Click here for the home page 

The Xenophile Historian

The future flag of Europe? Albania Andorra Austria Belgium Bosnia
Bulgaria Croatia Czech Republic Denmark Finland France
Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy
Kosovo Liechtenstein Luxembourg Macedonia Malta Monaco
Montenegro Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Romania
San Marino Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden
Switzerland United Kingdom Vatican City      

A History of Europe

Chapter 18: EUROPE TODAY

1990 to 2000

This chapter covers the following topics:

The Late-Blooming Mediterranean Republics
The Northern Ireland Crisis -- Solved
A United States of Europe?
Eastern Europe in the 1990s
The Yugoslav Wars: The Slovenian and Croatian Phases
The Yugoslav Wars: The Bosnian Phase
The Yugoslav Wars: The Albanian Phase
Demographics, 1914-2000
Europe Today
Go to Page Navigator

The Late-Blooming Mediterranean Republics

By 1992, Spain could claim to be a fully modern member of the European community. That year saw the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first expedition to America, a world's fair in Seville, and the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. Nevertheless, high inflation and unemployment were producing growing dissatisfaction among the country's workers, as well as several corruption scandals involving government officials. González was elected to a fourth term in 1993, but the Socialists failed to win a majority, placing him in a precarious political position. His response was to seek support from the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties in exchange for greater regional autonomy and benefits. When the next election occurred (March 1996), the Socialists lost to the conservative Popular Party, led by José María Aznar. Aznar pledged to introduce economic austerity measures, and Spain's 1997 budget included cuts in public investment and a freeze in public-sector pay, without cutting significantly into social welfare programs.

The Basque question remained a major concern. By the mid-1990s, the Basque separatist ETA had killed more than 800 people, and a growing peace movement turned public opinion against it. In July 1997 the ETA kidnaped Miguel Angel Blanco, a young town councilor who was a member of the Popular Party. The ETA demanded that all Basque prisoners in Spanish prisons be transferred to the Basque provinces. When the government did not meet the demand, an ETA gunman killed Angel Blanco, prompting millions of Spaniards to march in protest against the ETA's violent tactics. Despite this, the terrorist campaign continued, until the ETA suddenly announced a cease-fire in September 1998. Although many in the government were skeptical of the ETA's motives, peace talks began. In December Prime Minister Aznar authorized the transfer of 21 ETA prisoners from prisons in the Balearic and Canary Islands to the Spanish mainland, though the ETA continued to demand the transfer of another 500 additional prisoners closer to the Basque region. Tensions flared again in early 1999, however, when Spanish and French authorities arrested 20 suspected ETA members and raided the headquarters of Herri Batasuna, the ETA's political wing, in San Sebastian. The tenuous situation left many wondering whether real peace was possible between the ETA and the Spanish government.

Growing economic problems in Greece, combined with scandals in the government and in Andreas Papandreou's personal life, caused PASOK to lose its parliamentary majority in the elections of June 1989. Presidential elections, held in April 1990, gave a narrow majority to the New Democracy (ND) Party of Karamanlis, allowing him to return for a second term (he finally retired in 1995). PASOK won back a majority in parliament in 1993, but the second administration of Papandreou introduced few new policies. Cancer forced him to resign in January 1996, and he died six months later. His successor, Costas Simitis, represented the modernizing, technocratic wing of PASOK, and was confirmed in office in the 1996 elections.

Top of the page

The Northern Ireland Crisis -- Solved

As the 1980s ended, the division between the Northern Irish communities remained sharp, British troops still patrolled Londonderry and Belfast, and the IRA continued to launch occasional attacks in Britain. The first peace effort that showed any promise was an intergovernmental conference to promote cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland, established in 1985. In December 1993 British prime minister John Major and Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds signed the Downing Street Declaration, a statement of fundamental principles regarding the future of Northern Ireland. The declaration reaffirmed that no changes in Northern Ireland's constitution would occur without the consent of a majority of the people, and that only political parties that were committed to both democracy and peace could participate in any official dialogue on the future of Northern Ireland. This meant that Sinn Fein (which to this point had been excluded from all talks) would be allowed to join the peace process, if it could stop IRA violence.

On August 31, 1994, the IRA announced an unconditional cease-fire. The Protestant extremist groups announced a cease-fire of their own in October, and for the first time in 25 years, Northern Ireland enjoyed a peaceful Christmas. Some progress was made in the peace talks that followed, until John Major insisted that the IRA give up its weapons; both the IRA and Sinn Fein wouldn't have anything to do with this. In February 1996 the IRA announced an end to the cease-fire, just hours before a bomb exploded in London's Docklands district, injuring more than 100 people. Nevertheless, the British and Irish prime ministers continued the talks, this time without Sinn Fein.

The British parliamentary elections of May 1997 replaced Major with Tony Blair of the Labour Party. Sinn Fein also did very well; Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and his deputy Martin McGuinness won seats, though they refused to serve. Blair made the peace talks his top priority, the IRA renewed its cease-fire in July, and the British government dropped its demand for the disarmament of the IRA. Sinn Fein then joined the negotiations, and they reached an agreement in April 1998. This one created a new 108-seat provincial assembly to handle Northern Ireland's local affairs, ending direct British rule over the province. The agreement also created a North-South Ministerial Council to coordinate policies between the two parts of Ireland, and a "Council of the Isles" to allow meetings between representatives from the English, Scottish, Welsh and both Irish parliaments.(1) Finally, Ireland would drop its territorial claim to Northern Ireland.

On May 22, 1998, the Irish voters had their say. They passed the agreement by a landslide: 71 percent voted for it in Northern Ireland, 94 percent in the Republic of Ireland. Then came the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, which divided most of the seats as follows:

David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party = 28.
John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party = 24.
Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (which opposed the agreement) = 20.
Sinn Fein = 18.

David Trimble became the first (prime) minister of the executive cabinet, because his party had the best showing. He didn't have to wait long to see the agreement face a serious test. On August 15, a splinter group, which called itself the Real IRA, detonated a massive bomb in the town of Omagh. Twenty-eight people were killed and more than 200 were wounded, making the blast the single deadliest event in the long history of the Irish conflict. All other parties, including Gerry Adams and the main IRA group, quickly denounced the bombing; four days later the Real IRA issued an apology and declared a suspension of all violent activities.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the conflict is over, for there are still disagreements between the factions. Sinn Fein was supposed to receive two seats in the cabinet, for example, but David Trimble refused to appoint any Sinn Fein members until the IRA gave up its weapons, leading to another stalemate. Currently it looks like the Protestants have prevented a union with Dublin by making Gerry Adams a partner, but demographics may tip the balance in favor of Sinn Fein and the IRA in the twenty-first century. The Catholic birthrate is higher than that of the Protestants, and because the conflict has depressed Northern Ireland's economy, many Protestants have left, convinced that their long-term prospects are not good. In the western county of Fermanagh, for example, census data shows that between 1971 and 1991 the Protestant community shrank by 12 percent, while the Catholics grew by 29 percent. Meanwhile to the south, low taxes have encouraged investment from high-tech companies, meaning that much of the economy has gone directly from agriculture to data processing. Thus, the main goal of the governments in London, Dublin and Belfast is to keep the paramilitary forces under restraint, and hope that things don't get much worse. They may eventually work out a peaceful resolution to one of the twentieth century's most unsolvable conflicts, if the cooling-off period lasts long enough for people to accept it as permanent, and if none of the parties takes a sudden leap into the dark.

Top of the page

A United States of Europe?

Britain was the most reluctant member of the Common Market. Many blamed it on the English Channel, which kept Britain physically isolated from the Continent and gave its people an insular mentality.(2) For a while Britain did some nervous hand-wringing over the question of whether it could be loyal to both the Common Market and the Commonwealth, as if membership in either organization was a marriage. The British also dragged their feet for the longest amount of time over the engineering project that promised to end their isolation--the tunnel under the Channel. This had been a dream for at least two hundred years (Napoleon envisioned digging a tunnel to invade England after Admiral Nelson wiped out the French fleet), but every time somebody started digging, politicians who feared some kind of cross-Channel invasion interrupted it. Francophobes spread absurd ideas about the "Chunnel" allowing rodents to spread rabies to Britain, or that it would cause the air over the island to reek of French garlic! Punch, the famous British comic magazine, ran a cartoon that showed a guillotine blade positioned right over the tunnel entrance, next to a sign saying "Welcome to France." The project was finally finished in 1994, but one observer noted that if the "Chunnel" had gone to the Netherlands instead of France, it probably would have been dug much sooner. Thus, it is safe to say that if those calling for unity can persuade the British to support them, they can convince anybody.

The end of the Cold War, and the end of the polarization it had caused, suggested that the time had come for the EEC to take the next big step. Accordingly, Europe's leaders met in Maastrict, Netherlands, for much of 1991 to produce a new treaty. The Maastrict Treaty changed the name of the EEC to the European Union (EU), adopted a twelve-star flag as its emblem, called for all its members to work responsibly, so that the policies of one state would not hurt another, and introduced the Economic & Monetary Union (EMU), a program that promised to give Europe a single currency. The last feature caused some concern, and French voters ratified the treaty by a slim margin; Danish voters rejected it outright, until some amendments were added to make the treaty more acceptable.

The future flag of Europe?

The Flag of the European Union.

After the EEC became the EU, it continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Three nations that never belonged to NATO, Austria, Finland and Sweden, joined in 1994; Cyprus, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Turkey are the latest candidates.

Participating in the EMU, however, was another story. The requirements set forth in the Maastrict Treaty were strict:

  1. A country's rate of inflation could not be more than 1.5 percent higher than an average of the rate in the three countries with the lowest inflation.
  2. A country's budget deficit could not exceed 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and its government debt could not exceed 60 percent of GDP.
  3. A country's long-term interest rate could not be more than 2 percent higher than an average of the rate in the three countries with the lowest interest rates.
  4. A country could not devalue its currency against that of another member nation during the two years leading up to the deadline.
Most EU countries found it very difficult to meet all these criteria. Measures to reduce inflation and lower interest rates caused unemployment to go up, while efforts to control government deficits often led to higher taxes. When the deadline arrived in May 1998, Britain, Denmark and Sweden chose not to participate; Greece did not qualify at this date, but it did after 2001. The other member states adopted a new monetary unit, the euro, on January 1, 1999, and launched the European Central Bank (ECB) to oversee the euro and take charge of the monetary policies of the EU. At first the euro's value was pegged at $1.17 in US dollars, and it was only used electronically (for money transfers and accounting). The older currencies (francs, marks, lira, guilders, etc.) remained in circulation until 2002, when the ECB began issuing euro coins and bills.

Euro coins and bills


Not everyone is happy with the EU's success; excess regulation may be the price of unity. In the 1960s the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) protected farmers by granting them subsidies, and they responded by producing more wine and butter than any market could consume. Books of new rules, laws and guidelines, intended to encourage cooperation and standardization, are getting in the way of businessmen everywhere; Dutch manufacturers are having a hard time carving traditional wooden shoes, while Italian restaurant owners complain that their new regulation-compliant ovens are not hot enough to make good pizza.(3) In 2001 a British butcher was fined for refusing to use the metric system to weigh his product, and the press instantly dubbed him the "Metric Martyr." Consequently, it looks like local customs will not survive unification; to save their culture from the influence of American corporations and media, the Europeans may end up destroying it themselves!

Top of the page

Eastern Europe in the 1990s

Albania and Yugoslavia took longer to shed communism, because they left the Soviet Bloc long before it collapsed. We will look at what happened to Yugoslavia in three sections after this one, because there hot wars soon followed the Cold War.


In Albania, those seeking freedom gained confidence when they saw what demonstrations had done in the rest of eastern Europe. Their unrest grew in 1990, and Ramiz Alia responded with his own form of glasnost; he restored religious freedom, cut back the power of the police, and allowed some market reforms and the creation of independent political parties. Albanians also got the right to travel abroad, which caused more than 25,000 job-seekers to flee to Italy in boats. Back home the protests continued; in Tirana's Skanderbeg Square, crowds toppled a 30-foot-high statue of Enver Hoxha and discovered, to their delight, that it was hollow, just like the communism they were uprooting.

In March 1991 a general amnesty for all political prisoners was declared, and multiparty elections to the People's Assembly (the first free elections in more than fifty years) took place the same month. The Communist Party and its allies won 169 of the 250 seats, while the newly formed Democratic Party won 75. The Communist victory provoked more protests, in which police killed four people in the city of Shkodër. Following a general strike by thousands of workers, the government resigned and a coalition government was created in June. However, the new government collapsed after six months, forcing another election in March 1992. This time the reorganized People's Assembly had 140 seats; the Democrats won 92 of them, and the Socialists (the renamed Communist Party) won 38. The leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, became the first non-Communist president, and he arrested and jailed several communist officials, including Alia, on charges of corruption. Opponents accused the president of authoritarianism, for restricting press freedoms, persecuting former Communist officials, and controlling the courts. Berisha managed to win the next two elections, in 1996 and early 1997, but the third time was not the charm; in June 1997 the Socialists won yet another round of voting, and their leader, Rexhep Mejdani, succeeded Berisha as president. One of Mejdani's first acts was to release the Socialists jailed by the previous administration.

1997 also saw the widespread failure of several investments, many of them outright pyramid schemes, which thousands of Albanians had put their meager savings into. Although the government promised to partially reimburse many investors, the combination of economic disruption and political scandal prompted Albanians in several cities to riot. By March a sporadic rebellion had broken out and government control disappeared in several parts of the country. Order was not completely restored as the twentieth century ended, thanks to the fighting across the border in Kosovo. Thus, as we go to press, it looks like Albania is going back to the anarchy and blood feuds that characterized it in the past.


Bulgaria has followed a bizarre path, now that it is no longer a Soviet satellite. First, it embraced democracy before it threw out its communist leaders; Albania, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union did likewise, but the rest of eastern Europe did the opposite. Even stranger, it became the only ex-communist country to bring back a king.

Before we begin the post-communist narrative, we need to tie up a loose end from Bulgaria's communist era. Bulgaria's first communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov, fell ill and died suddenly, while visiting Moscow in 1949. Since he was in good health before the visit, some have suggested that Joseph Stalin had him poisoned; if that was what happened, Stalin's paranoia must have really gotten out of hand, since Bulgaria toed the Soviet line more faithfully than any other communist state in Europe. Bulgarian commuists decided to give Dimitrov the Lenin treatment; they embalmed his body and placed it in a structure resembling Lenin's tomb, which they built in only six days. There Dimitrov lay on display for the rest of the Cold War years.

In 1990 protestors started calling for an end to this show, carrying signs that said things like "No more pharaohs!" and "It stinks!". The authorities responded by cremating Dimitrov and burying his ashes in Sofia's main cemetery. That left the question of what to do with the mausoleum, which was now useless. Bulgarians debated this subject for most of the 1990s. In 1999 they blew it up, but it took four explosions to do the job; the first two barely damaged it, the third caused it to tip slightly, and the fourth (which used several small explosive charges instead of one big one) finally brought the whole thing down. While the mausoleum stood, Bulgarians declared that their country had excellent engineers, and cited the mausoleum as an example of their work; I guess they were right!

After the 1989 revolution, Petur T. Mladenov, Todor Zhivkov's foreign minister, took charge as general secretary. The first thing Mladenov did was restore the civil rights of Bulgarian Turks, who had been persecuted and forced to take Slavic names under Zhivkov.(4) Then he began to institute a multiparty system. In June 1990 the Communists, now called the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), won the nation's first free parliamentary elections since World War II. Mladenov, however, resigned just one month later, because of a scandal involving the use of force to suppress student demonstrations. Parliament replaced him with a president from the opposition party, Zhelyu Zhelev of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). Before the year ended the Bulgarian economy collapsed, forcing the scheduling of new elections for 1991. This time the UDF won by a narrow margin, and Filip Dimitrov, head of the UDF, became the new prime minister. Under a new constitution providing for direct presidential voting, Zhelev won reelection in January 1992.

Meanwhile, the government slowly began initiating economic and industrial reforms, which allowed foreign investment, privatization of state-owned companies, and called for the return of land seized by the Communists to its original owners. However, the reforms did not bring quick prosperity, and public dissatisfaction led to the overthrow of Dimitrov's government in October 1992. The next two years saw political paralysis, because the BSP and the UDF refused to get along. Eventually President Zhelev dissolved parliament in and appointed a caretaker government, which served until parliamentary elections were held in December 1994. This time the BSP won a clear majority, capturing 125 of the 240 seats, and Zhan Videnov, the 35-year-old BSP chairman, became prime minister.

In 1996 Zhelev lost his party's nomination to Petar Stoyanov, and Stoyanov won the November presidential elections with 60 percent of the vote. That, along with a collapsing economy and an in-party rebellion against his leadership, caused Videnov to resign his posts. The BSP parliamentary majority then appointed the interior minister, Nikolay Dobrev, as their choice for prime minister. In January 1997 tens of thousands of Bulgarians began to hold daily protests, calling for early parliamentary elections and an end to the economic crisis. When the BSP ignored this, the opposition parties walked out and began a boycott of parliament. Protesters immediately stormed the parliament building, trapping more than 100 BSP deputies inside until police broke through and enabled the deputies to escape. President-elect Stoyanov took office on January 22, but the BSP waited two more weeks before it conceded to the opposition's demands. New elections took place on April 19, and the United Democratic Forces (ODC)--an electoral alliance of the UDF and several smaller parties--won a resounding victory, capturing 137 parliamentary seats. The leader of the alliance, Ivan Kostov of the UDF, was unanimously chosen to be prime minister. He immediately established a currency-board system, required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for aid, and promised to battle organized crime and corruption.

The last king of Bulgaria, Simeon II, was only six years old when crowned in 1943, and deposed by the communists just three years later. He spent most of the next fifty years as a consultant in Spain. In 1996 he returned, re-entered politics, and formed his own party, the Simeon II National Movement (SND). The continuing poor state of Bulgaria's economy caused Simeon's popularity to grow, and in the June 2001 elections, he beat Kostov easily. Simeon's National Movement won 120 seats, one short of a majority, so he formed a coalition with the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which held 21 seats. Besides promising to be a better prime minister than his predecessors, Simeon also announced that he would bring Bulgaria into NATO and the European Union. However, everyone made it clear that the sixty-four-year-old former king would rule by law rather than by decree, and that there would be no restoration of hereditary monarchy.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia

In Czechoslovakia, a velvet divorce soon followed the "Velvet Revolution." The Slovaks resented how the Czechs had long controlled everything in the country, and after the fall of communism in 1989, a Slovak nationalist movement grew quickly. Tensions rose between the Czech and Slovak halves of the country, and a draft treaty calling for both republics "to live in a common state" was rejected by the Slovak parliament. Later in the same year (1992), general elections failed to resolve the differences; instead they put a strong nationalist, Vladimir Meciar, in charge of Slovakia. Meciar and Vaclav Havel agreed to split peacefully, and on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia became two states, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia.

Following its creation, the Czech Republic showed far more stability than its neighbors. Support for Havel and his prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, remained high, and there was little popular support for extremist groups of any kind. As with the rest of the Soviet Bloc, the economy declined in the aftermath of communism, but it was also the first to begin recovering, in the mid-1990s. Inflation dropped, unemployment remained low, and the country attracted foreign investors. Czech leaders emphasized the importance of close ties with western Europe, and called for full integration into the European Union and NATO.

In June 1996 the Czech Republic held its first parliamentary elections since the country split from Slovakia, and to the surprise of many observers, Prime Minister Klaus's center-right coalition lost its majority in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of parliament) by a narrow margin. However, Klaus signed a coalition agreement to form a minority government and thus remained prime minister. In November elections were held for the Senate, or upper house of parliament, which had just come into existence a year earlier, and center-right parties of the ruling coalition won the majority here.

In November 1997, Klaus and his cabinet were forced to resign amid campaign finance scandals. An interim government headed by Prime Minister Josef Tošovský ran the country until after parliamentary elections in June 1998. The center-left Social Democrats won the most votes, but took only 32 percent of the seats. Miloš Zeman, chairman of the Social Democrats, was appointed prime minister of a minority government, after promising key parliamentary posts to Klaus's Civic Democrats, who had won 28 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, President Havel was reelected in January 1998 to another five-year term.

An inefficient and obsolete industrial base, inflation, and high unemployment were among the problems facing Slovakia. In March 1994, just a year after independence, Meciar lost a vote of confidence, and a coalition of five parties chose a moderate, Jozef Moravcik, to be the next prime minister. However, the elections held in October 1994 allowed Meciar to return to power at the head of his own coalition. Now Meciar's main opponent was the president of Slovakia, Michal Kovác; though they came from the same political party (HZDS), their inability to get along hindered Slovakian efforts to join the Western community. Foreigners criticized the Meciar government for slowing down the privatization of state-owned businesses, returning radio and television communications to state control, and for its backing of controversial legislation, including a law making Slovak the sole official language; since the country has a significant Hungarian minority, this strained relations with neighboring Hungary.

When Kovác's term ended in March 1998, a divided parliament was unable to produce the majority vote needed to appoint a successor; with the president's seat vacant, many presidential powers went to Meciar. However, he did not get to hold them for long. New parliamentary elections in September defeated the Meciar government, and Miklos Dzurinda became prime minister. Meanwhile, the constitution was amended to allow the people, rather than the parliament, to vote for the president. Meciar ran for president in March 1999, but was defeated by Rudolf Schuster, who pledged to steer a more pro-European course.


We saw earlier how West Germany had become a leading economic power; by the late 1980s it was a rival to Japan and the United States in the arena of commerce. There was some fear (mainly among former victims like Poland and Czechoslovakia) that the unification of East and West Germany would create a "Fourth Reich," but instead unification weakened the West. As with the other ex-communist states, East Germany saw its infrastructure run down, despite all efforts from Bonn to modernize it/prop it up. The task of bringing the former citizens of the East up to the West's standard of living has kept the Germans too busy to do much else. Among the challenges they faced were housing shortages, double-digit unemployment, crime and right-wing violence against foreigners, strikes and demonstrations. Thus, the German economic miracle vanished in the 1990s, and even now it doesn't look like Germany will be a tough competitor anytime soon.

The last Russian troops left Berlin in August 1994, signaling the conclusion of a complete pullout from Eastern Europe by the former Soviet Union, after almost 50 years of occupation. Eight days later, the remaining 200 troops from the Western Allies also left Berlin, marking the first time since World War II that the city had not been a host to foreign soldiers.

At first the administration of the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, attempted to solve all problems by imposing West German practices onto the East. The cost of this was immense; providing goods and services to the eastern part of the country proved a severe strain for the West. Western Germany lost hundreds of billions of dollars, while eastern Germany did not get richer. Large transfers of capital from the west to the east led to budget deficits, which were made worse by an economic recession. This forced the government to cut social services, raise taxes, and reduce spending.

Many of the industries in the east, which had been protected under the Communist system, were far too inefficient to compete in Western markets. The government wanted to privatize them, using public and private investment, because they were too costly to support. However, bringing these industries up to speed required time and capital, which slowed the German economy overall. As eastern state industries were closed and sold, hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Many also lost their homes under a new law permitting the repossession of property that could be proved to have been illegally confiscated by the Nazi or Communist governments. Salaries and state pensions in the east remained lower than similar payments in the west. Eastern television and radio stations, periodicals, and familiar consumer products disappeared. Most important of all, the unemployment rate in the east was much higher than the prevailing rate in the west. Eastern Germans grew angry as they saw their way of life destroyed; that, coupled with the poverty of the east, made it a fertile ground for neo-Nazi and other illegal extremist groups.

Despite austerity measures and cuts in spending, German unemployment continued to rise. By 1998 it was 12.6 percent overall, and 21.1 percent in the east. Helmut Kohl's popularity declined because of this and growing inflation; he had served as chancellor for sixteen years, longer than anyone else in postwar Germany. The September 1998 elections swept Kohl and his Christian Democratic coalition out of power, replacing them with the Social Democratic Party of Gerhard Schröder. The Social Democrats now had 298 seats in the 669-seat Bundestag, compared with 245 for Kohl's coalition. To get the majority he needed, Schröder formed a coalition with the environmentalist Green Party, which had won 47 seats. This Red-Green coalition, as critics called it, allowed the Green Party to enter a national government for the first time. The new government called for tax and immigration reform, a reorganization of the military, and promised to close nuclear power plants, but Schröder said his top priority would be to reduce the high unemployment.


In early 1990, Hungary held its first free election since World War II. A coalition of center-right parties, led by the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), won a parliamentary majority; Jozsef Antall became prime minister, and the National Assembly chose a writer, Árpád Göncz, as president.

Antall was ill for much of 1993, and died in December of that year; Péter Boross, another leader of the MDF, succeeded him. Another change of leaders occurred in May 1994, when new elections allowed the Hungarian Socialist Party (formerly the Communist Party) to regain the majority of seats in parliament. The party named Gyula Horn, a member of the pre-1990 government, as its choice for prime minister. Then the party formed a coalition with the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, which had taken second place in the elections; this provided the two-thirds majority needed to pass certain legislation. However, they didn't control everything; in June 1995 the National Assembly reelected Göncz for a second five-year term as president.

Hungary became the first Eastern European nation to join the Council of Europe (1990), and it quickly signed declarations of cooperation with the Poles, Czechs, Russians and Ukrainians. The tough part for the Hungarians was getting along with neighboring Romania and Czechoslovakia (Slovakia from 1993 onwards), because of the treatment of Hungarian minorities in those countries. This standoff ended in mid-1994 when Horn offered to drop Hungary's pre-1919 claims on Slovak and Romanian territory, in return for a guarantee of safety for ethnic Hungarians living in those countries. Normalization of relations followed, with Hungary signing a treaty of friendship with Slovakia in 1995 and Romania in 1996. Horn also ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of National Minorities; which declared that all ethnic minorities had the right to their own language and religion, and issued an official apology for Hungary's role in the deaths of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Later parliament set up a $23.5 million fund, as a pension for Holocaust survivors.

In the May 1998 parliamentary elections, the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party defeated the Hungarian Socialist Party, and Fidesz leader Viktor Orban took over as prime minister, forming a center-right coalition with the Independent Smallholders' Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum.


The new Poland established or renewed diplomatic relations with the nations of the West, the republics of the former USSR, the Vatican, and Israel. It signed cooperation treaties with its neighbors, including the newly unified Germany, and began negotiating for membership in the European Union. Full national sovereignty was regained with the evacuation of the Soviet troops stationed in Poland, which was completed in August 1993.

Lech Walesa was unclear about how to define political powers between the president, prime minister, and the Sejm (parliament); this confusion showed in Poland's transitional "Little Constitution," adopted in 1992. Post-Communist Poland thus suffered from a confused, unstable, and conflict-ridden political process. Because the election process gave proportional representation to every party on the ballot, the Sejm contained more than a dozen parties, and Poland has seen several short-lived parliamentary coalitions.

The September 1993 elections simplified the party system by excluding all but the six parties who succeeded in gaining at least 5 percent of the vote (8 percent for coalitions). The parties which had taken on the ideas of the old Communist Party, like the Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), attracted voters dissatisfied with the poor state of the economy and society; between them they gained a large majority. Waldemar Pawlak, the PSL leader, became prime minister, but soon Walesa accused his government of trying to slow the reform process. In early 1995, Walesa threatened to dissolve parliament if the Pawlak government was not replaced. Because he was planning to run for reelection, Walesa nominated a likely opponent, Aleksander Kwasniewski, for the position of prime minister; Kwasniewski was a former Communist and the founder and leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Walesa was overruled by parliament and Józef Oleksy, another SLD member and former Communist, got the nomination. Since Pawlak had lost a vote of confidence in the meantime, Olesky replaced him, becoming Poland's seventh prime minister since the collapse of Communism.

By now Walesa had discredited himself through his personal failings and political mistakes, so in the presidential elections of November 1995, Kwasniewski unseated him. Kwasniewski pledged to continue the process of economic reform and to seek full membership for Poland in the European Union and NATO. In a move intended to help heal the political rifts resulting from the election, Kwasniewski resigned from the SLD later that month.

In January 1996 Prime Minister Oleksy resigned, due to a formal investigation into allegations that he had been spying for Russia for more than a decade. Oleksy had once served in the Communist Party's Central Committee, and though he admitted to having a long friendship with a Russian intelligence agent stationed in Warsaw, he denied the espionage charges. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, also of the SLD, took his place. In April the military prosecutor investigating the charges against Oleksy decided to drop the case, due to insufficient evidence of criminal activity.

In 1997 a special parliamentary commission, dominated by former Communists, completed the task of drafting a new constitution. Both the Sejm and the voters gave it their approval. A combination of seven competing versions, the 243-article charter delineates the powers of the presidency, guarantees basic civil rights, ensures civilian control over the armed forces, and commits the country to a market economy and private ownership of enterprise.

In October 1997 the conservative Solidarity Electoral Alliance (AWS) and the pro-business Freedom Union (UW) formed a coalition government after winning a combined majority of seats in parliamentary elections. Kwasniewski appointed Jerzy Buzek, a former Solidarity activist in the 1980s and an AWS legislator, as prime minister. A liberal reformer, Buzek pledged to accelerate the privatization of state-owned industries and to decentralize government power. One consequence of this was that in March 1999, Poland became the first non-western nation to join NATO.


The 1990 elections did not end the anti-government demonstrations, which had continued since the previous year's revolution. Riots by miners led to the resignation of the first post-communist prime minister, Peter Roman, in September; former finance minister Theodor Stolojan succeeded him and introduced an economic austerity program.

A new democratic constitution for Romania was adopted by popular referendum, in December 1991. Presidential and legislative elections were held in September 1992 with a runoff presidential contest in October. Iliescu was reelected president, while the Democratic National Salvation Front (DNSF), a party that emerged from the breakup of the NSF, won the largest representation in the legislature; Iliescu appointed economist Nicolae Vacaroiu to be the next prime minister. In 1993 the DNSF merged with several smaller parties and changed its name to the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR).

Romania experienced significant ethnic turmoil at the same time. Attacks against Gypsies resulted in an exodus of refugees to Germany, until the German government sent 43,000 of them back in 1992. Relations with Hungary were strained as a result of clashes between ethnic Hungarians and Romanian nationalists in Transylvania. In 1994 Romania hosted an international conference on the status of ethnic minorities in Central Europe, but disagreements over the rights of ethnic minorities continued to be a problem. In June 1995 a law was passed that denied ethnic minorities the right to higher education in their native language in many subjects; ethnic Hungarians protested against the legislation. In September 1996 the leaders of Romania and Hungary signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation that guaranteed the rights of ethnic minority groups.

The November 1996 elections marked Romania's first peaceful transfer of power. The PSDR-led coalition lost its majority in parliament; two coalitions of opposition parties, the Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR) and the Social Democratic Union (SDU), joined to form Romania's first anticommunist coalition government. It was a similar story in the presidential race. The DCR's presidential candidate, reform-minded academic Emil Constantinescu, defeated Iliescu and named a popular DCR politician, Bucharest mayor Victor Ciorbea, as the new prime minister.

The new government promised a comprehensive plan of economic reform, because the previous seven years had seen poor progress toward a free-market economy. It also pursued a highly publicized and rigorous campaign against crime and corruption, and lifted a ban on visits into the country by King Michael, the ex-monarch who had been deposed fifty years earlier. Despite all this, and a successful foreign policy that mended disputes with Hungary and Ukraine, Ciorbea found it tough going; inflation soared, state-owned companies and utilities with bloated payrolls were not streamlined, and a promised sale of the state banks never occurred. The SDU defected from Ciorbea's coalition in parliament in January 1998, and in March Ciorbea was forced to resign. Radu Vasile, another DCR member, took his place, and the SDU rejoined the ruling coalition. Upon taking office, Vasile promised to move ahead with privatization, by closing more than 150 unprofitable factories and mines. This caused 10,000 striking coal miners to march on Bucharest, protesting the mine closures and demanding a major wage increase (January 1999). After five days of this, the government deployed army and special police forces to disperse the miners, but Vasile agreed to increase wages and reopen some mines anyway.

Top of the page

The Yugoslav War: The Slovenian and Croatian Phases

After Tito, Yugoslavia's economy continued to deteriorate. For much of the 1980s, inflation ran at an annual rate of 45%, unemployment was at 15%, and the foreign debt continued to grow. By 1983 things had gotten so bad that Belgrade called upon the International Monetary Fund for assistance, and in return for loans, the IMF demanded that Yugoslavia convert to a market economy. Even more serious was the return of the nationalist feelings which Tito had suppressed so effectively. In Kosovo, for example, the Albanian portion of the population had grown from 70% during World War II, to 90%. The Kosovar Albanians frequently demonstrated for autonomy, independence, or permanent union with Albania; even during the war, a revolt broke out in Urosevac, and it took until the summer of 1945 for Tito to suppress it. Thereafter Tito contained the Kosovo problem without solving it, and that containment frequently broke down (1968, 1981, 1989 and especially 1998-99). Serbian frustration, over their inability to turn the Albanians into loyal Yugoslav citizens, may have contributed to the vicious behavior the Serbs showed in Croatia and Bosnia later on.

The revolutions of 1989 persuaded Yugoslavia to allow opposition parties. In 1990, the republics held their first multiparty elections in almost 50 years; the Communist Party lost everywhere except in Serbia and Montenegro. A center-right coalition won in Slovenia and began work on a new constitution, which claimed the right to secede from the rest of Yugoslavia. Since Slovenia had been part of Austria until World War I, its nationalist movement favored the creation of a progressive, Western-style regime; the others, however, followed more traditional agendas, often at the cost of suppressing democracy and human rights. Two of the newly elected nationalists, President Alia Izetbegovic of Bosnia and President Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia, took a moderate course, hoping to keep Yugoslavia united as a decentralized confederation. Croatia elected Franjo Tudjman, the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

Like Tito, Tudjman was a Partisan who had fought the Axis in the last war. At first he was a fervent Communist, rising through the ranks, until he became Yugoslavia's general in charge of party discipline. Then in 1961, he left the military and the party, to immerse himself in Croat history. Soon he was a dissident professor, and he did time in prison in the early 1970s for opposing Tito's dictatorship. His writings accused the communists of human rights violations, but he also defended the wartime Ustasha, claiming that it didn't really kill that many Jews and Serbs. Once in power, he set up a one-party state that bore a disturbing resemblance to the fascist regime he had once opposed; the new Croatia used a checkered flag and a monetary unit called the kuna, just like the Ustasha, while Tudjman took to wearing Mussolini-style uniforms. However, this got little attention, because Tudjman was a lesser evil than what Serbian nationalism produced.

While the other nationalities felt they had been stifled by too much Serb control over everything, the Serbs felt that Yugoslavia's federal government had put them at a disadvantage, especially in the two autonomous regions of Serbia. In 1986 Slobodan Milosevic, the head of a large, state-run gas company, became head of the Serbian Communist Party. The first thing he did was counter the federal government's plan for economic liberalization, with a model for slower reform. Then in 1987, on the anniversary of the 1389 battle of Kosovo, he went to that fateful site, the "Field of the Blackbirds," and made a patriotic, pro-Serbian speech, declaring that: "Nobody, either now or in the future, has the right to beat you." Thus, Milosevic took the tool of nationalism from the non-Communist opposition, and made it his own. In 1989 he was elected president of the Serbian republic. With massive popular support, and mass rallies that resembled mob scenes, he coerced the party apparatus in Montenegro and Voyvodina to install his allies as leaders, and then all but extinguished autonomy in both regions. During the revolutions that ended the Cold War, he renamed the communists, calling them the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). One year later the SPS won a large majority in Serbia's elections, and Milosevic used the media and a heavy-handed police force, to ensure that no one could effectively oppose him. All this persuaded the Slovenes and Croats that it would be dangerous to remain part of a Yugoslav state dominated by Milosevic, so the country began to break up.(5)

In May 1991, it was Croatia's second turn to have one of its own become the Yugoslav president, under Tito's scheme of rotation. The Croats selected Stipe Mesic, a moderate noncommunist, but this time the Serb leaders refused to let him take office. That act killed the last chance for a peaceful solution, and in June both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Germany was the first to recognize them; other Western nations followed later.

The Slovenian part of the war only lasted ten days. Yugoslav (meaning mostly Serbian) army units were blockaded in their barracks, too powerful for the Slovenes to attack, but unable to move because they had run out of gasoline. In the end a negotiated settlement allowed the Serbs to leave. Milosevic let Slovenia go because it was the farthest republic from Belgrade, and because it contained almost no Serbs in it. It would be a different story in Croatia and Bosnia, though, which were respectively 12 percent and 31 percent Serbian; these minorities encouraged Belgrade to fight to keep as much land as possible.

As early as mid-1990, the Croatian Serbs began calling for autonomy. They argued that if Croatia could leave Yugoslavia, they could leave Croatia. In March 1991, the Serbs proclaimed an autonomous republic in central Croatia, which they named Krajina. When the fighting started, Serbian guerrillas arose in every Croatian district or village with a Serb majority, and they invaded non-Serb districts and villages. Milosevic immediately recognized the Krajina secession movement, and sent in what remained of the federal government's army.

Krajina nearly split Croatia in two; for much of the war a single bridge was the last remaining connection between eastern and western Croatia. Meanwhile Serbian army units attacked on the wings, to capture the cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik. At Vukovar in the east, artillery fire drove away the Croats; this was a major defeat for Tudjman. It was here that the Serbs first used two strategies that would become their trademark everywhere: the mass expulsion of local populations, often by terror, followed by the settlement of Serbs in their place ("ethnic cleansing"); and a reliance on heavy weapons to attack urban areas, because of a shortage of infantry. The offensive on Dubrovnik failed to capture that Adriatic port, but succeeded in reducing its charming medieval buildings to rubble.

Top of the page

The Yugoslav War: The Bosnian Phase

On January 2, 1992, the United Nations introduced a cease-fire, and 14,000 peacekeeping troops arrived a month later to separate Croats and Serbs. Meanwhile to the south, Macedonia decided that the time had come to declare independence from Belgrade. As with Slovenia, there weren't enough Serbs in Macedonia to justify military intervention, and soon a second international peacekeeping force went there to make sure Slobodan Milosevic didn't change his mind.

Greece took an instant disliking for the new state, because the nearest Greek province was also named Macedonia. Moreover, the Macedonians chose a red flag with a twelve-pointed star on it, the same star that was Alexander the Great's family emblem. The Greeks made it clear that the only thing modern Macedonia had in common with ancient Macedonia was the name, and ordered modern Macedonia to change both the flag and the name. Cut off from the sea by a Greek economic boycott, the Macedonians had to back down. Today they call their country the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.). One result of this was that Greece backed Serbia in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars; they probably would have done so anyway, since both were Orthodox Christians, and thus felt a common kinship. So did the Orthodox Russians; after the Soviet Union fell apart, Russia had no trouble renewing the traditional friendship between Russians and Serbs.

All eyes now turned to Bosnia. The most ethnically mixed republic, Bosnia contained Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians (Slavic Moslems) in every community. Before 1991, it had been a model of ethnic diversity living in harmony; its capital, Sarajevo, was the host for the 1984 Winter Olympics. Now this mixture ensured that any breakaway from Belgrade would be a hot mess, and another part of Sarajevo's heritage--as the city where World War I began--came forward.(6)

None of Bosnia's three groups wanted to be part of a state ruled by the others. As the Moslems grew interested in independence, the Serbs and Croats began forming their own states within the state. The Bosnian Serbs set up their own parliament, and voted almost unanimously in November 1991 to "remain in a common Yugoslav state" with the rest of "Greater Serbia," while the Croat Defense Council (HVO) proclaimed the Croat Community of Herzeg-Bosna, with the support of the Croatian government and army.

In March 1992, the Bosnian government held a plebiscite on independence, and the voters split along ethnic lines. 97 percent of Croat and Moslem voters chose to secede, while most Serbs boycotted the referendum. Within days of the voting, Bosnia declared its independence, and the Serbs responded by declaring their own republic, Republika Srpska, with its capital at the southeastern town of Pale. In April Bosnian Serb militias began grabbing as much territory as possible, with the intention of returning it to Serbia. Since most of Bosnia's farmers were Serbs, they captured the countryside quickly, isolating Bosnia's cities in the process. Self-proclaimed "Chetnik" gangs that included criminals in their ranks, backed by Yugoslav army units, used terror tactics to drive Moslems from their villages to the larger cities, while other Serb units seized roads and began a siege of Sarajevo.

It was in Bosnia that the Serbs practiced "ethnic cleansing" on a large scale. Not only did they purge the land of its non-Serbian inhabitants, but they also raped captured women, threw Moslem men into concentration camps, and indulged in mass executions. We now know that all factions in the war committed atrocities, but the Serbs were the worst offenders. Nor did the Serb atrocities embarrass their leaders, Premier Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.(7) At this stage, the terror worked; by the end of the summer, 70 percent of Bosnia was in Serbian hands. Sensing that the Moslem-run state in Sarajevo would not last, Croatian forces joined Herzeg-Bosna to Croatia, and they also began to attack and seize Moslem districts.

Peace talks began in Geneva, Switzerland, before the end of 1992. Most outsiders sympathized with the Bosnian Moslem underdogs, so the first peace proposal, which allowed the Serbs to keep 50 to 52 percent of their gains, was rejected by the Sarajevo government. Pressure from Yugoslavia played a role in the talks: Milosevic wanted to end the crisis, end the sanctions imposed on his country by the United Nations, and curb an inflation rate which soon reached 2 million percent per year. As it turned out, however, he had little ability to control Karadzic, so the war continued.

When they weren't both busy fighting the Serbs, the Croats and Moslems fought each other in the west. In May 1993 the Croats launched an offensive to capture Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina and the largest city that wasn't threatened by the Serbs. Mostar held out, and the Bosnian government's almost nonexistent army built itself up to a point where it could hold its own against the HVO. Both the Croats and the Moslems also carried out bloody massacres and "ethnic cleansing" of their own in contested territories. At the same time the United Nations set up an International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. This group, the first war crimes court since the one at Nuremberg, eventually indicted more than 50 men, including Karadzic and Mladic, for crimes against humanity. US pressure put an end to the Moslem-Croat war, forcing the two factions to agree to a joint federation in March 1994. At this point Tudjman showed a streak of pragmatism that the Serbs lacked, by dropping his claim to the Croat-populated districts of Bosnia. This allowed Tudjman to look respectable in Western eyes; the United States even allowed retired U.S. military officers to train the Croatian military, despite an arms embargo on all sides.

On the main front, the UN increased food aid to the Moslems. It also tried to impose cease-fires, but none of them lasted for long. Then the UN declared six Bosnian cities to be "safe zones," where the Serbs could not attack Bosnian refugees: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Bihac, Zepa, Srebrenica and Gorazde. The Serbs simply ignored the declaration, captured Goradze, and continued to shell the other safe zones. International condemnation forced them to lay off of Sarajevo, after they got the blame for a February 1994 explosion that killed 68 civilians in a market place, but elsewhere the war went in their favor. In May 1994 some of the NATO countries launched air strikes against Serbian positions, and the Serbs took UN peacekeepers hostage, showing that the UN was powerless in this situation. By early 1995 the part of Bosnia under Serbian control had reached 80 percent.

Because the UN had failed, the Croats and NATO decided to take matters into their own hands. They got their chance quickly, because the poor Western response to date had made the Bosnian Serbs bolder. July 1995 saw them defy the UN again, by overrunning two more "safe areas," Srebrenica and Zepa; up to 8,000 Moslems were massacred here, under the direct supervision of General Mladic. Then in August, the Serbs attacked Bihac from both Bosnia and Krajina. For Croatia this was the last straw, and all available forces from Croatia, the HVO, and the Bosnian government joined together to launch an anti-Serb counterattack. Within a few days, they destroyed Krajina, reconquered western Bosnia, and forced 130,000 Serbian refugees to flee. Tudjman finished this arguably justified invasion with a vicious exclamation point; his troops burned 70 percent of the Serbian houses, confiscated Serb property, and allowed gangs of Croat thugs to murder the few elderly Serbs left behind. NATO joined in with a massive wave of air strikes against the Bosnian Serb infrastructure. Milosevic failed to intervene, so the Bosnian Serbs found themselves alone and vulnerable.

By September 15, the siege of Sarajevo had ended, and all sides agreed to talk peace. The final treaty, signed at Dayton, Ohio in November 1995, divided Bosnia into two equal parts: half for the Croats and Moslems, and half for the Serbs.(8) It also called for new elections in 1996, and for a peacekeeping force of 60,000 NATO troops. At the time of this writing, the peace seems to be a lasting one, so the final casualty count for the war is 250,000 killed, and 2.3 million refugees (out of a prewar population of 4.4 million). The treaty ordered that all refugees be permitted to return to their original homes, but about 820,000 were unable to go because they lived in areas now dominated by another group. The leaders of each ethnic group still oppose one another, and there is little free movement or commerce across the borders of what may still someday become three nations.(9)

Bosnian map

The legacy of ethnic cleansing: Bosnia before and after the war.

Top of the page

The Yugoslav War: The Albanian Phase

The Albanians in Kosovo did not forget how Milosevic had slapped them down in the late 1980s, and after their leaders took refuge in Macedonia, they declared Kosovo's independence. In 1992 they elected Ibrahim Rugova as the head of the Kosovar government; needless to say, Milosevic declared this act illegal. During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Kosovo got little attention, but the Albanians continued to agitate for secession from Serbia. When the Serbs lost those wars in 1995, several thousand Serbian refugees from Krajina were resettled in Kosovo, despite Albanian protests.

Rugova favored a negotiated, peaceful solution, but many Albanians were tired of waiting for that. In 1996 they formed an armed guerrilla force, called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The KLA launched several attacks against the Serbian police, prompting another backlash from Belgrade in March 1998, with Yugoslav army units joining the police to fight the ethnic Albanian separatists. A new round of "ethnic cleansing" began, with hundreds of Albanians killed and more than 200,000 driven from their homes. The two sides fought until October, when Milosevic, under the threat of new air strikes from NATO, agreed to withdraw some troops from Kosovo. However, instead of honoring the agreement, Milosevic strengthened his forces, and then resumed the fighting, with a major offensive against ethnic Albanian villages in December.

Why did Milosevic fight so hard to keep a breakaway province where only one resident in ten was a Serb? The answer was that Kosovo had a holy reputation in Serbian eyes, due to the 1389 battle which began nearly five centuries of Turkish rule. Few cultures place such importance on their worst defeat, but the Serbs commemorated it in poetry and art, keeping the battle's memory fresh for every generation. Today's Serbs can no more imagine parting with Kosovo than Jews can imagine themselves abandoning Jerusalem. During World War I, John Reed, the American correspondent who wrote Ten Days that Shook the World, wrote this about the Serbs: "Every peasant soldier knows what he is fighting for. When he was a baby, his mother greeted him 'Hail little avenger of Kosovo!'"

Modern historians usually present a blurred picture of the battle of Kosovo, arguing that it wasn't simply Serb vs. Turk; some Serbs probably fought with the Turks, while the Bosnians and Albanians fought on the side of the Serbs, because those two groups had not yet converted to Islam. However, a story featuring many shades of grey doesn't work well for propaganda purposes, so Slobodan Milosevic used a black and white version, which cast the Albanians as treacherous allies of the Turks.

Kosovo also provided a defining moment for NATO. Ever since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, that military alliance had looked for a reason to exist; few modern organizations willingly liquidate themselves when they are no longer needed. It found one in the former Yugoslavia. Although NATO has three non-European members (the United States, Canada and Turkey), from this point on NATO would act as the armed forces of the European Union.

The Yugoslav government and Kosovar Albanians sent representatives to France in early 1999, trying to negotiate a settlement. However, the resulting agreement called for a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, so Belgrade refused to sign it. On March 24, NATO forces began launching air strikes against Yugoslavia, bombing military targets, roads, bridges, oil production facilities, and anything else that might even remotely contribute to Yugoslavia's crackdown in Kosovo. Serbian-led assaults on ethnic Albanians intensified, with Serbian police, soldiers and paramilitary units razing villages and forcing residents to flee; a tidal wave of refugees crossed the border into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. In May the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia produced an indictment of Milosevic and four other senior Yugoslav officials, for committing war crimes in Kosovo.

The NATO campaign was a complete success; it destroyed Yugoslavia's infrastructure, and did not lose any planes or men. After ten weeks of bombing, Milosevic agreed to an international peace plan for Kosovo. A diplomatic envoy from Russia negotiated for the Serbs, and Yugoslav military leaders approved the agreement on June 9. Officially Kosovo would remain part of Yugoslavia, but Yugoslav troops would have to get out. A 50,000-member international peacekeeping force supervised their withdrawal, and watched the return of Kosovar refugees, who numbered about 780,000 (1/3 of Kosovo's prewar population) by the time the peace agreement was reached.

In Croatia, Franjo Tudjman died of stomach cancer in December 1999. Like Milosevic, Tudjman was guilty of ruthless nationalism; he had used murder, war, exile, and legalized terrorism to empty Croatia and part of Bosnia of non-Croats. The difference was that Tudjman was smart enough to pull back before he got in trouble, limiting his brutality just enough to get away with it. Thus, to the West, he was a cultured brute, while Milosevic was just a brute. For several weeks, he was reportedly brain-dead, but the Croatian Democratic Union kept him alive for as long as possible, as part of a campaign strategy. Parliamentary elections were coming up in January, and by timing his death close to election day, the HDZ hoped to gain a large block of sympathy votes. Tudjman himself probably would have approved of the HDZ using his body in such a cold, calculating way, but it wasn't enough to beat the opposition. Stipe Mesic, the man who should have been president of Yugoslavia in 1991, became Croatia's president for the turn of the century.

Milosevic was the last communist leader in Europe to fall from power, and Kosovo ended the game for "the Butcher of the Balkans." He had promised to save the Serbian nation, and had lost more than half of pre-1991 Yugoslavia instead. After losing Kosovo, his own people didn't want him anymore. Even Montenegro, the only former Yugoslav republic that stayed with Serbia, lost interest in the union; in fact, it declared independence from Serbia in 2006.(10) The Serbian elections of September 2000 pitted Milosevic against an 18-party coalition, led by a soft-spoken, 56-year-old law professor named Vojislav Kostunica. After the voting, Kostunica's party declared that he had beaten Milosevic by a 55-35 margin. However, Yugoslavia's State Election Commission, stacked with Milosevic appointees, announced that Kostunica did come out ahead, but the margin was 48-40, so it ordered a runoff election, because a winning presidential candidate needed to have more than 50 per cent of the vote. Before the second election could take place, however, crowds of Kostunica supporters and Milosevic haters stormed the Parliament building and the state-controlled television station, demanding that Milosevic step down. One day later, Milosevic conceded defeat, and Kostunica began the work of rebuilding an isolated, impoverished, and now badly bomb-damaged country.

Milosevic remained free at first; the ICTY wanted him to stand trial, but Kostunica refused to hand him over to that tribunal, because he expected a foreign court to be biased against Serbs. Still, others in Belgrade, including the new prime minister, believed that Milosevic was guilty as charged and must leave, in order to end international pressure and rehabilitate Yugoslavia's reputation. In April 2001, a group of Serbian officials arrested Milosevic on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power, and announced that they would prosecute him in a Serbian court. Two months later, defying both a court order and Kostunica's wishes, those same officials acted suddenly; they placed Milosevic in a helicopter and sent him to the American camp in Bosnia, where he was then flown by jet to the Hague. Western leaders praised the transfer and pledged more than $1 billion in economic aid to Yugoslavia.

As for Kosovo, it remains in a state of political limbo. It looks like the blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers are here to stay, because, as in Bosnia, everyone knows they are the only thing preventing another ethnic bloodbath. Indeed, they seemed surprised at the viciousness of the former Albanian victims, who have taken advantage of the situation to harass the Serbs who once oppressed them. In early 2001 the KLA started making trouble in Macedonia, where the population is one-fourth Albanian, so we can't say that the sad story of the Balkans is over--at least not just yet.

Top of the page

Demographics, 1914-2000

Europe's population grew from 451.85 million to 727.76 million between 1914 and 2000, a 61% increase. Although this is a lot, the above figure also reveals a general slowdown. Every century from the fifteenth to the nineteenth saw a higher growth rate than the previous one; now the continent seems to be approaching a demographic plateau. The European community grew by an average of 0.7 percent a year in the twentieth century, compared with about 1 percent in the nineteenth. Meanwhile in the Third World, improved living conditions have allowed birthrates to exceed 2, sometimes 3 percent. What this means is that around 1990 Africa pulled ahead of Europe; for the first time since the fall of the Egyptian and Carthaginian civilizations, Africans outnumber Europeans.

The most obvious reason for the slump is two world wars, each killing tens of millions of people. In the long run, however, declining fertility is more important. The main causes for this are no longer famines and epidemics, but economics. Before the twentieth century, most cultures encouraged large families, because that meant extra hands to work the farm and more helpers to look after the parents in old age. In addition, infant mortality was commonplace, so many parents must have expected to lose some children before they grew up. All this changed with the rise of modern urban life. The crowding of apartment houses made large families less desirable, the cost of child-rearing rose geometrically, and the need for more education compelled adults to marry later in life than they used to. Thus, families grew smaller in developed countries, even while life expectancy was going up. In much of postwar Europe, not enough families have two or more children, so the population of nations like France, Germany, Austria and Italy would have declined if it wasn't for the immigration factor.

The human migration to Europe, mostly from former European colonies like India, increased tremendously after World War II: Algerians moving to France; Turks to Germany; Iranians and Iraqis to Sweden; Pakistanis, Nigerians, and Jamaicans to the United Kingdom; Indonesians to the Netherlands; Moroccans to Belgium. Most came to find work, while others (e.g., the Tibetan community in Switzerland) were part of the so-called "silent invasion" of refugees seeking political asylum, mainly from conflict-ridden developing nations. Today Europe is home to millions of non-Europeans who are classified as immigrants, guest workers, or asylum seekers. Germany, with six million foreigners listed on its books, is Europe's leading host, followed by France (nearly four million), Italy and Switzerland (each with one million).

In most nations of Western Europe, where the electronic revolution continues to shrink the labor pool, these people fill an important niche, providing unskilled labor for a low wage and boosting productivity. Yet the immigrants, many of them Moslems, often live as strangers in their adopted land and are easy scapegoats for critics who protest the cost of social services, crime, loss of jobs to immigrants, or the impact of foreign things on their culture.(11) All this is testing Europe's openness to newcomers. One unfortunate response has been the rise of hate groups, especially neo-Nazi ones. This has also led to much soul-searching in the European Union, because its work to eliminate border controls could, theoretically, allow immigrants to move unhindered from one member nation to another.

Germany has a wide-open door to immigrants because many of them are ethnic Germans. As part of Stalin's policy to reorganize eastern Europe, he deported the Germans living in postwar Poland and Czechoslovakia, some eight million of them. He also got rid of the three million "Baltic" and "Volga" Germans living in Russia, descendants of the Teutonic Knights who had enjoyed considerable economic and political power under the tsars. The citizens of East and West Germany were not thrilled to meet their long-lost cousins; some of them came from as far away as Kazakhstan, and native Germans complained that the only thing German about them was that they might have a German shepherd for a pet!

Population-wise, the biggest gainers in modern Europe are the two Moslem nations of the post-communist Balkans: Albania and Bosnia. This is a bit of a surprise, because Islam was suppressed while communism was in charge; in effect, the Albanians and the Bosnians rediscovered Islam in the 1990s. The Albanians are already showing a 3% growth rate, and the Bosnians are even more fertile, with a whopping 4.6% rate for 1999, as if they are trying to make up for the casualties they suffered in their recent war.

The biggest demographic losers are the rest of the former communist countries. All of the Soviet Union's European republics are losing people, now that their citizens are no longer forced to spend their lives in one place. Russia lost 700,000 in 1999, for example, and Ukraine lost 400,000. Those who leave are not only fleeing the economic implosion of post-communist eastern Europe, but also ecological disasters like Chernobyl. The Soviet Union encouraged population growth by awarding medals of heroism to the mothers of ten or more children, so these declines show how far the Russians have fallen in recent years. Ex-satellite states such as Poland and Hungary aren't doing much better; their communities will also shrink until there are definite signs that life is improving.

Top of the page

Europe Today

Western Europe recovered from World War II just in time to take part in the "computer revolution," the transition from industrial to information-handling economies in the late twentieth century. Their lack of unity made it difficult for them to keep up with American computer technology as time went on, causing some to complain about the American tyranny over hardware and software. With the birth of the Internet, the major powers all staked a claim to space on the World Wide Web, as you might expect. However, the European nations that are shining brightest in the Information Age are ones that did not play an important part in the first industrial revolution: Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, even Estonia.

In one area of the new technology Europeans are ahead of the United States: wireless telephones. Before the 1990s ended, the cell phone companies of Europe agreed on standard frequencies that all of them can use anywhere. This didn't happen in America, so Americans were faced with using phones that became useless if they switched their service to another company. As a result, more Europeans than Americans are using cell phones and related devices as the twenty-first century begins.

You may have noticed that post-1945 Europe is a lot more stable than the rest of the world has been. Though we weren't paying attention during the Cold War years, Europe has enjoyed the longest time of peace since the Pax Romana (see Chapter 4). Except for Yugoslavia, all recent changes on the European map have occurred peacefully: the reunification of Germany in 1990, the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Communism kept a lid on ethnic disputes in the east for 45 years, but in western Europe the stability is even more profound; except for a slight adjustment of the border between Germany and the Low Countries (1960), there have been no changes since 1919. Moreover, the will to build empires has been burned out of nearly everybody. Politicians who talk about expansion/domination are dismissed as extremists, and nobody seriously expects a future war between former enemies such as France, Germany and Britain. One could say that just as the Thirty Years War put an end to killing in the name of religion, so the two world wars of the twentieth century ended the urge to kill for politics.

Nationalists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries argued that Europe would see permanent peace when each ethnic group had a single country to live in. Today's European map is very close to achieving that goal. In countries with more than one ethnic group, like Switzerland and Belgium, a common heritage of joining together against foreigners is often enough to keep them united. The Balkans, Northern Ireland and the Basque-inhabited part of Spain seem to be the only areas where people dislike the current political situation enough to want to fight about it.

Whatever happens next, it appears that a major age in world history has ended during our lifetime, and we are in the first years of a new one. The past era began with Europe exploring, colonizing and conquering the rest of the world. Now Europe's former colonies are free, and Europe itself is wondering if it can play a role in today's world, either united or divided, without coming under domination from some outside power, especially the United States. We have called the period from 1450 to 2000 the modern era (I called it that in previous chapters of this work), but someday our descendants may apply the same name to their own time, so perhaps another name, like the Western era, is more appropriate.

One of the most famous sentences in literature is the opening line from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The same can be said about the twentieth century. In rising standards of living it has been the best of times; today's appliances, transportation, medicine, and education give the ordinary person a more productive, more comfortable lifestyle than even the god-kings of ancient times enjoyed. However, modern technology has also made it possible to commit atrocities and oppression on a worldwide scale; when it came to killing people, the twentieth-century champions of fascism and communism made past tyrants--even Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun--look like beginners. For that reason, I have considered calling the past hundred years "the Extreme Century." And the trends which made the twentieth century that way are still with us. Because communications, transportation, and our pace of life run faster than ever, and our population is still growing, I wouldn't be surprised if the next century is even more "extreme."

In 1992, a writer named Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called The End of History and the Last Man. In it he predicted that because the Cold War is over, history as we know it has ended, and nothing interesting will happen after this, since civilized people no longer use war to resolve their differences. He made that claim too hastily; Yugoslavia went to pieces shortly after that, giving us some history of the old-fashioned kind and bringing the term Balkanization back into our political vocabulary. Consequently, this series of history papers may be finished, now that we have arrived at the present, but the author believes that we are going to see much more history, for better or for worse, before the story of humanity is over. To those who view life as a bad roller coaster ride, and say "Stop this world and let me off now!" my answer is that you should stay. The most exciting part of the ride is probably ahead.

The End


1. The Scots remember the days when their kingdom was not united with England. In early 1997 London placated the nationalists by allowing Scotland a plebiscite on the issue of creating a Scottish parliament. The Scots voted "Yes," and later in the same year Wales voted somewhat reluctantly to do the same. Apparently the Welsh have been under English rule for so long that they have to remind themselves that they, and not the English, are the true descendants of King Arthur (see Chapters 5 and 6).

2. Some people still remember the silly headline on a London newspaper that read "Fog in Channel--Continent Isolated."

3. One EU regulation literally "cut the cheese," by banning the manufacture and marketing of feta cheese by any country besides Greece (Denmark, France and Germany had been exporting more of this traditional Greek product than the Greeks themselves).

4. During 1989 alone, more than 300,000 Bulgarian Turks crossed the border into Turkey to escape persecution.

5. Milosevic's father was an Orthodox priest, while his mother was a communist activist; both of them later committed suicide. Some observers have suggested that Milosevic was mentally unbalanced because of them.

6. In the 1980s, Catholic pilgrims reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary weeping in Medugorje, a Bosnian village. This may have been a warning of what was to come.

7. Bosnian Serb propaganda often talked in Crusader terms, calling the Moslems "Turks" and declaring that the Serbs were Europe's defense against Islam (see footnote #10). On the other side, Moslem veterans from as far away as Afghanistan came to the Balkans, to fight for the independence of Bosnia, and later Kosovo.
The author remembers an off-beat news story in 1994, where two Serbian entrepreneurs introduced a new cologne in a bottle shaped like a hand grenade, which they named "Serb." When a reporter asked them if they were giving their people a bad name, they replied that nothing could give the Serbs a worse name than they had already!

8. Because the new boundary ran close to Pale on three sides, Republika Srpska moved its capital to Banja Luka in the northwest. Pale remained a power base for Karadzic's supporters, though.

9. Although the Yugoslav war is a European problem, the United States has played a major role. US planes led the air strikes that ended the war in Bosnia, and American soldiers formed part of the peacekeeping coalition until 2004. 7,000 American peacekeeping troops also served in Kosovo; as of 2013, there are still 621 Americans there.

10. Mamula is a small, uninhabited island, just off Montenegro's coast. During the part of World War II when the Italians ruled Montenegro, the fortress on Mamula was used as a prisoner-of-war camp; 2,300 prisoners were reportedly held here, of whom 130 died or were killed. In 1959, to make sure this war atrocity would not be forgotten, Yugoslavia made a movie about the place, Mamula Camp. Then in January 2016, the Montenegrin government approved a project to turn the fortress/camp into a luxurious hotel resort. Naturally many folks think this is disrespectful of Mamula's past, especially relatives of the camp victims. The Montenegrin government responded by saying that the site was falling into ruins, and the land developers have promised to included some kind of memorial room or a museum. We could have a haunted house story in the making here!

11. When all is said and done, the immigrants may have the last laugh on the culture matter. Mosques have been built in the heart of Christendom to accommodate the religious needs of Moslems, while at the same time church attendance has declined to single-digit figures, leading some theologians to declare Europe a post-Christian society. In southern France the schools are now half-Moslem in the makeup of their student bodies, because an Algerian family with twelve kids is not all that unusual. It never fails to amuse the author that where the best armies of Islam (Moors at the Battle of Tours, Turks at the gates of Vienna) failed to convert western and central Europe, unarmed poor to middle-class immigrants may be succeeding.

Support this site!

© Copyright 2021 Charles Kimball

Top of the page



A History of Europe


Other History Papers

Beyond History