Yugoslavia was divided into six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (often called Bosnia for short), Montenegro, and Macedonia. Each republic had a dominant ethnic group but also was home to other ethnic groups. For decades, the communist leader, Josip Tito kept firm control over these rival groups. People from different groups lived side by side peacefully. Tito died in 1980, and by 1991, as communist rule collapsed, old rivalries fed by ambitious extremists erupted into violence.

Republics Break Away

The fall of communism fed nationalist unrest throughout Yugoslavia. The Serbian-dominated government tried to preserve Yugoslavian unity. In 1991, however, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. This move triggered deadly clashes between Croats and Serbs living Croatia. One by one, other republics declared independence, including Bosnia. Macedonia, and eventually in 2006, tiny Montenegro.

Civil War in Bosnia

Some of the worst violence in the Balkans occurred after Bosnia declared independence in 1992. There, civil war erupted among Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to set up their own government, and Bosniaks, who did not want the country divided. The extreme nationalist president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, (mih LOH shuh vich), funneled weapons and money to Serbs in Bosnia, which helped fuel the violence.

During the war, all sides committed atrocities. Bosnian Serbs conducted a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, killing or forcibly removing people from other ethnic groups from areas they wanted to control. Tens of thousands of Muslim Bosniaks were brutalized or killed, sometimes in mass executions. Bosnian fighters took revenge. Croats in Bosnia were also involved in the fighting. For months, the Bosnia capital of Sarajevo was under siege by Bosnian Serbs. Many observers, in the United States and elsewhere, argued that ethnic cleansing was a form of genocide and that intervention was necessary.

Bosnia became a test case for the Western powers in the post Cold War world. At first, UN forces tried unsuccessfully to keep peace. After much debate, the United States and its NATO allies finally decided to intervene. NATO air strikes against the Bosnian Serb military forced the warring parties to the peace table. In 1995, American negotiators helped the rival groups agree to the Dayton Accords. An international force helped maintain a fragile peace in Bosnia.

A map shows the former Yugoslavia in 2013.
Image Long Description

In 1990, Yugoslavia was the dominant country in southeastern Europe. By 2003, it no longer existed, replaced by seven independent nations.

Analyze Maps

Which new nation does not share a border with Serbia?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments