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Bosnia and Herzegovina were provinces in the Ottoman Empire, and later in the Habsburg Empire. In the medieval Slav world they were on the borderline between the areas Christianized from Rome and from Byzantine. In the 12th century they were an area of disputed allegiance, as now. Herzegovina has been more predominantly Catholic, that is Croat, and recently is said to have been a stronghold of the most fanatical Croat nationalists.

Where did the Muslims come from?
There were calls from Rome in 1168 for a Crusade against a Slav community of Bogomils (=beloved by God), alleged to be similar to the Albigensians and Manichaeans. Their doctrines are disputed, but may have been either Gnostic or pre-Protestant. They came from what is now Bulgaria but at one time had influence in the Byzantine Empire. Did they live in Bosnia? This is disputed.

Following the Great Schism of 1054 the area was otherwise divided between the Latin and Greek Orthodox churches - though with the Latin church trying to convert the Orthodox, and both ganging up on the Bogomils. Actual Crusades occurred in 1238, 1241 and 1325. Another from Hungary in 1459. There seems to have been a Bosnian church as well whose allegiance was uncertain. Evidence suggests that the Bogomils preferred the Turks to their persecutors and converted to Islam when the Turks arrived in 1463, possibly because their real beliefs stemmed from Sufism, more acceptable to Muslims than to Christians. However, there is no reason why ordinary people should not have converted to Islam from political usefulness or conviction. Some Catholics and Orthodox also converted.

In recent times it was observed that the Bosnian Muslims were not very religious (as shown by attendance at Friday prayers). The above indicates that Bosnia has been an area of cultural complexity for a long time, though may have been more tolerant in the past.

The First Bosnia Crisis (1875-8)
The provinces remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1878 but Turkish atrocities against Orthodox tax refusers caused a rebellion and outside intervention from Serbia and Russia which led to the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8. They were then awarded to the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a protectorate at the Congress of Berlin, and annexed in 1903. In 1878 the Orthodox had hoped to join Serbia and with Muslim help resisted the Austrians. This led eventually to the first world war which began in Sarajevo.

The two provinces became part of Yugoslavia following the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire in 1918. In 1939 it was to have been divided between Serbia and Croatia in the proposed reconstruction of Yugoslavia aborted by the outbreak of war. During the second world war the area was incorporated into Hitler's Croatia and came under the influence of the Croatian Ustashe and was fought over by Tito's Partisans. Fitzroy Maclean reports that some Muslims were in the Ustashe, perhaps motivated by their former hostile treatment by the Orthodox.

Following the war they were made a constituent Republic of Yugoslavia (practically, with the power of a Local Government area).

Latest Bosnia Crisis
Until 1992 32% of the people were Serbs, 18% Croats and 39% Muslims by culture (not strongly religious) but Serbo-Croat by language. The Muslims therefore were the most influential group. However, this is an area where the different religious groups are dispersed and people lived in mixed villages. This reminds the observer of Northern Ireland, Cyprus before the Turkish invasion, Sri Lanka and Punjab in India where endemic ethnic conflicts have continued for decades. The conflict in Bosnia will not be stopped easily.

Is Bosnia now a backwater? No, 1991-2 showed that the conflict was still there. Could it spread again? One danger is that the Islamic countries, including Turkey and Iran, might intervene to assist the Albanians and Bosnians. Moreover, as in 1914, there were signs that the Serbs were getting support, perhaps unofficial, from Russians as part of a Pan-Slav or pan-Orthodox sentiment with Fascist and racist sentiments.

The Bosnian War
Bosnia declared itself independent after a referendum in February 1992 and in May 1992 was admitted to the UN. However, many of the Orthodox citizens had boycotted the voting and immediately declared themselves independent as the Republika Srpska, with the intention of joining Serbia. (But not all. Many preferred a secular state.)

There is some evidence that the Presidents of Serbia and Croatia (Milosevic and Tudjman) had previously agreed to split the state if it voted for independence. They presumably had no plans for the Muslims other than expulsion or massacre. This plan was revealed in May 1995 by President Tudjman (who died before he could be sent to the Hague for trial).

There is a question about whether Bosnia should have been recognized as independent. It did not meet the usual British Foreign Office conditions: the government did not control the territory, but the Germans urged recognition on the European Community. (In private many diplomats will agree that Bosnia was not a viable independent entity in the absence of agreement among its constituent populations.) Although the Bosnian government was Muslim led, its forces included Catholics and Orthodox, and in some ways the Bosnian forces and government were the last remaining area of mixed culture.

Fighting then began. The Serbian Bosnians were supported by the Serbian government, which sent a General Ratko Mladic to lead its forces, and also arms. A former Psychiatrist and nationalist poet Radovan Karadzic led a breakaway Serbian regime from a new capital in the former Olympic Village above Sarajevo.

A United Nations peacekeeping force arrived in Sarajevo at first to supervise the "truce" in Croatia. As the war got under way the Serbs were practicing "ethnic cleansing" , language similar to that of the Nazis (and perhaps invented by Karadzic), in which they drove out the non-Serbs and settled Serbs in their property. This seems likely to result in endless disputes and retaliation. Over a million refugees had been driven from their lands by July 1992.

Some Serbs and Croats claimed that the ancestors of the Muslims had been converted to Islam by force, which suggests that some had in mind a forced reconversion. This is something similar to fascism. During the second world war Croat fascists (Ustashe) tried to convert Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism. (What did Pope Pius the 12th think about that? He protected some of the perpetrators after 1945 and got them to South America or Australia.) The Serbs claim the Muslims want to form a fundamentalist Islamic republic. There is no evidence for it. Worse, some of the most ancient tribal myths have resurrected, with Serbs and Croats telling atrocity stories against each other, and against the Muslims (killing children for sacrifice, and so on: formerly part of the anti-Jewish canon). The outside observer finds it hard to understand how what looked like a modern, if poor, state has dissolved into barbarism so quickly. Could it happen in other Slav states, such as Russia?

In April 1993 there was evidence that Croats had also been massacring Muslims, although at times the Muslims and Croats had been allies against the Serbs.

A better outcome would be a reconstruction of a secular Serbo-Croat state in which religion becomes a private matter and Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims regard themselves as Yugoslavs. Unfortunately, only outsiders think this is a good idea, as centuries of dispute have left the religious groups thinking of themselves as nations. Citizens of Sarajevo indicate that there was a population of people who regarded themselves as Bosnians rather than adherents of a religion: thus there was intermarriage. These wanted a secular, religiously neutral, state. Unfortunately, fanatics, especially among the Serb community, have been too powerful to allow a secular state to be formed. Even as late as August 1995 the government of Bosnia contained members of all constituent religions (including Jews).

By March 1993 the Muslims had been pushed by the Serbs and Croats into a narrow strip and had been driven off their lands in most of the rest of the country. A so-called Peace Plan was proposed by the two UN negotiators, Lord David Owen and Cyrus Vance, which would have split the state into cantons. Few observers thought this would resolve the conflict as the signs are that the Serbs would not observe the conditions and would annex the Serb cantons to Serbia; and the Croats likewise. Moreover, it would have rewarded the Serbs and Croats with territory which they had seized at the expense of the Muslims.

The Serbs claim that fanatics from Iran or Libya were serving with the Bosnian forces. There seem to be a few, but reporters observe that they seem out of place with the very lax Bosnians (who drink alcohol). The main outside influence is probably Saudi food aid - distributed only to Muslims.

The agreement to end the Bosnian war set up two divisions in the state. One was a Serbian dominated area - the Republika Srpska - the other a Croatian-Bosnian state. In theory these cooperate in a Bosnian government. In practice the state is a protectorate under the OSCE or EU. The Serbs seem to have achieved their aim of having their own state, and the Muslims have achieved their aim of survival but this is not the basis of a modern state.

"Peace agreement" signed November at Dayton Ohio 1995. Will it last? The state is now under what amounts to a protectorate of the EU under a "High Representative"(= governor). This is due to end in mid 2009. What will happen after that? The danger is that the Republika Srpska will continue to attempt to secede with the possibility of the civil war beginning again.

The Sanjak (Turkish = District) of Novi Pazar is a territory which straddles Montenegro and Serbia and is inhabited by Moslems. It was known by diplomats in the 19th century as a potential problem and has now revived as an ethnic problem. There too ethnic cleansing is threatened.

Both the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs durinmg the war have been arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Ratko Mladic, the military leader and Radovan Karadic the political leader are on trial.


Serbian 32.2%

Croatian 18.4%


 Barbara Demick - Besieged

Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street

Die Rosen von Sarajevo: Eine Geschichte vom Krieg

John Cornwell - Hitler's Pope

Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII

Pius XII. Der Papst, der geschwiegen hat

Le Pape et Hitler : L'histoire secrète de Pie 12

How far did the Pope approve of the activities of the Ustashe?







In the November 1990 elections, the first under a multi-party system, the Communists gained no seats. The party system revealed divisions on ethnic lines rather than on philosophy.

By November 1992 the government controlled only the capital and a few small areas, all besieged by Serbs and Croats. It consisted mainly but not entirely of Muslims.

After a year of war the previously multi-ethnic character of the country, and especially of the capital, was becoming polarized into a mainly Muslim society. Thus a Muslim assembly was founded in September 1993. This seemed to be taking over the functions of the previously mixed Bosnian Parliament.

The real power is in the hands of an EU commissioner (High Representative) (until November 2005 Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the British Liberal Democratic party).







The economy is seriously affected by the war and by the previous chaos of the collapsing communist system.

It is hard to see how a modern economy can be rebuilt out of the ruins.

It has been reported that industrialisation and urbanisation have gone into reverse, with people moving out of the towns where there are no jobs to the countryside to live on subsistence agriculture.












Human Rights

Some of the most grotesque offenses against human rights in Europe since 1945 have occurred in Bosnia. Concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, massacres and organized rape are a few of the horrors which have been reported.

Radovan Karadzic, the Montenegrin born leader of the Bosnian Orthodox (Serbs) has been named by the US as a war criminal. As he is a former psychiatrist the similarity with the chief character of the horror film "Silence of the Lambs" comes to mind.

The policy of the Serbs seems to be to transform an integrated society to an Apartheid state with each "ethnic" group in its own statelet.

In July 2008 Karadzic was arrested by the Serbian government, and is to be sent to the International Criminal Court at the Den Haag, to answer charges of war crimes against humanity.

Climate effects

As part of southern Europe the area will probably become drier and hotter.

Last revised 18/04/12


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