When, if ever, will there be permanent peace in the Balkans?

The History of Ethnic Tensions in the Balkans

For more than a millennia, the Balkans have been a general headache for the world - from the 800's CE when the Croatians became Catholic and the Serbs became Eastern Orthodox up to the present with the policy of "ethnic cleansing" so prevalent in the Balkans. The Balkans area has been called the "long fuse to the powder keg" for World War I, as one of the sparks that set off the Great War was the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

The current difficulties in the Balkans stem from ethnic differences within a state that wants no part of being a state. These ethnic and cultural differences are centuries old and seem to just get wider and more pronounced with each passing year.

The Serbs and Croats have been at odds since the 800's when Croatia was made a Catholic country, but Serbia - located closer to Byzantium - became Eastern Orthodox instead. And then in the 1500's, the Turks took control of Serbia while Catholic Ferdinand, a Hapsburg and King of Spain, added Croatia to the Hapsburg Empire, as well as Hungary and Bohemia.

In the late 1600's the Serbs, unwilling to remain under Turkish rule any longer, attempted a revolt. They failed and some 70,000 Serbs migrated to the Hapsburg-controlled Croatia. Their descendants, the Krajina Serbs, would remain in Croatia - along the Bosnian border - a fact that severely stresses relations between the two countries to this day.

Over the next few hundred years, as the Ottoman Empire lost its hold over the Balkans, the long fuse to the powder keg was lit. Ethnic and cultural differences between Serbs and Austro-Hungarians seem to widen ever further as each group fought for supremacy in the Balkans.

Finally, the fuse reached the powder keg in 1914 when Serbian nationalist Gavrillo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand in one of the main sparks that would begin the Great War, eventually to be known as World War I. The Serbian forces were defeated in battle the next year.

In the 20 years or so following the Great War, a fascist movement was rising in the Balkans, in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. During that time, Yugoslavia was formed in an attempt to unite Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia - an attempt that would ultimately fail.

When the Serbs refused to accept or even really consider the Croatian proposals for federalism and autonomy, the Skupstina (Yugoslav parliament) seemed almost destined for difficulty and eventual failure. Eventually, frustrated by the nonsuccess of a consensus rule, King Alexander dismissed parliament and set up a kind of royal dictatorship in which the Serbs retained the majority of the power. This unfair division of power bred resentment and dissention in other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia.

That dissention was in large part responsible for the open arms with which the Croatians in Yugoslavia greeted the Nazis during the Second World War. The Croatians set up a token government to be run by the fascist Ustasha - those credited with the origin of the term "ethnic cleansing," because of their attempts to "cleanse" Croatia of the Serb presence by means of forced conversion, deportation, or execution. The Serbs fought back against this process of cleansing with guerilla groups known as Chetniks.

At the same time, a Communist party was rising in Yugoslavia, led by Josip Broz Tito. The Chetniks battled fiercely against the Ustasha, the Communists, and the Nazis until the end of WWII. Likewise, the Communists also fought the Ustasha and the Nazis, as well as the other Yugoslav resistance group, the Chetniks.

At the end of the war in 1945, Tito's Communists were left in control of the country - former fighters and activists with no experience in government. Nevertheless, Tito's Communist regime continues for the next 40 years in the Communist Republic of Yugoslavia - the current day Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro.

Throughout the next 40 years while the Communist party was in control in Yugoslavia, anti-Serb policies were the norm. The Croatian majority worked to exorcise the Serbs from their land through nearly genocidal methods. The policies of ethnic cleansing returned to strength, though they had never truly been laid to rest.

The ethnic tensions that had been stewing for centuries finally came to a head in the Croatia - Serbia area when the very different nations of people were forced to belong to the same state - Yugoslavia.

At this point in the evolution of the Balkans, the different ethnic groups seem intent on eradicating each other, as evidenced by the rampant ethnic cleansing. The ethnic cleansing methods hearken back to the days of Nazi Germany with the revival of concentration camps, now littered across the Balkans.

Is a Permanent Peace Possible?

With the history of the Balkans - the ethnic tensions, the wars, element of "stable crisis" - many people wonder if there is a chance of a lasting peace ever succeeding. It is indeed possible for there to be a surviving harmony in the Balkans, but several conditions would have to be met first, and these are conditions that do not appear to be in the foreseeable future of the area.

First of all, the different ethnic groups - Serbs, Croats, Muslims, etc. - would need to be separated. Much like naughty schoolchildren who never stop fighting on the playground, the only way to stop the conflict is to move the key factors as far from one another as is possible. In this case, each separate nation of people needs to be reunited with themselves and given their own state, autonomous from any other.

Continuing the schoolchildren analogy, the next step is to take away the toys that the children are using to hurt the others. In this case, the "toys" in question are the methods of forced conversion, deportation, and execution used to cleanse the area of whatever ethnicity does not "belong" there.

The final step is actually two parts - a system of both positive and negative reinforcement. When the schoolchildren start fights and pick on the others, they have to go stand in the corner or lose their recess period, but if they play nicely with the other children, they get additional privileges. When any of the nations commit an atrocity of ethnic cleansing or aggression against one of the others, penalties are imposed. However, when one group makes overtures of goodwill to another - peace talks, self-enforcing of treaties, etc. then that group receives more global privileges, in the UN, for example. After a suitable amount of time to prove that the nation has matured enough to deal with the global community as a whole without acting like a petulant child, the system of positive and negative reinforcement would be retracted, allowing the nation a chance to prove their maturity.

The solution is somewhat simplistic in explanation, and would undoubtedly prove to be humiliating to the pride of the national leaders, but that humiliation may very well spur on "good behavior" in an effort cease the positive-negative reinforcement system sooner.

I have /msged Lady Midnight with the following corrections, however, she hasn't included them. Therefore, I have to write them up myself:

The fact Serbs live in Krajina (note also that both the area described above and the western part of Bosnia are called Krajina -- one is "vojna Krajina" (rough translation from Croatian is "military land") and the other is "bosanska Krajina" (roughly, "Bosnian land")) doesn't actually interfere with the relations of Croatia and Bosnia. It's a problem for nationalists among Serbs and Croats, mainly -- the former want that land out of Croatia, and the latter want the former out of Croatia, to put it simply.

The Serbian majority during the royal dictatorship was overwhelming, actually: more than 95% court officials were Serbs, and the percentage of Serb top army officers was 99%.

Even though initially Pavelić and his Italian-imported Ustashi were accepted by the majority, soon after, most Croats realized what they got themselves into. The major political party, HSS, never really collaborated with the Pavelic government; however, they were too cowardly to directly oppose them, since the German Panzers were always around.

There was another side of the coin with reference to the forced conversion (to Catholicism). There were several Catholic priests who willingly performed fake conversions in Serb villages in Croatia during the WWII. They did it knowing that the Serbs will latently remain Orthodox, but they also knew that the Ustashi government would execute the poor people if they didn't think they were Catholics -- so they "converted" them to keep them alive. Of course, probably some of those priests' motives weren't so honest, but in the end, lives that were saved matter.

Yugoslavia included one other republic: Macedonia.

The notion of "anti-Serb policies" and "genocidal methods" applied against Serbs in Yugoslavia is blatant FUD, and it really saddens me to see that someone can be this misled. First of all, Serbs were the largest nation in Yugoslavia. It would be illogical and hardly possible for any smaller entity to bully a larger one in a political system like the one in question, wouldn't it?

Instead of Sarajevo, which is a larger city and closest to the geographical center of the country, the capital was in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Sarajevo and Bosnia in general could have used the things being a capital provides to a city, too. Belgrade was the largest city anyway, and the second best economy-wise. Furthermore, Sarajevo embodied the whole idea of South Slav brotherhood, being a city where three different nations and three different religions lived together side by side. To place the capital in Belgrade sent a very simple message -- this is the biggest city, we are in the majority, the capital stays put. (No matter how slim the majority actually was.)

The bureaucratic machinery from the kingdom of Yugoslavia was merely converted to communism in the post-WWII Yugoslavia -- the Serbian dominance continued. This was particularly obvious in the repressive organs: police, army and secret services. Serbs had privileges when it came to employment in those. The Serbian language (or, the Serbian variant of Serbo-Croatian) was de facto standard in government use, in all of the republics.

All of the republics other than Serbia and Montenegro demanded to lessen the centralism. They had every right to demand that, because it was obvious that Belgrade was working in its own interest, not theirs. It took street demonstrations in Zagreb in 1971 and huge public pressure from the non-Serb republics in order to have Tito and the Communist party change the constitution in 1974, so that the republics become less dependent on Belgrade (even if still in a federation).

In the early 1990s, Slobodan Milošević was able to take complete control of the Yugoslav People's Army ("Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija", JNA) because the highest ranked generals were Serbs, and nationalist-supporting ones at that (Kadijević, Rašeta, Pavković). The 12% of Serbs in Croatia (only a part of which rebelled, BTW) couldn't have done all the damage in the war, were it not for the wholehearted support from the JNA.


If you want to downvote me for so much ranting, I can't stop you, but the above facts needed to be said, in the interest of truth. :|

I would appreciate that one /msgs me before casting a downvote, too, I'll be glad to correct any mistakes I may have made.


As for my opinion about a permanent peace scheme: the only solution is to get the various people to be tolerant, get them to appreciate their differences and acknowledge their similarities. This will be even harder now that Milosevic has raised hell in the 1990s and incited hatred and genocide at all sides, but we must still try.

All the other solutions, especially those that depend on external aid, are temporary and are unlikely to last for long.

Needless to mention, carefree misinterpretation of the complex historical background does nothing but obfuscate issues and obstructs progress.


Update on 2002-09-19: oh, good, more FUD to refute, this time from user Makaveli. "Objective opinions", heh, what an oxymoron :(

The first Yugoslavia was formed because Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia&Herzegovina had two choices after the disintegration of Austria-Hungary: work something out with (read: become provinces of) Austria, Hungary or Italy, or work something out (read: try something new) with Serbia and Montenegro. Mind you, Croatia et al didn't quite go to war on the wrong side because of their own desires -- they were a relatively small province of a large empire that had its own agenda. Anyway, the idea of unity with other South Slavs was obviously more appealing, given the past long lasting and not overly friendly relationships with the other aforemented countries.

The deal was quite beneficial for the Serbian side, because they got a hold of territories which are much richer than their own. Additional territory is nice, but additional tax money is nicer.

The reasons why Croats came to dislike Yugoslavia should be obvious -- their resources get spent on building up Belgrade etc, they have little or no influence on how the country is run, they were subjected to a brutal dictatorship and in the end, their political leader, Stjepan Radić gets killed by Puniša Račić in the middle of a Parliament session! Afterwards, Račić wasn't even trialled justly -- he was sentenced with "home arrest", and later even released due to the war.

None of this excuses the crimes committed by the Ustashi. They are horrendous and despicable, no doubt about that. However, not every Croat was an Ustasha, far from it. The masses weren't openly opposing the government, yes, but it's too easy to call people cowards when there's a war going on.

Openly glorifying Chetniks is something I don't get. These people were soldiers that helped the monarch repress the masses before the war, and later turned to killing everyone who wasn't Serbian. Sure, they didn't manage to get a hold of the infrastructure or a deal with the Germans, but still I can't understand how you can find a kind word for these people -- they are certainly no better than the Ustashi.

Saying that Croats had their own army in WWI is very questionable, given that they had no country or army of their own, but that they participated in the Habsburg Monarchy's army. There's a wee bit of difference between being enlisted in another entity's army and running your own.

All in all, you make it sound like the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was more like a gift from the gods to Croats (and others from Habsburg Monarchy), as it saved them from something bad. Well, they had a pretty authoritarian government before, and the first Yugoslavia eventually turned into an outright dictatorship, on January 6th, 1929 if I recall correctly. I don't see how this could ever be construed as an improvement.

(For possibly uninformed or suspicious readers: more information on this can be found in Black Hand over Europe. Even I didn't realize how bad this country really was until I read some of that.)

"Soon after" in that paragraph means a few weeks -- the time between Pavelić's arrival and Vladko Maček's home arrest. (Vladko Maček became the leader of HSS after Stjepan Radić was killed). Sure, I didn't say anything about them being actively anti-fascist -- I just said that they didn't collaborate, which they didn't. Please look up the meaning of the word collaborate in a dictionary if you don't understand what I mean.

Will continue later... or not. Makaveli seems to have come to his senses and removed most of the propaganda from his writeup. How convenient, just as I was finishing my rebuttal! And now that writeup is gone, too...

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