Even at the siege of Sarajevo, Europe watched and did not intervene

Thirty years ago today, on April 5, 1992, the siege of Sarajevo began. The siege of the Bosnian capital would eventually last almost four years, resulting in more than 12,000 civilian casualties. The battle for the city was a bloody part of the Yugoslav civil war that had started a year earlier.

As a result of the crumbling of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian government held a referendum on independence on February 29, 1992. The Bosnian Croats and the predominantly Muslim Bosniaks voted for secession and gained the majority. However, the Bosnian Serbs decided to boycott the plebiscite and founded their own republic, Republika Srpska, supported by the Yugoslav People's Army and Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia.

A few days after the referendum was approved, Milosevic and Mladic's troops surrounded the Bosnian capital and began a nearly four-year siege. This included mortar shelling on civilian targets and snipers randomly shooting city residents.

In the year preceding the referendum, unrest broke out between the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks on the one hand and the Bosnian Serbs on the other. In October 1991, the future president Radovan Karadžić declared: “In a few days Sarajevo will no longer exist and there will be 500,000 dead.”

Ethnic cleansing took place on a large scale in the villages and towns that fell into the hands of the Serbs. All the houses of non-Serbs were burned down, after which the inhabitants were killed or imprisoned in a concentration camp. Due to a limited mandate and a lack of willingness from the international community to approve armed intervention, units of the UN peacekeepers were largely powerless.

Only after the fall of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 this changed. On August 30, NATO launched air strikes on Serbian forces, and less than two months later the conflict ended and the Dayton peace negotiations began.

Estimates of the casualties of the Bosnian War are generally between 100,000 and 110,000 dead. In addition, an additional 2.2 million people were displaced as a result of the fighting, making the Bosnian War – up to that point – the most devastating European conflict since World War II. (There are already 5 million Ukrainians on the run!)

The siege of Sarajevo alone killed 8,000 soldiers and more than 12,000 civilians. In total, the siege lasted 3 years and 9 months, three times longer than the siege of Stalingrad. This makes it the longest siege of a capital in modern history.