Credit to the Balkan Development Organisation and the BBC for the information below.
The former Yugoslavia consisted of six republics and two autonomous regions. Today Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia are independent nations. Serbia and Montenegro comprise the rump Yugoslavia.
During World War II, armed groups claiming allegiance to various ethnic factions fought both against each other and against the Nazi occupiers. By 1945, almost 1 million Yugoslavs had lost their lives, most of them at the hands of other Yugoslavs. The Communist-led Partisans fought against both groups and were victorious (with Allied support) at the war’s end. The Partisan leader, Josip Broz (Tito), ruled the country as a one-party socialist state.
Despite using repressive tactics and centralized control, Tito understood the importance of apportioning power evenly among the Yugoslav ethnicities. Under Communist rule, it was a serious crime to openly express ethnic aspirations of any kind. From World War I until the end of the Cold War, Bosnia was part of the newly created country of Yugoslavia.
Following Tito’s death and the subsequent collapse of communism in the 1980’s, the population sought solutions to provide economic and political stability in a post Cold War world. Unfortunately, the solution promoted by Serb and Croat extremists in this time of crisis was ethnic nationalism. Serbia’s Communist Party leader, Slobodan Milosevic, began pandering to Serb nationalism, and quickly became the unchallenged ruler of Serbia and became primarily focused on the protection of his control over the nation.
His first campaign of repression against the ethnic Albanian Kosovars, made him a hero in the eyes of Serb nationalists throughout the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic had created an enemy through racism and quickly found a target towards which the Serbian populous could channel their anger towards.
Milosevic’s attempts to seize control of the federal government and his repressive tactics in Kosovo drove the newly elected non-Communist governments of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia to seek independence. The Yugoslav National Army (JNA) –with a predominantly Serb officers’ corps –responded with brutal attacks supported by Serb nationalist militias in Croatia and Bosnia.
In March 1992, Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats, fearing the drive for a Greater Serbia, called for a referendum for Bosnian independence. Fierce propaganda from Serbia, depicting Muslims as extremist fundamentalists, caused many Bosnian Serbs to support Milosevic’s plan for ethnic cleansing as a means of creating Greater Serbia. Since the Bosnian Serbs did not inhabit a single specific territory in Bosnia and lived alongside Muslim and Croat neighbors, the stage was set for war throughout the country. Milosevic had succeeded in turning one group against another in a bid to consolidate his own power. Bosnian Serbs having bought into ‘purist’ propaganda stood poised to reclaim the land from Bosnian Muslims.
On April 6, 1992, the Bosnian Serbs began their siege of Sarajevo. Muslim, Croat, and Serb residents opposed to a Greater Serbia were cut off from food, utilities, and communication. Food was scarce and the average weight loss per person was more than 30 pounds. More than 12,000 residents were killed, 1,500 of them children.
Throughout the war, many Bosnians wanted to preserve a multiethnic state. But Serb and Croat nationalists sought to carve out Bosnian land to be annexed to the future Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia. More than 200,000 Bosnians out of a population of 4.4 million were killed. Some 200,000 were injured, 50,000 of them children. Millions of people were deported or forced to flee their homes. The systematic ‘ethnic cleansing’ began to create a ‘pure’ greater Serbia. The army drove out all other ethnic groups by terrorizing and forcibly displacing non-Serbs through direct shelling and sniper attacks. Entire villages were destroyed. Thousands were expelled from their homes, held in detention camps, raped, tortured, deported, or summarily executed. Sixty percent of all houses in Bosnia, half of the schools, and a third of the hospitals were damaged or destroyed. Power plants, roads, water systems, bridges, and railways were ruined.
Throughout these horrors, the international community failed to respond and stood silently whilst genocide occurred.
Facts and Figures
Credit to the ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Bradt Travel Guide’ by Tim Clancy for the excerpt below.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is the heart-shaped country in the middle of the former Yugoslavia. It is bordered by Croatia to the north and west and by Serbia and Montenegro to the south and east. It is here that civilisation met, clashed and now unite East with West.
NAME The name Bosnia dates back to Roman times. There are several theories as to where the name comes from but it is a common belied that Bosna, from ‘bosana’, meaning water (Bosnia’s most plentiful resource), was named after the last Duke of Hum, Herceg Stjepan, who was the last ruler from the Bosnian aristocratic Kosaĉa family before the Ottomans invaded. Herzergovina literally means “of the Duke’s” or “belonging to the Duke”. Bosnia and Herzegovina is often shortened to BiH due to its rather long name.
AREA The territory of BiH covers 51,129km2, which is approximately the size of West Virginia. It has a small opening on the Adriatic Sea at the town of Neum. Its international waters mainly fall under Croatian territory.
LOCATION Bosnia and Herzegovina is not only the heart of the former Yugoslavia, but the heart of the Dinaric Alps as well. This southern extension of the Swiss Alps stretches deep into the Balkans and characterises much of BiH as well as its neighbours Croatia and Montenegro. It shares a 932km border with Croatia, a 312km border with Serbia and a 215km border with Montenegro. From BiH’s northern borders Slovenia and Hungary are only a few hours’ drive away and its southernmost point is a mere ten-minute drive from Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the southern Adriatic coast. Bosnia is the central and northern region of the country and Herzegovina comprises the entire southern region.
POPULATION Today the total population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is estimated at around 4.6 million, although accurate statistics are difficult to come by as no census has been carried out since before the war. There is a large diaspora scattered throughout Europe, North America and Australia, as well as in neighbouring Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.
CITIES The capital city and the administrative, cultural, economic and academic centre of the country is Sarajevo, with an estimated population of 440,000. The wider region, including predominantly Serbian East Sarajevo brings the population closer to its pre-war one of 600,000. A slow trickle of people are still returning to the city of their birth.
Baja Luka is the cultural, political and administrative centre of the Serb entity of BiH, Republika Srpska (RS). The city did once boast a rich multi-ethnic tradition but many of the non-Serbs have left or were driven out during the war. Banja Luka’s population is 200,000.
Tuzla and Zenica are industrial towns representing two of the larger population centres. Tuzla’s inhabitants number 170,000 and Zenica’s 120,000. Mostar is the heart of Herzegovina and has always had one of the most ethnically mixed population in the country. Unfortunately the 100,000 plus residents of Mostar are still marred by an invisible dividing line – albeit a psychological one. The east bank and a small part of the west near the old town are largely Bosniak, and the west bank has mainly a Croatian population. Bosniak is the term used for the Bosnian Muslims. Their nationality is often referred to as Muslim, which is correct.