YU, Western Europe: what's the difference?

Curtis T. Peters

PRAGUE, Jul 10, 2000 (EIN Media)

East and West Revisited

Europe is a continent that is experiencing an incredible level of unification. Many of the various nation-states that make up Europe have entered into an economic and political union. It appears that the continent has put aside the differences of the past and is attempting to move forward in a civil and regulated manner. However, this is not the condition of the whole geographical unit.

The republics that, in the past, made up the federalist and socialist state of Yugoslavia have undergone drastic and terrible changes over the past ten years. The region, in a seemingly un-European trend, has been subject to secession and violence that has touched almost all territories and ethnic groups in the last decade. Yugoslavia has been reduced to an essentially Serbian state as other republics have gone their own direction. What used to be Yugoslavia is now Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Slovenia and previously mentioned Yugoslavia made up of the Serbian and Montenegro republics and the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. The violence experienced has been of the most heinous variety and in some regions can be characterized as genocide.

How can a country that existed relatively peacefully since the end of World War One, with a few exceptions, digress into a state of intense warfare and genocide? How have the various ethnic groups who used to live and work together peacefully reached a point of such virulent nationalistic hatred that they wish to wipe each other off the face of the earth? Those that share the continent with them, who have similar cultures and experiences are not going through the same dilemmas, why is there such a dichotomy of experiences on the continent?

These are the questions that this work will attempt to answer. To do this, it is necessary to examine the history of the region and the nature of the nationalism that is present in the ethnic groups within various European regions. Also, it is necessary to examine the conditions in country that made acts of genocide possible. This work, however, will begin with a discussion of the atrocities that took place to determine whether they can, in fact, be labeled genocide in the true definition of the term as too not diminish the horrible meaning of the word.

Yugoslavia failed to mirror their European cousins' unifying and peaceful actions because the Serbian people, at this time, have not implemented principles of popular democracy and civil society in the post-communist era, but rather, are influenced by ideologies of chauvinistic nationalism.

Genocide Defined: the Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Due to the scope of this paper it would be difficult, likely impossible, to examine all of the atrocities that took place in the former Yugoslavia. It is for this reason that the parameters of this work will be limited to Serb activities toward Bosnian Muslims in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH). The decision to focus on the Serbian actions over others is a pragmatic one. However, although there were pejorative actions taken by the other ethnic groups, it is justified to say that origins of the recent BH war and genocide lie in Serbia.(1)

It has been stated that the actions that have taken place in BH could be considered to be genocide.(2) It is necessary to examine what exactly genocide entails. To do this the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of War Crimes, Resolution 260(111) A in particular, will be taken to be the definition that guides this inquiry. The resolution states,

"Acts committed to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such a) killing numbers of the group b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part d) imposing measures to prevent births within the group e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group "(3)

One or all of these conditions must have occurred if events of war or conflict can be categorized with the term genocide. It is with this definition that Serb actions will be put into context in an attempt to understand the nature of the violence in Bosnia.

It is clear that there was ethnic cleansing in Bosnia as the Serb militias of BH and those Serbs from rump Yugoslavia conducted their aggression with the desire to eliminate the Bosnian Muslim population from the BH region, physically and culturally.(4) The Serbs attempted to end the Muslim's cultural presence in the region by burning down Muslim libraries and Mosques in an attempt to destroy the record of 500 years of interreligious and inter-communal living. Moreover, this desire to negate the existence of the culture is clearly seen because the first groups of people that were 'cleansed' from the region were Muslim professionals, academics and artists.(5)

After the cultural institutions were crippled, the Serb militias moved to a more general pattern of terror. These acts, which were well documented, included random massacres, population transfers, concentration camp development and the siege of cities and rape. The said actions were common strategies for Serb forces on the Bosnian Muslim population.(6) Concrete numbers vary but some estimates place those displaced from their homes at one million and around 200,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the conflict.(7) In light of the UN ascertained definition mentioned above, the Serb deeds in Bosnia can definitely be categorized as genocide. Although it is clear that genocide occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is important to understand why these acts took place. What were the conditions in Serbia that promoted this violence?

The Myth of Hate

The 'ethnic cleansing' of Bosnia was not an accidental act that occurred during the progression of the war in the region. Rather, it was a top-down endeavor undertaken by the leadership of Serbia.(8) It has been claimed by many that the conflict in the Balkans was a result of a long partisan history and these people kill each other because of centuries genuine hatred for each other.(9) These beliefs, however, simply do not explain the situation and, more dangerously, negate the fact that these ethnic groups lived in a mixed environment to everyone's benefit for the past century.(10)

This lack of hatred is made evident by the fact that 85 percent of the fighting age Serbs refused to call to arms in war over Bosnia.(11) Also, about one-quarter of the population in Bosnia is involved in a mixed marriage.(12) It is absurd to assert that people of different ethnic groups who intermarry in large numbers have a gut hate for each other. One final example of the lack of ethnic hate between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs was the fact that when the war started in the region Bosnian Muslims gave up most of their weapons to the Serb dominated Yugoslav army. They did this for two reasons. They felt that the war was with Slovenia and Croatia, not them, and they felt that since they were not fighting the Serbs there would be no need to have the weapons. In fact, they even aided the Yugoslav forces in their endeavors.(13) This suggests not only a lack of antagonism, but also a level of trust.

With the absence of hate, the leaders of Serbia (the Serbian Orthodox Church, the government, members of the intelligentsia, and the media) were forced to manipulate the populous to create the situation that existed in Bosnia.


1.Vujacic, Velko, "Serbian Nationalism, Slobodan Milosevic and the Origins of the Yugoslav War," Harriman Review, 8 (1995): 26.

2.Norman Cigar, Genocide in Bosnia, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995, p.4.

3.Sells, Michael, "Religion, History and Genocide In Bosnia-Herzegovina," in Religion and Justice in the War Over Bosnia, edited by G. Scott Davis, New York: Routledge, 1996, p.27.

4.Sells, Micheal "Religion, History and Genocide," p.27.

5.ibid., p.26.

6.Bogdan Denitch, Ethnic Nationalism: The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia, Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1996, p.124.

7.Robin Allison Remington, "Bosnia, The Tangled Web," Current History, 92(1993), p,364.

8.Cigar, Genocide in Bosnia, p.5.

9.G. Scott Davis, "Interpreting Contemporary Conflicts, " in Religion and Justice in the War Over Bosnia, edited by G. Scott Davis, New York: Routledge, 1996, p9.

10.Vujacic, Velko, "Serbian Nationalism, Slobodan Milosevic and the Origins of the Yugoslav War," Harriman Review, 8 (1995): 26.

11.Denitch, Ethnic Nationalism..., p.63.

12.Warren Zimmermann, "The Last Ambassador," Foreign Affairs, 74(1995): p.12.

13.Zimmermann, "The Last Ambassador," p17.

Original article