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The powder keg.

Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie is a man with a gift for giving quotable quotes. He commanded the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia, and one of his more difficult jobs was leading Canadian troops in the reopening of Sarajevo's airport. At one point, General Mackenzie and a group of journalists were pinned down by sniper fire. As bullets pinged all around them, a breathless reporter asked the general "Who fired first?" To which General Mackenzie replied, "Some guy about 200 years ago."

The general was off by several hundred years, but the point he was making is important. The inter-ethnic friction in the Balkans is a legacy of the many groups who invaded the region over the centuries. As the invaders settled, they often became isolated because of the mountainous terrain. This isolation has preserved their differences and their enmities.

By the 2nd century AD, three main groups occupied the area: Greeks in the south, and Thracians and Illyrians in the north. The modern Albanian language is descended from Illyrian. Next came the Romans. Their strongest influence was in the province they called Dacia and which we now call Romania. The Romanian language is derived from Latin.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Slavs moved into the Balkans from the north. They split into distinct tribes as they settled. These tribal divisions are reflected today in the languages spoken: Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian.

During the 14th century, the Ottomans began to penetrate the Balkans. Some areas of the peninsula remained under their control for 500 years. The Ottoman rule was often harsh and social and economic development was not encouraged. As a result, the Balkans remained backward compared with the rest of Europe.

The 19th century was an age of nationalism throughout the Balkans. The Serbians were the first, in 1804, to revolt against the Ottomans. Next, were the Greeks and Romanians. Other parts of the region, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, came under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But, these areas began to demand their independence.

In 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This act triggered World War I. Following the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved and the state of Yugoslavia created. This brought together several ethnic groups - Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, etc. - under one government. At the same time, Romania was expanded, while the southern Balkans - Greece, Albania - remained unchanged.

During World War II, Bulgaria and Romania became German allies, while the other countries in the region tried to stay out of the fight. However, in 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. Under the communist banner a guerrilla army formed to resist the German occupation of Yugoslavia. Led by Josip Broz Tito, these guerrillas constantly harassed and attacked the Germans. When Germany was defeated, the man who led the resistance went on to lead the country.

As the war ended, the Soviet Union entered the Balkans. Only Greece, following a civil war (1946-49), did not fall under the control of the USSR. Through repression, the Soviets and Tito in Yugoslavia kept the lid on ethnic tensions in the Balkans. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of Tito, that firm control was removed and the region has once again exploded in ethnic violence.


1. Open a clipping file on each of the former republics of Yugoslavia - Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Have a team of students present periodic reviews of the situation in this region.

2. Edward Mortimer, writing in the Financial Times of London, puts forward the gloomy view of the future: "The war in Slovenia lasted a week. Eight Slovenes were killed. The war in Croatia lasted six months and killed an estimated 20,000. The war in Bosnia Herzegovina has lasted two years and killed 200,000. Each time, while governments focussed on ending one war, they failed to take action that might have averted a worse one farther south." Look for more optimistic predictions.
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Title Annotation:Eastern Europe - The Balkans
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:Boundaries.
Next Article:The more thing change....

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