History Department

The Breakup of Yugoslavia

Conflict in the Balkans (Arbitrary Borders)

The cause of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s went beyond territorial disputes; they were the result of arbitrary social, cultural, and ethnic borders that developed over centuries. The location and accessibility of Yugoslavia, or "Land of the South Slavs," determined the nature of its history as a battle ground of peoples, empires, and cultures. Historically, the Yugoslav lands have been located in a region of conflict between East/West and Christianity/Islam and have always been a focus for international rivalries. In the twentieth century, two Yugoslavias were created and destroyed: the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918-1941) and the socialist state, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1991). Both states struggled to achieve a viability that eluded them in the end; thus, Yugoslavia provides an instructive example, and a cautionary tale, of the centrality that imposed borders can have on the development of societies and nations.