Histories of the Yugoslav wars usually start with long-term background, and more of it than histories of other twentieth-century conflicts: one would rarely expect a study of the Western Front in 1914–18 to begin with the medieval Duchy of Burgundy, but explanations of the Yugoslav wars often start in that time frame or earlier. Indeed, debates about the wars incorporated the region’s long-term past from the very outset. Which nations had historical precedence over which territories in south-east Europe? Were the region’s cultural, social, economic and political legacies already too diverse in 1918, when the first Yugoslav state formed, for the successful unification of South Slavs into one state? Could the 1990s wars even be explained as continuations of historical interethnic rivalries — or, conversely, did the past offer praiseworthy examples of tolerance and coexistence? Even scholars who reject long-term explanations as deterministic still need to explain the region’s past: many statements by participants in the wars referred to specific national narratives about the past to justify present-day political and military claims.
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