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The People of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethnic Groups, Religions, and Languages
Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Cyrillic alphabet, Bosniaks, Yugoslavs
Bosnia’s major ethnic groups are Muslims (in Bosnia, Muslim is an ethnic designation for Muslim Slavs), Serbs, and Croats. Since the Muslim-Croat federation formed in 1994, Bosnian Muslim leaders have insisted that their people be called "Bosniaks." A small number of Roma (Gypsies) also live in Bosnia. The primary difference among the largest ethnic groups is religious, the Serbs being traditionally Orthodox Christians and the Croats Roman Catholics. The Bosnian Muslims, descendants of Slavs who converted to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries, are generally Sunni Muslims. Bosnia also has a small number of Jews.
The people of Bosnia speak the Bosnian dialect of the Serbo-Croatian language. However, according to the Bosnian government, the country officially has three languages: Serbian, “Bosnian” (the language associated with the Muslims), and Croatian. In writing, the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet, while the Muslims and Croats use the Latin alphabet.
No single ethnic group comprises a majority of the population in Bosnia. In the 1991 census, prior to independence, Muslims represented 44 percent of the population, Serbs 31 percent, Croats 17 percent, Yugoslavs (people of mixed Muslim, Serb, and Croat ancestry) 6 percent, and others 2 percent. In 1995 the U.S. government estimated that Muslims constituted 40 percent of the population, Serbs 38 percent, and Croats 22 percent. The civil war pitted the three largest groups against one another, with Serbia and Croatia supplying arms and troops to the Bosnian Serbs and Croats, respectively. Muslim emigration and the immigration into Bosnia of approximately 200,000 Serbs who were expelled from Croatia contributed to the changed percentages. The “Yugoslav" identity claimed in 1991 was abandoned when Yugoslavia broke up.
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