YugoslaviaRecently, there has been much fightingin the former country of Yugoslavia, involving all ethnicities and religiousgroups and without making a difference between military or civilians. Diplomatshave been hard at work to attempt to resolve the differences that led toconflict and bloodshed, but it has proven to be a very difficult thingto do with extremely limited success. To understand the situation, it hasto be realized that a big part of the problem lies in the geography ofthe region and its demography. These factors have contributed to conflictsin the past and do so now. Yugoslavia covers mountainous territory.
The backbone of the region is made up of the Balkans, a mountain rangethat runs north-south. Continental plate movement from the south has createdan intricate landscape of plains, valleys and mountains. This led to intensivecompartmentalization of the region. As a result, there were few low-levelroutes and those that existed became very important strategically. Mostnotable are the Varda-Morava corridor, which connected the Aegean Sea andthe Danube, and the Iron Gates of the Danube, linking Central Europe andthe Black Sea, that controlled much of the trade between the Mediterraneanand Central Europe since ancient times. Most of the populations have livedseparated from each other geographically and culturally, developing verystrong national and tribal allegiances.
This region is a frontier betweenEastern and Western European civilizations and has also been influncedby Islam during the Turkish invasion. The roots of the conflict in the Balkansgo back hundreds of years. Farther than recent events in the region indicate. Dating back to Roman times, this area was part of the Roman Empire.
Itwas here that the divide between Eastern and Western Roman Empires wasmade when it split under the Roman emperor Diocletian in A. D. 293. Alongwith the split, the religions divided also into Roman Catholic and EasternOrthodox. This line still divides Catholic Croatians and Hungarians andOrthodox Montengrins, Serbs, and Romanians. The Romans left behind themexcellent roads, cities that are still important political or economiccenters, like Belgrade, Cluj, or Ljubljana, and the Latin language, whichis preserved in Romanian.
The period of Turkish dominance duringthe middle ages left a much diffferent imprint on the region. An alienreligion, Islam, was introduced, adding to already volatile mixture ofgeography, politics, religion, and nationalism. The administration of theOttoman Empire was very different from that of the Romans. The Turks didnot encourage economic development of areas like Albania, Montenegro andRomania that promised little in producing riches. They didn’t invest inbuilding roads or creating an infrastructure.
Greeks controlled most ofthe commerce and Sephadic Jews, expelled from Spain, had influence as well. The diversity of Yugoslavia can best becaptured in this capsule recitation: “One state, two alphabets, three religions,four official languages, five nations, six republics, seven hostile neighbors,and eight separate countries. ” This had more than a little truth. Yugoslaviaemployed Latin and Cyrillic alphabets; it was home to Roman Catholics,Eastern Orthodox, and Muslims; it’s Slavic groups spoke Serbian, Croatian,Slovenian and Macedonian; they identified themselves as Serbs, Montenegrins,Croats, Slovenes, and Macedonians; each had its own republic, with an additionalRepublic of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a mixed population of Serbs, Croats,and Serbo-Croatian-speaking Muslims; Yugoslavia was bordered by Italy,Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, all of whom harboredsome grievances against it; and the “autonomous regions” of Hungarian Vojvodinaand Albanian Kosovo within Serbia functioned until 1990 in an independentmanner comparable to that of the six formal republics. This indeed wasa diverse state.
Yugoslavia had been “a geographic impossibility, tiedtogether by railroads, highways, and a Serbian-dominated army. ” (Poulsen,118-9) This country is a patchwork of complicated, interconnected ethnicand religious entities that intertwined so densely that it is probablyimpossible to separate them and make everybody happy. It was a witness to two bloody Balkan warsthat took place in 1912 and that contributed to the outbreak of World WarI. The conflict seems intrinsic to the region, with painful fragmentationafter the fall of the Hapsburg empire and further discord during and afterWorld War II. In fact, there was hardly any time when there was littleor no conflict.
The events that started the most recentescalation of conflict took place in 1991. The first republic to expressanti-Serbian sentiments was Slovenia. They felt that although they andCroats had prospered the most in Communist Yugoslavia, they were laggingbehind Austria, Italy, and even Hungary. They saw the transfer of theirprofits to the southern republics as the reason behind it.
During the 1980smany started calling for separation from Yugoslavia. Serbia boycotted Slovenianproducts in 1990 and this only intensified the hostilities. In 1991, Sloveniansdeclared their independence. The federal army attempted to suppress theSlovenians, but was humiliated by Slovenian militia forces.
From there,it spread to Croatia, who resented the Serb domination in government andthe economy. All the previous conflicts, from Serbian-led atrocities committedat the end of World War II that surfaced in the 1980s to Croatian supportof the former Ottoman lands in Yugoslavia that came to the fore in the1970s, and others, greatly contributed to the Croatian resentment of theSerbs and led to their declaration of independence in the summer of 1991(Poulsen, 123). But this was only beginning. Croatia hada Serbian minority that made up 11% of its population. The strong feelingsof nationalism didn’t escape them either.
An attempt was made in 1990 todeclare autonomy of the mostly Serbian regions in the southwestern partsof Croatia. It was rejected by the Croatian government and as a result,the Serbs ignited a rebellion. They were supported by the Yugoslavian army. Bitter fighting ensued, with sieges and a massive flow of Serbian refugeeseastward. Like cancer, the conflict kept spreading and by 1992 nearby Bosnia-Herzegovinawas engulfed by it.
It is no surprise because Bosnia-Herzegovina is a patchworkof Christian and Muslim, Croat, Serb, and Bosnian, Orthodox and Catholic. The only way for the government to preserve its territorial integrity withso many groups pulling in different directions was to declare independence. The Serb and Yugoslav army moved in to drive out the Croats and Muslimand attempt annex Bosnia to Serbia. The Croat army moved in to protectits Croats there. With all these different ethnic and religious groupsso tightly intertwined in Bosnia, it would be nearly impossible to negotiatea treaty that would pacify all sides.
The grief and damages of Croatia, Serbiaand Bosnia-Herzegovina were not the only ones suffered in this volatileregion. Another province of former Yugoslavia was experiencing unrest. In a southern part of Yugoslavia called Kosovo, that was bordering Albania,irredentist movement was taking place. Kosovo is 90% ethnic Albanian andfollowing the suit of the other republics, Albanians started assertingtheir rights in Kosovo. They wanted autonomy, independence and annexationto Albania.
Serbia was not willing to let Kosovo go and disagreements betweenthe opposing sides began escalating. A major reason Serbia was so unyieldingis the fact that Serbs view Kosovo as a core area for their culture andits development. It is also a site of a tragic defeat by Muslim Turks inthe medieval times. The other regions of former Yugoslaviathat are experiencing problems are the regions of Vojvodina and Macedonia.
Like other parts of Yugoslavia, Vojvodina had a lot of different ethnicitiesliving side by side. Serbs, Hungarians, Croats, Slovaks, and Romaniansall share thi region. As they were becoming polarized in other republics,it spread to Vojvodina also. Macedonia is having problems with its Albanianminority, who are sympathizing with their brethren in the nearby Kosovoand for a time there was with the Greek government over the use of thename ‘Macedonia’ and Macedonia’s flag, which were Greek in origin. Thatwas settled with an agreement that Macedonia will change its flag, butnot its name.
Given the geography and demography of Yugoslavia,it is hard to imagine real, long-lasting peace coming to the region anytimesoon. It is virtually impossible to strike any deal that would please allsides, since virtually everywhere there will be pockets of minorities withlong-running hostilities towards the majority that could not be cut outof the territory and would have to be incorporated somehow, whether itbe Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo or Macedonia. These differences led to muchsuffering and bloodshed over the last several hundred years and no solutionhas been found yet. The nearby future does not seem to be any different. The Dayton Accords, that were struck in 1995 in Ohio, were supposed tohave resolved some of the differences and stopped the fighting, but justopening a newspaper today proves to be on the contrary. There have beenrather prolonged moments of peace, as when the country was united underthe rule of Josip Bronze Tito after World War II, so it is possible.
Onekeeps hoping that there will be more to come, no matter how hard they areto achieve.BIBILIOGRAPHYBASS, WARREN, “The Triage of Dayton”,Foreign Affairs, vol.77, No.5, 1998, pp.95-108CONNOR, MIKE, “Kosovo Rebels GainGround Under NATO Threat”, The New York Times, December 4, 1998, vol.CXLVIIINo.51, 361PERRY, DUNCAN, “Destiny on Hold:Macedonia and the Dangers of Ethnic Discord”, Current History, March 1998,vol.97 No.617 pp.119-126POULSEN, T.M., Nations and States,Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1995