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Nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina

More than 95% of population of Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to one of its three constitutive nations: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. The term constitutive refers to the fact that these three nations are explicitely mentioned in The Constitution, and that neither of them can be considered a minority or immigrant.

Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks have no major physical traits by which they can be distinguished. A recent genetical study showed that variance of genome is larger among members of the same nation than between nations.

While each have their own standard language variant and a name for it, they speak a mutually intelligible languages. On a dialectal level, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks speak a variety of Štokavian dialects: Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats "southern" neo-Štokavian; Croats and Bosniaks "western" neo-Štokavian and Bosniaks and Croats "eastern-Bosnian" old-Štokavian. These dialects are mutually intelligible, but have fixed phonetic, morphological and lexical differences. The question of standard language of Bosnia and Herzegovina is resolved in such a way that three constituent nations have their educational and cultural institutions in their respective national standard languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

The most easily recognizable feature that distinguishes the three nations is their religion, with Croats predominantly Catholic Christians, Bosniaks predominantly Muslim, and Serbs Orthodox Christians.

This has led many sociologists to believe that these ethnical groups emerged from religious groups in a process that occurred in 19th century. On the other hand, numerous historians, culturologists and ethnologists consider that Croats and Serbs have only completed their national integration in the 19th century (like, for instance, Norwegians or Slovaks), while Bosniaks crystallized into a separate nation only at the end of the 20th century.


Table of contents
1 Ethnical background of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2 Brief history of religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina
3 Transformation of ethnicity to religion, it's cause and course

Ethnical background of Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the Bronze Age, Bosnia was inhabited by a group of tribes we usually call Illyrians or Illyres. They were finally conquered by Roman Empire in 10. It is commonly believed that Illyrians were completely Romanized by 4th century; they spoke Latin language and their pagan religion was first replaced by corresponding Roman myths and later they became Christians.

The turmoil after the fall of Western Roman Empire in 476 was followed by settlement of Slavs in 7th century. Even though modern languages of this area are almost purely Slavic with very little Illyrian influence, it is believed that, genetically speaking, the present population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a mixture of Slavs and Illyrians with influences of other nations such as Avars and Goths.

There are many theories regarding the ethnical structure of medieval Bosnian state, however evidence are inconclusive. Claims that medieval Bosnians declared themselves Croats or Serbs have been disputed; evidence shows many instances of them calling themselves Bosnians (Bošnjani), however some historians believe that these indicate regional rather than ethnical identity.

Brief history of religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

South Slavs were christianized in 9th century. Until the Ottoman conqueror of Bosnia, we have evidence of three Christian denominations in Bosnia: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and an indigenous church known as the Church of Bosnia. Both Orthodox and Catholic officials declared this church to be a heresy. Apart from testimonies of inquisitors and a few excerpts from allegedly apocryphal texts, we have very little knowledge of the Church of Bosnia. Its connection with Bogomils is spurious, however. Discussion about how numerous each of these denominations was is impossible with the amount of historical documents that are presently available to us.

Arrival of Ottoman Empire, an islamic state, resulted in a thorough realignment of religious groups. The Church of Bosnia vanished, apparently because its leaders were either killed or converted. Many members of all three denominations converted to Islam. Other members of Church of Bosnia converted to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. There are also evidence of Catholic population converting to Orthodoxy. The effect of the so-called devşirme or blood tax on the presence of Muslims in Bosnia is negligible. The presence of large Muslim population in contemporary Bosnia is due to many factors, with motives ranging from an effective propaganda to religious persecution of Catholics in the 15th to 18th centuries (Catholics being viewed as a sort of "fifth column" of the Ottoman arch-enemy, the Habsburg Empire) and understandable motive to improve one's social standing in the theocratic Ottoman empire.

It is known that during the 16th and 17th century numerous Catholics left Bosnia. Much of the population of coastal regions of Croatia and Adriatic islands has origins in Bosnia.

Eventually, by the end of 17th century more than 80% of population of Bosnia was Muslim. However, the following century saw a drastic decline in the number of Muslims in Bosnia. Reasons for this include many defeats that the Ottoman army had during this century (in the Ottoman Empire Muslims were required to serve in the army, while non-Muslims weren't), plague and other natural disasters that mainly hit the urban population (whereas Christians were mostly peasants) and immigration of Christians from neighbouring territories.

Transformation of ethnicity to religion, it's cause and course

Originally, the islamic Ottoman Empire didn't have a concept of private ownership of land. Rights to till the land (tapija) were given to deserving military commanders (spahi), and after their death this right was delegated to another person. However, considering the special circumstances of the border-line province of Bosnia, the Ottoman sultan made an exception allowing for tapijas to be hereditary. This resulted in a de facto feudal system. Bosnian landlords (begs) quickly acquired more land than they could possibly till themselves, therefore they allowed Christian peasants to settle and till the land, giving a percentage (usually one third) to their beg.

This system worked reasonably well until mid-18th century when, following several major military defeats, general economic situation in Ottoman Empire declined. Impoverished begs and widows hired čifluk sahibijas, persons that had the authority to collect taxes on a certain part of a begs land while keeping a portion for themselves. Sahibijas didn't feel any obligation towards peasants and treated them badly, often enforcing taxes and confiscating property. This combined with growing taxes that the Empire required for itself and several bad years for crops resulted in a series of uprisings of Christian peasants in Bosnia, Serbia and other European provinces. In Bosnia this meant a very deep chasm between Muslims and Christians of both denominations.

In the times following the Ottoman conquest, the name «Bošnjanin» was turkified into «Bošnjak» (Bosh-nyak, Bosniak in English).During early Ottoman rule, the term «Bošnjak» was applied exclusively to the Christian population, while islamized natives were referred to as «Bosnalu». However, in following centuries (16th to 19th), this name, under various hyphenated forms («Bošnjak-milleti», «Bošnjak-taifesi») had acquired additional nuances of meaning: it became the common term for all the inhabitants of Bosnian Turkish pashaluk/military province. However, it is just one regional reference. Bureaucracy of the theocratic Ottoman empire couldn't even imagine that Muslims and Christians in one of the provinces of the vast Islamic polity would constitute a separated, supradenominational community. Nor was it thinkable to the Bosnian Christians and Muslims. The origins of the three nations now present in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be traced back to the period (ca. 1500. to ca. 1800.) of intense islamization when «triple» ethnic-denominational differentiation served as the focal point for growth of modern national individualities based on ancient ethnic loyalties: as Camus has said, people become what they already are-notwithstanding the fact that they may not yet be aware of it. Bosnian Croats and Serbs have definitely crystallized into modern nations during the 19th century, simultaneously retaining their regional Bosnian and Herzegovinian identities rooted in history and conjoining with their compatriots in Croatia and Serbia. Bosnian Muslims, on the other hand, have set out on the trek for self-identity. Feeling in their bones the unbridgeable separateness and distance from both Croats and Serbs, these «Turkey's abandoned children» found themselves in an uneasy position: being a cultural/denominational transplant from Asia Minor grafted onto South Slavic ethnicities whose nascent Croat and Serb identities melted away in the process of islamization, they vacillated between a few national and semi-national individualities: Turkish, Croat, Serb, supranational Yugoslav and quasidenominational ethnic Muslim designation- Bosnian Muslims were officially recognized as a nation under the name of Muslims in the 1971. Yugoslav census. Finally, this identity crisis was resolved in an abrupt way: «Bosniak» designation (actually, a Turkish word meaning «Bosnian») was adopted in 1993. as a sign of differentiating ethnic identity from denominational loyalties. Although circumstances of the procedure may look somewhat weird (it was unanimously accepted on September the 28th 1993., at the 2nd Bosniak Congress- an institution of Bosnian Muslim intellectuals and ideologues ), it seems that, in all likelihood, Bosnian Muslims have definitively reached the goal in their quest for national identity.

This has left Bosnian Muslims in a sort of vacuum. When Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, Muslims saw it as their arch-enemy and many left Bosnia for territories still under Ottoman rule. Therefore, Austria-Hungarian project of a Bosnian nation was accepted only among Muslim intellectual elite and a small number of Catholics. Serbs formed a resistance organization that grew into an opposition party named Serb Peoples1 Organization. A corresponding Muslim Peoples1 Organization was organized in 1906, and immediately entered into alliance with Serb Peoples1 Organization. These two parties combined with Croat Peoples1 Community won the 1910 elections by a large margin. This gave birth to the well-known concept of three natio-religions that we still see alive today.

1 This word can also be translated as National or even Ethnical.

See also:
For genesis of Bosniak nation see: Bosniaks.