History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001
From the end of WWII to 1992
Following World War II, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
(FRY) was proclaimed. Because of its great losses during the
war and to prevent future bloodshed, Tito gave Bosnia a constitution
and the status as an independent republic within the Yugoslav
State, defined by its historic existence. Tito also created
Macedonia as a separate republic.
Tito was initially linked to Stalin, but he soon split in
order to establish his own brand of socialism. "Titoism"
gave him a leading role in the Cold War as the leader of Yugoslavia
- a "non-aligned state". Tito established strict
rules against the expression of "nationalism," and
his unique brand of totalitarianism successfully kept the
peace within Yugoslavia. Tito had killed many of his opponents
after he secured victory in 1945, and throughout his leadership
he imprisoned activists for nationalist movements (including
Alija Izetbegovic and Radovan Karadzic).
Post-war Yugoslavia was a socialist state based on the Communist
party, the Jugoslavija Narodna Armija (JNA), the Police (or
militia) and the concept of workers' self-management. For
45 years, Tito's totalitarianism kept ethnic peace within
Yugoslavia. The concept that he continually advocated was
called "Brotherhood and Unity."
When the FRY was founded there had been only two recognized
ethnic groups, Bosnian-Croats and Serbs. In 1968, the Bosnian-Muslims
were also declared to be a distinct nation. A new constitution
adopted in 1974 led to increased decentralization of governmental
powers, giving the six federal states of the republic more
political and economic independence, and giving Vojvodina
and Kosovo autonomous status. Economic and political developments
from 1974 to 1980 set the scene for the ruin of Yugoslavia
and the beginning of new conflict in the Balkans.
Death of Tito...
On May 4, 1980, Tito died at age 88 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
After his death, there was increasing resentment of centralized
government control. The state-run socialist economy continued
to stagnate, as was the case in most of communist Eastern
Europe. It was compounded by two facts: a return of the masses
of Yugoslav guest-workers who returned home in the face of
a depressed economy in Western Europe; and by the end of the
favorable position Yugoslavia had held as a non-aligned nation
between the US and USSR during the Cold War. Nationalist demands
and calls for increased autonomy grew among the various ethnic
groups of Yugoslavia. Deteriorating economic circumstances
led to ethnic tensions, as nationalist politicians sought
scapegoats to blame for the difficult economic times. Increasingly,
there were fears by other groups of Serb domination in the
region. In the spring of 1981 clashes occurred in Kosovo between
the Serb administration and numerous Kosovo Albanians calling
for status as the seventh republic, but not for independence.
This situation led to bloody and violent demonstrations, which
were severely suppressed by the police as well as by tanks
of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA).
In February 1984, the city of Sarajevo successfully hosted
the Winter Olympics - an international symbol of peace and
tolerance. In May 1986, Slobodan Milosevic, a former manager
of a gas company, became head of the communist party of Serbia
and stressed Serbian ultra-nationalism. The 600th anniversary
of the battle of Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1989 provided Milosevic
with an opportunity to clearly state his support for the Serb
nation, demonstrating pure Serbian chauvinism by claiming
tighter control over Kosovo. In March 1989 the autonomous
status of Vojvodina and Kosovo was annulled, and those regions,
against their collective wills, again became integral parts
of Serbia. The dismantling of Tito's multi-ethnic Yugoslavia
... and of a nation
In 1990 elections were held within Yugoslavia. Only in Montenegro
and Serbia did the communist parties win, while nationalist
parties came into power in the four other federal republics.
The nationalist victories were in many ways a reaction against
a fear of increasing Serb power. After the elections Croats
and Slovenians abandoned the idea of a unified Yugoslavia,
left the FRY, and were recognized by European countries as
independent states. Franjo Tudjman, the new Croatian president
promised the voters "a strong, democratic and independent
Croatia within its historical borders." Serb President
Milosevic stated that "in case of the ruin of Yugoslavia,
the borders of Serbia must be redefined, because a future
Serb state must include all areas where Serbs live."
Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the lead of Slovenia and Croatia,
holding a referendum on independence on February 29 and March
1. The referendum was boycotted by many of Bosnian Serbs.
When the results of the referendum were announced on March
2 and the peoples' desire for an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina
was officially announced, Serb paramilitary set up positions
around Sarajevo. On April 6 BiH was recognized as an independent
state by the European Community, and Serb paramilitary forces
fired on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. Paramilitary forces
had been bombing and shooting in towns throughout Bosnia in
March and April. The siege of Sarajevo, as well as the war
in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had begun.
The peace will be signed in Paris more than three and half