The Bosnian Genocide
By Elena Deamant

      The Bosnian War was the largest massacre since the Holocaust. It was a cultural and religious war fought in Bosnia. Bosnia was comprised of the ethnic groups of the Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox), Bosniaks (Muslim), and Croatian (Catholic). The Bosnian Serbs killed many of the Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats. It was the result of ethnic prejudice, superiority, and multiethnic fighting among Bosnians that resulted in thousands of deaths. It was caused by a cultural war started centuries ago in the area. It was not controlled by the outside world and it grew to be devastating for many people in Bosnia. In one particularly bloody massacre, 8,000 Bosniak boys and men were killed. It was only stopped once it became harmful for other countries, who had not stepped in until then. It was too late for 100,000 Bosniaks and Croats by that time.

Bosnian Genocide Memorial


      Yugoslavia is the federation of the 6 republics of Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Herzegovina. Yugoslavia has a long history of conflict. As of 1971, the Bosnian population was mostly Muslims. More Serbians and Croatians emigrated there in 2 decades so that a significant portion of the population was Croat and Serb. After the Cold War, politics were very different. The leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, nicknamed Tito, minimized internal conflict by keeping strict control on the various ethnic groups, uniting them under the 'greater Yugoslavia'.

     After Tito died, it created a power vacuum in which nationalistic leaders rose to power. Elections divided the country into the 3 distinct ethnic groups of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, which threatened the Yugoslav union. In 1991, independence was declared by Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia. There was a subsequent war in Croatia where the Yugoslav army, mostly Serb, helped Serbians who were violently fighting Croats. Conflicts inside Bosnia led the Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic to leave the government and establish the "Serbian National Assembly".

     The Bosnian Serbs were trying to be part of the Serbian state which was dominating in the Balkans. The Bosnian Serbs wanted to take the Bosnian territory to claim as Serbian. The Bosniaks and Croats feared losing this land and called for Bosnian Independence (Holyoke). The US recognized the independent Bosnia in 1992; the Serbs opposed this because they didn't want an independent Bosnian state in their territory. The Serb controlled Yugoslav army attacked the capital of Bosnia and towns populated by Bosniaks, very violently expelling many civilians from their homes (All from History). The Serbs did an "ethnic cleanse" of their territory, removing any Bosniak and Croat presence. (Krkljes).

This map shows the countries within Yugoslavia and the distribution of different ethnicities among the countries.

International Reactions

      The international community was aware of the conflict that was going on, yet they did not send in military intervention to stop the bloodshed. It was documented and known about and still the world continued on without much assistance. In 1992 evidence was released that revealed the horrors of the conflict. Despite the awareness that the reports created, no action was taken. (Krkljes)The United Nations didn't intervene in the conflict but there was some humanitarian aid that was provided for the tens of thousands of expelled, starving victims. (History)

     Once the Serb forces had taken over Bosniak-populated cities, the UN created 6 areas supposedly protected by peacekeepers. However, there were so few weapons for self defense that the peacekeepers were very ineffective. The genocide was one of the most well-documented conflicts in History and yet other countries stood by while tens of thousands of Croats and Bosniaks lost their homes and lives. Mass killings and rapings were brought to the attention of the world and still the genocide raged on.

A story reporting the fighting in Bosnia, 1993

Serbian Attack

   The Bosniaks and Croats were systematically attacked and forced out. "Journalist Mark Danner describes the Serbs’ plan of attack in city after city was as follows:

1. Concentration - urge Serb residents of the city to leave, while surrounding the town and bombarding it with artillery fire.

2. Decapitation - execute the leaders and intelligentsia of the town.

3. Separation - separate the women, children, and old men from the men of “fighting age.”

4. Evacuation - move women, children, and old men to concentration camps or national borders.

5. Liquidation - execute the men of “fighting age.” (Krkyjes).

31 May 1993: A heavily armed Bosnian Serb soldier leads his comrades through a field during a combing operation near the Muslim town. (Sim)

Stages of Genocide

       People have disputed the claim that the massacre in Bosnia was not a genocide, and that it was really just an ethnic cleansing. This was a genocide- first, the Classification. The Serb army identified who was a Serb and who wasn't, and only informed the Serbs of what was to come. They dehumanized the people by forcing them to live in inhumane conditions after being exiled from their homes. The army was the one who organized the genocide. Bosniak and Croat people were beaten and tortured and executed in mass amounts. 10,000 people were exterminated during the war. 20,000 rapes occurred during the 3 years of the war and were systematically taken to rape camps. They were raped and tortured for weeks on end until they became pregnant. The Bosniaks' human rights were violated as they were imprisoned and killed (Krkljes). The Bosnian Serb Prime Minister denied that there ever was a genocide (Halimovic).

Displaced refugees fleeing the attack in Srebrenica (Sim)

The Worst Massacre

       The largest mass execution ended the lives of thousands. By summer of 1995, Bosnian government had only three towns left- Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde. The U.N. attempted to keep these safe but on July 11, Bosnian Serbs attacked Srebrenica. They separated the women/girls from the men, sending some to rape camps, and immediately killed 8,000 men (History). Thousands of men were murdered by the Serbs. The meager peacekeepers sent by the U.N. were not nearly enough to prevent the onslaught of attacks by the Serbs.

Refugees from Srebrenica receiving treatment for injuries from the Serbian attack. (Sim)


     The UN allowed the supposed "safe area" to be attacked and overrun. They failed to keep the peace and prevent the civil war. Critical military intervention did not happen because there were possible political repercussions. Trying to remain neutral came at a devastating cost. More aggressive international prevention was necessary to fight the Serbs against crimes killing innocent people. ''Through error, misjudgment and the inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting us we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder,'' a senior United Nations official said. ''These failings were in part rooted in a philosophy of neutrality and non violence wholly unsuited to the conflict in Bosnia.'' (Crossette). Attempting negotiations were severely inadequate at dealing with the war. The Serbs were deliberately and systematically murdering thousands- that requires a much greater and decisive opposition by other nations.

      Serbs continued on to capture Zepa, exploding bombs in busy markets with civilians. At last the international community began to respond to the conflict and the growing civilian death toll. The Serbs denied U.N. ultimatum and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization joined the Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs and finally bombed the Bosnian Serb forces. The Serbs agreed to peace talks and a federalized Bosnia was split into the Croat-Bosniak federation and Serb republic (History). Other countries had taken a position against the Serbs and it took only about 3 weeks for the Serbs to agree to negotiations. If this attack against the Serbs had been initiated sooner in the war, thousands of lives would have been spared and so many would not be displaced from their homes.

28 February 1994: Dutch soldiers accompany a UN convoy of armoured vehicles on their way to Lukavac and Srebrenica. (Sim)

Never Again

       Action was only taken by others against the destruction in order to protect their own citizens from the growing violence. This shouldn't be the case- nations were aware of the conflict and did nothing to prevent such devastating losses. If we don't understand what happened in the past, we will repeat such a tragedy. There will be more places that are in conflict and cultural conflicts and if we cannot recognize or see similar trajectories for the future events, we will not be able to stop another genocide from occurring. Even today, religious differences divide countries and states. Other countries in the world are fighting over land and control, and ethnic differences will start to cause another war again.

       The world cannot stand by while destruction rages on and deaths are unprevented. Ignoring conflicts with excuses of political repercussions cannot be allowed- action is imperative of all people and countries. The motivations which led the Serbs to attack the Bosniaks are not isolated motives: they are ideals shared by all the leaders who have started genocide. There are leaders like this today, and there will be again. Nations failed to follow through with the claims they made when the Holocaust came to light- Never Again. The world has a responsibility to our fellow humans to save lives and learn from the grave mistakes of those that came before. Its up to everyone to stop it.

A Muslim woman cries for a lost family member in the attack in Srebrenica (Sim)


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