Recently, there has been much fighting
in the former country of Yugoslavia, involving all ethnicities and religious
groups and without making a difference between military or civilians. Diplomats
have been hard at work to attempt to resolve the differences that led to
conflict and bloodshed, but it has proven to be a very difficult thing
to do with extremely limited success. To understand the situation, it has
to be realized that a big part of the problem lies in the geography of
the region and its demography. These factors have contributed to conflicts
in the past and do so now.

Yugoslavia covers mountainous territory.

The backbone of the region is made up of the Balkans, a mountain range
that runs north-south. Continental plate movement from the south has created
an intricate landscape of plains, valleys and mountains. This led to intensive
compartmentalization of the region. As a result, there were few low-level
routes and those that existed became very important strategically. Most
notable are the Varda-Morava corridor, which connected the Aegean Sea and
the Danube, and the Iron Gates of the Danube, linking Central Europe and
the Black Sea, that controlled much of the trade between the Mediterranean
and Central Europe since ancient times. Most of the populations have lived
separated from each other geographically and culturally, developing very
strong national and tribal allegiances. This region is a frontier between

Eastern and Western European civilizations and has also been influnced
by Islam during the Turkish invasion.

The roots of the conflict in the Balkans
go back hundreds of years. Farther than recent events in the region indicate.

Dating back to Roman times, this area was part of the Roman Empire. It
was here that the divide between Eastern and Western Roman Empires was
made when it split under the Roman emperor Diocletian in A.D. 293. Along
with the split, the religions divided also into Roman Catholic and Eastern

Orthodox. This line still divides Catholic Croatians and Hungarians and

Orthodox Montengrins, Serbs, and Romanians. The Romans left behind them
excellent roads, cities that are still important political or economic
centers, like Belgrade, Cluj, or Ljubljana, and the Latin language, which
is preserved in Romanian.

The period of Turkish dominance during
the middle ages left a much diffferent imprint on the region. An alien
religion, Islam, was introduced, adding to already volatile mixture of
geography, politics, religion, and nationalism. The administration of the

Ottoman Empire was very different from that of the Romans. The Turks did
not encourage economic development of areas like Albania, Montenegro and

Romania that promised little in producing riches. They didn't invest in
building roads or creating an infrastructure. Greeks controlled most of
the commerce and Sephadic Jews, expelled from Spain, had influence as well.

The diversity of Yugoslavia can best be
captured in this capsule recitation: "One state, two alphabets, three religions,
four official languages, five nations, six republics, seven hostile neighbors,
and eight separate countries." This had more than a little truth. Yugoslavia
employed Latin and Cyrillic alphabets; it was home to Roman Catholics,

Eastern Orthodox, and Muslims; it's Slavic groups spoke Serbian, Croatian,

Slovenian and Macedonian; they identified themselves as Serbs, Montenegrins,

Croats, Slovenes, and Macedonians; each had its own republic, with an additional

Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a mixed population of Serbs, Croats,
and Serbo-Croatian-speaking Muslims; Yugoslavia was bordered by Italy,

Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, all of whom harbored
some grievances against it; and the "autonomous regions" of Hungarian Vojvodina
and Albanian Kosovo within Serbia functioned until 1990 in an independent
manner comparable to that of the six formal republics. This indeed was
a diverse state. Yugoslavia had been "a geographic impossibility, tied
together by railroads, highways, and a Serbian-dominated army." (Poulsen,

118-9) This country is a patchwork of complicated, interconnected ethnic
and religious entities that intertwined so densely that it is probably
impossible to separate them and make everybody happy.

It was a witness to two bloody Balkan wars
that took place in 1912 and that contributed to the outbreak of World War

I. The conflict seems intrinsic to the region, with painful fragmentation
after the fall of the Hapsburg empire and further discord during and after

World War II. In fact, there was hardly any time when there was little
or no conflict.

The events that started the most recent
escalation of conflict took place in 1991. The first republic to express
anti-Serbian sentiments was Slovenia. They felt that although they and

Croats had prospered the most in Communist Yugoslavia, they were lagging
behind Austria, Italy, and even Hungary. They saw the transfer of their
profits to the southern republics as the reason behind it. During the 1980s
many started calling for separation from Yugoslavia. Serbia boycotted Slovenian
products in 1990 and this only intensified the hostilities. In 1991, Slovenians
declared their independence. The