Bosnia and Herzegovina Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country located in Southern Europe. With the capital city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a population of 3,280,830 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. After World War II, Bosnia became one of six sub-republics in Socialist Yugoslavia. The country was largely Tito’s construction hero, and after his death in 1980, nationalism was given new air. When Yugoslavia began to fall apart, Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats voted in 1992 for independence for Bosnia. But the Bosnian Serbs did not want to leave Yugoslavia and the bloodiest war in Europe since the Second World War was a fact. When it ceased in 1995, Bosnia became an internationally monitored nation in two parts. Ethnic contradictions have continued to characterize the country.

Tito (see Older History) was initially an obedient disciple of Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin and the Communist Party was the only allowed political force in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. All opposition was suppressed and major parts of business were nationalized. Quite soon, however, Tito chose to go his own way, which led to Stalin breaking with him and Yugoslavia in 1948. Then came Tito, who is now seeking support in the West, and the Yugoslav Communist Party to advocate a partial own form of socialist market economy. It was based on the workers’ collective rather than the state’s ownership and management of the means of production. Titos Yugoslavia also came to lead a relatively independent foreign policy line and was a prominent player among the alliance-free countries.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Compared to other Eastern European states, Yugoslavia achieved a high standard of living with good access to consumer goods and extensive trade with Western Europe. However, the economic standard was unevenly distributed between the relatively prosperous northern parts of Yugoslavia and poorer areas such as central Bosnia, the Serbian province of Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the oil crisis in the early 1970s, Yugoslavia had financial problems and, more often than before, the party leadership now chose to fill the Treasury with borrowed funds. The economic stresses were diluting the political disintegration that was slowly taking place. At the same time, the country’s sub-republics gained greater control over their own economy, which resulted in more prosperous republics, such as Croatia and Slovenia, venting their dissatisfaction with having to contribute to the poorer southern parts of Yugoslavia. Belgrade’s central power became increasingly a place for struggle between the sub-republics.

Yugoslavia is falling apart

After Tito’s death in 1980, the formation of Yugoslavia began to crackle. The national contradictions kept in check by Tito – through a combination of repression and relative self-government for the republics – came to the surface. The contradictions were fueled by political leaders such as Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Franjo Tuđman in Croatia. The fragmentation of Yugoslavia accelerated in the late 1980s and the nationalist tongues caused great concern in multi-ethnic Bosnia, not least among Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks, see Population and Languages) who had no natural “residence” outside the republic. When the first multi-party was held in Bosnia in 1990, most people voted for newly formed nationalist parties, which primarily represented the interests of their own ethnic group.

After Slovenia and Croatia left Yugoslavia in the summer of 1991, the contradictions within Bosnia increased. At the end of February – March 1992, a referendum on independence was held. An overwhelming majority of Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence. The Serbs, who wanted to continue to belong to the now Serbia-dominated “rest-Yugoslavia”, mainly boycotted the vote, and unrest was reported from Serb-dominated areas. On April 6-7, Bosnia was recognized as an independent state by the United States and the then EC (today the EU). But before that, the Bosnian Serbs had proclaimed their own republic, and the war was a fact.

Initially, the fighting raged between Serbian liberals and forces of Bosniaks and Croats. The latter were formally fought for the new, multi-ethnic state of Bosnia, but both the state institutions and the army were dominated by the Bosnians. Belgrade issued orders for the Federal Yugoslav Army to withdraw from Bosnia, but the majority of the soldiers were Bosnian Serbs who remained with their equipment. The Bosnian Serbs were also provided with weapons from federal stores. At first, the Serbs had great successes in the fighting. In six weeks, they managed to gain control of two-thirds of Bosnia’s territory. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Bosnians, were fleeing. Others were put in hastily established concentration camps such as Omarska and Keraterm.

The term “ethnic cleansing” was coined during the war in Bosnia, when many acts of war deliberately aimed to attack civilians and drive away those belonging to “wrong” people. Ethnic cleansing is primarily associated with the Serbs’ warfare, but Croats and Bosnians also committed atrocities during the war.

Extended battles

Bosnia’s Croats who initially cooperated with the Bosnians against the Serbs proclaimed in July 1992 an autonomous state, the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna. In the autumn of 1992, bloody fighting also ensued between Bosniaks and Croats.

While the Serbs received support from Serbia and the Croats from Croatia, the Bosniaks managed without powerful neighbors. However, they received some financial help and minor reinforcements from Muslim states.

The war was going on for over three and a half years. It required at least 100,000 people’s lives and displaced half of the country’s residents. The efforts of the international community to stop the war have long been fruitless. Already at the outbreak of the war there was a UN force in Sarajevo to monitor the ceasefire in the war in Croatia. This force gained responsibility in the mid-1990s, for example, in defending six areas that the UN declared “safe areas”. These included the city of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, but the UN failed to prevent the Serbs from invading Srebrenica in July 1995 and the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian civilian boys and men thereafter. The massacre was the first genocide in Europe since the Second World War.

Negotiations and mediation efforts to try to achieve peace continued throughout the war. In 1994, Bosniaks and Croats were persuaded by the United States to create the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the turning point in the war first came in 1995. The Serbs’ positions wavered after extensive Croatian offensives, and NATO’s escalated air strikes against Serbian positions after the Srebrenica massacre. Subsequently, the United States more or less forced a peace treaty on Bosnia, following negotiations in which the Presidents of Serbia and Croatia also participated. The settlement was named after the city of Dayton in the US, which is near the air base where the negotiations were conducted.

Dayton Peace

With the Dayton Agreement, the war ended and the country was facing a long reconstruction process. The agreement cemented the actual division of the country into two roughly equal parts: the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation and the Republika Srpska. It also meant that the political institutions were based on a division between the three dominant ethnic groups. The agreement stipulated that the international community should appoint a special so-called High Representative with the task of overseeing the peace process (see further Political system). A NATO led peacekeeping force of 60,000 men was deployed in the country. It was lost and transformed gradually (see Foreign Policy and Defense).

Responsibility for the country’s politics and economy would gradually be transferred from the international community to new Bosnian institutions. But things went slow. Disbelief between the former warring parties was enormous, and politicians had difficulty agreeing on important reforms. Therefore, the responsibility for creating a functioning society was largely borne by the High Representative.

Nationalist parties won big in the first elections after peace. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, however, a partial alliance led by the multi-ethnic and reform-oriented Social Democratic SDP prevailed. The support was predominantly in the Federation, in the Republic Srpska, nationalist parties continued to dominate. A national coalition government was formed but was soon paralyzed by internal divisions.

At the same time, a normalization of society took place slowly. Gradually, more and more refugees were able to return to their homes. In the late 1990s, five major donor conferences were organized, resulting in billion aid. From 2001, a number of nationwide bodies were set up: first a joint border administration and eventually a defense ministry, a supreme court, a prosecutor’s office and customs administration.

Continued contradictions

Accused war criminals were forced to leave their public records. Some of them were sentenced to long prison sentences by the UN War Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and eventually also by Bosnia’s own war criminal court (see Political system).

However, politics continued to be characterized by nationalist contradictions. This was the case between the country’s two entities, but also in particular the Federation. In the spring of 2001, representatives of the Croatian nationalist HDZ declared that the areas governed by the party would constitute a self-governing political entity, in direct contravention of the Dayton Agreement. The High Representative then dismissed HDZ leader Ante Jelavić from the post of the country’s three-headed presidency.

In the 2002 election, nationalist parties again won land. A new coalition government was formed, but contradictions between the parties made government work ineffective and the cooperation threatened to break down several times.

The city of Mostar has long been a battle issue. After the war, the city was divided into a Bosnian and a Croatian part, with separate administrations and recurring unrest. It was not until 2004 that the city was reunited, on a direct order from the High Representative.

An infected issue before the 2006 elections concerned constitutional changes that the outside world was pushing for and which would strengthen the power of the central government. The amendments were stopped by Parliament and the election results showed that the ethnic divide had been strengthened as soon as possible. The seven largest parties, more or less nationalist, formed government. The country got for the first time a Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Špirić.

Political crisis

In the autumn of 2007, the High Representative decided to simplify the political process by providing a simple majority for decisions at the national level. The purpose was to counteract the deadlock that prevailed on several issues, including reforming the police system and creating a national force. The rule change caused the Republican Srpska’s leaders to threaten to withdraw all Serbs from the government agencies, and Prime Minister Špirić resigned. The crisis seemed very serious, but after some compromises Špirić was reinstated.

Discussions continued about other constitutional changes, but the visions of the country’s future were contradictory. Bosnian leaders wanted to create a unified state and centralize power to Sarajevo. Bosnia Croats proposed that the country should be further divided into four units: three ethnically defined and Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs wanted stronger autonomy for the Republika Srpska, or to leave Bosnia altogether.

Political rhetoric increasingly reminded of the tone before the Civil War and the Dayton Agreement seemed seriously threatened. The EU and the United States tried in vain to mediate between the leaders of the various groups and cause them to break the deadlock in the talks on a new federal constitution.

Difficult government formation

The 2010 election was followed by difficult and lengthy government negotiations. It took 15 months of talks, pressures from the outside world and an ever deeper economic crisis before six parties finally agreed. In February 2012, the new coalition government took office, only then a budget for the previous year could be adopted and government employees get their wages in arrears.

Disagreement between the coalition parties, mainly the Bosnian Nationalist Democratic Party (SDA) and the Serbian Nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), meant that the government had to be reformed by the end of the year. Although the SDA had great successes in the local elections in October 2012, the party’s two ministers were kicked out of the government that month. The crisis also spilled over to the government of the Federation, which had to ask the High Representative for help in solving the problems.

In Republika Srpska, former Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who was elected president in 2010, continued on a previously beaten path when he openly challenged the Bosnian state building. Dodik claimed that high representative Valentin Inzko was partial to the Serbs’ disadvantage. In April 2011, Dodik initiated a referendum in the Republika Srpska to submit joint court cases, among other things. The crisis was seen as the worst so far after the war, and after pressure from the High Representative Valentin Inzko and the EU, Dodik withdrew the proposal.

Popular protests

In 2014, popular dissatisfaction was expressed in protests that became the most extensive since the war. In February, demonstrations were started in Tuzla, by workers who protested against wages and pensions and planned sales of state-owned companies. They were soon supported by students and political activists. The protests, which had no ethnic undertones, spread and came to target the poor economic situation, high unemployment and political lock-ups. Government buildings are set on fire in Tuzla, Sarajevo and Mostar.

The unrest eventually turned into a peaceful protest movement. In several cities, so-called citizen plenums were formed, where everyone who wanted to discuss and propose changes and improvements and how to put pressure on politicians to take them. Many were hoping for a “Bosnian Spring”. But the protest movement, which was mainly active in the Federation, did not lead to any major changes.

The politicians also turned out to be dead when the country in the spring of 2014 was hit by the most extensive floods in a century. Over 40 people were killed and tens of thousands had to be evacuated then rivers that Sava swam across all boards due to heavy rain. The situation was made more difficult by the fact that the water masses led to landslides and that land mines from the Balkan wars in the 1990s were washed up by the water or pulled by the landslides. Despite relief from the outside world, reconstruction work was difficult to get started and the already scarce economy was affected by the disaster.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Modern History