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St. Louis's Bosnian Community
Successively part of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Yugoslavia, Bosnia has historically been multiethnic, with ethnicity often aligning with religion. Christian Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, and Catholic Croats constituted the majority of Bosnia's population, with significant Roma and Jewish minorities. In 1992, with the break-up of Yugoslavia, Serb ultra-nationalists living in Bosnia implemented a program of "ethnic cleansing" against non-Serb Bosnians, with the aim of joining part of Bosnia to Slobodan Milosovic's Greater Serbia. In addition to fomenting the worst human rights abuses seen in Europe since World War II, this genocide displaced nearly a quarter of Bosnia's pre-war population. Today, nearly one million Bosnians live in diaspora in a variety of places around the world.
The Bosnian population in St. Louis, Missouri, numbers over 60,000, making it the largest Bosnian community outside of Bosnia. Nearly all of the members of this community came to St. Louis as a result of the war and genocide perpetrated in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. Bosnians were allowed to immigrate to the U.S. as refugees, and St. Louis became a preferred destination due to the availability of jobs and inexpensive housing. St. Louis's population has continued to grow due to secondary migration of Bosnian refugees from other parts of the U.S. Increasingly, what began as a refugee community is becoming a part of the social fabric of St. Louis, as Bosnian refugees have become citizens, and as a younger generation has increasingly self-identified as Bosnian-American.
The majority of Bosnians living in St. Louis are Muslim; however, this community's ethnic identity is remarkably complex. Some members of this community are Croat (Catholic) or Serb (Orthodox), and some Bosnian families are of mixed ethnicity. In addition, the degree of religiosity among St. Louis's Bosnians varies considerably; some Muslims, for example, are Muslim in name only, while others are observant. Local allegiances that originated in Bosnia continue to shape the Bosnian community in St. Louis, as people maintain relationships with other Bosnians who came from their own town or city. The individual and cultural memory of the war and genocide of the early 1990s, together with the changes brought about by settling in the U.S., will continue to complicate and otherwise change the identity of St. Louis' Bosnian community in the foreseeable future.