- Jose Carlos Cueto
- BBC World News
“The first thing that is lost in war is humanity. To kill your enemy, you first have to dehumanize him.”
For Mira Milosevich, an expert researcher in Eurasia at the Elcano Royal Institute, this is the only way to justify the horror and delirium experienced in the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995, the most stark conflict of those that destroyed the former Yugoslavia.
The balance was devastating: around 100,000 dead, humanitarian crisis, ethnic annihilation, families separated and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.
A human and material drain that was ended in the United States in 1995 and that divided Bosnia and Herzegovina, in practice, into a country for Bosnians and another for Serbs. “An invention,” says Milosevich.
Many of the wounds of the war are still latent, and the solution to the conflict was rather to “freeze” it and not resolve it, says the expert.
25 years after peace was made at the US military base in Dayton, Bosnia and Herzegovina is today a country beaten for unemployment, political instability and divisions.
At BBC Mundo we remember the negotiations that ended the most atrocious conflict in Europe since World War II and how it contributed to the current panorama of the Balkans.
The former Yugoslavia was a heterogeneous federation of six republics that brought together different ethnic groups within a communist regime after the end of World War II.
Despite the differences between ethnic-religious identities, the six republics coexisted in apparent tolerance until the death of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito in 1980.
Without Titus, nationalistic sentiments they surfaced again, and began the claims of autonomy on the part of various ethnic groups.
“Communism somehow held the republics together, but after its collapse in the late 1980s, Yugoslavia begins to disintegraterse“Milosevich explains to BBC Mundo.
The expert justifies the rise of nationalism in the populism of the political elite, which instead of undertaking reforms towards the democratic transition, fostered the division and the need for “cleansing the ethnic minorities of each region.”
Croatia and Slovenia unilaterally declared independence in the spring of 1991. War broke out.
In Croatia, Croatian separatists fought against Croatian Serbs in the region, who With the support of the Yugoslav army, they managed to repel the independence forces and control a third of the territory.
The United Nations had to intervene, and with a deployment of 14,000 troops they separated Serbs and Croats.
That would be the prelude to the greatest conflict. That same year, Bosnia also tried to proclaim its independence. The Bosnian Serbs resisted. The contest escalated.
In Bosnia, its three majority constituent peoples ended up fighting: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. The three parties wanted to control the area in which they were the majority and expel disadvantaged ethnic groups from there.
“In a way, Bosnia was a kind of small Yugoslavia. There were many mixed families and a huge ethnic mix of the population. People were forced to choose between two camps when many did not identify with either,” adds Milosevich.
Sarajevo, the capital, was besieged for two years in one of the most dramatic episodes of the war together with the genocide of Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs murdered around 8,000 Muslim Bosnians.
By 1995, the parts were out of stock. They had suffered bloody defeats. The human, economic and military damage was wild. The sangria had to stop.
“The American way”
After the first attempts by the European Union to end the conflict failed, it was the turn of the US government, led then by Bill Clinton.
“The US, following its mission since the end of the Second World War, took part to prevent any actor in Europe from becoming a hegemonic power by force. Its main idea was to stop the Serbs’ feet,” says Milosevich.
The expert says that this was done in a “very American” way.
Those involved were locked up for 21 days at the Dayton military base, in Ohio, USA They did not leave there until the agreement was reached.
The main leaders of the actors in conflict attended the base: the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic, the Croatian Franjo Tudjman and the Bosnian Alija Izetbegović.
The peace conference was chaired by Warren Christopher, then US Secretary of State and mediated by diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
The challenge was enormous. Despite the wear and tear, the parties did not agree to a ceasefire until a consensus was imposed on the territorial division.
For many years, the different ethnic groups of Yugoslavia had been scattered throughout the territory. Now this had to be outlined after a traumatic war with tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced.
The pacts divided Bosnia and Herzegovina into two political entities: on the one hand, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and, on the other, the Republika Srpska.
Croatia, on the other hand, retained three of the four areas controlled by the United Nations. The Croatian Serb minority eventually moved to both Bosnia and Serbia.
In Dayton, the parties “pledged to bring peace to the region, insist on the importance of maintaining the ceasefire, cooperate with humanitarian associations and other organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and ensure the security and freedom of movement of such organizations. “say the conclusions of the peace document.
The official signing of the consensus was made in Paris on December 14, 1995, and although the warlike earthquake in the Balkans ended, it was not without criticism.
“Many are of the opinion that the Serbs earned too much. In a country of Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, the Serbs ended up with more territory than before the war began“, dice Milosevich.
“It is a ‘frozen’ conflict, but unsolved“, sentence.
The “irresolution” was especially noticeable between 1998 and 1999 when Serbian separatists, this time in Kosovo, led thousands of Kosovar Albanians to flee. The UN intervened again and Milosevic, the Serbian leader, agreed to withdraw his troops from the enclave.
Milosevic died in prison in March 2006 before facing charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, 25 years later
“The country is quite unfamiliar. A lot of the population identifies with neighboring countries, such as Croatia or Serbia. The cohesion of the country is quite low in the social, political and economic“Marc Casals tells BBC Mundo, an analyst from the Balkans and a Bosnian resident for more than a decade.
Both Casals and Milosevich agree that much work remains to be done and that nationalist parties frequently fan each other to satisfy their constituencies.
Nationalist and identity cracks are still present, experts say.
The country does not advance. There is not enough transparency to motivate foreign investment. There is also no work for young people. 40% of the population between 15 and 24 years old is unemployed, one of the worst rates in the world.
“Luck touches you in Bosnia when you emigrate. People have already lost hope,” says Milosevich.
The lack of perspective is also compounded by the forgetfulness of other peoples who, due to the way the country was made up, were left out of the territorial and political distribution.
“Other minorities such as Jews or Gypsies have very little access to many positions just because they do not belong to the three constituent peoples. The system predefines your identity and this generates many problems in a country with so much mixture“, analyzes Casals.
The analyst says the Dayton accords were experienced with relief at first. But that in the region there are still very different claims.
He points out that the wars of the last century have left a kind of “existential insecurity” in the inhabitants.
“It is a sensation that has not existed in Western Europe since World War II. But in Bosnia and the Balkans in general there are too many precedents. You can see the uncertainty,” he describes.
Croatia and Slovenia, on the other hand, have taken another course.
Both countries became the first former Yugoslav republics to join the European Union and had a more successful transition from the former Yugoslavian state economy to the free market one.
Serbia keeps cracking. In a referendum in 2006, Montenegro voted to secede from Serbia and become an independent state.
In 2008, Kosovo also unilaterally declared its independence. Currently it is still a disputed territory and not all countries recognize it as a sovereign state, including Serbia, China, Spain, Russia and others.
Macedonia, which had declared its independence from Yugoslavia also in 1991, managed to be officially recognized as North macedonia in February 2019. In the middle, a long and slow process that was not without skirmishes and ethnic and diplomatic disputes.
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