<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> History of the Balkan Ethnic Conflict :: Ethnicity
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History of the Balkan ethnic conflict
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ethnicity

by Debbie Ball

Before the siege of Sarajevo and the death camps of Kosovo, the Balkan region experienced the brutality of ethnic wars.

Bosnia, once part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), is no stranger to ethnic violence. Inhabited by several different people, including Serbs, Croats and Muslim Slavs (Bosniaks), Bosnia was one of six autonomous republics created after World War II.

Map of the Balkans.  Click for source.

When Josip Broz Tito re-created Yugoslavia into six Communist-ruled republics in 1945, the beginnings of ethnic disparity unraveled. Five of the republics were "homelands" of nations officially recognized by the Yugoslav government and who names they bore: Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Bosnia had no singular nation, but under Tito's rule, ethnic conflict was kept on the back burner.

When Tito died in 1980, the Yugoslav republics dealt with economic crisis. The long-mounting tensions between nations in Bosnia simmered more intensely. In 1988, president of the Serbian League of Communists Slobodan Milosevic rallied supporters to re-establish Communist rule and Serbian dominance in Bosnia.

Thomas Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University and expert on ethnic relations in Bosnia, said that people like Milosevic were very powerful during the region's most distressful time after the SFRY split up in 1991 and 1992.

"Cynical politicians who exploited people's fears during economically difficult times manipulated ethnic differences," Mockaitis said.

After the separation of the SFRY, the former six republics began declaring their independence - a move that would entice the Serbian majority to wage ethnic war against the republics.

A mass grave found near the village of Racak, Kosovo in January 1999. (BBC News photo)

The four wars that ensued from 1991 to 1995 and later in 1999 are known as the Wars of Yugoslav Succession. At the epicenter of the most brutal and deadly genocides in history, Milosevic launched an offensive against Kosovar Albanians, bashing 1.5 million people from their homes and murdering nearly 3,000 people in mass numbers, acts deemed by NATO as ethnic cleansing.

The turbulent history of the Balkans gave way to one of the most horrific demonstrations of ethnic hatred resulting in massive loss and quality of life. Although the wars are over, the consequences of the past will linger over present and future generations of citizens in the Balkans.

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