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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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The Balkans.

The Background, the War and the Split


For ages one of the hottest spot on the European continent were the Balkans. This territory, among other things because of its strategic location, was the object of various conflicts between many countries and nations. The region experienced also some periods of stabilization, but the real and deep causes of the disputes seemed never to find final and effective solutions.

The dissolution of the communist system in Eastern Europe proved to be a watershed for Yugoslavia, encouraging nationalist sentiments in its republics and laying the groundwork for the election of several separatist-minded governments by 1990. Soon the old and almost forgotten ethnic conflicts were revived. All this circumstances led to bloody wars and finally the split of the Yugoslavian Republic.

Wars, which had broken out in result of the falling apart of the Yugoslav Federation in 1991, were the most tragic and longest armed conflict in Europe since World War II in 1945. They caused the death of over 80 thousand people. The intensive work of international institutions and the involvement of the USA and other western countries did not put a definitive end to these wars, either. In Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kosovo, only the presence of UN peacekeepers somewhat contained the situation.

The present work will deal the history of the Balkans, the wars of the 90’s and their consequences.

The work consists of two parts. In the first one the Balkans background and a brief history of those territories will be presented. The second one deals with the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo conflict. The situation in that region is still dynamic and it seems that all the current solutions are temporary after all. For that reason and due to the contents of resource accessible the work concentrates and analyses more precisely only the period up to the year 2000.

This paper has been based on various Polish and foreign books (especially by Maciej Kuczyński, Krwawiąca Europa. Konflikty zbrojne I punkty zapalne w latach 1990-2000. Tło historyczne i stan obecny), press releases from Polityka but mainly on information from various Internet pages.


The conflicts in Yugoslavia were the next act in the Balkan wars; the result of long, tragic and complicated history of this region, which caused the inhabitation of this small territory by many different nations, who were often forced to live within the borders of one country, while still remembering the many wars and sufferings of the past.



The present territory of Yugoslavia was conquered by Rome in the II century B.C. In the year 395 A.D. Emperor Theodosius the Great divided his country between two of his sons, Honorius and Arcadius, creating the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and the Western Roman Empire. The division line ran through the middle of future Yugoslavian land. In time this caused that part of the Balkan nations were baptized by the Byzantine and the rest by the Romans, which divided the two groups for long centuries to come. The fall of the Eastern Empire in 476 A.D. and the weakening of the Byzantium caused the conquest of this land by Mongolian people. Until the end of the 7th century, Slavs had been throwing out the Mongolians, becoming masters of this region, as well as settling on the whole land of present Yugoslavia. At the end of the 7th century the Slav people divided themselves into smaller tribes, which later became nations. The Slaves settled the furthest north, while more to the south were the Croatians and in the south-eastern part were the Serbs. The furthest south, on the border with Greece, were the people later called the Macedonians. 98

At the end of the 8th century Slavs and Croatian lands became dependant by Charles the Great. Slovenia from this moment until the year 1918 had become a part of the German Reich, and later Austrian. However, after German rule, the Hungarians had conquered Croatia in the year 1102. Both of these countries accepted baptism from Rome.99

The Serbs and Macedonian ancestors accepted baptism from Byzantine and to present day they are faithful to their Orthodox religion. The Serbs were the only people who managed to keep their land. However, Macedonia was divided into Byzantine and Bulgaria. In the 11th century, Byzantine formed a separate nation on its own land, called Bosnia, which was inhabited by Serbs. In the 11th century Montenegrins, (mountaineers who were settled on the mountains bordering with Albania) separated from Serbia. Around the year 1400, Bosnia fell apart and then, among others Herzegovina was created (occupied by Serbs and Croatians).

Near the end of the 14th century, the Turkish had started their conquest of Balkan territories. Although, there was resistance the Turkish successively conquered nation after nation. Until 1528, almost the whole Balkan region, except for Slovenia was under Turkish rule. 250 years of horrific Muslim slavery and unsuccessful uprisings were awaiting Christians of these Balkan areas.

The Turkish fought against Christian defiance by moving the populations from revolting areas and replacing them with Muslims. Intensive works of converting Christians to Islam were also led. The majority of the population, which converted to Islam, was in Albania and in Bosnia. Those who were converted (Serbs and Croatians from Bosnia and Albanians) became the key element allowing for Turkish domination, actively helping in the suffocation of Christian uprisings. The Serbs and Croatians remembered this role played by local Muslims very well.

At the end of the 18th century, Montenegro was able to free itself from Turkish rule. The Serbs, encouraged by this example, also gained independence at the beginning of the 19th century. 100

After Napoleon succeeded in Austria, he then in 1809 formed from parts of Slovenia and Croatia (Caryntia, South Istrian Peninsula, Croatia, Dalmatia and Raguza) Ikra provinces, which were included into France. They existed until 1813, when an Austrian army had taken them over, but later they played a large role in Balkan politics. The Yugoslavian idea finds its origin here - the thought of forming one country from all southern Slovenians. After the Viennese Congress in 1815 the provinces were divided between Austria and Turkey. As the Turkish rule in the Balkans weakened, other nations fought for their autonomy or independence.


The uprising in Bosnia in 1874 against Turkish domination prompted other nations (Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro) to armed demonstrations against the aggressor. In 1878, Russia entered war against Turkey, pushing the Turkish army out to Constantinople.

On the strength of the peace negotiations from 1878, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro gained independence. Austria-Hungary gained the right to temporarily occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina. Due to the rising danger from Austria, but also from Turkey many Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians started to think about joining into one nation by gathering most of the southern Slovenians (without Bulgarians). The Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina differed the Croatians from the Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. In contrast to the Croatians, who thanks to the actual joining of these regions into Austria-Hungary found themselves within the borders of one country. Bosnian Muslims were against the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 101

Serbia not being able to accept the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, formed a confidential organization, “Unification or Death,” later called “Black hand,” at the beginning of 1911. Its purpose was to act against Turkey, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, in order to join Bosnia and Macedonia with Serbia.

At the beginning of 1912, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece entered a military alliance and on October 8th they attacked Bulgaria. In result of this war, also called the first Balkan war, Turkey lost almost all of its property, mainly to Greece and Bulgaria. However, Serbia and Montenegro gained very little territory. In consequence, together with Greece they demanded that Bulgaria give up a part of the conquered land. In response, on 29 June 1913, Bulgaria declared war on them, starting the second Balkan war. At the same time, Turkey and Romania turned against Bulgaria. The war ended with the defeat of Bulgaria, and Serbia acquiring most of the territories of Macedonia, however, the rest of the conquered land was divided between Greece and Romania.
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