Then, once the troops were furious and motivated, they were ordered to carry out unthinkable atrocities. For some people who perpetrated these attacks, the war represented a cathartic opportunity to exact vengeance for decades-old perceived injustices. Everyday Serbs — who for centuries have been steeped in a national identity of victimhood — saw this as an opportunity to finally make a stand. But their superiors had even more dastardly motives. They sought not only to remove people from "their" land, but to do so in such a heinous way as to ensure that the various groups could never again tolerate living together. Bosnia-Herzegovina was torn apart.
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. 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.
While most Bosnian Croats and virtually all Bosniaks supported this move, Bosnia's substantial Serb minority resisted it. Bosnian Serbs preferred to remain part of an increasingly dominant ethnic group in a big country (Yugoslavia) rather than become second fiddle in a new, small country (Bosnia-Herzegovina).
Some Croats retaliated for earlier ethnic cleansing by doing much of the same to Serbs — torturing and murdering them, and dynamiting their homes. Croatia quickly established the borders that exist today, and the Erdut Agreement brought peace to the region. But the country's demographics are forever changed: Of the 600, 000 Serbs who had once lived in Croatia, approximately half were forced out, and more than 6, 000 died in the war. Today, fewer than 200, 000 Serbs — one-third of the original number — live in Croatia. The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina As violence erupted in Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina was suspiciously quiet.
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).
The major ethnicities of Yugoslavia — Croat, Slovene, Serb, and Bosniak — are all considered South Slavs. The huge Slav ethnic and linguistic family — some 400 million strong — is divided into three groups: South (the peoples of Yugoslavia, plus Bulgarians), West (Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks), and East (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians). The South Slavs, who are all descended from the same ancestors and speak closely related languages, are distinguished by their religious practices.
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Initially Karadžić's forces moved to take control of a strip of Muslim-majority towns (including Foča, Goražde, Višegrad, and Zvornik) along the Drina River, between Serbia proper and Serb-controlled areas closer to Sarajevo. They reasoned that their claim on this territory was legitimate, because the Ustaše had decimated the Serb population there during World War II.
Meanwhile, Yugoslavs, uniquely among communist citizens, were allowed to travel to the West. In fact, because Yugoslavs could travel relatively hassle-free in both East and West, their "red passports" were worth even more on the black market than American ones. Things Fall Apart With Tito's death in 1980, Yugoslavia's six constituent republics gained more autonomy, with a rotating presidency.
One Serb told me, "Kosovo is the Mecca and Medina of the Serb people. " But by the 1980s, 9 of every 10 Kosovans were Albanian, and the few Serbs still living there felt oppressed and abused by the Albanian leadership. To many Serbs, this was the most offensive of the many ways in which they felt they'd been victimized by their neighbors for centuries. Serbian politician Slobodan Milošević saw how the conflict could be used to Serbia's (and his own) advantage.
The Ottomans stayed longer in the south and east (today's Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia) — making the cultures in these regions even more different. By the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire had become the dysfunctional "Sick Man of Europe, " allowing Serbia to regain its independence through diplomatic means. Meanwhile, Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken into the Habsburg fold (frustrating the Serbs, who already had visions of uniting the South Slav peoples). But before long, World War I erupted, after a disgruntled Bosnian Serb nationalist — with the aim of uniting the South Slavs — killed the Austrian archduke and heir to the Habsburg throne during a visit to Sarajevo. This famously kicked off a chain of events that caused Europe, and the world, to descend into a Great War.
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