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Bosnia: Land of Immigrants

Cetinje - flickr-davduf
Sculpture by Francesco Perilli, "The multicultural man will build the world". Photo: flickr/jaime.silva

In 1994 Noel Malcolm the British historian published his "Bosnia: A Short History". Ever since it has served as a first port of call for anyone interested in a general introduction to the subject. In 2007, Marko Attila Hoare, an academic at Kingston University, published his new history of the country. It is a major addition to the cannon. A considerable portion of the book concentrates on the period 1941-45, which Hoare argues was "the pivotal event of modern Bosnian history: the point at which a combination of long-term and short-term accidents brought to fruition the development of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the form of a nation state. Its birth was neither accidental nor predetermined; it is by no means certain that Bosnia-Hercegovina would have emerged as a state had not Nazi Germany destroyed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the space for something new to emerge… ." In these extracts Hoare explains how all of Bosnia's three main nationalities, Serbs, Croats and Muslims (Bosniaks) had assimilated large numbers of others over the centuries to become the people they are now.

Muslims of various nationalities, including Albanians, Turks and Gypsies, arrived in Bosnia during the Ottoman period and assimilated into the Muslim Slavs. Individuals from many different nationalities converted to Islam in Ottoman Bosnia and thereby joined the Bosnian Muslims – including Poles, Germans, Italians, Cincars, Greeks and others. What is true of the Muslims is true also of the Croats and Serbs. Thus, the large numbers of Catholic migrants to Bosnia-Hercegovina in the Austro-Hungarian period included Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Magyars, Germans and Slovenes, who tended to assimilate into the Bosnian Croat nationality. The brothers Nikola and Aleksandar Preka, politicians of the Croat Peasant Party during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, were first-generation Croats on their father's side: their father Gaspar Precca and uncle Zef Precca were Catholic Albanians married to Bosnian Croats, and "remained in their hearts Albanian patriots to their deaths but allowed their wives to raise their children according to the Croatian spirit," according to one Bosnian Croat source.

Hoare discusses Sephardi Jewish immigration following their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and also notes that one of the major movements of people into Bosnia was from amongst the Orthodox, Vlach people:

From the first decades of the Ottoman conquest, and with the encouragement of the new rulers, Orthodox Vlachs settled in first northern and north-central and subsequently northwestern Bosnia, territory depopulated as a result of the periodic Austro-Turkish warfare and the exodus of the indigenous Catholic population. This Vlach immigration gave rise to a Serb majority that persists in northwest Bosnia to the present day… Muslim immigrants fled or were expelled to Bosnia from Hungary and Croatia, following the Austrian reconquest of Hungarian and Croatian lands in the late seventeenth century, and from Serbia following the Serbian uprisings of the first half of the nineteenth century. Ashkenazi Jews, too, arrived in Bosnia from Buda following the Austrian conquest of Hungary. The indigenous Bosnian Catholic population was decimated during the Vienna War of 1683-99, when a large part of the former fled the country along with the Austrians, who were retreating following their unsuccessful invasion of Bosnia. Yet Catholics immigrated to Bosnia-Hercegovina in large numbers following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of 1878, as did Ashkenazi Jews in relatively even larger numbers.

The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day. Marko Attila Hoare. 2007.
[pp.  43-44 / Saqi]

January 2009
Tim Judah

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  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
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  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
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