Over the first half of the 1990s, the nation-state of Yugoslavia (formally, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) experienced the secession of three its component republics: Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. The latter two of these were bitterly fought over, both by regular troops and against civilians suddenly resistant to living in ethnically mixed settings. In 1991 and 1992, as Croatia’s military fought Yugoslavia’s, Croat and Serb civilians in both realms undertook campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” – efforts by one group to rid certain areas of the other. As they did echoes resounded of World War Two-era conflicts in which the Croatian, Nazi-allied Ustashe and Serbian, Russia-allied Chetniks fought each other and targeted their respective opposites civilian bases.
After both sides drew back (and Croatia’s independence received recognition), similar dynamics began to unfold in Bosnia involving Bosniaks as well as Serbs and Croats who had lived in Yugoslavia’s most diverse and integrated republic. The conflict most intensely involved civilian populations in the eastern and western areas of Bosnia, where Serb militias fought to negate Bonsian independence – and, failing that, to eradicate the Bosniak population of those regions. The international response to this campaign was create “Safe Areas” in which Bosniak civilians were to be protected from Serbian militias. The militias, however, targeted the Safe Areas anyway. Most notoriously, a Serbian militia overran the Safe Area of the town of Srebenica. The mostly Bosniak civilian population sought refuge at the United Nations’ base nearby. There, however, forces led by the militia leader Ratko Mladic convinced the UN forces to allow them to separate the men from the women and children. The latter were deported to the zone controlled by Bosniak forces. The former, numbering over 7,000, were massacred. Subsequent jurisprudence, both from the International Criminal Court for Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice, determined that the massacre constituted genocide.
Later, the remaining Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Montenegro seceded, as did the former autonomous province of Kosovo. In each case, violence against civilians defined along identity-based lines existed, most intensely so in Kosovo. In 1999, a multilateral force conducted a ten-week-long bombing campaign against Serbian forces, whom Western leaders feared were set to wage another campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo as a response to Kosovo’s independence aspirations.
The Genocide Studies Program has featured numerous seminars relating to the events in the Balkan region. Jasmina Besirevic-Regan, a lecturer and dean of Trumbull College at Yale, sits on the GSP’s board of advisors.