Within Serbia, Tito set up two autonomous provinces, each dominated by an ethnicity that was a minority in greater Yugoslavia: Albanians in Kosovo (to the south) and Hungarians in Vojvodina (to the north). By allowing these two provinces some degree of independence — including voting rights — Tito hoped they would balance the political clout of Serbia, preventing a single republic from dominating the union. Each republic managed its own affairs, but always under the watchful eye of president-for-life Tito, who said that the borders between the republics should be "like white lines in a marble column. " "Brotherhood and unity" was Tito's motto, nationalism was strongly discouraged, and Tito's tight — often oppressive — control kept the country from unraveling.
Then troops would encircle the remaining Bosniaks and Croats with heavy artillery and sniper fire in an almost medieval-style siege. Many people were executed on the spot, while others were arrested and taken to concentration camps. Survivors were forced to leave the towns their families had lived in for centuries. It was during this initial wave of Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansing — orchestrated by Radovan Karadžić and his generals — that the world began to hear tales as horrifying as anything you can imagine. Militia units would enter a town and indiscriminately kill anyone they saw — civilian men, women, and children. Pregnant women mortally wounded by gunfire were left to die in the street.
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World War II Observers struggle to comprehend how it was possible for interethnic conflict to escalate so quickly in the Balkans in the early 1990s. Most of the answers can be found in the war that had shaken Europe 50 years earlier. In the minds of many combatants, the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s were a continuation of unresolved conflicts from World War II. Capitalizing on a power struggle surrounding Yugoslavia's too-young-to-rule king, and angered by a popular uprising against the tenuous deals that Yugoslavia had struck with Nazi Germany, Hitler sent the Luftwaffe to air-bomb Belgrade on April 6, 1941. This classic blitzkrieg maneuver was followed by a ground invasion, and within 11 days, Yugoslavia had surrendered.
Fleeing residents crawled on their stomachs for hours to reach cover, even as their family and friends were shot and blown up right next to them. Soldiers rounded up families, then forced parents to watch as they slit the throats of their children — and then the parents were killed, too. Dozens of people would be lined up along a bridge to have their throats slit, one at a time, so that their lifeless bodies would plunge into the river below. (Villagers downstream would see corpses float past, and know their time was coming. ) While in past conflicts houses of worship had been considered off-limits, now Karadžić's forces actively targeted mosques and Catholic churches.
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Perhaps most despicable was the establishment of so-called "rape camps" — concentration camps where mostly Bosniak women were imprisoned and systematically raped by Serb soldiers. Many were intentionally impregnated and held captive until they had come to term, when they were released to bear and raise a child forced upon them by their hated enemy. These are the stories that turned "Balkans" into a dirty word. The Bosnian Serb aggressors were intentionally gruesome and violent. First, leaders roused their foot soldiers with hate-filled propaganda (claiming, for example, that the Bosniaks were intent on creating a fundamentalist Islamic state that would do even worse to its Serb residents).
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