Kosovo and Bosnia: What's the Difference?

Kosovo and Bosnia: What's the Difference?

Kosovo and Bosnia: What's the Difference?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 21 1998 5:08 PM

Kosovo and Bosnia: What's the Difference?

Massacres continue in Kosovo while the international community debates airstrikes. Sounds like what happened in Bosnia, right?


Yes and no. In the interest of keeping the conflicts straight, here are some similarities and differences.

The Countries:

Similarity: Both Kosovo and Bosnia were part of the former Yugoslavia, which began to break up in 1991.

Difference: Bosnia, when armed conflict erupted in 1992, was an independent country. The Serb attacks, intitially sponsored by the Yugoslav National Army, began as a war between nation states. Kosovo, on the other hand, is a province of Serbia, which together with Montenegro makes up the new Yugoslavia (Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989). Thus, though the Kosovo Albanians are fighting for independence, the breakaway struggle is technically internal to Yugoslavia. The difference between an internal conflict and a war between nation states is very important in international law.


The Players:

Similarity: The main aggressor in both conflicts is Slobodan Milosevic, current president of Yugoslavia (former president of Serbia). The main international negotiator is Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to the Balkans, who negotiated the Dayton Peace Agreements that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. As he awaits confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Holbrooke is ducking in and out of Yugoslavia prodding Milosevic into agreement.

Ethnic Composition:

Difference. Kosovo's two million people are approximately 90 percent Albanian and nine percent Serb. Bosnia's prewar population of four million was a relatively even mix of Serbs, Muslims, and Croats.



Difference: So far, the international community has not interfered militarily in Kosovo, though NATO airstrikes remain a possibility. In Bosnia, a U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was on the ground through much of the war, replaced by NATO troops after the Dayton Peace Accords. NATO airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs, late in the war in 1995, helped push the Serbs to the negotiating table.

Current Troop Situation:

Difference: Bosnia has 34,000 NATO troops on patrol, plus more than 10,000 civilians working to provide humanitarian aid and implement the Dayton Peace Accords. (As a result, Bosnia is relatively stable and unlikely to be pulled into the Kosovo conflict.) Kosovo, by contrast, has no NATO troops formally installed. However, the first of what will supposedly be 2,000 unarmed international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are arriving in Kosovo to oversee Milosevic's compliance with Holbrooke's agreement.

Similarity. Bosnian Muslims long complained that the presence of U.N. troops--some of whom were taken hostage in 1995--was an impediment to the bombing that ultimately pushed the Serbs to negotiate. Now some fear that the unarmed monitors in Kosovo could be held hostage by the Serbs as a guarantee against NATO bombing.


Similarity: The war in Bosnia displaced close to half the country's prewar population of four million to other parts of Bosnia, former Yugoslavia, and Europe. The conflict in Kosovo has already forced 250,000 Albanians to flee. Most have camped out elsewhere in Kosovo; many others have headed for Bosnia and Albania. In both Kosovo and Bosnia, the refugee problem has sparked tremendous international concern.

This item was written by Kate Galbraith.