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:. . The Balkans:. . Bosnia

Bosnia has always been a region perched between east and west. In early Christian times, it was located about half-way between the important cities of Rome and Constantinople. At that time, the world of European Christendom was split into two parts based on those two cities. Religious affiliation also had many effects beyond the spiritual. Alliances were often formed along religious lines, and newly Christianized societies often copied many of the social and cultural institutions of their converters. To the north of Bosnia, the Croats belonged firmly to the sphere of Catholic Christianity in Rome; to the south, the Serbs and Bulgarians were firmly Orthodox Christian and looked toward Constantinople for their religious, political, and cultural models.

This position in the middle, plus the rugged nature of the countryside, meant that Bosnia was never firmly colonized by or integrated into either the Catholic or the Orthodox camp. There was even an independent Bosnian kingdom around 1200. Its population was nominally Christian but multiethnic; its borders were constantly shifting and its social structure remained very simple. Thus, the isolated region of Bosnia was ripe for succumbing to the pressure and blandishments of Ottoman rule, under which there were many rewards, as well as exemption from certain kinds of discrimination, for converting to Islam. The Ottomans conquered the region in the 15th century. It is not true that the existence of the Bosnian Muslims today is substantially due to massive forcible conversions by the Ottomans. Some historians also attribute the Bosnians' embrace of Islam to their earlier adherence to an obscure, heretical sect of Christianity known as Bogomilism, but the importance of Bogomilism has been exaggerated. None of the religions in preIslamic times was firmly established over the whole region.

The beautiful city of Sarajevo grew to prominence as the administrative center for Ottoman Bosnia. The Balkan provinces were very important for the Ottoman Turks, even though they consisted of a bewildering variety of increasingly restless subjects. Bosnia was typical in this regard. The number of Muslims in Bosnia grew over the centuries, to some extent on account of Turkish immigration into the cities but mostly due to the style of conversion discussed above. But as nationalism grew among the Sultan's Slavic peoples, it became even more apparent that Bosnia was a very mixed region. In addition to the Muslims, there were large Serbian and Croatian population groups. In the 19th century, as the Eastern Question progressed and the decline of the Ottoman Empire sped up, it remained unclear what would happen to Bosnia after the Turks left. Would it be annexed by newly independent Serbia to the east? Or would the multinational Habsburg Empire, next door to the north, be able to occupy it? Just how long would the Turks be able to maintain their grip on Bosnia? Photo courtesy of arttoday.com

After several years of war and peasant rebellion in the Balkans, Bosnia did indeed fall to the Habsburg Empire (Austria-Hungary) in 1878. It was occupied by them until 1908, when it was fully annexed and incorporated into the Empire. The Austrians brought effective administration to Bosnia, and they succeeded somewhat in industrializing it, but the occupation was extremely controversial. The powerful Hungarian parties in the Empire resented the presence of more Slavic minorities. Neighboring Serbia very much wished to annex the region itself. But Emperor Franz Josef went ahead with the acquisition for a variety of reasons. It made his country easier to defend against attacks from the south, since Bosnia-Herzegovina was the hinterland to the Habsburg-controlled strip of Adriatic coast known as Dalmatia. Also, the annexation came at a time of great expansionistic activity on the part of other major European powers. Britain, France, Italy, and Germany were engaged in significant imperialism in Africa, for instance. The Habsburg Empire was unable to join in the free-for-all on other continents, but it could expand in the Balkans. The main reasons, though, were to prevent the region from falling into Serbian hands and to stop the peasant uprisings from spreading into Slavic areas under Habsburg control.

This occupation was a fateful move because in 1914 friction over Bosnia provided the spark that ignited World War I. A group of Bosnian Serb nationalists, supported by the neighboring Serbian government assassinated the heir to the Habsburg throne in protest of the Austrian occupation. The death of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia occurred on June 28, 1914, a date especially significant to Serbs as the anniversary of the medieval battle of Kosovo (History of Kosovo up to 1918). When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia about a month later, to avenge the assassination, the alliance systems in place kicked in, and World War I began. This long and disastrous war would see the total collapse of both the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires, and in 1918 Bosnia became part of the new country of Yugoslavia. Photo: Intersection in Sarajevo where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed, June 28, 1914. Photo by John K. Cox.

 






 


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Who Are the Bosnians..|..History of Bosnia to 1918..| Bosnia within Yugoslavia, 1918-1992..|..Bosnia and the Breakup of Yugoslavia..|..The War in Bosnia, 1992-1995..|..Bosnia Today..|..Issues Affecting the Future of Bosnia..|..Myths about the Fighting in Bosnia
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