The Balkans, or south‐eastern Europe, may be defined as the states of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and those which constituted the former Yugoslavia. They all share experiences of communism and of post‐communist transition. For this reason Greece and European Turkey, though geographically part of the Balkans, are excluded from this account.
Since the collapse of European communism in 1989–91 the Balkans have been more at the forefront of European and world affairs than at any time since the First World War. For this reason the evolution of Balkan politics has been determined as much by external as by internal factors. The area has seen: the first preventive deployment of UN forces, along the Macedonian borders in 1992; the first use of UN peacekeepers in mainland Europe; the first military action by NATO in 1994 (against Bosnian Serbs) and the first offensive NATO war in 1999 (against Yugoslavia), the latter being also the first exclusive air war; and also the highest casualties, the most extensive ethnic cleansing, and the greatest number of displaced persons in Europe since the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. In 2001 it witnessed the first return of an exiled king as prime minister in Europe (in Bulgaria).
The centre of international attention was the collapse of the Yugoslav federation in 1991–2, from which four new states—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Macedonia—emerged. In April 1992 a new Yugoslav federation, consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, was formed, to be peacefully dissolved in 2006. Of the four new states proclaimed in 1991–2, only Macedonia emerged without conflict with Serbia and the local Serbs. The secession of Slovenia in the summer of 1991 was relatively easy despite the initial intervention of the Yugoslav National Army, but Croatia's departure was much more bitterly disputed, not least because it, unlike Slovenia, contained large numbers of Serbs who did not wish to be included in a Croatian national state. Most bloody of all, however, was the fighting in Bosnia which lasted for over three years. It was not a war in the traditional sense of one side battling against another because the three main elements, Bosnian Muslim, Croat, and Serb, shifted their alliances and all at one point or another fought the others. The United Nations forces originally deployed in Croatia extended their mission to Bosnia, initially to guarantee the flow of humanitarian supplies through Sarajevo airport. Later, as the fighting intensified, the UN passed to NATO the task of preventing further escalation of the conflict; this meant, primarily, acting against Bosnian Serbs. In the summer of 1995 NATO bombing raids on Bosnian Serb communications systems, provoked by the shelling of a market place in Sarajevo, combined with the defeat of Serbian Krajina forces in Croatia at last hastened the move towards a settlement. A peace was agreed at Dayton, Ohio, in December 1995.
The Dayton peace process pacified Bosnia, but catalysed conflagration in Kosovo, a part of Serbia inhabited primarily by Albanians. Dayton was seen as rewarding violent secession and ethnic cleansing, thus undermining Kosovo Albanians' non‐violent struggle for independence post‐1989. Moreover, Kosovo was ignored in Dayton, and after it Western governments officially recognized the new federal Yugoslavia and its territorial integrity, leaving Kosovo within Serbia. From 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), increasingly backed by local Albanians, was in conflict with Serbian forces. At first KLA was considered a prima facie terrorist group by Western governments, but eventually dislike of Milosevic and his methods brought KLA under Western protection. Bombing of Yugoslavia began in March 1999 and continued until June. Thereafter Kosovo passed effectively into UN and NATO control with elections to its assembly finally taking place in 2001. The minority situation in Kosovo after 1999 remained dismal, with Serbs and Roma as the victims this time.