Seattle PI
Historical Perspective: Yugoslavia, a legacy of ethnic hatred

By JASON FIELDS

Usually I don't comment, except with a :-) sometimes.
This piece of work from AP, however, I don't hesitate to qualify as one-sided and over-simplified.
JJ

FEBRUARY 19


The horrors of the concentration camps didn't create it. Over 30 years of violent repression under socialist dictator Josip Broz Tito couldn't wipe it out. Exhaustion from war and fear of international force have barely kept a lid on it.

Millennia of fighting over the Balkans, a bridge between Asia and Europe, has left behind ethnic hatred as it most prominent legacy.

The great powers who passed through helped to polarize the region, resulting in generations of hatred. Of Serbs for Croats. Croats for Slovenes. Slovenes for Montenegrins. Montenegrins for Muslims. Muslims for Macedonians. Macedonians for Albanians.

All these ethnic groups (who look identical to the outside observer) share one thing in common: the Balkan peninsula. Finding much else that they will admit to having in common is a challenge. All of them are Slavs, except the Albanians. All them speak dialects of Serbo-Croatian except the Albanians, Macedonians, and Slovenes. They are all Christian, except the Albanians and a group of Muslims (mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina) who may be descended from either the Serbs or the Croats, or both.

Where did these groups come from?

The Slavic tribes arrived in the area in the 7th Century as part of a massive migration which led to the settlement of not only the Balkans but much of Eastern Europe. Around the same time, most of the tribes converted to Christianity.

The Albanians are descended from people who lived in the Balkans for more than 2,000 years. The current Albanians speak a language which originated in those times.

In the centuries following the Slavic tribes' arrival, the groups formalized into nations which fought wars and traded with each other. The Great Schism between the Roman and Byzantine churches in 1054 would lead to further divisions among the inhabitants of the Balkans. Croats became Catholic under pressure from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Croatia was conquered by Hungary in 1102. Serbs, Bosnians, Macedonians and Montenegrins joined the Orthodox Church.

Serbia remained independent until 1389, when it fell to the Ottoman Turks in the battle of Kosovo Polje. Even though the Serbs lost, the battle itself has become a central pillar of Serb ethnic consciousness, symbolizing defiance and independence in the face of even an unbeatable foe.

Foreign domination of the region lasted four hundred years. During that time, the Slavic groups worked hard to maintain their identity. While Turkish policy didn't advocate forced conversion, Muslims were given privileged status and large tax breaks within the Empire. Many found the argument persuasive. A large number of the converts congregated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is a question as to whether the group now known as Bosnian Muslims were originally Serb or Croat. Both sides claim this group as kinsmen.

As the Ottoman Empire began to disintegrate, the Congress of Berlin divided up Turk holdings in the Balkans. Bosnia was given to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878. At the same time, both Serbia and Montenegro were recognized internationally as independent nations.

Serb nationalism took the center of the world stage in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The assassin was associated with a group which advocated Serb expansion. Ferdinand's death was used as a pretext for starting World War I.

Following the war, the Serbs annexed Bosnia and then joined with Croatia and Slovenia to form one nation under the Serb king and called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. It was shortened to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (South Slavs) in 1929, but discord was already on the rise. Croatian nationalists assassinated King Alexander in 1934.

The Nazis supported a fascist Croatian regime during World War II, which was known worldwide for its brutality. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were killed under the Nazi sponsored government.

Following the war a strong Communist government, under Josip Broz Tito, buried nationalism in the Balkans and created Yugoslavia, joining together Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Tito's government broke with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1948 and became a staunch ally of the West. The West in return helped finance a socialist Yugoslav state. Tito's ruthlessness kept nationalism at bay, but couldn't stamp it out.

After the dictator's death in 1980, the country began to dissolve. The first free elections held in Yugoslavia in 1990 brought nationalists to power across the nation. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in June 1991. Slovenia's break was largely peaceful, but a bloody ground war in Croatia lasted six months and killed 10,000.

Macedonia voted for independence in 1991 and NATO peacekeepers were sent to the region to prevent bloodshed.

The Muslim leadership of Bosnia declared independence in 1992, but Serbs and Croats living in the region fought to remain allied with their respective nations. A bloody three year, three-way war left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was accused of supplying the Serb side with war material and moral support. Years of sanctions on Serbia helped to change Milosevic's position. He became a peace broker during a conference held in Dayton, Ohio in 1995. Following the conference a fragile peace was established under U.S. auspices, but it is unclear whether it will lead to a more lasting settlement.

Inside the rump Yugoslavia, comprised of Serbia and tiny Montenegro, more ethnic trouble was brewing between Serbs and the Muslim Albanians in the province of Kosovo. Despite the fact that Serbs make up only 10 percent of Kosovo's population, the land itself is central to the Serb identity as the site of their greatest military defeat and also as the cradle of their religion, the Serb Orthodox Church.

Fierce Serb nationalism, long buried under Tito's iron rule, was brought to the fore again by Slobodan Milosevic in a fiery speech in Kosovo in 1989. The speech, which marked the 600th anniversary of the Serb defeat at the Battle of Kosovo Polje, concluded with thousands of Serbs chanting "Never again."

But the Kosovo where Milosevic spoke had a vastly different ethnic makeup in 1989 than when it was Serbia's medieval heartland. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when Christian Orthodox Serbs fled Kosovo to escape religious and economic discrimination at the hands of the Turks, Albanian Muslims moved into the province. By the latter half of the 20th century Kosovo's population was 90 percent Albanian. Tito had granted them limited autonomy in 1974, but their calls for greater freedom were brutally suppressed by Milosevic when he took power.

In 1991, a self-proclaimed ethnic Albanian parliament voted for independence for the province. Only their cousins in Albania recognized the territory as a sovereign nation. Serb nationalists reacted to the growing independence movement with violence.

Ethnic Albanians had hoped the Dayton peace conference that ended the Bosnian war would also take up the subject of Kosovo. When that did not happen, militiamen of what became known as the Kosovo Liberation Army began attacking Serb targets in 1996. The Yugoslav military began widespread retaliation in 1998, evacuating and burning villages to the ground.

The United Nations and NATO tried to get both sides to sign a peace deal, but diplomatic efforts collapsed in early 1999, largely due to Milosevic's refusal to allow a NATO force into Kosovo to monitor any deal. Ethnic Albanians fled the province by the hundreds of thousands. NATO airstrikes began on March 24 and lasted for 11 weeks.

The allies focused their attacks on military and communications installations, but as the weeks dragged on, civilian targets, like Belgrade's power supply, began to take hits.

Milosevic began to buckled only after Yugoslavia's traditional ally, Russia, came to an agreement with the West and added their voice to the calls for Serb withdrawal form Kosovo. Even as Serb soldiers began their retreat from the seat of Serb culture and pride, Milosevic claimed a victory of sorts for having resisted NATO for so long.

NATO troops along with Russian forces are to ensure the repatriation of ethnic Albanians who had taken refuge in the neighboring countries of Albania and Macedonia. They will remain in control Kosovo until a political settlement can be reached.




Original article