The southern Slavic states of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia begin to merge into a single nation following the First World War. But the legacy of a 400-year occupation by the Islamic Ottoman Empire and traditional tension between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians frustrate attempts for unity. Following the Second World War, Yugoslav communists led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito take control of the government, declaring the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia on 29 November 1945.
The veneer of Yugoslav stability begins to crumble when Tito dies on 4 May 1980. The prosperous northern states of Croatia and Slovenia start to agitate for autonomy. Macedonia and the Muslim majorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serbian province of Kosovo repeat the call. Serbia has political power under the federation and does not want change. The poorer southern state of Montenegro supports the centralised federation and backs Serbia. More background.
Born on 12 March 1943 in the municipality of Kalinovik in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mladic's father is killed by the Croatian Ustase during the Second World War. Mladic is raised in poverty by his mother. He pursues a military career in the Yugoslav People's Army. Mladic graduates from Yugoslavia's military academy in 1965. He is posted to Macedonia, commanding first a platoon, then a tank battalion, then a brigade. Later he is promoted to deputy commander of an army corps in Kosovo.
1974 - Changes to the Yugoslav constitution loosen the grip of the federal government on the constituent republics, which become de facto sovereign states. Serb minorities living in Bosnia-Herzegovina claim they have been denied national rights, left unprotected and singled out for unfair treatment.
1988 - The Yugoslav Cabinet is unable to cope with a worsening economy and the rising push for autonomy from the Yugoslav republics and their provinces. The entire Cabinet resigns in October. In January 1989 the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia votes to end its political monopoly and allow multiparty elections in each of the republics.
1990 - Multiparty elections held in Bosnia-Herzegovina in December return a tripartite coalition made up of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (PDA - 86 seats), the Serbian Democratic Party (72 seats) and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (44 seats). PDA leader Alija Izetbegovic heads a joint presidency.
The Serbian Democratic Party (SDP) is anticommunist and heavily influenced by the Christian Orthodox Church. It is led by Radovan Karadzic and supported by Slobodan Milosevic, the nationalist president of Serbia.
1991 - Slovenia and Croatia unilaterally declare their independence from Yugoslavia in June. The federal government orders the Serb-dominated army to intervene. A 10-day war in Slovenia ends with a Serb defeat. Up to 100 die and hundreds are injured. The war in Croatia lasts seven months, ending in January 1992 with a cease-fire. About 20,000 die and hundreds of thousands are driven from their homes. Macedonia declares its independence in September 1991.
Mladic is promoted to colonel and given command of the 9th Corps of the Yugoslav People's Army in Knin in Croatia. He works in close association with Slobodan Milosevic during the war. Local Serb rebels in Croatia are supplied with arms and assisted with land seizures. Serb members of the army are consolidated into a unified force. Serbian positions in the region are secured. In recognition of his success in Croatia, Mladic is promoted to the rank of major general in October.
Meanwhile, Bosnia-Herzegovina also begins to move towards independence from Yugoslavia. Bosnian-Serbs reject the proposal. Radovan Karadzic begins boycotting meetings of the joint presidency then withdraws the SDP from the coalition. At a closed referendum among Bosnian-Serbs held at the start of the 1992, most vote to remain part of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav federation is dominated by Serbia, and Bosnian-Serbs want to maintain the connection to their ethnic allies. The differing views on independence fuel growing tensions between Serb and non-Serb Bosnians. Violence between the two groups begins to break out.
1992 - A referendum on whether Bosnia-Herzegovina should secede from Yugoslavia is held from 29 February to 1 March. The Muslim and Croatian majority carry the vote. The country is proclaimed an independent republic on 3 March and recognised as such by the European Community (EC - now European Union), the United States and the United Nations (UN).
The Bosnian-Serb minority, who boycotted the referendum, take up arms and rebel. The level of violence quickly escalates to a full-scale ethnic war. On one side are the Bosnian-Serbs, supported by Serbia. On the other are the Bosnian-Muslims and Bosnian-Croats.
On 4 April Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic announces a full mobilisation to quell the rebellion.
On 4-5 April thousands of Sarajevans of all ethnic backgrounds take to the streets to march for peace. When they descend on the SDP offices in the capital, Bosnian-Serb snipers open fire on the crowd, killing six people.
Bosnian-Serb militias now lay siege to Sarajevo. Their artillery, positioned in the surrounding hills, bomb the city's streets and marketplaces, while their snipers target the unlucky and unwary.
On 6 April Karadzic proclaims the independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, renamed Republika Srpska in May. Karadzic is president and supreme commander of the armed forces. The capital is located at Pale.
Republika Srpska encompasses about half the landmass of Bosnia-Herzegovina, horseshoeing around the remaining territory and bordering both Serbia and Croatia. It is not recognised by the UN.
Mladic is promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in April and assigned as deputy commander of the 80,000 Yugoslav Army troops stationed in the republic, a force which becomes in effect the Bosnian-Serb Army. In May he is given full command of the Bosnian-Serb Army. He is promoted to the rank of colonel general in June.
With the backing of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Bosnian-Serb militias and Mladic's army units begin to occupy territory across Bosnia. After six weeks they control two-thirds of the state. The conflict soon spills into Croatia. The cease-fire there breaks down and fighting resumes.
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia lasts for three years, causing devastation in those countries and deprivation in Serbia, which is subjected to trade sanctions applied by the UN.
As the war escalates the Bosnian-Serb forces attempt to expel Bosnia's Muslim and Croat population from the Serb-held territories in an orchestrated program of "ethnic cleansing".
Muslims and Croats are either forced into exile as refugees, held as hostages for use in prisoner exchanges, or placed in concentration camps. Many are summarily executed. An estimated 20,000 Muslim women and girls are thrown into rape camps. Bosnian-Muslim and Bosnian-Croat political leaders are arrested, imprisoned and in many cases murdered. In the opening months of the war up to 100,000 or more people are killed. Hundreds of thousands are dispossessed.
Hostilities are further complicated in July when a group of Bosnian-Croats form a breakaway Croat state inside Bosnia, the Republic of Herceg-Bosna. Croatian-Serbs from the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina in neighbouring Croatia also enter the fray, forming an alliance with the Bosnian-Serbs.
1994 - In March Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia reach an agreement to form a joint federation and end their hostilities. The Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim forces join in opposition to the Serbs, launching an offensive in April and May.
Meanwhile, Mladic's daughter Ana is found dead on 24 March. She has died from a single gunshot wound to the head fired from her father's favourite pistol. Reports indicate she committed suicide after reading an article in a Serbian magazine that described her father as a murderer. Mladic believes she was killed.
The death of Ana is said to have a profound and disturbing affect on Mladic.
1995 - The Serb forces are brought to a standstill in Bosnia. To the west, they are overwhelmed by the Croatian Army and driven, along with almost the entire Serbian-Croat population, out of Croatia.
In May NATO launches air strikes against Serb targets after the Serb forces refuse to comply with a UN ultimatum to remove all heavy weapons from a 12-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo. Joint Croatian-Bosnian operations and further air strikes in May, August and September eject Serbian forces from large areas of western Bosnia.
In the east, Bosnian-Serb forces led by Mladic take the UN "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa in July. Approximately 25,000 Bosnian-Muslims who had sought safety at Srebrenica are expelled. About 8,000 men and boys are executed, allegedly on Mladic's order. The atrocity intensifies the counter-offensive against the Bosnian-Serbs.
Tensions between the Bosnian-Serb Army and the government of the Republika Srpska begin to the surface. When army generals, led by Mladic, begin to ignore orders from the government, Radovan Karadzic attempts to have them reassigned from the battlefronts. The generals refuse to comply.
The siege of Sarajevo ends in mid-September when the Bosnian-Serbs agree to withdraw their heavy weapons. Approximately 10,000 people have been killed in Sarajevo during the siege, including about 1,500 children.
On 21 November Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman ratify the Dayton accord for peace in Bosnia. Karadzic is forced to accept the accord when Milosevic closes the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and turns his back on the Bosnian-Serbs.
Under the accord, Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian-Serb mini-state (the Republika Srpska) under a unified presidency but with separate governments. The trade sanctions against Serbia are lifted.
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has cost up to 200,000 or more lives. As many as three million have been driven from their homes and tens of thousands are missing.
On 24 July Mladic and Karadzic are indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague on 16 counts, including genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against civilians and places of worship, the siege of Sarajevo, and the taking of UN peacekeepers as hostages and human shields.
The indictment accuses them of being "criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians".
They are charged separately on 16 November for the genocide at Srebrenica, which is described by one of the tribunal judges as having included events that were "truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history".
1996 - The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia issues international arrest warrants for Karadzic and Mladic on 11 July.
Mladic is dismissed as commander of the Bosnian-Serb Army. He moves to a town in the Republika Srpska. Karadzic steps down as president of the Republika Srpska and as head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDP) on 19 July.
1997 - Mladic crosses the border into Serbia, where the Milosevic administration provides a safe haven. He stays in military facilities at Rajac and Stragari and is attended by a permanent retinue of about 10 bodyguards, a driver and a cook. He also spends time at his family home in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
The SDP loses government in Republika Srpska at elections held in December, depriving Karadzic of a power base. Karadzic goes into hiding.
2001 - Slobodan Milosevic is arrested and imprisoned by the Serb Government on 1 April on charges of abuse of power and corruption. On 28 June he is extradited to The Hague to face the UN Criminal Tribunal for his role in the atrocities committed by Serbian forces during the Kosovo conflict.
Mladic's position within Serbia is now far less secure. He moves to a more strongly fortified army base near Valjevo.
2002 - Mladic goes underground when the Serbian Government agrees to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal. His support base shrinks to a number of highly trusted colleagues. He hides in flats and houses in and around Belgrade and is funded in part by a US$520 a month pension paid to his family by the army. Payment of the pension is later frozen.
Both Karadzic and Mladic have a price on their head, with the US Government offering a US$5 million reward for information leading to their arrest or conviction.
Speculations about Mladic's whereabouts and the efforts to capture him appear periodically over the next 10 years. Credible information about his movements does not become available until after his eventual arrest in 2011.
The information reveals that Mladic left Belgrade in 2005 and moved to Ljuba, a village near the town of Sremska Mitrovica, about 60 km northwest of Belgrade. He moved again in February 2006, this time to a house of his brother-in-law's family in the village of Mala Mostanica, about 30 km southwest of Belgrade. Mladic left this retreat a month later after avoiding detection when it was raided by Serbian intelligence officers. From there he found his way to the home of his cousin in the village of Lazarevo, 100 km northeast of Belgrade. He lived there in almost total isolation.
According to Carla Del Ponte, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the authorities in Serbia knew exactly where Mladic was during much of the time he was on the run and could have organised his arrest and transfer to The Hague in hours if they had the political will.
2004 - On 19 April the Criminal Tribunal at The Hague confirms that the massacre at Srebrenica was an act of genocide. "The appeals chamber calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide," says the tribunal's president, Judge Theodor Meron.
"By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica ... They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity. ...
"Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act."
On 11 June the Srebrenica Commission releases a report that establishes the "participation of (Bosnian-Serb) military and police units, including special units" in the massacre. The 42-page preliminary report also implicates Serbia in the massacre, noting that Serbian police units were ordered to participate.
The Srebrenica Commission was formed in 2003 by Bosnia's international administrator, Lord Ashdown, to investigate who was involved in the massacre and where victims' bodies are buried. The seven-member commission is composed of Bosnian-Serb judges and lawyers, a victims' representative and an international expert.
On 14 November the Norwegian News Agency publishes a report stating that research done by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has concluded that about 103,000 people were killed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
According to the report, the researchers found that 55,261 civilians and 47,360 soldiers died as a direct result of the conflict. Of the civilians, about 38,000 were Muslims and Croats and about 16,700 were Serbs. Of the soldiers, about 28,000 were from the mostly Muslim Bosnian Government Army, about 14,000 were from the Bosnian-Serb forces, and about 6,000 were Bosnian-Croat troops.
The estimates exclude those who died from indirect causes such as starvation, cold and lack of medical care.
In June 2007 the Sarajevo Research and Documentation Centre reports that at least 97,207 people were killed during the war. Of this number, 39,684 were civilians and 57,523 military personnel, the report states. About 66% of the victims were Bosnian Muslims, 26% were Serbs and 8% were Croats. However, the figures in the report also exclude those who died from indirect causes.
2006 - The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also know as the World Court, begins hearings in a case of genocide that was brought against Yugoslavia by Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1993.
The ICJ was set up after the Second World War to deal with disputes between states. The court has the authority to order Serbia-Montenegro (the successor state to Yugoslavia) to pay damages if it is found responsible for acts of genocide that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 conflict.
It is the first time a state has been brought to court to face a charge of genocide.
Meanwhile, on 21 May, Montenegro votes to split from the federation with Serbia. Montenegro formally declares its independence on 3 June. The disintegration of Yugoslavia is now complete.
2007 - On 26 February the ICJ hands down its ruling in the genocide case brought against Yugoslavia by Bosnia-Herzegovina. The court finds that while Serbia, the sole remaining successor of Yugoslavia, had not committed, incited or been complicit in genocide, it had failed to prevent what happened at Srebrenica despite its awareness of "a serious risk" of mass murder and its "known influence" over the Bosnian-Serb militia.
The court finds that "financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation". It calls instead for the arrest and delivery of Ratko Mladic to The Hague and a formal declaration from Serbia that it failed to prevent an act of genocide at Srebrenica.
In 2010 the Serbian parliament formally apologises for not doing all it could to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica.
2008 - Radovan Karadzic's run from justice comes to an end on 21 July when he is arrested in Belgrade during a sweep by the Serbian security services.
Karadzic is transferred to The Hague on 30 July. He appears before the criminal tribunal for the first time the next day and is formally charged with one count of genocide, one count of complicity in genocide, four counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.
Karadzic's trail begins on 26 October 2009. It concludes on 24 March 2016. Karadzic is found guilty on 10 of 11 charges, including a charge of genocide for the Srebrenica massacre. He is sentenced to 40 years in prison, with credit for time already served.
2011 - Mladic is captured at the home of his cousin in the village of Lazarevo on 26 May. He is not disguised and puts up no resistance. He has aged considerably. His family claim he has suffered two heart attacks and three strokes while on the run.
On 31 May Mladic is extradited to face trial at The Hague. Before leaving Serbia he is allowed to visit the grave of his daughter, Ana.
Mladic appears before the criminal tribunal for the first time on 3 June. He is charged with two counts of genocide (one for the massacre at Srebrenica and one for massacres outside Srebrenica), five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of war crimes. Mladic describes the 11 charges against him as "obnoxious" and asks for more time before entering a plea.
Mladic is removed from the second hearing of the tribunal, held on 4 July, after disrupting proceedings. The court enters pleas of not guilty on his behalf.
2012 - Mladic's trial begins on 16 May. "Four days ago marked two decades since Ratko Mladic became the commander of the army of Republika Srpska," prosecutor Dermot Groome says. "On that day, Mladic began his full participation in a criminal endeavour that was already in progress. On that day, he assumed the mantle of realising through military might the criminal goals of ethnically cleansing much of Bosnia. On that day he commenced his direct involvement in serious international crimes."
The trial runs for over four years. It hears evidence from 592 witnesses and views nearly 10,000 exhibits. Closing arguments by both the prosecution and the defence are presented in December 2016. The prosecution calls for a life sentence. The defence calls for Mladic's acquittal.
2017 - The tribunal hands down its verdict on 22 November. Mladic is found guilty on 10 of the 11 charges he faced, including the charge of genocide for the massacre at Srebrenica, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is found not guilty on the charge of genocide for massacres outside Srebrenica.
No one emerged a victor of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No one emerged a hero. Just about everyone was a victim, including the Bosnian-Serbs, who were lied to and manipulated by their leaders, and by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. And the victim's mentality remains, with the Bosnian-Serb leadership steadfastly denying complicity and responsibility, just as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic maintain their innocence.
Though of course it isn't quite that black and white. The atrocities committed were the worst seen in Europe since the Second World War, but not the worst ever seen in Yugoslavia. That happened 50 years earlier, during the regime of Croat fascist Ante Pavelic and his murderous Ustase storm troopers. The tally then was 300,000 to one million, including up to 30,000 Jews, up to 29,000 Gipsies, and between 300,000 and 600,000 Serbs.
That atrocity has contributed in no small part to the paranoia that informs much of the national psyche of the Bosnian-Serbs. And you can understand them, to a degree. In parts of Croatia, Pavelic is still regarded as a national hero.
- Yugoslavia - A Country Study - Library of Congress Country Studies Series
- The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia - Indictment Against Ratko Mladic
- Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative (Second Edition)
- Justice Report: Bosnia's Book of the Dead
- 14 years a fugitive: the hunt for Ratko Mladić, the Butcher of Bosnia - The Guardian