The History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The History of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Ancient Times to the 20 th Century
[This chapter has been compiled using chapters 1 - 6 of the official EUFOR-homepage www.euforbih/bih.htm "History of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the origins to 1992” by Thierry Domin, augmented by Wolfgang Etschmann, in particular his essay on "1878 - Occupation of Bosnia”.]
After many long years of struggle Bosnia became part of the Roman Empire several hundred years before the birth of Christ. The Romans had fought for centuries against the Illyrians and numerous other tribes. In fact they built a series of fortifications as a kind of "Danube wall” to protect their empire from the eastern invaders. Like most of the Mediterranean area Bosnia profited from this development of infrastructure. Settlements and towns grew into centres of commerce and communication. Constantinople (Byzantium), the seat of power of Constantine the Great in 330 AD, was destined to become the hub of the Eastern Roman Empire founded in 395 AD. The power of the Byzantine Empire extended across the Balkans for many centuries. By the 6th century it had spread to the Western Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa. A cultural border gradually emerged between Eastern and Western Roman empires. The border ran through the heart of the Balkan Peninsula and the effect of this division is still felt to this day. It is fundamental to the current wave of conflicts in the Former Yugoslavia. In the 6th century AD, Slavic attacks threatened East Roman control of the Balkans. Gradual Christianisation led to closer ties with Central Europe but the Balkan principalities remained largely independent.
After the Magyar invasions of the 10th Century the Balkans consisted of an array of small, unviable principalities. The Serbian Prince Caslav and later the Croat King Kresimir attempted to unify these small states and brought about the first discernable "Bosnian” identity. This was not to last, and control of Bosnia swayed to and fro between the dominant regional powers. After a brief affiliation to the Byzantine Empire Bosnia once again came under Serb rule. In 1138 the Hungarian kings laid claim to Bosnia, while in 1166 it again came under Byzantine governance. Between 1180 and 1203 a phase of independence started that ended in 1223 when once again the Serbs seized power. Hungary then successfully asserted her claim to Bosnia until the death of King Ladislaus IV in 1290. Between 1299 and 1322 the Croatian dynasty of Subici was able to get hold of power with Paul Subic assuming the title "Ban of Croatia and Dalmatia” and "Lord of Bosnia”.
The Subici dynasty was overthrown by the local aristocracy and a ward of the Hungarian king, Stephan II Kotromanic, seized power until 1353. In that period the territory of Hum (Zahaumlje, Herzegovina), which had been a duchy since 1348, was added to the Bosnian reign giving vital access to the Adriatic and the rich trade sailing across it. This enabled the power and wealth of the ruling authorities to rise steadily with the increasing exploitation of Bosnia’s mineral resources and expanding trade throughout the entire Mediterranean. This temporary independence also resulted in an unusual religious autonomy.
Bogomilism: The heretic doctrines of Bogomilism reached Bosnia by way of Serbia and Bulgaria. Bogomilism became the state religion. In essence Bogomilism was a Bulgarian Christian sect (from the Bulgarian "Bog” meaning "God”; and "Mil” meaning "friend”) with a pessimistic attitude towards life. The Bosnian principalities adopted Bogomilism in order to offset the strong influences of its Catholic and Orthodox neighbours. It was eradicated in Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 13th century but thrived in Bosnia until the Ottoman Empire gained control of the region in 1463. Since both Catholics and Orthodox had persecuted the Bogomils as heretics, Bosnians were much more likely to convert to Islam since they did not consider themselves as friends of either the Roman Catholic or Serb Orthodox churches.
Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the Ottoman Empire
On 28 June 1389, St. Vitus’ (or Vidovdan) Day, King Lazar of Serbia met the invading Ottoman Turk armies at Kosovo Polje (Plain of the Blackbirds). Despite uniting the bickering Serb factions he was defeated. Both the Sultan of the Ottomans and King Lazar were killed in this battle. Lazar was executed by the Ottomans after his capture and was buried on the battlefield. The defeat of the Serbian army at Kosovo Polje was a high-point in the Ottoman expansion. It is very difficult to determine the facts of the battle. There are no reliable historical sources chronicling the events of the battle. Large portions of the surviving knowledge have been enshrined in a series of epic poems that form Serb legend. However, many of these were written centuries after the fact, and are not historically objective. Contrary to widespread Serbian beliefs, thousands of Albanian knights and soldiers fought and died beside their Serbian brothers-in-arms against the invading Ottomans. Many modern-day Serbs continue to glorify the defeated and martyred king as a national hero and the battlefield is still regarded as a monument to Serb unity. In fact, Kosovo Polje was just one of several clashes as the Ottomans expanded their Empire. Before the battle the Ottoman Empire already occupied much of the territory that today is Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1453, sixty-four years after the battle, Constantinople fell.
The era of the Ottoman Empire: The rise of the Ottoman Empire progressed in several stages and over many years. During that time, Croatia (in union with Hungary) settled Serbs who had been displaced by the Ottoman invasions in an area along its border with Bosnia. This area became known as the "Krajina” or frontier. This "human wall” served its purpose and became a barrier to the Ottoman advance. However, although this tactic was useful during the Ottoman years of occupation, in the future it would serve as a serious problem for Croats interested in independence and an ethnically "pure” Croatian state.
In 1463 the Turkish Army under Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror overthrew the kingdom of Bosnia but fighting and sieges continued for several years. Sulejman the Magnificent led a Turkish army from Bosnia to invade Austria, arriving at the gates of Vienna in 1529 - where they were defeated. In 1571 they lost the battle of Lepanto in the Mediterranean and in 1683, the Ottoman Empire was once and for all defeated on the walls of Vienna. It was the end of Turkish expansion towards the West.
Austria’s wars against the Turks between 1683 and 1688, with Prince Eugene’s thrust as far as Sarajevo in 1687, and between 1716 and 1718 concluded the Turkish governance in Hungary and Transsylvania for good. However, in the Balkans their dominance remained. Serbian and Bulgarian drives for independence achieved only limited autonomy. Only the Greek independence movement was fully successful. The Russian-Turkish War of 1877, a strategic thrust by the Tsar in direction of the Mediterranean Sea, finally rocked the Ottoman Empire. The underlying ideological motivation of this war was the liberation of the Christian-orthodox peoples on the Balkans from the Islamic yoke.
Changes in the society: At its heyday the Ottoman Empire ruled almost a third of Europe. It tolerated a significant amount of religious diversity within its borders. The Turks did not force conversion but only Muslims could own property, vote, or participate in government. Non-Muslims had to pay taxes on their work. However, they could practice their own religion, judicial system, and exercise autonomy in many community affairs. These limited "freedoms” were permitted by the Ottoman rulers to avoid revolts and rebellions.
It was during this period that many Bosnians converted to Islam. A large part of the Slavic population converted to the Islamic religion and became known as Bosniacs (Muslims). The conversion of the Bosnian upper classes to Islam confirmed Ottoman dominance for more than four hundred years. Christian peasants remained the serfs in the feudal society. Christian boys were often taken from their families to be converted and trained as the personal servants and soldiers of the sultans and his viziers. This janissary army was a means of integrating non-Ottomans into the structure of the empire, and of tying outlying communities to the ranks of the Sultan.
The Ottoman Empire brought numerous changes to Bosnian society. New towns of the Islamic-Oriental type were developed, and the economy was changed through the introduction of a feudal estate-landowner system. The Turks established administrative military districts called "sandjaks”. From 1580 the region of Bosnia was administrated as a pashadom. This decision recognized the Bosnian entity as including all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina together with some parts of Slavonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, and Serbia. In 1592, the Turks captured the important fortress at Bihac from the Habsburgs and as a result the Ottoman Empire had expanded to include all of Bosnia, part of Croatia, and Hungary. The Turks occupied Croatia until 1699.
Bosnia and Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian governance
One of the results of the Berlin Congress of 1878, which was intended to reshape the Balkans politically, was that Austro-Hungary received a mandate to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina since the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans was slowly crumbling. The occupation of former Turkish territories was supposed to take place peacefully in the summer of 1878.
Since the end of the wars with the Turks in 1699 and 1718 the tactics of the Bosnian people had become well known. Small detachments of troops, equipped with modern weapons, could surprise an enemy along his lines of communication in the rough terrain. It was an ideal country for ambush.
At the end of July 1878, violent unrest occurred in the major Bosnian cities. In Sarajevo and Mostar the Turkish administrators were expelled and radical groups took the lead in the fight against the invading Austro-Hungarian troops. Very soon the political aims of these rebels became clear: restoration of feudalism, implementation of religious-political goals, and resistance against the Austro-Hungarian forces. The rebels were well equipped with a mixture of locally available weapons and stored Turkish military munitions. The bulk of the resistance came from the remaining Turkish militias ("Redifs”) joined with newly emerged "political” gangs. Soon radical elements like the notorious gang leader Hadji Loja gained the upper hand and continued to play a major role throughout the conflict.
In spite of these alarming developments in the situation, the Austro-Hungarian High Command calculated that to occupy this rugged, mountainous country, rich in forests and water but severely lacking suitable roads, only 82,000 troops would be required.
1878 - Occupation of Bosnia: Command of the occupation troops was vested in Field Marshal Philipovic, the Commander of the Imperial XIIIth Corps in Zagreb. The 7th Infantry Division marched as the Western Group along the Sava River, the reinforced 6th Infantry Division moved along the central axis, and the 20th Infantry Division advanced on the East flank.
On 29 July 1878 the first troops crossed the Sava River and moved into Bosnia. The advance was intended to be swift with the objective of securing all of the essential parts of Bosnia (above all Sarajevo) as quickly as possible.
However, it soon became obvious that occupation and control of towns and junctions did not result in open lines of communication. On the right flank the 7th Infantry Division under Field Marshal Lieutenant Duke of Wurttemberg advanced in two columns toward Banja Luka. In the Vrbas valley they met with strong resistance in the area of Jajce. The situation soon became critical when the division was threatened by envelopment on both flanks and a heavy thunderstorm caused disruption to the supply route from the rear. It was only through resolute leadership and the discipline of the troops that the crisis could be averted. On 13 August the division was able to join the main forces advancing through the Bosna Valley.
After several probing attacks against strong rebel units the main forces pushed ahead on the Southern flank. Near Maglaj an un-cautious advance party consisting of a squadron of hussars was wiped out. The main rebel forces in the Sarajevo area consisted of about 3,500 Turkish Redifs and 10,500 irregulars. Further to the East in the Romanja Planina area there were about 8,700 insurgents and 300 regulars. These forces lacked preparation, organization and unity of command but were still capable of serious resistance.
It very soon became obvious to the commanders that there were not sufficient Austro-Hungarian troops for the permanent occupation of the area and it subsequently proved necessary to raise another three and a half divisions. But in the meantime the advance struggled forward. From 13 August onwards the main force, together with the 7th Infantry Division, advanced toward Sarajevo but was constantly delayed by ambushes and indecisive skirmishes. The supply situation remained precarious, for although one brigade had been left in the Bosna Valley to secure the lines of communication the restricted terrain ensured that insufficient materiel was getting forward to the front line troops.
Meanwhile on the left flank, in the East of Bosanski Brod, the 10,000 troops strong 20th Infantry Division seized Dolnja Tuzla after some minor skirmishes on 9 August. However they had to employ almost 5,000 troops just to secure their supply route. In Posavina the Mufti of Taslidza had concentrated major forces in prepared defensive positions - among them several thousand Albanian volunteers. He engaged the 20th Division and with superior forces and clever command inflicted a stinging tactical defeat on the Austrians. After they had lost 216 men they retreated to the Bosna Valley. Control of this junction was of paramount importance for the supply of the units advancing toward Sarajevo. Although a most of Posavina was in a state of insurrection (with nearly 12,700 insurgents and 1,300 Redifs under arms) the 20th Infantry Division was able to repulse persistent attacks on Doboj between 15 and 19 August 1878.
In the meantime, another alarming situation for the occupation forces developed around Banja Luka which was secured by only five and a half companies. It was attacked by about 3,000 Turkish troops and rebels from the Western Krajina and the Sana Valley. After repulsing heavy attacks the Imperial troops were finally relieved by a small unit of reinforcements from Alt-Gradiska. Now that the crises at Doboj and Banja Luka had been overcome the main forces resumed their advance toward Sarajevo. Despite heavy resistance from the rebels, Bosnia’s capital was captured on 19 August 1878. In the following days and weeks the towns of Visegrad and Gorazde were taken in order to gain full control over the river Drina basin.
The occupation of the Herzegovina and its capital Mostar was less dramatic. Field Marshal Jovanovic, who had gained experience of dealing with guerrilla warfare by quelling the uprising in Southern Dalmatia in 1869, advanced swiftly with his 18th Infantry Division as far as Mostar through the use of a successful deception plan. Without appreciable resistance the city was completely occupied by 5 August 1878. 15,000 rebels had threatened to cut the supply lines into the Travnik area from Livno but after counter-attacks on 15 August withdrew into the barren mountains southwest of Mostar. In that area, mainly in Trebinje and Stolac, the rebels were finally routed.
The 7,000 retreating Ottoman troops were a different story to the stiff resistance of the militia forces. They offered very little resistance and after leaving Mostar in an attempt to flee to the South they surrendered to the advancing forces. On 11 August they were transported back to Turkey from the port of Klek and their passive behaviour was the main reason why the Mostar area was liberated much faster than the rest of the country.
In spite of the successes of the Imperial troops, Bosnia could not be considered totally subdued. Significant rebel forces were still active in the Krajina and Posavina areas where they ambushed the Austro-Hungarian supply lines again and again. Rebel forces of 25 to 30,000 men, still operated in the Livno area of Turkish Croatia. The military activities of the rebels, facilitated by their mobility, knowledge of the terrain and local popular support, were anything but over by late autumn and Imperial troops were forced to launch fresh operations in order to establish greater control of the country.
The rough terrain meant that off-road movement by major units was almost impossible and it greatly hampered the supply of troops. Often re-supply could be done only with pack animals. The garrison required significant reinforcement in order not to jeopardize the success of the entire operation. The whole area required constant monitoring and every remote valley, mountain strongholds and forest depot had to be taken before the rebel gangs could be routed for good. Therefore, Field Marshal Philipovic received three more Corps as reinforcements, the IIIrd Corps in Graz, the IVth Corps in Budapest, and the Vth Corps in Pressburg (Bratislava) in reserve. As the Commander in Chief of the newly established 2nd Army his vast army consisted of 159 infantry battalions, 30 cavalry squadrons, 26 field and 21 mountain batteries of cannon, and 37 engineer companies. The total strength of the 2nd Army amounted to 154,000 infantry men, 4,500 cavalrymen, and nearly 300 artillery pieces.
After several strong attacks these forces succeeded in capturing the rebel strongholds and breaking their tough resistance. The hand-to-hand fighting for the mountain fortifications in Kljuc and Bihac was especially fierce and led to severe losses on both sides. The last major battle of the campaign took place on 21 September 1878 near to Senkovic, just East of Sarajevo. Elements of the 1st and 6th Infantry Divisions drove about 7,000 rebels from their heavily fortified positions.
By the middle of October 1878 almost all rebel groups had been destroyed except for a few weakened elements that had escaped across the border. Things were not entirely calm however as numerous gangs of robbers operated with relative impunity and styled themselves as "freedom fighters”.
With the arrival of winter Bosnia and Herzegovina was firmly in the hands of the Imperial troops, of which five divisions were deployed in Bosnia and one in Herzegovina. During the campaign, the troops of the 2nd Army had suffered heavy casualties, among them 966 men killed in action and 272 men missing in action. Many more died from disease or perished in accidents.
The Balkan campaign of 1878 demonstrated perfectly what great pains a modern army had to go through in order to break determined resistance of guerrilla forces in rough terrain. The experience gained made entry into the tactical and strategic field manuals of the Imperial army - but only slowly, and sadly without the detail that would be required to avoid the same mistakes in future conflicts. The typical heavy infantry of the day turned out to be ill suited to accomplish its tasks in rough mountainous terrain. Rather the mountain brigade, task-organized for moving and fighting in difficult terrain and composed of infantry battalions supported by artillery, engineer and logistic units, proved that it was ideal for mission success in difficult conditions. It was a pity that this concept was not widely accepted until further adverse experience in the Balkans in the course of World War I.
The decisions made at the Berlin Congress of 1878 could not solve all of the latent problems in the Balkans. They provided only a temporary easing of tension that lasted but a few years and in some cases fresh seeds of conflict were planted that would be sprout during the following decades. Between Bulgaria and Greece a conflict simmered for Macedonia - a problem in which also Serbia was interested. Serbia was angered that Bosnia had been awarded to Austria-Hungary. In Bulgaria the Dobrudja question kindled antagonism towards Romania. In the final talks of the Berlin Congress the Northern part of the Dobrudja was awarded to Romania as a compensation for Bess Arabia, which had to be ceded to Russia. And in the Aegean Sea Turkish, Greek and Bulgarian interests collided for the first time, something that would happen again thirty years later.
From today’s point of view the legacy of Austro-Hungarian rule in the cultural and economic fields could be assessed positively, but this did not lead to similar improvements in the infrastructure when compared with other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. Improved public security, clearly noticeable by most of people but hitherto unknown in the region, contributed to the immediate easing of the political tension that had prevailed in the country since the middle of the 19th century. The Imperial gendarmerie had been able to maintain public security without great manpower but with significant skill. However, unrest within the more radical circles of all three ethnic groups combined with a high crime rate - compared with other parts of the Empire - remained a major problem that remained unsolved even after the turn of the century. The legacy of four hundred years of Turkish domination could not be eradicated in the 36 years remaining before the outbreak of World War I.
From World War I to Today’s Conflict
Austro-Hungary annexed Bosnia in 1908 but also granted the country far-reaching autonomy. During the years of Austro-Hungarian dominance Bosnia experienced important economic and cultural changes. It was around this time that Croatian intellectuals developed the idea of an independent state for all south Slavs or "Yugo-Slavia.” In 1914 Serbia demanded access to the Adriatic Sea and tension in the region was already increasing when on 28 June - the anniversary of the battle of "Kosovo Polje” - Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo. The assassin was a Serb student, Gavrilo Princip, a member of the "Black Hand” radical Serbian group dedicated to Serbian control of Bosnia.
Austria declared war on Serbia as a result of the Archduke’s assassination. One mans death triggered a deadly chain of events. Russia supported Serbia; Germany mobilized in support of Austria against Russia; France had a treaty with Russia and declared war on Germany; Germany then attacked France through Belgium and as a guarantor of Belgian neutrality Great Britain declared war on Germany. All these events took place between 28 July and 4 August 1914. The continent of Europe was at war.
During the war the Serbs fought alongside the allies while the Croatians sided with Germany and Austro-Hungary. The majority of Bosnians remained loyal to the Austro-Hungarian state, although some Muslims served in the Serbian army. The war was brutal in the Balkans, with heavy losses suffered by all sides. A large number of Bosnian Serbs were either forcefully evicted from Bosnia to Serbia and Montenegro, or killed.
Birth and Suffering of Yugoslavia: In November 1918, at the end of the War, the Serbs stormed back into Bosnia inflicting mayhem upon the Muslim population. Following the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, Bosnia and Herzegovina were separated from the collapsing Habsburg Empire. The Geneva Treaty created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and in 1929 the country was renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia (land of the South Slavs) with a Serb king assuming absolute power. The Serbs successfully dominated what had originally been a Croat plan for a multinational and multi-ethnic state but very soon it became obvious that the nationalist tensions among the ethnic groups could not be subdued.
The newly founded nation suffered from the same ethnic divisions, religious rivalries, language barriers and cultural conflicts that had plagued the region for centuries. The economic disparity between the Serbs and Croats added to those rivalries as the Croatian people considered that they were being oppressed as never before in their history. Nationalism increased in both Croatian and Serbian areas. The Croatian nationalists associated themselves with the fascist governments of Italy and Germany, forming a group called the "Ustasha”. The Serbs, loyal to their monarchy, became the defenders of Orthodox religion and formed a group called "Chetniks”. The monarchy became a dictatorship catering to Serbian nationalism while fanning ethnic tensions between the Serbs and the Croats. Meanwhile the Muslims, led by Mehmed Spaho, aligned with the Croats as a balance of power.
World War II: During World War II Germany and the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia and occupied her for almost four years. Croatia aligned with her traditional allies in Germany and the fascist movement. After 1941 Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the authority of the Independent State of Croatia and marked the boundary between the German and Italian occupation zones. The Croatian Ustasha committed frequent atrocities against the Serbian population and erected concentration and extermination camps - the most infamous at Jasenovac.
Two opposition forces emerged in response to Ustasha brutality: the Chetniks and the Partisans. Initially the Western allies recognized the Serbian Chetniks as the legal representatives of the exiled Yugoslav government. They fought against the Germans and retaliated against the Ustasha with atrocities of their own. Over time however, the Allies began to prefer the Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito since he was able to convince a liaison committee that his Communist Partisans had the best chance of defeating the foreign invaders. Thus the Partisans received the bulk of allied military support and became a real fighting force. The role of the Bosnian Muslims in the war was more complex as they were caught between the Croatian Ustasha and the Serbian Chetniks - and often equally disillusioned with both. The Partisans began to increasingly differentiate themselves from the Chetniks and as a result many Muslims began to join Tito’s army. The main success of Tito was in uniting people from all factions into an effective fighting force with a single aim - drive out the Axis troops.
Bitter Victory: World War II and the resultant vicious civil war between the Croatian Ustasha and the Serbian Chetniks cost the lives of about 1 million Yugoslavs. Nevertheless, Communist Yugoslavia was founded around the idea of unifying the Yugoslav people to fight the invaders. However atrocities committed by all sides were burned too deep in the minds of the people to be easily forgotten. Under Tito any discussion of the past atrocities was prohibited in an attempt to forget the past and keep the lid on potentially boiling emotions. But if one day the lid were to be lifted?
From the end of World War II to 1992 ("Titoism”): After the end of the war, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was proclaimed. Tito gave Bosnia a constitution and the status of an independent republic within the federation as a reward for the sacrifices of the population during the war. It was also an attempt to avoid future bloodshed.
Tito was initially allied with Stalin but soon split with the Soviet Union in order to establish his own brand of socialism. "Titoism” gave him a prominent role in the Cold War as the leader of Yugoslavia - one of the "non-aligned state”. Tito established strict rules against the expression of "nationalism” and his unique brand of totalitarianism successfully kept the peace within Yugoslavia. He was a ruthless leader and killed many of his opponents after he had secured victory in 1945. Throughout his leadership he imprisoned activists from nationalist movements, including Alija Izetbegovic and Radovan Karadzic.
Post-war Yugoslavia was a socialist state based on the Communist party, the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), the police (or Militia), and the concept of workers self-management. For 45 years Tito’s totalitarianism kept ethnic peace within Yugoslavia and the concept that he continually advocated was called "Brotherhood and Unity”.
The Bosnian Muslims
When the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded only two ethnic groups were officially recognized - Croatians and Serbs. In 1968 the Bosnian Muslims were also declared to be a separate ethnicity. A new federal constitution adopted in 1974 led to increased decentralization of governmental powers, giving the six republics more political and economic independence. Kosovo and Vojvodina were also granted autonomous status. From 1974 until the death of Tito economic and political developments would set the stage for the ruin of Yugoslavia and the beginning of a new conflict in the Balkans.
Death of Tito and of a nation: On 4 May 1980 Tito died in Ljubljana. He was 88. The loss of this national father figure meant more outspoken resentment of the central government. Like most of communist East Europe the state-run economy continued to stagnate. Nationalist demands for increasing autonomy for the ethnic groups of Yugoslavia became louder and louder. The deteriorating economic situation led nationalist politicians to seek scapegoats to blame for the difficult times. In the spring of 1981 clashes occurred in Kosovo between the Serb administration and numerous Kosovo Albanians calling for self-rule. This situation escalated into bloody and violent demonstrations which were brutally suppressed by the police and tanks of the JNA.
In February 1984 the city of Sarajevo successfully hosted the Winter Olympics. The games were a statement of peace and tolerance that masked the strong currents of ethnic strife flowing under the calm surface. In May 1986 Slobodan Milosevic, a former manager of a gas company, became head of the Communist party of Serbia with a doctrine of Serbian ultra-nationalism. The 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje on 28 June 1989 provided Milosevic with an opportunity to emphasise his nationalistic credentials. He emphasised Serbian that Kosovo was Serbian land because of the important historical connection to the Serb struggle for freedom from Ottoman domination. In March 1989 the autonomous status of Vojvodina and Kosovo was annulled and those regions again became integral parts of Serbia. The dismantling of Tito’s multi-ethnic Yugoslavia was underway.
In 1990 general elections were held in Yugoslavia. The Communist parties won only in Montenegro and Serbia, while nationalist parties came into power in the four other federal republics. The nationalist victories were in many ways a reaction against the fear of increasing Serb dominance within the federation. After the elections Croatia and Slovenia abandoned the idea of a unified Yugoslavia. They unilaterally declared themselves independent and left the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
There was little international support for such a move but after Germany recognised them as independent states others reluctantly followed suit. Franjo Tudjman, the new Croatian President, had promised the voters "a strong, democratic and independent Croatia within its historical borders”. Serb President Milosevic stated that "in case of the ruin of Yugoslavia, the borders of Serbia must be redefined, because a future Serb state must include all areas where Serbs live.” It could only lead to civil war.
Despite the obvious consequences Bosnia followed the lead of Slovenia and Croatia, holding a referendum on independence on 29 February and 1 March 1992. The referendum was boycotted by most of the Bosnian Serbs but still enjoyed a turn-out of 63 per cent. When the result of the referendum - 99.4 per cent in favour of independence - was announced Serb paramilitary forces set up positions around Sarajevo. On 4 April, in preparation for the expected conflict, the Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic had ordered a general mobilization. The European Community recognized Bosnia as an independent state on 6 April and the following day the Serbian authorities in Banja Luka declared the independent "Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina”. There had already been bombings and shootings in towns throughout Bosnia in March and April but with the independence declarations the fighting started in earnest. The siege of Sarajevo, and the war in Bosnia, had begun.
Within a few hours the Bosnian Serbs, with numerous well-organized paramilitary units, started fierce attacks on the Muslim population. The eruption of violence posed enormous problems for EU observers and the UN protection force UNPROFOR that had been operating under a mandate of protecting aid convoys since early 1992. For nearly three and a half years they were embroiled in a conflict that reflected the history of the past century. They learned a little of what it was like for the Austrian Imperial Army or the German Wehrmacht to operate in the impassable terrain where a single road block could delay a military convoy for weeks.
The collapse of Yugoslavia and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Apart from interventions of Soviet troops within the Warsaw Pact, or from long-lasting separatist campaigns such as those of ETA and the IRA, the war in Yugoslavia was the first "real” war in Europe since the Greek Civil War from 1945 to 1949.
The duration of the fighting from June 1991 to October 1995 amounted to 52 months and corresponded to the length of Word War I. The subsequent conflicts in Kosovo and Macedonia showed that considerable centrifugal forces were still working on the fringes of the Balkans. These forces are still present and manifest as the desire for independence of Montenegro and the hazy situation in the Vojvodina.
The combat in Bosnia was particularly brutal and many of the victims were helpless civilians. The reckless deployment of heavy weapons on the part of the JNA caused enormous and widespread destruction of the infrastructure in Bosnia and Croatia. It was only when fighting spread to Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 that retaliatory NATO air strikes caused significant damage to the economic infrastructure of Serbia herself.
The end of the Cold War in 1989 led many to speculate that a new world order was upon us where armed conflicts could be more easily contained - at least in Europe. Bosnia shattered that illusion, and much earlier than even the sceptics had anticipated.
The Period from 1980 to 1991
The crisis in Yugoslavia was not entirely unexpected. The socio-economic conditions of the 1980’s were quite clearly causing significant tension within the federation - what caught many people by surprise was the speed with which the country tore itself apart. After the death of Tito in 1980 it was widely speculated that the loss of such a mythical leader would result in an increase of tension, but few realised how deep these tensions ran. The economic situation became steadily worse and inflation rose dramatically. The administration of the Yugoslavian economy was fatally flawed - it was estimated that there were up to 200,000 non-productive "professional officials” on the state pay roll. Rising unemployment could only be partly hidden by the export of labour to neighbouring countries. Towards the end of the decade the situation was becoming severe but especially in the Central and South regions.
This North-South divide in terms of economic performance and the divergent financial fortunes of large parts of the population was a significant factor in the tension and it was completely overlooked by most outside observers.
Another factor was the role of the JNA in integrating the various ethnic groups. Rightly called the "Iron Clamp” of the state, the army had for years mixed all corners of the federation into a melting pot of national service. As the army lost its importance in society many families sought to avoid sending their sons to serve the nation. The ethnic composition of the conscripts was slowly changing with a higher Albanian birth rate and more wealthy Slovenian and Croatian children being better able to avoid the duty. The revival of Croatian and Serbian nationalism were two more significant steps along the path to disaster. Further steps followed with the proclamation of a Slovenian national programme and by the assumption of power of Milosevic’s puppets in Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosovo in 1988 and 1989.
Milosevic’s rally in Kosovo in 1989 gathered an estimated 100,000 participants and hinted at the popularity of nationalist sentiments. The military situation in Yugoslavia had been seriously altered in May 1990 when the territorial defence forces were disarmed. This affected Croatia and Bosnia in particular while the Slovenian government under Milan Kucan had managed to secure its arsenals before the federal forces seized them. Unsurprisingly many of the seized weapons were passed on to Serbian paramilitary forces in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Vojvodina. The JNA and in particular the Serbian paramilitary forces possessed a frightening array of high-quality weapons and munitions at the outbreak of war. These abundant stocks were sufficient for a conflict lasting several years - and partly explain why the later UN arms embargo had little of the desired effect.
The changes in the ethnic composition of the military, in particular the officer corps, gave rise to rapidly growing nationalist tensions among military leaders. The first clashes between Croatian police units and Serbian guerrillas occurred in Eastern Slavonia (Vukovar and Borovo Selo) and in the national park of Plitvica in spring 1991. Serbian guerrillas committed several massacres that could never be justified by the discrimination that the Serbian ethnic group was facing from the draft constitution of the Croatian state.
At the same time between 1989 and 1996 the police forces in Serbia were continuously reinforced with heavy infantry weapons, air defence weapons and numerous armoured vehicles. These police forces, meant as a counter to any possible putsch by the army, had grown to a strength of nearly 90,000 men.
In the summer of 1991 it was the aim of the federal government and the JNA to preserve the unity of the State - minus Slovenia. When war broke out in Croatia it was widely believed that Presidents Tudjman and Milosevic intended to divide Bosnia between Croatia and the Serbia. The nature of the terrain and the poor organisation of the military units made swift and decisive operations almost impossible in large parts of Bosnia. JNA armour was usually attached to infantry and lavishly supported by artillery. While not capable of decisive action it made for a powerful military force. In spite of the poor economic situation in Yugoslavia there were few logistical problems for the JNA and the Bosnian-Serb army. The enormous stockpiles of equipment and ammunition meant that troops wanted for nothing except for fuel. This again led to the static employment of armour as "mobile artillery” or metal pill-boxes.
In opposition to the Serbs, and sometimes with each other - the bulk of the Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian forces were only equipped with light infantry weapons at the beginning of the war. They were vastly inferior to the Serbian military machine because of a complete lack of heavy weaponry. The UN arms embargo meant that this balance took years to redress.
In the initial stages of the conflict, air support was available only to the Serbs. The Yugoslav air force mainly attacked strategic targets such as bridges and industrial plants. It was not until late 1994 that the Croatian air force obtained fighter aircraft (MiG-21, Orao, Galeb) and attack helicopters (Mi-24) in noticeable quantities. They were employed to considerable effect during the offensive operations in the summer of 1995.
Military Operations from 1991 to 1995
The War in Slovenia: The political persecution of dissidents in Slovenia in the late eighties hinted to a confrontation that came in the summer of 1991. After the unilateral declaration of independence by Slovenia, the JNA started its operations on 27 June 1991 with the limited objective of gaining and securing the border crossings into Austria and Hungary. Within days the Slovenian militia had inflicted several severe reverses on the un-suspecting JNA and almost 12,000 soldiers had deserted. In effect the JNA was dissolved into "national armies” of the various republics. Fighting ended in under two weeks and the subsequent Brioni Agreement led to the withdrawal of the humbled JNA.
The War in Croatia: This stunning reverse for the federal army was especially noted by political and military leaders across Yugoslavia. Croatian police and military forces remained passive during the JNA offensive in Slovenia because they had only light weapons at their disposal and offensive operations would have been suicidal against the might of the JNA. As it happened fighting broke out in the Serbian settlement areas in Croatia (Lika and Knin), Bosnia (Krajina) and in Serbia itself. In East Slavonia intense fighting erupted in September 1991. It culminated with the battle for Vukovar, which lasted for several weeks and resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. The Krajina region had been seized by the Serbs at an earlier date.
By the end of 1991, the Croatian military had expanded and improved their arsenal considerably. Despite the arms embargo they were successfully able to import large quantities of modern weaponry. Possibly this contributed to their ability to stop the Serbian advance sooner than many observers expected.
The War in Bosnia after April 1992: Tension between the ethnic groups had been rising since the foundation of autonomous Serbian regions in Bosnia. Things culminated in the proclamation of the Bosnian Serb Republic in January 1992. The subsequent declaration of an independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 5 April 1992 was a crisis point in the power struggle within a disintegrating Yugoslavia. However the new Bosnian government failed to anticipate the launch of Serbian operations on 7 April 1992. In the previous months the Bosnian Serbs had received an enormous amount of support from the defunct JNA. Within a few weeks they had secured more than half of the territory of Bosnia. It was not until the beginning of 1993 when Bosnian forces became more experienced and organized that any serious opposition to Serb forces could be mounted. The woefully inadequate international intervention also failed to have any noticeable effect on Serbian military operations in Bosnia.
Just as the situation seemed to be stabilising heavy fighting broke out in central Bosnia between Croatians and Muslims. On 23 August 1993 the Croats proclaimed the Republic of "Herceg-Bosna” and barely a month later the Bihac pocket in Bosnia separated from the central government in Sarajevo when the Muslim Fikret Abdic made a deal with the Serbs and declared himself "President”. The destruction of the famous bridge of Mostar on 9 November 1993 was symbolic of how relentlessly determined Yugoslavia was to tear itself apart and there seemed to be little hope that Bosnia would be able to survive as an independent nation.
The Situation in the Spring of 1995: After nearly four years of savage conflict the territory of Serbia and Montenegro had still not been directly affected by the war. Territory under Serbian control had reached its zenith and international diplomatic reactions hinted to the fact that the Serbs would probably be allowed to keep all of the territory they had gained. The straw that broke the diplomatic camels back was the final Serbian onslaught against the so-called "safe areas” of the United Nations. Under the command of General Ratko Mladic the Bosnian Serb Army captured Srebrenica on 13 July 1995 and subsequently massacred around 7,000 of the town’s defenders. This outrageous crime led to widespread punitive air strikes by NATO forces. In particular the Bosnian Serb logistic, support, and command and control structures were targeted with precision weapons. NATO troops would be on the ground in Bosnia before the end of the year.
International Efforts on the Containment of the Conflict
The diplomatic intervention of the European Community resulted in the signing of the Brioni Agreement on 8 July 1991. The subsequent ceasefire and the following withdrawal of the JNA from Slovenia was seen as a diplomatic success.
The recognition of the Republics of Slovenia and Croatia by the European Community on 15 January 1992 only encouraged the separatist forces within Bosnia. Attempts by the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) to act as a go-between and defuse the conflict with "good offices” turned out to be a tragic failure.
The political and military interventions of the United Nations in the Former Yugoslavia are widely considered to have been a complete failure. On 8 October 1991 UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali appointed former US secretary of state Cyrus Vance as Special Representative for Croatia. Together with the EU mediator Lord Owen he submitted the "Vance-Owen Plan” in January 1993, which provided for a division of Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the newly established ethnic realities. Although the plan represented the only chance for peace it was rejected by all three warring factions. The subsequent "Vance-Stoltenberg Plan” of July 1993, which provided for a confederation of three republics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was announced with great fanfare to the international media. The guns on the front line did not even stop firing for a full day.
UN Security Council Resolution 743 on 21 February 1992 authorised the creation of UNPROFOR, the United Nations Protection Force, with an established strength of 21,000 troops. It was intended to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to civilians. The mission was extended to Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 1992, and its strength was augmented to 38,000 troops. In fact UNPROFOR became synonymous with "Mission creep” due to the incredible number of Security Council resolutions that were added to the initial limited mission.
The main missions were: - securing "Operation Provide Promise”, the air supply of Sarajevo through its airport from 3 July 1992 to 9 January 1996, which meant the longest-lasting airlift since Berlin in 1948/49; - establishing "safe areas” in six towns (Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla, Bihac, and Sarajevo) for the protection of the Bosniac population according to UN Resolution 824 of 6 May 1993; - preventing any military fixed-wing flights over Bosnia ("Operation Deny Flight”) conducted by NATO; - enforcement of the UN arms embargo for the whole of Former Yugoslavia.
Contrary to the original intention UNPROFOR became involved in the fighting and even became the target of attacks. For a "blue helmet” mission it suffered a considerable number of casualties (167 dead by March 1995.) The rules of engagement were relatively strict but allowed for a robust response in acts of self-defence. A notable example was a heavy engagement between Norwegian UNPROFOR tanks and Serbian forces near Saraci on 29 April 1994. However, the UN Special Representative Akashi prevented effective NATO air strikes again and again. In response to limited punitive strikes the Bosnian-Serb Army took several UNPROFOR members hostage. This was a strategic mistake as the UN withdrew its vulnerable forces from Serb territory so they could not be seized a second time. They were still officially neutral but now firmly camped in opposition to the Serbs. Throughout the entire conflict period NATO navy units carried out "Operation Sharp Guard” in order to monitor the observance of the September 1991 EC- embargo against Yugoslavia.
NATO Air Intervention: Between 12 April 1993 and the beginning of March 1995, NATO flew more than 52,000 sorties. These operations for the protection of UNPROFOR, the monitoring of the ban of military flights over Bosnia ("Deny Flight”) and the airlift for the supply of the civilian population in Sarajevo since the summer of 1992 can be considered quite successful. Most prominent of all NATO air operations was "Deliberate Force.” Launched on 30 August 1995 it was intended to strike the Bosnian-Serb C3-structure, ammunition depots, key bridges and some air defence positions. This operation in conjunction with Croatian and Bosnian Muslim offensives brought about a military decision on the battlefield. As a result of the actions of US diplomat Richard Holbrooke and the enormous amount of economic and military pressure that he brought to bear on the Serbian leadership in Belgrade the Dayton Agreement was agreed to on 21 November 1995. Perhaps to emphasise the complete failure of European efforts to end the conflict the treaty was signed in a lavish ceremony in Paris on 14 December 1995.
Operation Joint Endeavour - the deployment of the International Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia - started in December 1995. The guns finally fell silent across Bosnia. It was the overwhelming power of NATO that ended the conflict, which contrasted strongly with the impotence of the UN and EU efforts to gain peace through a consensus.
The Effects of the War in Bosnia: Before the outbreak of the armed struggle, popular political slogans reflected the complex history of the Balkans. Politicians talked about "crusades”, the "War against Fascism” or the "War against Islamic fundamentalism” in Europe. The enemies were labelled "Ustasha”, "Chetniks” or "Turks” were a throwback to a previous era.
The focus of the international mass media aroused public interest around the world. While casualties in the war in Slovenia were quite moderate with very few civilian casualties, it was a different matter in Bosnia where the war frequently became a "war of extermination”. It is estimated that close to 250,000 people lost their lives.
Human rights organisations, the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross are still involved in tracing victims of the conflict and the fate of about 25,000 people is still unknown. In addition to the fatalities millions of other inhabitants were directly affected by the war. Physical injury, sexually assault and emotional trauma were common, and when the one million refugees are added to the nearly four million internally displaced people then it is clear that the war directly affected every family in the Former Yugoslavia.
The unusual nature of the conflict led to the revival of the concept of "Hajduks” (fighter or hero) and big-shots of the Serbian underworld like "Arkan” Zeljko Raznjatovic or dubious nationalists like Vojeslav Seselj became military commanders. Their paramilitary units (such as the Tigers or White Eagles) committed some of the more famous atrocities. This phenomenon occurred on all sides of the conflict. Well-known Bosnian criminals from Sarajevo were transformed into local warlords and Croatian "special forces” units were commanded by mysterious and shady figures.
As a result of this relationship between paramilitary and organised crime the governments of western european states had to cope with the emergence of organised criminal gangs from the Former Yugoslavia. The proceeds from these criminal activities directly funded the operations of various warring factions.
As well as the underworld influences large numbers of mercenaries fought in the war. Russians, Rumanians and Bulgarians fought alongside their Orthodox kin in Serbia, mercenaries from wider Christian and Islamic regions of the world sided with the Croats and Muslims respectively.
The IFOR and SFOR Missions
On 14 December 1995 the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed in Paris after it had been negotiated in Dayton, Ohio. Two days later NATO started the largest military operation in its history - involving over 65,000 troops. UN Security Council Resolution 1031 gave NATO the mandate to implement the military aspects of the Peace Agreement, contained in Annex 1A. The Implementation Force (IFOR) started its mission on 20 December 1995, furnished with a one-year mandate.
The main tasks were: - bringing about the cessation of hostilities and ensuring the maintenance of this situation; - disengagement of the forces of the Bosnian-Croat entity and the Bosnian-Serb entity by the middle of January 1996; - exchange of territories between the two entities by the middle of March 1996; - transporting the heavy weapons of both sides to designated storage areas (to be concluded by the middle of June 1996).
For the remainder of the year IFOR continued running patrols along the 1,400 km demilitarised zone separating the two entities. While carrying out these tasks 2,500 km of road were relayed, 60 bridges repaired or replaced, and Sarajevo Airport was re-opened.
IFOR rapidly provided for relatively safe living conditions. This put the High Representative and therefore all other governmental and non-governmental organisations (GOs and NGOs) in favourable position for implementing the civilian aspects of the Peace Agreement. In short, it created conditions conducive to the return of normal life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A separate but no less urgent task was supporting the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in their preparation for national elections in September 1996.
From IFOR to SFOR: After the successful and peaceful elections IFOR had completed the bulk of military aspects of the GFAP. Nevertheless, it was obvious that a lot of work remained in the civilian field and that the political situation would remain unstable.
On 25 and 26 September 1996, one week after the elections in Bosnia, the NATO defence ministers during an unofficial meeting in Bergen, Norway discussed ways and means of how the Alliance should support Bosnia with a view to establishing a safe environment following the expiry of the IFOR mandate in December. One month later the North Atlantic Council decided to task the NATO military authorities to work out detailed directions how peace could be maintained after the withdrawal of IFOR.
In November and December 1996 a two-year consolidation plan was drawn up. On the basis of this plan NATO decided that a reduced military presence was necessary to stabilise and consolidate the peace. The Stabilisation Force (SFOR) became operative on 20 December 1996 and directly followed the IFOR mandate expiry. IFOR implemented the GFAP, and now SFOR would stabilise the peace. UN Security Council Resolution 1088 of 12 December 1996 authorized SFOR as IFOR’s legal successor with an authorised strength of 32,000 troops - roughly half the strength of IFOR.
SFOR consisted of units of various services, had one common commander, and was under the political control of the North Atlantic Council. Supreme military authority was vested in the NATO Supreme Commander Europe (SACEUR) but from 19 February 2001 the Allied Forces in Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) nominated the Joint Force Commander of SFOR.
In 2000, HQ SFOR was relocated from Ilidza, a suburb of Sarajevo, to Camp Butmir, which was especially erected for this purpose. At the beginning of 2003 the Force was restructured and down-sized to 12,000 troops. Another reduction to 7,000 troops took place in June 2004. The SFOR mission ended on 2 December 2004.
Transition from SFOR to EUFOR - ALTHEA
At the Istanbul NATO Summit in the summer of 2004, the transition from SFOR to the EU-commanded EUFOR mission was agreed. A separate NATO mission in Macedonia had already successfully been taken over by the EU in the spring of 2003. This transition to EU control was firstly a sign of the normalisation across the region, and also a direct consequence of the development of a common foreign and defence policy for the EU. In December 2004 the NATO operation in Bosnia came to a close. It had started in 1995 with 65,000 troops but over time only 7,000 soldiers remained in the area of operations. Eighty per cent of these troops remained in place but now under the command of the European Union.
The EU Military Staff Assumes Command: From the spring of 2004 onwards the EU planning team (EUPT) worked towards the handover deadline. The aim of this transfer from SFOR was to strengthen the strategic operating skills of the new EU forces, and also release NATO staff for other projects. SFOR had already reduced from 12,000 to 7,000 and the three brigades were transformed into Multinational Task Forces.
At the beginning of July 2004 the EU planning team (EUPT) arrived in HQ SFOR to prepare for the complicated transition process. The team was composed of 18 officers with a variety of background specialities and from a range of national armies.
The main tasks of EUPT were: - planning HQ EUFOR concerning infrastructure and staffing; - defining the cooperation between EUFOR and the future NATO HQ Sarajevo; - securing a preliminary "Initial Operational Capability” for EUFOR HQ as of 1 October 2004.
In the middle of October EUPT became part of the growing EUFOR headquarters.
EUFOR - ALTHEA: "Althea” means "The Healing One” in Greek and was chosen as the name of the third EU operation. The previous EU missions were Operation CONCORDIA in Macedonia from 31 March to 15 December 2003, and Operation ARTEMIS in Congo from 6 June to 1 September 2003.
EUFOR maintained the same strength of 7,000 troops. These forces were divided into three Task Forces of 1,800 to 2,000 troops including the Integrated Police Unit (IPU) as the successor of the Multinational Specialized Unit (MSU). Over 30 nations have contributed troops taking the political involvement far beyond the borders of the EU.
UN Security Council Resolution 1575 of 2004 made EUFOR the legal successor of SFOR and the operation was authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The NATO military presence in Bosnia greatly contributed towards a stable and secure environment and EUFOR will continue with this important responsibility. Since the winter of 2004 the EU has been responsible for the military, police and civilian aspects of the peace process. In essence the structure of the force has not been dramatically altered, but politically it should be noted that after the EU assumed command it marked a fundamental shift away from US to EU led peacekeeping efforts - reflecting the fact that Bosnia is essentially the "back yard” of Europe.
Operation ALTHEA is based on the "Berlin plus” agreement, which governs NATO support for EU-commanded operations. In order to avoid double-track structures, the EU falls back to facilities and skills of NATO. Typically for EU operations, the supreme commander of EUFOR is the NATO Deputy Supreme Commander Europe (D-SACEUR).
NATO still plays an important role in Bosnia since this country is heading towards future membership of the Alliance. A number of NATO staff remains in Bosnia and are working with the Government to reform the defence industries and pave the way for entry to the NATO Partnership for Peace programme. The remaining 200 NATO troops in Bosnia are housed in EUFOR Headquarters.
The long-term goal of Bosnia is membership of the European Union. EUFOR aims to create a safe environment in which the people of Bosnia can realise this goal. EU membership is the driving force of institutional reform in South East Europe and as Bosnia directly borders the EU the stabilisation of this region is of paramount importance for the general security of the EU.