Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Srbi Bosne i Hercegovine
Срби Босне и Херцеговине
Makarije Sokolovic2.JPG
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Filip Visnjic guslar.jpg
Sima Milutinovic Sarajlija.jpg
Petar Popović Pecija.jpg
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Petar Kocic.jpg
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Vojislav Šešelj.jpg
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Total population
1,366,104 (1991)
Regions with significant populations
Republika Srpska: ~88% of population
Brčko District: ~45% of population
Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina: ~3% of population
Serbian Orthodox Church
Related ethnic groups
South Slavs

The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina are one of the three constitutive nations of the country, predominantly residing in its political-territorial entity of Republika Srpska. They are frequently referred to as Bosnian Serbs in English, regardless of whether they are from Bosnia or Herzegovina.


Middle Ages[edit]

The Slavs came to the Balkans during Justinian I rule (527–565), when eventually up to 100,000 Slavs raided Thessalonica. The Western Balkans was settled with Sclaveni (Sklavenoi), the east with Antes.[1] In 577 some 100,000 Slavs poured into Thrace and Illyricum, pillaging cities and settling down.[2]

According to 10th-century De Administrando Imperio, Serbs settled a part of present day Bosnia and Herzegovina during the rule of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641).[3] Their leader, the Unknown Archont, was given lands that would subsequently evolve into principalities; Pagania, Zahumlje, Travunija, Duklja and Rascia.[3] Bosnia, centered at river Bosona, was mentioned as one of the regions that were then under Serbian rule, in casu under Prince Časlav (r. 933-960). Bosona had two inhabited cities; Kotor and Desnik.[3] Herzegovina was part of Zahumlje and Travunija;[3] present-day Canton 10, West Herzegovina, Herzegovina-Neretva and Trebinje region.

The regions were constantly changing hands, as the Slavic nobles fought each other for the supreme rule.

Prince Višeslav, who managed to unite several provinces and tribes,[4] directly ruled the hereditary lands (Županias) of Neretva, Tara, Piva, Lim.[5][6] Višeslav ruled during Charlemagne (fl. 768-814)).[7]

According to the Royal Frankish Annals (822), Pannonian Duke Ljudevit fled his seat in Sisak to the Serbs (during the rule of Radoslav or his son Prosigoj) who controlled a great part of Dalmatia ("Sorabos, quae natio magnam Dalmatiae partem obtinere dicitur").[8][9]

Prince Vlastimir (r. 831-851), after defeating the Bulgars in the three-year Bulgarian–Serbian Wars (839-842), continued to expand to the west, taking southeast Bosnia and northeast Herzegovina (Hum).[10][11] Vlastimir ensured further unity by marrying his daughter to Krajina Belojević, who gained the title of Prince of Trebinje.[3][11]

During the rule of Mutimir (r. 851-891), the Serbs were Christianized. Serbia became an important Byzantine ally; The fleets of Zahumlje, Travunia and Konavli (Serbian Pomorje) were sent to fight the Saracens who attacked the town of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in 869, on the immediate request of Basil I, who was asked by the Ragusians for help.[12]

Prince Petar (r. 892-917), defeated the local Tišemir of Bosnia, annexing the valley of Bosna.[13] He continues taking the Neretva, annexing the Narentines, where he seems to have come into conflict with Michael, a Bulgarian vassal ruling Zahumlje (with Travunia and Duklja).[14]

Serbia under Časlav Klonimirović

The golden age of Serbs in the early Middle Ages comes with Prince Časlav Klonimirović (r. 927-960), who managed to include all former territories; He concluded a voluntary confederation with the local chiefs of Bosnia that brought them out of Venetian-Croatia's control. With other Slavic principalities of Zahumlje, Pagania, Travunia, Duklja and Raška, Časlav established a state that encompassed the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the Sava river and the Morava valley as well as today's northern Albania. Časlav defeated the Magyars and their ruler Kisa on the banks of river Drina when protecting Bosnia, however, in the second battle against the Magyars, Časlav was hurt in battle, captured and thrown to drown together with his fellow Serbian warriors, in the Sava.[15]

The Serbian rule in westernmost Bosnia crumbled after Časlav's fall. It would take King Constantine Bodin and war against the Byzantines in 1082-1085 to restore it. There he installed Stefan of Bosnia as Ban lasting until 1101 when Bosnia seceded from Dukljan rule.[16][17]

Ottoman rule[edit]

To fill up depopulated areas of northern and western Eyalet of Bosnia, the Ottomans encouraged the migration of large numbers of hardy settlers with military skills from Serbia and Herzegovina. Many of these settlers were Vlachs[citation needed], members of a pre-Slav Balkan population that had acquired a Latinate language and specialized in stock breeding, horse raising, long-distance trade, and fighting. Most were members of the Serbian Orthodox church. Before the Ottoman conquest, that church had had very few members in the Bosnian lands outside Herzegovina and the eastern strip of the Drina valley; there is no definite evidence of any Orthodox church buildings in central, northern, or western Bosnia before 1463.

Austro-Hungarian rule[edit]

In 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a protectorate of Austria-Hungary, which the Serbs strongly opposed. On June 28, 1914, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip made international headlines after assassinating Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo. This sparked World War I leading to Austria-Hungary's defeat and the incorporation of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

World War II[edit]

During the World War II, Bosnian Serbs were put under the rule of the fascist Ustaša regime in the Independent State of Croatia. Under Ustaša rule Serbs along with Jews and Roma people, were subjected to systematic genocide, known as the Serbian genocide,[citation needed] where hundreds of thousands of civilian Serbs were murdered. According to the US Holocaust Museum, 320,000-340,000 Serbs were murdered under Ustasha rule.[18] According to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Research Center,"More than 500,000 Serbs were murdered in horribly sadistic ways, 250,000 were expelled, and another 200,000 were forced to convert"[19] during WWII in the Independent State of Croatia (modern-day Croatia and Bosnia).

Between 1945 and 1948, following World War II, approximately 70,000 Serbs migrated from the People's Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Vojvodina after the Germans had left. Serbs were the larger of the two constitutive nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina (later the second largest of three, when Bosniaks, then known as Muslims by nationality, gained constitutive status in 1968).

Bosnian War[edit]

See also: Bosnian War
Radovan Karadžić, the first president of Republika Srpska.

After the government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence, which was not accepted by the federal Serb controlled government of Yugoslavia, the Serbian Autonomous Area of the Bosnian Frontier was formed in the western Bosnian Frontier region of Bosnia and Herzegovina with its capital in Banja Luka, which was not recognised by the central government. SAO Bosnian Frontier made attempts to unite with the Autonomous Region of the Serbian Frontier in Croatia. The Serb political leadership martialled its own force assisted by the Yugoslav People's Army and declared independence from Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 1992. During this period there was notable support for the idea of a Greater Serbia being made reality, both within Bosnia and in Serbia proper. This ideology advocated the joining of Serb-populated regions into a contiguous territory. BiH's Bosniak and Bosnian Croat dominated government did not recognize the new Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose president was Radovan Karadžić seated in Banja Luka.[citation needed] The Serb side accepted the proposed ethnic cantonization of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Carrington-Cutileiro peace plan), as did the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat sides in Lisbon in 1992, in the hope that war would not break out. The Bosniak political leadership under President Alija Izetbegović of Bosnia and Herzegovina subsequently revoked the agreement refusing to decentralize the newly created country based on ethnic lines. The Bosnian War began.

Throughout most of the war the Serbs fought against both the Bosniaks and the Bosnian Croats. During Bosniak-Croat hostilities the Serbs co-operated largely with the Croats. There were exceptions to this, however, as Serb forces were also allied with the pro-Yugoslav Bosniaks of the Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia under Fikret Abdić. Serb forces also carried out ethnic cleansing operations against non-Serbs living within their territory, the most formidable was the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. However, many Serbs also were targets of atrocities during the war. During most of the war, the Serb Republic comprised around 70% of Bosnia and Herzegovina's soil. During the entire length of war the Army of the Serb Republic maintained the Siege of Sarajevo, allegedly in order to tie down the Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) forces and resources in what was the capital of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian state. Serb Republic maintained close ties with the Republic of the Serb Frontier and received volunteers and supplies from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the war. The Serb Republic received a large number of Serb refugees from other Yugoslav hotzones, particularly non-Serb held areas in Sarajevo, Herzeg-Bosnia and Croatia. In 1993, the Owen-Stoltenberg peace treaty was suggested that would give 52% of BiH to the Serb side. It was refused by the Bosniak side as too large of a concession.

In 1994, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia imposed sanctions after the National Assembly of the Serb Republic refused the Vance-Owen peace plan. In 1995, Operation Storm eliminated the Republic of the Serb Frontier. The Croatian Army continued the offensive into the Serb Republic under General Ante Gotovina. Some 250,000 Serbs fled to the Serb Republic and Serbia from Croatia, as the Serb side continued a full retreat of Serbs from the Una to the Sana river. The Croatian Army, supported by the forces of the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina came within 20 km of the de facto Bosnian Serb capital, Banja Luka. The war was halted with the Dayton Peace Agreement which recognized Republika Srpska, comprising 49% of the soil of BiH, as one of the two territorial entities of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Serb side suffered a total 30,700 victims - 16,700 civilians and 14,000 military personnel, according to the Demographic Unit at the ICTY. Although exact numbers are disputed, it is generally agreed that the Bosnian War claimed the lives of about 200,000 people - Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. More reliable numbers place the number of deceased during the war at around 100,000-104,000 (ICTY, 2011).See: Casualties of the Bosnian War


The 1991 population census registered 1,366,104 Serbs or 31.2% of the total population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Census was held in October 2013 with ethnicity data yet to be published. Bosnian Serbs are the most territorially widespread nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vast majority live on the territory of the Republika Srpska, where they constitute around 88% of population. The majority of Bosnian Serbs are adherents of the Serbian Orthodox Church, while some are atheists. The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina speak the Serbian language in its Ijekavian accent, similar to that of Serbs of Montenegro and Croatia.


Main article: Serbian culture

The Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina use regional names among each other, such as the wider: Frontiermen, Semberians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians.

Folk attire[edit]

Main article: Serbian dress


Main article: Serbian music

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e De Administrando Imperior, ch. 30-34
  4. ^ The mountains of Montenegro
  5. ^ Servia and the Servians
  6. ^ John Anthony Cuddon, The companion guide to Jugoslavia (Google Books), p. 454
  7. ^ Serbs in European civilization, page 24: "Vojislav or Višeslav, who ruled around 780... at the time of Charlemagne"
  8. ^ Serbian studies, Volumes 2-3, p. 29
  9. ^ De originibus Slavicis, Volume 1 By Johann Christoph von Jordan, p. 155
  10. ^ early medieval balkans, p. 110
  11. ^ a b M. Th. Houtsma, E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936 p. 199. ISBN 90-04-08265-4, ISBN 978-90-04-08265-6
  12. ^
  13. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 148
  14. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 149
  15. ^ Dusko Lopandic: Dinastije koje su vladale Evropom - Arpadovici
  16. ^ Edgar Hösch, The Balkans: a short history from Greek times to the present day, Vol 1972, Part 2, pages 68 and 83. Google Books
  17. ^ Vjekoslav Kljaic, Geschichte Bosniens von den ltesten Zeiten bis zum Verfalle des K nigreiches, p. 61 (in German)
  18. ^ US Holocaust Museum, ushmm. "Jasenovac". US Holocaust Museum. 
  19. ^ "Independent State of Croatia". Yad Vashem World Holocaust and Research Documentation Center.