The question of the liberation and unification of the Serbian people was posed to the great European powers thanks to the Serbian revolution of 1804. Despite the spontaneous strength, liberation and state-building initiative of our people, the Serbian question, in the context of the geopolitical interests of the then great powers, was considered only as part of a much broader and more important Eastern question. Two centuries followed, filled with attempts to resolve in the most favorable way a once-raised issue, which has never been marginal for European powers, and which is still not fully resolved.

The most recent, and hopefully the last, episode of the suffering of the Serbian people and the dissolution of their statehood, are the war conflicts caused by the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The economic crisis, the collapse of the communist system, national conflicts, and disagreements, together with the inefficient political and economic concept of self-government and constitutional provisions that transformed Yugoslavia into a confederation of republics and provinces in 1974, will prepare the ground for the liquidation of the former common state.

The armed disintegration of Yugoslavia began in Slovenia, whose citizens decided on December 23rd, 1990, to make their republic an independent state. The declaration of independence followed on June 25th, 1991. Simultaneously with Slovenia, on the same day, the Republic of Croatia declared independence. The short-lived war in Slovenia ended with the defeat of the Yugoslav People’s Army forces. After the signing of the first armistice on July 7th, 1991, in Brijuni and the second on July 18th, 1991 in Belgrade, Slovenia became an independent state, which received international recognition on January 12th, 1992, as did the Republic of Croatia. In the Republic of Croatia, serious armed incidents escalated into an open conflict in the summer of 1990, which was further fueled by the complexity of Serb Croat relations, especially burdened by the Ustasha genocide of Serbs during World War II and the existence of the Independent State of Croatia. Beginning in September 1991, serious battles began with the engagement of significant military units on both sides, the use of armored vehicles, tanks and artillery. The resolution of the bloody war conflicts in Croatia came in August 1995, when Croatian forces, in two operations “Flash” and “Storm”, militarily defeated the Serbs gathered in the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The Serb population in Croatia was mostly expelled, and part of the territory of the former Republic of Serbian Krajina was peacefully reintegrated into the Republic of Croatia on the basis of the Erdut Agreement of November 12th, 1995, which was fully implemented on January 15th, 1998.

Irreconcilable political differences in interests between the national parties of Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats, different views on the future of both the SFRY and Bosnia and Herzegovina will lead to growing tensions during 1991. On January 9th, 1992, the Serbs declared the establishment of their Republika Srpska. The referendum on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina was held on February 29th, 1992 and March 1st, 1992, without the participation of Serbs, Muslims and Croats massively supported independence, and on March 1st, 1992, there was the first armed incident in Sarajevo, when a Serb was killed. The international community recognized the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina on April 6th, 1992, and the independence of the Republika Srpska was proclaimed the next day. The long-running and brutal military conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina began in 1992. Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in Croatia, was concluded on November 21st, 1995, by the Dayton Agreement, and confirmed on December 14th of the same year by the Paris Agreement. Bosnia and Herzegovina became an independent country, but with a separate entity of Republika Srpska and the status of Serbs as a constituent people.

The last in a series of conflicts that began with the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and at the same time the only one that took place on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, is the armed uprising in Kosovo and Metohija. The fact that the rebellion took place on the territory of an important center of Serbian statehood and spirituality since the Middle Ages gave a special delicacy and emotional charge. Conflict can be divided into two periods. In the first, from April 1996 to March 1999, Albanians sought to destabilize the legal and security system of the Republic of Serbia through a series of terrorist attacks. In the second, from March to June 1999, there was a direct aggression by NATO forces, with actions by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Representatives of the NATO pact, starting on March 24th, 1999, began an action codenamed “Allied Force”, which in the Republic of Serbia was called, not without bitterness, “Merciful Angel”. The action included an air campaign to bomb targets in FR Yugoslavia. NATO member states acted without the approval of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Weapons prohibited by international conventions, such as cluster bombs and depleted uranium ammunition, were used in the bombing. In parallel with the aggression of the NATO pact, conflicts between the army and the police of the then Yugoslav state against members of the KLA and the prevention of the incursion of enemies from the territory of Albania continue. The fighting at Košare in early April was especially bloody and difficult, as were the fighting during Operation “Arrow” in May 1999. The bombing, as well as the land conflicts, lasted until June 1, when the Kumanovo Agreement on the Cessation of the War was signed. With this agreement, the international military forces took over the administration of Kosovo and Metohija.

So far, the lists of victims of the wars that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia register about 130,000 people who lost their lives by force. The list of victims, when it comes to the area of today’s Republic of Serbia, has not yet been completely made. It is estimated that 5,762 Serb soldiers and police officers were killed during the wars. In the end, 111 deaths have been recorded so far, of which 83 were born in and around Kraljevo and 28 whose families moved to Kraljevo after their deaths.

The list of Serb civilian victims has not yet been concluded. According to a free estimate, the number of people of all nationalities who lost their lives during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and are citizens of the Republic of Serbia, is not less than 20,000. More reliable data exist for Serbs killed in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Serbian sources from the organization “Veritas”, a total of 7,134 persons of Serbian nationality from the territory of that republic were killed or disappeared during the war in Croatia. According to the Republic Center for Research of War, War Crimes and Search for Missing Persons from Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 29,070 Serbs were killed, of which 6,313 were civilians.

Darko Gučanin
historian, archivist
Director of the National Museum Kraljevo

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