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The Worst War You Never Learned About

Yugoslav Collapse Sparks Bosnian War and Ethnic Cleansing

  • In 1991, the former Yugoslav federation was fracturing and its economy was in ruin. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia and Serbia, who had the majority of the Yugoslav Army, attempted to become the successor state
  • Bosnia and Herzogovina also declared independence but a largely Croat region declared itself an independent state within Bosnia
  • Serbia recognized this self-declared state, beginning the Bosnian War
  • Serbs used their powerful army to surround the Bosnian capital and launch an offensive, while Bosniaks and Croats formed an alliance to protect their chances of independence
  • As the war raged on, Serbs escalated their brutality across the country by ransacking and burning homes of Bosniaks, separating men and women and sending them to concentration camps or executing them
  • While the international community attempted to negotiate with Serbia it mostly stuck to its peacekeeping principles, not interfering in the conflict or stopping ethnic cleansing.

Bosnia War: From Conflict to The Dayton Accords

  • At the beginning of the war, Bosniak forces were fighting the Serbs, and their former allies Croats, creating a war within a war
  • The UN establishes safe zones to protect civilians and enforces a no-fly zone with NATO
  • The US helps negotiate peace between the Croats and Bosniaks and they sign an agreement in March 1994
  • Milosevic cuts ties with the Bosnian Serbs which leads to them declining a peace deal offered by the UN
  • The Bosnian Serbs continue their campaign of horror, while NATO ramps up airstrikes
  • In July 1995, the Serb forces take over Srebrenica and systematically execute 8,000 men and boys
  • In late 1995, The US proposes a peace plan for Bosnia that is accepted by both sides, leading to The Dayton Accords being signed in December 1995.

The Bosnian War: Lasting Impact of Ethnic Divides and Human Cost

  • The Bosnian War was an extremely violent conflict characterized by ethnic divisions, resulting in the death of 100,000 people and the displacement of millions of others
  • Slobodan Milosevic was convicted for war crimes and genocide against humanity, although he died before his trial ended
  • The war had lasting effects on Bosnia and her Herzegovina, solidifying existing ethnic divides between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats
  • Despite current threats to peace such as nationalism and calls for Serb independence, relative peace remains in Bosnia today
  • The impact of the Bosnian War is still deeply felt by those who experienced it.

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- It's 1991 and the SovietUnion is fracturing.And down here,another communist party is failing.Yugoslavia, a federation of six countriesis ripping itself apart.Their economy is in ruinand they're replacingcommunism with nationalism,the kind that thrives on focusingon ethnic and religious differences.By the end of 1991, Croatia,Slovenia and Macedoniahave all declared independence.Macedonia is allowed to leave peacefully,but Slovenia and Croatia fight warsto be independent from Yugoslavia.And then you have Serbia,populated primarily by Christian Serbsand they were not going to letYugoslavia fully fall apart.Together with Montenegro,they attempt to become thesuccessor state to Yugoslavia.After all, it was they who heldthe most power in Yugoslaviaand who comprised themajority of the Yugoslav army.They didn't want independent states,they wanted to hold onto their majority,to their power.Another country in thiscrumbling federationwas the Socialist Republicof Bosnia and Herzegovina.Almost half of this countrywere Bosnian Muslims called Bosniaksand about a third were Christian Serbs,similar to the ChristianSerbs living up here,but living in Bosnia.The other 17% were Croats.For a long time, thesegroups had lived side by sidein relative peace.They had a common ideology, communism,the idea of Yugoslavia.But as all these newcountries were being created,no one wanted to end up in a new nationcontrolled by the other side.So it's late 1991 anda largely Croat regiondeclares itself anindependent state from Bosnia.It wasn't recognized internationally.While some Croat leaders want to secedefrom the country entirely,they first agree to cooperatewith the government ofBosnia and Herzegovina,acting like a state within a state.The next year, Bosniaholds an independence vote.63% of the population turns outand the results are that99% of the voters say yes,they want to be independentfrom Yugoslavia.These numbers imply that itwas mostly Bosniaks that voted,with the Bosnian Serbs boycotting the voteas most were against becominga minority in a new Bosnia.So after the independence vote passed,the Bosnian Serbs declared their own statewithin the borders of Bosnia.It was called Republika Srpska.No one recognized thisnew self-declared countrybesides one and it wasthe one that mattered.Serbia and Montenegro now had this leader,an important part of the story.His name was Slobodan Milosevic.He recognizes the newSerb state within Bosniaand this marks the startof the Bosnian war.(dramatic music)Hey, before we dive into this,I just need to tell youthat we don't have a sponsor for todaybecause it's sort of hard to find sponsorsfor videos like this.Luckily, the subscribers over at Nebulahelp make these videos possible.We publish our videos thereevery week, a week early.So our next week's video about Antarctica,one of my favorite videoswe've ever made ever,it's freaking beautiful,is up now on Nebula.You can go watch it.It's $2.50 a monthand it helps support usmaking videos like this.I'll give more detail onthat at the end of the video.For now, let's dive into this.Now, before we go on,we have to look back up here at Serbia,this leader, Slobodan Milosevic.This guy was a hyper nationalist.He made his careerstirring up ethnic tensionsbetween Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.So he's seen all of this as a good thing,as an opportunity to further his visionof creating a new greater Serbian nationacross the former Yugoslavia.And remember, Serbia is where the capitalof the former Yugoslavia was.The Yugoslav army is dominated by Serbs,so Milosevic is able todirect this professional armyto launch an offensive,to help the Serbians in Bosniasecure their new claimed territory.(guns firing)To fight back, the Bosniaksand Croats form an allianceto protect their ownchances of independence.But Serbs have this largeprofessional army on their side.It's much more powerfuland it quickly surroundsthe Bosnian capital city,positioning tanks, artillery and sniperson the hills around the city,blocking roads and supply routes.Their goal is to take thecapital as fast as possibleand to end this war quickly.They start firing indiscriminately,attacking civilian populations with tanks,artillery and sniper fire,killing thousands in a siegethat would last for years.And while this city was majority Bosniak,Croats and Serbs lived there too,but the Serbs pummeled it anyway.The UN quickly attempts to negotiatewith Milosevic and Serb forcesand they reach a quick agreementto withdraw the Yugoslav army.But what really happensis the Yugoslav armyjust gives up control ofaround 100,000 Serb troopswho mostly continue fightingfor the Serbs in Bosnia.As Yugoslav forces withdraw from Sarajevoas part of this agreement,the retreating forces areattacked by Bosniak troops.An unknown number of Yugoslavarmy personnel are killed.Bosniak commanders would later be chargedwith war crimes for this attack.As the war rages on,Serbs escalate the brutalityall over the country,routinely identifying Bosniak homes,ransacking and burning them down,rounding up civilians,separating the men from the womenand sending the men to concentration campsor executing them.Women are sent to prisonswhere they suffer abusesand human rights violationsthat I'm not going to describe herefor how atrocious they are.You can go to the sources for details.The point here is thatwhat the Serbs are doingis starting to looklike an ethnic cleansingof the land they claimed.Meanwhile, the international communityis hesitant to get too involvedbeyond cutting off the Yugoslaveconomy with sanctions.And the UN sends food, medicineand peacekeeping soldiers,they also cut off the flowof weapons from the outside.But the UN mostly sticks toits peacekeeping principles,not interfering in the conflict,not stopping the advance of the Serbsor the ongoing ethniccleansing that has begun.But the situation inBosnia is getting worse.The alliance between Bosniaksand Croats is falling apart.They start fighting each other.So now, Bosniak forces arefighting the Serbs on one sideand their former allies,the Croats, on the other,a war within a war.As this new complicatedstage of the conflict starts,Croat forces surroundand begin an attack in the city of Mostar,a city that the two hadonce defended togetherback in 1992 against the Serbs.Croat forces capture largeportions of the city.They blow up Bosniak mosquesand murder Bosniakcivilians in their wake.Things are getting badand in response to theseworsening conditions in Bosnia,the UN gets NATO forces to come to Bosniato enforce a no-fly zone,basically committing themto shoot down any planesflying over the country.But this does nothing tostop the ethnic cleansingthat continues to escalate on the ground.So the next year, the UNestablishes safe zonesacross the country to protectcivilians fleeing the war,particularly Bosniaks whoare fleeing ethnic cleansingby the Serb armies.But the UN is only as powerfulas its member nations arewilling to let them be.And it turns out membernations are not willingto commit enough troopsto actually fortify these safe zones.Serb forces regularly show upand attack the civiliansin these safe zones.The United States who's still tryingto stay out of this warhelps negotiate peace betweenthe Croats and the Bosniaks,thus ending the war within the war.They sign an agreement in March of 1994reestablishing the Federal Republicof Bosnia and Herzegovina,and most importantly,they renew their allianceto fight against the Serbs.Things slowly start to change in 1994.Bosnian Serbs decline apeace deal offered by the UN.In response, Milosevic, who'snow feeling the consequencesof being cut off from the global economynow cuts ties with the Bosnian Serbs,refusing to send themmore weapons and money.He wants to remain in power,controlling his new Yugoslaviain hopes that cutting tieswith the Bosnian Serbswho are doing all these terrible thingswill convince the West tobegin trading with him again.So Milosevic's support is now gone,but even still, the Bosnian Serbscontinue their campaign of horror,committing atrocitiesall over the country.But it's not just the Serbs,Bosniaks and Croats have also devolvedinto committing terribleviolent human rights abusesagainst civilians.As the war rages on,NATO continues to enforcetheir no-fly zone,shooting down a Serb jetand getting more and morepulled into this conflictas Serb forces get bolder.Former President JimmyCarter travels to Bosniaand negotiates a four-month ceasefire.It mostly holds with a few exceptions,but the ceasefire expires.They can't agree on a new oneand the fighting starts again.Serb forces are able to stealheavy weapons from the UNand then use them to kill civilians.NATO continues to ramp up airstrikes.Serb forces respond by takingUN peacekeepers hostageand shooting down a US F-16.Serb forces are feelingemboldened at this point.They have consistently heldaround 70% of the land in Bosniaand even pushed back UN peacekeeperswithout major consequences.And they see an opportunityfor one last big offensive to end the warand secure all of this land.They just need to takeover the UN safe zones,kick the UN outand then take Sarajevowith overwhelming force.(playful music)(explosions boom)So they target the town of Srebrenica,a UN safe zone wherenearly 10,000 Bosniaksare seeking refuge.The UN had taken away their weapons.They were totally unarmed,but protected by UN forces.On July 11th, 1995,2,000 Serb Soldiers march into the town.They meet no resistancefrom the UN soldierswho decided to maintain their neutralityand defend supplies andfood for their refugeesinstead of the people themselves.But these UN soldiers werereally just 370 Dutch soldiers.They were outmatched anyway.So some retreat, others are captured.The Serb forces then round up8,000 Bosniak men and boysand then they systematically execute them,comprising the deadliestgenocide on European soilsince World War II.(speaker speaks in a foreign language)The surviving refugees abandonedby the international communityflee the violence in Srebrenica.They fled to other areastelling the stories of this mass murder.The UN would later reportthat all sides violatedthe Geneva Conventions,but described the Serb offensiveas, quote, systematic ethnic cleansing.And at this point,the United States can no longer stand byand watch this happen.So in late 1995, theClinton administrationpursues a new strategy.They plan for the UN toeventually pull out of Bosnia,the US and NATO would keep them safe.The plan also ensured thatthe US would be allowedto send weapons to the Bosnian government.The US then proposed the peace plan,one that divided Bosnia into two entities,one for Serbs and one for Bosniaks.These regions would have some autonomyand Bosniaks would control51% of the country.Both sides considered the US' plan,but the fighting continued.But now with the international communitysquarely on their side,the Croats conduct asuccessful offensive in 1995that takes back significantland from the Serbsand the Bosniaks gain momentum in the war.The balance of power is shifting,which forces the Serbs backto the negotiating tableto cut their losses.After many rounds of negotiationand with the Serb forcesseeing the tide of thewar turn against them,the Dayton Accords aresigned in December, 1995,by the presidents ofCroatia, Bosnia and Serbia.- On behalf of all of uswho would come to seethis peace take hold,you have seen what war has wrought.You know what peace can bring.- It was this agreementthat eventually gave usthese modern borders thatdivide the country into two.You have the Federationof Bosnia and Herzegovinawhich is composed mostly ofBosniaks and Bosnian Croats.And over here, the Republika Srpskacomposed mostly of Bosnian Serbs,which is somewhat independentwith its own political systemand its own judiciary,but it's still a part ofBosnia and her Herzegovina.So the war is over.Around 100,000 peopledied during this violenceand many more millions wereforced to flee from their homes,the majority of whichwere Bosnian Muslims.A United Nations criminal tribunaleventually tried 161 peoplefor various war crimescommitted during this war.Slobodan Milosevic went to jailfor the rest of his lifebecause of his crimes against humanity,his war crimes and genocide.He died before the end of his trial.The war reshaped this country,solidifying the ethnic dividesthat had been at the root of the conflict.Today, Bosniaks, Serbs andCroats live in relative peace,though the country facesnew threats to that peace,threats that are facinglots of parts of the world,rising nationalism,a reverence for former Serb war criminalsand more calls for Serb independence.The memory of the atrocitiescommitted during this conflictstill haunts this place,both in the physical scars on the land,but most powerfully in thebodies and minds of its people.(somber music)This is a complicated storyand there are lots of feelings about it.People watching this probably disagreewith the way that I frame certain things,but we did our best to be fair and factualand to give the best overview we could.As I said earlier, finding sponsorsfor videos like this is difficultand I really value thosewho subscribe to Nebula.Nebula is a place whereI put all of my videosad-free and a week early.So next week's video is up now.It's $2.50 cents a month.When you subscribe,it directly goes to help usmake more videos like this.And you don't just get accessto all of my videos a week early,you also get access to a hugerepository of amazing content,all of it ad-free,knowing that you aresupporting these creators.Nebula is the platform that I watch.It's like all of my favorite YouTubers,but then they go into Nebulaand they make stuffthat is only on Nebula,Like RealLifeLore hasthis really awesome seriescalled "Modern Conflicts,"super deep dive into how warworks in our day and age.Wendover Productions has some originalsthat you can't see anywhere else,it's only on Nebula.PolyMatter has this serieson China that's an originaland these are reallypremium high-quality seriesthat you can only see on Nebula.It's incredibly affordable,$2.50 cents a monthwhen you do the yearly thing,slightly more if you do the monthly thing.And again, a portion of that subscriptiongoes directly to us creatorsto allow us to continue to do this.I gotta tell you about next week's video.It's about mapping Antarcticaand it truly is one ofthe most ambitious videosI have ever made in my entire career.We tried all this new mapping techniqueswith this paper globethat is then geo-referencedwith Captain Cook's journeysthroughout the south.It truly is an amazing piece of workthat we have been workingon for a long time.And it's live right now,you can go watch it right now on Nebula.So more than ever, clickingthe link in my descriptionthat goes to Nebula and signing upreally helps to support this channel.I appreciate you all watching.I hope you enjoyed this map video.We're wanting to do more of these.I used to do these a lotback in the old days when I was at Voxand I sort of moved away from itand I want to get back to it.So leave me a note here in the commentsif this is a format that you like,what conflicts you think I should take on,what complex issues would benefitfrom being mapped in this way.So that's it.Lots going on around here.We're making lots of really,really interesting stories right nowthat you'll be seeing in coming weeksor you'll be seen a week earlyif you subscribe to Nebula.Okay, bye, everyone.(playful music)