FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Bosnia: Divided We Stand
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about the history of the Balkans and what caused the conflict in the 1990s. Also follow links to other reports about the region.

Recent History of the Balkans

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed in 1918. In the wake of World War I, its name was changed to Yugoslavia, and Croats, Serbs and Slovenes lived together as one nation despite ethnic and religious rivalries. These tensions flared when Germany occupied the region during World War II, with paramilitary groups fighting the Nazis as well as each other.

After 1945, Yugoslavia became a federal independent Communist state, led by Marshal Tito, who had been a leader of anti-Nazi partisans. For the next 45 years, the dictatorial Tito -- who became president for life in 1963 -- ran a relatively independent socialist state. With a heavy hand, he enforced a unity that held deep-seated ethnic and nationalist rivalries at bay. Tito died in 1980. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the nation of Yugoslavia unraveled, primarily along ethnic lines.

By 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were recognized as independent states. The remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro declared a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in April 1992. Under President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia launched several brutal military campaigns in an attempt to unite ethnic Serbs in neighboring republics into a "Greater Serbia." Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed or displaced by Milosevic's policy of ethnic cleansing.

In 1994, Bosnians and Croats banded together in a large-scale military operation to reclaim parts of Croatia held by Serbian forces. The war between Croatia and Serbia finally ended with the U.S.-brokered Dayton (Ohio) Agreement in November 1995. Even though the Dayton Agreement retained Bosnia and Herzegovina's international boundaries and created a joint multiethnic and democratic government, violence spread between Christians and Muslims. In 1999, U.S. and NATO forces bombed Serbia and stationed peacekeepers in the region. The three-month-long bombing ended much of the anti-Muslim violence, but Milosevic remained in power.

Bosnia Regional Map.

Shortly after the NATO bombing ended, opposition groups began organizing against Milosevic. In the September 2000 elections, Milosevic lost the majority vote, but refused to step down. In response, the opposition -- including the student group Otpor ("resistance") -- staged a general strike, and within a few weeks, Milosevic was ousted. His challenger, Vojislav Kostunica, a conservative nationalist, was named president of Yugoslavia. In June 2001, Milosevic was extradited to The Hague. On March 12, 2006, after years of trial proceedings punctuated by theatrics on the part of the former Serbian president, Milosevic was found dead in his jail cell. Medical reports revealed that he died from heart complications, although some Serbs claim he was poisoned. Milosevic died before the court reached a verdict, and it was a major blow for the Tribunal and its chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, who had spent years trying to bring the Balkans' most famous war criminal to justice.

In Serbia today, democrats, nationalists and radicals vie for influence in the government. After the elections of 2003, Kostunica was sworn in as prime minister in March 2004. Boris Tadic, a member of the Democratic Party, was elected president of Serbia a few months later. Tensions remain high over what will happen with Kosovo, a province of Serbia that is populated by ethnic Albanians and a Serb minority. Many Serbs fear that an independent Kosovo will oppress the Serb minority and lead to more unrest in the Balkans. In March 2005, in the worst ethnic violence Kosovo had seen in years, 19 Serbs were killed and 900 injured in riots.

Bosnia, which has been monitored by NATO and European Union peacekeeping troops for nearly a decade, is perhaps the Balkans' greatest success story, as it maintains a relatively stable government.

Former German minister Christian Schwarz-Schilling took over from British diplomat Lord Ashdown as the final High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina at the beginning of 2006. In taking up his new post in Sarajevo, he promised to put the country on a firm path to membership in the European Union and to give Bosnian politicians more control over their own affairs.

Sources: CIA World Factbook; CNN; BBC; U.N./ICTY; PBS; Agence France-Presse.

Related Links

Bosnia Ten Years Later: Successes and Challenges
R. Nicholas Burns, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, delivered these comments at the U.S. Institute of Peace in November 2005 to commemorate the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the signing of the Dayton Accord 10 years earlier.

"False Dawn: Bosnia Ten Years After Dayton -- Lessons to Learn From Past Mistakes"
Julie Mertus, professor of ethics and international relations at American University, writes for Foreign Policy in Focus about the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Accord, which partitioned the country into two largely autonomous entities along ethnic lines.

More on the School Textbook Reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina
As part of a movement to reform the education sector, the Organization for Security and Co operation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina played a key role in establishing guidelines for new history and geography textbooks.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The work of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is based on the principle that a democratic society underpinned by the rule of law is the best guarantor of durable peace and security.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR)
The OHR is the chief civilian peace implementation agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 1995 Dayton Accord assigned the OHR the task of overseeing the implementation of the civilian aspects of the agreement on behalf of the international community. The OHR is also responsible for coordinating the activities of the civilian organizations and agencies operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Secret History of Dayton
This paper on U.S. diplomacy and the Bosnia peace process in 1995 is presented by the National Security Archive.

"Today's Bosnia: A Dependent, Stifled, Apartheid Regime"
This article by Jonathan Steele, which appeared in a November issue of The Guardian, suggests that the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accord is Europe's chance to reinvigorate a recovery in the Balkans.

"Dark Shadows, the Legacy of War in Serbia and Bosnia"
Joe Rubin reported from Bosnia-Herzegovina in July 2005 for FRONTLINE/World. "Dark Shadows" is the story of his journey through a region still struggling to emerge from the war. He investigated political reforms, met journalists covering war criminals and found that some progress had been made in bridging ethnic divides. But Rubin's video report also shows that years after the war's end, the war's shadow still hung heavily over the country.

"The Men Who Got Away"
In this report from March 2006, FRONTLINE/World reporter Jennifer Glasse travels to Bosnia, Serbia and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague looking for answers to why the two men most responsible for wartime atrocities in the region -- former president Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic -- are still at large.

"Peaceful, Rebuilt, But Still Divided"
This November 2005 report from The Economist explores the effort to bring Bosnia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia into the European Union.