Background on Kosovo

History of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia was created after WWI, from a federation of Balkan countries. The intention was avoiding further Balkan wars like those which ignited WWI. After WWII, its borders were redrawn with six republics plus two provinces within Serbia. (click on the map below left for an enlarged view).


The six Yugoslav republics (see below) have all had history as independent nations. The two provinces within Serbia (Kosovo and Vojvodina) were never independent, with legal status like California within the US. Hence much of the debate on Kosovo centers on 'sovereignty' -- attacking Kosovo can be viewed as an attack on the sovereignty of Serbia while it was involved in a Civil War. Bosnia, on the other hand, had autonomous legal status like Puerto Rico within the US. Bosnia had declared independence from Serbia before the US sent troops there, and hence sovereignty was not an issue.

Marshal Tito

Marshal Tito was the Communist leader of Yugoslavia since WWII. He is credited with holding the Yugoslav republics together (by dictatorial force), and after he died in 1980 the republics began to clamor for more autonomy. Further pressure for independence came from the fall of the Soviet empire in 1989.

Breakup of Yugoslavia

In 1990, a new Yugoslav Constitution was enacted. Four republics soon declared independence, leaving 'Rump Yugoslavia' as only Serbia plus Montenegro.
    Status of the former Yugoslav republics and provinces:
  1. Slovenia: Declared independence in June 1991; one-week war with Serbia (a 'bloodless' war because Serbia focused on Croatia); Slovenia is now a prospering nation with hopes of joining NATO.
  2. Croatia: Declared independence in June 1991; longer war with Serbia; heavily involved with Bosnia war.
  3. Macedonia: Declared independence in Nov. 1991; avoided war because of arrival of international forces (including US forces, which are still based there). Greece has blocked full international recognition because the name 'Macedonia' is also the name of a Greek province.
  4. Bosnia-Herzegovina: Declared independence in 1992; lengthy war with Serbia and Croatia, with all three countries involved in 'ethnic cleansing.' The war ended with the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. US forces are still stationed in Bosnia, which is partitioned into three ethnic regions (Serb, Bosnian, & Croat).
  5. Montenegro: Still part of Yugoslavia as an autonomous Republic. Montenegrins are ethnically identical to Serbs; they differ only by geography. But in the wake of the Kosovo war, Montenegro may declare independence.
  6. Serbia: Legally, Serbia is just one republic of Yugoslavia. But the Serbs have always been the dominant group in all of Yugoslavia since is formation.
  7. Kosovo: Remains a province within the republic of Serbia. Its population is 3/4 Albanian (referred to as 'ethnic Albanians' to differentiate from residents of the neighboring country of Albania).
  8. Vojvodina: Also remains a province within the republic of Serbia. Its population is 1/2 Hungarian (they border Hungary, and prior to WWII were part of that country).

Slobodan Milosevic

  • Milosevic came to power as Chairman of the Communist Party in 1986.
  • His popularity increased greatly in 1987 after a speech in Kosovo strongly advocating Serbian nationalism (the speech was made on the site of a 14th century battlefield. This is the political basis for Milosevic not granting Kosovo independence).
  • Milosevic was democratically elected President of Serbia in 1989, and elected as President of Yugoslavia in 1997.
  • He was indicted as a war criminal in June 1999, the first time a sitting President has been indicted. His alleged crimes include genocide and ethnic cleansing.
  • In October 2000, Milosevic lost the presidential election to Vlajislav Kostunica. Milosevic gave up power after widespread protests and Russian urging.

    Religion and Ethnicity


    In 1999, the US and NATO negotiated with Milosevic in Rambouillet, France, attempting to resolve the Kosovo crisis without ethnic cleansing or war. The goal was to be a 'Rambouillet Agreement' fashioned after the Dayton Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. The peace talks failed, and NATO bombed Serbia and Kosovo from March to June 1999. Milosevic capitulated; the Serbian Army left Kosovo; and NATO, Russian, and UN troops are now stationed there under the 'KFOR' banner.

    Related issues:

    Foreign Policy

    Related documents:

    History of Yugoslavia, Library of Congress site.
    History of Kosovo, BBC News site.
    International Criminal Tribunal, UN War Crimes trials.
    Indictment of Milosevic as UN War Criminal
    Dayton Agreement, 1995 Bosnian peace treaty.

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