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A series of six wars encompassing the former Yugoslavia from 1991-2001:

Basically, without somebody to hold it together, Yugoslavia ripped itself apart in a spectacular fashion, producing the only big war in Europe since World War Two. Essentially the roots are religious and ethnic. Serbs aligned with Greeks and became Orthodox Christians, Croats aligned with the Magyars and became Catholic, while the Bosniaks aligned with the Ottomans and became Muslim. The wars also had an economic edge to them; the two northern republics were the most heavily industrialized, and their inhabitants often accused the government of subsidizing the Serb plurality (Serbs amounted to about 36% of the population; next largest were Croats at about 20%) at their expense, making them the first to bail.

Especially the wars in Croatia and Bosnia saw the term "ethnic cleansing" invented and put to practice, with the United Nations generally standing around, powerless to help as the big powers dithered in New York as the entire region just went to shit. It initially started off as a small conflict in Slovenia and eventually grew to a much larger war when Germany unilaterally recognized Slovenia and Croatia. The true horrors, however, were showcased in the Bosnian Civil War, which overlapped the Croatian War of Independence, and where the fighting quickly morphed into Bosnian Serbs versus Bosnian Croats versus Bosnian Muslims loyal to Izetbegovic versus Bosnian Muslims loyal to Abdic versus any militia given even a degree of autonomy. While the world was aware of the bloody conflicts going on, the media had a tendency to avoid mentioning WHY the war even started in the first place. As a result, the Western world, unaccustomed to the rivalries in the Balkans, sat around and twiddled their thumbs, basically unable to help or understand these conflicted people. (Yet supplying and selling weapons and supplies to this certain sides in an attempt to tip the balance and bring the war to an early end. And every major power backed at least one side, everything from Jihadists in Bosnia to Croatia having the French and America supply arms.) This, combined with the "us versus them" mentality of the people at war, made for a deadly combination.

Eventually, that war ended via Western intervention, but things got trickier as Kosovo decided that it was time to break ties with the Serbian land it was a part of. This sparked the third big conflict, the Kosovo War. What was left of Yugoslavia decided to take deadly measures in the southern region which prompted America to intervene which caused an exodus. The war only came to an end after America used diplomatic cunning and outright broke the peace treaty it just signed as soon as Yugoslav soldiers left the province. While the Albanians in Kosovo have still claimed their independence, it is not officially recognized by Serbia or the majority of the international community.

You may also want to check out the Sandbox for more details on the characters.

List of tropes involved during the war:

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Possible and done often.
  • Awesome Music: Has it's own page.
  • Balkanize Me: The Trope Namer
  • Beardness Protection Program/Beardless Protection Program: A tactic used by a lot of war crime convicts while in hiding.
  • Civil War: What it initially started off as.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Palyed with in Operation Allied Force when it turned out that NATO airstrikes did actually minimal damage to the Serbian military itself, though considerable infrastructural and strategic damage (to say nothing of relatively high collateral).
    • Played straight with Operation Storm and the Croat and Bosnian offensives that ended the war.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Regarding the region's violent history and knowing, especially with the advantage of hindsight, the atrocities committed. Even the UN and NATO can't be considered as morally white. The rulings of the International Tribunal of Justice for the former Yugoslavia may squarely place most of the blame on the Milošević's and Karadzić's regimes, but keep in mind that the ICTY are contested by the Serb side (see below.)
  • Death World: Most of eastern Bosnia during that time.
  • Eagle Squadron: Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Serbs all had foreigners head over to help them out. As a general rule, Bosnia received volunteers from the Muslim Arab world, Bosnian Serbs from Serbia Greece and Russia, and Croatia from Western European countries.
  • Enemy Mine: In the early stages of the war Tuđman and Milošević made a deal to carve up Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia.
    • In 1994 Croats and Bosniaks allied themselves under US pressure against the Serbs.
  • Fighting For a Homeland: More or less every party, save the UN and NATO forces, had this reason in mind. Unfortunately, every homeland just so happened to included parts of someone else's homeland. While the Croats and Bosniaks fought for the territorial integrity of their homeland, the Serbs of the Croatian Krajna and Bosnia sought seperation from said countries and annexation by Serbia which is why the Serbs wanted to remain in Yugoslavia while others sought independence. The ethnic composition of Yugoslavia made a lot of things easier said then done.
  • Flame Bait: Mostly due to it's recent history and Misplaced Nationalism.
  • Follow the Leader: Franjo Tuđman had a uniform that was similar to Tito's. There is even a popular joke in former Yugoslavia describing this trope: Tito and Tuđman meet each other in hell. Tuđman greets him with "Hello dictator!" while Tito replies with "Hello imitator!".
  • Funny Moment / Black Comedy : The trials in the Hague have a lot of these. Šešelj in particular is a comedic gold mine.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: All sides spawned a lot of examples of this trope who depended on nationalism instead of sex appeal. From a certain point of view this war also provided a deconstruction of this trope. While many of them like Knindža and Thompson seemed not to have noticed that the war is over and still perform nationalist songs on their concerts (although not surprising given subservient attitude of new Croatian "democratic" governments in regards to... everyone), Bosniak singers suffered a Hype Backlash. Being the largest and most widely distributed ethnic group, the Serbs are still one of the biggest music markets in the Balkans and anyone who wants to start a significant career (especially in the folk and Turbofolk genre) depends on a commercial success with the Serbs. Many Bosniak singers didn't want or werent allowed to appear on Serbian television. Same also applies for Serbian singers within their (former) Bosniak fandom to the point of their songs being hated for their singers. It doesn't help that Serbs and Bosniaks have still close ties with each other in the music business, almost as if the war never happened.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: A lot of (alleged) war criminals who were former enemies became close friends in Hague custody.
  • Gratuitous Rape: Employed by all sides with apparently the Serbs having the lion's share.
  • Hot-Blooded: The Croat, Bosniak, Serb and Albanian mentality.
  • Instant Militia: Subverted. Every side built their armies from the local Territorial Defence Militia. The VRS was created out of the remnants of the Bosnian Serb JNA elements.
  • It Got Worse
  • Kangaroo Court: What the ICTY is accused to be by some.
  • Kent Brockman News: Every side (including the West) was guilty of this. The Serb media in particular to the point of Memetic Mutation.
  • La Résistance: Technically everyone (or no one, depending on how you look at it) since there wasn't a coherent international reaction to legitimize any government during the wars.
    • There was, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and a diminished Yugoslavia were internationally recognized country throughout the war.
  • Melee a Trois: The Bosnian War was Serbs vs Bosniaks vs Croats until 1994.
  • Misplaced Nationalism: Even this site can be prone to this sometimes.
  • Moment of Awesome: Serbia became the first country to actually shoot down a stealth aircraft. The wreckage was recovered by Serbia, and is believed to have been thoroughly examined by Russian officials; some pieces are currently on display in Belgrade. See below for how they did it.
    • Locals even printed up T-Shirts reading "SORRY! We didn't know it was invisible. Greetings from Serbia!"
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The units that participated in the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns. Several actual Neo-Nazis volunteered on the Serb and Croat sides (see Those Wacky Nazis below).
    • And beware using the word Nazi in this conflict, as the area was heavily involved in World War Two with literal Nazis factions in the different ethnic groups. The Croats loyal to the fascist NDH regime, the Bosnian Muslims within the Ustaše and the SS Mountain Division "Handžar" and the Albanians loyal to Italy being Axis-aligned. Half of the Serbs were either for the most part with the Chetniks of Draža Mihailović who wanted to restore the Serbian monarchy or with the Serbian puppet state under Milan Nedic. After losing Allied support and with the advance of Tito's forces and the Red Army, the Chetniks switched to the Axis side to fight the Partisans. The other half of all ethnic groups fought for said Partisans under Tito.
  • U.N Peacekeepers Are Useless: Except when supplying warring factions with arms or protecting warlords.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Media on all sides used this to get their respective population in a nationalistic frenzy.
  • Private Military Contractors: The MPRI being the most infamous one.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: Sadly committed by all sides. What made thus war especially horrifying were rape camps.
  • Rock Beats Laser: During Operation Allied Force, Serbia had used many unconventional tactics to match with a technologically advanced foe. Among things they used were burning hay to fool IR guided weapons, adding more reflective surfaces to farm equipment to fool radar and radar-guided weapons (such as Laser-Guided Bombs), then there was the incident of the F-117 being shot down. This was done by using a radar that operated at long wavelengths, allowing the aircraft to be detected for brief periods of time, but it was enough to shoot the aircraft down.
    • Otherwise subverted, as the simple fact that the Serbians had to adopt such measures to compete with NATO shows.
    • While the use of long-wave radar was important, a fair bit of the responsibility for the F-117 shoot-down rests on the USAF. F-117s had used identical and similar flight paths in many previous raids, and the Serbs were able to work out the flight paths via the brief glimpses their radar granted them. Serbian spotters watched for incoming F-117s on infrared equipment, the idea being that the batteries could zero in on its vector for a better chance of a clear detection, and kill.
    • The Muslims in Bosnia did some incredible things with ham radio operators, breaking codes the Serbs didn't even think the the Muslims in Bosnian could intercept, let alone break.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Desecration of all factions' churches/mosques and the slaughter of many minority members from their homes.
  • The Remnant: The Republika Srpska.
    • The Republic of the Serbian Krajina (located in eastern Croatia) used to be this trope before it was eventually reabsorbed following the wars.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A lot of Neo-Nazis fought on the Croatian side while some of the Greek volunteers who aided the Serbs came from the Golden Dawn party.
  • The Siege: The Battle of Vukovar featured a force of around 2,200 Croatian infantry fighting against a much larger Serbian force that had armor and air support. Despite being horribly outmatched and surrounded, the Croats held out for 87 days and inflicted heavy casualties on their enemies in brutal street-to-street fighting.
    • The Siege of Sarajevo holds the record as longest siege in modern history.
  • Sniper Duel: Several times. One example is a merc training Croatian snipers who told of a Serbian sniper with an unaccountable taste for shooting civilians. He and his class tracked him down and shot him.
  • Tank Goodness: Many different tanks were used during the wars, from World War II era T-34s to the much more modern M-84s. However, they usually proved rather ineffective for various reasons (bad terrain, lack of maintenance, lack of properly trained crews etc.).
  • Urban Warfare: Sarajevo
  • Vestigial Empire: The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) is legally regarded as the legal succesor of the Socialist Federal Republic Yugoslavia. Though the UN and the other former Yugoslav republics think otherwise.
  • Vetinari Job Security: Once Tito died, the Clock started ticking on when this whole can of worms would open.
  • War for Fun and Profit: The various paramilitary organizations and war profiteers like Arkan and Captain Dragan.
  • Why We're Bummed Communism Fell
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: Despite winning independence, a significant number of people in the new countries feel they're worse off than before the war. The reasons are mostly economical (high unemployment and corruption) rather than political (though a number of people are nostalgic for the old country - a phenomenon known as Yugo-nostalgia). See the character page for details.
  • The Woobie: Let's say that this is a conflict where every side sees themselves as the victims of the other.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Brutally averted.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters / Villain White Washing Service / Demonisation: Who was a hero and who a war criminal? Is the ICTY credible or a joke court at best? Who was the aggressor and who the victim? It is needless to say questions like these have always been the casus belli for a lot of Flame Wars.

In fiction:

The primary use of the war today is as a source of modern day war criminals, as the Nazi ones are getting too old now. Because of the nature of the mass graves, many a forensic pathologist will have worked there.

Animation and comics

  • In Seikon no Qwaser it serves as the backstory of Teresa who grew up in a Serbian-Orthodox monastery in the Krajna.
  • In the 2012–2017 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, Rocksteady fought in the wars when he was a Human.
  • In Shin Kimagure Orange Road, Kyosuke Kasuga has become an Intrepid Reporter (of the "wartime photographer" kind) who covers the Yugoslav Wars.


  • No Man's Land, a famous anti-war movie about a Bosnian Muslim who is immobilized on a battlefield. As the Serbs have laid him on an anti-personnel mine which will explode if he gets up, he can't move at all. The film has a major Downer Ending.
  • Behind Enemy Lines features an American airman shot down over Bosnia, who must then fight through hostile Bosnian troops to get to safety. The villain's dragon in this film served as an inspiration for Niko Bellic of Grand Theft Auto IV
  • The Serbian film Underground tells the story of Yugoslavia from the Serbian resistance of World War 2 to the Yugoslav wars. This dark comedy is ultimately about the tragedy of Yugoslavia's balkanization. It was also released as a 5 1/2 hour miniseries called Once Upon a Time, There was a Country, which is also the film's closing line. Although it was well-received, some critics accused it of being Serbian nationalistic propoganda and of having an overly idealistic portrayal of communist Yugoslavia.


  • Chinese Sci-Fi writer Cixin Liu's Butterfly of Entropy told the story of a Serbian meteorlogist who tries to creat heavy clouds above his hometown to spare his family from NATO bombing by starting wind current changes in some calculated points (like a butterfly generating a storm). He failed because, it seemed he already generated too much random currents and heat changes on his way.
  • Zlata's Diary, the diary of a young girl named Zlata Filipović documenting her experiences before and during the Siege of Sarajevo. Despite contemporary media comparisons to Anne Frank (which she was understandably uncomfortable with), she escaped the war and is now a writer and film maker in Dublin.

Live Action TV

  • Two years before the events of the first season of 24, Jack Bauer leads a squad sent to kill Serbian war criminal Viktor Drazen. They fail to do that, but do kill his wife and daughter. Naturally, Drazen isn't happy.
  • Waking the Dead has Dr. Tara Fitzgerald having done forensic work in the former Yugoslavia. In one episode, the team investigate a case she worked on and results in a Crowning Moment of Awesome as those responsible are identified by three witnesses a decade later.
  • New Tricks A Serbian war criminal went into hiding as a monk in an addiction clinic and killed a man who recognised him
  • Dr. Donald Mallard worked on war graves in the former Yugoslavia.
  • The pilot for Law and Order Special Victims Unit has Stabler and Benson investigating the murder of a cab driver... who turned out to be a Serbian war criminal and rapist who was done in by his victims.
  • ER had Dr. Luka Kovac, a Croatian who lost his wife and two children during the conflict.
  • The Death of Yugoslavia by BBC is probably by far one of the best documentaries about the war. Not only does it give great insight in every faction and their motivations, but also explains quite well how step by step Yugoslavia became fragmented and collapsed from within.
  • An episode of Extras features Ben Stiller directing a movie set during the Yugoslav Wars and based on the life of a real survivor.
  • An episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia features the gang working as extras on the set of a movie about the Yugoslav Wars. Frank and Dee play corpses during a scene of ethnic cleansing, but they refuse to sit still.


Video Games

  • The protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic, is a Serbian veteran of the Yugoslav Wars, particularly Bosnia.
  • T-72: Balkans on Fire is set during one of the Yugoslav Wars in which the player is a Russian volunteer fighting on the Serbian side, mostly against the Croats.
  • Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is very heavily based off the Yugoslav wars. Seriously, just replace the names of Dolgare with Tito and all the ethnic groups with Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian. They do not shy away from showing the hatred between the three factions either.


  1. Yellow = Slovenia. Blue = Croatia. Purple = Macedonia. Green = Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bright Red = Yugoslavia. Dark Red = Serbia. Dark But Comparably Lighter Red = Kosovo. Gray = Montenegro.
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