Last Thursday, on June 25th, Slovenia celebrated its 29th anniversary. On that day, in 1991, it became the first country of the former Yugoslavian republic to declare its independence, followed immediately by Croatia. This was the beginning of the Yugoslav Civil War, which would last only 10 days in Slovenia but would continue for many years in the rest of the countries of the former Yugoslavian republic.
In fact, it has been rumbling in the Balkans for a long time. There was a lot of ethnic tension between the different population groups. Serbia took on the leadership role and many disagreed. After World War II, Tito was the one who provided a relative peace between the different states for a while. He was also a highly valued leader internationally. It was very strange to me to experience that Tito was so loved here. In the rest of Europe, Tito was mainly considered a dictator, and thus a “bad guy”. And I also had that same idea. Once here and together with Bine, I soon discovered that it was very different for the Yugoslavs. They were happy with Tito and still have a lot of respect for him. As I have often heard: »Everyone had a job, a home, food on the table and could go on holiday to the sea in Croatia once a year«. People were happy and content. After Tito’s death in 1980, things quickly went downhill again.
Slovenia in particular disagreed that Yugoslavia was ruled by the Serbs and that their hard-earned money was being sent to other parts of Yugoslavia. Slovenia always was, after all, economically the wealthiest sub-republic. The further south you go, the more poverty you see. This is one of the biggest reasons for declaring independence. As many as 94% of Slovenes voted for it. Because Slovenia is relatively far from Serbia, the Serbian invasion ended after 10 days of war and then concentrated on Croatia, which, like Slovenia, had declared independence. The preservation of Croatia was a priority for Milošević, the Serbian leader of Yugoslavia, as 650,000 Serbs lived there. A year later, he had to accept that Croatia was considered lost.
On February 29 and March 1, 1992, the Bosnian government organized a referendum asking whether Bosnia and Herzegovina should become independent. The Bosnian Serbs boycotted these elections; they opposed independence and considered the referendum to be unconstitutional, but since the majority of votes in the referendum were in favor of independence, the Bosnian Croats and Muslim Bosnians declared independence on 5 April 1992. In response, on April 7, 1992, the Bosnian Serbs proclaimed their own republic, the Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska), as well as claiming large areas elsewhere in the country where the Serbs would have previously been a majority, but as a result of a genocide had become a minority during World War II.
All in all, the war lasted until 1999 and an estimated 140,000 people lost their lives. It is considered the most bloody conflict since World War II. Every war is of course one too many, but I find this war extra tragic because so many different ethnic groups lived together as neighbors and friends in the different sub-republics. From one day to the next, that neighbor or friend was your enemy. Something I have a hard time understanding. It was a strange situation anyway because the Yugoslav army included people from all republics, so also Slovenes. They were suddenly supposed to invade their own country. That is, of course, an impossible thing to do and so they had to flee.
These ethnic differences can still be clearly felt. Not as a tourist, then you have no idea. But since I live here and know the background a bit, I do notice that. Slovenians and Croats are still not “friends” and never will be. This is actually strange because the Croatians are largely financially dependent on the Slovenes as they have been going on holiday to Croatia in large numbers every summer for many years. Even between Serbs and Bosniaks it is still hate and envy to this day. How unfortunate that people cannot leave behind what happened in the past, learn from it, and overcome their prejudices to live together in a normal way.