Where am I?
At the Crossroads of Cultures
In the late 1400s, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had existed for two centuries as an independent state, fell under the control of the Ottotman Turks, became part of the Ottoman Empire, which brought Islam to Europe. To the north lay the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, later called Austria-Hungary. To the east lay Orthodox Serbia, which for centuries sought its independence from the Ottomans. History had placed Bosnia-Herzegovina at the crossroads of Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox cultures.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Bosnia-Herzegovina was religiously and culturally diverse; Orthodox Serbs lived side by side with Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats. In addition, Bosnia had important Jewish, Slovene, and Roma populations. For most people most of the time, this multiethnic existence was peaceful, marked by friendship and occasionally intermarriage.
In 1878, the Ottomans ceded Bosnia to Austro-Hungarian control. Many Serbians, however, wanted to make Bosnia a part of a greater Serbia, a sentiment that helped to precipitate World War I.
In 1918, as part of the settlement of World War I, Bosnia-Herzegovina became part of the Kingdom of the Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs—a new, independent nation-state that in 1929 changed its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1945, after a four-year occupation by the Nazis, Yugoslavia became independent again, this time under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito.
Tito organized a new socialist state known as the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia; the six constituent republics of the federation included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Tito sought to suppress ethnic rivalries and unite Yugoslavia’s diverse population in a socialist federation. He also sought to keep Yugoslavia neutral, aligned neither with the Soviet Union nor the United States. By the 1970s, Yugoslavia was the most prosperous of any communist country.
Following Tito’s death in 1980, a rising nationalist sentiment threatened the unity of Yugoslavia. By 1991, multiethnic Bosnia found itself caught between newly independent Serbia and Croatia, both of which sought political control over parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
When Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence in 1992, local Serb leaders responded by forming a second secessionist state within Bosnia-Herzegovina known as Republika Srpska. Within its boundaries, they sought to secure complete Serb domination by killing, expelling, or otherwise terrorizing the Muslim and Catholic minorities.
D.M. tells of her childhood in Prijedor before the war began. Length: 3:19
Nowhere was this genocide more brutal than in Prijedor, a city in the northwest of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Prior to 1992, Prijedor’s population was about 112,000, with 47,745 Orthodox, 49,454 Muslims, and 6,300 Catholics. By 1993, 87% of the Muslim population had been killed or expelled; the Catholic population had been reduced by half. Many of the dead met their end in nearby concentration camps Omarska and Keraterm, site of some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. Many of the living eventually made their way to St. Louis, where they are neighbors, citizens, and witnesses to the crime of genocide.
|A.O. describes Prijedor before the war and how residents saw each other as "the same," regardless of differing religious affiliations. Length: 5:44|