Dissolution of Yugoslavia 101: The Beginning Of War and The End Of An Era

In the previous article of our article series titled "Dissolution of Yugoslavia 101", it was discussed that the nationalist movements, which rose with the democratization movements, dragged the Yugoslav republics to an inevitable break. In the last elections held under the federal structure, the Yugoslav Communist Party was defeated by the newly established nationalist parties in Slovenia and Croatia, and the nationalist governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were victorious in the same way. War bells were ringing for Yugoslavia, which was de facto disintegrated after Croatia and Slovenia declared independence. These war bells echoed in the international arena, and the European Communities started peace negotiations between the republics.

Santa Claus with the children during the Croatian War of Independence. https://historycollection.com/21-dramatic-photographs-croatian-war-independence/

Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence on 25 June 1991. This meant that the Socialist structure that had been going on for 47 years now came to an end. Slovenia, being a little more courageous than Croatia, removed the Yugoslav flag from all borders on the same day and replaced it with the Slovenian flag. The declaration of independence of these two republics had a shocking effect on the Yugoslav Army and the Belgrade administration. The advance of the Yugoslav Army into the streets of Ljubljana with tanks showed that the republics that had been brothers the day before were now hostile to each other. The fact that Slovenia shot down a Yugoslav helicopter and that the helicopter pilot was a Slovenian was proof that the rot set in.

Ten days after the conflict began, the JNA, the Yugoslav Army gradually began to withdraw from Slovenian territory, and Slovenia was perhaps the republic that survived the collapse of Yugoslavia most bloodlessly. The main reason for this situation is that the Belgrade administration led by Milosevic does not want to go to war against Slovenia. So much so that there was almost no Serb population in Slovenia, where ethnically homogeneity was the highest in Yugoslavia. Therefore, Serbia did not need Slovenian lands to realize the Great Serbia ideal. Thus, Slovenia, unlike other republics, easily broke away from Yugoslavia.

However, this was not the case for Croatia, which had 600,000 Serbs within its borders. Croatia was not a place to give up for Serbia under Milosevic who wanted to gather all Serbs under the same roof. Thus, the real war would begin between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia meant that it took the Serbian population away from Serbia. Therefore, Belgrade's response to Croatian independence was much harsher. Despite the secession of Croatia from the federation, the Serbs, who constitute 12% of the population, organized a referendum and established the Serbian Autonomous Krajina Region. In the following developments, they showed that they wanted to unite with Serbia. For this reason, they brought paramilitary Serbians and ammunition from Belgrade and attacked Croatian villages in order to establish the ideal of Greater Serbia and to unite with the Serbs in Croatia. While the Battle of Vukovar was the biggest example of the Croatian-Serbian conflict, 15,000 people died at the end of the war, and half a million people had to emigrate. In turn, Croatia's official policy was to "internationalize" the conflict and present itself as the victim of the "Serbian-Yugoslav Army". The conflicts stopped due to the pressure of European countries and the UN peacekeeping force sent to the region acted as a buffer between the Croats and the Serbs. The proclaimed Serbian Autonomous Krajina Region survived until 1994.

Photo by Emmanuel Ortiz. https://historycollection.com/21-dramatic-photographs-croatian-war-independence/

As ethnic cleansing and bloody war became increasingly evident, the European Community also got involved. With the Carrington–Cutileiro Peace Plan proposed at the EC Peace Conference, it was aimed to stop the conflict and to reshape Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the ethnic pattern. However, the proposed plan for Milosevic, who aimed at the continuity of Yugoslavia, threatened Serbian unity as it gave sovereignty to every republic. For this reason, Serbia, which wanted to control all Yugoslav lands, refused this as well as in later peace plans. Thus, Bosnia was slowly drifting towards the bloody war that would soon begin.

At the end of 1991, Germany was the state that made the most calls for the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. Germany convinced the EC to recognize both countries and decided to recognize it on 19 December with the establishment of the Badinter Commission and recognized Slovenia and Croatia on 23 December 1991. Then, how were the other republics within the territory of the new Yugoslavia affected by this situation? According to the final situation, without Slovenia and Croatia, a Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia would be formed under the Belgrade administration, which would melt into the Serbian population. Being aware of this danger, Bosnia and Herzegovina also entered a process of independence under the leadership of Alija Izetbegovic. It must be stated that the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia by the EC gave hope to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia was very painful. Contrary to what the Bosnians hoped, the independence process of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be remembered much more sadly in history.

Vukovar, Croatia 1991.https://inavukic.com/2014/02/17/a-brief-history-of-the-war-in-croatia-background-battlefields-and-outcomes/

The SFR Yugoslavia was de facto dissolved at the end of 1991 with the declaration of independence and international recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. While Slovenia survived the war decimated, the bloody war in Croatia, which would last until 1995, began between Serbs and Croats. Although the involvement of Western countries in peace negotiations gave the republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia hope for independence, the fate that awaited Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular, was very different. As the war fueled by ethnic conflicts swept all over Yugoslavia, what was right and wrong was becoming less important.


  • Abazi, Burhan. Yugoslavya Siyasal Sisteminin Yıkılışı. 2007. Selçuk Üniveritesi, Yüksek Lisans Tezi


  • Ancient World. “BBC: The Death Of Yugoslavia 3of6 - Wars Of Independence.” Dailymotion, uploaded by Ancient World, 6 Feb. 2016, www.dailymotion.com/video/x3qt055.

  • “Battle of Vukovar.” Wikipedia, 2 Sept. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vukovar.

  • Vranić, Igor. “The International Community’s Peace Plans in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina 1991–1995.” Croatian Studies Review, vol. 9, 2013, hrcak.srce.hr/123206.

  • Times, The New York. “Breakup of Yugoslavia Leaves Slovenia Secure, Croatia Shaky.” The New York Times, 16 Jan. 1992, www.nytimes.com/1992/01/16/world/breakup-of-yugoslavia-leaves-slovenia-secure-croatia-shaky.html.

Author Photo

Umut Açıkgöz

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