AN EXPERT'S OVERVIEW Bosnia and Herzegovina How they became the most ethnically diverse republics in the former Yugoslavia, and how the different ethnic groups interacted


The judges of the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague called on Professor Paul Garde to give an historic overview of the Balkans region and Garde then fielded questions from the judges. Garde's testimony was given June 27-28, 1996. He is a professor of Slav literature and languages and has written many lingustics books. Since 1991 Garde's research and writing have focused on the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Q. Regarding the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, what was its approximate ethnic composition after World War II?

A: With regard to the last census, that is, the one of 1991, the Muslim Bosnians accounted for 44 per cent, the Serbs were 31 per cent and the Croats were 17 or 18 per cent. It is also worth mentioning that the distribution was highly complicated, and one of the particularities was that the Serbs were in the north, north west, that is, far from Serbia, and the Muslim Bosnians were particularly numerous in the east, that is to say, right next to Serbia there.

Q. Would it be fair to say that the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most ethnically diverse of the republics in the former Yugoslavia?

A. Yes, certainly, because that was the only one in which no nation had the absolute majority, that is to say, 44 per cent was the top figure. At the same time, it was the most uniform one in language terms because all these people speak the same language.

Q. Based on your studies, why would you say that Bosnia and Herzegovina ended up being the most ethnically diverse Republic in the former Yugoslavia?

A: It is precisely because the region didn't see the same kinds of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in the 18th and 19th centuries as other parts of the Balkans.

In the 18th century, a large part of present day Croatia was under Ottoman rule and was retaken by the Austrians. In the course of that reconquest, the Austrians drove out all the Muslims. So that in Croatia there are no Muslims. There are traces of a mosque in some places, however. By the same token, in 1971, Serbia and Montenegro, just as Greece did, won their independence well at each stage of their reconquest. They drove out the Muslims. So there were no Muslims left in the regions which in Serbia or Montenegro or Greece were parts of those countries just before the time of World War I.

Now, the regions in question were rather homogeneous in ethnic terms. Bosnia was not subject to any of these phenomena because it remained under Ottoman rule until 1878. The Ottoman Empire was repressive but tolerant at the same time, so all religions could be exercised and all groups would tolerate it.

Subsequently, between 1878 and 1918, Bosnia and Herzegovina was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at that time that Empire no longer carried out ethnic cleansing. So the diversity remained intact. It was even protected to a certain extent by the Austro-Hungarian Empire that made the most of the diversity of the populations.

After that, Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia and Yugoslavia also respected this ethnic diversity, but there again, as under the Austrians, there were Muslims who left for Turkey, but there was still a large number of them who remained.

So Bosnia, just like Macedonia or a number of other regions, was a country that was fortunate in that it was not subject to the ethnic cleansing or the religious persecution against Muslims which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is why up to 1992 it still had its ethnic diversity and religious diversity intact. Unfortunately, we know what happened.

Q. How did the different ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina interacted before the outbreak of this conflict?

A. Well, before the conflict broke out the various ethnic groups lived together. Of course, in history there have been moments of antagonism and struggle and particularly during the Second World War, but during the 45 years that the Tito regime lasted, the various groups lived together. They lived together particularly in the cities because, generally speaking, each village was homogenous. Each hamlet, each small village, was homogenous and was usually inhabited by people of one and the same group. But cities, even smaller cities, were mixed and people would encounter one another there and people would develop good relations. The older generation, having good relations did not mean that people forgot which community their neighbors belonged to, but these communities got along fine. They helped one another out, and they would go to the events scheduled by or hosted by one side or the other. There were a lot of mixed marriages, for instance. There are not any statistics as to the percentage nowadays of Bosnian stemming from mixed marriages, but I can assure you that the figure is quite high indeed.

Usually, it is the main town that has a Muslim majority; whereas the surrounding countryside of the territory as a whole has either a Serb or a Croat majority. Roughly speaking, there was a higher concentration of Muslims in the cities than in the countryside. Of course, there are exceptions. It is not a hard and fast rule. One could go into this in more detail, but suffice it to say the Muslims tended to aggregate in the cities; whereas the Croats and the Serbs tended to be more numerous outside the cities. There are historical grounds for this because during the four centuries of Ottoman rule the Muslims were the ruling class, and so there were more of them in the cities; whereas the Serbs and the Croats were peasants and lived in the countryside.

Q. Are you aware of the accused Radovan Karadzic making any statement with regard to this tension between the urban and the rural?

A. Yes, I read an interview given by Radovan Karadzic to the Serbian Weekly on 11th December 1992 in which he says roughly the following: "So far, the Turks used to be in the cities and we were in the woods, and now it is the other way around; we are in the cities and it is the Turks who are in the woods, in the forests, and thanks to that `general winter' is going to be the enemy of our enemy". As I said, that was said in December 1992 just at the time when the first winter of the war was starting.

 


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