Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995 – part eighteen

TransConflict is pleased to present part eighteen 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.”

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Conflict Background


By Marie-Janine Calic


The phenomenon of ethnic cleansing belongs to the most emotional and controversial issues surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia. Beside the unspeakable cruelty with which the war was conducted, it was the very idea of ethnic purification as an organizing principle of state and society that came as a shock to the world public. Ethnic cleansing designates a systematic policy of forced population transfer based on the identification of target groups by ethnic, national, and religious characteristics. This policy intended the physical removal of the unwanted population from a territory, including the elimination of all cultural and social traces of their presence. Offending the collective identity of the victims’ group, including its language, family relations, and cultural heritage, was aimed at creating conditions that would make it impossible for the expelled to return to their places of origin.

The method of ethnic cleansing comprises a broad variety of techniques, and its purposes have varied in different historical and geographical contexts. It formed a continuum, ranging from pressure to emigrate, to population transfer and mass expulsion, and eventually to genocide. Whereas in some cases ethnic cleansing was aimed at the physical destruction of an ethnic community (for instance, in Srebrenica), in other cases the objective was limited to the conquest of a strategically or economically important region through expulsion of the unwanted population but without a clear intent to exterminate that community in whole or in part. In conclusion, ethnic cleansing should not per se be identified with genocide. Politically charged debates over the term and its definition cannot, however, call into question the extent and horror of the crimes committed and recounted in this chapter.

‘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 every Friday.

Previous parts of the chapter ‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995’ are available through the following links:

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