Beat Memo: Bosnia and Herzegovina
By Valentina Dzodzo Posted Oct 1 2005
The official name of the country is Bosnia and Herzegovina, though it is often over referred to as just Bosnia, the name of its northern region. Located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, it borders Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. Its declaration of sovereignty and independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1992 was followed by three years of interethnic civil conflict that ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995. Three major ethnic groups, Bosniaks (an ethnic term adopted for the Muslim part of population), Croats and Serbs, constitute the vital part of country’s 4.2-million-person population.
The official languages are Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian; the one used depends on the ethnic group. Really, all three groups use one of the Slavic languages, which used to be known as Serbo-Croatian, the language of pre-war Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy has been affected severely by war. The country is considered one of the poorest in the region. Slow economic growth, partly caused by corruption and mismanagement, leaves 25 percent of the population below the poverty line and around 44 percent unemployed. Poor support of national-level institutions has also slowed down the implementation of privatization, and international aid largely has funded post-war reconstruction. More than half of the country’s GDP comes from the service sector.
Since the Dayton Peace Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a federal democratic republic. It is comprised of two separate political and administrative entities, the Bosniak/Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb-led Republic of Srpska. Each has its own government and institutions. There is also an internationally supervised district, Brcko, with a separate administration. The country has a national government as well, but its powers are limited to foreign, diplomatic and fiscal policy.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has as a parliament, cabinet, a Constitutional and State Court and a three-person rotating presidency. One Bosniak, one Croat and one Serb are elected by popular vote for a four-year presidency. The member with the most votes becomes the chairman, and the chairmanship rotates every eight months.
RELIGION AND CULTURE
There are three primary religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forty percent of the population is Muslim (Bosniaks), 31 percent is Serbian Orthodox (Serbs) and 15 percent is Roman Catholic (Croats). Rather than having a national culture, the country is characterized by regional variations with interethnic influences.
Even after the war, ethnic and religious differences are a basis for strife. Today, these are mainly reflected in political party squabbles as society struggles to become more and more integrated and interdependent. The post-war reality of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been mostly shaped by an ongoing political struggle of nationally oriented forces on one side and internationally-led, pro-democratic forces on the other.
All children age 7 and older are required to attend primary school, which is free. Most students go on to attend vocational school, a university-preparatory high school or other schools. Because the war seriously disrupted the educational system, the country’s academic institutions have spent the past few years struggling to revive high levels of education. Four major universities provide training in fields including journalism.
One problem with the developing media of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a lack of educated journalists. Many working journalists have never received academic training in journalism. However, the first generations of college-graduate journalists have already entered the workplace, and they are expected to help shape the media.
In the postwar period, the media’s biggest challenges have been the development of an independent sector and gaining freedom from the control of political forces over their content. The development has been strongly guided by international organizations which have created most of the media policy in the country.
Since the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina has created a regulatory framework and passed legislation for media conduct. However, there has been limited success in building national media. Currently, there are around 600 public print media circulating in Bosnia and Herzegovina; their content is mainly molded around the ethnic character of their audiences. There has been a significant rise in commercial TV networks, which reach 80-90 percent of the population.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of many and different traditions, but all of the people share a somewhat laid-back attitude toward life. Coffee drinking, for example, is generally perceived as an everyday social event rather than an individual habit.
At a restaurant or bar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, people almost never ask for separate checks. Sharing a bill is more likely to happen among youth, but the most accepted way to pay is for each person to buy a round of drinks.
When invited to someone’s house for the first time or for a celebration, people usually bring a bottle of some type of alcoholic beverage or a box of candy as a symbol of gratitude toward the hosts.