Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)


Capital : Sarajevo

Size: 19 800 sq m Popn: 4 366 000


This area was covered by the Roman province of Illyria. It became independent from the great powers of Hungary and Byzantium under Ban (Governor) Kulin during the C12th and, similarly to the other Balkan Slavs, established a separate governing body of nobles, the 'stanak'. It is not clear whether their origins were Serb or Croat but by this stage they considered themselves to have a separate Bosnian identity.

In 1326, Bosnia took over most of Hercegovina but Hungary continued to advance into the area, taking control in 1328. Independence was gained around 1353 and reasserted by Ban Tvrtko in 1369. In 1377, he crowned himself king of Serbia and Bosnia and improved the economy with the construction of an Adriatic coastal port in the Bay of Kotor which encouraged trade. It was probably due to the loose regime of the ruling classes and scattered population that the Manichean heresy called 'Bogomilism' (which had a dualist belief in God and the Devil) gained a hold and caused the Catholic church to send the Dominicans in 1240 and the Franciscans in 1340. By the C15th, the weakening Bosnian state had fallen to the Hungarians and Catholicism but their cancelling of the tribute paid to the Ottoman Empire led to Bosnia's conquest by the Turks in 1463, followed by Hercegovina in 1483. The two states were to remain part of the Empire until the C19th.

Under Ottoman rule, freedom of worship was given to the existing religions but by the mid C16th, about 20% of the approximately half a million Bosnians had become Muslims, giving them a better chance of advancement under the Turks. It was during this period that the main towns, including Sarajevo which had been mainly Bosnian Muslim, began to have mixed populations of Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Sephardic Jews. The main language was South Slavic, a fore-runner of Serbo-Croat. There were several peasant uprisings in the C19th, including that of 1876 when the Serb peasants rose against their Bosnian Muslim landlords with the help of Serbian troops and Russian volunteers. After a period of insurrection which killed or exiled about 150 000, mainly Serbs, Austro-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina with troops that were mostly Serbs and Croats and the Ottoman rule was ended.

The Hungarian scholar and later finance minister, Benjamin Kallay, tried to develop a single Bosnian consciousness or 'Bosnjastvo' but the three main groups, Serbs, Croats and Muslims, were not won over although this may have been due to reluctance to swear allegiance to Habsburg rule rather than religious differences. The early C20th saw mass emigration (about 5% of the population in 1901-10) and Austria formalized the occupation into annexation in 1908. Under the administration of Istvan Burin from 1903-12, all three ethnic groups gained the right to organize and formed political parties which gained all the seats in the 1910 elections. The only group advocating Yugoslav unity, the Social Democratic Party, failing to win even one. However, it was the organization 'Young Bosnia' (mostly Bosnian Serb students) which was to become the strongest supporter of 'Yugoslavism'. The Serbo-Croat Progressive Organization was formed in 1911 (including some Muslims although Serb-Muslim relations suffered after the First Balkan War and Serbian expansion of 1912) and it was one of its members, the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg dynasty, precipitated the First World War.

During the war, Bosnia-Hercegovina was under the military governor General Sarkotic (a Croat) who expelled and interned many Serbs, especially Young Bosnia members, and planned to unite with Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia for administrative purposes. The Muslims and Croats united to form a defence force, the 'Schutzkorps' which killed and deported many Serb villagers on the Drina border with Serbia. The first Yugoslav state was formed in 1918 with the Serbian ruler, Alexander Karadjordjevic, proclaimed King of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This lasted until WWII when the monarchy was deposed. The second Yugoslavia was founded, after further Balkan conflict in 1945-6, as the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, a Croatian. There were six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro, and two autonomous regions, Kosovo and Vojvodina.

The Communist state, against expectation, outlasted the death of Tito in 1980. There was much rivalry amongst the various Communist parties of the different republics and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 further weakened and eventually destroyed the single League of Communists. In the 1981 census, about one-fifth of the ethnically diverse city of Sarajevo declared as Yugoslavian rather than as part of a separate group. It was still relatively harmonious when it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics although several Muslims, including Alija Izetbegovic, were jailed in 1983 for speaking out for Islamic values and, allegedly, advocating a separate Muslim state. In the elections of December 1988, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, headed by the recently released Izetbegovic, took 80 out of 240 seats. The more secular Muslims under the emigre Adil Zulfikarpasic took 13, the Serbian nationalists under Radovan Karadzic, 72, 49 went to Croats, of which 44 were members of Franjo Tudjman's HDZ, and only 18 to the Communist Party. The leaders had promised to work together as Communists to protect Bosnia-Hercegovina interests within Yugoslavia but after the election they all began to follow separate ethnic programs.

Divisions between the ruling coalition of the three leading Serb, Muslim and Croatian parties complicated dealings with Serbia and from spring 1991, the conflict between the two republics spread disorder in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Croats set up barricades to stop the mainly-Serb Yugoslav National Army (JNA) from moving through into Croatia. The Bosnian republic's president, the devout Muslim, Alija Izetbegovic, was worried that Serbia was going to divide Bosnia-Hercegovina between itself and Croatia with a Muslim buffer state in between and he asked Turkey and the EC for support. Border areas began to fall to Serbia from September 1991 and Serbs began to form autonomous enclaves inside Bosnia-Hercegovina. It was reluctant to be part of the smaller, Serb-dominated federation which would be left if Croatia and Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia.

The republic's parliament declared its sovereignty in October but the Serbs rejected it and established an alternative assembly. In November, it held a referendum on remaining part of the rump Yugoslav federation. In January 1992, Muslims and Croats, in alliance with the republic's parliament, voted to seek recognition of independence from the EC. It asked for another referendum and there was an overwhelming vote in favour of independence although it was boycotted and fiercely opposed by the Bosnian Serbs. Karadzic seems to have encouraged people to believe that a fundamentalist Islamic state in which Serbs were persecuted was a possibility if Izetbegovic was the head of the independent Bosnia and the Bosnian Serbs began to press for their own independent territory. The Bosnian Croat militias, supported by Croatia, began to eliminate other ethnic groups in their areas, and in April, Arkan's Serbian militia attacked Muslims in Bijeljina.

The EC and USA officially recognised Bosnia-Hercegovina as an independent country in April 1992 and it became a member of the UN in May. The UN called for the withdrawal of the JNA, which it considered to be an occupying army and sanctions were imposed on Serbia. UN and EC mediators tried to find a solution which would end the conflict but the war in Bosnia continued. Serb militia units, which were allegedly backed by Serbia, took over east Bosnian border towns and attacked Sarajevo. Croats and Muslims also struggled to gain control of disputed territory and a state of emergency was declared. Several ceasefire agreements were quickly broken and hundreds of people were killed and thousands made homeless. The Bosnian Serbs gained control of over two thirds of the country and declared the area independent. Large portions to the west of the country were under Croat domination and were subsequently declared an independent Croat state.

From June 1992, Canadian/French UN forces were brought in to try to relieve the three-month siege of Sarajevo. In August, the UN and EC sponsored peace talks between all parties in London but the conflict continued to escalate. but the relief effort was temporarily abandoned in September due to continued Serbian offensives, the killing of relief workers and the shooting down of a UN plane. Reports of 'ethnic cleansing' of Muslims and concentration camps set up by the Serbs increased the Western efforts to help negotiate a peace settlement. In October, the UN Security Council voted to create a war crimes commission and all military flights over Bosnia-Hercegovina were banned. The Bosnian civil war escalated and further sanctions were imposed on 'rump' Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). In 1993, the Bosnian Serbs were persuaded to accept the Vance-Owen peace plan but the area still does not appear to be entirely stable.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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