The Bosnian War, in photos ‘Meduza’ marks the 25th anniversary of the end of Europe’s bloodiest interethnic conflict since World War II
On December 14, 1995, the Dayton Accords were signed in Paris, officially ending the Bosnian War — the bloodiest interethnic conflict in Europe since World War II, which saw about 100,000 people killed between 1992 and 1995. To mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the conflict, Meduza shares photographs from the three-and-a-half years of fighting.
In February 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities announced an independence referendum. At this point, Slovenia and Croatia had already seceded from former socialist Yugoslavia, resulting in two other wars. The majority of Bosnian Muslims (who made up almost half of the local population) and Croatians (the third largest ethno-religious community in Bosnia and Herzegovina) voted in favor of secession.
However, the Bosnian Serbs, who made up almost a third of the population, boycotted the referendum and refused to acknowledge the outcome of the vote. They announced the creation of their own independent Republika Srpska, which received support from the Serbian authorities led by President Slobodan Milošević. This was followed by the outbreak of the war.
The fighting was particularly brutal due to the fact that Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats lived in villages located several kilometers from each other, whereas in larger towns and cities members of these different groups lived side by side. Initially, the Serbs had the advantage in terms of strength and armaments — they made up the majority of soldiers and officers in the former Yugoslav People’s Army stationed in Bosnia. But the Bosnian Muslims and the Croats soon manage to restore parity between the forces.
At the beginning of the war, the Serbs besieged Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo, which was defended by Bosnian Muslims. They attacked the city from the surrounding hills with artillery fire and sniper shots almost without stopping. In the three years, nearly 9,000 people died in the city, a third of whom were civilians (the Serbs’ losses are estimated at about 3,000 people, with civilians also making up a third of the casualties).
Much of the hostilities consisted of indiscriminate shelling of cities and villages, as well as ethnic cleansing and genocide of civilians, which was carried out by all parties to the conflict without exception. The UN’s attempts to stop the massacres by establishing “Safe Areas” under the protection of peacekeepers didn’t always succeed.
In July 1995, the Serb forces took the mining town of Srebrenica — in just a few days, they killed around 8,000 local Muslims, including women and children. The UN’s peacekeepers, who were responsible for maintaining Srebrenica as a “safe area,” actually failed to prevent the mass shootings. Today, the Srebrenica massacre is considered the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II.
The Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre were carried out by troops under the command of Ratko Mladić, who was sentenced to life in prison at an International Tribunal in the The Hague in 2017.
The final episode of the war was the shelling of the Markale marketplace in Sarajevo in August 1995, which resulted in the deaths of 100 people. After blaming the Bosnian Serb forces for yet another massacre, NATO began intensively bombing their positions, eventually leading them to agree to negotiations.
As a result of the Dayton Accords, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a confederation made up of two parts: Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country’s supreme authority is a three-member Presidency that includes one representative from each ethno-religious group. The Bosnian Serbs initially refused to support the agreement, which they considered unfair, and empowered Serbian President Slobodan Milošević to represent their interests. He, in turn, signed the treaty. Eleven years later, Milošević, indicted for war crimes, died in The Hague.
Many believed that the peace would be short-lived. Indeed, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains one of the least developed states in Europe, where mass unrest takes place periodically. Nevertheless, the peace has held to this day.
Warning: The following contains photographs of violence and death.