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Ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina

More than 95% of population of Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to one of its three constituent nations: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats . The term constituent refers to the fact that these three ethnic groups are explicitly mentioned in the constitution, and that none of them can be considered a minority or immigrant.

While each have their own standard language variant and a name for it, they speak 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 ethnic groups have their educational and cultural institutions in their respective native or mother tongue languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

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

A Y chromosome haplogroups study published in 2005 found that "three main groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in spite of some quantitative differences, share a large fraction of the same ancient gene pool distinctive for the Balkan area".[1]


  • Decision of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina 1
  • Ethnic background of Bosnia and Herzegovina 2
  • Brief history of religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina 3
  • Transformation of religion to ethnicity, its cause and course 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Decision of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 12 February 1998, Mr. Alija Izetbegović, at the time Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, instituted proceedings before the Constitutional Court for an evaluation of the consistency of the Constitution of the Republika Srpska and the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The request was supplemented on 30 March 1998 when the applicant specified which provisions of the Entities’ Constitutions he considered to be unconstitutional. The four partial decisions were made in 2000, by which many of articles of the constitutions of entities were found to be unconstitutional, which had a great impact on politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, because there was a need to adjust the current state in the country with the decision of the Court. There was a narrow majority (5-4), in the favour of the applicant. In its decision, among other things, the Court stated:

The formal name of this item is U-5/98, but it is widely known as the "Decision on the constituency of peoples" (), referring to the Court's interpretation of the significance of the phrase "constituent peoples" used in the Preamble of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The decision was also the basis for other notable cases that came before the court.

Ethnic background of Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the Bato(n), the chieftain of the Daesitiates. Following this historical event that was carved deeply into the history of Rome, which suffered great losses in army, Illyrians were gradually Romanized and by the 4th century they spoke Latin language and their pagan religion was replaced by corresponding Roman myths and later they became Christians. However, numerous material remains indicate that a significant amount of Illyrian material culture not only survived the Roman era, but the subsequent Slavic invasions as well, as indicated in the traditional rituals, dance and singing, costumes, jewelry and tattoos in some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina (spiral and zig-zag decorations), identical to those of North Albania and Kosovo. Many scholars believe that ancient Illyrian language is a predecessor of modern Albanian, although this theory has its serious opponents.[3]

The turmoil after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 was followed by settlement of Slavs in the 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 ethnic groups such as Avars and Goths.

There are many theories regarding the ethnic structure of a medieval Bosnian state; however, evidence is inconclusive. Claims that medieval Bosnians declared themselves Croats or Serbs have been refuted: evidence shows that they called themselves Bosnians (Bošnjani). The names Serb and Croat, though occasionally appearing in peripheral areas, were not used in Bosnia proper.[4]

Brief history of religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

South Slavs were Christianized in the 9th century. Until the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia, there is evidence of three Christian denominations in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Eastern Orthodox (roughly limited to modern-day Herzegovina), Roman Catholic and an indigenous church known as the Bosnian Church. Some scholars believe it was a dualist church related to the Bogomils of Bulgaria, while others dispute this claim, citing lack of historical evidence. Both Orthodox and Roman 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 Bosnian Church. Its connection with Bogomils is spurious, however. Discussion about how numerous each of these denominations was is impossible with the amount of historical documents presently available.

The arrival of the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic state, resulted in a thorough realignment of religious groups. The Bosnian Church vanished, apparently because its leaders were either killed or converted. Many members of all three denominations converted to Islam. Other members of the Bosnian Church converted to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. There are also evidence of big part of the Catholic population converting to Orthodoxy.

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

Transformation of religion to ethnicity, its 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 the 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 transformed 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. The 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.

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, an Austro-Hungarian project of a Bosnian nation was accepted only among Bosniak 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.

The origins of the three nations now present in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be traced back to the period between ca. 1500. to ca. 1800. 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 religious counterparts in Croatia and Serbia. Bosnian Muslims, on the other hand, found themselves in an uneasy position: with Ottoman Islamic influence and South Slavic ethnicities, they vacillated between a few national and semi-national individualities - Bosnian Muslims were officially recognized as a nation under the name of Muslims in the 1971 Yugoslav census. Finally, the Bosniak designation was adopted as a sign of differentiating ethnic identity from denominational loyalties, on 28 September 1993, at the 2nd Bosniak Congress - an institution of Bosnian Muslim intellectuals and ideologues. US scholars Robert J. Donia and John VA Fine note that:

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

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, U-5/98 (Partial Decision Part 3), p. 36, Sarajevo, 1 July 2000
  3. ^ Stipčević, Aleksandar, "The Illyrians", Noyes Pubns, 1977, ISBN 0-8155-5052-9 ISBN 978-0815550525
  4. ^
  5. ^ , p. 73, 1995,

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