History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992

Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001

Chapter 5
Birth and Suffering of Yugoslavia

Return to Independence
In November 1918, the Serbs stormed back into Bosnia inflicting mayhem upon the Muslim population. Following the war and the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919), Bosnia and Herzegovina were separated from the Hapsburg Empire. Together with Croatia and Slovenia, the State of the Slovenians, Croats and Serbs was created, which was united with Serbia into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians by the Geneva Treaty.
On June 28, 1921 (again, the anniversary of the 1389 Kosovo Polje battle) the kingdom's Parliament, according to the Vidovdan Constitution (Vidovdan means "St. Vitus" Day), agreed to establish a centralized state as demanded by Serbian leaders. Most of the members from Croatia and Slovenia voted against this decision or did not attend. Nevertheless, in 1929 the country was renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia (land of the South Slavs) with a Serb king assuming absolute power. The Serbs successfully dominated what had originally been a Croat plan for a multinational and multi-ethnic state.
A questionable kingdom
The newly founded kingdom suffered ethnic hatred, religious rivalries, language barriers and cultural conflicts from the very beginning. The difference in the economic situation between the dominant Serbs and the Croats added to those rivalries. The Croatian people considered that they were oppressed as never before in history. However, this tension and hatred stemmed more from outside the region's borders as neighbours continued to fester in the unresolved clashes of WWI.
Nationalism increased in both the Croatian and Serb areas. The Croat nationalists associated themselves with the fascist governments of Italy and Germany, forming a group called the "Ustasha." The Serbs, loyal to the monarchy, became the defenders of Orthodoxy, forming a group called "Chetniks." The monarchy became a dictatorship catering to Serbian nationalism while fanning ethnic tensions between the Serbs and the Croats. Meanwhile the Muslims, led by Mehmed Spaho, aligned with the Croats as a balance of power.
The onset of WWII brought serious upheaval to the region, as several wars were fought at the same time and in the same place. In 1939, by the Cvetkovic-Macek Agreement, one part of Bosnia was included in the Banland of Croatia. At the outbreak of World War II, the Germans, Hungarians and Italians occupied Yugoslavia for about four years. Croatia aligned itself with the Axis Alliance and the fascist movement. After the invasion of Yugoslavia (1941), Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the authority of the Independent State of Croatia, being on the separation line between the German and Italian occupation zones. The Croat "Ustasha" committed atrocities against the Serbs and erected concentration and extermination camps, as in Jasenovac. The Jews of Bosnia were persecuted and killed, and Jewish symbols and synagogues damaged or destroyed.
Two opposition forces were born in response to the Ustasha violence: the Chetniks and the Partisans. Initially the western allies recognized the Serbian "Chetniks" as legal representatives of the exiled Yugoslav government. They fought against the Germans and retaliated against the Ustasha with atrocities of their own. Eventually, however, the Allies supported the Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito. The role of the Bosnian Muslims in the war was more complex, as they were caught between the Croatian Ustasha and the Serbian Chetniks, often equally disillusioned with both. As the Partisans began to increasingly differentiate themselves from the Chetniks, Muslims began to join Tito's army.
In November 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council was established and Bosnia and Herzegovina regained its statehood and legal status. Documents from the First Session of the Anti-Fascist Council placed Bosnia and Herzegovina in the state of Yugoslavia as a separate unit based on the principles of equality of all nations living within Bosnia. This same year, Tito was able to convince an allied liaison committee that his communist Partisans had the best chance to defeat the foreign invaders, deceiving them of the relative strength and importance of his group. Thus they received most of the allied support and became a real military force. He united parts of all factions into a combined force to drive out the foreigners, and effectively attacked Axis troops.
Bitter victory
World War II and the resultant vicious civil war between the Croat Ustasha and the Serb Chetniks cost the lives of about 1 million Yugoslavs. The most important foundation of communist Yugoslavia is the story of how the Yugoslav people unified to fight the invaders. However, the atrocities committed by the Ustasha and the Chetniks were too terrible to be easily forgotten. Under Tito, discussion of the atrocities of the war was prohibited in an attempt to forget the past and keep the lid on potential boiling emotions. Nevertheless, once that lid was lifted, some politicians and parties were ready, able and eager to exploit the WWII atrocities in order to promote their own aims later.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 6