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From 1918 to 1992 Bosnia-Herzegovina was a constituent republic of the country of Yugoslavia. A "republic" in Yugoslavia was basically like an American state or a Canadian province. In the years 1918 to 1941, the new country of Yugoslavia was dominated by Serbs because they had had a relatively large, independent country before Yugoslavia was formed; in 1918 their royal family, the Karadjordjevices, were chosen by the victorious Allies and by various representatives of nonSerbian national groups as the dynasty that would rule the entire country. The Serbian capital, Belgrade, became the new Yugoslav capital. Independent Montenegro had entered into dynastic union with Serbia, and the former Habsburg (also spelled Hapsburg) territories of Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia were tacked on to the existing Serbian state. Although Yugoslavia, which was at first called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, was not predestined to fail, there were two fundamental problems that attended the country from its birth:

  • first, how to create an economic infrastructure linking the various regions, most of which had not been economically connected before 1918; and
  • second, how to reconcile the conflicting visions of "Yugoslavism," which was the belief that the South Slavic peoples were culturally and linguistically related and should live in a common state. Photo courtesy of arttoday.com

For many Serbs the creation of Yugoslavia signified a huge expansion of their national power; whether or not they aimed at assimilating the other national groups, they did favor centralized Serbian control. Most Croats and Slovenes, on the other hand, favored a more federalized system that would allow them local autonomy. Naturally, they disliked Serbian centralism. Groups such as the Bosnians, Macedonians, Hungarians, and Albanians received no territorial or linguistic recognition by the Karadjordjevic government. They were treated as appendages of greater Serbia.

In the interwar period (1918-1941) the Bosnian Muslims had a political party  known as the Yugoslav Muslim Organization. Its leader, Mehmed Spaho, ended up supporting the Serbian central government in an effort to stay on its good side and win concessions that would help prevent Bosnia from being fully taken over by its neighbors. By the time World War II reached Yugoslavia in 1941, however, the Bosnian Muslims were less represented and empowered than ever.

World War II was disastrous for Bosnia. After the fall of Yugoslavia in April 1941, an Axis puppet state took power in Croatia. It was called the Independent State of Croatia and is often known by its acronym in Croatian, the NDH. Hitler allowed the dictator of the NDH, Ante Pavelic, to take over all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the extreme version of Croatian nationalism, which Pavelic represented, the Bosnian Muslims were seen less as enemies than as Croatians of the Muslim faith. Although from almost the beginning of his regime Pavelic fought a losing battle against Communist Partisan movements to keep effective control of his territory, his government still unleashed a reign of terror against its huge Serbian and smaller Jewish minorities in annexed Bosnia and in Croatia proper. The murder of at least 300,000 civilians1 in the name of forming a purer Croatian ethnic state, and the bitter guerrilla struggle of various groups against the Axis and their collaborators, have embittered the survivors and their children to the present day.

After World War II Bosnia received a significant industrial boost due to the military priorities of the Tito government. Many factories were built in Bosnia, where they were close to natural resources but also safe from invasion, in case the Soviet Union or its East European allies should ever attack Yugoslavia and try to snuff out Tito's experimental brand of national communism. Tito strove to create an administrative system for Yugoslavia that would not allow any one national group to dominate (Kosovo within Yugoslavia). Thus, he wanted to make sure that neither the Croats nor the Serbs in Bosnia came to dominate the region, for each group already had one republic within the country. More and more, Tito cultivated the Bosnian Muslims as a national group and not simply a religious group. By 1970 their dominant position within the Bosnian republic was secure. Still, there were sizeable minorities, as the figures from the 1991 census show. Seventeen percent of the population was Croat, and Serbs comprised 31%; the Muslims themselves formed only a plurality of the population with 44%.

1Lampe, J. (1996). Yugoslavia as history: Twice there was a country. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.



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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