Refugees History What was the Balkans War?

What was the Balkans War?

What was the Balkans War?

The Balkans War, also known as the Yugoslav Wars, was a series of conflicts that occurred in the Balkan region of Europe from 1991 to 2001. The wars were characterized by ethnic tensions, territorial disputes, and political rivalries between the six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.


The Balkans region has a long history of ethnic divisions and conflicts. In the early 20th century, the region was divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. After World War I, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was formed, comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Tensions in the region remained high throughout the 20th century, with ethnic groups competing for power and territory. In the 1980s, Yugoslavia faced economic and political turmoil, leading to the rise of nationalist movements and calls for independence.

Causes of the War

The wars in the Balkans were caused by a complex mix of factors, including historical animosities, territorial disputes, and political rivalries. Three main factors contributed to the start of the war:

1. Nationalist movements: The rise of nationalist movements in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to tensions between ethnic groups in the region. Many nationalists called for independence or greater autonomy for their ethnic group, leading to clashes with other groups.

2. Economic and political instability: Yugoslavia faced economic and political instability in the 1980s, with high inflation and debt, and a growing gap between the rich and poor. This led to protests and demonstrations, and the rise of opposition parties.

3. Territorial disputes: Many ethnic groups in the region had long-standing territorial disputes. In particular, the Serbs and Croats both claimed the same territories, leading to clashes and violence.

The Wars

The Balkans War consisted of several conflicts, each with their own causes and characteristics.

1. Slovenian War (1991): The first conflict of the Balkans War began in Slovenia in June 1991, when Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav army responded with a military operation, but was unable to defeat the Slovenian army. The conflict ended with a ceasefire and the establishment of a peace agreement.

2. Croatian War (1991-1995): The Croatian War began in 1991, when Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The war was characterized by ethnic tensions between the Croats and Serbs, and included mass atrocities committed by both sides. In 1995, Croatia launched a major offensive against the Serbs, eventually leading to the signing of the Dayton Accords.

3. Bosnian War (1992-1995): The Bosnian War began in April 1992, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia. The war was characterized by ethnic tensions between the Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. The war included mass atrocities against civilians, including the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords.

4. Kosovo War (1998-1999): The Kosovo War began in 1998, when the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) launched an insurgency against Serbian forces in Kosovo. The war was characterized by ethnic tensions between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority. The war ended with NATO airstrikes on Serbia and the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.

Effects of the War

The Balkans War had a profound impact on the region, including:

1. Death and displacement: The wars in the Balkans resulted in the deaths of an estimated 140,000 people and the displacement of over 2.2 million people.

2. Economic and social impact: The wars devastated the economies of the region and led to high levels of poverty and unemployment. The wars also had a long-term impact on social cohesion and trust between ethnic groups.

3. Political change: The wars led to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the establishment of several new countries in the region. The wars also led to changes in international law, including the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

4. NATO intervention: The Kosovo War marked the first time that NATO intervened in a conflict without UN approval. The intervention raised questions about the balance between state sovereignty and humanitarian intervention.

Current Situation

The Balkan region has made significant progress since the end of the wars, but there are still challenges facing the region, including:

1. Human rights issues: Human rights issues continue to be a concern in the region, particularly in relation to minority groups, refugees, and internally displaced persons.

2. Political instability: Political instability remains a challenge in the region, with ongoing disputes between ethnic groups and political parties.

3. Economic development: The region continues to face economic challenges, with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

4. EU integration: Several Balkan countries are currently seeking to join the European Union, but face challenges related to corruption, rule of law, and democratic governance.


The Balkans War was a tragic chapter in European history, characterized by ethnic tensions, mass atrocities, and political instability. The wars had a profound impact on the region, leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia and the loss of thousands of lives. While the region has made progress in the years since the conflict, challenges remain in relation to human rights, political stability, and economic development. The international community must continue to support the Balkans region in its efforts to overcome these challenges and achieve lasting peace and prosperity.

The Balkans are located between mainland Europe and the Near East. The Balkans’ mountainous geography very much lends itself to its identity and violent history. During World War II, the Balkans War began because of Italy’s attempts to create a larger Italian state. In 1939, Italy invaded Albania, and demanded for Greece to surrender in 1940. Much to the Italians’ dismay, the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, defied their attempts to rule Greece in 1940. Metaxas started the Greco-Italian Balkans’ War which lasted for nine difficult months of fighting before Germany intervened to attain victory.

After the fall of Sarajevo, now the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Nazi Germany on April 16, 1941, Yugoslavian provinces, too, became Nazi satellite states. The Nazis created the Handschar Division and worked alongside Ustase and Chetniks for the approaching battle against the Yugoslav Partisans.

The Yugoslav minorities and Hungary helped the Nazis to conquer Yugoslavia within a month before joining forces with Bulgaria to invade Greece. Though the Greek forces continued to resist, their split forces in Albania led to their downfall after a month, except for Crete. After 11 days of intense warfare, however, the Grecian island eventually collapsed under the Nazis’ paratrooper forces.

This resulted in the reshuffling of the Balkan frontiers, creating the states of Croatia and Montenegro, including the Albanian expansion within Yugoslavia and Greece, as well as the Bulgarian annexation of Northern Greek territories. Moreover, the Balkans War resulted in the creation of the Vlach state as well as the annexation of the Ionian Islands and a section of the Aegean Islands into the new Italy.

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