Sociolinguistic Policies and their Contestation in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Number 61

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Language is a highly significant marker of individual and collective identities. It often provides an impulse for national or community affirmation and claims to self-government. Provisions to recognize and accommodate linguistic differences can be particularly salient in federations, many of which have highly diverse populations. Indeed, in quite a few cases linguistic diversity was one of the key reasons why federalism was central to a country’s founding framework or the result of its constitutional evolution.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was considered to be the most ethnically diverse republic within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia until the federation began its disintegration in 1991. Soon after, following the examples of Slovenia and Croatia, BiH authorities proclaimed country’s independence. The country gained instant international recognition and simultaneously ended up in a violent international violent conflict, which lasted until mid-December of 1995.

The current constitutional system of BiH, established as an annex to the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), is predominantly based on the principle of representational parity of the three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – along with the « others » and citizens of BiH. BiH consists of two largely self-governing administrative units called “Entities”: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS). A third administrative unit of local self-governance, called Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina, exists under the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The FBiH Entity is divided into 10 administrative units called cantons: five cantons have a Bosniak majority, three have a Croat majority, and two have mixed populations. The RS Entity, a more centralized administrative unit within BiH, is populated predominantly by ethnic Serbs.