background & conflict

Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H, BiH, or just “Bosnia” for short) is a small country, just a bit smaller than South Carolina. It’s located in southeastern Europe, nestled between Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro in the Western Balkans. The Balkan region acts as a bridge between Asia and Europe and has been at the confluence of some of the greatest empires the world has known: Rome, Greece, and the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. Like many such land bridges, Israel-Palestine included, the region is a highly trafficked and politically disputed territory that has attracted tension and conflict for centuries. Today, the three primary groups that live in Bosnia are Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs.


Ethnic groups in Yugoslavia in 1994 – Nationalistic politicians turned ethnic groups against one another in the early 90’s. But because the groups were so intermixed (intermarriage was common between ethnicities), the result in Bosnia was violence between neighbors.

After World War II and despite inter-ethnic tensions, the numerous ethno-religious groups in the Balkans were united into one country, Yugoslavia. The country experienced relative peace under Tito’s communist leadership for years. By the 90’s, after Tito died and just a few years after the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, nationalistic rhetoric increased and tensions between some of these groups mounted again, causing Yugoslavia to break up into independent states. Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Croats (Catholic Christians) wanted to maintain “greater Serbia” and “greater Croatia,” while Bosniak Muslims were largely caught in the middle.

The breakup of Yugoslavia – Bosnia flashes grey on March 3, 1992, and then breaks into separate Serb, Croat, and Bosniak controlled entities. These would be reunited as one country (today’s Bosnia) in 1995.

War erupted. Even worse, the violence escalated against civilians, women, and children as different groups attempted to ethnically cleanse their own territory through mass killings, rape, concentration camps, and deportations. Calculating the number of victims and deaths resulting from the conflict has been difficult and highly politicized, but by 1995, more than 100,000 people were killed, perhaps up to half of them civilians and including as many as 12,000 children. In addition to the widespread killing and many additional injuries, 2.2 million people were forced to flee their homes, making it the largest displacement of people in Europe since WWII. What had once been a diverse society where people of different ethnic and religious groups lived as neighbors side by side had quickly become segregated into homogeneous communities.


The ethnic distribution of people in Bosnia before (1991) and after the war (1998) – Muslim Bosniaks (green), Orthodox Serbs (red), and Catholic Croats (blue)



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