A Valuable Lesson in Political and Cultural Geography
Non-Slavic populations surround Yugoslavia. Rugged mountains separate groups of Slavic people who form distinct subethnic divisions of Slovenes, Macedonians, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Croats, and Serbs, and other groups. These differences led to conflict, division, and war when the breakup of former Yugoslavia began.
World War I started in Bosnia. In World War II, Croatia sided with Nazi Germany, while Serbia was an ally of the Communist Soviet Union.
A group headed by Marshal Tito governed Yugoslavia after the end of World War II in 1945. For over forty years, Tito used military force to hold together the many ethnic Slavic groups.
The Breakup of Former Yugoslavia
Tito died in 1980. The national unity broke down in the early 1990s with the Soviet Union’s collapse. There was a power struggle among the various ethnic groups.
In 1991, Slobodan Miloševik wanted to unite all the ethnic Serbs into a Greater Serbia. He sent the Yugoslav military to Kosovo to take control from the majority Albanian population. Fearing war, Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia declared independence in 1991.
Miloševik then moved into Croatia to grab Serb areas for his Greater Serbia. Serb military units would roll into a town and force the Croats and any other people living there to leave. This is called ethnic cleansing. It happened on all sides of the war. After the UN stopped Miloševik in Croatia, he turned to the Serb areas of Bosnia to expand his Greater Serbia. Bosnia immediately declared independence.
The battle for Bosnia included people of three main ethnic backgrounds. The Serb group supported Greater Serbia; the Bosnian group wanted independence. The Croat group signed an agreement with the Bosnian group. In 1995, the warring groups signed a peace agreement, accepting Bosnia’s borders and supporting the creation of a democratic unity government. The country of Bosnia was divided into three parts: Serb, Croat, and Bosnian.
Portions of Bosnia under Serb control declared themselves the Republic of Srpska. The remaining 51 percent of Bosnia consists of a joint Bosnian/Croat federation. Both regions have sub-level governments within the formal country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2006, the region of Montenegro declared itself independent of Serbia.
The War for Kosovo
Yugoslavia wanted Kosovo as part of Greater Serbia. The Albanian Muslims in Kosovo were 90 percent of the population. They did not want to live under Serb control.
Many people wanted an independent Kosovo and an alliance with Albania. Miloševik started a civil war in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanian Muslims, creating thousands of refugees. In 1999, NATO forced Miloševik to end the violence.
Kosovo allowed 800,000 refugees to return safely. The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague charged Miloševik with ethnic cleansing and torture.
NATO forces continue to keep the peace in Kosovo. The Kosovo Assembly declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Serb officials overwhelmingly opposed Kosovo’s independence, as they had in 1991.
Conclusion of Former Yugoslavia
Kosovo and the independent republics of former Yugoslavia show how ethnicity, culture, and political geography are related. Opposing forces can lead to nationalism and eventually to war. The civil wars within former Yugoslavia have cost thousands of lives and destroyed an infrastructure that had taken decades to build.
The Eastern Europe region has seen enormous economic gains. Many progressive Eastern European countries have been accepted into the EU. The transition from communism to capitalism is only one part of the geography and history of Eastern Europe.
Source: Former Yugoslavia
By Saylor Academy, CC-BY 3.0