The Observer JULY 4, 2010 - by Ed Vulliamy


At the height of the Bosnian war, amid a hurricane of killing, rape and 'ethnic cleansing', a movement striving in the opposite direction responded in the most powerful way they knew: with rock'n'roll. Fifteen years since War Child's Help LP, key figures reflect on the war - and music.

Jasmin Elezovic picks up his guitar and sings another song - it is late, but what the hell. A caustic love song called Usne Vrele Visnje (Hot Cherry Lips), typical of a band called Azra, with a yearning intensified these days by the fact that Azra's heyday was also that of a united Yugoslavia, from where the band came and across which they were hugely popular.

Elezovic and his family are sitting in their modest but homely flat above a Habsburgera post office in East Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which for nine months from May 1993 was probably one of the most dangerous places on earth to call home. The sitting room looks out over the mellifluous Neretva river, from the west bank of which Bosnian Croat militias closed off the Muslim east, and submitted it to the most ferocious siege of the Bosnian war, levelling it almost literally into the dust of its own stone. The Muslims were trapped in a tiny enclave: for above, in the easterly direction, were mountaintops from which Serbian guns pounded the enclave throughout all three years of Bosnia's slaughter. The moment in Mostar the world remembers best, however, was not the carnage wrought, but when Croat guns finally shelled and felled the glorious arch of the city's proud hallmark, its Ottoman bridge, to join the river's current below, leaving only two stumps of ancient stone - a moment of triumph for barbarism over civilisation.

Elezovic was only seven years old during the height of the siege, a war child - literally. But he became an unwittingly iconic figure for a movement striving in the opposite direction, pitching culture - and above all rock'n'roll - against the brutishness and savagery. Setting civility and art against the kind of conflict in which, at the Omarska camp, a Muslim prisoner was made to bite the testicles off one of his fellow inmates. The guards, said one witness, whooped "like a crowd at a sporting match". Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, in Visegrád, on the river Drina, a Bosnian Serb leader called Milan Lukić and his men would pack Muslim civilians, including women, elderly people and children, into houses, lock the doors and incinerate them alive. I met a girl - when I was reporting from there back then - who I think was the sole survivor of these rituals after escaping through a window. Her ears looked like melted wax, and she told me how the screams of those burning to death within were drowned outside by the jubilant, drunken singing of the killers.

These places have remained dark corners of hatred ever since, but out of the ruins of Mostar came a response to the barbarity - a charity: War Child, now a global organisation , whose T-shirt Elezovic wore in 1994 on a temporary bridge built by the Bosnian army to replace that which had been destroyed. War Child was launched in part by an album called Help, a phenomenon in the history of rock, put together over a single week by such artists as Radiohead, Blur, The Stone Roses, Paul Weller and Oasis, under the patronage of Brian Eno. Those involved felt - unlike the politicians and diplomats, after three years of stumbling impotence and connivance with the killers - that enough was enough in Bosnia. The album was released fifteen years ago this September, and despite its modest ambitions and insane timetable, remains the most successful "aid album" of all time. This was music's declaration of war on war itself. Another War Child project was a bakery, established during the siege of Mostar. "We brought bread and music to battered Mostar," says Nigel Osborne, a composer and music professor involved from the start. "We went into a place that craved both something to eat and some kind of expression of life." His feeling was then, and is now: "Politicians always lie but music tells the truth. We were going to feed people, and recover the message of peace and democracy which is inherent in all good music."

Elezovic's father, Ermin, spent his time during the latter days of the siege commuting between a frontline of urban warfare (divided by a single street strewn with corpses) and War Child's bakery (he was eventually jailed for a month, for desertion from his duty as a soldier in the Bosnian army). I remember this most perilous of frontlines vividly: to reach the promontory on the west bank held by the Muslims, one had to clamber across the temporary bridge on which the picture of Elezovic was taken, dodging sniper fire, only to then endure the terrifying street-fighting, house to house. "Ermin never slept," recalls his wife, Alma, Elezovic's mother. "He came off duty at 2AM, went straight to bake bread, distributed hundreds of loaves, then back to the front. I think his work in the bakery saved him, from himself I mean, after the terrible things he had seen. But we needed more than bread," she muses, as her son picks an ancient Bosnian "Sevdah" ballad on the guitar he learned to play at the music school War Child set up for children whose lives had been fragmented and ravaged by the conflict. "We needed food for the soul."

The Bosnian war was the cruellest in the breakup of Yugoslavia, which began in 1991 when Serbia confronted an embryonic Croatia across the plains around Vukovar. In 1992, the Serbs unleashed a hurricane of killing, rape and "ethnic cleansing" against Bosnian Muslims and Croats, in a country that had cherished its complex ethnic weave for centuries. In Mostar, Muslim and Croat forces united at first to win a rare victory, driving the Bosnian Serb army of Radovan Karadžić (currently on trial in The Hague) and the still-wanted Ratko Mladić out of town.

But then, encouraged by a "peace plan" drawn up by Lord David Owen and the American Cyrus Vance in 1993 that awarded the Bosnian Croats huge tranches of Muslim land, the Bosnian Croat army, the HVO, began a pale but vicious imitation of what the Serbs had done, taking their own Muslim allies and comrades off the frontlines, putting them in concentration camps and herding their women and children from their incinerated homes into tiny East Mostar. There, the Croats shelled them without relent. Over three years covering the war in Bosnia, I remember East Mostar during this time as the most terrifying experience of the entire bloodbath, people cowering in cellars or refugee centres crammed with women and children, while the Croats shelled hospitals and buildings, and their snipers shot at anyone daring to cross the little streets, or collect water from the river. Finally, under an agreement in Washington in February 1994, the Croats agreed to a ceasefire.

But the war between Muslims and Serbs dragged on for at least another year. It is crucial to the history of War Child and Help, as well as Bosnia, that the so-called "international community" responded to this carnage with carefully calculated neutrality. While civilians were raped, incarcerated, "ethnically cleansed" and massmurdered, the diplomatic community stuck defiantly to a policy of non-intervention beyond a mandate to deliver humanitarian aid. The British were to the fore in ensuring that nothing was done: John Major, Lord Carrington, Douglas Hurd, David Owen, Pauline Neville-Jones (then chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee) and Malcolm Rifkind were all involved in endless rounds of "peace talks" and absurd agreements with the war criminals - including Karadžić himself, and President Slobodan Milošević of Serbia - at which the latter simply laughed, finding in these charades an endorsement to continue with their genocidal pogrom. The United Nations general in charge of the UN's so-called "Protection Force" (Unprofor), Bernard Janvier, dined on suckling pig with his Bosnian Serb counterpart Rakto Mladić just days before the policy of neutrality reached its logical conclusion: the massacre of eight thousand men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. The massacre was the spark that lit the fuse for Help, and catapulted the then two-year-old War Child initiative into the limelight. The people running the bakery and preparing the music school in Mostar had teamed up with friends at Go! Discs Records in London with an outrageous idea: to put together a record by the leading British artists of the day to raise £200,000. The album actually raised £1.25 million and War Child has become one of most effective "charities" (it prefers the term "movement") working in central Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere, combining aid with activism, and "still with this strong and quintessential relationship to music", says Ben Knowles, War Child's music director. Help was the politicians' nadir, and one of rock'n'roll's finest hours.

But that was 1995, and the War Child story really started in Sarajevo - the multiethnic cultural heart of former Yugosalvia - in 1992, when the Bosnian Serbs, with backing from Serbia and Belgrade, began the siege of Sarajevo. When the founders of War Child arrived in this most cosmopolitan of cities, they beheld the most remarkable cultural landscape in post-1945 Europe - strangely, and unforgivably, now airbrushed from history. The Serbs attacked and persecuted a city with an entrenched cultural life that struggled on, come what may, throughout the war. I remember on my thirty-nith birthday in 1993, after the massacre by shelling of civilians queuing for water in a suburb called Dobrinje, going to a lunchtime concert by the Sarajevo String Quartet in the blacked-out National theatre. The Serbs would usually attack such events, and one mortar landed so close to the theatre that the building shook and the viola player's stand fell over during an especially delicate moment of Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. 5, The Lark. The first violinist, Dzevad Sabanagic, waited for his colleague to replace the score, called out the number of a bar prior to the interruption, and the quartet played on.

The director of Sarajevo's National theatre during the war and afterwards was Haris Pašović, who famously staged, with Susan Sontag - one of Bosnia's greatest advocates and friends - Waiting For Godot under siege. Sontag wrote of this bold event: "Culture, serious culture, is an expression of human dignity - which is what people in Sarajevo feel they have lost, even when they know themselves to be brave, or stoical or angry... People in Sarajevo live harrowing lives; this was a harrowing Godot." Pašović, typically, was last week back on the fringe, premiering Football Football, a multimedia feast of dance and music in a disused warehouse, about racism, ugliness, beauty and dreams in the game that divides but unites the world. "Art is a primal need," he says now, "even under siege, especially under siege. My idols created their greatest work under siege - Orwell in Spain, Anna Akhmatova during the siege of Leningrad - this was my cultural inspiration, but I never expected to be in that situation myself. We realised that art, theatre and music in Sarajevo were resistance at the deepest level. We established the now famous film festival during the siege, and people asked me: 'Why organise a film festival during a siege?' I replied: 'Why is there a siege during my film festival?!' It's perfectly normal to have a film festival or a production of Godot. What is not normal is to be killing the people who want to see the films and productions!"

The most esteemed artist in Sarajevo before the war was Nebojsa Shoba Seri´c, who became a war artist - literally, having been offered an opportunity to avoid military service and focus his talent on the war effort, but choosing instead to fight on a terrifying frontline. Seri´c's life in wartime became the subject of the first graphic reportage book by the cartoonist Joe Sacco, and he is now one of the most innovative multimedia artists working in New York, with pastiches of hyper-materialism and war in Iraq - and work around battlefields.

"The very first art pieces of art I created at the beginning of the war were scattered, shredded pieces of chaos and sharp hot metal," recalls Seric. "My traditional approach to the sculpture and painting fell apart. When war began, my previous world collapsed. I needed new aesthetics within this new situation. Debris, shrapnel and exploded grenades were my new art material. The brutal everyday struggle of avoiding death became a new inspiration. For the first time in my life I was making something honest and straight. The madness of daily life was intense," he says. "A few days spent at the frontline, then a few days spent in my studio barely one hundred metres from the frontline. The hunt for food and water was a brave and insane activity, but so many things were amplified and the best parties of my life happened during the siege. Every party happened in darkness, with bad homemade booze, lots of laughing and love. Every one was maybe the last. We didn't have anything to lose. Basements and shelters were turned into rehearsal studios, more and more young people played music, sometimes just to make noise so the sounds of explosions wouldn't be so loud."

Of all the European countries outside the Anglo-American axis of rock music, prewar Yugoslavia produced arguably the best. Bands such as Azra, Bijelo Dugme (White Button) and Zabranjeno Pušenje (No Smoking) played to higher standards than most, say, French or German groups. So it made sense for the veterans of the '60s Yugoslav radical movement to establish a wartime radio station to broadcast rock music and discussion as a form of resistance in Sarajevo after 1992. Radio Sarajevo Zid ("Radio Sarajevo Wall") was at the core of this subversion, founded by Zdravko Grebo, who also wrote its manifesto, the most articulate statement of resistance to the genocide (far more so than any political speech, for sure). "Zid in Sarajevo has started a media project that is primarily a mission of spiritual and cultural renewal... The political attitude will be the attitude of common sense, of social sagacity based on the European idea of rationalism and urban mentality. Last but not least, that spirit is trying to preserve a sense of humour." It was my honour to be given, once, an hour on air with Radio Zid; I played Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner, twisting into Purple Haze, then a dirge, performed at Woodstock.

"We lost, triumphantly," says Grebo, now a professor of law at Sarajevo University, but with wilder eyes than one would expect from a law professor. "In the long term, that is, because of what Bosnia has become: a dysfunctional, unsustainable state based on the ethnic and nationalistic divisions we were combating from the start with Radio Zid." When the necessary electricity was available, Grebo elected to "use the perfect medium, radio, in a city under siege, without television and in danger from all sides and in all ways - physical and politically. The point was to get on air, but resist broadcasting militaristic songs. Our message was: remember who you are - you are urban people, workers, cultured people. We thought the situation called for Pink Floyd, Hendrix and good country music, rather than militaristic marches."

So the small number of Brits, Irish and New Zealanders of bold intent who turned up to do their best to help arrived in Sarajevo to find a strange demimonde of slaughter and cultural ferment. These were not "career" aid workers with bureaucracy and armoured vehicles behind them, but ad hoc trade union groups and concerned citizens on something called The Serious Road Trip, the first independent aid organisation into the city. The Road Trip, set up in 1991, laid the foundations for War Child, arriving in besieged Sarajevo in trucks painted with bright colours and cartoon characters to tease the snipers. They were joined by Simon Glinn, a music producer who ran the Jazz World stage at Glastonbury, not so much to deliver aid as work with the Sarajevan underground scene to organise rock concerts and events under a banner calling itself the Sarajevo Community Music Project, and even a festival with Radio Zid called Rock Under Siege. "I'm not sure I'd do it like that now," says Glinn, currently executive director of the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and events, "but people of our age then probably would. If one was to paste a philosophy on to that madness, which was brave and lucky, I'd say just that this was about solidarity, multiculturalism and, well, the fundamental principles of good rock'n'roll."

One of the Road Trip's wartime concerts involved smuggling Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden into Sarajevo for a concert that Dickinson told me years later, "was one of the most important of my life". The Dickinson concert, Rock Under Siege and other such events were achieved in large part by a young Sarajevan called Bekim Medunjanin, who helped procure the equipment and whose reasons for action were starkly simple, as he now explains: "I was young, caught up in a siege, in a war. I ate little, and weighed only forty-five kilos. But I wasn't hungry for food. I was hungrier for something to counter the shelling, the sniper fire, news every day that this or that friend was dead, wounded or in a concentration camp. I was hungry for music, artistic events, rock'n'roll, things that would keep me alive, and keep me going."

Among those involved working to stage the Sarajevo concerts and bring aid were a music professor from Glasgow named Nigel Osborne and a film director, Bill Leeson. We met last week at a pub called the Constitution on the canal at Camden in London, just a block away from the Serious Road Trip offices, which would also, later, become the HQ for the charity they would found in 1993, War Child. "I got hooked," says Leeson. "I don't know why. I used to come back and try to talk about concentration camps and mass rape and women and kids getting shelled an hour away by plane, and no one gave a monkey's. It drove me nuts. But while there in Sarajevo, among the first things I noticed was that whenever the electricity came on, you heard music, everywhere. Of course, it's obvious," says Leeson - a strange observation in a place where people were being ripped apart by shrapnel, but in the unique atmosphere of Sarajevo in 1993, it was obvious. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing back home," says Osborne. "I was doing my best to get around Bosnia to find out more about what we could do to help, and all we got back in England was the hatred and fascism of the politicians in Bosnia not only echoed, but amplified and endorsed by John Major's government - going on about "ancient ethnic hatreds". So I thought: fuck them - and please quote that - we need to do something."

Osborne lays down the philosophical thinking behind War Child, when it was still in utero. "In a world such as then - and now for that matter," he says, "when established politics is dead and trivial, and politicians are demonstrably part of the problem not the solution, culture becomes the only democratising agent." War Child was finally registered in 1993: "I wanted to come up with something that didn't sound like your established charity," says Leeson. The Road Trip concerts started in Sarajevo just as the second, Croat, siege of Mostar began. "Mostar," as Osborne puts it, "was becoming a nightmare we could barely imagine."

The eastern bank of the city was cut off by Croatian militias, and soldiers from the United Nations "Protection Force" simply ran away. Surreally, a kind of base camp was established in the town that also hosts the Catholic shrine of Medjugorje. From here, a retired military man, a saintly figure suffering from cancer called Jerry Hume, working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ran a lifeline of basic supplies (plus the less essential, occasional journalist) into the inferno of shellfire. And there in Medjugorje, in 1993, War Child began its operation as a bakery for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, including many Croats, then moved it into ravaged east Mostar on the day of the ceasefire. Leeson remembers a day when, "the doctors asked if I could shine the light of my video camera so they could amputate some kid's leg without anaesthetic. I thought to myself: what the hell am I doing holding this light? Am I going insane, or has the world gone insane?"

"When the War Child bakery arrived, I thought: at last!" says Ermin Elezovic, who was by then an exhausted and almost broken man. "I started spending every hour I could away from the frontline baking bread. We had been in hell for years, and deepest hell for nine months, but were now baking four to five thousand loaves a day. It was also a chance to talk to people about music, sex, football and stuff, not just war and hate."

"He used to come in off the line at 2AM and go straight to the bakery," remembers Ermin's wife, Alma, "and then at five, go around to deliver bread to those who needed it most. Then back to the front. He never slept, but even so, in a way, the bakery saved him. It saved our stomachs, of course, but it saved Ermin in another way too."

One night during 1994, Ermin, Bill Leeson and others were sitting in Ermin's flat and, says Nigel Osborne: "We thought, OK, we're baking bread. We're also distributing medicine. So what next? Why, music of course!"

"Rock'n'roll," continues Osborne, "is inherently democratic, whatever is done in its name. Against third-rate politics, in Bosnia and across Europe, we pitched first-rate music. If the local fascist politicians were going to have their speaker system in the John Major government and at the UN, then we were going to have our speaker system too."

War Child launched a music centre in Mostar, Brian Eno gave workshops, star tenor Luciano Pavarotti became involved, and gave his name to the music centre. The Serious Road Trip helped to launch the Sarajevo jazz festival, now one of Europe's foremost, and set up a network of music centres and workshops across the country: Glinn remembers, "physically taking Bruce Dickinson's analogue studio out of his house in Chiswick, which he had donated, and taking it to Travnik (a central Bosnian town, and crossroads of the war), where it is now used every day by the biggest youth music project in Bosnia", called Alter Art.

Most famously, though, there was Help, the most successful, quickly assembled charity album of all time, made in a week.

After the ceasefire, Jasmin Elezovic remembers: "Suddenly there were all these foreigners, bringing a new world, a new language, and music - old stuff, their music. I loved it, and the bakery, where I made a heart-shaped loaf for my mum." He remembers playing the drums in an early workshop with Brian Eno and Nigel Osborne, speaking English and beginning to play the guitar.

Elezovic is nowadays one of the driving forces of his generation, trying to work across the divide for a future Bosnia. He set up a school council at the only non-segregated secondary school in Mostar, organising field trips that brought together pupils from all three "narod" - as they define themselves, "peoples" - on garbage clean-up and benchpainting projects; civic housekeeping of the riven city their parents once shared. "That," Elezovic insists, "is the way it has to be, in the end." He is also completing studies in communications with a view to "getting away for a while - hopefully to Scandinavia, because it's the part of Europe that seems to be getting things right - then back here to carry on what Help began". During the war, he says, "we created a monster in this country, and raised the stakes so high, we can't afford to go back there again".

But his father, Ermin, can only reconcile after a reckoning by those who destroyed his city: "We want an apology, but they've never given us one. We want answers, but they never give us any. We want an explanation for what they did to us, but it never comes."

Among the most important developments to emerge from the War Child project in Mostar was a remarkable revival in sevdah music. One of the young singers involved has become by far the most important Balkan figure on the international scene: not a rock singer, let alone a singer of the awful techno "turbofolk" genre that emerged from Belgrade, but a Sevdah singer, with a difference. Amira Medunjanin first recorded with the Mostar Sevdah Reunion, and her latest album, Zumra - on which she is accompanied by the Netherlands-based Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco - is both the most beautiful piece of "love, desire and ecstasy" (the meaning of the Ottoman word "sevdah") music to emerge from the Balkans since the war, and also the most poignant, laced with some lachrymose yearning for whatever it is that Bosnia has lost, and for which Sevdah stands. The soundscape is extraordinary - back to Sevdah's roots, but taking the listener forward and beyond some postwar psychedelic tapestry through which strains of jazz and blues are sewn. To close the circle into a narrative of love, music and war, Amira became Bekim Medunjanin's wife.

"I spent the war looking after my family," she says straightforwardly. Amira met Osborne, she says, "while working on a project for kids with special needs - I took part in a film that was made. And I'll never forget that day with those kids after the war - and their response to the sound of Sevdah: it was their own, part of them. I listen to all kinds of music - my heroes were Bowie and Nick Cave - but this is the music I needed to inhale, during the war, to keep me sane, while my family were on the frontline and my bed was charcoal in a basement. That was when I started to sing this music; we had lost our country, we had lost Yugoslavia, the land across which this music belongs, whether you are Bosnian, Serb, Macedonian, Croat, whatever. Now we are a young, new country, but one with a thousand-year history, and to sing this music is to claim our identity again."

One of the founders of the Mostar Sevdah Reunion, Faruk Kajtaz, who ran a station called Youth Radio X during the war, says of Mostar nowadays: "There is total separation, by mutual agreement on both sides." When Kajtaz was nominated to direct the Pavarotti music centre, a descendant of War Child's initiative, he was blocked by both sides for his antipathy towards to the bipolar political establishments: Mostar is a place in which Croat and Muslim schoolchildren are segregated and learn entirely different histories of where they live; politics is organised and football is followed and fought over entirely along ethnic lines. There are even completely separate postal and telecommunications organisations. Zdravko Grebo, founder of Radio Zid, says that "the Dayton carve-up condemned Bosnia. The nationalist parties took power and people continued to vote for them. I have stood against them, in some attempt to create a normal political language in a normal country, and I happened to not be elected. I don't complain, I just say that if there is any hope for this country, it is where it always was - not with the rascals and idiots in politics, but in the public spaces of culture - and, of course, music. Above all, music. That was what War Child realised, after one look. It was our only chance then, and it still is."

It was strange to return to Mostar, last month, for the first time since the last day of the Bosnian Croat siege in 1994. I have been back to Sarajevo many times, but never Mostar. Several dozen houses on the main road from the Bosnian Croat nationalist citadel of Capljina are still burned out, their Muslim owners vanished. The mountains to the east look glorious, cloud-capped against a deep blue sky, so terrifying before - beauty is a complicated thing in Bosnia.

But this visit is with Ben Knowles, who as a young music journalist in 1994 was so moved by what War Child was doing in Mostar he worked for twelve years as a volunteer for the charity and is now its music director, "keeping the tie with music that defines War Child", as he puts it. Mark Waddington, War Child's chief executive, is meanwhile visiting projects War Child runs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working, he says by email, "with street children, ex-female-child-soldiers in Goma and girls such as Josephine, accused of witchcraft by her stepmum and thrown on to the streets in Kinshasa".

The flow of the Neretva is a lusty one, towards and beneath the now rebuilt bridge for which Mostar was famous, the stumps of which remained until it was replaced, shiny and inauthentic - but there, at least. There are people who insist that the rump, torn masonry should have been left, as a memorial to the death and devastation, and Ermin Elezovic has mixed feelings: "Yes, it would have been the perfect memorial to leave them, to remind people - but Mostar should be defined by its bridge, in every way - that was the best of the city." Elezovic is a volunteer youth worker these days. "The politics of separation means that I cannot get a paid job. I hate what is happening now, but for the political parties it works just fine."

Couples stroll through eventide along the cobblestones of what was once the most dangerous street in the world and has now become a Unesco heritage site, according to the plastic plaque. Men sit and smoke, women bring home shopping for supper, and a gypsy woman begs for change. On a raised platform, a slab of stone has been placed, and on it, painted in black paint: "Don't forget".

1946 The socialist People's Republic of Yugoslavia comprises six states: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro.

1963 Tito declared president for life.

1974 New constitution is written in response to protest against Serbian hegemony.

1980 Tito's death.

1981 Financial crisis leads to increasing nationalism and divisions along religious as well as ethnic lines: Croats are Catholic, Serbs Orthodox and Bosnians mixed between ethnic Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

1989 President Slobodan Milošević attempts to undermine the constitution and plans laid to create a 'Greater Serbia'.

1990 League of Communists of Yugoslavia dissolved after Croatia and Slovenia fail to agree with Milošević over the distribution of power.

1991 Slovenia and Croatia declare independence, followed by Macedonia. In Croatia, a large minority of Serbs oppose independence, and want to form their own autonomous region, leading to violent conflict. The war ends, with Croatia divided.

1992 Bosnia-Herzegovina votes for independence but the region's Serb population wants to unite the Serbian areas of Bosnia into 'Greater Serbia'. To this end, they engage in "ethnic cleansing" and establishment of concentration camps. The capital, Sarajevo, is placed under siege by Serb forces for three years. Serbia and Montenegro form the Federal Republic of Serbia and are subject to UN sanctions.

1993 Mostar is also under seige, and for nine months from August 1993, its Muslim enclave is assailed by both Serbs and Croats. The sixteenth-century Old Bridge in Mostar is destroyed. The bridge is rebuilt ten years later.

1995 At Srebrenica, eight thousand Muslim men and boys are massacred by Serbs. But Croatia is reunited, Nato finally intervenes and war in Bosnia is ended by the Dayton Agreement, which allows Bosnian Serbs to declare a Republika Srpska within Bosnia.

1996 Following unsuccessful, peaceful requests for independence, the Serbian province of Kosovo establishes the Kosovo Liberation Army, leading to an aggressive response from Serbia.

1999 Nato bombing of Serbia and Montenegro follows failed peace talks.

2001 Milošević is arrested and handed over to the UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. He dies in 2006 before his trial ends.

2004 Ethnic unrest between the Serb and Albanian populations of Kosovo.

2006 Montenegrins vote for independence.

2007 Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, begins talks about separating from Bosnia. Ethnic and nationalist sentiments also rise among Bosnia's Croat and Muslim populations.

2008 Kosovo declares independence. This is still disputed by Serbia, although the region is now populated mainly by Kosovan Albanians.

2009 Bosnia is racked with political corruption and economic instability. Unemployment stands at forty percent. Economic and political bankruptcy fuel desire for partition.