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Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Profile

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long history, which includes its fair share of recent turmoil. But thanks to recent independence this former Yugoslav country is now forging its own path.

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  • Capital and Largest City: Sarajevo
  • Population (2013): 3,531,159 (132nd)
  • Total Area: 51,197 km² (127th)
  • De Facto Languages: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
  • Currency: Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark (KM) (BAM)

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History of Bosnia and Herzegovina

As we make our way through the Balkans, a similar story starts to arise. The area that is now Bosnia and Herzegovina was settled by a variety of tribes before eventually being conquered by Rome. Once the Empire split, the Eastern half (Byzantium) took over ,until the Slavic peoples moved in to dominate the region in the 6th and 7th centuries. Got all that? Good, now let’s get started.

The Middle Ages

Bosnia went through many phases during the Middle Ages. At times, it essentially determined itself (sometimes under Serb rule), while the latter Middle Ages mainly saw it contested between the powerful Hungarian Empire and the Byzantines. Eventually, the independent Banate of Bosnia emerged – free from control of its powerful neighbours. Though the Hungarians sought to regain sovereignty over the region, Bosnia was, for the most part, successful in repelling them, most notably with a hard fought victory in 1254. A century later, Bosnia had a king and was at its medieval apex – that is until the monarch died and the kingdom entered decline until another power came calling.

Ottoman Bosnia

The Ottoman conquest and subsequent four-century rule over Bosnia would have a massive effect on the country. While the Orthodox and Catholic churches fought an ideological war, this preoccupation opened up space for the Muslim faith to entrench itself in Bosnia – resulting in a widespread Slavic Muslim population. For many years, Bosnia enjoyed relative peace and prosperity as it was removed from the wider troubles of international politicking.

This all changed during the late 17th century. A chaotic time in Europe by any measure, Bosnia ended up as the westernmost province of the Ottoman Empire…meaning it was often the first target for other powers looking to strike against the Turks. This led to widespread dissension, with many in Bosnia becoming openly hostile to Ottoman rule.

Austria-Hungary and a Duke

After the 1878 Congress of Berlin, Bosnia and Herzegovina fell under the power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the Empire increased its holdings and presence throughout the Balkans, there was scattered resistance (including in nearby Serbia). Of course we all know the story of how this ended. A Bosnian Serb assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, igniting the spark that sent Europe into four years of total war. While the Bosniaks lost many men during the war, the country itself was able to remain relatively unharmed all things considered. This did however increase tensions between Muslim Bosniaks and their neighbours, as many Serbs were executed or expelled from the country in the midst of the conflict.

Yugoslavia and World War II

Following the end of WWI, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined with other nearby countries to form the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (as it was soon named). With a more diverse population than the other members, Bosnia and Herzegovina worked hard to keep a lid on these tensions between the dominant Muslim Bosniaks and Serb/Croat minorities. However, these troubles would pale in comparison to what came next.

All of Yugoslavia was conquered by the Axis powers in 1941, and Bosnia was placed under the purview of the NDH (the Croatian puppet regime led by the brutal Ustaše). The regime exterminated many minority groups, however the Orthodox Serbs were their main target. In response, Serb nationalist Chetniks counterattacked, killing many Ustaše sympathizers as well as non-Serbs. While some Muslim Bosniaks assisted the NDH and the Nazi’s, many more sought to draw a distinction between those in opposition and those who committed these crimes.

Communism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Eventually, the communists liberated Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, and Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the constituent republics of the new socialist country. There was a widespread military industry in Bosnia during this time. Generally people consider Tito’s rule to be a good era for Bosnia. Yugoslavia being a non-aligned country in the Cold War allowed it to grow open and prosperous – with Sarajevo even hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics. After Tito’s death however, tensions began to grow. As nationalism festered within all of Yugoslavia, the diverse Bosnia and Herzegovina appeared set to bear the worst of it all.

The Bosnian War

Starting in 1990, many former republics began to seek independence from Yugoslavia. Bosniaks and Croats mostly supported this, while Serbs for the most part opposed it. That being said, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992. It’s unclear who fired the first shots, but soon the country found itself in the grips of the worst European conflict since the Second World War.

Many Serb paramilitary groups and Bosnian Serb forces (supported by Belgrade) fought against the Bosnian Muslims. In addition, Croat forces attacked Bosniaks before later siding with the them against the Serbs. The worst atrocity of all the Yugoslav Wars occurred in Srebrenica, when General Ratko Mladić’s Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska killed about 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks. This prompted a NATO bombing of Serb forces, eventually leading to a ceasefire and full independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslavia. Though the struggle was over, some of the war crime trials from the conflict are still ongoing.

Modern Bosnia and Herzegovina

Since independence, Bosnia has fought hard to find a place for itself on the regional and global stage. Unemployment and political strife have unfortunately reared their ugly head in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last couple decades – eventually culminating in widespread protests in 2014. It remains to be seen how Bosnia will fare in the future.

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Culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The country remains very diverse today, with the population split between about 50% Bosniaks, 30% Serbs, and 15% Croats. This diversity means society and culture varies along ethnic lines.

The folk music known as Sevdalinka is one of the most distinctive elements of Bosnian culture. Bosnia and Herzegovina has also produced many shining examples of art, literature, architecture (both old and modern), and music.

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The current flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of a blue background with a yellow triangle across the entire middle (from top to bottom), while 7 full and 2 half white stars run down the length of the triangle (it’s not the easiest flag to explain in writing to be quite honest). The corners of the triangle represent the three main ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats) while the stars are meant to be ‘infinite’ and represent Europe. Finally, the three colors are associated with peace and neutrality.

Cuisine in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnian cuisine combines many Western and Eastern flavours to form a unique palette, though it has much in common with Mediterranean, Greek, and Turkish food. Local produce along with beef and lamb are commonplace, as well as a wide array of spices. In addition, Herzegovina is known for wine (thanks mostly to an agreeable climate).

Sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has produced athletes of great renown across many sports, including handball, basketball, judo, chess, volleyball, and tennis. That being said, the most popular sport is soccer. The national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup and features star players such as Edin Džeko (the team captain who plays for Roma) and Asmir Begović (Chelsea keeper who spent much of his childhood in Canada).

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Geography of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the western part of the Balkans. The country is roughly divided between the two areas, with Bosnia covering about 80% of the country in the north and Herzegovina the rest of the south. The country is heavily forested and mountainous, while rivers and fertile land are found throughout. The south is more Mediterranean and features an Adriatic coastline.

Cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, the capital, is by far the largest city in the country. Though the city is home to less than 300,000, over 450,000 live in the metropolitan area as a whole. It is the major cultural centre in the country, and features a diverse religious history (with mosques, Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as synagogues in one neighborhood – the first European city feature all four so close together).

bosnia market mostar city town herzegovina

Facts about Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • The country has the nickname ‘Heart Shaped Land’
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina boasts one of Europe’s few remaining jungles
  • The country has one of the highest coffee consumption rates in the world
  • The Sarajevo Film Festival is one of the largest in Europe
  • It’s smaller than West Virginia
  • Bosnia comes from the Indo-European word Bosana, meaning ‘water’

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Last Word

While its recent past may not soon be forgotten, Bosnia and Herzegovina looks to cut through the red tape and forge itself a better future!

With Continental’s Countries you can find information on places all across the world! Learn more about Bosnia and Herzegovina in our Travel Guide and our Currency Spotlight.

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