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Balkans Stage 1

A war-torn land

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the international community began peace support missions in the war-torn Balkans. Canada played a major role.

June 1991 – July 1992



The nation of Yugoslavia emerged after the First World War which collapsed the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some of the Slavic states in the Balkan Peninsula merged to form the new country of Yugoslavia. Its diverse population had various ethnic and religious groups with a long history of tense relationships. Yugoslavia faced hardships during the Second World War and battled occupation for years. After the Axis forces were finally forced out, Yugoslavia was reborn as a communist state.

Weakening of communism

In the 1980s, Yugoslavia's communist rule began to weaken. President-for-Life Josip Broz (better known as Tito) died in 1980. This was a serious blow to the country's unity. As economic conditions worsened, the strength of communism around the world weakened. Meanwhile, old rivalries between the different peoples of Yugoslavia were growing.

An elderly Serbian refugee couple search for a few personal effects in their destroyed home. Photo: Department of National Defence

Breakup of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia's central government lost its ability to keep the country together. The states that made up Yugoslavia pushed to become their own countries. Tensions between ethnic and religious groups began to escalate. Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence in June 1991. Civil war soon spread across the Balkans.

The world responds

The outbreak of fighting brought an international reaction. Slovenia and military forces in the rest of Yugoslavia fought a brief war in the summer of 1991. To help enforce a ceasefire, the European Community Monitoring Mission was set up. CAF officers joined this multinational peace support effort in September 1991.

The United Nations Protection Force

Fighting erupted in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In early 1992, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) formed. It protected the civilians within three special “UN Protected Areas” in Croatia and kept other military forces out. By the time the original mandate of UNPROFOR came to an end in 1995, its mission had extended into the wider region. Peacekeepers from dozens of countries, including Canada, served in this effort.

Standing atop the Camp Normandy main entrance in Tomislavgrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Private Anthony Gruppuso of the Toronto Scottish Regiment takes the sunset watch. Photo: Department of National Defence

Canada's role

Canada played an important role in UNPROFOR efforts. Canadian soldiers went to the Balkans as a peacekeeping force. But they soon found out that there was often very little “peace” to “keep”. Many CAF members came under fire. This included intense action at the Medak Pocket in Croatia. Canadian troops saw their heaviest fighting since the Korean War during their time there.

Intense duties in Sarajevo

In the spring of 1992, fighting escalated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. UNPROFOR moved troops into that area. Their goal was to help the civilians trapped by the fighting and deliver humanitarian aid. A major part of the operation was to open the airport in Sarajevo so supplies could be flown in. In July 1992, as Canadian peacekeepers protected the airport and escorted relief convoys, they often came under fire.

Canada's Major-General Lewis MacKenzie commanded the United Nations (UN) forces in the Sarajevo Sector. He often made international news as he did his best to let the world know the harsh reality there. In the end, our peacekeeping efforts helped keep the vital flow of outside help coming in.

Sarajevo. A Canadian Armored Personnel Carrier drives through the well known "Sniper Alley." Photo: Department of National Defence

Further UNPROFOR contributions

More than 2,000 Canadians took part in UNPROFOR efforts. Almost every Canadian infantry battalion and armoured regiment spent time in the Balkans. CAF members played many other important roles during their time with the UNPROFOR. Our service members supplied military engineering, mine clearance, logistical support, electronic warfare and air control capabilities. Canadian warships patrolled the Adriatic Sea to help the UN block arms shipments to the region. Canadian aircraft enforced the UN's no-fly zones and prevented the warring sides from buying weapons.

Through it all, Canadian peacekeepers helped the local people a lot in a variety of ways. For example, they protected humanitarian aid convoys and hospital patients. They also volunteered time and money to donate school supplies and fix damaged buildings.

Classroom materials

Classroom materials main page

Lesson plan: 12-18

Humanitarian aid tree

Lesson plan: All ages

Peace and Freedom WebQuest

historical sheet


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