The world witnessed a notorious war crime in the Balkans against the Bosnian Muslims in the 90s. And the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was in charge of the war. Milosevic’s Bosnian war killed more than 1,00,000 Bosnian Muslims and displaced 2.2 million people. Moreover, it was the largest genocide in the European peninsula after the second world war. Today, what is happening reminds us of that war, because I find, the Ukraine invasion is similar to the Bosnian War in many ways.
There are many experts out there, ranging from defence experts to political scientists, historians, and social scientists, who have several opinions on the Ukraine invasions.
But what is happening in Ukraine today is a direct blueprint of what we saw in the Balkans in the 90s. After all, there are many similarities that make us wonder whether Putin has found any old war plans in one of the drawers in Belgrade. Besides, we can also take the Croat-Bosniak war as an example.
Similarities in the Rhetoric
To invade Ukraine, Putin used rhetoric, to win support from the Russian people and the parliament on Ukraine. Putin’s rhetoric seeks to undermine Ukraine’s history and it was an effective way of “stripping” the national identity of Ukrainians. Moreover, he is portraying Ukrainians as nothing more than Russians.
This is the same rhetoric, and strategy, that Slobodan Milosevic used for Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s. Like Putin, Slobodan portrayed Bosnian Muslims as Serbs. He also recognized them as people without their own history and national identity.
In support of Belgrade, the former Norwegian Defense Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, in fact, said that “they are all Serbs”. So, it was not Slobodan alone, that rhetoric was used by many people who supported Serbia.
Denial of Existence and Sovereignty
Putin believes that Ukraine’s existence and sovereignty are an illusion. He believes that Ukraine is historically a Russian territory and it only exists because of Russia. And this is how the Ukraine invasion is similar to the Bosnian war.
Because, like Putin, the former Serbian president also approached with the same ideology before and during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here Belgrade portrayed Bosnia-Herzegovina as a historic Serbian country and territory.
The rhetoric of historic territory is a common approach that aims to legitimize and justify the occupation. And this is how many countries have occupied others so far. In this case, Israel is one of the most popular examples that continues to occupy Palestinian lands. This form of oppression looks a little nicer since it has an explanation. And it does not appear as a conquest.
Playing the Victim Card
Playing a victim card always helps and Russia is not far from that. To make his military campaign successful, Putin has alleged that the Russian minority in Ukraine was the victim of genocide committed by Ukrainian neo-Nazis.
We can clearly say the Ukraine invasion is similar to the Bosnian war because I have found some of the same elements in Slobodan’s narrative. In particular, the Serbian authorities in Belgrade defined Croats as fascists and Bosnian Muslims as Islamic fundamentalists at that time. Besides, he also used the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav National Army to “safeguard the security of Serbian minorities” outside Serbia.
And like Putin, Slobodan Milosevic’s message was that Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina (as well as Croatia and Kosovo) were subjected to ethnic cleansing. But both Putin and Milosevic have lacked clear evidence that reflects their own description of the situation.
Recognition of Breakaway Regions
Putin has recognized the two regions (Donetsk and Luhansk) of Ukraine with a Russian majority as sovereign states. And it also has similarities with the Balkan conflict in the 1990s. Slobodan Milosevic recognized the Serbian breakaway region of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign entity just like Putin.
In addition, much of the munitions from the Yugoslav Army (JNA) were moved to the breakaway region early in the war phase. It was another brilliant strategy that Belgrade took so that they can “wash their hands” by apologizing for the fact that Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina are defending themselves without the intervention of Belgrade. But when it comes to Russia, it has been distributing the munitions to Russians in Ukraine in the regions since 2014.
Ignoring International Sanctions
During Bosnian War, Belgrade ignored threats of sanctions from the international community and chose to stick to its war plans despite warnings from both the UN and the EU. The Ukraine invasion is similar to the Bosnian war because Russia is under a lot of sanctions right now.
But it appears that threats of sanctions have no effect on Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Similarly, Europe and the rest of the world also failed to stop Serbia with several sanctions.
The biggest mistake of the international community was the implementation of the arms embargo throughout the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Because of that Bosnians did not have any arms to fight back – which actually favoured Serbia to conduct the genocide.
Due to the arms embargo, every possibility of diplomatic solutions was “killed”. Because Serbia had no interest in sitting at the negotiating table since they had the superior military advantage.
Though we are not sure if anything like this would happen in Ukraine. But President Biden has confirmed that the US army is in the region but they will not fight in Ukraine.
These similarities are frightening, but what is even more frightening is the idea that the similarities can continue in the future. In that case, we are going to see a long and bloody war in Ukraine, with dead bodies. On the other hand, like all the time the international community will remain a spectator of these atrocities and suffering.
Furthermore, if the Russian Invasion of Ukraine continues like the Bosnian war, Europe, and the world, will have to see images of concentration camps, dead bodies, refugee crises, and atrocities just like the war in the Balkans.
At last, I would like to propose, the Ukraine invasion is similar to the war in the Balkans where Putin is following the footstep of Slobodan Milosevic. In short, European history is repeating itself.