The Balkans, Part 2

The Serbs began to see the writing on the wall, realizing there was no stopping Slovenian and Croatian independence. They also saw Bosnia coming apart and tried to cleave some of that territory out for themselves through ethnic cleansing.

Bosnia’s history made it ripe for this sort of business. The Ottoman Turks ruled here for centuries, establishing Islam in the region, a fact one notices when crossing the border: almost immediately, minarets and mosques are visible in towns and villages. Through centuries of co-existence with their Catholic and Orthodox neighbors, Bosnia’s Muslims embraced more modest expressions of their faith when compared to their Arab, African and Asian counterparts.

Gravestone from 1992, Mostar

Gravestone from 1992, Mostar

The Serbs’ plan was to essentially remove Muslims from territory in Bosnia they wanted to claim for themselves. The result was a complex mess of ethnic cleansing and civil war that Bosnia’s Muslims bore the brunt of. Horrific images from the ‘Siege of Sarajevo’ were a nightly fixture on the news in the early 1990s and helped galvanize international efforts to end the conflict.

Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina

War-ravaged buildings, Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina

As with the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 however, the war in Bosnia would leave a lasting blemish on the UN with its ineffectiveness in stopping such conflicts. A contingent of Dutch peacekeepers were told to stand down in one famous instance of Serb aggression in Srebenica, ultimately resulting in the massacre of thousands of Bosnian men and boys. A link to the story can be found here at Wikipedia. 

In the end, Bosnia and Bosnians suffered the greatest number of atrocities during the war. Images of snipers shooting people carrying groceries became a kind of nightly news meme that helped engage greater international involvement in the effort to end the bloodshed. Eventually, it took a great deal of strong-arm diplomacy, particularly American in the form of Richard Holbrooke’s remarkable tenacity, and back-channel deal-making to bring a stop to the hostilities and end the war.  Read more: Balkans Today