A brief introduction into the Yugoslav Wars responsibilities

[Miloš Rančić, Belgrade, Serbia] During the last year or so, from time to time I was thinking about the bombing of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 and nearby events in comparison to the other US-led interventions of the 21st century. It was likely the stories of the Middle East turmoils which triggered me to think particularly about the harshness of suffering people there in comparison to Serbia.

Although this will sound harsh in the ears of people who have lost friends and others who were dear to them in the NATO bombardment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and especially in Belgrade, I would dare to call this a Disneyland intervention. Proportions of people suffering in Iraq since 2003 are not comparable with what happened during a couple of months of 1999 in FRY.

There is one more striking difference between any 21st century Middle East US-led intervention and the interventions in Yugoslav Wars: Former Yugoslavia is now a peaceful area, where people are now struggling with the problems caused by economic issues, not with the problems caused by war issues. In other words, if the ends justify the means, it could be said that the US-led intervention in former Yugoslavia was the right thing to do.

Nato Flyer (1999)
Nato Flyer (1999)

But, there are many “buts”.

It is hard to believe that the concept of “humanitarian intervention” is the cause of the NATO bombing of FRY in 1999 or any Western involvement in the Yugoslav Wars during the 90s. If so, even at that time, the world was full of oppressed ethnic groups, some of them not that far away from former Yugoslavia, most notably Turkey with its full scale wars against the Kurds.

The responsibility of the Serbian political elites (yes, plural) for the breakup of Yugoslavia is quite large and it goes back into the 1980s. Instead of constructively solving ongoing problems inside of the Socialist Yugoslavia, they chose confrontation.

Instead of solving economic issues by economic means, the situation soon escalated into the full scale mass panic. Because, of course, the need of the elites to monetize their political positions, by switching to capitalism and a less complex setting, in which they would be able to profit much more easily. Political elites of the other republics realized that quickly and explicit or implicit deals were made.

I wouldn’t like to talk much about that side of the story, as it’s been described numerous times from various points of view and even Wikipedia articles could give the basic information about the events. From my perspective, the best way to be introduced into the events which lead to the breakup of Yugoslavia from inside are transcripts of athe testimony of the last Yugoslav prime minister, Ante Markovic, during the Milosevic trial. (I was able to find just Serbian/Croatian transcript; search for “Ante Markovic”)

Historian will also find it interesting to take a look into the economic difficulties in the second half of 1970s and the first half of the 1980s in Socialist Yugoslavia, as they are one of the main causes of the rising nationalism on all sides.

In short, from the pragmatic point of view, the most responsible for the breakup of Yugoslavia are the political elites from Yugoslavia themselves. From the perspective of the integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia, it’s likely that most of the members of those elites would have been tried for high treason. Many of them, no matter of the side in the conflict, had numerous opportunities to prevent or stop the conflict.

However, if we are talking about the responsibility of all involved parties, things are quite different.

If we are not going to believe that the invasion on Iraq was really because of the weapons for mass destruction, or that helping Nazis to overthrow Yanukovich was really about democracy, it’s also hard to believe that any intervention in Yugoslav Wars was really about human rights.

Yugoslavia, as a powerful country in the Balkans, wasn’t in the interest of the main European stakeholders interested in that area, namely Germany and Italy, which were the most vocal during the initial phase of the wars.

It is hard to believe that the main powers of that time weren’t able to give substantial help to the federal government, led by Ante Markovic. No Western power gave its support to the Yugoslav Army which was actually trying to stop the conflict in Croatia during 1990 and 1991. Instead, they chose to send weapons to the secessionists even before the conflict started.

The fact that the Bosniak side in the conflict withdrew its agreement on Carrington-Cutileiro plan after the meeting with US ambassador in Yugoslavia, a couple of days before the start of the war, has also a significant meaning in the context of the future events. (From the present perspective and even not counting the casualties of the war, the plan was actually better for both Bosniaks and the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.)

Events which lead to the Kosovo War had also similar pattern. Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Kosovo Albanians of that time was reluctant to go into the war with Serbia. He was marginalized during the second half of 1990s in favor of more radical elements. And that couldn’t be done without the direct support of US and their NATO allies.

It is also hard to believe that US were able to negotiate Dayton agreement with Milosevic in 1995, but not any kind of agreement related to Kosovo, before the war was started. Between the end of 1995 and the first half of 1998, Milosevic was “the factor of peace and stability in Balkans”. And, for the most of the 1990s, it was not about what he would have eventually accepted — as, at the end, he accepted everything — it was about constantly pushing him above his capacity to accept something at particular moment of time.

The last and quite laughable moment was the timing of indicting him for war crimes, during the Kosovo War. Instead of sending him the message to end the war, US and their allies sent him the message that he should do the best what he can to keep the power, as his personal future is on the stake.

Obviously, during most of the Yugoslav Wars, the goal of the US and Western diplomacy wasn’t peace, but initiating conflicts and handling the crisis according to their own economic and strategic interests.

And while the responsibility on the local level lays dominantly on the side of Serbian political elites, the breakup of Yugoslavia was heavily influenced by quite hostile interests of the main Western powers.


  • Image: Нато бомбе изазивале еколошку катастрофу у Новом Саду 1999, Wikimedia Commons
  • Image: Nato Flyer, Kosovo War 1999, Wikimedia Commons
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