ESTIMATES vary of the death toll in 13 months of civil war in what was Yugoslavia, but it certainly runs into many thousands, making the conflict the most violent in Europe since the Second World War.The immediate origins of the war lie in the collapse of the post-1945 Communist order and subsequent clashes between a variety of militant nationalisms. The main rivals are the Serbs and Croats, two Slavic peoples with similar languages - though Serbian is written in Cyrillic and Croatian in Latin script - but whose histories are very different.The Serbs are Orthodox Christians whose religion was crucial in keeping alive their national identity during almost four centuries of Ottoman Turkish occupation.Of the nations that formed Yugoslavia in 1918, the Serbs were alone in having liberated themselves from foreign rule and set up an independent state in the 19th century.
Tito rebuilt Yugoslavia as a Communist federation of six equal republics, but ethnic antagonisms were never far below the surface.
The Serbs disliked Tito's recognition of the Macedonians and the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as distinct nationalities.
The effect of recognition of the Muslims - Slavs converted to Islam under Turkish rule - and growth in the Muslim population was to turn Bosnian Serbs into a minority in a republic where they had been the largest ethnic group.
The collapse of Communism in 1990-91 led to the election of governments in Slovenia and Croatia committed to independence.
Although the Serb-led Yugoslav army tried briefly to prevent Slovenian independence, the Serbs' main concern was Croatia.