Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Srbi u Bosni i Hercegovini
Срби у Босни и Херцеговини
Total population
1,086,733 (2013)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Republika Srpska 1,001,299 (81.5%)
Federation of B&H 56,550 (2.4%)
Brčko District 28,884 (34.6%)
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 the political-territorial entity of Republika Srpska. In the other entity Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Serbs form the majority in Drvar, Glamoč, Bosansko Grahovo and Bosanski Petrovac. They are frequently referred to as Bosnian Serbs (Serbian: Босански Срби / Bosanski Srbi) in English, regardless of whether they are from Bosnia or Herzegovina. They are also known by regional names such as Krajišnici ("frontiersmen" of Bosanska Krajina), Semberci (Semberians), Bosanci (Bosnians), Hercegovci (Herzegovinians).


Middle Ages

Slavs (Sclaveni) settled the Balkans in the 6th and 7th centuries. According to De Administrando Imperio (ca. 960), the Serbs had settled what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. They inhabited and ruled "Serbia", which included "Bosnia" (with two inhabited cities; Kotor and Desnik), and the maritime principalities of Travunija, Zahumlje and Paganija, the first two having been divided roughly at the Neretva river (including what is today Herzegovina). Serbia was at the time ruled by the Vlastimirović dynasty. During the rule of Mutimir (r. 851-891), the Serbs were Christianized.

The Serbs were important Byzantine allies; 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 Ragusans for help.[2]

Prince Petar (r. 892-917), defeated Tišemir in Bosnia, annexing the valley of Bosna.[3] Petar took over the Neretva, after which he seems to have come into conflict with Michael, a Bulgarian vassal ruling Zahumlje (with Travunia and Duklja).[4] Prince Časlav Klonimirović (r. 927-960) managed to unite all mentioned Serb territories and 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 on the Drina river banks when protecting Bosnia, however, he was later captured and drowned in the Sava. After his death, Duklja emerged as the most powerful Serb polity, ruled by the Vojislavljević dynasty. Constantine Bodin (r. 1081–1101) installed his relative Stefan as Ban of Bosnia. Next, the Nemanjić dynasty acquired the rule of the Serbian lands. With the establishment of the autocephalous Serbian Church, Archbishop Sava founded the Metropolitanate of Zahumlje (1217–19).

Ottoman rule

Refugees from Herzegovina, painting by Uroš Predić

With the Ottoman conquest of medieval Serbia, there were large migrations towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Serb Uprising of 1596–97 was suppressed at Gacko.

In 1809, Jančić's Revolt broke out in Gradiška. In 1834, Priest Jovica's Revolt broke out in Gradiška. In 1858, Pecija's First Revolt broke out in Knešpolje. In 1875, the Herzegovina Uprising broke out in the Bosnia Vilayet. On July 2, 1876, Golub Babić and his 71 commanders signed the "Proclamation of the Unification of Bosnia with Serbia".

Austro-Hungarian rule

In 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a protectorate of Austria-Hungary, which the Serbs strongly opposed. The first parliamentary elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were held in 1910, the winner was Serbian National Organization. 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

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 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.[5] 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"[6] during WWII in the Independent State of Croatia (modern-day Croatia and Bosnia).

The May 1941 Sanski Most revolt against the Ustaša was suppressed in two days, and the June 1941 uprising in eastern Herzegovina was suppressed after two weeks.

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.

Bosnian War

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.

Territories which were controlled by Army of Republika Srpska during the war compared with current borders

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. 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.

Left: A Serb woman mourns at a grave at the Lion's cemetery in Sarajevo, 1992
Right: Čelebići prison camp, it was used to detain Bosnian Serb prisoners of war

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 Bosnian government forces 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 22,779 victims - 15,298 military personnel and 7,480 civilians, according to the Demographic Unit at the ICTY.[7] 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

In 1996 there were some 435,346 ethnic Serb refugees from Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Republika Srpska, while another 197,925 had gone to Serbia.[8] According to the data of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees, up to 1995 Serbia 266,000 refugees from Bosnia Herzegovina and a total of 70,000 refugees returned to the country of their origin.[9][10] After Bosnian and other Yugoslav Wars, Serbia became home to highest number of refugees (including Bosnian Serbs) and IDPs in Europe.[11][12][13]


The 2013 population census registered 1,086,733 Serbs or 30.8% of the total population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Serbs are the most territorially widespread nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vast majority i.e. 1,001,299 live on the territory of the Republika Srpska, where they constitute 81.5% of population. The majority of Bosnian Serbs are adherents of the Serbian Orthodox Church, while some are atheists.

Demographic history

Ethnic totals and percentages
Year/Population Serbs  % Total BiH Population
1879 496,485 42.88% 1,158,440
1885 571,250 42.76% 1,336,091
1895 673,246 42.94% 1,568,092
1910 825,418 43.49% 1,898,044
1921 829,290 43.87% 1,890,440
1931 1,028,139 44.25% 2,323,555
1948 1,136,116 44.29% 2,565,277
1953 1,264,372 44.40% 2,847,459
1961 1,406,053 42.89% 3,277,935
1971 1,393,148 37.19% 3,746,111
1981 1.320.738 32,02 % 4,124.008
1991 1,366,104 31.21% 4.364.649
2013 1.086.733 30.78% 3,531,159
Official Population Census Results - note: some Serbs declared themselves as Yugoslavs in some censuses


Architecture and art

Work of Jovan Bijelić on Yugoslav stamp

Bosnia and Herzegovina is rich in Serbian architecture, especially when it comes to numerous Serbian churches and monasteries. Modern Serbo-Byzantine architectural style which started in the second half of the 19th century is not only present in the sacral but also in civil architecture. Churches and monasteries are decorated with frescoes and iconostasis. Museum of Old Orthodox Church in Sarajevo is among the five in the world by its rich treasury of icons and other objects dating from different centuries.[14]

Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina have made a significant contribution to modern Serbian painting. Notable painters include Miloš Bajić, Jovan Bijelić, Špiro Bocarić, Vera Božičković Popović, Stojan Ćelić, Vojo Dimitrijević, Lazar Drljača, Oste Erceg, Nedeljko Gvozdenović, Kosta Hakman, Momo Kapor, Ratko Lalić, Đoko Mazalić, Svetislav Mandić, Radenko Mišević, Roman Petrović, Ljubomir Popović, Pero Popović, Branko Radulović, Svetozar Samurović, Branko Šotra, Todor Švrakić, Mica Todorović, Milovan Vidak, Rista Vukanović. In 1907 P. Popović, Radulović and Švrakić exhibited in one of the two exhibitions that year that marked the beginnings of the modern painting tradition in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among the sculptors prominent is Sreten Stojanović.

Language and literature

The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina speak the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect of Serbian language for which is characteristic ijekavian pronunciation.

Traces of Serbian language on this teritory are very old which prove old inscriptions such as Grdeša's tombstone, the oldest known stećak. One of the most important Serbian manuscripts Miroslav Gospel, was written for the Serbian Grand Prince Miroslav of Hum. Serbian language is rich with several medieval gospels written in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are decorated with miniatures.

Bosanska vila, literary magazine

In the early 16th century Božidar Goraždanin founded Goražde printing house. It was one of the earliest printing houses among the Serbs, and the first in the territory of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Goražde Psalter printed there is counted among the better accomplishments of early Serb printers.

Bosnian Serbs gave significant contribution to the Serbian epic poetry. Famous singers of the epic poetry are Filip Višnjić and Tešan Podrugović.

The works of Serbian writers from Bosnia and Herzegovina are of great importance to the entire Serbian literature. Notable authors include Ivo Andrić, Branko Ćopić, Meša Selimović, Svetozar Ćorović, Petar Kočić, Sima Milutinović Sarajlija, Aleksa Šantić, Jovan Dučić, Osman Đikić, Jovan Sundečić, Skender Kulenović, Duško Trifunović...

Bosanska vila from Sarajevo and Zora from Mostar founded in 19th century are important literary magazines.


Filip Višnjić singing to gusle

Music of Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina include traditional instruments such as gusle, frula, gajde, tamburica, etc.

First Serbian singing societies in Bosnia and Herzegovina were set up in Foča (1885), Tuzla (1886), Prijedor (1887), Mostar and Sarajevo (1888) and other cities across the country.[15] First concert in Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in Banja Luka in 1881.[16]

Serbian music is rich in folk songs of Serbian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many songs are performed in traditional way of singing called ojkanje. Serbian singers and composers such as Rade Jovanović, Jovica Petković, Dragiša Nedović and others gave significant contribution to special type of songs called sevdalinka. Aleksa Šantić's poem Emina became one of the most known sevdalinkas. Notable performers of folk music include Vuka Šeherović, Nada Mamula, Nedeljko Bilkić, Nada Obrić, Marinko Rokvić, etc.

Bosnian and Heregovians Serbs largely participated in Yugoslav pop-rock scene that was active since the end of the Wrold War II until the break up of the country. Serbian musicians are members, and often leaders of popular bands such as Ambasadori, Bijelo Dugme, Bombaj Štampa, Indexi, Plavi orkestar, ProArte, Regina, Vatreni Poljubac, Zabranjeno pušenje. Zdravko Čolić is one of the biggest Yugoslav and Serbian music stars. Among singer-songwriters significant career made Jadranka Stojaković, Srđan Marjanović.

Post Yugoslav popular music singers include Željko Samardžić, Romana, Nedeljko Bajić Baja, Indira Radić, Seka Aleksić, Saša and Dejan Matić...

Dušan Šestić composed national anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Theatre and cinema

Republika Srpska National Theatre

The first theatre show in Bosnia and Herzegovina was organized by Serb Stevo Petranović in Tešanj in 1865 while the first shows in Sarajevo were organized in the house of Serb Despić family.[17] The first feature film in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Major Bauk was directed by Nikola Popović by the script of Branko Ćopić. Significant directors include Emir Kusturica, double winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Zdravko Šotra, Nebojša Komadina, Predrag Golubović, Boro Drašković, Gorčin Stojanović, Radivoje Andrić, Ognjenka Milićević, Dejan Mijač, Egon Savin... Among the sreenwriters prominent are Gordan Mihić, Ranko Božić, Srđan Koljević... Actors that achieved success in Yugoslav and Serbian citematography include Predrag Tasovac, Branko Pleša, Marko Todorović, Tomo Kuruzović, Tamara Miletić, Slobodan Đurić, Slobodan Ćustić, Tihomir Stanić, Nikola Pejaković, Nebojša Glogovac, Davor Dujmović, Nataša Ninković, Danina Jeftić, Brankica Sebastijanović...


Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina gave siginificant contribution to the folklore of Serbian people. It include folk costume, music, traditional singing and instruments, epic poetry, crafs, dances, etc. The dresses of Bosnia are divided into two groups; the Dinaric and Pannonian styles. In Eastern Herzegovina, the folk costumes are closely related to those of Old Herzegovina. Cultural and artistic societies across the country practise folklore tradition.


The Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina are predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christians, belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbian orthodox church in Bosnia and Herzegovina is organized in five subdivisions, one metropolitanate (Dabar and Bosnia), and four eparchies (Bihać and Petrovac, Banja Luka, Zvornik and Tuzla, and Zahumlje and Herzegovina). Eparchy of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, earlier The Metropolitanate of Zahumlje was founded in 1219, by Archbishop Sava, the same year the Serbian Orthodox Church acquired its autocephaly status from Constantinople. Thus, it was one of the original Serbian Orthodox bishoprics.

Bosnian Serb Makarije Sokolović was the first patriarch of the restored Serbian Patriarchate, after its lapse in 1463 that resulted from the Ottoman conquest of Serbia. He is celebrated as saint. Several Bosnian Serbs are beatified in Serbian Orthodox church of which one of the most famous is Basil of Ostrog.

The first Serbian high school opened in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Sarajevo orthodox seminary in 1882. On the grounds of this seminary was founded the Theological Faculty in Foča, as part of the University of East Sarajevo. Between 1866 and 1878 in Banja Luka worked theological school, while nowadays is active theological school in Foča.

There are many Serbian churches and monasteries across the Bosnia and Herzegovina hailing from different periods. Each subdivision has its cathedral church and bishop's palace.


Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina have contributed significantly to the Yugoslav and Serbian sport.

First Serbian Sokol societies on the present territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were founded in the late 19th century by intellectuals. Stevan Žakula, Croatian Serb, is remembered as a prominent worker in opening and maintaining sokol and gymnastic clubs. Žakula was the initiator of the establishment of Serbian gymnastics society "Obilić" in Mostar and Sports and gymnastic society "Serbian soko" in Tuzla. Sokol societies were also established in another cities across the Bosnia and Herzegovina.[18]

FK Slavija Sarajevo

Football is the most popular sport among the Bosnian Serbs. The oldest Serb dominated Club in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Slavija Istočno Sarajevo, founded in 1908, while one of the most popular is Borac Banja Luka winner of Mitropa Cup and Yugoslav Cup. Serbian clubs participate in Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina and First League of the Republika Srpska which is run by Football Association of Republika Srpska. Notable players that represented Yugoslavia and Serbia include Branko Stanković, Milan Galić, Velimir Sombolac, Dušan Bajević, Boško Antić, Ilija Pantelić, Savo Milošević, Mladen Krstajić, Neven Subotić, etc. Zvjezdan Misimović served as captain of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team from 2007 to 2012 while Ljupko Petrović led Red Star Belgrade to the Champions League trophy in 1991.

The second most popular sport among Bosnian Serbs is basketball. Aleksandar Nikolić, is often referred to as, The Father of Yugoslav Basketball. He was voted two times European Coach of the Year winning three Euroleagues and two times FIBA Intercontinental Cup. Second of four fathers of Yugoslav basketball is Borislav Stanković, former general secretatary of FIBA and IOC member. Some of the players that successfully competed at the biggest world competitions are Ratko Radovanović, Dražen Dalipagić, Zoran Savić, Predrag Danilović, Vladimir Radmanović, Jelica Komnenović, Slađana Golić, Saša Čađo, Ognjen Kuzmić... KK Igokea currently plays in regional ABA League.

Handball Club Borac

Handball club Borac Banja Luka is the most successful Serbian handball club in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It won EHF Champions League in 1976 and was runner up in 1975. Svetlana Kitić was voted the best female handball player ever by the International Handball Federation. Other accomplished players include Milorad Karalić, Nebojša Popović, Zlatan Arnautović, Radmila Drljača, Vesna Radović, Nebojša Golić, Mladen Bojinović, Danijel Šarić...

The most famous Serbian volleyball family, Grbić family, hails from Trebinje in Eastern Herzegovina. Father Miloš was the captain of the team that won first Yugoslav medal at European championship while sons Vanja and Nikola became Olympic champions with Serbian team. Other players that represented Serbia with success are Đorđe Đurić, Brankica Mihajlović, Tijana Bošković, Jelena Blagojević, Sanja and Saša Starović.

Besides team sports, Bosnian Serbs achieved success and in individual sports such as Slobodan and Tadija Kačar in boxing, Radomir Kovačević, Nemanja Majdov and Aleksandar Kukolj in judo, Milenko Zorić in canoeing, Velimir Stjepanović in swimming, Andrea Arsović in shooting, Andrea Petkovic in tennis, Draženko Mitrović in paralympic athletics, etc.

Notable people

Makarije Sokolovic2.JPG
Saint Basil of Ostrog.jpg
Sava Vladislavic Raguzinski.jpeg
Filip Višnjić Знаменити Срби XIX. века.jpg
Sima Milutinovic Sarajlija.jpg
Petar Popović Pecija.jpg
Mico Ljubibratic 1875 HumL.png
Aleksa Santic (cropped).JPG
Petar Kocic.jpg
G Princip (cropped).jpg
Vladimir Ćorović.jpg
S.Kragujevic, Branko Copic.JPG
Karl Malden - autographed.jpg
Emir Kusturica Bruxelles05.jpg
ZdravkoColic (cropped).JPG
Zoran Đinđić, Davos.jpg
Milorad Dodik mod cropped.jpg
Nataša Ninković.JPG
Vladimir Radmanovic.jpg
Neven subotich.JPG
20130330 - Racing Club de Cannes - Stella Étoile Sportive Calais - 010.jpg


  2. ^ "Vladimir Corovic: Istorija srpskog naroda". Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  3. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 148
  4. ^ The early medieval Balkans, p. 149
  5. ^ US Holocaust Museum, ushmm. "Jasenovac". US Holocaust Museum. 
  6. ^ "Independent State of Croatia" (PDF). Yad Vashem World Holocaust and Research Documentation Center. 
  7. ^ Zwierzchowski, Jan & Tabeau, Ewa (1 February 2010). "The 1992–95 War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Census-based multiple system estimation of casualties undercount" (PDF). Households in Conflict Network and the German Institute for Economic Research. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  8. ^ UNESCO (1998). "Review of the education system in the Republika Srpska". Retrieved 10 January 2009. 
  9. ^ B92 (2013). "Serbia has highest number of refugees in Europe". Retrieved 29 January 2017. 
  10. ^ (2016). [U Srbiji živi 9.080 izbjeglica iz BiH "U Srbiji živi 9.080 izbjeglica iz BiH"] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 29 January 2017. 
  11. ^ "Serbia home to highest number of refugees and IDPs in Europe". B92. 20 June 2010. 
  12. ^ "Serbia: Europe's largest proctracted refugee situation". OSCE. 2008. 
  13. ^ S. Cross, S. Kentera, R. Vukadinovic, R. Nation (7 May 2013). Shaping South East Europe's Security Community for the Twenty-First Century: Trust, Partnership, Integration. Springer. p. 169. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  14. ^ "". Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  15. ^ "Muzički život Srba u Bosni i Hercegovini (1881—1914)". Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "The Legacy of the Despić Family". Retrieved 9 October 2017. 
  18. ^ Savez Soko Srbije


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