6TH to 14TH CENTURY
Slavic tribes, including the forefathers of today's Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims, cross southward over the Danube River and settle in the Balkans, a mountainous region partially populated by Illyrian tribesmen who are the forefathers of today's Albanians. Many settle around the mineral springs at Ilidza, a suburb of modern-day Sarajevo. A number of substantial but ephemeral Slavic states are created during medieval times. The largest of these is the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty, which flourishes from the mid 12th to the mid 14th century. Modern-day Serbs consider the Nemanjic dynasty to be the "Golden Age"of Serbian culture and political power.
The Ottoman Turks begin their advance into the Balkans. The region's Christian principalities fail to muster an effective combined resistance or secure sufficient military support from the larger European powers. On June 28, 1389, Serbia's Prince Lazar and his allies, including Albanians and Bosnians, fight the invading Ottoman Turks to a draw at Kosovo Polje. The battle, however, deals a fatal blow to the medieval Serbian state, and the Ottoman Empire eventually completes its conquest of Serbia in 1459. Among the Serbian people, however, a mythological cycle develops around the Battle of Kosovo, depicting it as a cataclysmic defeat in which the flower of the medieval Serbian aristocracy, including Prince Lazar, died as martyrs. According to legend, at the opening of the Kosovo battle, the Turks offered Lazar the choice between surrender and a fight to the death. Lazar chose to fight. Six hundred years later, Serbs still recall the epic poems about the battle and make pilgrimages to pray before Lazar's mortal remains at Gracanica monastery in Kosovo.
15TH to17TH CENTURY
The Ottoman Turks seize Constantinople in 1453 and extinguish the Byzantine Empire. In 1463, they conquer most of Bosnia and make Sarajevo the capital. In 1521, they take Belgrade. In 1526, they conquer Hungary. And in 1529, they push to the gates of Vienna before being repulsed. Ottoman sultans rule the Balkans for most of the next 400 years. The stability, prosperity, religious tolerance, and administrative efficiency of their regime are initially far superior to the conditions that had existed within the petty feudal principalities conquered by the Ottoman armies. After a few decades many Bosnian and Albanian Christians have converted to Islam. But the Ottoman Empire's stability is dependent upon wealth acquired through constant military expansion, and this expansion is halted in 1683 with the rout of an Ottoman army before Vienna. The Ottoman ruling elite subsequently proves to be incapable of engineering effective changes in the empire's system of government. Law and order gradually break down. Corruption and inefficient administration become the rule. Local rebellions present the rising European powers, Austria and Russia, with opportunities to intervene in the Balkans.
At the conclusion of the war of 1683 99, Austria forces the Ottoman Empire to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz, in which the Ottomans surrender most of Hungary, Croatia, and Slavonia. This agreement establishes a relatively stable Austrian-Ottoman frontier along the Danube, Sava, and Una rivers for more than the next two centuries.
Russia extends its borders southward to the Black Sea at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. With a treaty in 1774, Russia wins the right to intervene on behalf of the Ottoman Empire's Christians in their relations with the sultan's government. Ottoman authority in the Balkans continues to erode.
Supported by Russia, Serbs living in central Serbia rebel in 1804 and 1815 and win autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. The principality of Serbia is created after Russia deals yet another defeat to Ottoman forces in 1829. Thereafter, the disposition of the collapsing Ottoman Empire's remaining Balkan territories becomes a bone of contention between Austria, which looks to expand toward the southeast, and Russia's ally, Serbia, which wants to expand its territory to include regions within the Ottoman Empire that have significant Serb or Slavic populations. These regions include Kosovo and swathes of northern Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the lands that today make up Macedonia. A feudal uprising against Ottoman landlords in Herzegovina in 1875 sparks a major European war. Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and Russia join the fighting, which lasts until 1878 and ends with the Ottoman Empire's defeat. The subsequent Congress of Berlin in 1878 enlarges both Serbia and Montenegro but, to Serbia's chagrin, allows Austria to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria ignites a major international crisis in 1908 by annexing Bosnia outright. Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, the Sandzak of Novi Pazar, and parts of northern Greece and Bulgaria are now the only Balkan lands left within the Ottoman Empire.
1912 - 1913:
By the turn of the century, the power of the Ottoman Empire has waned dramatically. In 1912, the Albanians of Kosovo mount an uprising and throw off their Ottoman overlords. But before they can join with the Albanian clans of Albania itself and form a united Albanian nation-state, Serbia's rulers spot their chance to avenge the mythical defeat at Kosovo Polje in 1389. The government in Belgrade quickly bolts together an alliance with Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro. They attack Ottoman forces all across the northern Balkans and drive them almost to the gates of Constantinople. Serbia wins control of Kosovo and other lands; Macedonia is divided between Greece and Serbia; and an independent Albania is formed.
The borders drawn in 1913 become the basis for the modern map of the Balkans. But instability will continue to plague the region, largely due to conflicting Austro-Hungarian and Serbian claims over Bosnia and Herzegovina and discontent among the Albanians of Kosovo, who suffer repression under heavy-handed Serb rule.
On June 28, 1914, a young Serb revolutionary assassinates the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife in front of Sarajevo's national library. The killing gives Austria a pretext to settle scores with Serbia. Austria issues an ultimatum demanding that Vienna be allowed to join the murder investigation and suppress secret nationalist societies within Serbia. When Serbia refuses to comply, Austria declares war. Russia rushes to Serbia's defense and Europe's great
military alliances face off in World War I. After four years of brutal trench warfare, Germany is defeated and Austria-Hungary destroyed.
The dissolution of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire necessitates a redrawing of the borders in the Balkans. Slovenia, Croatia, Vojvodina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro become unified under the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Nationalist animosities, religious rivalries, economic disparities,
language barriers, and cultural conflicts plague the Kingdom from its inception, and the
question of central rule from Belgrade versus local rule from Zagreb bitterly splits the Serbs and Croats. After a period of political chaos, King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic declares a royal dictatorship in 1929 and renames the country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He is assassinated on the streets of Marseilles in a plot hatched by nationalist Croat extremists in 1934.
World War II:
During World War II, Europe's Great Powers once again fight for control of the Balkan Peninsula. After a failed attempt to remain neutral, Yugoslavia is invaded and dismembered by Nazi Germany. The Germans, looking for an inexpensive and easy way to manage the country, create an independent Croatian state, which includes Bosnia and Herzegovina and barely enjoys a fifty-percent ethnic-Croat population. Hitler gives control of this Croatian state to the same extremists who had killed King Aleksandar, and they promptly set out to create an ethnically pure country by lashing out at minority Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, killing them wholesale along with communists and homosexuals. This unleashes an interethnic bloodbath that claims hundreds of thousands of lives. After gaining support from Great Britain, the communist Partizans of Marshal Tito emerge as the victors in Yugoslavia's civil war without significant help from the
Soviet Red Army.
1945 - 1979:
Yugoslavia is reborn as a communist federation on Nov. 29, 1945. Tito's communists remain loyal to the leader of the communist world, Stalin, until a dramatic split with Moscow in 1948. A Soviet-led economic blockade compels the Yugoslav communists to devise a hybrid economic system, known as socialist self-management, and seek economic support from the capitalist nations of the West. In the 1950s, the self-management system produces one of the most rapid developmental take-offs in recorded history. But within a decade Yugoslavia's growth curve levels out and the economy does not create enough jobs to absorb an expanding work force. In an effort to reduce rising unemployment and attract foreign-currency income, Tito opens Yugoslavia's borders so its workers can seek jobs abroad.
1980 - 1990:
Marshal Tito dies on May 4, 1980. Despite large foreign loans and hard-currency remittances from Yugoslavs working abroad, the country's economy nears total collapse. It is briefly energized in 1984 when Sarajevo hosts the Fourteenth Winter Olympic Games. The republic's Muslims, Croats and Serbs work together to transform the Bosnian capital, clearing trees from the wild mountains surrounding Sarajevo and building chair lifts, ski jumps, and Olympic housing. Despite pulling off engineering feats on time to Olympic perfection, Sarajevo fails to burst onto the international scene as a ski resort and by the late 1980s, with inflation driving up prices by the hour, the entire country is on the verge of economic collapse.
The economic chaos brings political instability. With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia and the opening of Soviet society in the late 1980s, it becomes clear to the communist leaders of Yugoslavia that sooner or later they will have to surrender their monopoly on political power and allow free elections. Slovenia's communists begin demanding democratization of the country. Serbia's communists, led by Slobodan Milosevic, oppose it. Milosevic rose to power by exploiting the anger of minority Serbs in Kosovo, who have been complaining for years of discrimination and repression by the region's ethnic-Albanian authorities. Milosevic forces out the ethnic-Albanian leaders of Kosovo and introduces a repressive Serbian regime. Serb riot police crush Albanian protests. An explosion of nationalist hysteria in Serbia, stage-managed by Milosevic, leads to a nationalist backlash in Croatia and calls for Croatia's independence. In
Bosnia, too, the Muslims and Croats form nationalist parties and advocate splitting from a Yugoslavia that looks more and more like it will become a Serb-dominated dictatorship under Milosevic. Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia are loath to become part of an independent Croatia or Bosnia. They see their future with Serbia.
The War 1991 1996
Slovenia and Croatia declare independence and European Union nations recognize the newly-created states. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army mounts a half-hearted effort to stop Slovenia from breaking away, but it fails within ten days. Fighting begins in Croatia within days.
The United Nations imposes an arms embargo on all the republics of the former Yugoslavia, thereby locking in the firepower advantage of the Serbs, who had taken control of the weapons stocks of the Yugoslav army.
After four months of fighting, including attacks on the historic old town of Dubrovnik and the destruction of the town of Vukovar, Yugoslav Army and Serb irregulars take a third of Croatia's territory.
United Nations negotiators broker a cease-fire between the Croatian government and the Serbs. The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) is created with its headquarters in Sarajevo, which is believed to be the safest place because Bosnia is perceived as neutral in the war between Serbia and Croatia. Eventually 14,000 peacekeeping troops are deployed in United Nations Protected Areas, whose boundaries line up with those of the Serb-held areas of Croatia. Thus, the United Nations acts as a protection force for the Serbs. This allows Milosevic to transfer his military forces to Bosnia.
Passionately opposed to becoming second-class citizens in a Milosevic-dominated rump Yugoslavia, Bosnia's Muslims and Croats vote for independence in a referendum boycotted by most Bosnian Serbs.
The United States and European Union nations recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state. Serbia and Montenegro form a new Yugoslav federation with Slobodan Milosevic as its paramount leader. Serbs under Milosevic's control launch a war in Bosnia aimed at carving away Bosnian territory for a Greater Serbian state. Thousands of people stage a peace march in Sarajevo but Serb snipers stationed in the Holiday Inn open fire on them. Within a matter of weeks, the Bosnian capital is under siege and suffering daily artillery barrages. The Bosnian government, arguing that it is now the legitimate government of a recognized, United Nations member-state facing foreign aggression, calls for a lifting of the United Nations arms embargo against it.
The United Nations Security Council imposes economic sanctions on Serbia for backing the rebel Serbs' carve up of Bosnia. Sarajevo is repeatedly shelled; on May 27, the crowded Vase Miskina marketplace is hit.
Viewers worldwide are shocked by television pictures of emaciated Muslim prisoners in Serb-run concentration camps in Bosnia. But at a conference in London, world leaders decide neither to lift the United Nations arms embargo nor to intervene militarily to stop the Bosnian war. Instead, they agree to send "peacekeeping" troops to Bosnia to protect deliveries of humanitarian aid to the war's victims. The Bosnian Muslims come to be called the "well-fed dead."
The Serb siege of Sarajevo continues. Bosnia's Prime Minister, Hakija Turajlic, is pulled from a UN vehicle and executed by Serb forces in front of French peacekeepers near Sarajevo's airport. Meanwhile, a United Nations European Union peace plan is unveiled. The Muslims and Croats agree to sign it, but the Serbs refuse and the peace plan eventually collapses. With support from Croatia, nationalist Bosnian Croats who sense that the international community will no longer back a united Bosnian state-launch ethnic cleansing operations against Muslims in Herzegovina and central Bosnia.
A large-scale offensive against the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica begins a concerted Serb effort to drive the last of the Muslims from the Drina river valley. Thousands of refugees are sent fleeing through deep snow. The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina begins blocking distribution of food in Sarajevo in a protest against ineffective international attempts to call a cease-fire.
NATO begins combat patrols over Bosnia to enforce a United Nations ban on flights.
The United Nations Security Council declares six towns in Bosnia, including besieged Sarajevo and Srebrenica, to be "safe areas" and promises to protect them. Serb forces mount one last drive to take Srebrenica, but are stymied by the Muslim resistance.
NATO offers "close air support" to the United Nations troops in the "safe areas," but the Security Council fails to find countries willing to deploy significant numbers of peacekeeping troops.
Feb. 6, 1994:
A shell kills 68 people in Sarajevo's downtown marketplace. NATO threatens air strikes against Serb artillery positions unless they are withdrawn from around the city. Within minutes of the deadline for withdrawal, the United Nations announces that the Serbs have complied. Numerous violations of the ultimatum are reported, but a temporary pause in the shelling of the city begins and no new NATO air action is ordered.
A US-brokered "federation-agreement" ends the fighting between the Muslims and Croats.
April 10, 1994:
NATO launches the first attack in its history, carrying out pin-prick air strikes against Serbs conducting an offensive against the Muslims in the eastern enclave of Gorazde, another of the six United Nations "safe areas."
After Muslim forces from the "safe area" of Bihac overrun
surrounding Bosnian Serb positions, the Serb army launches a counterattack that goes unanswered by NATO.
Serb and Bosnian government leaders begin what is supposed to be a four-month truce. They use the respite to refresh their forces and replenish munitions stocks.
The Bosnian army, now almost all Muslim, joins with Bosnian Croat forces and units of Croatia's army in a major offensive in the northwestern corner of Bosnia.
The Croatian army captures the Serb enclave of Western Slavonia, a United Nations Protected Area under the Jan. 1992 cease-fire agreement. The Serbs bombard Sarajevo. NATO launches retaliatory air strikes, and the Serbs take more than 350 United Nations peacekeepers hostage. United Nations commanders and Western diplomats carry on secret negotiations with the Serbs for the release of the hostages and agree to maintain strict neutrality in the future. Serbia, trying to improve its relations with the West in order to win an easing of United Nations economic sanctions, helps to expedite the hostages' release.
The Bosnian Serbs overrun the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica after United Nations diplomats and military commanders refuse to call in NATO air action that could have repulsed the attack. Some 7,000 Muslim men are captured and executed by Serbs under the command of Serb General Ratko Mladic. Srebrenica's entire population is expelled. Serb forces overrun Zepa, another United Nations "safe area" two weeks later. More executions result and the United Nations does nothing.
Aug. 1, 1995:
NATO threatens to launch major air strikes against the Serbs if the remaining "safe areas" are attacked.
Aug. 4, 1995:
After receiving planning support from the United States, Croatia launches a four-day offensive that captures the Serb-held Krajina region, another United Nations Protected Area. Serb refugees flee the area in droves as Croat soldiers kill stragglers.
Aug. 11, 1995:
President Bill Clinton vetoes a bill to end the arms embargo against Bosnia and sends his special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to negotiate a peace treaty.
Aug. 28, 1995:
A Serb shell hits the market area of Sarajevo, killing 37 people and wounding 85 others. NATO prepares for air strikes.
Aug. 30 - 31, 1995:
NATO planes and United Nations artillery blast Serb targets in Bosnia. The attacks destroy ammunition depots, roads and bridges, and communications facilities and give the Muslims and Croats the strategic advantage for the first time in the war. Humbled Bosnian Serb leaders grant Slobodan Milosevic authority to negotiate on their behalf with Western diplomats. The Bosnian Serbs agree to move heavy weapons and tanks away from Sarajevo. NATO halts its bombing.
September - October 1995:
A Muslim-Croat offensive recaptures 1,500 square miles of land, roughly a third of the territory held by Serb forces. Tens of thousands of Serbs flee toward Serbia from northwestern Bosnia. The United States halts the Muslim-Croat offensive that threatens to unleash an uncontrolled wave of Serb refugees and retreating soldiers that would have threatened the position of Slobodan Milosevic. On Oct. 5, President Clinton announces that the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats had agreed to begin a cease-fire and attend peace talks. After a two-day delay, the cease-fire takes effect.
Nov. 1, 1995:
Peace talks begin in Dayton, Ohio.
Nov. 21, 1995:
A comprehensive peace agreement is reached.
Dec. 14, 1995:
The peace agreement is signed in Paris by Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Compliance with the accord is to be assured by a 60,000-strong military force under NATO's command. Troop deployments begin in late 1995.
Since the War 1996 - 2000:
NATO troops ensure that the military aspects of the Dayton Accord are fulfilled, but they refuse to assist in the return of refugees to their homes, but rather stated that it was up to the "warring factions" to create the conditions in which refugees could return in safety. By Nov. 1996, one year after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, only 250,000 refugees and displaced persons had returned to their homes, virtually all to areas where their ethnic group formed the majority.
By 1997, little progress had been made and states that had given refugees "temporary protection" status were questioning how much longer they should play host to Bosnians. Some countries began forcibly repatriating Bosnian refugees. Two years after the Peace Agreement was signed, Bosnia had no properly functioning common institutions, no legal definition of citizenship, no strong multi-ethnic political parties and no structured civil societies.
Thus far, over half a million people who left the country during the war have returned to Bosnia from abroad but only an estimated 6,000 minorities have returned to the Serb half of Bosnia. At the same time, Serb authorities have continued to expel remaining minorities as well. Overall, since the Peace Agreement was signed, there has been a net increase in ethnic separation inside Bosnia. Moreover, 1.7 million people affected by the war in Bosnia still remain displaced.
Sarajevo, meanwhile, became home to tens of thousands of villagers who were displaced from across the country. At the same time, many of the city's urban dwellers fled the country and have remained abroad since the war ended.