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The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Bosnia: History, Policies, and Public Opinion

Throughout the Cold War, the United States was a steadfast supporter of Yugoslavia for its geopolitical significance. America appreciated Yugoslavia's moderate character and its independence from the Soviet Union (Zimmermann, 1996, p. 6). Few Western governments believed in early 1990 that Yugoslavia, host to the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics and the prototype of a progressive one-party state, would cast aside its economic and political success in return for bloodshed and strife. However, though liberal internally with a participatory economy, Yugoslavia was a fragile federation of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia as well as two autonomous provinces in Serbia—Kosovo, whose population was 90 percent ethnic Albanian, and Vojvodina, a complex mix of Hungarians, Croats, Slovaks, and Rumanians. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, nationalism pushed aside tolerance, and Yugoslavia dissolved into war.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War,Yugoslavia lost much of its security-related relevance to the United States. The international community paid minimal attention in 1987 to Slobodan Milosevic, who rose to the powerful positions of president of the republic and chairman of the League of Communists of Serbia. His influence largely contributed to the development of nationalist conflict in the region.

Bosnian-Serb Milosevic adopted hard-line policies toward any opposition in Serbia and targeted particularly the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. In 1989 the Milosevic government of Serbia removed the autonomous status of both provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina, and fired local Albanian officials. Human rights abuses in Kosovo outraged Western diplomats, yet the Milosevic government continued pursuing absolute control over the province. It used the excuse that Kosovo was the “cradle of Serbian civilization,” and minimized the role of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo government administration1 and economic production (Bugajski, 1995, pp. 133–35). The authoritarian regime began systematically denying the basic civil liberties of Kosovo Albanians (Zimmerman, 1996, p. 7). In 1989, American policy toward Yugoslavia focused specifically on human rights issues (Gompert, 1996, p. 124). Overall American pol

1During the 1980s and 1990s, the Kosovo Albanians boycotted leadership positions, elections,
the educational system, and the political system, which included other ethnic groups, and orga-
nized themselves as a state within a state.

-177-

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