The former Yugoslavia has been filled with warfare. Violent atrocities have become common place. Many of these atrocities which the media has reported come from the Serbs agaianst Croatians and Muslims.
While the violent practices of these people must be stopped, it is important to first understand why it is happening. What led the Serbs to hate Croatians and Muslims so much and the reverse. It is important to know not only what the present situation of the war is about but also the history behind the people. First of all, these present wars have been about defending national identity and territory. They have been about revenge, hatred and fear; about differences in religion, ethnicity, and culture.
Nothing and no one is sacred. Atrocities are videotaped. Women are raped and men are castrated. The decapitated heads of victims are kicked around like soccer balls. (Mojzes) People are stopped on the street for no reason by soldiers and are then beaten. Why are these violent acts occurring? It is because the history of these people has been filled with violence that has taught them to hate those who are not like them.
In 1839, the Serbs were beaten by the Ottoman Turks in the battle of Kosovo Field. After the loss, the Serbian people were ruled by various Turks for nearly four centuries. Toward the end of the Turkish Empire, greater abuses of power by local Turkish overlords took place, This shaped in the Serb mind that the entire period of Turkish rule had been horrible.
Because of this, the Serbs believe that the greatest threat to their nation comes from Muslim Turks. Only slightly less hated are Catholics due to the fact that the Austrians felt it was their duty to convert the Greek Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism.
During Turkish rule, many Serbs migrated from Serbia to Bosnia-Herzegovina while at the same time, Kosovo was being repopulated by the migration northward of Albanian muslims. "These great migrations, forced by Turk's or Islamic colonialism, are the reason for the great intermingling of populations. This forced ethnic mix has given rise to contradictory claims and efforts to separate themselves from each other by means of what is today called 'ethnic cleansing'."(Mojzes) Albanians were held in strict control by the Serbian secret police up until the 1970's.
When that control was relaxed and Yugoslavia became decentralized, Albanians began to request more autonomy and sever conflict broke out in which both nationalities claimed that the other was performing acts of genocide. While the present population of Kosovo of Albanians to Serbs is nine to one, the Serbs claim that at one time they were in the majority until the Albanians drove them out. On the other side, the Albanians claim that they have been in the majority for centuries and that the Serbs are now trying to drive them out. Due to the fact that both sides produce their own records, neither side's population records can be taken as accurate. Not only were there conflicts with the Albanians, there were conflicts with the Croatians as well.
During the 19th century, many elites of the different Yugoslav states felt that unification of the states was in the people's interest. Many of these elites were Croatian who were a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Most Serbian elites saw no or very little benefit of slavic unification. It was Serbian nationalism that was first on the minds and in the political passions of the Serbian leaders. Therefore, most Serbs felt that the idea of slavic unity before World War I was useful only in the sense that it might speed up the achievement od Serbia's national and territorial goals. Also, the Serbian elite felt that if a unified slavic state were formed, that it would be tough contending with the strong ultranationalism and Serbophobia that was prevalent in many sections of the Croat leadership and population. (Cohen) The lack of passion for slavic unification could also be seen in Serbia's military leaders. These military leaders primary goal was the liberation of Serbian territory which was still under the control of foreign powers. They had a deep sense of national pride and were not as interested in joining the Croats in a unified Yugoslavia.
Obsessed with the liberation of Serbs under foreign control, most of the Serbian elite had little to no tolerance for the idea of democratic compromise of the slavs. One example can be seen in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a region with ethnically mixed populations. Here Serbs and Croats had conflicting territorial claims and even advocates of a unified Yugoslavia could find little to agree on. By the end of the 19th century, the different states still had found nothing to agree on. The problem between the Serbs and the Croats was that they both had different ideals of how a government should be run. While the Croats were interested in a unified democratic nation allied with the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Serbs were primarily interested in the destruction of the Hapsburg and Ottoman powers in the Balkans and, as well, their own political dominance. The Serbian ideal of Yugoslavia was "revolutionary, centralistic, and Serbo-centric." (Cohen)
At the turn of the century, there was still much skepticism on the part of the Croats who believed that any commitment by Serbia towards unification was only a mask for Serbia's territorial ambitions. This led the Croatians to continue to believe that any unification of the slavic states should take place within the Hapsburg monarchy, which was exactly what the Serbs did not want. At the same time, many younger Croats in the radical youth movement were impressed with the successes of the Serbian military in the Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Turks and, therefore, recognized that Serbian political and military strength would be an essential factor in unification.
However, just as the successes of Serbia in the Balkan Wars had impressed these younger Croats, it also led the Serbian military leaders to become more aggressive in the pursuit of Serbian national goals. This new found aggression eventually led to the assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This assassination and the outbreak of World War I changed everything. New hostilities from Austria towards Serbia placed Croatia, as Austrian allies, against Serbia which only intensified interethnic differences which already existed.
The interethnic conflicts continued to persist throughout the unified Yugoslavia. While the violence was kept under control, the tension did not go away and when Yugoslavia died sos used by Serbian military has been shaped from the past. "Elite political culture in Serbia had been shaped in the brutal context of the long Ottoman control of the Balkans and, from roughly 1830 to 1878, in the atmosphere of the more or less benign authoritarian rule wielded by successive Serbian princes functioning under quasi-Ottoman tutelage" (Cohen) It is especially important to understand this today, as the U.S and NATO are in discussions over the recent massacres in Kosovo. While intervention is necessary, is it not possible that bombing Serbia will only bring more of the same.
Violence breeds violence, while the end result that we are looking for is peace.