The judges of the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague called on Professor
Paul Garde to give an historic overview of the Balkans region and Garde then
fielded questions from the judges. Garde's testimony was given June 27-28,
1996. He is a professor of Slav literature and languages and has written many
lingustics books. Since 1991 Garde's research and writing have focused on the
break-up of Yugoslavia.
Q. What are some of the key events in the history of the former
A. In the former Yugoslavia, in the western part of the Balkans, you have
peoples living there that speak the same language or similar languages-- the
languages-- and you have peoples who for a long time have belonged to different
areas. You have the Serbs and Macedonians that belonged to eastern
orthodoxy, then you have the Croats that belong to western Christianity, to
So, basically, you have different cultural backgrounds and you have
habits, as it were.
Back in the Middle Ages at different times you had Serb states, you had Croat
states, you had Bosnian states, at different times, and covering different
areas. And in modern times, as applied to the rest of the Balkans, you had the
Empire, and the regions in the north west were excluded from the Ottoman Empire
belonged to the Habsburg Empire.
The Ottoman Empire* and the Turk conquest meant that
you had a third religion that came into play and a third type of sociological
which is Islam and which a large portion of the inhabitants of Bosnia converted
The ancestors of the present Muslims and the people from the Albania converted
so that is a third religion.
This meant that there were major migrations, moves of populations, which
explained the mix up of populations today. All these different peoples back in
century have realized that they belonged to a nation. This is the time of
this nation awareness, of what is called national "renaissance". These peoples
tried to get
their independence and those that were under the Ottoman Empire wanted to
independent through armed actions, rights.
This was the case of Serbia which was the first to organise a sort of uprising.
The State got organised at the beginning of the 19th century in the former
On the contrary, this national awakening was more based on cultural and
they had a political struggle within the Habsburg Empire, and at the time you
different ways of thinking in terms of the future of these countries.
You had also had national movements, and the first one was the Serb national
movement. In the constitution of Greater Serbia, that was a State that would
Serbs. You also had a Croat national tendency in other regions as well. At
the same time
you had another trend that surfaced amongst the southern Serbs that were under
authority which is called the Yugoslav Movement.
The Yugoslav Movement meant the idea that since all these peoples are
neighbors and speak about the same language, the southern Slavic languages, why
they not in one way or another get together? One of the main samples or
this idea was a Bishop Josip Strossmayer.*
All these movements grew or developed in parallel in the course of the 19th
century. In 1918, at the end of the First World War, a State was created, a
which later was called Yugoslavia. But that State was founded on a
right from the start, because in the eyes of the Serbs, (who were the founding
fathers of that
State; they who had won the First World War along with the allies, but at the
enormous sacrifices) the State was sort of the crowning of their victory, but
them that State was the realization of their product of a Greater Serbia. The
advantage is that all Serbs would belong to one single State.
For the other peoples, on the contrary, the main advantage of that State was
understood as reuniting together on an equal footing several different peoples.
misunderstanding or this different interpretation has never stopped influencing
development of events and, undoubtedly, it still plays a role to explain the
These two interpretations, the first one being that the state of Yugoslavia as
being understood as the realization of the Greater Serbia project is the
interpretation of the
Yugoslav monarchy between 1918 and 1941. That monarchy, the king was Serb, the
political leaders were Serb and the Serbs considered it as a continuation of
their State, and
the other peoples considered it as an oppressive force.
Now, the second interpretation, i.e. Yugoslavia as reuniting several peoples on
equal footings, was essentially the interpretation of the second Yugoslavia,
that of Tito,
between '49 and '91. In between, between the two, you had of course the
War. The Second World War which is, of course, a very dark period, a time of
where we saw the immediate defeat and the breaking up of Yugoslavia with a
fascist State established on the territory of Croatia; a time when we saw ...
terrible massacres and genocide of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia by the fascist
Ustashe state in Croatia (Ustashe was the name for Croation fascists); but at
the same time we had Muslim massacres and Croat massacres by Serb Chetniks
(this was the name for nationalist extremists whose original goal was to
restore Yugoslav monarchy)*. We also saw another resistance movement outside
the Chetnik set of the partisans, the communist partisans,
under the leadership of Tito who officially was a pluri-ethnic, was supposed to
the peoples, and this is possibly the main reason for his victory.
So, but, of course, naturally, this time of horrors has left an impact in the
period, and so it is remembering, the fact that they remember these terrible
these reciprocal massacres, and this still has an influence today.
The Tito regime was first founded in principle on a refusal or a rejection of
had been the principal state of the preceding monarchy, that is, a rejection of
domination by one people over the others. As a result, the Yugoslavia under
officially created as a federation, a federation of several republics which
each one representing and corresponding more or less perfectly, but in fact
the different peoples constituting them; and that Tito Yugoslavia was founded
federal principle, therefore, on decentralization with the autonomy of the
and republics, and the autonomy became increasingly real as the regime became
For example, the constitution of 1974 granted much more extensive jurisdiction
and competence of regions of each of the provinces and republics, so that one
in that constitution of 1974, moving toward an almost confederate system, but
at the same
time it was not a truly autonomy of the various peoples because the regime was
after all a
communist one, a dictatorial regime, even though it was much less stringent
than that of
the other communist countries all around it.
Therefore, despite everything, the regime controlled the power, and the
autonomy that was given to the various provinces and to the republics was
really, in fact,
the autonomy of the leaders in each of those republics rather than the peoples,
democracy, of course, did play a certain role in the events which were to
Whatever the case, this movement toward a greater degree of decentralization to
greater autonomy among the provinces and the republics was, of course,
differently by the different peoples; because each new step taken towards
was welcomed by the different peoples, except the Serbs who wished a greater
position and were not particularly pleased with the increasing decentralization
Serbs found themselves distributed among several of the provinces of the
republics, that is
all except one, and wanted there to be greater connections between these
provinces. They wanted a centralized state and that the other people, on the
wanted a very stronger decentralized state.
All of these conflicting elements burst out later on during the 1980s once
Q. What are some of the events in the late 1980s and early 1990s that
led up to the actual dissolution of the former Yugoslavia?
A. In the second half of the 1980s, there was the waning of communism in the
west Republics, and as of '86 little by little there were parties emerging in
Slovenia--although it was anti-constitutional-- and there was a certain amount
of democracy in that Republic.
There was, of course, opposition to this in Serbia because the
Slovenes gave their backing to the Kosovo Albanians who were subjected to
the Serbs. So, the conflict between these two Republics, Slovenia and Serbia,
quite acute, and particularly when the Slovenes banned a Serb rally that was to
and the Serbians retaliated with an economic blockade against Slovenia. A bit
later in Croatia you find the same movement of diversification on the political
front, the fact that there were opposition parties that were tolerated.
Consequently, these two
Republics were at odds with Serbia.
Now, at that point in time, in 1989, there was the fall of communism in all the
neighbouring countries, that is to say, the Berlin Wall came down and communism
collapsed in Hungary, Bulgaria, etc, Rumania as well at one point or another,
movement toward pluralism becomes a lot stronger, and the Yugoslav Republics
disregard this general movement of liberalization.
At that time there are various events that occurred. First, in early 1990
there is the break up of the communist party, the Yugoslav Communist League.
Slovenes and the Croats on the one hand and the Serbs on the other had taken
stances. At the party meeting in early 90, there was the dissolution:
Slovenia left the
congress followed by the Croats. That was it. That as end of the Yugoslav
Subsequently, in the course of 1990, there were elections that took place first
the north west Republics Slovenia and Croatia, in March/April 1990; whereas in
the other Republics they took place in December.
Now, in March in Slovenia and in Croatia those elections brought to power
forces that were opposed to communism. In Croatia, in addition to that, the
won by a party that was quite nationalist, the HDZ of President Tudjman.
Immediately, this coming to power of the nationalists in Croatia aggravated the
tensions, because Croatia had a population of 12 per cent (Serbs) and they had
affected by the campaigns, demonstrations, the threats, etc.. So they had this
feeling that was strengthened by propaganda. So, there were matters to feed
such a campaign on the Croat side. One of the slogans was that the Serbs had
important positions in the administration; so there was a dismissal of certain
who were Serbian which, of course, reinforced their fears and their conviction
Similarly, there was a new constitution for Croatia that was adopted and,
the previous constitution which stated that Croatia was the state of both the
and the Serbian Croat people, the new constitution said that Croatia was the
state of the
Croatian people, and of the other nationalities who lived there such as Serbs,
In other words, the Serbs in this new arrangement were moved out of the first
category into the second category. So, they are second class citizens, as it
though the constitution granted to them all rights, at least in theory. But, in
did not always actually possess those rights.
Now, propaganda from Belgrade and the propaganda disseminated among
the Serbs of Croatia was constantly stressing the genocide of 1941, and in
people's minds the idea is conveyed that genocide is going to happen again, and
that this new Croatian government is picking up where the Ustashe left off.
So, as of the summer of 1990, in the Serbian parts of Croatia there is some
uprising. It started off with roadblocks, and Croatian policemen were disarmed
insurgents. Then in the course of the following winter and spring, almost
rebellion. The first deaths took place on 31st March 1991 at Plitvice. The
took place on 2nd May 1991, that is, of Croatian policemen by Serbs in Borovo
Selo-- so two months before Croatia declared independence.
The conflict was also deteriorating because Serbia had embezzled funds that
were meant for Croatia. Then Serbia refused the right of the Croatian
representative to be
elected President. That was on 15th May 1991. There was the rotating
15th May 1991 the previous Serbian President's term came to an end. Normally,
it was the
Croatian who was to succeed him; this one was from nationalist party. The
representatives of the Serb blocked that election. So there was no longer a
President, and the federal institutions were deadlocked.
During that period the Slovenes and the Croatians were preparing their
independence. There were referendums in December 1990 in Slovenia and then I
it was May '91 in Croatia and people were very
much in favor of independence. Those two countries on 25th June 1991 declared
independence and it was at that point that the federal army reacted, and that
when the military phase of the conflict begins-- with the federal army's
intervention in Slovenia. That lasted just 10 days.
The federal army's intervention and the war in Croatia lasted some six months,
and later on in 1992 there would be the military intervention in Bosnia which
until quite recently.