Foregin Volunteers in the Yugoslav Wars

Today I will carefully try to open a new topic, hoping for a constructive exchange of information and ideas. These wounds these wars caused still did not heal and still many people of the affected regions feel pain about it, so I try to present this as neutral as possible, in order that a normal conversation might be possible.

The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990-ies were actually 4 wars, some of which were directly connected, some actually rather seperate. These were the 10-Days War (1991) in which Slovenia gained it’s independence, the Croatian War (1991-1995), in which Croatia got it’s independence, the Bosnian War (1992-1996, with the Croat-Bosniak-Conflict 1992-1994 as a subconflict), which left Bosnia independent but seperated into two entities and the Kosovo War (1998-1999), which left Kosovo under the supervision of the UN before it declared it’s independence in 2008.

In these wars, (apart from the 10-Days War - at least I could not find any information for a foreign participation) were also foreign volunteers present. They were partially grouped in units consisting entirely of volunteers, partially they blended in with the local fighers.
People found many reasons to join one of the fighting parties: affinity to one of the involved parties (for example out of religious reasons), the own descent (for example expatriates in other countries), personal perception of a “just cause” or simply money (mercenaries).

The parties and their foreign fighters in alphabetical order:

The Albanians in Kosovo did not employ many foreigners, often they had actually an Albanian background themselves. I have not been able to find very much information about them.

On the Bosniak (Muslims of Bosnia) side, most often the foreign fighers came from predominantly muslim countries. While some joined the regular forces as regular soldiers, some participated as mujahideen. The mujahideen were used as a hate-propaganda object by both the Serbian and the Croatian forces, with their numbers being bloated.

On the Croat side, fighters originated from many different places of the Earth, be it Europe, the Americas or even Africa; though it is said that most often the foreign soldiers on the Croatian side had a Catholic background. They primarily fought in the Croatian War up to 1992, when they were to be officially expelled (only a very little number continued to serve in Croatia). With the war in Bosnia starting, they often went over to join the forces of the Bosnian Croats and fought there.

On the Serbian side, the foreign fighters most often had an Orthodox background. While I have not found any information of foreign fighters in the war in Croatia nor the Kosovo War, there were 2 Russian volunteer units, 1 Cossack unit and the Greek Volunteer Guard fighting mostly in the eastern part of Bosnia. There seem to have been plans to create another unit in eastern Hercegovina composing of Russian and Greek volunteers.

The performance of these foreign fighters was mixed. While some excelled (often former professional soldiers), some performed horribly. While some served “with gallantry” (if this is a word which can be used regarding such wars), some were convicted of war crimes (among them murder, mistreatment of prisoners, rape, looting, etc.).

A few links on the topic:
From the perspectives of all warring parties in Bosnia, seems to be written quite neutral.
Has interesting pictures, but deals only with the Croatian side.
Deals with volunteers on the Bosniak, Croatian and Kosovo-Albanian sides. Has interesting information about fallen foreign soldiers. More neutral than the second link.

As said before, I try to start this thread about a still sensitive topic neutrally and hope for a constructive exchange of informations.


I only have a small amount of personal experience of the wars in the FRY from my tours in 92-93 Bosnia (mountain routes), 95-96 Sarejevo, Skopje 1999, Pristina 1999.

The HOS unit around Tomislavsgrad in 1992 was commanded by an Australian Major and had quite a few ex British soldiers alongside some Scandinavians. The unit was not a particularly nice unit and we had constant run ins with them. Local men were exempt from military service if they paid the local forces instead (at the time it was 50DM per month which was the average monthly wage) so working for the British Army was very welcome no matter how menial the job.

The foreign Soldiers in the local BiH were not well treated being considered outsiders, rarely paid and given the bad jobs some of them handed themselves over to us (2 were British Army deserters who went for the adventure) to be taken out of theatre.

We suspected their were Russians fighting alongside the Serbian forces but never found any hard evidence (volunteers).

When we delivered food aid though all sides took what we delivered from the local population.

Never had much dealing with combatants during my stay in Sarejevo but there were very few non muslims around (the fighting was still going on when I got there).

Kosovo the Serbians were supported by the Russians while the ‘Kosovars’ were pretty much all Albanians who turned on NATO as soon as the Serbians left.

Interesting, I wonder for Skopje, how does that come, if I may ask?

Were there Russian volunteers in Kosovo at that time, it would be new for me.

Yes the some number ( very limited though) russian volunteers had participated on Serbian side , it’s not actualy a top secret.I read the most of them were the former SU army experienced vets of Afgan war.Serbs warm meeted them and still remember well.

On the Bosniak (Muslims of Bosnia) side, most often the foreign fighers came from predominantly muslim countries. While some joined the regular forces as regular soldiers, some participated as mujahideen. The mujahideen were used as a hate-propaganda object by both the Serbian and the Croatian forces, with their numbers being bloated.

As i heard it’s not exactly so. The Serbs and Croats still remember the jihadist not for their numbers but for beastial cruelty to christians.The foreign and domestic mujahidins were tied with the most vivid cases of ethnic and religious crimes in Bosnia.The Serbs actualy used them as hate-element in their propogand but for sake of true the jihadist never hided their activity and shared the evidence of their "holy war’ as widely as they can.

Regarding the mujahideen, I never claimed otherwise, they are indeed remembered for cruelty. Their cruelty matches easily all what one has known and heard of in that terms. It is interesting to note that they did not only attack Croats and Serbs but also captured other volunteers fighting for the Bosniaks if they were not sharing their thoughts and beliefs (especially if they happened to be from non islamic countries).

But what I did say is that both, the Serbian and the Croatian propaganda placed their number higher (to make all enemy fighters look like jihadis).
So I think about that we agree, don’t we?

Sure we can agree. But this is the logistical matter of nature of propogand. The more simple propogand - the better it works.During the ww2 just relatively small part of german army was really diehard nazis and statistically very insignificant part of them did participate in atrocities against civils on racial basis. Inspite of , both the soviet and allied propogand portrayed the german army as the “devils Nazis force” and all the germans soldiers as a pure nazis!So for me, it’s hard to blame the serbs and croats in a sins which were common for all sides in all wars.

“Sins which were common for all sides in all wars” - I suppose that’s really the point, Chevan. This is the problem I have with Paul Hausser’s characterisation of the Waffen-SS as “just like other soldiers”. It begs the question - what are “other” soldiers actually like ? For the most part, I believe that the majority of soldiers attempt to behave decently and honorably, even in the horrible circumstances of war. However, those circumstances often make it difficult to behave decently; perceptions of military duty often make it difficult to behave decently and honorably; and a minority of maladjusted and/or criminal individuals will have little conception of decent or honorable behaviour, and will exploit the circumstances of war to indulge their worst instincts. Extremists jihadists - who, in contravention of the precepts of their Prophet - do seem to have a particular disregard for human life, even the lives of fellow Muslims, where death or injury are taken to serve their perverse ends in the cause of perverted religion - but they are not unique in their brutality. Best regards, JR.

nice words!
…and inspite of ideology , i have to add.But since we talk about military propogand , whose sense is the “exaggeration of enemy’s defects” and present it in hyperbolic view - the more hyberbolic , the more effective it work.

Indeed, propaganda is maybe one of the most dangerous weapons, as it creates an enemy for you even if you did not think of the “other side” as such till then. It was used extensively in the Wars in Yugoslavia and continues to be used till this day in some cases.

I agree that probably most guys usually try to control themselves. Yet again, one has to keep in mind what type of war it is. As seen in WW2, the Western Front and the North African Front in particular were comparatively “friendly”, while the Eastern Front and the Pacific were most brutal.

Again, the war in Croatia was not nearly as bad as in Bosnia or Kosovo, as the hatred there was much more accumulated and it the problems were never properly solved (also an omission of the communist government), so the people grew the hatred over generations. The start of the hatred in Bosnia lies back to the times of the Ottoman empire, in which the Muslims enjoyed more rights (which they on occassions abused) than the Christian population (whether they were Croats or Serbs or maybe even someone else was irrelevant).
Regarding Kosovo, the conflict between Serbs and Albanians is now some 500 years (or even more) old.
Keeping that in mind, one can understand why certain type or propaganda worked on all fighting sides in these conflicts, they had already a good breeding ground.

In any way, thanks for the till now very constructive discussion, I appreciate it a lot since I have a personal connection to this topic.