The Bosnia Crisis: Serbs, Croats and Muslims: who hates who and why: Tony Barber in Zagreb traces the ancient roots of a culture clash that has shattered what was Yugoslavia into warring pieces

ESTIMATES vary of the death toll in 13 months of civil war in what was Yugoslavia, but it certainly runs into many thousands, making the conflict the most violent in Europe since the Second World War. The immediate origins of the war lie in the collapse of the post-1945 Communist order and subsequent clashes between a variety of militant nationalisms. But the deeper roots lie far back in history.

The main rivals are the Serbs and Croats, two Slavic peoples with similar languages - though Serbian is written in Cyrillic and Croatian in Latin script - but whose histories are very different.

The Serbs are Orthodox Christians whose religion was crucial in keeping alive their national identity during almost four centuries of Ottoman Turkish occupation. Of the nations that formed Yugoslavia in 1918, the Serbs were alone in having liberated themselves from foreign rule and set up an independent state in the 19th century.

The Croats spent centuries under the Austro-Hungarian empire and their Catholicism and Central European outlook were equally important in shaping their identity. They resented the fact that the first Yugoslav state, which lasted from 1918-1941, was to a great extent Serbia writ large, with a Serbian king and army and a Serb- dominated political system.

When the Nazis dismembered Yugoslavia in 1941, they created a fascist puppet state of Croatia, which incorporated most of Bosnia. This state slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Jews. From 1941-1945 more than a million Yugoslavs died, more than half at the hands of each other.

Tito rebuilt Yugoslavia as a Communist federation of six equal republics, but ethnic antagonisms were never far below the surface. The Serbs disliked Tito's recognition of the Macedonians and the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as distinct nationalities.

The effect of recognition of the Muslims - Slavs converted to Islam under Turkish rule - and growth in the Muslim population was to turn Bosnian Serbs into a minority in a republic where they had been the largest ethnic group.

The collapse of Communism in 1990-91 led to the election of governments in Slovenia and Croatia committed to independence. Although the Serb-led Yugoslav army tried briefly to prevent Slovenian independence, the Serbs' main concern was Croatia. Croatia had a 600,000-strong Serbian minority, descendants of Serbs who had fled Turkish rule centuries earlier. With the memory of Second World War atrocities behind them, the Serbs were unwilling to live in an independent Croatia again. For their part, the Croats viewed the Serbian minority as a group that had enjoyed special privileges under Communism.

Supported by the army and Serbia itself, the Serbs rose in armed rebellion. They now control about a quarter of Croatia and have set up two autonomous regions that are under the protection of United Nations forces sent in to keep a fragile peace. Croatia has vowed to recapture these regions, by force if necessary.

In Bosnia, three nationalities lived before the latest conflict in inextricably mixed communities: the Muslims with 44 per cent of the population, the Serbs with 32 per cent and the Croats with 17 per cent. The communities lived in relative harmony. After the European Community demanded a referendum on independence in Bosnia in February, the vote split on ethnic lines. Muslims and Croats supported independence but the Serbs boycotted the vote and, again with the army's support, began a fight for territory.

The feature of the Croatian and Bosnian wars that has caught the world's attention has been the Serbian expulsion of Croats, Muslims and smaller nationalities from their native areas in an effort to make the regions purely Serbian. This policy of 'ethnic cleansing' is responsible for the huge wave of Muslim refugees flooding into many European countries. The detention camps where Serbs are holding large numbers of Muslim prisoners are not, however, places of extermination in the Nazi sense. The primary Serbian goal is to remove Muslims from an area comprising about two-thirds of Bosnia so that this territory can be merged into one lump with the two autonomous Serbian regions of Croatia and Serbia proper. This will be 'Greater Serbia'.

At the same time, the Croatian army has helped Croats in Bosnia to take over much of the west of the republic that lies near Croatia's Adriatic coast. Just as the Serbs have declared an 'Independent Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina', so the Croats have proclaimed an autonomous region of Herzeg-Bosnia with Mostar as its capital. De facto, Croatia has colluded with Serbia in carving up Bosnia, although it has escaped with much less international censure.

The real losers, then, are the Muslims, who have been left with almost no land. Both Serbs and Croats have claimed that Muslims are not a genuine nationality but are 'really' Serbs or Croats beneath their religion. Both have also claimed Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of their own historic territory. The Muslims might once have preferred to stay in a united Yugoslavia where their ethnic and religious rights were protected, but now they are locked in a struggle for their very survival.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments