The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War

I just finished reading this book by Misha Glenny. It is the second book I read by him and it was an excellent read. Glenny worked for the BBC as a journalist covering the conflict with the break up of Yugoslavia. He is considered by many Serbs to be biased. In this book he points out war crimes against civilians from all sides.

It was a chaotic and horrible time in the history of Serbia. With the fall of the Soviet Union Eastern Europe faced a time of uncertainity. The end of Yugoslavia was probably the most violent repercussion of the end of communism in Europe.

It would have been great if all of this could have been done peacefully. I think somewhat the force of history and more poor leadership caused this violence. For the good of all, I think all the republics that made up Yugoslavia should have stayed together but it was not to be. The Yugoslavia experiment ended up being a group of tiny, ethnically homogeneous, nations. I was surprised to learn that 12 “parastates” were declared during this time. The secession from the federation of Yugoslavia would have been easy and violence free if all the nations were ethnically pure. The two closest ethnically pure republics, Slovenia and Serbia, ended up with not much violence occuring. The bulk of the war occured in the Serbian parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercogovinia where many groups lived together. It was a confusing war as there were many factions. Some of the major sides were the Bosnian Serbs, the JNA (Yugoslavian Army) consisting of mostly Serbs but also other ethnic groups, the Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims. Each side had their different factions and paramilitary groups which added to the mix.

Glenny was a witness to much of the war and his descriptions are tragic and horrifying. World War II was devastating for Yugoslavia and so many families experienced death and violence during that time. The effects of WWII played big factor with this war as massacres were remembered from that time. Being an American I have trouble understanding violent hatred between ethnic groups and people staying in one place generation after generation. For example some of the Serb villages in Croatia have been Serb dominated for hundreds of years. The biggest shock for me writing the book is the violence suffered by civilians. Entire cities were made to evacuate on a moment’s notice before the oncoming invading army. Families were traveling by car, tractor, and eventually foot to escape. Many didn’t make it.

In Glenny’s previous book that I read, The Balkans, he describes how larger nations meddle in the affairs of the smaller Balkan states. It is no different with this war. Germany, the US, Russia, the EU all played a part, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

The book ends with the Dayton Accords. Bosnia was divided into two parts, a Serbian controlled Bosnia called the Sparska Republic and a Croat-Muslim federation on the other.

It is too bad that the Serbs were depicted in the media as the only villains in this war. It was interesting to read about the rise of Slobodon Milosevic. He won less than 50% of the Serbian vote and thousands of Belgraders protested against him and the war. Since I live in Belgrade, I was curious about what the people here did. Most people in Belgrade didn’t participate in the war, but suffered from the years of international blockades and the NATO bombings, that happened after the book was written. When the JNA called for a draft, 90% of the young men eligible hid from the service. I will be talking with my friends about their war experiences and hopefully documenting a bit about what they went through. Very sad the whole thing.

The first nanny we interviewed upon arrival to Belgrade, said she came to Belgrade from Croatia, leaving because of the war. She said that her life in Croatia for her family was much better than here, and it was tough for her father to start over. It is sad that the countries of the former Yugoslavia couldn’t maintain a big ethnic diversity. I believe this enriches nations and makes life better for all, generally.

I’ll be reading more about the history of this fascinating country of Serbia and blogging more here.

According to data collected by the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, RDC, 98,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war – 57,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians. Bosniaks accounted for 64,036 of the dead, Serbs for 24,905 and Croats for 7,788.

The RDC also provided a detailed picture of what happened in Brcko.

RDC’s Snjezana Filipovic said their research showed that between 1991 and 1995, 1,432 people were killed in Brcko, with 226 people still missing. Most atrocities were committed in 1992, when 944 people were killed, including 505 civilians – 409 men and 96 women.”

Excerpt from “Voices of Victims Heard at Belgrade Conference” Institute for War and Peace Reporting web site that is covering the International Court of Tribunals for the ex-Yugoslavia trials. September 12, 2008.