Explaining the Yugoslav Wars

My childhood is probably a little different than your average Australian story. Born and raised in a utopia, this was a land where the economy was good, the location was pristine and where everyone was happy.

I was born in Former Yugoslavia, right before the Yugoslav Wars.

Explaining the Yugoslav Wars

I was born in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1986, which was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. For anyone who knows anything about that period in the Balkans, you’ll know that this is a few years before the Yugoslav wars kicked off.

When I tell people where I’m from, I get a lot of the same questions – “doesn’t Yugoslavia not exist anymore?” or “what was the war about?” or “which side were you on?” or my favourite, “yea, ok, Yugoslavia – but which part?”

Let’s break it down

After a few name changes and the abolishment of the monarchy, in 1945 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed.

Former Yugoslavia, and its land, have a rich history. Many ethnicities called Yugoslavia home. Here’s a bit of a map:

Map of Former Yugoslavia
Map of Former Yugoslavia. Image Credit: Legacy

Yugoslavia constituted of six republics, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

Marshal Josip Broz Tito was the President of Yugoslavia between 1953-1980.

Marshal Josip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia between 1953-1980.

I know he looks pretty serious here, so here’s another one to show you how friendly he really was:

Marshal Broz Tito smiling and smoking cigar.

Tito was responsible for unifying Yugoslavia and keeping the republics together. We could write books about Tito, but suffice to say that the people loved him. Although you may hear words like ‘authoritarian’ and ‘dictator’ thrown around, our society and the country prospered under his leadership and the Yugoslavia he created will forever be missed by its people.

Marshal Tito died on 4 May 1980 (may the fourth be with him) and this was the beginning of the end. Ethnic tensions, placated by Tito’s authority, were now brewing.

The first domino topples

Explaining how the Yugoslav Wars started is difficult but if I had to pick a point, I’d say it started with the Serbs and the Albanians in the 80’s. Kosovo was part of Serbia at this time and Serbians considered Kosovo to be “the cradle of their civilization” where many of their historical sites and monasteries lived.

But by now, nine out of 10 Kosovans were Albanian and the Serbs living in Kosovo began feeling oppressed.

Enter Serbian politician (future president of Serbia), Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbian politician/president of Serbia in 1980's and 90's, Slobodan Milosevic.

Slobodan saw an opportunity to advance his own political career and he starts making public speeches segregating the Serbs from the Albanians in Kosovo. He started making inflammatory promises that Serbia will come to aid their Serbian brothers in Kosovo. But remember, Kosovo residents were all Yugoslavs too, so what Milosevic was doing was effectively turning brother against brother.

Brother Against Brother

Milosevic started to unsettle the balance that Tito so carefully nourished during his presidency. Long story short, Milosevic, was getting a little too big for his boots leading into the path to his presidency.

In 1991, after much tension and after seeing what was happening in Kosovo, the states of Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia.

Milosevic didn’t like that.

Serbian uprisings began occurring all over the place, especially in Croatia and by now, all the Republics are importing arms and stockpiling weapons.

Slovenia’s independence came early on and with fewer than 100 deaths. 

Croatia was not so lucky.

After Croatia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, the Serbians residing in Croatia now declared their own independence. They started claiming pockets of land within Croatia as Serbian, and fought to the death to keep it.

Cue ethnic cleansing in Serbia, Croatia, and everything in between – like Bosnia.

Image of Croatian War, Former Yugoslavia
Vukovar, Croatia, 1991 | Image Credit: Ina Vukic Dot Com

The war lasted between 1991 and 1993 and the number of people killed during this time is estimated to be between 130,000 and 140,000.

This is a stain on our history that we will never forget but it’s important to acknowledge that the people want to move on. We understand what happened – that it was a political situation gone wrong. We move on as one and heal our scars together.

What happened next? 

In the next post, I’ll tell you all about my family’s escape from Mostar to ultimately end up in sunny Queensland, Australia, half way across the world. 

Remember, don’t be a dick and look after you and yours. 



15 Comments Add yours

  1. What a story! This was such an interesting post, thank you for sharing!

  2. Incredible story!

  3. Very nice title and great share friend 💐

    1. Thank you 🙂 xx

      1. My pleasure 🌻

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