April 1992:

War Breaks Out in Bosnia

By 1995, the name of Slobodan Milošević  had become familiar to most Americans.  As they watched the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union with the rest of the world, they hoped that democracy would continue to spread throughout Europe in the wake of the Cold War.  The disintegration of  Yugoslavia in 1991/1992 under pressure from ethnic conflict came as somewhat of a shock to most Americans as well as presidential administrations, as they watched the Serbian President stir up Serbian nationalism in authoritarian speeches reminiscent of Adolf Hitler. 

World Data Locator Map Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is situated in the Western Balkan Peninsula of Europe. (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

Balkins Map

Territories of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia controlled by the Serb forces after Operation Corridor (July 1992) in the Yugoslav Wars. (Mladifilozof, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic speaks to thousands of supporters during an open air meeting in Belgrade, Feb. 28, 1989. He announced the arrest of anti-Serbian Albanian leaders in the Kosovo Province. (AP Photo/Martin Cleaver)

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The Sports Complex from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo serves as a mass graveyard ten years later, in June of 1995. (MSGT Michael J. Haggerty)

Preoccupied with the 1992 election and the handling of the Soviet collapse, President George H.W. Bush relied on the United Nations  and NATO to stabilize the region after Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, but  Milošević’s rhetoric and the fierce fighting increased horrifically after Bosnia withdrew from the Yugoslav coalition.  Three ethnic groups—Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim—fought to expand territorial control over the region and engaged in acts of “ethnic cleansing.” Serbian forces pummeled Yugoslavia’s former capital of Sarajevo (the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics), with shelling and sniper fire, killing innocent civilians—and it was all broadcasted into American homes. Despite concern, however, most Americans did not want to send U.S. military to the region, fearing that the nation would be dragged into “another Vietnam.” It was a crisis that Bill Clinton inherited when he won the presidential election in 1992.

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People rush to cross an intersection in Downtown Sarajevo, where a poster reads: “Watch Out, Snipers” in July 1992. Various signs throughout the besieged capital warns pedestrians of sniper fire. (AP Photo/Jockel Finck)

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French U.N. Peacekeepers take cover behind a wrecked car looking towards Serbian positions along Sarajevo’s no-man’s land,  February 10, 1994. (AP Photo/Rikard Larma)