Bosnia & Herzegovina (Yugoslavia)

Bosnia-Herzogovina is a country in South-East Europe, on the Balkan peninsula. The history of Bosnia has not been easy, it has been conquered by many foreign powers and has become religiously and nationally divided. During the II World War Bosnia was occupied by Croatia and fell victim to ethnic cleansing and civil war. Part of population joined Croatian forces, other Serbian Chetniks and third communist partisans.

In 1944-1945 communist partisans achieved victory, Yugoslavian Republic was created  and the terror against the non communist forces launched. After mass-killings in 1945, thousands of people were arrested and send to the labour camps. Even as compared to other communist countries Yugoslavia was liberal country and developed well, the opposition was not allowed. In 1983 several moslem dissidents were send to jail, as a result conflicts only increased in Bosnia. After the collapse of communism bloody civil war started. Bosnia has even not by now healed the wounds of this terrible conflict.

Historical overview

Bosnia and Herzegovina saw the expulsion of both German and Ustasha soldiers in May 1945. Brutal battles raged across the republic between 1941-1945.

Although the Partisan movement initially consisted mainly of Serbs, its leadership strived to maintain equal rights of all three nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the founding meeting of the State Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBiH) 26–27 November 1943 in the town of Mrkonjić Grad, it was announced on 29 November 1943 that Bosnia and Herzegovina would become a separate territory.

The recognition of this territorial unit and of Bosnian Muslims (although it was not specified whether in a national or religious sense) was a significant step in their affirmation. The success and popularity of communists can be confirmed by the fact that in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1945, only 5% of the electorate voted by secret ballot, while the average was double that in the other republics.

After the war, great attention was paid to maintaining the proportional representation of all nations in the authorities of the republic. A notable exception were the army and security structures which were dominated by Serbs, particularly former Partisans who escaped the NDH repressions by joining Tito’s forces. Bosnia also had the nickname “little Yugoslavia”.

One of the most important KPJ mottos that legitimised their power was “brotherhood and unity”, which referred to the nations’ need to coexist within one state. In 1941–1945, 15% of the local Serbs and a large percentage of the Muslim population of the republic were killed as a result of acts of war; thus, party authorities made sure to crack down on any emerging nationalist tendencies. Another significant element that allowed the communists to grab power was low civic and political awareness in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Croats constituted 22% of the population, but only 11% of the party members. The Muslims accounted for 38.5% of the citizens and slightly more than 23% of the party ranks. The percentage of Serbian inhabitants dropped from 40% to 37%, but they constituted more than 50% of all the members of the Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most prominent politicians such as Branko Mikulić and Hamdija Pozderac worked not to strengthen their respective nations but to nip any signs of nationalism in the bud.

After the announcement of the Cominform resolution, some of the party activists – Rodoljub Čolaković, Hasan Brkić, Uglješa Danilović, Pašaga Mandžić, and Nika Jurinčić – maintained that they should have attended the meeting in Bucharest and faced the accusations; they considered some of them to be true. Only talks with the KPJ leaders – Đilas and Kardelj – convinced the sceptics among them.

Although Muslim institutions were subjected to ostracism or repressions by the communists in the second half of the 1940s, the overall national emancipation of Muslims was a fact. According to the 1953 census, over 90% of Muslims declared themselves as “nationally undefined Yugoslavs”, not as Croats or Serbs (only 5.5% selected the two latter options).

The Muslims were recognised as a nation in 1968, which was reflected by the 1974 Constitution; they enthusiastically supported Yugoslavia. The phenomenon of Yugoslav identity was the result of mixed marriages, where it was stronger than the narrower national identity – the latter was declared by a mere 7.9% of the republic’s inhabitants in the 1981 census; in towns, the percentage of mixed marriages reached even 40%.

The communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Branko Mikulić, Todo Kurtović and Hamdija Pozderac were considered to be the most dogmatic in the whole country. When in 1974 some younger politicians, Hajro Kapetanović and Avdo Humo as well as the veteran of the Spanish Civil war Čedo Kapor, voiced their dissent against rigid policies supressing any traces of freedom, they were expelled from the party.

The 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo were a propaganda success. However, the costs of the event were so high that Slovenia raised objections, as Piotr Żurek ascertained.

In August 1987 the republic was shocked by the Agrokomerc affair. After a fire broke out in the factory, the security service conducted an investigation and established that the factory director Fikret Abdić was siphoning off money from the factory’s profits. Abdić was a member of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a close colleague of Hamdija Pozderac, a member of the Presidency of the Federation; these transgressions forced the latter to resign. The factory, located in the town of Velika Kladuša in western Bosnia, was one of the largest food producers in Yugoslavia and by no means an isolated case of such abuses; many such factories were accused of issuing promissory notes without coverage. Fikret Abdić was expelled from the Central Committee, and Pozderac ended his political career even though he was supposed to become the chairman of the Presidency of the Federation just one year later.

The year 1989 and a noticeable slump in the economy caused a wave of strikes across Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The first free elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on 18 November 1990 and were won by national parties. The results demonstrated the failure of the communists’ decade-long policy in this republic to quell any surges in nationalism. Alija Izetbegović’s Party of Democratic Action won the largest number of seats, Radovan Karadžić’s Serb Democratic Party was the runner-up, and the Croatian Democratic Union came in third place. Despite the efforts of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the republic’s parliament in Sarajevo, Karadžić flatly refused Izetbegović’s offer to maintain the state’s unified character. He stated that it would push the country to the brink of a civil war, in which the Muslim nation might almost entirely vanish.

It is commonly assumed that at the secret meeting of the president of Serbia Slobodan Milošević and the president of Croatia Franjo Tuđman in March 1991, the conversation also included discussions about the potential partition of Bosnia. Towards the end of 1991, Croats and Serbs began to establish structures of their territorial units in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The independence referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on 29 February and 1 March 1992. 62% supported independence while objections were primarily raised by the Serbian minority. On 1 March a Serb was killed in Sarajevo at his son’s wedding.

The proclamation of independence in Sarajevo in April 1992 marked the beginning of the civil war which lasted until 1995. 

 

Politics

Common

Repressions

In the final stages of WWII and right after, the Partisans killed 323 people of Serbian origin in Gacko, Herzegovina. In turn, in a place named Siroki Brijeg 12 teachers from Franciscan high school and a dozen or more monks from that monastery were murdered.

In 1946 there was a trial of the Young Muslims group; its members included the future president Alija Izetbegović, who was then sentenced to three years in prison. Later he wrote a book Islam Between East and West, and then The Islamic Declaration (1983), which served as a basis for his concept of the state – Muslims in one country as a dominant nation. During the so-called “Sarajevo trial” Izetbegović received a sentence of 14 years in prison (of which he served five).

In 1984 an assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Sarajevo, Vojsilav Seselj, was convicted after accusations of “anti-state activity”. Having served two years in prison, he moved to Belgrade, where he initially became involved with a dissident group, only to become the main figure of the most radical wing of Serbian nationalism at the turn of the 1990s.

As the authorities’ policy focused on the complete eradication of any resistance within society, the phenomenon of opposition and dissidents was virtually absent before the 1980s.

When in 1972 radical Croat nationalists infiltrated Yugoslavia in an attempt to start an uprising in the traditionally nationalistic area of Herzegovina inhabited by Croats, fears of possible repressions discouraged the local society from joining the rebels. 

Although separation of state and religious communities was officially in force, and the constitutional provisions ensured the right to practise a religion, these regulations were systematically broken.

The “Law on the status of religious communities in the SFRY” was adopted in 1952. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the republic with the largest percentage of clergy expressing its support for the authorities and participating in elections (75-80%).

Both the Catholic and the Orthodox church received painful blows – as Denis Bećirović estimates, the latter lost about 80% of the lands it had owned. However, the Orthodox community maintained the best relations with the authorities, and the majority of its clergymen expressed approval for the communists.

By early 1950s, religious schools of the Muslim minority had been disbanded, and women were forbidden from wearing traditional face-covering clothes. At the 6th Congress of the LCY in 1952 it was openly stated for the first time that membership of the LCY was incongruous with religious practices.

Economy

The law on agricultural reform and colonisation allowed a significant group of people – according to some estimates, even 85,000 – to resettle to Vojvodina and take fertile lands that formerly belonged to German families. Considering that before the war only 2% of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina owned more than 5 hectares of land, colonisation presented them with an opportunity. Bosnian landowners did not feel threatened by the risk of losing their farms in the process of collectivisation. Collectivisation reached its peak in 1950, when over 1500 working farmers’ collectives were established, which in 1950-1951 owned 350,000-450,000 hectares of land.

Workers’ initiatives began the construction of the 92 km of Brčko-Banovici railway line in 1946. The 242 km long link between Šamac and Sarajevo was built between April and November 1947 by workers’ youth brigades. According to economists, the various government schemes mobilising parts of society to rebuild the country after the havoc of WWII contributed little to overall economic development. Their actual aim was to build a community in the spirit of communism. Bosnia was the birthplace of the cult of highly productive “shock workers”, symbolised by a miner by the name of Alija Sirotanović.

The first 5-year plan from 1946 assumed that largest investments in industrialisation would be made in the underdeveloped republics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 5-year plan was to make Bosnia a republic with 77% of its industry focusing on raw materials, with the processing industry making up less than a quarter. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not manage to improve its results significantly due to poor work efficiency, low competitiveness of local products and other factors.

Post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina witnessed an astonishing population growth. In 1948 the republic had 2.5 million inhabitants, whereas in 1981 it counted 4.1 million people. The Serbian population dropped significantly (from more than 40% in the first post-war years to just over 30% in the late 1980s, due in large part to migration to Serbia), while the Muslim population grew (due to birth rates as well as migration from the Muslim-inhabited Sandžak region in Serbia).

During the feud with Cominform, Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed a privileged status. Due to fear of foreign intervention, strategic industry branches were located in the valleys of Bosnia. Huge factories were built at that time, particularly in Sarajevo (Energoinvest, PRETIS, FAMOS) but also in Zenica (metallurgy), Tuzja, Banja Luka and Mostar. The average yearly increase of industrial production was 9%. Neven Andjelić points out that before 1941 only 2% of the adult population was employed in the industrial sector, and only 17% of the population lived in urban areas. 

Although Bosnia and Herzegovina had received subsidies by the Federation fund for underdeveloped regions since the 1960, it did not manage to achieve a level of development on par with the most developed republics. Investments (77%) were made mostly in raw materials industry, while the processing industry was virtually non-existent. Rich republics were thus able to cheaply purchase raw materials, which until mid-1970s were also sold to other Comecon countries. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Bosnia, and even more of those from Herzegovina, made use of the opportunity to work abroad. Beginning in the mid-1960s, many citizens of the republic emigrated to work in the West (around 113,000 by 1980); this was due to the liberalisation of societal and political life just as much as it was a response to the ill-fated reform of 1965.

In 1970s the road network expanded (e.g. Banja Luka-Mostar and Bugojno-Bihać routes), so between 1965 and 1985 the total length of roads increased from 1,500 km to 9,000 km.

Dogmatic politicians on the one hand advocated self-sufficiency of Bosnia and Herzegovina; on the other hand, they did not want to allow the disintegration of economic ties within the federation. Bosnia received subsidies from the fund for underdeveloped regions, and selling local raw materials would become a problem without the help of Croatia or Slovenia. In the 1970s a new generation rose to power whose aim was to take over the most important enterprises and aggregate them into large companies. Thus, every year four companies from Bosnia and Herzegovina (Energoinvest, Unis and Sipad from Sarajevo and RMK from Zenica) were among the ten richest businesses in the state. Their managers were also time members of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One of the consequences of industrialisation was that the agricultural sector became less economically relevant – its share in the GNP dropped from 27.2% in 1948 to 13.7% in 1983.

The 1970s were a period of relative economic success for Bosnia and Herzegovina; however, the crisis of the 1980s hit the republic hard. The real blow was the Agrokomerc affair, which revealed the illegal schemes of the politicians who fully controlled the economy.

Society and culture

The Faculty of Law of the University of Sarajevo was opened in 1946, making it the fourth university in all of Yugoslavia.

The most esteemed writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina was Meša Selimović, in particular for his novels Death and the Dervish and The Fortress. By referring to the long-past events in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history, he strove to communicate universal values. Selimović was the first author of Muslim origin whose works achieved such high artistic quality and acclaim.

The setting in the works of Ivo Andrić was the reality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the author’s most formative years were intrinsically connected with Belgrade (e.g. before the war he served as the ambassador of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to Berlin), the fascination with his homeland reverberated throughout his works published in 1945 (The Bridge on the Drina, Bosnian Story, The Woman from Sarajevo).

Cinematography occupied an important place in the culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Like the other republics, it received its own film studio (Bosnia Film) established on 1 July 1947 by the federal Cinematography Committee. As in the other republics, films were a significant propaganda tool, and the screened productions evoked the Partisan myth of the noble fight against the occupants and their collaborators. Important positions in Sarajevo were held by directors Boro Čengić (Uloga moje porodice u svijetskoj revoluciji, Mali vojnici, Slike iz zivota udarnika) and Boro Drašković (Horoskop), who gained recognition for their documentary features in the 1950s; and in the late 1960s, they became Sarajevo’s forerunners of the “new film” trend. Their pictures critically portrayed the small-town reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also dissected the ideological approach to the so-called strike workers, devoid of respect for individuals.

The most important director connected with Sarajevo is Emil Kusturica who dissociated himself from his Muslim roots following the outbreak of the civil war in the 1990s. One of the rumours about his ancestors was that they converted to Islam despite knowing about their own Serbian origin. Some of the films he produced in Sarajevo, such as the Palme d’Or winner When Father Was Away on Business and Do You Remember Dolly Bell?, brought him immense popularity. The director showed the clash of Western culture with the traditional Muslim culture of Sarajevo, as well as the social effects of the events that took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Yugoslavia.

 

 

 

 

 

Militarism

The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) had 800,000 soldiers at the end of World War II. Its Commander-in-Chief was Josip Broz Tito. Between 1941 and 1945, the structure of the army consisted of two commanding officers on every level: the political commissar and the military commissar. The army was restructured in 1945 when the number of soldiers was reduced by half and the army changed its name to the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). It was one of the main factors guaranteeing legitimacy to the Yugoslav regime.

Josip Broz Tito acted as the army’s Commander-In-Chief between 1941 and 1980. Between 1941-1945, he was the head of the General Staff of the Partisan Detachments for National Liberation, which was later renamed the Supreme Staff of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. At the second AVNOJ proceedings in 1943, he was elected president of the provisional executive authority called the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which secured him the position of NOVJ Commander-in-Chief.

The constitution of 1946 gave the parliament the authority and power to elect the Commander-in-Chief, but given the Politbureau’s omnipotence under the aegis of Tito, the choice was obvious. Constitutional laws in 1953 ensured that the President of the Republic would also automatically be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Similar provisions were included in the subsequent Yugoslav constitutions with the only difference being that new constitutions from the 1970s granted authority to the Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was also led by Tito.

After 1953, the Presidium received help from federal Secretaries of Defence (since 1971 federal Secretaries of Defence were equivalent to the Ministry of Defence): Ivan Gošnjak (1953-1967), Nikola Ljubičić (1967-1982), Branko Mamula (1982-1988) and Veljko Kadijević (1988-1992). They answered to Parliament, to federal authorities (federal SIV) and to the Commander-in-Chief. Conflict with the Eastern Bloc in the late 1940s and early 1950s generated the highest spending on armed forces for the federal budget - in 1952, the country spent 22-24% of its national budget on defence – these numbers fell again shortly after, going down to 10.8% in 1956.

In the mid-1950s, after the situation between Belgrade and Moscow was settled, the country’s military doctrine changed and was refocused on defending the country from NATO. The approach changed yet again after the attack on Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. This military incursion into Czechoslovakia inspired the initiative for a territorial defence system organised by the republics themselves, should there be an invasion by external aggressors.

According to tactics planned by General Gošnjak, the aim of territorial defence was to form partisan units. The formation of the People’s Defence forces of the republics began at the end of 1968 and the Law on All People’s Defence that was adopted by the federal parliament on 11 February 1969 started this particular form of militarisation of the country. The Army was restructured in such a way that the capital of each republic was supposed to take responsibility for establishing its Army’s leadership, as it was the republican authorities who oversaw territorial defence.

Serbian and Montenegrin dominance in the YPA’s ranks was manifest. In 1953, Serbians constituted 53% of the Army’s high-ranking officers (but 41.7% of the whole Yugoslav population), whereas Montenegrins made up 10.8% of the Army’s elders (compared to 2.8% of the population) and 20.3% of the higher cadre were from Croatia (with 23.5% of the population).

There was also a big disproportion in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serbs overwhelmingly dominated the party, military and security service structures; this was one of the many remnants of domestic disputes during World War II. This disproportion was at its most visible in the 1980s when Serbs and Montenegrins made up almost 70% of all high-ranking military officials.

The constitution of 1974 emphasised the crucial role of the YPA as the protector of the country’s unity. These changes, which led to an increased level of autonomy for the Territorial Defence forces and the fragmentation of the country, were not enthusiastically welcomed by top-ranking military officers.

Branko Mamula, a Serb from Croatia, became the Minister of Defence in the 1980s and later sought to subordinate territorial defence to the YPA in his quest to centralise the armed forces, and to invest further in armaments. He managed to achieve his goal when a law in 1987 transferred the control over territorial defence from the republics to the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces.

By virtue of constitutional amendments adopted in Croatia and Slovenia in 1990, control over territorial defence was returned to republican authorities, which resulted in conflict with the YPA. In Slovenia, this did not raise any problems due to the homogenous nature of the country, whereas in Croatia, the territorial defence involved different nationalities - the Serbs and the Croatians - serving side by side.

As the consequent republics declared independence, from October 1991 the YPA answered to the Serbian authorities. Serbia along with its autonomous provinces (despite abolishing autonomies in 1989) and Montenegro still had their representatives in the Presidium. In April 1992, the YPA officially became the Yugoslav Army consisting only of Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers.

Noticing tendencies moving towards the dissolution of the country, JNA Generals, Veljko Kadijević and Branko Mamula, spoke strongly in favour of keeping Yugoslavia a single entity.

As soon as the reserve of the Macedonian Army reported its first casualties in the war against Croatia in the spring and summer of 1991, Macedonians demanded the right to only serve in their own republic. Their request was denied by the federal ministry to little effect; Macedonia broke all ties with the Yugoslav army when the country declared its independence in September 1991 and adopted its first constitution in November 1991. In February 1992, laws were passed in Skopje regarding military service and an agreement was signed that very same month announcing the JNA’s withdrawal from the republic.

With the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, Alija Izetbegović, the president of the Presidium of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided in September 1991 to stop drafting new recruits into the YPA.  In November 1991, Izetbegović still claimed that the ongoing war in Croatia in 1991 did not concern Bosnia. However, there were units based in Bosnia which were carrying out military operations in Croatia.

In December 1991, Slobodan Milošević demanded that YPA units be transferred to Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led to a gradual concentration of troops in Serbian strongholds. In June 1992, Izetbegović demanded the YPA’s withdrawal from Bosnia. Talks concerning the YPA’s status in Bosnia and Hercegovina were held in Skopje between Branko Kostić, a member of the federal Presidium, Izetbegović, a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidium and Blagoje Adzić, the acting Minister of National Defence. Initially, the talks were postponed, but later the YPA joined them taking the Serbs’ side.

 

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Interviews:

Danijel Ivin- historian, former dissident

Petar Janjatović- journalist, musician critique

Gordan Jovanović- social activist, former dissident

Dagomir Olujić-journalist, former dissident

Predrag Ristić- architect, former dissident