From Slovenia to Macedonia

Troubled Times, 10 Years On

When it all started, nobody expected it to last as long as it did. Especially considering the fact that the developments in Slovenia in June 1991 resembled an opera fashioned in the spirit of the famous words of an anonymous soldier who, explaining to a reporter what was happening, said in irony and desperation: “It’s as if they are trying to become independent and we are letting them.” Afterward, the famous “as if” became the typical characteristic of the many bloody events that have unfolded for 10 long years, spinning out like film from a reel, until Macedonia this June. The events followed the same road the naive Yugoslavs proudly called the road of “Brotherhood and Unity.” In this way, from northwest to southeast, the flames of war, directed as though by a secret hand pulling the strings of evil, engulfed the countries of the former Yugoslavia one by one.

1991: In June, the Slovenian and Croatian parliaments declare independence. Slovenian governmental organs begin to assume the competencies of the federal state, and Yugoslav authorities decide to mobilize the Yugoslav army. The war between the Slovenian territorial guard and Yugoslav army troops is short, with many cease-fires. The Yugoslav army withdraws from Slovenia, Slovenians celebrate their victory and their new hero—[former Slovenian Minister of Defense] Janez Jansa.

After a series of incidents involving heavy fighting (Plitvice, Borovo Selo), war engulfs Croatia. [Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman calls a meeting of the national guard and appoints a fugitive from the Yugoslav army, Anton Tus, as its new head. Attacks on [federal] army barracks begin. The Yugoslav army withdraws to the ethnic Serbian territories of Croatia, and the bloody autumn ends with the fall of Vukovar. The year’s bloody drama ends with the division of Croatia into two parts, with the Serb-held territories under the name Republika Srpska Krajina and the entrance of U.N. peacekeeping troops (the blue helmets that were deployed according to the “inkstain” principle). That Christmas, the Vatican and Germany recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. Other European states follow; the United States withholds recognition.

1992: After a period of relative calm following the war in Croatia, Bosnia comes next. The United States, followed by the other powers, recognizes the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The leadership of the Bosnian Serbs is transferred from Sarajevo to Pale, and Yugoslav troops, thus abandoned, die on the streets of Sarajevo. The bloody multiethnic war among Serbs, Muslims, and Croats begins with the Serbian occupation of Sarajevo, followed by volleys of mortar shells from across the rivers Drina, Una, Vrbas, and Bosna.

With the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia formally ceases to exist. Serbia and Montenegro form the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav army ceases to exist after peacefully withdrawing from Macedonia. The United Nations introduces sanctions against the new Yugoslav state because of its assistance to Croatian and Bosnian Serbs.

1993: The first sign of conflict between Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. This is the year—after Radovan Karadzic’s failed attempt to accept the Vance-Owen plan—that the Milosevic regime imposes its blockade on the Drina River.

1995: Key year in the unfolding of the crisis west of the river Drina. Croatian forces, first in operation “Flash” (May) and then “Storm”(August), expel nearly all Serbs from western Slavonia and Knin Krajina. In the fall, Muslim-Croat forces seize much of Serb-held territory in western Bosnia. Dayton follows. At the U.S. base in Ohio, Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman, and [Bosnian Muslim leader] Alija Izetbegovic sign the [Dayton peace agreement]. The war ends.

1996: The first half of the year passes amid the “blessings of Dayton.” In the second half, the first signs appear of the existence of a terrorist organization called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Killing begins in Kosovo.

1998: KLA members intensify their terrorist activity. Their target is everything that represents and reflects Serbian power. In October, after one of many visits by the U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke to Milosevic, the direct threat of air attacks is broached for the first time. Armed intervention hangs in the air.

1999: After the failure of talks in Rambouillet, France, NATO intervention becomes a reality. For 78 days, the air forces of the Western alliance bomb targets in Yugoslavia. In Kosovo, the KLA is engaged in a ground war with the army and police. NATO considers ground intervention, but the signing of the Kumanovo agreement after the initiative of [then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin and [former Finnish President Marti] Ahtisaari prevents this from happening. The Yugoslav army and the Serbian police withdraw from Kosovo, and NATO troops enter Serbia’s southern province.

2000: A small-scale war develops in southern Serbia, where Albanian extremists attempted to “liberate” the area that they call “eastern Kosovo.” Their activities are thwarted by military means and, above all by, the diplomatic efforts of the new authorities in Serbia and Yugoslavia.

2001: The war finally targets the last Yugoslav republic to escape its horrors: Macedonia. After calm returned to southern Serbia, Albanian extremists brought the evil of the war to a country that had been patiently struggling, by peaceful means, to avoid fiery national passions. This spring, the fatal hand of the god Mars touches the last oasis of peace in the former Yugoslavia. Incidentally, this turn of events occurred at the same moment that Milosevic, the one most responsible for the outbreak of wars in the Balkans, was arrested and imprisoned in Belgrade.

In the territory of the former Yugoslavia, or in the so-called Second Yugoslavia, there are five countries—at least for now:

Slovenia: A monoethnic country that, despite relative economic stability, has difficulty in approaching [Western] Europe, mainly because of restrictive laws that ban foreigners from owning property.

Croatia: After many years of Tudjman’s rule, this monoethnic country has been shaken by frequent corruption scandals. Power is in the hands of the liberal-nationalists and the former communists disguised as social democrats.

Bosnia: The two-part “Dayton state,” with conflicts between Muslims and Croats within the federation. A country under a sort of international tutelage. It could hardly survive without generous help from abroad.

Macedonia: A country that remains unrecognized in the world under this name (formally, it is still called FORYOM: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

Yugoslavia: The fragile federation includes an international protectorate (Kosovo). The country is economically exhausted and has been battered by years of isolation.