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Breakup of Yugoslavia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Breakup of Yugoslavia
Breakup of Yugoslavia-TRY2.gif
Animated series of maps showing the Breakup of the
SFR Yugoslavia from 1991 through 1992. The colors represent the different areas of control.

     Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943–1992)      Croatia (1991–)      Slovenia (1991–)      Republic of Serbian Krajina (1991–1995), after Croatian Army Operation Storm (1995) and after UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (1996–1998), part of Croatia      Republic of Macedonia (1991–2019), Republic of North Macedonia (2019–)      Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia (1991–1994), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995–)      Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1997), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997–)      Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia (1993–1995), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995–)      Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003), Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006), Montenegro (3 June 2006–), Serbia (5 June 2006–) and Kosovo (17 February 2008–)      Republika Srpska (1992–1997), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997–)

Date25 June 1991 – 27 April 1992
(10 months and 2 days)
OutcomeBreakup of SFR Yugoslavia and formation of independent successor states

The Breakup of Yugoslavia occurred as a result of a series of political upheavals and conflicts during the early 1990s. After a period of political and economic crisis in the 1980s, constituent republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia split apart, but the unresolved issues caused bitter inter-ethnic Yugoslav wars. The wars primarily affected Bosnia and Herzegovina, neighbouring parts of Croatia and some years later, Kosovo.

After the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was set up as a federation of six republics, with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. In addition, two autonomous provinces were established within Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo. Each of the republics had its own branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia party and a ruling elite, and any tensions were solved on the federal level. The Yugoslav model of state organisation, as well as a "middle way" between planned and liberal economy, had been a relative success, and the country experienced a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability up to the 1980s, under the rule of president-for-life Josip Broz Tito. After his death in 1980, the weakened system of federal government was left unable to cope with rising economic and political challenges.

In the 1980s, Albanians of Kosovo started to demand that their autonomous province be granted the status of a constituent republic, starting with the 1981 protests. Ethnic tensions between Albanians and Kosovo Serbs remained high over the whole decade, which resulted in the growth across Yugoslavia of Serb opposition to the high autonomy of provinces and ineffective system of consensus at the federal level, which were seen as an obstacle for Serb interests. In 1987, Slobodan Milošević came to power in Serbia, and through a series of populist moves acquired de facto control over Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Montenegro, garnering a high level of support among Serbs for his centralist policies. Milošević was met with opposition by party leaders of the western republics of Slovenia and Croatia, who also advocated greater democratisation of the country in line with the Revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia dissolved in January 1990 along federal lines. Republican communist organisations became the separate socialist parties.

During 1990, the socialists (former communists) lost power to ethnic separatist parties in the first multi-party elections held across the country, except in Serbia and Montenegro, where Milošević and his allies won. Nationalist rhetoric on all sides became increasingly heated. Between June 1991 and April 1992, four republics declared independence (only Serbia and Montenegro remained federated), but the status of ethnic Serbs outside Serbia and Montenegro, and that of ethnic Croats outside Croatia, remained unsolved. After a string of inter-ethnic incidents, the Yugoslav Wars ensued, first in Croatia and then, most severely, in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. The wars left long-term economic and political damage in the region, which are still felt there decades later.[1]

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  • ✪ The Breakup of Yugoslavia
  • ✪ Feature History - Fall of Yugoslavia (1/2)
  • ✪ Why did Yugoslavia Collapse ?
  • ✪ my thoughts on the breakup of yugoslavia
  • ✪ Yugoslav Wars | 3 Minute History


For most of the 20th century, there existed a country in Southeastern Europe called Yugoslavia. Today, however, what used to be Yugoslavia is now 6 fully independent countries… plus one self-declared independent country, but more on that later. So why exactly did Yugoslavia split up? Well… before looking at why it split up, let’s first look at how it came to be. For this, we need to go back to 1918 and the end of the World War 1. Yugoslavia was created from the Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Montenegro, and what used to be territories of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The country was originally called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but later changed its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This lasted until about 1941, when Yugoslavia was occupied by Axis the powers of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II. The Axis powers installed their own puppet governments which effectively ended the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1945, after the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was re-established, this time as Socialist state, a federation of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. After initially siding with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained neutral throughout the Cold War, and even went on to become one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Throughout Yugoslavia’s existence, there had always been ethnic tensions among the various ethnic groups. This would ultimately lead to the country’s collapse, but under the rule of their first president, Josip Broz Tito, these tensions were largely kept under control, as he promoted “Brotherhood and Unity” between the six republics, and always tried to suppress nationalism, sometimes by force. The death of Tito in 1980 is often viewed as the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia. During the 1980s Yugoslavia’s economy took a turn for the worse, ethnic tensions began to rise, and nationalism began to grow among some of the individual republics. This, coupled with the fall of Communism around the world.. all contributed to what would become the Yugoslav Wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia. The ruling political party in the country was the League of Communists. There were 8 members… the six republics, as well as the two autonomous provinces of Serbia: Vojvodina and Kosovo. In 1986, Slobodan Milošević became leader of the Serbian branch. Milošević and his supporters were uncomfortable with the autonomous provinces of Serbia, as Belgrade had very little control over the politics in these parts of the country. Supporters of Milošević, through large protests, known as the “Rallies of Truth”, managed to overthrow the political leaders in Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Montenegro, which were replaced by allies of Milošević. Serbia had effectively created a voting bloc, having 4 of the 8 votes. The other Yugoslav republics, especially Slovenia, openly criticised these actions. In 1989, the autonomy of the province of Kosovo was abolished. Kosovo was about 80% ethnic Albanian, with ethnic Serbs being in the minority. Unsurprisingly, the Albanian majority were extremely unhappy with this motion.. and this led to the Kosovo miners' strike, in which more than 1300 Albanian miners went on a hunger strike. During what would become the last meeting of the League of Communists, there was a heated debate between the Slovenian and Serbian leaders about the structure of Yugoslavia. Slovenia called for more autonomy for the individual republics, while Serbia wanted more unity and centralization. The Slovenian delegates left the congress meeting in protest, and were soon followed by the Croatians and Macedonians. After the the League of Communists of Yugoslavia was dissolved, multi-party elections were held in all 6 of the republics for the first time. The Croatian people voted into power the newly established Croatian Democratic Union party and their leader Franjo Tuđman.The new Croatian flag was raised as the country moved towards its declaration of independence which later followed. Croatia’s population was mostly ethnic Croats, but the country also had a large minority of Serbs, and large regions of Croatia had Serbian majorities, especially along the border with Bosnia. For many Croatian Serbs, the newly elected government was something that caused serious concern. Many Serbs remembered the last time Croatia was an independent country - the Independent State of Croatia, during World War 2, governed by the ultranationalist, fascist group, Ustaše, allied with Nazi Germany. The extremist group of Croats took part in the Holocaust, carrying out a genocide campaign against ethnic Serbs. So in 1990, many Serbs had all-too vivid memories of the atrocities committed to their people just half a century before, and many worried about the newly elected government in Croatia. In a Serb-majority town of Knin, the local Serbs started a rebellion, blocking off key roads throughout Croatia. Croatian Special Force helicopters were sent to resolve the rebellion by force. However, while en route, Yugoslav Army fighter jets flew alongside them, ordering them to turn around or be shot down. They returned back to base. This was when the gravity of the situation became apparent. This wasn’t just some local Serbian rebellion, they were being assisted by the Yugoslav National Army. In the following weeks and months, the army also provided the rebels with weapons. Many more of the Serb dominated areas in Croatia started rebellions, taking control of Serb-majority towns, seeking to join Serbia. 3 separate rebel groups proclaimed themselves independent from Croatia. These 3 groups would later join together and seek unification with Serbia. On June 25th, 1991, Slovenia and Croatia both officially declared their independence. Of course by this point, the Yugoslav Wars had already begun, but were thus far mostly confined to Croatia, between the Croats and Serbs. However, with Slovenia declaring their independence, this brought them into the war as well. The Yugoslav Army travelled to Slovenia, with the goal of asking them to… politely reconsider their independence. Two days after their declaration of independence, began what became known as the Ten-Day War, between Slovenia and the Yugoslav Army. Relative to the other wars within Yugoslavia, there were very few casualties. After these ten days of war, under the sponsorship of the Europe Community, an agreement was signed between Slovenia, Croatia and Yugoslavia. The document sought to open up negotiations between the parties to resolve things peacefully. Yugoslavia withdrew their army, but the agreement did very little to actually stop the fighting. Yugoslavia were preparing a massive attack on Slovenia, with tanks, air force and artillery. Their military power was far superior and they could easily take control of Slovenia. However, Serbia’s authorisation was required, but Serbia refused. The Serbian representatives within Yugoslavia didn’t care if Slovenia left. Slovenia was a country of almost entirely ethnic Slovenes. Because there were very few Serbs within Slovenia, Serbia didn’t care if they left. Croatia, on the other hand, was a different story. Therefore Serbia were unwilling to let them leave so easily. The Croatian President publicly stated that he would “defend every inch of Croatia” Serbian nationalists in Croatia had already taken control of a dozen towns and villages, but things took a turn for the worse in the Croatian border town of Vukovar, where the conflict escalated between Croatia and the rebel Serbs. The Yugoslav Army sent a huge force to the Croatia-Serbia border, claiming to be a neutral peacekeeping unit. Together, the Yugoslav Army and the Croatian Serbs pushed forward taking control of more and more villages. Some of which had been entirely populated by Croats. They were no longer just taking control of Serb dominated parts of Croatia. Due to the escalating violence in Croatia, the presidents of all six of the republics were called to The Hague, by the European Community, to discuss possible peace plans. Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, claimed that Croatia had every right to succeed from Yugoslavia. Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević, responded by saying that if Croatia had the right to succeed, then Serbs in Croatia had the right to join Serbia. Europe Community peace negotiator, Lord Carrington, presented Milošević with a question: would you be willing to accept the independence of Croatia, subject to the human rights of Serbs outside of Serbia. To Lord Carrington’s surprise, he said yes. In the meantime, the Yugoslav Army were planning a massive attack on the Croatian capital, Zagreb. But such an attack carried huge risks, of sanctions or even outside intervention. Carrington was eager to get this verbal agreement in writing. However, when it came time to sign the document, there was one key difference. The agreement would not simply accept Croatia’s independence, but would make all six republics independent nations. Milošević refused to sign, as he didn’t want to dissolve Yugoslavia. The Carrington Plan, was not just for Serbia and Milošević, but all of the republics, who voted on the plan. The plan needed 5 votes to pass. Serbia voted no, but all 5 other republics voted yes. This was surprising given that Montenegro was strongly allied with Serbia. As it later turned out, Italy had offered Montenegro a large aid program if they accepted the Carrington Plan. The plan was set to go ahead, but Serbia later blackmailed the Montenegrin president to send a letter to Lord Carrington and change his vote, or be outed to the public as a traitor to Yugoslavia. The letter was sent, and the plan broke down. Around this time, Macedonia held a referendum on independence, which was 95% in favour. Macedonia was the the only republic which broke away from Yugoslavia completely peacefully. Meanwhile in Croatia, the Croatian stronghold in Vukovar was under siege. The small Croatian defense force managed to hold the town for 87 days, before it finally fell to the much larger Yugoslav Army. The Serbs held around ⅓ of Croatian land. In January of 1992, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Croats and the Serbs. But the war in Yugoslavia was not just between Croatia and Serbia. In fact, by far the bloodiest war in Yugoslavia was the Bosnian War. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most multicultural of the republics, and had three main ethnic groups. The largest were the Bosniaks, often referred to as “Bosnian Muslims”, but there was also a very large minority of Serbs, and a smaller minority of Croats. The Bosnian Serb party leader issued a firm warning to the Bosnian government not to pursue independence, but in February 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina held a referendum. Most Bosniaks and Croats voted in favour, while the majority of Serbs boycotted the vote. The very next day, a Serb civilian in Bosnia was killed by a Bosniak, and Serbs retaliated by setting up roadblocks in nation’s capital, Sarajevo, and large parts of the city quickly came under the military occupation of the Bosnian Serbs. Demands were made that Bosnia and Herzegovina stop seeking international recognition. Serbs in Bosnia had declared their own independent republic: the "Republika Srpska". All Bosnian Serbs in the Yugoslav Army were transferred to the Bosnian Serb Army. On the 27th of April, 1992, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia officially came to end as a new constitution was adopted with the proclamation the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, consisting of just two of the six republics - Serbia and Montenegro. The United Nations denied their request to automatically continue membership as Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs began to take control of all Serb-majority areas of Bosnia, as well as Muslim towns near the Serbian border. As well as this, they also began sporadic mortar attacks on Sarajevo. The Bosnian capital would be under siege for nearly four years. In the beginning of the Bosnian War, Bosniaks and Croats were allied with each other, as they were fighting against a common enemy. However, Bosnian Croats had similar ideas to the Bosnian Serbs, to take control of the Croat-majority parts of Bosnia and join Croatia. Like the Serbs however, the Croat forces also didn’t just take control of Croat towns. Bosnian Croats proclaimed The Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, a separate state from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In May of 1993, a United Nations Commander was sent to the town of Srebrenica, which had become a refuge for Bosnian Muslims who fled their home. He was welcoming with open arms, but when it came time for him to leave, a crowd of people wouldn’t let him. They wanted him to guarantee their safety and demanded help from the West. The Bosnian Serbs already had the town surrounded. The Commander went against UN policy and announced the town was under UN protection. Later, a unanimous UN resolution was adopted which declared Srebrenica and other Muslim populated regions as a “Safe Area”. The international community devised a plan, the Vance-Owen plan, which would divide the country into ten ethnic provinces: 3 Bosniak, 3 Serb, 3 Croat, as well as the neutral capital, Sarajevo. The Bosnian president, the Croatian president, and the Bosnian Croats, had all agreed to the plan. The Serbian president urged the Bosnian Serbs to agree to the plan, but through their military conquests, they had taken control of about ⅔ of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Accepting the Vance-Owen Plan would mean giving up about 25% of their currently held territory, so the plan ultimately broke down. The Bosniaks and the Croats signed a peace treaty in Washington, as the Americans demanding that Croatia stop their war against Bosnian Muslims or face sanctions. They agreed to this as they wanted help from the West to re-take their own land in Croatia. In February of 1994, a mortar attack on Sarajevo’s marketplace caused the death of 68 civilians. In response to this, NATO issued the Bosnian Serbs with an ultimatum: withdraw your heavy weapons from the hills or Sarajevo within 10 days. The Bosnian Serbs rejected the ultimatum. The Bosnian Serbs wanted to show their military superiority over the Bosniaks, and show that they could not be bullied by the West. They launched a mortar attack at a hospital in the town of Goražde, a UN safe area, NATO responded with an airstrike of Bosnian Serb command post, and they retaliated by surrounding and taking hostage 150 UN personnel. One of the other UN safe areas, Srebrenica, while under UN military protection, was forcibly taken in what became known as the Srebrenica Massacre where thousands of civilians were killed. With the violence at an all-time high in Bosnia, another mortar attack on Sarajevo and another 37 civilians killed, was the final straw, and a full-scale NATO bombing campaign began against the Bosnian Serbs. President Milošević of Serbia, demanded that the Bosnian Serbs allow him to negotiate a peace treaty on their behalf, cutting all ties and support from Belgrade. Meanwhile, back in Croatia, the Croatian government had been preparing for several years to retake their land. In May and August of 1995, Croatia launched two large-scale military assaults on the Serb-controlled parts of Croatia. By this point, the Croats had a far stronger military. The vast majority of Serbs fled the country, even communities that had lived in Croatia for centuries. Many Serb villages were burnt to the ground, to ensure the Serbs never returned. With the Bosnian Serbs weakened, Croats and Bosniaks worked together in Bosnia taking as much land as they could. Serbs fled to Serbia and Montenegro. The Americans urged them to stop, as they wanted a peace treaty to be signed. Peace talks took place in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The plan was to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina as one country, but divided into two distinct legal entities: the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. After 17 days of negotiating and several redrawn maps, the peace treaty was finally signed between all parties. This peace treaty which put a stop to the wars in Yugoslavia, was not quite the end of the violence. In the late 90’s, war broke out between the Albanian majority in Kosovo, against Serbia, as they seeked their independence. Backed by NATO, the Kosovo Liberation Army took effective control of Kosovo. The war ended in 1999 and in 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared itself an independent nation, but the situation still remains unresolved to this day. In the year 2000, after the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević, Serbia and Montenegro gave up on its desire to continue as the sole legal successor of Yugoslavia, they joined the UN as new member, and in 2003 changed their official name to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. This only last three more years though, because in 2006, Montenegro passed a narrowly won independence referendum. Yugoslavia was a country that was built on Brotherhood and Unity, but fell apart from internal struggle and civil war. The country may not exist anymore but its legacy lives on. Unfortunately, the most prominent memories from Yugoslavia’s history are the extremely unpleasant ones … but today all of the former Yugoslav republics are peaceful and prosperous nations. However, with the still unresolved situation in Kosovo, another war in Balkans is always a possibility. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, and that the situation can be resolved peacefully. I’m happy to announce this video has been sponsored by, the leading provider of audiobooks with more than 250,000 titles. You can get a free audiobook and a 30-day free trial if you sign up at, and that’ll let them know you came from this video, which helps support the channel. The fall of Communism is one of the factors that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and for that reason I’m going to recommend “Revolution 1989” about the fall of the Soviet Union. You can download this audiobook for free, which is yours to keep even if you don’t continue with the service after the free trial. So I just want to say a massive thank you to for sponsoring this video, and thank you for watching.



Yugoslavia occupied a significant portion of the Balkan peninsula, including a strip of land on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, stretching southward from the Bay of Trieste in Central Europe to the mouth of Bojana as well as Lake Prespa inland, and eastward as far as the Iron Gates on the Danube and Midžor in the Balkan Mountains, thus including a large part of Southeast Europe, a region with a history of ethnic conflict.

The important elements that fostered the discord involved contemporary and historical factors, including the formation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the first breakup and subsequent inter-ethnic and political wars and genocide during World War II, ideas of Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia, Greater Albania, and conflicting views about Pan-Slavism, and the unilateral recognition by a newly reunited Germany of the breakaway republics.

Before World War II, major tensions arose from the first, monarchist Yugoslavia's multi-ethnic make-up and relative political and demographic domination of the Serbs. Fundamental to the tensions were the different concepts of the new state. The Croats and Slovenes envisaged a federal model where they would enjoy greater autonomy than they had as a separate crown land under Austria-Hungary. Under Austria-Hungary, both Slovenes and Croats enjoyed autonomy with free hands only in education, law, religion, and 45% of taxes.[2] The Serbs tended to view the territories as a just reward for their support of the allies in World War I and the new state as an extension of the Kingdom of Serbia.[citation needed]

Tensions between the Croats and Serbs often erupted into open conflict, with the Serb-dominated security structure exercising oppression during elections and the assassination in national parliament of Croat political leaders, including Stjepan Radić, who opposed the Serbian monarch's absolutism.[3] The assassination and human rights abuses were subject of concern for the Human Rights League and precipitated voices of protest from intellectuals, including Albert Einstein.[4] It was in this environment of oppression that the radical insurgent group (later fascist dictatorship), the Ustaše were formed.

During World War II, the country's tensions were exploited by the occupying Axis forces which established a Croat puppet state spanning much of present-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Axis powers installed the Ustaše as the leaders of the Independent State of Croatia.

The Ustaše resolved that the Serbian minority were a fifth column of Serbian expansionism, and pursued a policy of persecution against the Serbs. The policy dictated that one-third of the Serbian minority were to be killed, one-third expelled, and one-third converted to Catholicism and assimilated as Croats. Conversely, the Chetniks pursued their own campaign of persecution against non-Serbs in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Sandžak per the Moljević plan ("On Our State and Its Borders") and the orders issues by Draža Mihailović which included "[t]he cleansing of all nation understandings and fighting".

Both Croats and Muslims were recruited as soldiers by the SS (primarily in the 13th Waffen Mountain Division). At the same time, former royalist, General Milan Nedić, was installed by the Axis as head of the puppet government and local Serbs were recruited into the Gestapo and the Serbian Volunteer Corps, which was linked to the German Waffen-SS. Both quislings were confronted and eventually defeated by the communist-led, anti-fascist Partisan movement composed of members of all ethnic groups in the area, leading to the formation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The official Yugoslav post-war estimate of victims in Yugoslavia during World War II was 1,704,000. Subsequent data gathering in the 1980s by historians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović showed that the actual number of dead was about 1 million. Of that number, 330,000 to 390,000 ethnic Serbs perished from all causes in Croatia and Bosnia.[5] These same historians also established the deaths of 192,000 to 207,000 ethnic Croats and 86,000 to 103,000 Muslims from all affiliations and causes throughout Yugoslavia.[6][7]

Prior to its collapse Yugoslavia was a regional industrial power and an economic success. From 1960 to 1980, annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged 6.1 percent, medical care was free, literacy was 91 percent, and life expectancy was 72 years.[8] Prior to 1991, Yugoslavia's armed forces were amongst the best-equipped in Europe.[9]

Yugoslavia was a unique state, straddling both the East and West. Moreover, its president, Josip Broz Tito, was one of the fundamental founders of the "third world" or "group of 77" which acted as an alternative to the superpowers. More importantly, Yugoslavia acted as a buffer state between the West and the Soviet Union and also prevented the Soviets from getting a toehold on the Mediterranean Sea.

The central government's control began to be loosened due to increasing nationalist grievances and the Communist's Party's wish to support "national self determination". This resulted in Kosovo being turned into an autonomous region of Serbia, legislated by the 1974 constitution. This constitution broke down powers between the capital and the autonomous regions in Vojvodina (an area of Yugoslavia with a large number of ethnic minorities) and Kosovo (with a large ethnic-Albanian population).

Despite the federal structure of the new Yugoslavia, there was still tension between the federalists, primarily Croats and Slovenes who argued for greater autonomy, and unitarists, primarily Serbs. The struggle would occur in cycles of protests for greater individual and national rights (such as the Croatian Spring) and subsequent repression. The 1974 constitution was an attempt to short-circuit this pattern by entrenching the federal model and formalising national rights.

The loosened control basically turned Yugoslavia into a de facto confederacy, which also placed pressure on the legitimacy of the regime within the federation. Since the late 1970s a widening gap of economic resources between the developed and underdeveloped regions of Yugoslavia severely deteriorated the federation's unity.[10] The most developed republics, Croatia and Slovenia, rejected attempts to limit their autonomy as provided in the 1974 Constitution.[10] Public opinion in Slovenia in 1987 saw better economic opportunity in independence from Yugoslavia than within it.[10] There were also places that saw no economic benefit from being in Yugoslavia; for example, the autonomous province of Kosovo was poorly developed, and per capita GDP fell from 47 percent of the Yugoslav average in the immediate post-war period to 27 percent by the 1980s.[11] It highlighted the vast differences in the quality of life in the different republics.

Economic growth was curbed due to Western trade barriers combined with the 1973 oil crisis. Yugoslavia subsequently fell into heavy IMF debt due to the large number of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans taken out by the regime. As a condition of receiving loans, the IMF demanded the "market liberalisation" of Yugoslavia. By 1981, Yugoslavia had incurred $19.9 billion in foreign debt. Another concern was the unemployment rate, at 1 million by 1980. This problem was compounded by the general "unproductiveness of the South", which not only added to Yugoslavia's economic woes, but also irritated Slovenia and Croatia further.[12][13]


Structural problems

The SFR Yugoslavia was a conglomeration of eight federated entities, roughly divided along ethnic lines, including six republics—

—and two autonomous provinces within Serbia,

With the 1974 Constitution, the office of President of Yugoslavia was replaced with the Yugoslav Presidency, an eight-member collective head-of-state composed of representatives from six republics and, controversially, two autonomous provinces of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, SAP Kosovo and SAP Vojvodina.

Since the SFR Yugoslav federation was formed in 1945, the constituent Socialist Republic of Serbia (SR Serbia) included the two autonomous provinces of SAP Kosovo and SAP Vojvodina. With the 1974 constitution, the influence of the central government of SR Serbia over the provinces was greatly reduced, which gave them long-sought autonomy. The government of SR Serbia was restricted in making and carrying out decisions that would apply to the provinces. The provinces had a vote in the Yugoslav Presidency, which was not always cast in favor of SR Serbia. In Serbia, there was great resentment towards these developments, which the nationalist elements of the public saw as the "division of Serbia". The 1974 constitution not only exacerbated Serbian fears of a "weak Serbia, for a strong Yugoslavia" but also hit at the heart of Serbian national sentiment. A majority of Serbs see Kosovo as the "cradle of the nation", and would not accept the possibility of losing it to the majority Albanian population.

In an effort to ensure his legacy, Tito's 1974 constitution established a system of year-long presidencies, on a rotation basis out of the eight leaders of the republics and autonomous provinces. Tito's death would show that such short terms were highly ineffective. Essentially it left a power vacuum which was left open for most of the 1980s.

Death of Tito and the weakening of Communism

On 4 May 1980, Tito's death was announced through state broadcasts across Yugoslavia. His death removed what many international political observers saw as Yugoslavia's main unifying force, and subsequently ethnic tension started to grow in Yugoslavia. The crisis that emerged in Yugoslavia was connected with the weakening of the Communist states in Eastern Europe towards the end of the Cold War, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In Yugoslavia, the national communist party, officially called the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, had lost its ideological potency.[14]

In 1986, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) contributed significantly to the rise of nationalist sentiments, as it drafted the controversial SANU Memorandum protesting against the weakening of the Serbian central government.

The problems in the Serbian autonomous province of SAP Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and Albanians grew exponentially. This, coupled with economic problems in Kosovo and Serbia as a whole, led to even greater Serbian resentment of the 1974 Constitution. Kosovo Albanians started to demand that Kosovo be granted the status of a constituent republic beginning in the early 1980s, particularly with the 1981 protests in Kosovo. This was seen by the Serbian public as a devastating blow to Serb pride because of the historic links that Serbians held with Kosovo. It was viewed that that secession would be devastating to Kosovar Serbs. This eventually led to the repression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo.[15][better source needed]

Meanwhile, the more prosperous republics of SR Slovenia and SR Croatia wanted to move towards decentralization and democracy.[16]

The historian Basil Davidson contends that the "recourse to 'ethnicity' as an explanation [of the conflict] is pseudo-scientific nonsense..." Even the degree of linguistic and religious differences "have been less substantial than instant commentators routinely tell us". Between the two major communities, the Serbs and the Croats, Davidson argues, "the term 'ethnic cleansing' can have no sense at all". Davidson agrees with Susan Woodward, an expert on Balkan affairs, who found the "motivating causes of the disintegration in economic circumstance and its ferocious pressures".[17]

Economic collapse and the international climate

As President, Tito's policy was to push for rapid economic growth, and growth was indeed high in the 1970s. However, the over-expansion of the economy caused inflation and pushed Yugoslavia into economic recession.[18]

A major problem for Yugoslavia was the heavy debt incurred in the 1970s, which proved to be difficult to repay in the 1980s.[19] Yugoslavia's debt load, initially estimated at a sum equal to $6 billion U.S dollars, instead turned to be equal to sum equivalent to $21 billion U.S. dollars, which was a colossal sum for a poor country.[19] In 1984 the Reagan administration issued a classified document, National Security Decision Directive 133, expressing concern that Yugoslavia's debt load might cause the country to align with the Soviet bloc.[20] The 1980s were a time of economic austerity as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed stringent conditions on Yugoslavia, which caused much resentment toward the Communist elites who had so mismanaged the economy by recklessly borrowing of money abroad.[21] The policies of austerity also led to uncovering much corruption by the elites, most notably with the "Agrokomerc affair" of 1987, when the Agrokomerc enterprise of Bosnia turned out to be the centre of a vast nexus of corruption running all across Yugoslavia, and that the managers of Agrokomerc had issued promissory notes equivalent to $500 US dollars without collateral, forcing the state to assume responsibility for their debts when Agrokomerc finally collapsed.[21] The rampant corruption in Yugoslavia, of which the "Agrokomerc affair" was merely the most dramatic example, did much to discredit the Communist system, as it was revealed that the elites were living luxurious lifestyles well beyond the means of ordinary people with money stolen from the public purse, in a time of austerity.[21] The problems imposed by heavy indebtedness and corruption had by the mid-1980s increasingly started to corrode the legitimacy of the Communist system as ordinary people started to lose faith in the competence and honesty of the elites.[21]

A wave of major strikes developed in 1987-88 as workers demanded higher wages to compensate for inflation, as the IMF mandated the end of various subsidies, and they were accompanied by denunciations of the entire system as corrupt.[22] Finally, the politics of austerity brought to the fore tensions between the well off "have" republics like Slovenia and Croatia versus the poorer "have not" republics like Serbia.[22] Both Croatia and Slovenia felt that they were paying too much money into the federal budget to support the "have not" republics, while Serbia wanted Croatia and Slovenia to pay more money into the federal budget to support them at a time of austerity.[23] Increasingly, demands were voiced in Serbia for more centralisation in order to force Croatia and Slovenia to pay more into the federal budget, demands that were completely rejected in the "have" republics.[23]

The relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union after Mikhail Gorbachev became leader in 1985 meant that western nations were no longer willing to be generous with restructuring Yugoslavia's debts, as the example of a communist country outside of the Soviet bloc was no longer needed by the West as a way of destabilising the Soviet bloc. The external status quo, which the Communist Party had depended upon to remain viable, was thus beginning to disappear. Furthermore, the failure of communism all over Central and Eastern Europe once again brought to the surface Yugoslavia's inner contradictions, economic inefficiencies (such as chronic lack of productivity, fuelled by the country's leaderships' decision to enforce a policy of full employment), and ethno-religious tensions. Yugoslavia's non-aligned status resulted in access to loans from both superpower blocs. This contact with the United States and the West opened up Yugoslavia's markets sooner than the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. The 1980s were a decade of Western economic ministrations.[citation needed]

A decade of frugality resulted in growing frustration and resentment against both the Serbian "ruling class", and the minorities who were seen to benefit from government legislation. Real earnings in Yugoslavia fell by 25% from 1979 to 1985. By 1988 emigrant remittances to Yugoslavia totalled over $4.5 billion (USD), and by 1989 remittances were $6.2 billion (USD), making up over 19% of the world's total.[12][13]

In 1990, US policy insisted on the shock therapy austerity programme that was meted out to the ex-Comecon countries. Such a programme had been advocated by the IMF and other organisations "as a condition for fresh injections of capital."[24]

Rise of nationalism in Serbia (1987–89)

Slobodan Milošević

Serbian President Slobodan Milošević's unequivocal desire to uphold the unity of Serbs, a status threatened by each republic breaking away from the federation, in addition to his opposition to the Albanian authorities in Kosovo, further inflamed ethnic tensions.
Serbian President Slobodan Milošević's unequivocal desire to uphold the unity of Serbs, a status threatened by each republic breaking away from the federation, in addition to his opposition to the Albanian authorities in Kosovo, further inflamed ethnic tensions.

In 1987, Serbian communist official Slobodan Milošević was sent to bring calm to an ethnically-driven protest by Serbs against the Albanian administration of SAP Kosovo. Milošević had been, up to this point, a hard-line communist who had decried all forms of nationalism as treachery, such as condemning the SANU Memorandum as "nothing else but the darkest nationalism".[25] However, Kosovo's autonomy had always been an unpopular policy in Serbia, and he took advantage of the situation and made a departure from traditional communist neutrality on the issue of Kosovo.

Milošević assured Serbs that their mistreatment by ethnic Albanians would be stopped. He then began a campaign against the ruling communist elite of SR Serbia, demanding reductions in the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina. These actions made him popular amongst Serbs and aided his rise to power in Serbia. Milošević and his allies took on an aggressive nationalist agenda of reviving SR Serbia within Yugoslavia, promising reforms and protection of all Serbs.

The ruling party of SFR Yugoslavia was the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), a composite political party made-up of eight Leagues of Communists from the six republics and two autonomous provinces. The League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) governed SR Serbia. Riding the wave of nationalist sentiment and his new popularity gained in Kosovo, Slobodan Milošević (Chairman of the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) since May 1986) became the most powerful politician in Serbia by defeating his former mentor President of Serbia Ivan Stambolic at the 8th Session of the League of Communists of Serbia on 22 September 1987. At a 1988 rally in Belgrade, Milošević made clear his perception of the situation facing SR Serbia in Yugoslavia, saying:

At home and abroad, Serbia's enemies are massing against us. We say to them "We are not afraid. We will not flinch from battle".

— Slobodan Milošević, 19 November 1988.[26]

On another occasion, he privately stated:

We Serbs will act in the interest of Serbia whether we do it in compliance with the constitution or not, whether we do it in compliance in the law or not, whether we do it in compliance with party statutes or not.

— Slobodan Milošević[27]

Anti-bureaucratic revolution

The Anti-bureaucratic revolution was a series of protests in Serbia and Montenegro orchestrated by Milošević to put his supporters in SAP Vojvodina, SAP Kosovo, and the Socialist Republic of Montenegro (SR Montenegro) to power as he sought to oust his rivals. The government of Montenegro survived a coup d'état in October 1988,[28] but not a second one in January 1989.[29]

In addition to Serbia itself, Milošević could now install representatives of the two provinces and SR Montenegro in the Yugoslav Presidency Council. The very instrument that reduced Serbian influence before was now used to increase it: in the eight member Presidency, Milošević could count on a minimum of four votes – SR Montenegro (following local events), his own through SR Serbia, and now SAP Vojvodina and SAP Kosovo as well. In a series of rallies, called "Rallies of Truth", Milošević's supporters succeeded in overthrowing local governments and replacing them with his allies.

As a result of these events, in February 1989 ethnic Albanian miners in Kosovo organized a strike, demanding the preservation of the now-endangered autonomy.[30] This contributed to ethnic conflict between the Albanian and Serb populations of the province. At 77% of the population of Kosovo in the 1980s,[31] ethnic-Albanians were the majority.

In June 1989, the 600th anniversary of Serbia's historic defeat at the field of Kosovo, Slobodan Milošević gave the Gazimestan speech to 200,000 Serbs, with a Serb nationalist theme which deliberately evoked medieval Serbian history. Milošević's answer to the incompetence of the federal system was to centralise the government. Considering Slovenia and Croatia were looking farther ahead to independence, this was considered unacceptable.


Meanwhile, the Socialist Republic of Croatia (SR Croatia) and the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (SR Slovenia), supported the Albanian miners and their struggle for recognition. Media in SR Slovenia published articles comparing Milošević to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Milošević contended that such criticism was unfounded and amounted to "spreading fear of Serbia".[32] Milošević's state-run media claimed in response that Milan Kučan, head of the League of Communists of Slovenia, was endorsing Kosovo and Slovene separatism. Initial strikes in Kosovo turned into widespread demonstrations calling for Kosovo to be made the seventh republic. This angered Serbia's leadership which proceeded to use police force, and later the federal army (the Yugoslav People's Army JNA) by order of the Serbian-controlled Presidency.

In February 1989 ethnic Albanian Azem Vllasi, SAP Kosovo's representative on the Presidency, was forced to resign and was replaced by an ally of Milošević. Albanian protesters demanded that Vllasi be returned to office, and Vllasi's support for the demonstrations caused Milošević and his allies to respond stating this was a "counter-revolution against Serbia and Yugoslavia", and demanded that the federal Yugoslav government put down the striking Albanians by force. Milošević's aim was aided when a huge protest was formed outside of the Yugoslav parliament in Belgrade by Serb supporters of Milošević who demanded that the Yugoslav military forces make their presence stronger in Kosovo to protect the Serbs there and put down the strike.

On 27 February, SR Slovene representative in the collective presidency of Yugoslavia, Milan Kučan, opposed the demands of the Serbs and left Belgrade for SR Slovenia where he attended a meeting in the Cankar Hall in Ljubljana, co-organized with the democratic opposition forces, publicly endorsing the efforts of Albanian protesters who demanded that Vllasi be released. In the 1995 BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, Kučan claimed that in 1989, he was concerned that with the successes of Milošević's anti-bureaucratic revolution in Serbia's provinces as well as Montenegro, that his small republic would be the next target for a political coup by Milošević's supporters if the coup in Kosovo went unimpeded. Serbian state-run television denounced Kučan as a separatist, a traitor, and an endorser of Albanian separatism.

Serb protests continued in Belgrade demanding action in Kosovo. Milošević instructed communist representative Petar Gračanin to make sure the protest continued while he discussed matters at the council of the League of Communists, as a means to induce the other members to realize that enormous support was on his side in putting down the Albanian strike in Kosovo. Serbian parliament speaker Borisav Jović, a strong ally of Milošević, met with the current President of the Yugoslav Presidency, Bosnian representative Raif Dizdarević, and demanded that the federal government concede to Serbian demands. Dizdarević argued with Jović saying that "You [Serbian politicians] organized the demonstrations, you control it", Jović refused to take responsibility for the actions of the protesters. Dizdarević then decided to attempt to bring calm to the situation himself by talking with the protesters, by making an impassioned speech for unity of Yugoslavia saying:

Our fathers died to create Yugoslavia. We will not go down the road to national conflict. We will take the path of Brotherhood and Unity.

— Raif Dizdarević, 1989.[26]

This statement received polite applause, but the protest continued. Later Jović spoke to the crowds with enthusiasm and told them that Milošević was going to arrive to support their protest. When Milošević arrived, he spoke to the protesters and jubilantly told them that the people of Serbia were winning their fight against the old party bureaucrats. Then a shout to be from the crowd yelled "arrest Vllasi'". Milošević pretended not to hear the demand correctly but declared to the crowd that anyone conspiring against the unity of Yugoslavia would be arrested and punished and the next day, with the party council pushed to submission to Serbia, Yugoslav army forces poured into Kosovo and Vllasi was arrested.

In March 1989, the crisis in Yugoslavia deepened after the adoption of amendments to the Serbian constitution that allowed the Serbian republic's government to re-assert effective power over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Up until that time, a number of political decisions were legislated from within these provinces, and they had a vote on the Yugoslav federal presidency level (six members from the republics and two members from the autonomous provinces).[33]

A group of Kosovo Serb supporters of Milošević who helped bring down Vllasi declared that they were going to Slovenia to hold "the Rally of Truth" which would decry Milan Kučan as a traitor to Yugoslavia and demand his ousting. However, the attempt to replay the anti-bureaucratic revolution in Ljubljana in December 1989 failed: the Serb protesters who were to go by train to Slovenia, were stopped when the police of SR Croatia blocked all transit through its territory in coordination with the Slovene police forces.[34][35][36]

In the Presidency of Yugoslavia, Serbia's Borisav Jović (at the time the President of the Presidency), Montenegro's Nenad Bućin, Vojvodina's Jugoslav Kostić and Kosovo's Riza Sapunxhiu, started to form a voting bloc.[37]

Final political crisis (1990–92)

Party crisis

In January 1990, the extraordinary 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia was convened. The combined Yugoslav ruling party, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), was in crisis. Most of the Congress was spent with the Serbian and Slovene delegations arguing over the future of the League of Communists and Yugoslavia. SR Croatia prevented Serb protesters from reaching Slovenia. The Serbian delegation, led by Milošević, insisted on a policy of "one person, one vote" in the party membership, which would empower the largest party ethnic group, the Serbs.

In turn, the Croats and Slovenes sought to reform Yugoslavia by delegating even more power to six republics, but were voted down continuously in every motion and attempt to force the party to adopt the new voting system. As a result, the Croatian delegation, led by Chairman Ivica Račan, and Slovene delegation left the Congress on 23 January 1990, effectively dissolving the all-Yugoslav party. Along with external pressure, this caused the adoption of multi-party systems in all the republics.

Multi-party elections

The individual republics organized multi-party elections in 1990, and the former communists mostly failed to win re-election, while most of the elected governments took on nationalist platforms, promising to protect their separate nationalist interests. In multi-party parliamentary elections nationalists defeated re-branded former Communist parties in Slovenia on 8 April 1990, in Croatia on 22 April and 2 May 1990, in Macedonia 11 and 25 November and 9 December 1990, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 and 25 November 1990.

In multi-party parliamentary elections, re-branded former communist parties were victorious in Montenegro on 9 and 16 December 1990, and in Serbia on 9 and 23 December 1990. In addition Serbia re-elected Slobodan Milošević as President. Serbia and Montenegro now increasingly favored a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Ethnic tensions in Croatia

In Croatia, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was elected to power, led by controversial nationalist Franjo Tuđman, under the promise of "protecting Croatia from Milošević", publicly advocating for Croatian sovereignty. Croatian Serbs were wary of Tuđman's nationalist government, and in 1990 Serb nationalists in the southern Croatian town of Knin organized and formed a separatist entity known as the SAO Krajina, which demanded to remain in union with the rest of the Serb populations if Croatia decided to secede. The government of Serbia endorsed the rebellion of the Croatian Serbs, claiming that for Serbs, rule under Tuđman's government would be equivalent to the World War II fascist Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which committed genocide against Serbs. Milošević used this to rally Serbs against the Croatian government and Serbian newspapers joined in the warmongering.[38] Serbia had by now printed $1.8 billion worth of new money without any backing of the Yugoslav central bank.[39]

Croatian President Franjo Tuđman
Croatian President Franjo Tuđman

Croatian Serbs in Knin, under the leadership of local police inspector Milan Martić, began to try to gain access to weapons so that the Croatian Serbs could mount a successful revolt against the Croatian government. Croatian Serb politicians including the Mayor of Knin met with Borisav Jović, the head of the Yugoslav Presidency in August 1990, and urged him to push the council to take action to prevent Croatia from separating from Yugoslavia, as they claimed that the Serb population would be in danger in Croatia led by Tuđman and his nationalist government.

At the meeting, army official Petar Gračanin told the Croatian Serb politicians how to organize their rebellion, telling them to put up barricades, as well as assemble weapons of any sort, saying "If you can't get anything else, use hunting rifles". Initially the revolt became known as the "Log Revolution", as Serbs blockaded roadways to Knin with cut-down trees and prevented Croats from entering Knin or the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. The BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia revealed that at the time, Croatian TV dismissed the "Log Revolution" as the work of drunken Serbs, trying to diminish the serious dispute. However, the blockade was damaging to Croatian tourism. The Croatian government refused to negotiate with the Serb separatists and decided to stop the rebellion by force, sending in armed special forces by helicopters to put down the rebellion.

The pilots claimed they were bringing "equipment" to Knin, but the federal Yugoslav air force intervened and sent fighter jets to intercept them and demanded that the helicopters return to their base or they would be fired upon, in which the Croatian forces obliged and returned to their base in Zagreb. To the Croatian government, this action by the Yugoslav air force revealed to them that the Yugoslav People's Army was increasingly under Serbian control. SAO Krajina was officially declared as a separate entity on 21 December 1990 by the Serbian National Council headed by Milan Babić.

In August 1990 the Croatian Parliament replaced its representative Stipe Šuvar with Stjepan Mesić in the wake of the Log Revolution.[40] Mesić was only seated in October 1990 because of protests from the Serbian side, and then joined Macedonia's Vasil Tupurkovski, Slovenia's Janez Drnovšek and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Bogić Bogićević in opposing the demands to proclaim a general state of emergency, which would have allowed the Yugoslav People's Army to impose martial law.[37]

Following the first multi-party election results, the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia proposed transforming Yugoslavia into a loose federation of six republics in the autumn of 1990, however Milošević rejected all such proposals, arguing that like Slovenes and Croats, the Serbs also had a right to self-determination. Serbian politicians were alarmed by a change of phrasing in the Christmas Constitution of Croatia that changed the status of ethnic Serbs of Croatia from an explicitly mentioned nation (narod) to a nation listed together with minorities (narodi i manjine).[clarification needed]

Independence of Slovenia and Croatia

In the Slovenian independence referendum, 1990, held on 23 December 1990, a vast majority of residents voted for independence:[41] 88.5% of all electors (94.8% of those participating) voted for independence, which was declared on 25 June 1991.[42][43]

In January 1991, the Yugoslav counter-intelligence service, KOS (Kontraobaveštajna služba), displayed a video of a secret meeting (the "Špegelj Tapes") that they purported had happened some time in 1990 between the Croatian Defence Minister, Martin Špegelj, and two other men. Špegelj announced during the meeting that Croatia was at war with the Yugoslav army (JNA, Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija) and gave instructions about arms smuggling as well as methods of dealing with the Army's officers stationed in Croatian cities. The Army subsequently wanted to indict Špegelj for treason and illegal importation of arms, mainly from Hungary.

The discovery of Croatian arms smuggling combined with the crisis in Knin, the election of independence-leaning governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia, and Slovenes demanding independence in the referendum on the issue suggested that Yugoslavia faced the imminent threat of disintegration.

On 1 March 1991, the Pakrac clash ensued, and the JNA was deployed to the scene. On 9 March 1991, protests in Belgrade were suppressed with the help of the Army.

On 12 March 1991, the leadership of the Army met with the Presidency in an attempt to convince them to declare a state of emergency which would allow for the pan-Yugoslav army to take control of the country. Yugoslav army chief Veljko Kadijević declared that there was a conspiracy to destroy the country, saying:

An insidious plan has been drawn up to destroy Yugoslavia. Stage one is civil war. Stage two is foreign intervention. Then puppet regimes will be set up throughout Yugoslavia.

— Veljko Kadijević, 12 March 1991.[26]

This statement effectively implied that the new independence-advocating governments of the republics were seen by Serbs as tools of the West. Croatian delegate Stjepan Mesić responded angrily to the proposal, accusing Jović and Kadijević of attempting to use the army to create a Greater Serbia and declared "That means war!". Jović and Kadijević then called upon the delegates of each republic to vote on whether to allow martial law, and warned them that Yugoslavia would likely fall apart if martial law was not introduced.

In the meeting, a vote was taken on a proposal to enact martial law to allow for military action to end the crisis in Croatia by providing protection for the Serbs. The proposal was rejected as the Bosnian delegate Bogić Bogićević voted against it, believing that there was still the possibility of diplomacy being able to solve the crisis.

The Yugoslav presidential crisis reached an impasse when Kosovo's Riza Sapunxhiu 'defected' his faction in the second vote on martial law in March 1991.[37] Jović briefly resigned from the presidency in protest, but soon returned.[37] On 16 May 1991, the Serbian parliament replaced Sapunxhiu with Sejdo Bajramović, and Vojvodina's Nenad Bućin with Jugoslav Kostić.[44] This effectively deadlocked the Presidency, because Milošević's Serbian faction had secured four out of eight federal presidency votes, and it was able to block any unfavorable decisions at the federal level, in turn causing objections from other republics and calls for reform of the Yugoslav Federation.[37][45][46]

After Jović's term as head of the collective presidency expired, he blocked his successor, Mesić, from taking the position, giving the position instead to Branko Kostić, a member of the pro-Milošević government in Montenegro.

In the Croatian independence referendum held on 2 May 1991, 93.24% voted for independence. On 19 May 1991, the second round of the referendum on the structure of the Yugoslav federation was held in Croatia. The phrasing of the question did not explicitly inquire as to whether one was in favor of secession or not. The referendum asked the voter if he or she was in favor of Croatia being "able to enter into an alliance of sovereign states with other republics (in accordance with the proposal of the republics of Croatia and Slovenia for solving the state crisis in the SFRY)?". 83.56% of the voters turned out, with Croatian Serbs largely boycotting the referendum. Of these, 94.17% (78.69% of the total voting population) voted "in favor" of the proposal, while 1.2% of those who voted were "opposed". Finally, the independence of Croatia was declared on 25 June 1991.

The beginning of the Yugoslav Wars

War in Slovenia

Both Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on 25 June 1991. On the morning of 26 June, units of the Yugoslav People's Army's 13th Corps left their barracks in Rijeka, Croatia, to move towards Slovenia's borders with Italy. The move immediately led to a strong reaction from local Slovenians, who organized spontaneous barricades and demonstrations against the YPA's actions. There was no fighting, as yet, and both sides appeared to have an unofficial policy of not being the first to open fire.

By this time, the Slovenian government had already put into action its plan to seize control of both the international Ljubljana Airport and Slovenia's border posts on borders with Italy, Austria and Hungary. The personnel manning the border posts were, in most cases, already Slovenians, so the Slovenian take-over mostly simply amounted to changing of uniforms and insignia, without any fighting. By taking control of the borders, the Slovenians were able to establish defensive positions against an expected YPA attack. This meant that the YPA would have to fire the first shot, which was fired on 27 June at 14:30 in Divača by an officer of the YPA.[47]

Whilst supportive of their respective rights to national self-determination, the European Community pressured Slovenia and Croatia to place a three-month moratorium on their independence, and reached the Brijuni Agreement on 7 July 1991 (recognized by representatives of all republics).[48] During these three months, the Yugoslav Army completed its pull-out from Slovenia. Negotiations to restore the Yugoslav federation with diplomat Lord Carrington and members of the European Community were all but ended. Carrington's plan realized that Yugoslavia was in a state of dissolution and decided that each republic must accept the inevitable independence of the others, along with a promise to Serbian President Milošević that the European Union would ensure that Serbs outside of Serbia would be protected.

Lord Carrington's opinions were rendered moot following newly reunited Germany's Christmas Eve 1991 recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. Except for secret negotiations between foreign ministers Genscher (Germany) and Mock (Austria), the unilateral recognition came as an unwelcome surprise to most EU governments and the United States, with whom there was no prior consultation. International organisations, including the UN, were nonplussed. While Yugoslavia was already in a shambles, it's likely that German recognition of the breakaway republics—and Austrian partial mobilization on the border—made things a good deal worse for the decomposing multinational state. US President George H.W. Bush was the only major power representative to voice an objection. The extent of Vatican and Federal Intelligence Agency of Germany (BND) intervention in this episode has been explored by scholars familiar with the details, but the historical record remains disputed.

Milošević refused to agree to the plan, as he claimed that the European Community had no right to dissolve Yugoslavia and that the plan was not in the interests of Serbs as it would divide the Serb people into four republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia). Carrington responded by putting the issue to a vote in which all the other republics, including Montenegro under Momir Bulatović, initially agreed to the plan that would dissolve Yugoslavia. However, after intense pressure from Serbia on Montenegro's President, Montenegro changed its position to oppose the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

War in Croatia

Emblem of SFR Yugoslavia.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Administrative divisions

With the Plitvice Lakes incident of late March/early April 1991, the Croatian War of Independence broke out between the Croatian government and the rebel ethnic Serbs of the SAO Krajina (heavily backed by the by-now Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army). On 1 April 1991, the SAO Krajina declared that it would secede from Croatia. Immediately after Croatia's declaration of independence, Croatian Serbs also formed the SAO Western Slavonia and the SAO of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem. These three regions would combine into the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) on 19 December 1991.

The other significant Serb-dominated entities in eastern Croatia announced that they too would join SAO Krajina. Zagreb had by this time discontinued submitting tax money to Belgrade, and the Croatian Serb entities in turn halted paying taxes to Zagreb. In some places, the Yugoslav Army acted as a buffer zone,[where?] in others it aided Serbs in their confrontation with the new Croatian army and police forces.[clarification needed]

The influence of xenophobia and ethnic hatred in the collapse of Yugoslavia became clear during the war in Croatia. Propaganda by Croatian and Serbian sides spread fear, claiming that the other side would engage in oppression against them and would exaggerate death tolls to increase support from their populations.[49] In the beginning months of the war, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and navy deliberately shelled civilian areas of Split and Dubrovnik, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as nearby Croat villages.[50] Yugoslav media claimed that the actions were done due to what they claimed was a presence of fascist Ustaše forces and international terrorists in the city.[50]

UN investigations found that no such forces were in Dubrovnik at the time.[51] Croatian military presence increased later on. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, at the time an ally of Milošević, appealed to Montenegrin nationalism, promising that the capture of Dubrovnik would allow the expansion of Montenegro into the city which he claimed was historically part of Montenegro, and denounced the present borders of Montenegro as being "drawn by the old and poorly educated Bolshevik cartographers".[50]

At the same time, the Serbian government contradicted its Montenegrin allies by claims by the Serbian Prime Minister Dragutin Zelenović contended that Dubrovnik was historically Serbian, not Montenegrin.[52] The international media gave immense attention to bombardment of Dubrovnik and claimed this was evidence of Milosevic pursuing the creation of a Greater Serbia as Yugoslavia collapsed, presumably with the aid of the subordinate Montenegrin leadership of Bulatović and Serb nationalists in Montenegro to foster Montenegrin support for the retaking of Dubrovnik.[51]

In Vukovar, ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs exploded into violence when the Yugoslav army entered the town. The Yugoslav army and Serbian paramilitaries devastated the town in urban warfare and the destruction of Croatian property. Serb paramilitaries committed atrocities against Croats, killing over 200, and displacing others to add to those who fled the town in the Vukovar massacre.[53]

Independence of the Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegović
Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegović
Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić
Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić

With Bosnia's demographic structure comprising a mixed population of a majority of Bosniaks, and minorities of Serbs and Croats, the ownership of large areas of Bosnia was in dispute.

From 1991 to 1992, the situation in the multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina grew tense. Its parliament was fragmented on ethnic lines into a plurality Bosniak faction and minority Serb and Croat factions. In 1991, Radovan Karadžić, the leader of the largest Serb faction in the parliament, the Serb Democratic Party, gave a grave and direct warning to the Bosnian parliament should it decide to separate, saying:

This, what you are doing, is not good. This is the path that you want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina on, the same highway of hell and death that Slovenia and Croatia went on. Don't think that you won't take Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and the Muslim people maybe into extinction. Because the Muslim people cannot defend themselves if there is war here.

— Radovan Karadžić, 14 October 1991.[54]

In the meantime, behind the scenes, negotiations began between Milošević and Tuđman to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serb and Croat administered territories to attempt to avert war between Bosnian Croats and Serbs.[55] Bosnian Serbs held a referendum in November 1991 resulting in an overwhelming vote in favor of staying in a common state with Serbia and Montenegro.

In public, pro-state media in Serbia claimed to Bosnians that Bosnia and Herzegovina could be included a new voluntary union within a new Yugoslavia based on democratic government, but this was not taken seriously by Bosnia and Herzegovina's government.[56]

On 9 January 1992, the Bosnian Serb assembly proclaimed a separate Republic of the Serb people of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the soon-to-be Republic of Srpska), and proceeded to form Serbian autonomous regions (SARs) throughout the state. The Serbian referendum on remaining in Yugoslavia and the creation of SARs were proclaimed unconstitutional by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A referendum on independence sponsored by the Bosnian government was held on 29 February and 1 March 1992. The referendum was declared contrary to the Bosnian and federal constitution by the federal Constitution Court and the newly established Bosnian Serb government, and it was largely boycotted by the Bosnian Serbs. According to the official results, the turnout was 63.4%, and 99.7% of the voters voted for independence.[57] It was unclear what the two-thirds majority requirement actually meant and whether it was satisfied.

The building of the executive council building in Sarajevo burns after being hit by Serbian tank fire in 1992.
The building of the executive council building in Sarajevo burns after being hit by Serbian tank fire in 1992.

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3 March 1992 and received international recognition the following month on 6 April 1992.[58] On the same date, the Serbs responded by declaring the independence of the Republika Srpska and laying siege to Sarajevo, which marked the start of the Bosnian War.[59] The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was subsequently admitted as a member state of the United Nations on 22 May 1992.[60]


In the Macedonian independence referendum held on 8 September 1991, 95.26% voted for independence, which was declared on 25 September 1991.

Five hundred US soldiers were then deployed under the UN banner to monitor Macedonia's northern border with Serbia. However, Belgrade's authorities neither intervened to prevent Macedonia's departure, nor protested nor acted against the arrival of the UN troops, indicating that once Belgrade was to form its new country (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in April 1992), it would recognise the Republic of Macedonia and develop diplomatic relations with it. As a result, Macedonia became the only former republic to gain sovereignty without resistance from the Yugoslav authorities and Army.

In addition, Macedonia's first president, Kiro Gligorov, did indeed maintain good relations with Belgrade as well as the other former republics. There have been no problems between Macedonian and Serbian border police, even though small pockets of Kosovo and the Preševo valley complete the northern reaches of the historical region known as Macedonia, which would otherwise have created a border dispute (see also IMORO).

The Insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia, the last major conflict being between Albanian nationalists and the government of Republic of Macedonia, reduced in violence after 2001.

International recognition of the breakup

State entities on the former territory of SFR Yugoslavia, 2008.
State entities on the former territory of SFR Yugoslavia, 2008.

In November 1991, the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, led by Robert Badinter, concluded at the request of Lord Carrington that the SFR Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, that the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia did not have a right to self-determination in the form of new states, and that the borders between the republics were to be recognized as international borders. As a result of the conflict, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 721 on 27 November 1991, which paved the way to the establishment of peacekeeping operations in Yugoslavia.[61]

In January 1992, Croatia and Yugoslavia signed an armistice under UN supervision, while negotiations continued between Serb and Croat leaderships over the partitioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[62]

On 15 January 1992, the independence of Croatia and Slovenia was recognized by the international community. Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina would later be admitted as member states of the United Nations on 22 May 1992. Macedonia was admitted as a member state of the United Nations on 8 April 1993;[63] its membership approval took longer than the others due to Greek objections.[63]

In 1999 Social Democratic Party of Germany in his May Day speech leader Oskar Lafontaine criticised the role played by Germany in the break up of Yugoslavia, with its early recognition of the independence of the republics.[64]

Some observers opined that the break up of the Yugoslav state violated the principles of post-Cold War system, enshrined in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE/OSCE) and the Treaty of Paris of 1990. Both stipulated that inter-state borders in Europe should not be changed. Some observers, such as Peter Gowan, assert that the break up and subsequent conflict have been avoided if western states were more assertive in enforcing internal arrangements between all parties, but ultimately "were not prepared to enforce such principles in the Yugoslav case because Germany did not want to and the other states did not have any strategic interest in doing so."[65] Gowan even contends that the break-up "might have been possible without great bloodshed if clear criteria could have been established for providing security for all the main groups of people within the Yugoslav space."

In March 1992, during the US-Bosnian independence campaign, the politician and future president of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović reached an EC brokered agreement with Bosnian Croats and Serbs on a three-canton confederal settlement. But, the US government, according to the New York Times, urged him to opt for a unitary, sovereign, independent state.[66] This made the probability of an atrocious civil war higher, and in which both Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs would gather support from their respective states.

Aftermath in Serbia and Montenegro

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro.

The independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina proved to be the final blow to the pan-Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 28 April 1992, the Serb-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was formed as a rump state, consisting only of the former Socialist Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. The FRY was dominated by Slobodan Milošević and his political allies. Its government claimed continuity to the former country, but the international community refused to recognise it as such. The stance of the international community was that Yugoslavia had dissolved into its separate states. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was prevented by a UN resolution on 22 September 1992 from continuing to occupy the United Nations seat as successor state to SFRY. This question was important for claims on SFRY's international assets, including embassies in many countries. The FRY did not abandon its claim to continuity from the SFRY until 1996.[citation needed]

The war in the western parts of former Yugoslavia ended in 1995 with US-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, which resulted in the Dayton Agreement. The five years of disintegration and war led to a boycott and embargo, causing the economy to collapse. The Kosovo War started in 1996 and ended with the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia; Slobodan Milošević was overthrown in 2000.

The FR Yugoslavia was renamed on 4 February 2003 as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was itself unstable, and finally broke up in 2006 when, in a referendum held on 21 May 2006, Montenegrin independence was backed by 55.5% of voters, and independence was declared on 3 June 2006. Serbia inherited the State Union's UN membership.[67]

Kosovo had been administered by the UN since the Kosovo War while nominally remaining part of Serbia. However, on 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo. The United States, the United Kingdom and much of the EU recognized this as an act of self determination, with the United States sending people to help assist Kosovo.[68] On the other hand, Serbia and some of the international community—most notably Russia, Spain and Chinahave not recognised Kosovo's declaration of independence. As of July 2015, Kosovo is recognized as an independent state by a simple majority of the international community (56% of the United Nations' member states).

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Further reading

  • Allcock, John B. et al. eds., Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia (1998)
  • Almond, Mark, Europe's Backyard War, William Heinemann Ltd, Great Britain, 1994
  • et al. Duncan, W. Raymond and Holman, G. Paul, Ethnic Nationalism and Regional Conflict: The Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Westview Press Inc, USA, 1994. ISBN 0-8133-8813-9
  • Dragosavljevic, Angelija, Slobodan Milosevic: A Study In Charismatic Leadership And Its Distortions 1987–1992, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1993
  • Glenny, Misha, "The Fall of Yugoslavia", Penguin, 3rd Edition 1996, ISBN 0-14-026101-X
  • LeBor, Adam "Milosevic: A Biography", Bloomsbury, 2002, ISBN 0-7475-6181-8
  • Magas, Branka, The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-up 1980–1992, Verso, Great Britain, 1993. ISBN 0-86091-593-X
  • Mojzes, Paul, Yugoslavian Inferno: in the Balkans, The Continuum Publishing Company, USA, 1994
  • Radan, Peter, Break-up of Yugoslavia and International Law, Routledge, Great Britain, 2002
  • Woodward, Susan, L. Balkan Tragedy: Chaos & Dissolution after the Cold War, the Brookings Institution Press, Virginia, USA, 1995

External links

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