A top sniper, codenamed “Arrow,” loads her gun in a safe room in Sarajevo, June 30, 1992. The 20-year old Serb who shoots for the Bosnian forces says she has lost count of the number of people she has killed .
She ended up getting shot in the back, basically ripping out her whole stomach and she still walked out of there, not thinking about her but about her comrades and the rifle.
The Bosnian army sniper known by the code name “Arrow” was wounded in early December, hit in the back by a 7.62mm bullet fired from a tank light machine gun. The bullet drove just past her spine and ripped out through her stomach, but missed her kidneys and spleen.
“I never thought for a split-second that I was dead, but I thought my spine had gone,” she said. “I was more worried that I couldn’t walk and my two comrades would refuse to leave me there and they would be killed too.” She forced herself to stand and run another 250 yards to safety, after making sure one of her comrades had picked up her rifle.
The whole conflict is a fascinating thing to study, because it really reveals the ways in which people will form fierce group identities, despite these identities being often quite random.
The former nation of Yugoslavia was an artificial construct put together by the Western Powers after WWI. Originally it was called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Croats and Serbs are basically the same kinds of people, their languages are really close and their ethnicities are almost identical, but one is Catholic and one is Orthodox. So they hate each other. The Bosnians are also quite similar, but they’re Muslim. More hate.
During the breakup of Yugoslavia was the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), mobilized their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serbian territory, then war soon spread across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Bosniak and Croat population. There were people who lived in Sarajevo but were ethnically Serb, and yet chose to fight on behalf of the native Bosnians because that’s where they were from. So in addition to religion, you’ve got “place of origin” as a marker of identity. Then you throw language into the mix and it gets even more complicated.
The BBC documentary series Death of Yugoslavia is pretty great.
Recommended reading material (diverse explanations for the wars in the Balkans):
“I consider first the violent conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. These were spawned not so much by the convulsive surging of ancient hatreds or by frenzies whipped up by demagogic politicians and the media as by the ministrations of small—sometimes very small—bands of opportunistic marauders recruited by political leaders and operating under their general guidance.
- James D. Fearon – Commitment Problems and the Spread of Ethnic Conflict (chapter in “The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict: Fear, Diffusion and Escalation” – a summary can be found here ):
Against the argument that the various ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia had always hated each other, and that argument that ethnic elites polarized the masses, Fearon describes the polarization of the ethnic groups as driven by the commitment problem faced by Croats and Serbs in the new Croatian state. The Serb minority in this new state feared exploitation, and the Croat government had no way of guaranteeing its long-term well-being. Therefore, the Serb extremists who had been advocating for violent secession ultimately won out.
- Alan Kuperman – The Moral Hazard of Humanitarian Intervention: Lessons from the Balkans (note that this paper is fairly unconvincing and it has been heavily criticized):
The norm of humanitarian intervention “creates moral hazard that encourages the excessively risky or fraudulent behavior of rebellion by members of groups that are vulnerable to genocidal retaliation, but it cannot fully protect against the backlash. The emerging norm thereby causes some genocidal violence that otherwise would not occur. Bosnia and Kosovo illustrate that…”
The Croatian War was the result of a Security Dilemma
“Drawing on interviews with former military leaders, local and international officials, and in-country observers, I argue that the outbreak, persistence, termination, and aftermath of the 1992–1995 war cannot be explained without taking into account the critical role of smuggling practices and quasi-private criminal combatants.”
Gagnon challenges primordialist notions of ethnic violence by arguing that ethnonationalist feelings are created and mobilized by threatened elites. Given the costs of domestic ethnic violence, elites prefer to engage in conflict that takes places outside of the borders of their state. Thus, they minimize the costs to their key supporters who are located within the state. Gagnon examines the sources of ethnic conflict in Serbia, starting with the 1960’s and leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia.