Bosnian War - Genocide: History, Key Dates

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
In 1918, Bosnia-Herzegovina joined with other socialist nations to form Yugoslavia. By the early 1990s, that group fell apart, and countries like Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia became independent. Unfortunately, they paid for their independence with war, and Bosnia was no exception. A fierce battle between clashing ethnic groups raged between 1992 and 1995: Serb nationalists within Bosnia fought for land and the extermination of the Muslim population. This conflict ultimately resulted in the division of the country, and its effects are still felt today. In this video, looks back at the events that led to the Bosnian War, as well as some of the key dates and events that occurred during this conflict.

The History of the Bosnian War

This war included the longest siege in modern times. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about the Bosnian War.

Formation of Yugoslavia

Possession of Bosnia-Herzegovina traded back-and-forth for centuries: in 1908, the country was annexed by Austria-Hungary. In 1918, following the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Bosnia joined five other socialist territories to form Yugoslavia.

Break-Up of Yugoslavia

This remained the status quo until the early 1990s. At that point, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia each successively voted to leave Yugoslavia, and this led to war in many of those regions.

Ethnic Breakdown of Bosnia

At that point in Bosnia, three main ethnic groups formed the population: almost half were Slavic Muslim Bosniaks, while Orthodox Christian Serbs comprised just over 30 percent, and Catholic Croats were 17 percent of the populace.

Bosnian Referendum on Independence

Serb nationalists within Bosnia were strongly against the idea of their country’s independence. At the end of February 1992, when Bosnia voted in a referendum on the subject, Serbs boycotted the vote in favor of creating their own republic called the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

However, those who did vote chose to secede from Yugoslavia, and so the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was declared at the beginning of March 1992.

Serb Forces Fighting for Greater Serbia

Within a month, the newly-created country was attacked by Serbian forces, with support from Slobodan Milošević’s Serbian government and the Yugoslav People’s Army. Aside from the desire to claim new territory for Greater Serbia, the Serbs wanted to ethnically cleanse the population of Muslims. Initially, Croats and Bosniaks teamed up in the face of this Serb threat.

The Siege of Sarajevo

The infamous Siege of Sarajevo began early in the war, in April 1992, when Serb forces took the predominantly Muslim capital city. This four-year Siege resulted in the deaths or disappearances of roughly 10 thousand people from the city, including many children. As residents scrambled for basic human needs, they were also required to evade sniper fire while in the streets.


1992 also marked the start of the genocide against the non-Serbian populations of Bosnia. Those groups were intimidated, tortured and killed, with villages and homes destroyed. Targeted groups became refugees, or were held in detention camps.

The Croat-Bosniak War

By the end of the year, the Serbs occupied roughly 70 percent of the country. Croat forces had also shifted from a defensive stance and began seizing land also. This began a war-within-a-war, referred to as the Croat-Bosniak War. That battle overshadowed much of 1993.

United Nations Role in the Conflict

That year, the UN sent aide to Bosnia, but was criticized for being largely ineffectual in the face of this conflict.

NATO Intervention

By 1994, NATO intervened by launching air strikes against the Serbs. While this succeeded in ending some sieges, fighting continued. When the Croat-Bosniak War ended that year, those groups re-teamed to fight the Serbs together.

Srebrenica Massacre

As conflict continued into 1995, one of the most violent crimes on European soil since the Second World War took place: in July, the town of Srebrenica was massacred by the Bosnian Serb Army, despite being a UN safe zone. Over eight thousand were killed, and more were wounded and displaced; however, this was one of many similar massacres that year. NATO forces again used air strikes against the Serbs, which helped Bosnian government forces reclaim lost territory.

The Dayton Peace Agreement

The end of hostilities came soon after: In November 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement was reached in Dayton, Ohio by the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian presidents. When this agreement went into force, it marked the war’s official end.

A Country Divided

As stated in the accord, Bosnia-Herzegovina was split into two independent states: one Bosniak and Croat, the other Serb. National elections were also called, and a NATO-led peacekeeping effort began. However, much of the population was unhappy with the country’s division.

Atrocities and War Crimes

Though exact numbers are disputed, the Bosnian War resulted in 25 to 330 thousand deaths. It caused the destruction of numerous historic buildings and monuments, and created hundreds of thousands of refugees. Atrocities seen during the war included genocide, mass rape and emotional subjugation, and in the years following the conflict numerous figures were tried for war crimes.

Lasting Effects

Though Bosnia’s rebuilding period continues, the effects of this war will undoubtedly echo for years.