History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
from the origins to 1992
Mr. Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#121, September 5, 2001
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.
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.