LOCATION: Bosnia and Herzegovina
POPULATION: 4.5 million (1992)
LANGUAGE: Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian)
RELIGION: Muslim; Eastern Orthodox; Roman Catholicism; Islam
"Bosnian" refers to someone who lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (This country is usually referred to just as "Bosnia.") In the early 1990s, Yugoslavia broke apart into Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia and Montenegro reclaimed the name, Yugoslavia, in 1997.
Ancestors of the Bosnians, Slavic people of central Europe, first settled in the region that is modern Bosnia in the fifth century. The twelfth century brought domination by Hungary and Austria. These two countries later joined forces as the Hapsburg Empire. From 1328 to 1878, the region was occupied by the Turks of the Ottoman empire. During this time, many people converted to Islam, the religion of the Ottoman rulers. The Austro-Hungarian empire once again took over the region in 1878.
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 (1894–1918) in Sarajevo. This caused Germany and the Austro-Hungarians to declare war on Serbia and its allies (including Bosnia). Soon the world was involved in the worst war it had ever seen, now known as World War I (1914–18). When the war ended in December 1918, Bosnia became part of the newly created Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In 1929, the kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia. During World War II (1939– 45), a leader named Josip Broz (1892–1980), known as Marshal Tito, emerged. When the war ended, Tito took full command of the country and created a communist state.
Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence in 1992, with its capital at Sarajevo. Slovenia and Serbia and Montenegro were the other two countries created from the former Yugoslavia. War between Serbia and Bosnia began in 1992, and conflicts with Croatia followed. Fierce fighting continued until the end of 1995, when a peace agreement was signed in Paris, following U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio. Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic (1926–) was elected president in 1996.
Bosnia is located in the west-central region of the former Yugoslavia on the Balkan peninsula. The Balkan peninsula lies east of Italy and west of Turkey and the Black Sea. Mountain ranges cover much of the peninsula. Northern Bosnia consists of low-lying plains, changing to rolling hills and mountains to the south. Central Bosnia, where Sarajevo is located, is a mountainous region.
Before war began in 1992, Bosnia's population was 4.5 million, approximately 44 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serbian, and 17 percent Croatian, with smaller numbers from other ethnic groups.
The language of Bosnia is known as Serbo-Croatian. Serbo-Croatian belongs to the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family.
The Croats and Muslims use the Roman alphabet to write Serbo-Croatian, while the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet. For example, the word "hello" is zdravo in the Roman alphabet and здраво in the Cyrillic alphabet. "Please" is molim, "thank you" is hvala (FAH-lah), "Yes" and "No" are Da (or Jeste ) and Ne. The numbers one to ten in Serbo-Croatian are: jedan (jedna, jedno), dva (or dvije for feminine nouns), tri, četiri, pet, šest, sedam, osam, devet, and deset.
Given the ethnic diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no particular folklore that can be said to be Bosnian.
About 44 percent of Bosnians are Muslim. Some Islamic practices in Bosnia differ sharply from those in other Muslim countries. For many Bosnians, religion is something observed only on major religious holidays.
Serbs are mostly Eastern Orthodox, and Croatians are mostly Roman Catholic.
Bosnians celebrate a number of religious, secular, and family holidays. These include the state New Year holiday (January 1 and 2), both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christmases, Marshal Tito's birthday, and the Day of the Republic. Eastern Orthodox Christian families also celebrate the slava, or special day of their patron saint.
Muslim festivities center on Ramadan, the month of ritual fasting. During the three days at the end of Ramadan, called Bajram (known as Eid al-Fitr elsewhere), people visit and exchange gifts. During this period, the minarets (towers) of all the mosques are illuminated with strings of electric lights.
Major life transitions are marked by ceremonies appropriate to each Bosnian's religious tradition. Weddings are a major occasion for celebration.
The warfare of the 1990s severely disrupted the social fabric of Bosnian society, pitting neighbor against neighbor in an atmosphere of violence, distrust, and fear. It is difficult, therefore, to characterize typical interpersonal relations in Bosnia at present.
People try to be polite to one another, and to avoid topics in conversation that might trigger conflict or even violence. Many people living in Bosnia try to use humor in interpersonal relationship to ease tension.
Before the war in the 1990s, about three-fourths of village homes had electricity, and nearly all had running water. After the war began in 1992, many villages were destroyed and people were forced to leave.
Cities were also hard hit. In Sarajevo, many people had no electricity or running water, and little food. Before the war, life in the big cities was quite modernized. People lived in apartments with televisions and modern appliances. By the time the war ended, many apartments had been reduced to rubble. Nearly three-fourths of the population (over three million people) lost their homes.
Emphasis is on the nuclear family. However there is still some evidence of the Slavic extended family social pattern, called zadruga. Women commonly hold both an office or factory job and the job of managing the household. Men rarely do any housework. In the 1990s, family size has been decreasing.
Most urban Bosnians dress in Western-style clothing. Blue jeans are extremely popular. In large cities like Sarajevo, older men can occasionally be seen in the traditional Muslim costume of breeches, cummerbund, striped shirt, vest, and fez. Formerly, the traditional baggy Muslim trousers ( dimija) were worn by women of various Bosnian ethnic groups. Today, they are rarely seen in the cities but are still common in rural districts.
Even the most devout Muslim women in Bosnia do not wear the traditional chador (or chadri ) worn by women in Arab countries. This one-piece cloth sack is worn over the head and reaches to the ground. It has a mesh insert over the eyes and nose area.
The cuisine of Bosnia shows influences from Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Meat dishes are based on mixtures of lamb, pork, and beef. These are commonly eaten as sausages (called ćevapčići ) or hamburger-like patties (called pleskavica ). They 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. 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. Homemade plum brandy, called rakija, is a popular drink. Turkish coffee and a thin yogurt drink are also popular.
In the former Yugoslavian state system, education through the eighth grade was free and compulsory. Then a student could choose either a vocational school or the more academically oriented gymnasium for secondary education. Post-secondary education was available at a number of universities in the larger cities.
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.
In cities, many variations on the sevdalinka (love song) may be heard in cafes and on street corners. Sevdalinka are often melancholy, relating tragic stories of lovers who must be separated.
Rural folksongs include the ravne pesme, literally, a flat song with a single, simple melody; the ganga, an almost-shouted song; and other types of songs. They may be accompanied on the šargija (a simple, long-necked lute), wooden flute, or the diple (a droneless bagpipe). Urban folksongs show a much heavier Turkish influence. They feature chant-like singing accompanied on the saz, a larger and more elaborate version of the šargija.
Bosnian folk dances include the silent kolo (accompanied only by the sound of stomping feet and the clash of silver coins on the women's aprons). Men and women dance separately in Bosnian line dances.
Before the 1992–95 war, about 40 percent of Bosnians worked in industry. Major industries were textiles, food-processing, coal and iron mining, and steel manufacturing. As of the late 1990s, these industries had not made a full recovery, since many factories, power plants, and other buildings were destroyed during the fighting. Bosnia's rural population engages in agriculture and related industries. Many city dwellers have service-related or professional jobs.
Soccer is the favorite sport of Bosnians. Official matches draw spectators from all over the country, and informal games spring up in parks, on playgrounds, and in the streets. Makeshift goals 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 Olympics were held in Sarajevo, a city that was then in Yugoslavia.
Bosnians enjoy watching television, listening to pop music, going to movies, and other typical modern forms of recreation. A traditional form of recreation is korzo— taking a walk in the evening and stopping to chat with friends or to have a cup of coffee in the kafana, or coffeehouse.
The main folk art in Bosnia is carpet-weaving. The cities of Mostar and Sarajevo are famous for their kilims (handwoven carpets). They are made from brightly colored wools in a variety of complicated designs.
The worst social problem for Bosnians is the effects of the war that raged in their country from 1992 through 1995. Over 60 percent of the homes in Sarajevo, the capital, were destroyed, as well as many historic buildings. The environment suffered heavy damage from bombing and fires.
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