The History of Yugoslavia
Serbia and Montenegro until 2006
Serbia became a stand-alone sovereign
republic in summer 2006. Montenegro duly voted for independence
in a referendum in May 2006.
Yugoslavia was the complex product of
a complex history. The country's confusing and conflicting mosaic
of peoples, languages, religions, and cultures took shape during
centuries of turmoil after the collapse of the Roman Empire. By
the early nineteenth century, two great empires, the Austrian
and the Ottoman, ruled all the modern-day Yugoslav lands except
Montenegro. As the century progressed, however, nationalist feelings
awoke in the region's diverse peoples, the Turkish grip began
to weaken, and Serbia won its independence.
Ancient peoples inhabited the lands that
now make up Yugoslavia for millennia before Rome conquered the
region in the first century AD. Archeological findings reveal
that during the Paleolithic period (ca. 200,000-8,000 BC) man
hunted and foraged in the mountains, valleys, and interior plains
of today's Yugoslavia. In the Mesolithic period (8,000-6,000 BC),
man expanded the use of tools and weapons and settled throughout
Greeks set up trading posts along the
eastern Adriatic coast after 600 BC and founded colonies there
in the fourth century BC. Greek influence proved ephemeral, however,
and the native tribes remained herdsmen and warriors. Bardylis,
a tribal chief of Illyria (present-day northwest Yugoslavia),
assumed control of much of Macedonia in 360 BC. Philip II and
his son, Alexander the Great, later united Macedonia and campaigned
as far north as present-day Serbia. In the fourth century BC,
invading Celts forced the Illyrians southward from the northern
Adriatic coast, and over several centuries a mixed Celtic-Illyrian
culture arose in much of modern Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia.
In the third century BC, Rome conquered
the west Adriatic coast and began exerting influence on the opposite
shore. Greek allegations that the Illyrians were disrupting commerce
and plundering coastal towns helped precipitate a Roman punitive
strike in 229 BC, and in subsequent campaigns Rome forced Illyrian
rulers to pay tribute. Roman armies often crossed Illyria during
the Roman-Macedonian wars, and in 168 BC Rome conquered the Illyrians
and destroyed the Macedonia of Philip and Alexander. For many
years the Dinaric Alps sheltered resistance forces, but Roman
dominance increased. In 35 BC, the emperor Octavian conquered
the coastal region and seized inland Celtic and Illyrian strongholds.
In AD 9 Tiberius consolidated Roman control of the western Balkan
peninsula and by AD 14 Rome had subjugated the Celts in what is
now Serbia. The Romans brought order to the region, and their
inventive genius produced lasting monuments. But Rome's most significant
legacy to the region was the separation of the empire's Byzantine
and Roman spheres (the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, respectively),
which created a cultural chasm that would divide East from West,
Eastern Orthodox from Roman Catholic, and Serb from Croat and
Over the next 500 years, Latin culture
permeated the region. The Romans divided their western Balkan
territories into separate provinces. New roads linked fortresses,
mines, and trading towns. The Romans introduced viticulture in
Dalmatia, instituted slavery, and dug new mines. Agriculture thrived
in the Danube Basin, and towns throughout the country blossomed
into urban areas with forums, temples, water systems, coliseums,
and public baths. In addition to gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon,
Roman legionnaires brought the mystic cult of Mithras from Persia.
The Roman army also recruited natives of the conquered regions,
and five sons of Illyrian peasants rose through the ranks to become
emperor. The Illyrian, Celtic, and Thracian languages all eventually
died out, but the centuries of Roman domination failed to create
Internal strife and an economic crisis
rocked the Roman empire in the third century AD, and two ethnic
Illyrian emperors, born in areas now in Yugoslavia, took decisive
steps to prolong the empire's life. Emperor Diocletian, born in
Dalmatia, established strong central control and a bureaucracy,
abolished the last Roman republican institutions, and persecuted
Christians in an attempt to make them identify more with the state
than the church. Emperor Constantine, born near Nis, reunited
the empire after years of turmoil, established dynastic succession,
founded a new capital at Byzantium in AD 330, and legalized Christianity.
In 395 the sons of Emperor Theodosius
split the empire into eastern and western halves. The division,
which became a permanent feature of the European cultural landscape,
separated Greek Constantinople (as Byzantium was renamed in AD
330) from Latin Rome and eventually the Eastern Orthodox and Roman
Catholic churches. It likewise separated the lands in what is
now Yugoslavia, exercising a critical influence on the Serbs and
Croats. Economic and administrative breakdown soon softened the
empire's defences, especially in the western half, and barbarian
tribes began to attack. In the fourth century, the Goths sacked
Roman fortresses along the Danube River, and in AD 448 the Huns
ravaged Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica northwest of present-day
Belgrade), Singidunum (now Belgrade), and Emona (now Ljubljana).
The Ostrogoths had conquered Dalmatia and other provinces by 493.
Emperor Justinian drove the invaders out in the sixth century,
but the defences of the empire proved inadequate to maintain this
Slavic tribesmen poured across the empire's
borders during the fifth and sixth centuries. The Slavs, characteristically
sedentary farming and livestock-raising tribes, spoke an Indo-European
language and organized themselves into clans ruled by a council
of family chiefs. All land and significant wealth was held in
common. In the sixth century, the Slavs allied with the more powerful
Avars to plunder the Danube Basin. Together, they erased almost
all trace of Christian life in Dalmatia and the northwestern parts
of present-day Yugoslavia. In AD 626 these tribes surrounded Constantinople
itself. The Avar incursions proved key to the subsequent development
of Yugoslavia because they immediately preceded, and may have
precipitated, the arrival of the Serbs and Croats. The Serbs occupied
large parts of the land toward the end of the twelfth century.
After this initial blooming of the Serbian
state, a period of stasis and retrogression followed. Marked by
disintegration and crises it lasted until the end of 12th century.
After a struggle for the throne with his brothers, Stefan Nemanja,
the founder of the Nemanjic dynasty, rose to power in 1170 and
started renewing the Serbian state, expanding his state seizing
territories east and south, and newly annexed the littoral and
the Zeta region. Along with his governmental efforts, the veliki
zupan (prince) dedicated much care to the construction of monasteries.
Stefan Nemanja was succeeded by his middle son Stefan, whilst
his first-born Vukan was given the rule of the Zeta region (present-day
Montenegro). Stefan Nemanja's youngest son Rastko became a monk
and took the name of Sava, turning all his efforts to spreading
religiousness among his people. Since the Curia already had ambitions
to spread its influence to the Balkans as well, Stefan used these
propitious circumstances to obtain his crown from the Pope thus
becoming the first Serbian king in 1217. In Byzantium, his brother
Sava managed to secure the autocephalous status for the Serbian
Church and became the first Serbian archbishop in 1219. Thus the
Serbs acquired both forms of independence: temporal and religious.
The next generation of Serbian rulers
- the sons of Stefan Prvovencani - Radoslav, Vladislav and Uros
I, marked a period of stagnation of the state structure. All three
kings were more or less dependent on some of the neighbouring
states - Byzantium, Bulgaria or Hungary. The ties with the Hungarians
had a decisive role in the fact that Uros I was succeeded by his
son Dragutin whose wife was a Hungarian princess. Later on, when
Dragutin abdicated in favour of his younger brother Milutin, the
Hungarian king Ladislaus IV gave him lands in northeastern Bosnia,
the regions of Srem and Macva, and the city of Belgrade, whilst
he managed to conquer and annex lands in northeastern Serbia.
Thus, all these territories became part of the Serbian state for
the first time.
Medieval Serbia that enjoyed a high political,
economic and cultural reputation in Medieval Europe, reached its
apex in mid-14th century, during the rule of Tzar Stefan Dusan.
He doubled the size of his kingdom seizing territories to the
south, southeast and east, including Albania, at the expense of
Byzantium. He was succeeded by his son Uros, called the Weak,
a term that might also apply to the state of the kingdom slowly
sliding into feudal anarchy. This is a period marked by the rise
of a new threat: the Ottoman Turk sultanate gradually spreading
from Asia to Europe and conquering Byzantium first, and then the
other Balkan states.
The Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbian
army in two crucial battles: on the banks of the river Marica
in 1371 - where the forces of noblemen from Macedonia were defeated,
and on Kosovo Polje (Kosovo Plain - "field of the black birds")
in 1389, where the vassal troops, with Bosnian, Montenegrin, Bulgarian
and other allies, commanded by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic - the
strongest regional ruler in Serbia at the time - suffered defeat.
The Turks barely defeated Lazar, and both he and Sultan Murat
(stabbed in his tent by Milos Obilich, who posed as a deserter)
were killed. The defeat did not bring immediate Turkish occupation
of Serbia, but during the centuries of Turkish domination that
followed, the Serbs endowed the battle with myths of honour and
heroism that helped them preserve their dignity and sense of nationhood.
Serbs still recite epic poems and sing songs about the nobles
who fell at Kosovo Polje; the anniversary of the battle is the
Serbian national holiday, Vidovdan (St. Vitus's Day), June 28.
The Battle of Kosovo defined the fate
of Serbia, because after it no force capable of standing up to
the Turks existed. This was an unstable period marked by the rule
of Prince Lazar's son - despot Stefan Lazarevic - a true European-style
knight, a military leader and even poet, and his cousin Djuradj
Brankovic, who moved the state capital north - to the newly built
fortified town of Smederevo. In another battle on the Kosovo plain
in 1448, Sultan Murad II defeated an army led by John Hunyadi.
The Turks, under Sultan Mehmed II who, also having conquered Constantinople
in 1453, continued their conquest until they finally seized the
entire Serbian territory in 1459 when Smederevo fell into their
hands. The battles continued with the Ottoman Turks conquering
Bosnia in 1463, Herzegovina in 1481, and Zeta (Montenegro) ruled
by the Crnojevic family in 1499. In 1521, the Turks conquered
Belgrade and in 1526 they won over the Hungarian Empire after
the battle of Mohac. Finally, in 1541 they consolidated their
power in the Danubian region. Montenegro, which emerged as an
independent principality after the death of Dusan, waged continual
guerrilla war on the Turks, and never was conquered.
The Turks persecuted the Serbian aristocracy,
determined to physically exterminate the social elite. Since the
Ottoman Empire was an Islamic theocratic state, Christian Serbs
lived as virtual bond servants - abused, humiliated and exploited.
Consequently they gradually abandoned the developed and urban
centres where mining, crafts and trade was practised and withdrew
to hostile mountains living on cattle breeding and modest farming.
Serbia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for almost five centuries.
European powers, and Austria in particular,
fought many wars against Turkey, relying on the help of the Serbs
that lived under Ottoman rule. During the Austrian-Turkish War
(1593-1606) in 1594 the Serbs staged an uprising in Banat - the
Pannonian part of Turkey, and the sultan retaliated by burning
the remains of St. Sava - the most sacred thing for all Serbs
honoured even by Moslems of Serbian origin. Serbs created another
centre of resistance in Herzegovina but when peace was signed
by Turkey and Austria they abandoned to Turkish vengeance. This
sequence of events became usual in the centuries that followed.
During the Great War (1683-1690) between
Turkey and the Holy Alliance - created with the sponsorship of
the Pope and including Austria, Poland and Venice - these three
powers incited the Serbs to rebel against the Turkish authorities,
and soon uprisings and guerrilla war spread throughout the western
Balkans: from Montenegro and the Dalmatian coast to the Danube
basin and Ancient Serbia (Macedonia, Raska, Kosovo and Metohija).
However, when the Austrians started to pull out of Serbia, they
invited the Serbian people to come north with them to the Austrian
territories. Having to choose between Turkish vengeance and living
in a Christian state, Serbs massively abandoned their homesteads
and headed north, lead by their patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic.
Many areas in southern Balkans were de-populated in the process,
and the Turks used the opportunity to Islamize Raska, Kosovo and
Metohija and to a certain extent Macedonia.
In retaliation, after the defeat of European
forces in 1690, the Ottomans and their paramilitary units, the
Muslim Albanians, exposed the population to mass reprisals and,
essentially, to the first large-scale ethnic cleansing, including
in Kosovo and Metohija where some 1 400 Christian monasteries,
churches, and other monuments covered the area. (The Patriarchal
Monastery near Pe, Kosovo served as seat of administration for
Serbian Orthodox Church from thirteenth to eighteenth century.)_Back
Another important episode in Serbian history
took place in 1716-1718, when the Serbian ethnic territories ranging
from Dalmatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Belgrade and the
Danube basin newly became the battleground for a new Austria-Turkish
war launched by Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Serbs sided once again
with Austria. After a peace treaty was signed in Pozarevac, Turkey
lost all its possessions in the Danube basin, as well as northern
Serbia and northern Bosnia, parts of Dalmatia and the Peloponnesus.
The last Austrian-Turkish war was the so called Dubica War (1788-1791),
when the Austrians newly urged the Christians in Bosnia to rebel.
In 1804 renegade Turkish soldiers in Belgrade
murdered Serbian leaders, triggering a popular uprising under
Karadjordje ("Black George") Petrovic, founder of the
Karadjordjevic dynasty. Russia supported the Serbs, and in 1806
the sultan granted them limited autonomy. But internal discord
weakened the government of Karadjordje, and the French invasion
of Russia in 1812 prevented the tsar from protecting the Serbs.
In 1813 the Turks attacked rebel areas. Karadjordje fled to Hungary,
then Turkish, Bosnian, and Albanian troops plundered Serbian villages.
The atrocities sparked a second Serbian uprising in 1815 that
won autonomy under Turkish control for some regions. The corrupt
rebel leader Milos Obrenovic (1817-39) had Karadjordje murdered
and his head sent to the sultan to signal Serbian loyalty.
In 1908 Austria-Hungary formally annexed
Bosnia and Herzegovina, frustrating Serbian designs on those regions
and precipitating an international crisis. The Serbs mobilized,
but under German pressure Russia persuaded Belgrade to cease its
protests. Thereafter, Belgrade maintained strict official propriety
in its relations with Vienna; but government and military factions
prepared for a war to liberate the Serbs still living under the
Turkish yoke in Kosovo, Macedonia, and other regions.
Serbian resistance to Ottoman domination,
latent for many decades surfaced at the beginning of 19th century
with the First and Second Serbian Uprising in 1804 and 1815. The
Turkish Empire was already faced with a deep internal crisis without
any hope of recuperating. This had a particularly hard effect
on the Christian nations living under its rule. The Serbs launched
not only a national revolution but a social one as well and gradually
Serbia started to catch up with the European states with the introduction
of the bourgeois society values. Resulting from the uprisings
and subsequent wars against the Ottoman Empire, the independent
Principality of Serbia was formed and granted international recognition
The Balkan wars 1912 - 1913 terminated
the Turkish domination in the Balkans. Turkey was pushed back
across the channel and national Balkan states were created in
the territories it withdrew from.
The assassination of Austrian Crown Prince
Franc Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, served as a pretext for the
Austrian attack on Serbia that marked the beginning of World War
I. Francis Ferdinand, 1863-1914, was archduke and heir apparent
(after 1889) of his uncle, Emperor Francis Joseph. Labouring to
transform the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy into a triple monarchy
including a Slavic kingdom under Croatian leadership, he won the
enmity of both the Pan-Serbians and the Pan-Germans, and his support
of the Christian Socialist campaign for universal suffrage brought
the hostility of the Hungarian magnates. In 1913 he became inspector
general of the armies. On June 28, 1914, while at Sarajevo on
an inspection tour, he and his wife were assassinated by Gavrilo
Princip, a Serbian nationalist. Francis Ferdinand's death was
the occasion for the Austrian ultimatum, addressed to Serbia by
Count Berchtold, that led directly to World War I.
The Serbian Army bravely defended its
country and won several major victories, but it was finally overpowered
by the joint forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria,
and had to withdraw from the national territory marching across
the mountain ranges to the Adriatic Sea. Having recuperated on
Corfu, the Serbian Army returned to combat on the Thessalonika
front together with other Entante forces comprising France, England,
Russia, Italy and the United States. In World War I Serbia had
1 264 000 casualties - 28% of its population. This enormous sacrifice
was the a significant contribution to the Allied victory and the
remodelling of Europe.
The idea of a South Slav kingdom flourished
during World War I, but the collapse of Austria-Hungary eliminated
the possibility of a South Slav kingdom under Austrian sponsorship.
Fear of Italian domination drove some leaders of the Slovenes
and Croats to unite with Serbia in a single kingdom under the
Serbian dynasty in 1918. Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina
had been part of the fallen Austro-Hungarian empire; Serbia and
Montenegro existed as an independent state (Macedonia was then
part of Serbia).
With the end of World War I and the downfall
of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire the conditions were
met for proclaiming the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians
in December of 1918. The Yugoslav ideal had long been cultivated
by some intellectual circles of the three nations but most influential
Croatian politicians opposed the new state right from the start.
The Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) slowly grew to become a massive
party endorsing Croatian national interests. Trying to match this
challenge and prevent any further weakening of the country, King
Aleksandar I banned national political parties in 1929, assumed
executive power and renamed the country Yugoslavia. He hoped to
curb separatist tendencies and mitigate nationalist passions.
However the balance of power changed in international relations:
in Italy and Germany Fascists and Nazis rose to power, and Stalin
became the absolute ruler in the Soviet Union. None of these three
states favoured the policy pursued by Aleksandar I. In fact the
first two wanted to revise the international treaties signed after
World War I, and the Soviets were determined to regain their positions
in Europe and pursue a more active international policy. Yugoslavia
was an obstacle for these plans and King Aleksandar I was the
pillar of the Yugoslav policy._Back to top
During an official visit to France in
1934, the king was assassinated in Marseilles by a member of VMRO
- an extreme nationalist organization in Bulgaria that had plans
to annex territories along the eastern and southern Yugoslav border
- with the cooperation of the Ustashi - a Croatian separatist
organization. The international political scene in the late 1930's
was marked by growing intolerance between the principal figures,
by the aggressive attitude of the totalitarian regimes and by
the certainty that the order set up after World War I is was losing
its strongholds and its sponsors were losing their strength. Supported
and pressured by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Croatian leader
Vlatko Macek and his party managed the creation of the Croatian
banovina (administrative province) in 1939. The agreement specified
that Croatia were to remain part of Yugoslavia, but it was hurriedly
building an independent political identity in international relations.
At the beginning of the 40's, Yugoslavia
found itself surrounded by hostile countries. Except for Greece,
all other neighbouring countries had signed agreements with either
Germany or Italy. Hitler was strongly pressuring Yugoslavia to
join the Axis powers. The government was even prepared to reach
a compromise with him, but the spirit in the country was completely
different. Public demonstrations against Nazism prompted a brutal
reaction. Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade and other major cities and
in April 1941, the Axis powers occupied Yugoslavia and disintegrated
it. The western parts of the country together with Bosnia and
Herzegovina were turned into a Nazi puppet state called the Independent
State of Croatia (NDH) and ruled by the Ustashe. Serbia was occupied
by German troops, but the northern territories were annexed by
Hungary, and eastern and southern territories to Bulgaria. Kosovo
and Metohija were mostly annexed by Albania, which was occupied
by fascist Italy. Montenegro also lost territories to Albania
and was then occupied by Italian troops. Slovenia was divided
between Germany and Italy, who also seized the islands in the
Following the Nazi example, the Independent
State of Croatia established extermination camps and perpetrated
an atrocious genocide, killing over 750 000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.
This holocaust set the historical and political backdrop for the
civil war that broke out fifty years later in Croatia and Bosnia
and Herzegovina and that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia
The ruthless attitude of the German occupation
forces and the genocidal policy of the Croatian Ustasha regime
generated a strong Serbian Resistance. Many joined the Partisan
forces (National Liberation Army headed by Josib Broz Tito) in
the liberation war and helped the Allied victory. By the end of
1944, with the help of the Red Army the Partisans liberated Serbia
and by May 1945 the remaining Yugoslav territories, meeting up
with the Allied forces in Hungary, Austria and Italy. Yugoslavian
forces also assisted the Allies in freeing Albania from occupation.
Serbia and Yugoslavia were among the countries that had the greatest
losses in the war: 1 700 000 people (10.8% of the population).
During World War II, communist-led partisans
waged a victorious guerrilla struggle against foreign and Croatian
fascists, and supporters of the prewar government. While the war
was still raging, in 1943, a revolutionary change of the social
and state system was proclaimed with the abolition of monarchy
in favour of the republic. Josip Broz Tito became the first president
of the new socialist Yugoslavia, established as a federal state
comprising six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro and two autonomous regions
- Vojvodina and Kosovo-and-Metohija. The two autonomous regions
were an integral part of Serbia. This led to the rebirth of Yugoslavia
as a socialist federation under communist rule on November 29,
Under Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslav communists
were faithful to orthodox Stalinism until a 1948 split with Moscow.
At that time, a Soviet-bloc economic blockade compelled the Yugoslavs
to devise an economic system based on Socialist self-management.
To this system the Yugoslavs added a nonaligned foreign policy
and an idiosyncratic, one-party political system. This system
maintained a semblance of unity during most of Tito's four decades
of rule. The trend to secure the power of the republics at the
expense of the federal authorities became particularly intense
after the adoption of the 1974 Constitution that encouraged the
expansion of Croatian, Slovenian, Moslem and Albanian nationalism
and secessionism. Soon after Tito's death on 4 May1980 long-standing
differences again separated the communist parties of the country's
republics and provinces.
In May 1991 Croatian voters supported
a referendum calling for their republic to become an independent
nation. A similar referendum passed in December in Slovenia. In
June the respective parliaments in both republics passed declarations
of independence. In January 1992 Macedonia declared independence,
followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina in April. Ethnic violence flared
almost immediately, with thousands of Serbians being forced from
the new independent states in a form of ethnic cleansing. The
largely Serbian-led Yugoslav military reacted by pounding the
break-away Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading the UN Security Council
in May 1992 to impose economic sanctions on the Belgrade government._Back
Serbia and Montenegro had opted to stay
on in the federation and at the combined session of the parliaments
of Yugoslavia held on April 27 1992 in Belgrade, the Constitution
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was passed (with Slobodan
Milosevic as its leader) thus reaffirming the continuity of the
state first founded on December 1st 1918. The new government,
however, is not recognized by the United States as the successor
state to the former Yugoslavia.
Economic turmoil and the re-emergence
of an old conflict between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanian majority
in Kosovo exacerbated these differences, and fuelled a resurgence
of nationalism. In 1990, demands for greater autonomy were rebuffed
by Serbia, which imposed direct rule and rescinded its status
as an autonomous region. Albanians were repressed and Serbian
migration into the region encouraged. In response Albanians pressed
for Kosovo's complete independence, and in 1992 elected a nominal
parliament and boycotted Serbian elections. In 1996 the militant
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) begins attacking Serbian policeman.
Despite rampant inflation reaching approximately
3000% per month in December 1993, the Serbian government maintained
its effective control over the rump Yugoslavia. Trade sanctions
were lifted in December 1995 following the signing of the Dayton
Accords. In June 1996, the UN Security Council lifted its heavy
weapons embargo. Large groups of demonstrators in 1996-97 engaged
in several months of daily protests after Slobodan Milosevic refused
to recognize opposition victories in local elections and in elections
in Montenegro. Constitutionally barred from another term as president
of Serbia, Milosevic became president of the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in July 1997.
The situation in Serbia's provinces of
Montenegro and Kosovo grew divisive in 1997 and 1998. In May 1998,
Montenegro elected the reform-minded Milo Djukanovic as president.
Not only is he an outspoken critic of Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic but he has openly contemplated secession.
In February 1998 Milosevic sends troops
to Kosovo to quash unrest in the province. A guerrilla war breaks
out. Since, the Yugoslav army and Serbian police have fought against
the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, but their scorched-earth
tactics have been concentrated on ethnic Albanian civilians -
Muslims who make up 90% of Kosovo's population. Hundreds of thousands
of ethnic Albanians were forced to flee their homes. Although
Serbs make up only 10% of Kosovo's population, the region figures
strongly in Serbian nationalist mythology, dating from the time
when the province was inhabited mostly by Serbs.
NATO was reluctant to intervene because
Kosovo - unlike Bosnia in 1992 - was legally a province of Yugoslavia.
Proof of civilian massacres finally gave NATO the impetus to intervene
for the first time ever in the dealings of a sovereign nation
with its own people. In an October 12, 1998, truce brokered by
American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and under the threat of a
military air strike - for which there was little enthusiasm among
several NATO countries - President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to
the withdrawal of military forces. Fighting continued, however,
and neither side accepted Washington's proposal for the province
- the ethnic Albanians demanded full independence while Serb leaders
would agree only to limited autonomy.
In February 1999, Serbia and Kosovo separatists
were forced to the negotiating table in Rambouillet, France, by
six mediating nations: the United States, Russia, France, Britain,
Germany and Italy. The United States threatened air strikes if
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic continued to reject a plan
by NATO officials to station international troops in Kosovo to
enforce a peace agreement. Negotiations went awry, however, when
both the Serbs and the KLA rejected the terms of the agreement.
The US had been counting on the KLA signing and the Serbs walking
away - which would then have paved the way for NATO air strikes
against Serbia. But the KLA refused to sign unless the agreement
promised them future independence, not simply self-rule, which
was not on the NATO negotiators' agenda. The KLA's all-or-nothing
position in effect meant that they preferred to continue their
ground war against the Serbs - one in which they were vastly disadvantaged
- and stick to their demand for independence, rather than agree
to curtail their plans for the immediate future but thereby gain
the military backing of NATO - NATO essentially operating as the
KLA's air force. Washington, ready to play hardball with Serbia,
was in particular frustrated by the ethnic Albanians' narrowsighted
intransigence. Finally, on March 18 the KLA signed while the Serbs
again refused, adamant that NATO troops would not be stationed
in Kosovo, despite the very real possibility of NATO air strikes.
On 24 March 1999, NATO began it's air
strikes against Yugoslavian targets, eventually driving the Serbian
forces from Kosovo, whereupon the Kosovo-Albanians returned to
the area, re-igniting the age-old conflict.
Serbia sovereign and Montenegro independent
_Serbia became a stand-alone sovereign republic in summer 2006.
Montenegro duly voted for independence in a referendum in May
2006, declaring sovereingity in June 2006.