeni eri (new troops) and became Muslims. This practice was known as the devşirme or blood tax. However, a Janissary held a very high position in Ottoman society during the empire's golden age, prompting many Muslims to voluntarily send their children away.

The Turkish conquest also changed the ethnic and religious makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many Catholic Bosnians retreated to Croatia, which was controlled by Austria after the Turkish conquest of most of the Kingdom of Hungary, and to Dalmatia, which was controlled by the Republic of Venice after the fall of Hungary. Orthodox Serbs and Vlachs from Herzegovina and the Belgrade pašaluk migrated into parts of Bosnia. Many Vlachs later assimilated into the local Serb, Bosniak, and Croat populations.

The Ottoman period saw the development of a Sephardic Jewish community in Bosnia, chiefly in Sarajevo. The Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, and many resettled in the Ottoman Empire. The first synagogue was built in Sarajevo in 1581.

The Turks had conquered Slavonia and most of Hungary by 1541. In the next century, most of the Bosnian province wasn't a borderland and developed in relative peace. However, when the Empire lost the war of 1683-1697 to Austria, and ceded Slavonia and Hungary to Austria at the Treaty of Karlowitz, Bosnia's northern and western borders became the frontier between the Austrian and Ottoman empires.

In 1716, Austria occupied northern Bosnia and northern Serbia, but this lasted only until 1739 when they were ceded to the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Belgrade. The borders set then remained in place for another century and a half, though the border wars continued.

The wars between the Ottomans and Austria and Venice impoverished Bosnia, and encouraged further migration and resettlement; Muslim refugees from Hungary and Slavonia resettled in Bosnia, assimilating into the emerging Bosniak population, and many Serbs, mostly from Kosovo but also from Bosnia and Serbia, resettled across the Bosnian border in Slavonia and the Military Frontier at the invitation of the Austrian Emperor.

The Ottoman Sultans attempted to implement various economic reforms in the early 19th century in order to address the grave issues mostly caused by the border wars. The reforms, however, were usually met with resistance by the military captaincies of Bosnia. The most famous of these insurrections was the one by captain Husein Gradaščević in 1831. Gradaščević felt that giving autonomy to the eastern lands of Serbia, Greece and Albania would weaken the link between Bosnia and the Ottoman Empire. He raised a full-scale rebellion in the province, joined by thousands of native Bosnian soldiers who believed in captain's prudence and courage, calling him Zmaj od Bosne (the Bosnian dragon). Despite winning several notable victories, notably at the famous Kosovo polje, the rebels were eventually defeated in a battle near Sarajevo in 1832 after Gradaščević was betrayed by Herzegovinian nobility. Husein-kapetan was banned from ever entering the country again, and was eventually poisoned in Istanbul. Nevertheless, the Empire continued to decline.

The Ottoman rule lasted for over four hundred years, until 1878.

19th and 20th century

The Ottoman Empire divided its subjects by religion, rather than nationality, but nationalist movements in Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere in the Empire gained strength in the 19th century. Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks shared a common language, variously called Slavic, Illyrian, Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian. (See also Serbo-Croatian language.)

The Orthodox Serbs were the most nationally organized, and were encouraged by neighboring Serbia, which won autonomy within the Ottoman Empire in 1817, and later independence. Bosnia and Herzegovina's Catholics identified with the Croats from neighbouring Austro-Hungarian province of Croatia-Slavonia. Both Serb and Croat nationalists claimed Bosnia's Slav Muslims, and some Muslims did embrace Serb identity (Osman Đikić, Šukrija Kurtović), or Croat identity (Safvet Basagic, Musa Cazim Catic, Edhem Mulabdic,..). Although Bosnia's Muslims enjoyed a privileged status under Ottoman rule relative to their Christian neighbors, many desired autonomy from the detested Ottoman governors and officials. The Ottomans didn't distinguish Muslim Bosniaks from the empire's other Muslims, and many Bosniaks continued to identify with their Turkish co-religionists, although a Bosniak national movement and identity began to develop in the late nineteenth century.

In addition to Serb, Croat, and Bosniak national movements, the Yugoslav movement, which sought to unite all the South Slav peoples, and Pan-Slavism, a movement to unite all Slavs, had adherents as well.

In 1875, a rebellion broke out among Christian peasants in Herzegovina, which spread to Bosnia and Bulgaria. Heavy-handed Ottoman suppression of the rebellion encouraged neighboring states to intervene; Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1876, and Russia intervened the following year in support of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria.

At the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, The Ottomans ceded Bosnia and Herzegovina to occupation and administration by Austria-Hungary, although the province still formally remained Ottoman territory. Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs violently resisted the entry of Austrian troops who, although surprised, quickly crushed the rebellion. The Austrian troops, on the other hand, were welcomed by the Catholic Croats who would thrive under the Austrian occupation.

Following the revolution of the Young Turks in 1908, Austria hurried to formally annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. This sent shock waves through the nearby nations, and the people of Montenegro and Serbia loudly protested, some even calling for war, as the prevailing opinion was that Bosnia was Serbian. Russian diplomatic intervention stopped the belligerent politicians, but not for long. The 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, triggered the First World War. The Yugoslav nationalist organization Mlada Bosna organized the attack, and student conspirator Gavrilo Princip fired the fatal shot.

Following the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.

After the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Bosnia and Herzegovina were occupied by the Nazi puppet state of Croatia. Thousands of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies were killed by the Fascist Ustasha regime. Communist Partisan and royalist Chetnik rebels, aided by Britain and the US, fought the Ustasha and Nazi troops, though they also fought among themselves.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the centers of Partisan resistance, with 23 brigades of the People's Liberation Army. Conservative estimates of the wartime death count in Bosnia range around three hundred thousand individuals. Several important battles were fought on this territory, notably:

  • the battle on the Kozara mountain in the summer of 1942, when a large group of partisans and even more civilians were surrounded on the mountain and had to break the siege to survive
  • the battle on the Neretva river in early 1943, where the partisans again escaped an enemy blockade, by destroying and then quickly rebuilding a strategically crucial bridge over the river Neretva
  • the offensive on the Sutjeska river in the summer of 1943, the final assault of the fascists that attempted to crush the resistance and capture Tito, that was unsuccessful

In late 1943, the partisans started winning the war, and convening the AVNOJ conferences in the central Bosnian town of Jajce, which marked the beginning of a new Yugoslav state.

After World War II ended, Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the six republics of Yugoslavia in 1945, when the country was re-organized as a communist federal state under Josip Broz Tito.

Bosnia was one of the economically poorer republics of socialist Yugoslavia, but it was built up noticeably using federal funds for underdeveloped regions.

Post-Yugoslav Bosnia

Yugoslavia's unraveling was hastened by the rise of nationalism: Bosnian Muslims led by Alija Izetbegović, Serbs led by Slobodan Milošević and Croats led by Franjo Tuđman.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only Yugoslav Republic where there was no majority of a single ethnicity, and its capital Sarajevo was the prime example of inter-ethnic mixing and tolerance. But in the 1990s fate had twisted and Bosnia became a particularly problematic area.

In 1991, Slovenia declared independence which caused a short conflict with the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) which tried to prevent secession. Later that year, Croatia did the same and JNA responded the same way, but with the Serb majority in Krajina separating from Croatia.

Bosnia was ethnically heterogenous and there could not be a remotely clear delimitation between the areas that wanted to secede and those that did not. The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina provided for three constitutional nations: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, so no major constitutional changes were to be granted short of a unanimous agreement from all three sides. This was pretty much a guarantee that the warfare would be very bloody.

Alija Izetbegović was jailed in 1983 for publishing his infamous "Islamic Declaration" where he implied Bosnia as an Islamic state. He was released in 1990 when he formed a nationalist moderate right of center party called Party of Democratic Action. He more or less abandoned his youth ideology of an Islamic State and turned toward keeping Bosnia and Herzegovina as a multi ethnic state. His banned manifesto was reprinted in 1990 in Belgrade and was used by Serbian nationalists as a tool to implicate him for fundamentalist activity. Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman met on March 25, 1991 in Karađorđevo and reportedly discussed and agreed upon a division of Bosnia and Herzegovina between their two states. Each had a following among the Bosnians of their respective nationalities. The connection of Bosnian Croats with the Croats in Croatia was particularly obvious given that Tuđman's political party had an eponymous sister-party in Bosnia, the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On February 29 and March 1 1992, the Bosnian government held a referendum on independence. The Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks mostly voted on the referendum in favor. The Bosnian Serbs who were largely against independence in favor of what would soon become the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) mostly boycotted it, because of its unconstitutionality as the Serb delegates in parliament did not approve it.

With 99% voting for the independence out of 66% of the eligible voters, the Bosniak and Croat representatives in Bosnia's parliament declared the republic's independence on April 5, 1992. The Serb delegates, having previously left over the violation of the Constitution, declared their own state Republika Srpska on midnight between April 6 and April 7.

Most European countries and the U.S. recognized the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina by April 7, and the country was admitted to the United Nations on May 22.

Bosnian War

Being in the middle of a wider conflict, the situation in Bosnia quickly escalated, even before the referendum results were announced.

The first casualty in Bosnia is a point of contention between Serbs and Bosniaks. Serbs claim this was Nikola Gardović, a groom's father who was killed at a Serb wedding procession on the first day of the referendum, on February 29, 1992 in Sarajevo's old town Baščaršija. Bosniaks meanwhile consider the first casualty of the war to be Suada Dilberović, who was shot during a peace march by unidentified gunmen on April 5.

Note that this was not actually the start of the war-related activities on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On September 30, 1991, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) destroyed a small village of Ravno located in Herzegovina and inhabited by Croats during the course of its siege of the city of Dubrovnik (which was on the territory of Croatia itself). On September 19, the JNA moved some extra troops to the area around the city of Mostar, which was publicly protested by the local government. Finally, on November 18, 1991 the Croats of Herzegovina, formed the "Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia" (Hrvatska Zajednica Herceg-Bosna) as an national supra-organization that aimed to protect their interests.

The Yugoslav People's Army was deployed around Bosnia and Herzegovina and tried to take control of all major geostrategic points as soon as the independence was declared in April 1992. The Croats organized a military formation of their own called the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane, HVO), the Bosniaks mostly organized into the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Bosne i Hercegovine, Armija BiH), while the Serbs participated in the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske, VRS). In some places, smaller paramilitary units were active, such as the Serb "White Eagles" (Beli Orlovi), Bosniak "Patriotic League"(Patriotska Liga) and "Green Berets" (Zelene Beretke), or Croat "Croatian Defense Forces" (Hrvatske Obrambene Snage).

The war between the three constitutive nations turned out to be probably the most chaotic and bloody war in Europe since World War II. Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, only to be broken again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage.

The United Nations repeatedly attempted to stop the war, but wasn't particularly successful. Cyrus Vance and David Owen drew up a much-touted peace plan during 1992 but it did not have much result.

In June 1992, the United Nations Protection Force which had originally been deployed in Croatia, had its mandate extended into Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially to protect the Sarajevo International Airport. In September, the role of the UNPROFOR was expanded in order to protect humanitarian aid and assist in the delivery of the relief in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as aid in the protection of civilian refugees when required by the Red Cross.

Initially it was Bosniaks and Croats together against the Serbs on the other side. The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) and established control over most of the Serb-populated rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar. The Serb forces received the most accusations of genocide – cf. Bosnian Genocide.

Most of the capital Sarajevo was held by the Bosniaks and in order to prevent the Bosnian army from being deployed out of the town, the Bosnian Serb Army surrounded it, deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills. They imposed a blockade on all traffic in and out the city on May 2, 1992, starting what was to be known as the siege of Sarajevo.

The Bosnian Serbs constantly bombarded the civilians of all ethnicities in the city. They held on to a few Sarajevo suburbs (Grbavica and parts of Dobrinja), a part of which were also under control of the Bosnian government forces. The civilian death count in Sarajevo would pass 12,000 by the end of the war.

To make matters even worse, in 1993, after the failure of the so-called Vance-Owen peace plan, the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks began fighting over the 30 percent of Bosnia they held. This caused the creation of even more ethnic enclaves and even further bloodshed.

Mostar was also surrounded for nine months, and much of its historic city was destroyed by shelling.

In an attempt to protect civilians, UNPROFOR's role was further extended in 1993 to protect the "safe havens" that it had declared around a number of towns including Sarajevo, Goražde and Srebrenica.

Eventually even NATO got involved when its jets shot down four Serb aircraft over central Bosnia on February 8 1994, in what was supposed to be a UN declared "no-fly zone"; this was the alliance's first use of force since it was founded in 1949.

In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia signed the Washington peace agreement, creating the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This narrowed the field of warring parties down to two.

A mass killing, widely considered the largest in Europe since World War II, happened in July 1995. Reportedly in retaliation to previous incursions by Naser Orić's troops, Serb troops under general Ratko Mladić occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, after which 7779 Bosniak males were killed (See the Srebrenica Massacre article for details).

The war continued through most of 1995, and with Croatia taking over the Serb Krajina in early August, the Bosniak-Croat alliance gained the initiative in the war, taking much of western Bosnia from the Serbs. At that point, the international community pressured Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović to the negotiation table and finally the war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on November 21, 1995 (the final version was signed December 14, 1995 in Paris).

In the end, the war caused an estimated 278,000 dead and missing persons and another 1,325,000 refugees and exiles from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, opposing views citing 102,000 confirmed deaths with an estimated 130,000-150,000 in total have surfaced by the UN Hague Tribunal. Apparently the study says that some deaths had been mistankenly counted twice, for example in some cases as both military and civilian.

Bosnia after the war

Bosnia and Herzegovina after Dayton Agreement
Bosnia and Herzegovina after Dayton Agreement

The Dayton Agreement divides Bosnia and Herzegovina roughly equally between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska, based mostly on their wartime borders.

The third incarnation of the war in the former Yugoslavia prompted the UN to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague on May 25, 1993, which started work in 1996. The warring parties committed war crimes, committed ethnic cleansing, formed internment camps often compared to concentration camps.

In 1995-1996, a NATO-led international peacekeeping force (IFOR) of 60,000 troops served in Bosnia to implement and monitor the military aspects of the agreement. The country was divided into three sectors, with the north east controlled by US lead forces, the north west by British forces, and the south (including Sarajevo, Mostar and Gorazde) French lead.

IFOR was succeeded by a smaller, NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) whose mission was to deter renewed hostilities. The United Nations' International Police Task Force in Bosnia was replaced at the end of 2002 by the European Union Police Mission, the first such police training and monitoring taskforce from the European Union.

SFOR's duties were in turn taken over by an even smaller, EU-led EUFOR at the end of 2004.

Feelings among Bosnia's three nations regarding their roles in the war are based mostly on two issues; whether the war was initiated by Serbian aggression, and whether Croat and Serbdom was or would have been infringed upon in an independent Bosnian state. Bosniaks overwhelmingly feel the war was a clear case of Serbian aggression and that the new Bosnian state was and would have been peacefully multiethnic. The vast majority of Serbs on the other hand believe that there was no aggression on their part, but rather a needed effort to protect Serbdom and the presence of the Serbian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina which would have been infringed upon in a Bosnian state. Bosnian Croats mostly find themselves between these two views, believing that the war was a case of Serbian aggression but that Croatian culture and presence in the Bosnian state was and/or would have been infringed upon.

It has been argued that, throughout the conflict, the international community (especially the United Nations) has made fatal errors in evaluating the situation. This is a point of contention — opinions range from those that say they should have intervened earlier and stopped the bloodshed, to those who question whether they should have intervened at all.

The western media's reporting of the conflict pursued the doctrine of 'moral equivalence', portraying all warring sides as as bad as each other. It is technically true that war crimes were committed by all sides during the conflict (as in most wars - in World War II, for instance, the Allies' firebombing of Dresden is now regarded as an atrocity). However, much as it would be absurd to say that all sides were therefore equally tainted in World War II, neither were they in this war. It is becoming increasingly clear that 1992-5 was essentially a war of aggression pursued by the Serbian leadership intent at acquiring an intrinsically multi-ethnic territory, and one in which the Croatian leadership connived for territorial gain. The failure to put across a fundamental geometry of the conflict, through wilfulness or incompetence, remains the greatest failure of the Western media and the Western political leadership of the time.

Further reading

  • Cohen, Lenard J.: "Broken Bonds: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia", Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993
  • Gutman, Roy: "A Witness to Genocide", the 1993 Pulitzer prize-winning dispatches on the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnia, New York: Macmillan, 1993
  • Murray, Elinor, and others: "The Struggle for Peace in Bosnia: Considering U.S. Options", Providence, RI: Center for Foreign Policy Development of Brown University, 1992, ED 371 965
  • Malcolm, Noel: "Bosnia: A Short History", 1994
  • Rumiz, Paolo: "Maschere per un massacro", Editori Riuniti, Roma, 2000
  • Sells, Michael: "The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia", University of California Press, 1996

See also

External links

General history

War and post-war history

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