Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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the fratricide war in the former Yugoslavia

Federal Yugoslavia was formed by six republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia) and two autonomous regions united to Serbia (Kosovo and Vojvodina). As Tito died, in 1980, political tensions broke out leading to civil war between the different republics forming the federal State. From 1990 to 1999, with a precedent in 1989, when Serbia opposed Kosovo’s independence. the fighting parties repeatedly used ethnic cleansing to prevail. The data on the breadth of the mass murder are still provisional: the continuous discovery of mass graves makes it difficult to estimate it. In Bosnia, according to a census carried out by the United Nations, until 1994 we witness: 187 mass graves, each containing 3,000-5,000 corpses; 962 prison camps, amountint to almost half a million detainees; 50.000 cases of torture; 3000 rape cases. At the end of the interethnic war, in 1995, murdered civilians were 250.000, including 16.000 children, and there were over 3.000.000 refugees. In Kosovo, in 1998, Serbs murdered 1645 civilians, 270.000 Albanians (152 children and 78 women); refugees were over 250.000. These data were provided by the UN High Commission for Human Rights. The blame is to be put mainly on the Serbs, who started the conflict they had planned for long; but also on the Croats and the Muslims, who in turn committed ethnic cleansing against the other groups.

The court on the war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, set up in 1993 and based in The Hague, has until now indicted 91 people including Radovan Karadzic, President of the Serb-Bosnian republic since 1992, Ratko Mladic, one of his generals, and Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Serb republic since 1992. From 1990-1991, with the declaration of independence by the republics of Slovenia and Croatia, the fragile coexistence between populations belonging to different ethnic groups (Serb, Albanian, Croatian, Hungarian, Roma) breaks up. They had different history and religions (they were Christians, Catholic and Orthodox; Muslims, Jews). It is the right historical opportunity to make the plan of Great Serbia come true. As early as in 1937 the Serbian nationalist extremists had planned genocide for Kosovo, in order to cleanse Serbia from foreign elements, by deporting Kosovo’s population to Albania or Turkey. By the way, during Second World War the ustasha (“insurgents”, a fascist movement founded by Ante Pavelic in 1928 in order to fight for the independence of Croatia) perpetrated ethnic violence against the Serbs, which resulted in a real genocidal massacre (300,000 Serb victims). These historical events are at the core of the Serb certainty to represent “good”, while Croatians are deemed to be “the people with genocide in its veins”. 


The main motive of what would become an ethnic-religious conflict was extreme nationalism, which was nurtured not only by the Serbs, but by all fighting parties. To this we need to add a revolt of the countryside against the towns and of the suburbs against centre, according to an ideology that saw the towns as places of perdition and the countryside a san authentic and original source of the nation. Serb architect Bogdanovic talked about an “urbicide”, meant as an “overt and violent opposition to the highest values of civilization”.


Ethnic cleansing, or the attempt to make an area ethnically homogeneous by using force and threat in order to oust the people of other ethnic or religious groups, characterized the 1990-1999 decade, during which both Serbs and Croatians tried to establish ethnically homogeneous territories through a total war. This affected civilians heavily: they were shut into lagers, murdered, expelled and even subject to “ethnic rape”. This time can be divided into three phases: from June to December 1991 we witness the clashes that accompanied the independence declarations of Slovenia and Croatia from  February 1992 to December 1995, a phasis also linked to the declaration independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which ended with the Dayton accords defining the territories of the three ethnic groups (Muslims, Serbs, Croatians). This happened from 1998 to 1999, when we witness the attempt of Kosovo to achieve independence , and Serbia was halted by the Nato intervention.

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