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Defining the word Bosnian is not easy because its meaning has changed over time. Originally, the word had a regional meaning. That is, a Bosnian was simply someone who lived in the region known as Bosnia. A Bosnian could be a Serb, a Croat, or a Muslim. This region had a distinctive culture and a dialect of the Serbo-Croatian language that were shared by the various national groups living there.

When Bosnia seceded from the former Yugoslavia in 1992, however, a great deal of fighting erupted between Bosnia's three main national groups: the Bosnian Muslims, the Serbs, and the Croats. Many Serbs and Croats fought to secede from newly independent Bosnia and attach themselves to the independent countries of Serbia and Croatia (still a part of Yugoslavia) next door. Although since 1995 a multinational Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina exists, most Serbs and many Croats in the region now call themselves by their national group name. The terms Bosnian, and Bosniak now refer to citizens of the Republic who are Muslim by faith or tradition.

One of the first things that most people hear about the Bosnians is that they are a Muslim people of Europe. Europe is, of course, predominantly populated by various nations that are Christian by religion or by culture and tradition. The Bosnian Muslims were Slavic-speaking Europeans who gradually converted from Christianity to Islam beginning in the 14th century as a result of their conquest by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks seldom practiced forcible conversion and generally respected the conquered Christian and Jewish populations' right to maintain their faiths. There was, however, discrimination against nonMuslim minorities, and there were financial and political advantages to converting to Islam, which led to the formation of most Muslim populations in the Balkans. Most Albanians, for instance, and a group of Bulgarians known as Pomaks are Muslim Europeans. Photo courtesy of UNHCR Media and Public Affairs Unit (A. Hollmann)

Today the official language of the government of Bosnia is Bosnian, just as the official language of Serbia is Serbian, and the official language of Croatia is Croatian. Fifteen years ago, however, scholars in the West and in socialist Yugoslavia were quite confident in speaking of a unified Serbo-Croatian language, which included the three variants above. The languages do have varying literary traditions dating from the Middle Ages and there are two different alphabets in use (the Cyrillic in Serbia and the Roman in Croatian and Bosnia), but the primary reason for their separation as unique tongues seems to be political, to reinforce the distinctions of the three independent peoples. The languages are mutually intelligible and many literary figures span the narrow national divisions of today.



Who Are the Bosnians
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