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LOCATION: Bosnia and Herzegovina
POPULATION: 3.9 million (2005)
LANGUAGE: Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian)
RELIGION: Islam; Eastern Orthodox Christianity; Roman Catholic Christianity


Bosnia is the only republic of the former Yugoslavia that was established on a geographic/historical basis rather than on an ethnic one. "Bosnian" refers to someone who lives in the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (usually referred to as Bosnia, for short), not to a particular religious or ethnic group. Throughout its history, Bosnia (and its companion, Herzegovina) has found itself on the frontier between empires. As part of the Balkans in ad 100, Bosnia was a territory of the Roman Empire. When the empire split into two halves, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Croatia were ruled by the western Roman Catholic empire, and Serbia by the eastern Orthodox Byzantines. During the 5th century ad, Slavic peoples from Central Europe occupied the region. It is from these peoples that modern-day Bosnians are descended.

The 12th century brought domination by Hungary and Austria, which would later join forces as the Hapsburg Empire. Parts of the region remained under Austro-Hungarian rule until the 20th century. From 1328 to 1878, Bosnia was occupied by the Ottoman Turks. During this time, many Bosnians converted to Islam, the religion of the Ottoman rulers. The Austro-Hungarian Empire once again took over Bosnia in 1878. Serbia had become independent in 1815, and Croatia had gained semi-independence in 1867. Most Bosnians wanted to unite with Serbia. By 1900, all Bosnians wanted to rid themselves of foreign rule, and tensions were mounting. In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. The Austro-Hungarians accused the Serbians of engineering the assassination; Serbia denied it and turned to Russia, and later France and Great Britain, for support. The Austro-Hungarians drew Germany to their side and declared war on Serbia and its allies-soon the world was involved in the worst war it had ever seen, World War I.

Following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany in World War I, Serbia's allies supported its bid for independence. The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, to be ruled by the royal family of Serbia, was established in December 1918. In 1929, King Alexander dissolved the Parliament and declared himself ruler of the kingdom, which he renamed Yugoslavia. Alexander was assassinated in 1934 by a Croatian nationalist. His successor granted Croatia limited self-rule in 1939, but conflicts continued within the kingdom. Then, the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) invaded in 1941, and Yugoslavia entered World War II. During this war, a leader named Josip Broz, known as Marshal Tito, took power.

The second Yugoslavia-Tito's Yugoslavia-was declared in Bosnia (at a conference held in Jajce) in 1943. When the Axis powers were finally defeated in 1945, Tito took full command and created a communist state that attempted to find a middle ground between East and West. Following Tito's dramatic break with Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in 1948, Yugoslavia's "self-management" model and the partial restoration of property rights led to rapid growth and relative prosperity from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s. Until its breakup, Yugoslavia and its brand of communism were relatively progressive. As the country began to unravel after Tito's death in 1980, the Communist Party, especially in Serbia, became much more repressive, and the Serbians once again began to dominate. Slovenia and then Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Wars were waged by all parties, justified on nationalistic and religious grounds. As these wars spread from small sections of Slovenia (though its secession was peaceful) to Croatia, it became apparent that Bosnia would soon declare independence as well, and this would likely cause great anger in Serbia. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, with its capital at Sarajevo.

Another war began in 1992 as Serbia embarked on a campaign of "ethnic cleansing"-a form of genocide aimed at eradicating non-Serbs from large sections of Bosnia in order to achieve eventual political union with a greater Serbia. Conflicts with newly independent Croatia ensued as radical members of that state sought to create, from the multinational Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Croatian state called Herzeg-Bosna, with its capital at Mostar. By 1994-95, the international community finally began pressuring the warring sides to enter into serious negotiations. The Bosnians and the Croatians were the first of the three combatants to sign a cease-fire, but they continued fighting the irregular Serbs, who remained determined to create a greater Serbia in the majority Serb sections of Croatia and Bosnia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), at the insistence of France and the United States, finally threw its considerable military resources behind ending the bloodiest war Europe had seen since World War II. A peace accord was negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 and was formally signed by the combatants-Alijia Izetbegovic of Bosnia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia-in Paris on 14 December 1995.


Before the war began in 1992, Bosnia's population was 4.5 million-approximately 44% Muslim, 31% Serbian, and 17% Croatian, along with small numbers of Gypsies, Albanians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Italians. Bosnian Muslims have historically been more urban than their Christian counterparts. Bosnia's major cities are Sarajevo (the capital), Banja Luka, Zenica, Tuzla, and Mostar.

Bosnia is located in the west-central region of the former nation of Yugoslavia on the Balkan Peninsula. It is bounded by Croatia to the north, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the south. There is a very short coastline to the west on the Adriatic Sea. Bosnia comprises four distinct regions. Northern Bosnia contains more than 70% of the cultivated land in the former republic and is characterized by low-lying plains, changing to rolling hills and isolated mountains to the south. Central Bosnia, where Sarajevo is located, is a mountainous region with a number of peaks over 2,000 m (6,560 ft). The mountains are part of the Dinaric Alps range. There is low population density outside the cities. Western Bosnia and upland Herzegovina form a region of bare limestone ridges and barely fertile valleys. Lowland Herzegovina, cut through by the Nertva River, is home to the regional capital of Mostar. Bosnia's short stretch of coast on the Adriatic Sea lies along the rocky beaches of Neum.

The climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina ranges from humid summers and harsh winters in the north and central regions to a Mediterranean climate in lower Herzegovina. Strong winds are common, almost constant in some areas. The jugo wind brings rain; the maestral (or mistral) brings cooler air during the summer heat; and the bura brings bitter cold from the northeast during the winter. Earthquakes occur frequently. There is a wide variety of plant and animal life in Bosnia. Many wild animals, such as bears, wolves, lynx, and wild boars, still live in the mountains and forests.


The official language of Bosnia is Serbo-Croatian, although many Bosnians refer to the dialect they speak as "Bosniac." Ro-many dialects (Gypsy), Albanian, and Ukrainian are spoken by substantial minority groups, and most students are exposed to some English or German in school. Conflicts among the ethnic groups in Bosnia extend even to the alphabets they use. Though all speak Serbo-Croatian, the Croats and Muslims use the Roman alphabet, whereas the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet. The common form of the word "hello" is written zdravo by Croats and Muslims; for the same word, Serbs write çäðàâî.

Serbo-Croatian belongs to the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family-more specifically, to the group of South Slavic languages that includes Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Slovenian. Serbo-Croatian is a language that is rich in loan words from other European languages, as well as from Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and, more recently, English. In the 19th century, folklorists and linguists standardized Serbo-Croatian to regularize spelling and phonetic correspondence between spelling and pronunciation. "Write as you speak and speak as you write" was the slogan of this movement. Thus, Serbo-Croatian has no silent letters (such as the k in "knife") or diphthongs (such as the oa in boat), as English does.

"Please" is molim (pronounced MOU-leem) in Serbo-Croatian, and "thank you" is hvala (pronounced FA-la). "Yes" and "no" are Da (or Jeste) and Ne. The numbers 1 to 10 in Serbo-Croatian are jedan (jedna, jedno), dva (or dvije for feminine nouns), tri, Ťhetiri, pet, šest, sedam, osam, devet, and deset.

Women's first names tend to end in - a and - ica (pronounced EET-sa). Almost all Bosnian family names end in - ic (which means "child of," like John-son). Family names often indicate ethnicity. Sulemanagic, for example, is a Muslim name derived from the name of the Muslim hero Suleiman. Family names are passed down the male line from father to children.


Given the ethnic diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no particular folklore that can be said to be specifically Bosnian.


Bosnia, like many isolated areas, developed a mixture of religious beliefs and practices that diverged from the mainstream. In the medieval era, Bosnian Christians embraced Bogomilism (an anticlerical, dualistic sect), which was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. In the Ottoman era, many Christians found reason to convert to Islam. Their motives for conversion ranged from a simple preference for Islam, to escaping Catholic persecution of the native Bogomil Christian sect, to retaining rank in the local nobility, to escaping taxes placed on the Christian peasantry. About 44% of Bosnians today are Muslim. Sufism (mystical Islam) also became established in Bosnia. Islam in modern Bosnia has evolved into a tolerant form, with some practices diverging sharply from what is considered orthodox in other Islamic countries. Many Bosnians treat their religion as many Americans do theirs-something that is observed only on holy days and on major religious holidays. Fundamentalism was discouraged both by the Yugoslavian government and by the religious community.

Serbians (31% of the population) are mostly Eastern Orthodox, and Croatians (17%) are mostly Roman Catholic. The Eastern Orthodox Church broke from the Roman Catholic Church in ad 1054. Although the two faiths remain quite similar today, the chief difference is that the Eastern Orthodox Church has no pope. Questions of faith are instead decided by a consensus of all the bishops of the church. Other decisions, such as the placement of individual priests in parishes, are also made less hierarchically and more democratically in the Eastern Orthodox Church, in which congregations elect their priests. In the Roman Catholic Church, priests are appointed by bishops. Eastern Orthodoxy does not believe in purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception, or the assumption of Mary-it considers them all "innovations" made by the Roman Catholic Church. Mysticism also finds a more welcome home in the Eastern Orthodox Church than it does in the Roman Catholic Church.


Bosnians celebrate a number of religious, secular, and family holidays. Especially in the cities, where intermarriage is common, families might celebrate the state New Year holiday, both Orthodox and Catholic Christmases, and the traditional New Year's Day, along with the secular holidays of Marshal Tito's birthday on May 25 and the Day of the Republic on January 9. Eastern Orthodox Christian families also celebrate the slava, or saint's name day of the family.

Muslim festivities center on Ramadan, the month of ritual fasting. Exchanging household visits and small gifts is a particular feature of the three days at the end of Ramadan, called Bajram (known as Eid Al-Fitr elsewhere). During this period, the minarets of all the mosques are illuminated with strings of electric lights.

The Bosanska Korrida festival, during which bulls are encouraged to fight one another, attracted large numbers of country folk before it was disrupted by war in the 1990s.


Weddings are a major time of celebration, is army induction day, when young men leave for their compulsory national service. Other major life transitions are marked by ceremonies that are appropriate to each Bosnian's religious tradition.


During the worst of the war years of the 1990s, the social fabric of Bosnian society, once a unique and successful example of multiculturalism, was very nearly destroyed, and it is still in the process of healing. There are still Serbian Orthodox churches in Sarajevo (though many of the mosques in the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska have been demolished), and more and more, young people are looking beyond the ethnic hatred. Though the bitterness has not disappeared entirely and the city of Sarajevo is filled with NATO peacekeepers, normalcy is nonetheless returning.


Much of the infrastructure of modern Bosnia-especially Sarajevo, the capital-was developed during the Austrian occupation (1878-1914). The first railroads, museums, public transport systems, and waterways for commercial transport were built then. Craft guilds were organized, and new systems of agriculture were developed. In the villages, most people were farmers and lived in small houses built of stone or wood. Some modernized farms existed, but the majority relied on traditional methods, using plows pulled by oxen and horse carts for transportation. Before the regional wars (1992-95), about three-fourths of village homes had electricity, and nearly all had running water. Since the war, nearly three-fourths of the population (more than 3 million people) have lost their homes; 150,000 Bosnians are dead or missing; and more than 2 million are refugees. There are more than 500,000 refugees in Croatia, 400,000 in Serbia, another 400,000 in Germany, and 350,000 in other European countries.

As the 20th century progressed, more and more people left their villages to find work in the cities. As a result of the fighting, many villages have been destroyed and their residents forced to leave. Cities have also been hard hit. In Sarajevo, many people have no electricity or running water and little food. For years, they lived in fear of being killed or wounded by the Serb paramilitaries that laid siege to the city. Before the war, life in the big cities had been modernized-people lived in apartments with televisions and modern appliances, they drove cars, and so on. The war left large parts of the city in rubble, though major internationally funded rebuilding plans were instituted beginning in the late 1990s, and Sarajevo is retaining its prewar Hapsburg feel. There are elegant pedestrian walkways, classically Central European sidewalk cafés filled with young, fairly affluent people, an internationally recognized film festival, and museums with quite modern collections, similar to those one might see in other mid-sized European cities.


Much of the social structure of Bosnia reflects European custom, with some Mediterranean cultural aspects. Emphasis is on the nuclear family, although there is still some evidence of the Slavic extended family social pattern of co-dwelling, called zadruga. Although women have been guaranteed full equality and entry into the workforce, this has come to mean that they often hold down two jobs-one at the office or factory and one at home. Men rarely do housework. The Muslim custom of polygamy was seen only in one isolated region of the country. Most marriages follow the modern custom of love matches. Arranged marriages have mostly disappeared. Family size has decreased as education and prosperity have increased.


Although only a generation ago, Bosnia was well known for its wide variety of folk costumes, little of this variety can be seen today, except in isolated mountain villages and in the stage costumes of amateur folklore ensembles. Most urban Bosnians dress in the Western style now; blue jeans are extremely popular. In large cities such as Sarajevo, older men can occasionally be seen wearing the urban Muslim costume of breeches, cummerbund, striped shirt, vest, and fez. The baggy trousers traditionally worn by women (called dimija) were adopted by all three ethnic groups as a folk costume. They are rarely seen on the streets of cities nowadays, but they are still common in rural districts. (Folk costume researchers say that one can tell the altitude of a woman's village by how high on the ankles she ties her dimija to keep her hems out of the snow.) Even the most devout Muslim women in Bosnia do not wear the c h ador (or chadri, as it is known elsewhere), a one-piece garment worn over the head that reaches to the ground, with a mesh insert over the eyes and nose. Headscarves and raincoats are more frequently worn instead, especially on religious holidays.


The cuisine of Bosnia shows influences from Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Dishes based on a mixture of lamb, pork, and beef, especially in the form of sausages (called ćevapčići) or hamburger-like patties (called pleskavica), are grilled along with onions and served hot on fresh somun (a thick pita bread). Bosnian hotpot stew (Bosnanki lonac), a slow-roasted mixture of layers of meat and vegetables, is the most typical regional specialty. It is usually served directly at the table in a distinctive vase-like ceramic pot. Turkish dishes, such as kebabs (marinated pieces of meat cooked on a skewer), burek (meat- or vegetable-filled pastry), and baklava (a sweet, layered dessert pastry) are common. Pizza is readily available, often served with a cooked egg in the middle. It is generally eaten with a fork rather than with the hands. Homemade plum brandy, called rakija in Bosnia and imported to the United States as slivovitz, is a popular drink for men; women tend to prefer fruit juices. Turkish coffee and a thin yogurt drink are also popular.


Most Bosnians (96%) are literate. Since the country was restructured following the Dayton Accords, education systems have changed. A nine-year system of compulsory education for children ages 6-15 was implemented in 2003-04. Secondary schools offering various curricula exist throughout the nation, leading some students to vocational training and others to university. The Republika Srpska, the Serb-controlled section of Bosnia, maintains its own system of schooling, its own curricula, and an independent ministry of education. In 2003-04, it was reported that roughly 375,000 students were enrolled in 1,871 primary schools, and 160,000 students attended 304 secondary educational institutions in all of Bosnia. There were 72 institutions of higher education in Bosnia (excluding the Republika Srpska).


The arts are highly developed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With three major ethnicities to draw on (Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim), a great wealth of song, dance, literature, and poetry is available. The Ottoman and Austrian occupations also left rich architectural legacies. Sculpture in Bosnia dates to the pre-Islamic era, evidenced by many carved figures of humans and animals. This tradition carried over into the Islamic period, although the usual Muslim prohibition against representing the human form did not take hold. Still, Islamic arts such as calligraphy and fine metalworking became features of Bosnian art. Before the war, much energy was devoted to religious and domestic architecture. Houses featured walled compounds with their distinctive gates, carved wooden ceilings and screens, and built-in seating covered with fine weavings. Kilims (handwoven carpets) and knotted rugs were common. The custom of giving a personally woven dowry rug, with the couple's initials and date of marriage, has only recently disappeared. Other textile arts, such as silk embroidery, were also common domestic arts.

Music and dance especially reflect Bosnia's great diversity. Bosnian music can be divided into rural and urban traditions. The rural tradition is characterized by such musical styles as ravne pesme (flat song) of limited scale; ganga, an almost shouted polyphonic style; and other types of songs that may be accompanied by the šargija (a simple long-necked lute), wooden flute, or the diple (a droneless bagpipe). The urban tradition shows a much heavier Turkish influence, with its melismatic singing (more than one note per syllable) and accompaniment on the saz, a larger and more elaborate version of the šargija. Epic poems, an ancient tradition, are still sung to the sound of the gusle, a single-string bowed fiddle. However, this rich heritage of folk music is disappearing under the influence of Western pop music and new native pop music in a folk style played on the accordion. Sevdalinka songs (derived from the Turkish word sevda, "love") were traditionally the most widespread form of music in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These deeply emotional songs speak metaphorically and symbolically of love won and lost. They came to symbolize Bosnia to natives and foreigners alike.

Bosnian folk dance is probably the richest and yet least known of all the regional folk dances of the former Yugoslavia. Dances range from the silent kolo (accompanied only by the sound of stamping feet and the clash of silver coins on the women's aprons), to line dances in which the sexes are segregated, to Croatian and Serbian dances like those performed across the border in their native countries. Like music, however, these folk dances are rapidly being replaced by Western social dances and rock and roll.


Before the war, about 40% of Bosnians worked in industry. Major industries included textiles, food processing, coal and iron mining, automobile-related industries, and the manufacture of steel. Agriculture contributed 11.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005; the major crops are now tobacco and fruit. The industrial sector contributed 27.8% of GDP in 2005. Before the communist era, almost all Bosnians were farmers. The communists changed Bosnia from a farming nation to an industrial nation during the 1960s to the 1980s. Bosnia still retains a substantial rural population, however, especially in the northern region of Bosanska Posavina, just south of the Sava River. This population lives in small towns and villages throughout the region, engaging in agriculture and its supporting or related industries. They are not poor peasants-their homes generally have electricity and indoor plumbing, and they may own a small tractor, an automobile, a television, and a DVD player and may have an Internet connection. Most have completed their primary education through the eighth grade. Some, especially those outside the primarily agricultural zones, are miners or factory workers. City dwellers have the same sorts of jobs as those in the Western world, such as teachers, bankers, engineers, truck drivers, merchants, and librarians.


Soccer is the favorite sport of Bosnians. Official matches draw spectators from all over the country, and informal games spring up constantly in parks, on playgrounds, and in the streets. If actual goals are not available, makeshift ones are created from old netting, clothes, rags, and even plastic bags. Outdoor sports such as hiking, skiing, swimming, and fishing are also very popular in Bosnia,. The 1984 Winter Olympic Games were hosted by Bosnia in Sarajevo. In 2002-03, the first soccer league in the country, featuring teams with players from all the main ethnic groups, began regular play. The national soccer team is currently ranked fifty-ninth by FIFA (International Federation of Association Football).


Bosnians enjoy the same sorts of entertainment and recreation as Americans-they watch television, listen to pop music, read comics, go to movies, and play games. Outdoor activities such as hiking, hunting, mountain climbing, skiing, swimming, and fishing are also popular. A traditional form of recreation is korzo—walking along the main street of the village, town, or city in the evening and stopping to chat with friends or have a cup of coffee in the kafana, or coffeehouse. (Kafanas are often restricted to men only.)

Folklore festivals and competitions between amateur performing groups were a major feature of contemporary Bosnian life before the war. Bosnian amateur folklore groups, called Cultural Art Societies, were found throughout the republic. They were required to perform the dances, music, and songs of the three major ethnicities in Bosnia, as well as the folklore of the other republics of Yugoslavia. Successful performances at local festivities could earn such a society the privilege of performing abroad.


The main folk art in Bosnia is carpet weaving. The cities of Mostar and Sarajevo are famous for their rugs, which are made from brightly colored wools in a variety of intricate designs.


The worst social problem for Bosnians is, of course, the effects of the war from 1992 to 1995. It is estimated that 150,000 Bosnians were killed (or remain missing) as a result of the war. In Sarajevo, more than 60% of the homes were destroyed. The environment suffered heavy damage from bombings, fires, and acid rain resulting from gases released into the air. Historic buildings and structures, including the 16th-century Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, were destroyed, although some have since been rebuilt.

Thirteen years after the signing of the Dayton Accords, normalcy has returned to much of Bosnia, but this does not mean there are no social problems. There is a significant marginalized population of Roma (Bosnia's largest ethnic minority) living on the outskirts of major cities in squalid conditions. There is also a continuing low-level hostility between the Bosnian-Croat entity and the Serb enclave living in Republika Srpska.

In recent years, Bosnia years become a transit point for both drug and human trafficking. Corruption is a significant problem.


As a traditionally liberal, nearly secular, and partially modernized nation, Bosnia's gender issues mirror those of the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe. Bosnia's founding documents and constitution define gender equality in slightly different ways. According to the United Nations Development Programme, the country has committed itself to achieving full gender equality in all legislative authorities of the state. It reported in 2006 that the country was making progress toward bringing its laws regarding gender equality in line with developed-world standards.

In terms of female health standards and reproductive rights, abortion is widely used as a form birth control; sex education is insufficient, and gynecological services are badly lacking.

Bosnia offers no legal recognition for unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual. The traditional family forms the core of much of rural society, though this has fragmented a bit in the cities, where homosexuality and cohabitation are tolerated.


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—revised by J. Henry