“We’re going to prepare you like you’re going into a war zone,” my doctor said. Granted, she was talking about my asthma medication regimen in preparation for living in a country where everyone smokes. But, I was also getting ready to live in a country that was once a horrendous war zone—Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As with Rwanda, the history of Bosnia is far too rich to even begin to explain here. To understand the violence, though, you at least need to understand that Bosnia was a multi-ethnic state in the former Yugoslavia, a communist country that existed (with a few different names and collapses) from 1918 to 1991. During the Yugoslav era, Bosnia was a secular state with Muslim ("Bosniak"), Catholic, and Orthodox Christian citizens living, marrying, and working together in relative peace. The former Yugoslavia was comprised of several republics, and in 1991, the central power structure, headquartered in Serbia, crumbled. Several republics—including Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia—decided to seek independence. Bosnia soon followed suit, and their declaration of independence was met with resistance from Serbian leaders who sought a “Greater Serbia” — essentially an ethnically homogenous region that included territory of interest in Bosnia.
In response to the April 6, 1992, Bosnian declaration of independence, Serb forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Sarajevo. The Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, also shut down the Bosnian airport and blocked all roads leading to Sarajevo. For the next several years, Sarajevo was under siege, both by Serb forces (which controlled the Yugoslav army) and Bosnian Serb forces, which operated from within Bosnia and received aid from Serbia.
Many other places in Bosnia also saw violence. In several regions of the country, people (mostly Bosniaks) were interned in concentration camps. Many of these camps are known as rape camps, as women were commonly raped and tortured while there. There were also multiple massacres, the most famous being the genocidal massacre of almost 8000 men in Srebenica in July 1995. While Yugoslav forces and Bosnian Serb forces were the primary perpetrators of this violence, other forces, including numerous paramilitaries, also engaged in atrocities and violence against civilians.
The violence officially lasted until the end of 1995, though some violence continued into 1996, and its effects are still felt today. Many perpetrators have been tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as well as in several other courts in Europe as well as in Bosnia.