Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (bŏzˈnēə, hĕrtsəgōvēˈnə), Serbo-Croatian Bosna i Hercegovina, country (2020 est. pop. 3,281,000), 19,741 sq mi (51,129 sq km), on the Balkan peninsula, S Europe. It is bounded by Croatia on the west and north, Serbia on the northeast, and Montenegro on the southeast. A narrow, undeveloped outlet to the Adriatic along the Neretva River in the southwest is its only direct outlet to the sea. The country is commonly referred to as Bosnia. Sarajevo is its capital.

Land and People

The Yugoslav republic that became the present country was formed from two historical regions—Bosnia in the north, with Sarajevo as its chief city; and Herzegovina in the south, with Mostar as its chief city. Other important cities are Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Zenica. Lying mostly in the Dinaric Alps, the nation has no coastal ports. The Sava (and its tributaries) and the Neretva are the chief rivers; there are river ports on the Sava. Much of the area is forested, and timber is an important product of Bosnia. Much of Herzegovina's terrain is denuded.

The ethnically diverse population speaks Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian (all dialects of Serbo-Croatian). The country's Bosniaks (about 50%, mainly Muslim), Serbs (about 31% of the population, largely Eastern Orthodox), and Croats (about 15%, mostly Roman Catholics) formerly formed a complex patchwork, but civil war and the flight of refugees forcibly segregated much of the population. Some inhabitants have gradually returned to their pre-conflict places of residence since the fighting's end, but some 40% of all Bosnians now live outside the country.


Never particularly robust, Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy was shattered by the civil war that broke out after independence. Historically, the economy has depended on agriculture, although it now provides less than half of the country's food needs. Wheat, corn, oats, and barley are the principal products of Bosnia and tobacco, cotton, fruits, and grapes of Herzegovina. Livestock is also raised. Mining is important, and there are significant deposits of lignite, iron ore, bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, manganese, and other minerals. Vehicle and aircraft assembly, oil refining, and the manufacture of aluminum, steel, textiles, tobacco products, wooden furniture, and domestic appliances are important. There has been some development of the country's hydroelectric resources. Metals, clothing, and wood products are exported, and machinery, chemicals, fuels, and foodstuffs are imported. The main trading partners are Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany.


Bosnia is governed under constitution included in the Dayton Agreement, signed 1995; a high representative of the Peace Implementation Council (the nations overseeing the peace process) is the final authority on the civilian aspects of the settlement, and has the power to dismiss elected Bosnian officials. There is a three-member presidency, made up of one Bosniak, one Croat, and one Serb, whose chairman (rotated every eight months) is head of state. The head of government is the chairman of the Council of Ministers. The bicameral Parliamentary Assembly consists of the 42-seat, popularly elected House of Representatives and the 15-seat, indirectly elected House of Peoples. Adminstratively, the country is divided into the Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb-led Serbian Republic; additionally, the Brčko district is an internationally supervised district.


Early History

The area was part of the Roman province of Illyricum. Bosnia was settled by Serbs in the 7th cent.; it appeared as an independent country by the 12th cent. but later at times acknowledged the kings of Hungary as suzerains. Medieval Bosnia reached the height of its power in the second half of the 14th cent., when it controlled many surrounding territories. Bosnia also annexed the duchy of Hum, which, however, regained autonomy in 1448 and became known as Herzegovina. During this period the region was weakened by religious strife among Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Bogomils. Thus disunited, Bosnia fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1463. Herzegovina held out until 1482, when it too was occupied and joined administratively to Bosnia. The nobility and a large part of the peasantry accepted Islam.

Foreign Domination

Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy declined in the 1700s as the Ottoman Empire suffered losses in Europe. Physical remoteness facilitated the retention of medieval social structure, including serfdom (remnants of which lasted until the 20th cent.). Frustration with Ottoman rule resulted in a revolt in the early 1830s, led by Husein Gradaščević, that unsuccessfully sought autonomy for Bosnia. Refusal by the Turkish to institute reforms led to a peasant uprising in 1875 that soon came to involve outside powers and led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. After the war, the Congress of Berlin (1878) placed Bosnia and Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian administration and occupation, while recognizing the sovereignty of the Ottoman sultan. Austria-Hungary improved economic conditions in the area but sought unsuccessfully to combat rising Serb nationalism, which mounted further when Bosnia and Herzegovina were completely annexed in 1908.

The assassination (1914) of Archduke Francis Ferdinand by a Serb nationalist in Sarajevo precipitated World War I. In 1918, Bosnia and Herzegovina were annexed to Serbia. The dismemberment of Yugoslavia during World War II led to Bosnia and Herzegovina's incorporation into the German puppet state of Croatia. Much partisan guerrilla warfare raged in the mountains of Bosnia during the war. In 1946, Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia. Under the Communist regime Bosnia remained relatively undeveloped. Economic problems and ethnic quarrels during the 1980s led to widespread dissatisfaction with the central government.

Independence and Civil War

In Oct., 1991, following the secession of Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia (now North Macedonia), the Croats and Bosniaks of Bosnia and Herzegovina's parliament, fearing Serbian domination and Serb moves toward dividing the republic, voted for a declaration of sovereignty. In 1992, the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina was internationally recognized by the European Community (now the European Union) and the United States, and it entered the United Nations. Many Bosnian Serbs opposed the new republic, in which they were a minority, and Serb troops, both from Serbia and Bosnia, began to carve out the Serb-populated areas and declared the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croats in Bosnia, fearing Bosniak domination, declared their own Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna.

An arms embargo reinforced the disparity between the well-armed Serbs and their foes, and Bosniaks were forced from their homes and towns as part of an “ethnic cleansing” policy carried out mostly by the Serbs. Thousands were killed, many were placed in detention camps, and many more fled the country. (Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was among a number of Serbs later indicted in absentia by a United Nations tribunal for war crimes; he was extradited to The Hague by Serbia in 2008 and convicted in 2016.) The major Western powers rejected military intervention but endorsed the establishment of six “safe areas” with a United Nations presence, where Bosniaks would supposedly not be attacked.

Fighting between Bosniaks and Croats intensified in 1993. Shelling, mainly by Serb forces, destroyed much of Sarajevo and laid waste to other cities throughout the country. In 1994, Yugoslavian and Croatian forces fought in support of Bosnian Serbs and Croats, respectively. The Bosnian government army launched major offensives from Bihac and elsewhere, and the balance of power among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks shifted from time to time.

In 1994, Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats agreed to a cease-fire and established a joint Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During 1995, Serb forces shelled the besieged Sarajevo and launched attacks on the UN-proclaimed “safe areas” of Tuzla, Zepa, and Srebrenica. There were mass deportations of Bosniaks and widespread instances of rape and execution of civilians, especially in Srebrenica. Croat and Bosniak forces later made heavy inroads against Serbs in western Bosnia. An estimated 97,000 to 110,000 persons died during the years of fighting; roughly two thirds of those who died were Bosniaks.

In late 1995, the Bosniak-dominated Bosnian government and the leaders of Croatia and Serbia met under U.S. auspices in Dayton, Ohio, and negotiated a peace accord. It called for a Bosnian republic with a central government and two semiautonomous regions, roughly equal in size, one dominated by Serbs, the other by Bosniaks and Croats in federation. The accord provided for the dispatch of NATO-led troops for peacekeeping purposes; the forces originally were to stay until June, 1998. In addition, a high representative of the Peace Implementation Council (the nations overseeing the peace process) is the final authority on the civilian aspects of the settlement, and has the power to dismiss elected Bosnian officials. The accord was implemented and conditions have slowly improved.

Bosnian disillusionment with the moderates who had held power since 1998 resulted in electoral victories for the ethnic nationalist parties in the 2002. The peacekeeping forces Bosnia were transferred in 2004 from NATO's leadership to the European Union's. In 2006 the International Court of Justice began hearing Bosnia's genocide case against Serbia. The charges, which were first filed in 1993, accused Serbia of state-planned genocide against Bosnian Muslims. The court, which had limited access to internal Serbian evidence, did not find Serbia guilty of genocide (which would have required proving intent on the part of Serbia's leaders) but did find (2007) that Serbia had violated international law when it failed to prevent or prosecute those responsible for genocide against the Bosniaks.

Bosnian political leaders agreed in Mar., 2006, to constitutional revisions that would establish a single-person presidency and move the country toward a strong-prime-minister parliamentary system. The changes, designed to strengthen the central government, were also intended to promote Bosnia's accession to the European Union and NATO. The following month, however, the reforms failed to win the required two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Much distrust remains among Bosnia's three communities, whose members now typically live in areas that are largely ethnically homogeneous, and the Oct., 2006, presidential and parliamentary elections for the central government reinforced and even exacerbated ethnic divisions. In Apr., 2008, the parliament approved the unification of Bosnia's police forces, but the watered-down law largely left Serb police forces outside central control. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in Dec., 2009, that Bosnia's constitution contains unlawful and discriminatory provisions and called for it to be revised, but the process of doing so proved difficult and prolonged.

In the Oct., 2010, elections, moderate candidates won the Muslim and Croat presidency seats, but the Serb seat was won by a nationalist. The formation of a new central government was not achieved, however, until Feb., 2012, and in June disputes over the budget threatened the government. Dissatisfaction with the government and corrupt politicians led to mass protests and riots in Feb., 2014, mainly in Muslim and Croat areas. In the subsequent October elections, nationalist parties did well among all three ethnic groups; a government was finally formed in Mar., 2015. Four years later nationalist parties again generally did well, and a government again was slow to be formed. Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko was the international high representative from Mar. 2009 until May 2021; the German politician Christian Schmidt replaced him that August. The country is currently lead by the Bosnian Sefik Dzaferovic, the Croat Zeljko Komsic, and the Serbian Milorad Dodik. However, in fall 2021-early 2022, this fragile coalition was challenged by Dodik who threatened to withdraw his region from the government.


See B. E. Schmitt, The Annexation of Bosnia, 1908–1909 (1937, repr. 1971); J. G. Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (2 vol., 1848; repr. 1971); L. J. Cohen, Political Cohesion in a Fragile Mosaic: The Yugoslav Experience (1983); H. Lydall, Yugoslavia in Crisis (1989); N. Malcom, Bosnia: A Short History (1996); D. Rohde, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica (1997).

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Official name: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Capital city: Sarajevo

Internet country code: .ba

Flag description: A wide medium blue vertical band on the fly side with a yellow isosceles triangle abutting the band and the top of the flag; the remainder of the flag is medi­um blue with seven full five-pointed white stars and two half stars top and bottom along the hypotenuse of the tri­angle

National anthem: “Intermeco”
Geographical description: Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea and Croatia

Total area: 19,767 sq. mi. (51,197 sq. km.)

Climate: Hot summers and cold winters; areas of high elevation have short, cool summers and long, severe winters; mild, rainy winters along coast

Nationality: noun: Bosnian(s), Herzegovinian(s); adjective: Bosnian, Herzegovinian

Population: 4,552,198 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Bosniak (formerly Bosnian, associated with religious term Muslim) 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3%, other 0.6%

Languages spoken: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian

Religions: Muslim 40%, Orthodox 31%, Roman Catholic 15%, Protestant 4%, other 10%

Legal Holidays:

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Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


(esp US), Bosnia and Herzegovina
a country in SW Europe; a constituent republic of Yugoslavia until 1991; in a state of civil war (1992--95); Serbian and Croatian forces were also involved: mostly barren and mountainous, with forests in the east. Language: Serbo-Croatian (sometimes now divided into Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian). Religion: Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic. Currency: marka (pegged to the euro). Capital: Sarajevo. Pop.: 4 186 000 (2004 est.). Area: 51 129 sq. km (19 737 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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