15 Facts About the Bosnian War
- After declaring its independence, Bosnia was multiethnic. Its most prominent groups were Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent). However, a four-year war followed the country’s independence, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked Sarajevo, targeting mainly the Muslims. They also carried out ethnic cleansing across the countryside.
- The United Nations helped both parties agree to a peace treaty in 1995 called the Dayton Peace Agreement. This agreement preserves Bosnia as a single state conformed by the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic. To date, the U.N. has also convicted more than 70 men of war crimes.
- Bosnian Croat soldiers became prisoners during the war after their surrender on Vlasic, a central Bosnian mountain. Approximately 700 of them, as well as 7,000 Croat civilians, fled to Serb-held territories after the massacre that occurred on this mountain.
- In 1993, Miss Besieged Sarajevo stood up against war by unfolding a banner that read, “Don’t let them kill us.” Her name is Inela Nogic, and she was 17 years old at the time. The song “Eve of Destruction” was playing when she and 12 other teenagers got on the pageant stage and unfolded the banner. This demonstration served as a representation for 380,000 people living in Sarajevo during that time and their wish to continue their normal lives despite the war and conflict.
- Goran Jelisic was a Serb police officer who the U.N. and International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia convicted of murder, cruel treatment, plunder and inhumane acts. He even called himself the “Serb Adolf” in 1992. He systematically killed Muslims, hurt women and stole from prisoners, amongst other things. He finally received a sentence of 40 years in prison for his war crimes.
- Srebrenica Memorial Cemetery buried more than 6,500 bodies after the bodies received identification from mass graves in Eastern Bosnia. In 2012, the mass burial re-grouped 615 bodies in that year alone. Even though it is a memorial now, it began as a cemetery that former president Bill Clinton opened in 2003. The cemetery initially buried 600 sets of remains.
- Even 20 years after the start of the Bosnian War, there is still a deep division between ethnicities. Mostar is an excellent example, where Croats hold the west bank and Muslim Bosniaks hold the east. Co-existence is uncomfortable to the point where they resist international efforts of reintegration. They even have two different fire brigades for each side, and all divisions are obvious.
- An appeal court sentenced Radovan Karadzic, a former Bosnian Serb leader, to life in prison for his role in the Bosnian War. It charged him with genocide and the killing of over 7,000 Muslims. Even though they were originally only going to convict him for 40 years, the judges increased it to a life sentence. They claimed the tribunal chamber had initially “abused its discretion,” and the chief prosecutor said that finally, his victims saw a consequence for Karadzic’s actions.
- In April 2012, Sarajevo lined over 11,000 red chairs on its main avenue, Titova Street. These chairs symbolized the victims on the 20th anniversary of the War. There was also a choir and a classical orchestra that performed songs that were mostly from wartime.
- Even though this was the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, the U.N. barely interfered. Its only interference was that occasionally the U.N. Protection Force sent troops.
- The War had devastating effects on people’s health, mostly because of a lack of food and supplies as well as displacement. Ethnic cleansing led to significant shifts and movements, which increased people’s vulnerability to illness and even death. By September 1993, the War resulted in the killing, wounding or displacement of over half a million people. Bosnia’s health system was not capable of attending to these issues or even basic needs.
- Bosnia’s demographic structure is in constant flux, including more and more vulnerable populations, such as those that are either too young, old or weak to escape. During the War, studies suggested that the proportion of children and the elderly increased, affecting public health since these individuals were more susceptible to external factors.
- As a result of ethnic cleansing among other things, the war forced 21 to 76 percent of the population to move. Many of these shifts were towards communities with significant refugee populations. In places such as Banjaluka and the Eastern Bosnian enclaves, displaced people amounted to over 50 percent of the population.
- In addition to food, there was also water scarcity. Before the war, Sarajevo’s water consumption was approximately 200 liters per person per day. The water pumping stations used an electrical system for power. However, during the war, electricity was only available intermittently, if at all. This occurrence, in turn, severely impacted water distribution. In July 1993, Sarajevo rationed water to between two and three liters per person per day.
- Before the War, Bosnia mostly relied on natural gas to heat buildings. However, during the War, the pipelines shut down. Fortunately, a project supported by foreign aid was able to reconnect 20,000 people in Sarajevo with the natural gas pipeline, restoring the minimum pressure of one bar by November 1993.
Even though the war is over, Bosnia still experiences deep ethnic divisions. These 15 facts about the Bosnian War highlight the main takeaways and lessons from the war to avoid a similar conflict in the future.