The history of Yugoslavia

YUGOSLAVIA IS 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.

Antiquity

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 the country.

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.


A mosaic in a Roman Villa Rustica near Podujevo, Kosovo and Metohija

Roman Empire conquers the Balkans

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 Slovene.

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 cultural uniformity.

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.


Roman helmet found on the territory of nothern Serbia

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 gain.

Arrival of Slavs to the Balkans

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.

St. King Stefan of Decani, fresco 14th cent.
St. King Stefan of Decani, fresco Decani Monastery, 14th century

First Serbian State

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.

Decline of the Serb Medieval State

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.

Under the Turkish Rule

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.)
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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.


Turkish atrocities against Christians

Christian Rebellions Against Ottomans

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 in 1878.

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.



First World War

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).

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians - Kingdom of Yugoslavia

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.
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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.

Second World War

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 Adriatic.

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 in 1991-1992.

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).
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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, 1945.

Under the Communist Government of Josip Broz Tito

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.

Disruption of Former Yugoslavia - wars in Croatia and Bosnia

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.
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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.

Albanian Rebellion in the Province of Kosovo

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.
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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.

NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia

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.

Original text of the History of Yugoslavia
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