Bosnia and Herzegovina’s colorful past is evident in its centuries-old architectural marvels, art scene and cuisine. There are three main constituent peoples in the country, namely the Bosniaks, the Serbs, and the Croats, and each group maintains its ethnic distinction. Turkish influence is evident in many elements of culture as the country was occupied by the Ottomans for almost 400 years. This caused the population to develop diverse religious sects, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Islam.
The current Bosnia and Herzegovina is a product of an interesting cultural, political, and social story. It started with the emergence of Illyrian civilizations, which evolved into the Bosnian Kingdom. The kingdom eventually became an annexation of the Ottoman Empire and later, the Austro Hungarian Monarchy. Long years of war followed, from WWI to the fight for independence in the mid-1990’s.
Bosnia was under different empires throughout its history. It was first occupied by the Romans, then the Slavs and the Hungarians, until the Ottomans began attacking the region in the late 1300’s. Ottoman domination caused a great shift in the culture, beliefs and norms of the people, evident in the fascinating mix of religious architecture throughout the country, especially in the old district of the capital. As Ottoman rule weakened, Bosnians joined forces with the Slavs from Croatia and Serbia in an uprising against the Turks. They were victorious in driving away the Ottomans, but Bosnians found themselves under new rulers.
After WWI, the Kingdom of the Serbs—which included Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia—was formed and Bosnia was annexed as a new nation. The country was renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. The region saw the horror of ethnic cleansing, and resistance movements emerged between Chetniks (Serbian nationalists) and the Partisans of Yugoslavia. The war ended in favor of the Partisans, and Bosnia-Herzegovina became a republic three years later. All six republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia) were under the communist leadership of Josip Broz Tito, who ruled with an oppressive hand. This led to a strong fight for autonomy, especially after the political instability and economic hardship brought on by Tito’s death in 1980.
Nationalist Slobodan Milosevic assumed presidency in Serbia in 1989 and ruled on a vision of a Greater Serbia that was free from all other ethnicities. Following elections in the other Yugoslav republics, a Muslim party won in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the nationalists claimed victory in Croatia. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence and were granted freedom from Serbia in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Bosnia, however, was left stuck between the two, and was eventually divided. This triggered the Bosnian War for independence between Croats and the Muslims of Bosnia, and between the Muslims of Bosnia and the Serbs which lasted until the mid-1990’s.
The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo) contains nearly half a million historical artifacts that epitomize the long, gruesome and rich history of the country. More interesting relics can be found in the Museum of the National Struggle for Liberation (Jajce). Monuments and memorials stand as a testament to the triumphs and tribulations of war and revolution that eventually led to the country’s freedom.
Bosnian and Herzegovinian culture is heavily influenced by its rich heritage. Cultural diversity is the very core of the country. The population is divided into many groups, but a majority of them are Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. People of Jewish, Albanian, Romanian, and Turkish descent live peacefully alongside other groups despite differences in their beliefs. Their diversity is also evident in social norms, religious and cultural festivities, music, art, and cuisine.
Regional dances and folk costumes are a treat to watch, and you’ll see a lot of them during festivals. Often dancers are linked together either by holding hands or by gripping strings of beads, handkerchiefs, or a piece of each other’s clothing as a sign of unity. These performances are accompanied by traditional instruments like flutes, drums, lyres, and violins.
There is strong religious influence in the art and architecture of the country. Among its many attractions are medieval tombstones that can be traced back to the Bosnian Kingdom. Art in the form of early church paintings and carved panels showcase various religious icons of biblical study and saints associated with Catholic and Orthodox churches, synagogues, and mosques. Centuries-old religious buildings are also proof of the diverse culture, along with many other religious landmarks like Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque (Sarajevo), which is the largest Muslim landmark in Bosnia and Herzegovina.