Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Commonly known as Bosnia (population ca. 3.8 million, with an area similar to the State of Tennessee), this nation is one of the successors (declaring independence in March 1992) to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1946-1992), a multi-ethnic nonaligned state made up of parts of the former Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, as well as the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro. The fall of Yugoslavia came on the heels of the 1989 dissolution of the Soviet Union and demise of Soviet style communism.

Bosnia was among the most multi-ethnic of the successor Republics to Yugoslavia, with the main groupings being Serbians (mostly Orthodox Christians) who made up about 31% of the population, Croatians (mostly Roman Catholics) who made up about 15-17% of the population, and Bosnian Muslims who made up about 40%-44% of the population. Prior to the outbreak of war in early 1992 members of these groups, all of whom speak the same language, strongly favored a reformed Yugoslavia in which Bosnia-Herzegovina remained united.

The leader of neighboring Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, had different priorities for the country however. Milosevic used nationalist rhetoric as well as outright violence in order to stop the move to reform that was occurring throughout Yugoslavia. Part of his strategy targeted multi-ethnic Bosnia. There, he used conservative allies in the communist party, the police, the secret police, and the armed forces to fan the fear of Serbs and to destabilize the republic.

By 1991, his surrogates in the country, under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic, declared that the Serbian ethnic minority, in northern and northeastern Bosnia should have their own Serbian Republic of Bosnia. The proceeded to "ethnically cleanse" the Croat and Bosnia Muslim populations of the lands they claimed, though non-Serbs were about 50 percent of the population of those territories.

The Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims entered into an uneasy coalition (supported by the neighboring former Yugoslavia Republic of Croatia) to oppose this effort and sought help from the larger world. Serbian forces succesfully organized efforts to rape and kill Bosnian Muslims for which Slobodan Milosevic and other senior participants are now being tried for war crimes.

By 1993 Croatian forces under the control of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman turned on their former Muslim allies and also conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing. This campaign ended in an uneasy truce brokered by US President Clinton in early 1994.

Bosnia is now a prime example of a case where ethnic and religious tensions were minimal, but where conservative political leaders used violence and fear to incite hatreds and to prevent moderates and liberals from stabilizing the country. Although the vast majority of the population wanted only to live in a peaceful and stable society, these leaders used their positions in order to tear their society apart along ethnic lines.

In November 1995, President Clinton led a multinational conference that produced the "Dayton Accords". This agreement divided Bosnia into two "entities": an autonomous Serb Republic, and a Muslim-Croat federation, supervised by a weak national government. A UN Peacekeeping Force of 60,000, including 20,000 Americans, was deployed. Bosnia-Herzegovina was to be overseen by an "Office of the High Representative," a non-Bosnian who was given powers to enforce legislation, remove politicians who violated the Accords, and, if necessary, to rule by decree. The first High Representative was Swedish politican Karl Bildt. The current one (2004) is British politician Paddy Ashdown.

The international military force has declined moderately in numbers since then, but remains in place. The international military and political presence have kept the peace, but have failed to make progress towards creating a single national identity for the Bosnian nation.

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