Bosnia and Herzegovina – a country ravaged by war conflict

The Bosnian War of 1992-1995

The Bosnian war was a sharp interethnic conflict in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina between armed groups of Serbs, autonomist Muslims, Bosnian Muslims and Croats. The conflict began after the collapse of Yugoslavia, between the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, consisting of Bosnian Muslims, the Croatian Defense Council and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Srpska. Later, the Croatian army, volunteers and mercenaries from all sides and NATO armed forces were involved in the conflict. The war ended with the Dayton Accords. To prevent a repetition of bloody events, peacekeeping forces were sent to the country. The state was divided into the Serbian Republic and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the post of UN High Representative was introduced.

On December 14, 1995 in Paris, Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman signed the Dayton Agreement on a ceasefire, separation of the warring parties and separation of territories, which ended the civil war in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The full text of the agreement consisted of a general part and eleven annexes.

On November 21, 1995, at the US military base in Dayton, agreements on a ceasefire in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the separation of the warring parties, and the separation of territories were agreed upon. The Dayton Agreement laid the foundation for the modern constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, peace in the country remains fragile to this day.

On August 4, 1995, the military operation “Storm” in the Bosnian War began. It involved Croatian Army forces and the 5th Corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina against the Serb Krajina. The massive offensive, supported by aircraft and artillery, began in the early morning. The operation resulted in Croatian victory and the elimination of the Serb Krajina and West Bosnia republics. The ethnic map of Croatia also changed: according to various estimates, 200 to 250,000 Serbs fled the country, and another hundred to several thousand civilian Serbs were killed.

On July 11, 1995, the Bosnian Serb army seized the Srebrenica enclave, declared a “security zone” by the UN Security Council. From that moment on, mass shootings began in the enclave of Bosniaks who had not managed to escape to safe areas. The Serbs divided the Bosnian men into groups, each of which was sent to a separate facility. The shootings also took place in large barns belonging to a local agricultural cooperative. Muslims awaiting imminent death were held captive without food. The bodies of the dead were thrown into ditches. Then they began to provide machinery to remove the corpses to specially prepared mass graves. This mass murder was the largest in Europe since the end of World War II.

On February 28, 1994, there was an air battle over Banja Luka between U.S. Air Force fighters and Republika Srpska Air Force attack aircraft. It was the only known air battle during the Bosnian War. American fighters shot down four Serbian Air Force attack aircraft during the air battle. At the conclusion of the air battle, two U.S. Air Force pilots were credited with a total of four air victories.

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On November 9, 1993, the pedestrian arch bridge over the Neretva River in Mostar was completely destroyed. The bridge had long symbolized the peaceful coexistence of the multi-ethnic population of Mostar and the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the symbolic value of the bridge that led to its destruction. The Bosnian Croat army began shelling the bridge with cannons from the Hum Hill in the southwest. The tank bombardment lasted two days. It received over 60 hits before it collapsed. Along with the bridge, the stone towers and part of the rock on which the bridge rested collapsed.

On April 6, 1992, the European Union declared the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the next day the United States recognized it. However, the Serbs, who made up a third of the population of BiH, boycotted the referendum, declaring insubordination to the new national government, and began to form their own government with its center in the city of Banja Luka. The movement was led by the Serbian Democratic Party of Radovan Karadzic.

On April 5, 1992, during the war in Yugoslavia, the siege of the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, began. It was first besieged by units of the Yugoslav People’s Army and then by the Army of Republika Srpska. The city was blockaded from the ground and air, there was no light or water, and food became very difficult to come by. The Serbian Army occupied all the hills with which the city was surrounded, as well as the heights in some quarters. On the same day, a “Demonstration for Peace” took place in Sarajevo. On that day, Serbs and Bosnians in the city came together for the last time, they went to the square, trying to confront the impending disaster, but they were fired upon. Several people were killed. Exactly who shot the people has not yet been determined.

On February 29, 1992, the Bosnian authorities held a referendum on the independence of the republic. It was attended by a majority of residents. The turnout at the referendum was 63.4 percent. According to the results 99.7% of the voters voted for the independence of the republic, which was confirmed by the parliament of the country at the session of March 5, 1992.

The experiment on Yugoslavia: why the lessons of the Bosnian war should not be forgotten

In the early spring of 1992, the bloodiest conflict in postwar Europe broke out on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to various estimates, the war that lasted until 1995 claimed the lives of 70,000 to 200,000 people. The Bosnian crisis finally undermined the foundations of Yugoslav statehood. Why, a quarter of a century later, the Balkans remain a “powder keg” in Europe, is covered in the RT story.

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The topic of the Bosnian war is rarely raised in the foreign media. The acute ethno-political crisis that emerged 25 years ago is considered to be solved. In the West, the existing contradictions between the supposedly reconciled parties to the conflict are ignored to avoid working on the mistakes.

Modern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a confederation with a very weak economy and a high level of corruption and crime. BiH is what is commonly referred to as a patchwork state. Bosnia consists of two de facto independent entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, which is divided into two enclaves.

According to 2015 data, the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is populated primarily by Bosniak Muslims (ethnic Serbs and Croats who converted to Islam) and Catholic Croats. Republika Srpska consists mostly of Orthodox Serbs, but there is a gradually growing Muslim population.

Preparations for war

The armed clashes that began in BiH in 1992 were the result of an internal crisis in the Yugoslav state and external pressure on its leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Belgrade suffered its first defeat in the summer of 1991 in battles with the Slovenian militia.

The example of Slovenia, which had seceded from socialist Yugoslavia, inspired the Croatian nationalists. In response to Zagreb’s declaration of independence from Belgrade, local Serbs declared the creation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina. On May 16, the Assembly (parliament) of the self-proclaimed state decided to join Yugoslavia.

In the second half of 1991, fierce fighting broke out between Serb militias supported by the Yugoslav army and the armed forces of the newly formed Croatia. In January 1992, a cease-fire was established through UN intervention.

In March of that year, however, a war flared up in neighboring Bosnia, which was riven by tensions between Muslims (44 percent of the population in 1991), Croats (17 percent), and Serbs (31 percent). In Yugoslavia, the Serbs were essentially the state-forming people. The Serbian population of BiH, like that of Croatia, opposed secession from the socialist state.

On January 9, 1992, the Assembly of the Serb People of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared the creation of the Republika Srpska (RS). Serbs began to form their own government and armed forces.

The catalyst for the formation of statehood in RS was the increased clashes with Bosniaks and Croats. On March 5, 1992, the parliament in Sarajevo affirmed Bosnia-Herzegovina’s independence. Controversy in Bosnia became irreversible. Serbs became separatists in a country that broke away from Yugoslavia.

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Some of the Yugoslav army officers had moved to RS. The republic’s authorities were aware of the looming threat and began to prepare for war. A headquarters was set up in the town of Khan Pesak (70 km from Sarajevo), with six corps under its command. In a fairly short time the militias were united into a semblance of a regular army.

How the myths were created

In March 1992, Croatian soldiers entered the northern part of Bosnia, which was controlled by the Serbs.

On March 27, Croats carried out the first ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War in the border region of Posavina.

Soon the massacres of civilians would become an integral part of the fighting in BiH.

On April 5, 1992, with the active support of the Yugoslav army, RS troops laid siege to Sarajevo. The goal of the Serbs was to take the BiH capital and other major cities, but they made little progress. Bosnia fell into chaos, with mostly civilian victims.

According to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, all parties to the conflict were guilty. Since the spring of 1992, however, foreign media and politicians have assiduously portrayed Serbian soldiers and militias as thugs, ignoring the numerous ethnic cleansing carried out by Muslims and Croats.

Such an information picture contributed to the emergence of various myths, which over time acquired the status of historically accurate facts. One of the popularized examples of myth-making is the generally accepted interpretation of the events in Srebrenica (Eastern Bosnia), where 7,000-8,000 unarmed Muslims were allegedly killed.

In July 2015, Russia blocked a resolution proposed by Britain condemning the massacre of Muslims that took place 20 years ago. There were more than just good political reasons for this action. Russian and Serbian historians insist that there is no evidence that even 1,500 people died.

The Serbs were deliberately labeled as bloodthirsty murderers in order to make the events in Srebrenica an instrument of political pressure, says Elena Guskova, PhD in history and head of the Center for the Study of the Contemporary Balkan Crisis. The expert does not deny that a terrible tragedy did take place in the Bosnian town, but the scale of the shelling of the convoy of Muslims with weapons in their hands was inflated to genocide. Where did the myth of the murder of 7,000 to 8,000 Muslims come from?

These figures were announced by Carla Del Ponte, prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in an address to the NATO Council on November 3, 2004. She referred to the report of the Republika Srpska Commission of Inquiry on Srebrenica.

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Later, historian Zeljko Vujadinovic, a member of the commission, pointed out that there was no such data in the report. According to him, there was accurate information about the deaths of more than 1,000 Muslims between July 10 and 19, 1995, with no reason given.

“The list of 7,806 names refers to persons who were reported missing for the entire month of July 1995,” Carla del Ponte Vujadinovic explained the “error” of Carla del Ponte. According to him, the remains of 1,438 people had been identified by July 2005. Remarkably, 800 people who died throughout 1995 are buried at the Memorial Center in Srebrenica.

The fruits of independence

Twenty-five years ago a conflict erupted in southern Europe that took the lives of tens of thousands of people. The exact number of victims of the Bosnian massacre has not been established to this day because of the huge number of missing persons.

The population of BiH suffered from a shortage of food, medicine and drinking water. The military carried out mass executions, raped women and set up concentration camps. Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks forgot that they were essentially one people, even though they professed different faiths.

The Bosnian war ended with the intervention of NATO, after which the Dayton Accords were signed, legitimizing the secession of BiH from Yugoslavia. It is worth noting that Western governments officially supported the disintegration of a large, by European standards, state.

On January 5, 1992, the European Union recognized the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. On April 7, 1992, the U.S. took a similar step, adding Bosnia to the list of recognized states in addition to Slovenia and Croatia.

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Kosovo President Hashim Thaci announced the transformation of the Republic’s security forces into a full-fledged army. Such a reform goes against the law.

In the second half of the 1990s, the West supported the Kosovo separatists, who were trained in Albania by American and European instructors.

On March 24, 1999, NATO launched an operation to destroy military and civilian installations in Serbia.

The formal occasion for the air strikes was the accusation of ethnic cleansing directed against Albanians. The “humanitarian intervention” was the final chord for Yugoslav statehood.

The autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija was turned into the territory not controlled by Serbia and its independence was recognized by the Western countries in 2008. In 2006 Montenegro went free. As a result, Serbia lost access to the sea, becoming a small land-based state with a half-destroyed economy.

However, a difficult socio-economic situation has developed in almost all Balkan countries. Only Slovenia feels relatively well.

In the rating of IMF on GDP per capita Croatia is on the 56-th line ($21,6 thousand). BiH is in 105th place ($10.5 thousand), and Kosovo, according to the World Bank, is 103rd ($9.7 thousand). Serbia ($13.6 thousand), Montenegro ($16 thousand) and Macedonia, which bloodlessly separated from Yugoslavia ($14 thousand), do slightly better.

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The Yugoslav peoples were under the illusion that they could change their lives for the better by separating from Belgrade. According to Elena Guskova, this is a widespread delusion of “small nations.

“Yugoslavia was a state where there was a fairly high standard of living, and the lagging regions were supported at the expense of the prosperous ones. There was no oppression or persecution of national minorities in Yugoslavia. On the contrary, it was the Serbs who bore the brunt,” Guskova stated.

“The Yugoslav peoples have lived apart for 25 years. That’s long enough time to build a state, an economy, and a better life for which tens of thousands of people died. And what’s the bottom line?” – Guskova asks the rhetorical question.

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There is a rush to admit Montenegro to NATO. Both the outgoing U.S. administration and the authorities of the Balkan itself insist on the need for this step.

The head of the Belgrade Center for Geostrategic Studies Dragana Trifkovic believes that the European Union and the U.S. were not initially interested in the formation of stable developing states in the Balkans. The goal of Western policy toward Yugoslavia was to erase the buffer zone that separated it from the East.

“Stuck in a stalemate, the Balkan republics rushed to the EU and NATO. But European integration has not relieved Slovenia and Croatia of their economic problems. Now the rest of the states, including Serbia, want to join the EU. However, the implementation of European standards only worsens their economic situation. This is a futile path,” Trifkovic told RT.

In addition to large-scale economic degradation, the Balkans have become a region of ethno-political contradictions.

“NATO destroyed an unwanted regime and cleared its way to the East, leaving smoldering hotbeds in the region. Nationalism and antagonism toward Serbs can be seen in Croatia, Bosnia, Albania. Serbia is under great threat from all sides,” Trifkovic explained.

According to Guskova, the Bosnian war and the Kosovo crisis, in which NATO aircraft bombed Belgrade, demonstrated that “since the 1990s, international law has ceased to exist. In her words, Yugoslavia was replaced by politically non-self-governing republics.

“The U.S. successfully conducted an experiment on the fragmentation of a fairly strong Slavic state, using diplomatic, informational and military methods. Now it is impossible to talk seriously about any sovereignty of the current post-Yugoslav states,” said Guskova.

The expert stated that Washington strategists have successfully coped with the task: “Balkans that were deprived of peaceful life are under the influence of NATO and EU. And in the West, the certainty that a quarter of a century ago everything was done right prevails.

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