Bosnian independence referendum, 1992

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

An independence referendum was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 29 February and 1 March 1992, following the first free elections of 1990 and the rise of ethnic tensions that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. Independence was strongly favored by Bosniak and Bosnian Croat voters while Bosnian Serbs largely boycotted the referendum. The total turn out of voters was 63.4% of which 99.7% voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 3 March, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović declared the independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the parliament ratified the action. On 6 April, the United States and the European Economic Community recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state and on 22 May it was admitted into the United Nations.


HDZ leader Stjepan Kljuić, SDS leader Radovan Karadžić, and SDA leader Alija Izetbegović in Sarajevo, 1992

In November 1990, months after the independence of Slovenia and Croatia,[1] the first free elections were held, putting nationalist parties into power with the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) led by Alija Izetbegović winning 86 seats, Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) led by Radovan Karadžić winning 72 seats, and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Stjepan Kljuić winning 44 seats. Izetbegović was elected the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jure Pelivan of the HDZ as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Momčilo Krajišnik of the SDS was elected the speaker of Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[2]

Over the course of 1990 the RAM Plan was developed by a group of Serb officers of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and experts from the JNA's Psychological Operations Department[3] with the intent of organizing Serbs outside Serbia, consolidating control of the SDS, and preparing arms and ammunition.[4] In 1990 and 1991, Serbs in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina had proclaimed a number of "Serbian Autonomous Oblasts" (SAOs) with the intent of later unifying them to create a Greater Serbia.[5][6] As early as September or October 1990, the JNA had begun arming Bosnian Serbs and organizing them into militias.[7] That same year the JNA disarmed the Territorial Defense Force of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (TORBiH).[8] By March 1991, the JNA had distributed an estimated 51,900 firearms to Serb paramilitaries and 23,298 firearms to the SDS.[7] Throughout 1991 and early 1992 the SDS heavily Serbianized the police force in order to increase Serb political control.[8] According to Noel Malcolm the "steps taken by Karadžić and his party – [declaring Serb] "Autonomous Regions", the arming of the Serb population, minor local incidents, non-stop propaganda, the request for federal army "protection" – matched exactly what had been done in Croatia. Few observers could doubt that a single plan was in operation."[9]

"This is the same highway to hell and misery taken by Slovenia and Croatia. Beware. Don't think that you will not drive Bosnia-Herzegovina to hell, and the Muslim people into extinction. The Muslim people can't defend themselves if there is war."

Radovan Karadžić speaking at the October 1991 Bosnian parliament session[10]

In a session 15 October 1991, the Bosnian Parliament, alarmed by the existence of the RAM Plan,[9] approved the "Memorandum on Sovereignty" through the use of a parliamentary movement to reopen parliament after Krajišnik had closed it and after Serb deputies had walked out.[11] On 24 October 1991, the SDS formed the "Assembly of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina" and in November held an independence referendum while at the same time issuing the "Instructions for the Organization and Activities of the Organs of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Emergency Conditions" which told SDS officials to form Serb Municipal Assemblies and Crisis Staffs, secure supplies for Serbs, and create extensive communication networks.[12] In January 1992, the assembly declared the creation of the "Republic of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina"[12] and its secession.[13] The Bosnian government declared the referendum unconstitutional and self-proclaimed entity was not recognized internationally.[12]

Referendum and recognition[edit]

In late December 1991, Bosniak and Croat members of the government requested the European Economic Community (EEC) to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina alongside Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia.[14] The Badinter Arbitration Committee, set up by the EEC, initially refused recognition for Bosnia and Herzegovina due to the "absence of a referendum" while it determined, among other things, that Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, and that the internal boundaries of Yugoslav republics could not be altered unless freely agreed upon.[15] In January 1992, it ruled "the will of the peoples of Bosnia Herzegovina to constitute the Social Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina as a sovereign and independent cannot be held to have been fully established" and suggested "a referendum of all the citizens of the SRBH without distinction."[16] In early January, Slobodan Milošević suggested "a common and equitable life of the Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia ... is in the interest of both peoples" and stated that "borders will be decided by those peoples that wish to stay in Yugoslavia and those that do not." On 21 January, the Serbian government appealed to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Macedonia to remain in the federation. In the same month Milošević issued a secret order to transfer all JNA officers born in Bosnia and Herzegovina back to the republic in anticipation of enlisting them in a new Bosnian Serb army.[13][17] On 23 January, João de Deus Pinheiro, the president of the EEC Council of Ministers, declared the EEC would recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina if a referendum on independence was passed.[18]

On 25 January, a debate over the adoption of a referendum in parliament was carried out. It ended when the Serb deputies withdrew after Bosniak and Croat delegates rejected a Serb motion that it be determined by an unestablished Council for National Equality. After Krajišnik tried to adjourn the session, he was replaced by an SDA member and the proposal to hold a referendum was adopted in the absence of the SDS members.[19] Citizens of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the referendum that was held between 29 February and 1 March 1992.[20] The referendum question was: "Are you in favor of a sovereign and independent Bosnia-Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens and nations of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and others who live in it?"[21] Independence was strongly favored by Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Bosnian Croat voters while Bosnian Serbs largely boycotted the referendum[12] or were prevented by Bosnian Serb authorities from participating.[22] The SDS had claimed that independence would result in the Serbs becoming "a national minority in an Islamic state",[23] blocked the delivery of ballot boxes through the use of armed irregular units, and dropped leaflets encouraging the boycott.[24] Though thousands of Serbs in larger cities voted for independence.[25] Incidents of bombings and shootings broke out over the course of the voting period.[14][26] The total turn out of voters was 63.4% of which 99.7% voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[27] On 3 March, Izetbegović declared the independent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the parliament ratified the action.[28]

On 4 March, James Baker, United States Secretary of State, pressured the EEC to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina.[29] On 6 March, Izetbegović requested international recognition.[24] On 10 March, a joint US-EEC declaration, agreed on the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. They also agreed that Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be recognized, provided that Bosnia and Herzegovina "adopt, without delay, constitutional arrangements that will provide for a peaceful and harmonious development of this republic within its existing borders."[29] On 7 April, the United States and the EEC recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state.[12][30] Other members of the international community also recognized the country in early April.[31] On the same day, Bosnian Serb leaders declared independence and later renamed the self-proclaimed entity to "Republika Srpska".[24] On 12 May, the Bosnian Serb Assembly adopted the "Six Strategic Goals of the Serbian Nation" and Karadžić declared that "the first such goal is separation of the two national communities – separation of states, separation from those who are our enemies and who have used every opportunity, especially in this century, to attack us, and who would continue with such practices if we were to stay together in the same state."[32] On 22 May, Bosnia and Herzegovina was admitted into the United Nations.[32]


Choice Votes %
For 2,061,932 99.7
Against 6,037 0.3
Invalid/blank votes 5,227
Total 2,073,568 100
Registered voters/turnout 3,253,847 63.7
Source: Nohlen & Stöver[33]


Main article: Bosnian War
Heavily damaged apartment buildings in the Grbavica district of Sarajevo.

Immediately after recognition Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces, directed and financed by Belgrade, began a "comprehensive aggression" on Bosnia and Herzegovina.[12] Though previously in September 1991, the JNA and Serb volunteers had attacked the predominately Croat town of Ravno, Bosnian Serb policemen fired upon Bosniak populated areas of Šipovo during which 3,000 Bosniaks fled, and Serb paramilitary units targeted Foča, Višegrad, Bratunac, Bijeljina, and other towns in east Bosnia and Herzegovina.[34] In the month of recognition, the siege of Sarajevo had begun by which time the Bosnian Serb-formed Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) controlled 70% of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 56.
  2. ^ Lukic & Lynch 1996, p. 202.
  3. ^ Allen 1996, p. 56.
  4. ^ Judah 2000, p. 170.
  5. ^ Lukic & Lynch 1996, p. 203.
  6. ^ Bugajski 1995, p. 15.
  7. ^ a b Ramet 2006, p. 414.
  8. ^ a b OREA 2002, p. 135.
  9. ^ a b Lukic & Lynch 1996, p. 204.
  10. ^ Nettelfield 2010, p. 66.
  11. ^ Toal & Dahlman 2011, p. 108.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Nettelfield 2010, p. 67.
  13. ^ a b Ramet 2006, p. 382.
  14. ^ a b HRW August 1992, p. 18.
  15. ^ Pellet 1992, pp. 178, 185.
  16. ^ Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 96.
  17. ^ Silber & Little 1997, p. 218.
  18. ^ Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 99.
  19. ^ Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 105.
  20. ^ CSCE 12 March 1992, p. 19.
  21. ^ Velikonja 2003, p. 237.
  22. ^ Walling 2013, p. 93.
  23. ^ Toal & Dahlman 2011, p. 110.
  24. ^ a b c Gow 2003, p. 173.
  25. ^ Velikonja 2003, p. 238.
  26. ^ Sudetic 29 February 1992.
  27. ^ CSCE 12 March 1992.
  28. ^ Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 118.
  29. ^ a b Burg & Shoup 2000, p. 101.
  30. ^ Binder 8 April 1992.
  31. ^ HRW August 1992, p. 20.
  32. ^ a b Nettelfield 2010, p. 68.
  33. ^ Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
  34. ^ Caplan 2005, p. 121.
  35. ^ Hoare 2010, p. 126.


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