TransConflict is pleased to present part four of a chapter of “Confronting the Yugoslav controversies – a scholars’ initiative”, entitled “Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995”, which “aims at describing causes, features, and consequences of ethnic cleansing as a policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war.”
By Marie-Janine Calic
II. The Policy of Ethnic Cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina
Ethnic cleansing and other violations of international humanitarian law happened within the wider context of political and military developments and structures during the Yugoslav wars of succession and, in particular, against a background of diverging interests and goals of the constituent people of the countries concerned with regard to the political future of their state.
The Disintegration of the SFRY and the War in Croatia, 1991–1992
For political, constitutional, and socioeconomic reasons, the SFRY started to dissolve in the late 1980s. By the middle of 1990, Slovenia and Croatia were prepared to declare their independence. Serbia and Montenegro, together with many Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, claimed that they wished to preserve Yugoslavia. In the spring of 1991, limited violent clashes between Croatian Serbs and Croatian police forces occurred in places like Plitvice and Borovo Selo. It was, however, not before Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence on 25 June 1991 that larger armed conflicts erupted between armed forces of the breakaway republics, on the one hand, and the federal army, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), and Serb armed forces on the other hand (see chapter 7, “The War in Croatia”).
The first mass killing of Croatian civilians and soldiers by local Serb units happened in Kozibrod on 26 July 1991. Atrocities were also committed in villages in Slavonia, Banija, and Dalmatia and in the town of Vukovar (on 19 November 1991). Mass crimes committed by Croats were reported to have occurred in Karlovac, Gospić, and western Slavonia. On 14 September 1991, the Croatian leadership decided to blockade JNA bases, after which a general offensive against Croatia was launched, starting in western Slavonia. The JNA and local Serb forces expelled non-Serbs from the areas over which they took control. On 19 December 1991, the local Serb authorities declared independence from Croatia and proclaimed the para-state of Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK) with its own military force.
A UN-brokered truce in January 1992 brought a measure of normalcy. By February, an international United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was deploying in those areas in Croatia where Serbs constituted the majority or a substantial minority of the population, with the aim of preparing for a political solution to this conflict. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in Croatia, which had reached 550,000 by the end of 1991, dropped to 260,000 during the following year as many refugees returned to their homes. Nonetheless, as late as 1993–1994, the prewar ethnic Croat population had fallen from 50 percent to 4 percent in eastern Slavonia, from 20–30 percent to 2 percent in the Banija and Kordun, and from 20–25 percent to 5 percent in the Lika region; overall, the number of Croats living within the RSK had fallen from 353,595 to 18,200. Serbs were also subject to discrimination in other parts of Croatia, particularly in towns and areas close to the front line. Some tens of thousands fled the country. By mid-October 1991, 78,555 refugees from Croatia had arrived in Serbia.
‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995′ is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.
Previous parts of the chapter ‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995’ are available through the following links:
25) For extensive discussion of controversies over the breakup of Yugoslavia see Sabrina P. Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia: Scholarly Debates about the Yugoslav Breakup and the Wars in Bosnia and Kosovo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
26) Ivo Goldstein, Croatia: A History, 2nd ed. (London: Hurst, 2001), 229.
27) Ozren Žunec, Goli život: Socijetalne dimenzije pobune Srba u Hrvatskoj (Zagreb: DEMETRA, 2007), 722.
28) Goldstein, Croatia, 233.
29) Momčilo Mitrović, “Etničko čišćenje kao strategija država na prostoru bivše SFRJ” (Ethnic Cleansing as a Strategy of States on the Territory of the Former SFRY), Tokovi istorije 1–2 (2005): 187.