Bosnia and Herzegovina

Country situated in the western Balkan Peninsula of Europe. The larger region of Bosnia occupies the northern and central parts of the country, and Herzegovina occupies the south and southwest. These historical regions do not correspond with the two autonomous political entities that were established by the internationally brokered Dayton Accords of 1995: the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic), located in the north and east, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupying the western and central areas. The capital of the country is Sarajevo; important regional cities include Mostar and Banja Luka.

The land has often felt the influences of stronger regional powers that have vied for control over it, and these influences have helped to create Bosnia and Herzegovina’s characteristically rich ethnic and religious mix. Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Roman Catholicism are all present, with the three faiths generally corresponding to three major ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats, respectively. This multiethnic population, as well as the country’s historical and geographic position between Serbia and Croatia, has long made Bosnia and Herzegovina vulnerable to nationalist territorial aspirations.

Ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century, the region came under the control of Austria-Hungary in 1878 and subsequently played a key role in the outbreak of World War I. In 1918 it was incorporated into the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, where it had no formal status of its own. After World War II it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the disintegration of that state in 1991, the majority of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for independence in a 1992 referendum. Much of the country’s Serb population, however, opposed independence and boycotted the referendum.

War soon consumed the region, as ethnic nationalists within Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support of Serbia and Croatia in some cases, tried to take control of territories they claimed as their own. Horrific ethnic cleansing campaigns between 1992 and the end of 1995 killed thousands and violently displaced more than two million people in much of Bosnia and Herzegovina. International intervention into the Bosnian conflict led finally to a peace agreement, the Dayton Accords, in late 1995. The Dayton agreement ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it also established the country as a fragile, highly decentralized, and ethnically divided state in which an international civilian representative remains authorized to impose legislation and to remove domestic officials in order to protect the peace. Although the vast majority of citizens continue to desire sustainable peace, they hold to different ideas about the best configuration of the state, and some even question its future existence.

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