The NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia beginning on March 24, 1999 did not occur in a vacuum but rather followed ten years of regional conflict and aggression inspired and orchestrated by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Until 1991, Yugoslavia was one nation comprised of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Serbia was further divided into two autonomous regions; Kosovo and Vojvodina. Each republic and both autonomous provinces in Serbia had a seat on the federal presidency and had a considerable amount of autonomy in local affairs. With one notable exception–Bosnia–each of the republics roughly represents a distinct ethnic group. Today each of the republics of the former Yugoslavia use their own language, but they are all Slavic languages similar to Serbo-Croatian.
The Rise to Power of Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic came to power in 1987 with the rise of Serbian nationalism following the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet communism. He became a hero overnight in Serbia when in 1987 he went to Kosovo to qualm the fears of local Serbs amid a strike by Kosovar Albanian miners that was paralyzing the province. In a famous speech televised throughout Serbia, he told the waiting crowd of angry Serbs, “You will not be beaten again.” Few Serbs were either beaten or oppressed in Kosovo (a few incidents were blown way out of proportion), but this did not matter to 8 million Serbs who felt deep historical grievances and welcomed a strong figure, such as Milosevic, who might restore their place in history.
By 1989, Milosevic was firmly in control of the Serbian republic and embarked on a campaign to consolidate his power throughout Yugoslavia. On the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo¤where the medieval Serb kingdom was defeated by Ottoman forces¤Milosevic presided over a massive rally attended by more than a million Serbs at Kosovo Polje, the exact location of the historic battle fought on June 28, 1389.
One of his first acts following this historic event was to rescind the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo and institute draconian martial law in the province. Kosovar Albanians were fired from their jobs, their schools were closed, they were denied access to state-run health care, and they lost administrative control of the province. The situation also effectively gave Milosevic additional votes in the federal legislature.
This ushered in a decade of hell for the south Balkans. Milosevic and other Serb ultra-nationalists embarked on a campaign to create a Greater Serbia, unifying under one nation all areas where Serbs lived and driving out all minorities through a genocidal process euphemistically called śethnic cleansing.”