Yugoslavia: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia

The Disintegration of Yugoslavia

In 1987, Slobodan Milošević, a Serbian nationalist, became the Serbian Communist party leader. To the alarm of the other republics Milošević and his supporters revived the vision of a “Greater Serbia,” which would consist of Serbia proper, Vojvodina, Kosovo, the Serb-populated parts of Croatia, large sections of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and possibly Macedonia (now North Macedonia). In early 1989, Serbia rescinded Kosovo's autonomy and sent in troops to suppress the protests of Kosovo's largely Albanian population. Slovenia and Croatia elected non-Communist governments in early 1990 and, threatening secession, demanded greater autonomy. Serbia and Montenegro were the only republics to retain Communist leadership; Milošević was elected president of Serbia in 1989.

After attempts by Serbia to impose its authority on the rest of the country, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on June 25, 1991. Fighting immediately broke out as the federal army (controlled largely by Serbs) moved into Slovenia. A fragile peace was negotiated by a European Community (EC) delegation, but fighting soon resumed. By the end of July, 1991, however, all federal forces had left Slovenia, although fighting continued throughout the summer between Croatian forces and the federally backed Serbs from Serb areas of Croatia. In Sept., 1991, Macedonia declared its independence, and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for independence that October.

In Jan., 1992, with Serbs holding 30% of Croatia, a cease-fire was negotiated in that republic, and the United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force. In that same month the EC recognized Croatia and Slovenia as independent states, and in April the EC and the United States recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina's sovereignty. The Serbs, with about 30% of the population, seized 65% of the latter republic's territory and proclaimed the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croats, with about 20% of the population, seized about half the remainder of the land and proclaimed the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. The poorly armed Muslims, who comprised more than 40% of the population, held the rest of the republic's territory, including the capital. In a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” carried out mostly by the Serbs, thousands of Muslims were killed, and many more fled Bosnia or were placed in Serb detention camps.

In May, 1992, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro and called for an immediate cease-fire in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Macedonia was widely recognized the following year (though Greece withheld recognition and imposed an embargo until after an agreement was reached with Macedonia in 1995). Although Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Yugoslavian federation, the EC announced in June, 1992, that the new government could not claim the international rights and duties of the former Yugoslavia, because those rights and obligations had devolved onto the different republics. This opinion was affirmed by the United Nations in Sept., 1992.

The United Nations also imposed a naval blockade on Yugoslavia, which along with the sanctions resulted in severe economic hardship, including hyperinflation for a time. After Serbia reduced its support for the Bosnian Serbs, the United Nations eased sanctions against Yugoslavia. In late 1995 Yugoslavia (in the person of President Milošević of Serbia) participated in the talks in Dayton, Ohio, that led to a peace accord among Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia (Yugoslavia). Milošević became president of all Yugoslavia in 1997.

Tensions increased in Kosovo in 1997 and 1998, as a period of nonviolent civil disobedience against Serbian rule gave way to the rise of a guerrilla army. In Mar., 1999, following mounting repression of ethnic Albanians and the breakdown of negotiations between separatists and the Serbs, NATO began bombing military targets throughout Yugoslavia, and thousands of ethnic Albanians were forcibly deported from Kosovo by Yugoslav troops. In June, Milošević agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, and NATO peacekeepers entered the region. Demonstrations in the latter half of 1999 against Milošević failed to force his resignation. Meanwhile, Montenegro sought increased autonomy within the federation and began making moves toward that goal.

In July, 2000, the national constitution was amended to permit the president to hold office for two terms and to institute direct presidential elections; the changes were designed to permit Milošević to remain in power beyond a single term and reduce Montenegrin influence in the federal government. When elections were held in September, however, Milošević was defeated by Vojislav Koštunica, who was supported by a coalition of 18 opposition parties (Democratic Opposition of Serbia; DOS). The election commission initially refused to certify Koštunica as the outright victor, but Milošević conceded after a general strike was called, demonstrators took over the federal parliament building, and Russia recognized Koštunica.

A coalition consisting of the DOS and Montenegrin Socialists formed a national government, and in early Serbian elections (Dec., 2000) the DOS won control of the Serbian parliament. Koštunica replaced several top military officers—a move designed in part to placate Montenegro—but he initially refused to hand Milošević over to the international war crimes court in the Hague. In early 2001 Milošević and some of his associates in the former government were arrested on various charges. The former president was turned over to the war crimes tribunal by the Serbian government in June, prompting the Montenegrin Socialists to resign from the federal coalition. Relations between Koštunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjić became strained, with the former concerned more about preserving the federation with Montenegro and the latter about winning Western foreign aid and reforming the economy.

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