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Big Ethnic Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the modern world, societies often incorporate the features of opposing ethnic groups living in it. In such societies, the sequence of events and the combination of other contributing factors, such as, for example, prejudice and discrimination, may result in severe ethnic conflicts. The source of such conflicts can be directly summed up as ethnic stratification. In this context, stratification refers to categorizing individuals with similar binding factors into one group or layer. Ethnic stratification means placing individuals of the same ethnic origin into one group and the other ethnic groups into similar groups. Members of each layer or group act together to achieve a certain goal and ensure that there are notable differences between the groups. An ethnic stratification is a social form of stratification. Social stratification is a term used to show the social organization of society. It shows how inequality is manifested by the different members of society who classify themselves in certain groups based on selectable criteria such as race, nationality, tribe, or ethnic group. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ethnic stratification has become the more common form of social stratification since the country is largely made up of individuals from different nationalities (Swee, 2015).

The three major nationalities that make up the country are the Bosnians, or Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. All three groups are identified as equals in the constitution, although most have stratified themselves into different ethnic groups. The relationship between these different nationalities has always been tense. They can be compared with three different nations, which are independent, being forced to become one nation. All of the three nations are more likely to be divided on the basis of their nationality. This is the major problem that affects Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its citizens do not identify themselves as one entity rather they group together in their individual subclasses, where they are identified based on their nationality. The current paper discusses ethnic issues focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with ethnic problems and an illustration of the negative consequences that ethnic confrontations may have. The paper also compares the data related to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the situation in the United States of America on the basis of the national contexts of ethnic struggles. Ethnic stratification differs in different nations, depending on the factors that affect the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are positioned in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. It shares a border with Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a part of Yugoslavia but it became a sovereign country in October 1991 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). Prior to this event and after it, there was a time of constant acts of violence and aggression among the main ethnic groups. The state is regarded as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina due to the fact that it represents two main groups – Bosnians and Croats. According to the official data of 1991, “population of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisted of Bosnians (43.5%), Serbs (31.2%), Croats (17.4%), Yugoslavs (5.5%) and others (2.4%)” (Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers, 2003, p. 3).

Ethnic stratification never achieves the desired balance in society. When an individual is in power in a country that has been stratified by different ethnicities, the other ethnic groups would always feel segregated (Cordell & Wolff, 2016). In the end, it only creates a country that is more divided on all fronts. This explains why there has always been fighting among the major ethnic groups in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. An attack on an individual is never perceived on an individual basis. Instead, it is linked to attacking the entire ethnic group, resulting in more conflicts among people who are supposed to be joined as a nation (Swee, 2015). Essentially, nationalism is crumbled in the countries where ethnic stratification has taken root. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnians make up a large portion of the population followed by Serbs and Croats. The other groups are considered the minority, although they are associated with certain nationalities. Ethnic stratification has been used in various countries to discriminate against other ethnic groups (Cordell & Wolff, 2016). If any ethnic group has power, they continue the same cycle of maintaining the status quo, which in this case is maintaining different stratification levels (Swee, 2015). The ethnic group in power enjoys certain benefits, while the others are treated as second-class citizens. Based on this, a variety of ethnic groups and grievances, frustrations, and conflicts induced by political instability have appeared and developed into serious international issues.

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The best illustration that would indicate ethnical stratification was the Yugoslavian war that was fought between 1992 to 1995 by the various nationalities living in one country. The bloodbath witnessed was the result of different ethnicities fighting in their individual cocoons against other parties (Cordell & Wolff, 2016). As a federal nation, Yugoslavia was made up of several nationalities, or countries. The Republic was established after the First World War and was essentially made of six different nations. The nations included Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina as well as Volvodina (Cordell & Wolff, 2016). The Bosnian war of 1981 remains one of the most important wars fought during this entire period. Bosnia and Herzegovina turned out to be the field of mass murders caused by political and ethnic factors. To some extent, the fall of the socialist order of Yugoslavia had given free discretion to the separatist and nationalist forces, while the matter of discrimination and prejudice was secondary. The internal conflict was mainly based on ethnic violence driven by “Serbian aggressiveness combined with the aspirations for independence among the other nationalities (Central Intelligence Agency, 1991, p.1).

All countries under the original banner of Yugoslavia wanted their independence and recognition as individual countries. The major problem was that most of the different nationals lived in Yugoslavia as one entity. Bosnia and Herzegovina wanted to be separated from the ethnic and political interests of other nations and received independence from Yugoslavia on March 3, 1992 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). This decision was made on a referendum that had been protested by ethnic Serbs who wanted to keep the territory for their people and clean it from other ethnicities. The war erupted even after the referendum had been carried out within the country, showing that an exit route was the best course of action. Bosnians make the majority of the population in Herzegovina, and therefore, the voting patterns may directly show the effects of ethnic stratification.

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The other ethnic groups, Croats and Serbs, wanted a different form of arrangement. The Serbian population wanted Bosnia and Herzegovina to become an indispensable part of the larger Serbia that bordered Bosnia and Herzegovina to the right (Swee, 2015). Thus, Serbs never accepted the outcome of the referendum. Therefore, it is evident how ethnic stratification leads to anarchy in different nations across the world when ethnic needs are placed above the law. The above-mentioned war was fought by different groups, all aligned to their nationalities.

When Bosnia and Herzegovina wanted independence, a war erupted among the different nationalities (Swee, 2015). The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely comprised of Bosniaks, who were more interested in the self-proclamation. Another party was led by Serbs and Croats who wanted Bosnia to join other countries, such as Croatia and Serbia, instead of remaining an independent country (Weidmann, 2011). The Yugoslavian army was largely dominated by Serbians and as a result, they attempted to force the majority of the citizens not to vote in the referendum. Their efforts failed with a resounding 99% of Bosnians voting for independence. In 1992, a war broke out between the different factions after had Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence. Some Serbian leaders promised the majority of Serbs that Bosnia would be reunited with the larger Serbia after they had refused to accept the outcome of the referendum (Weidmann, 2011). Most of the Serbian leaders and, more specifically one, Radovan Karadzic, led a group of Serbians in the ethnical cleansing of other communities (Glasius, 2014). The act resulted in a military standoff of Bosnian Serbs along with Montenegro and Serbia. The armed resistance was the response aimed at the creation of a new political unity “Greater Serbia”.

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The idea failed; however, many people had suffered during the adversarial position and targeted ethnic clearance. This ethnic conflict was fought on the territory of Yugoslavia, and the struggle led to the break-up of the country. The civil strife was partly ended in 1995 when a peace agreement was signed (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). The majority of people who fell victim to these acts were regular normal Bosniaks. Later on, in the same year, tensions between Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks rose to the elevated levels, in the process resulting in what was later termed as the Croat-Bosniak War.

Peace was brokered by the United States in 1994, although the number of causalities had reached unprecedented levels. In solving the above dispute, the United States had to merge the ethnic classes with the same interests against other ethnic groups. Thus, Croats merged with Bosniaks to overcome the military might of Serbs. Under the terms of the agreement, the three factions were to join and declare a federation that included Croats and Bosnians. Thus, the international boundaries were reestablished and given to two ethnic entities – the Bosnian Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska. Legally, ethnic Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats are considered the ‘Constituent Peoples’. Nevertheless, when rights without discrimination about these peoples were provided, local acts of aggression and violence often took place years after the agreement. To deter the aggression of those who had been frustrated by the agreement, other nations had to act and send peacekeeping forces.

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Experts have come up with different theories explaining how the existence of multi-ethnic states in one country is normally a major problem. Thus, they have monitored the situation in this multi-ethnic state. In their research Timo Kivim’ki, Marina Kramer, and Paul Pasch (2012), says the conflict is not resolved since “it appears that none of the three main ethnic groups (Bosnians, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats) accepts Bosnia and Herzegovina in the setup as it exists at the present time” (p. 12). In the above case, all three groups felt that they had a right to annex a part of their country and join it to their parent countries without any form of explanation (Cordell & Wolff, 2016). None of the different ethnic groups had engaged in the war that saw Bosnia and Herzegovina cater to the interests of its people. Some thought the nation belonged wholly to them, while others thought that the other ethnic communities had no right to have the nation (Justino, Br?ck, & Verwimp, 2013). An individual entity largely dominated parts of the different institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An example was the military and the government of the day. Thus, the military was dominated by Serbs while Bosniaks prevailed in the government.

Furthermore, the Assessment Team supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the following membership of Robert Herman, Mara Galaty, Lawrence Robertson, and Merita Maksuti shared their opinion about contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina being divided society in the framework of a territorial division. The international assistance helps to control the situation but the “inability and/or unwillingness of political and religious leaders and a large portion of the population to confront Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tumultuous recent past makes the society more susceptible to political violence” (USAID, 2004, p. IV). Most statements made in the international arena by the leaders of the different nations depicted high levels of ethnic stratification as each side claimed that they were the rightful owners of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the reason why it has taken so long to solve the issue at the international level. It took the interventions of different powers to settle the issue. The only problem is that such forms of issues are only solved by joining the different ethnic strata (Burg & Shoup, 2015). Although the above-mentioned issue was resolved, the ethnic stratification in Bosnia had never received its resolution. Thus, the conflict that was once thought to be over still exists.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina are still trapped in the issues relating to the numerous migrations of various ethnic groups, past mass killings, and ethnical cleansings as well as lost territorial boundaries with its neighbors (Swee, 2015). Such issues pose a future threat to the countries that were once a part of Yugoslavia. In other words, ethnical stratification remains a time bomb. More to say, the creation of a society that is free from ethnic stratification remains an elusive dream. It is stated that “a total of approximately 2.2 million people were displaced by the conflict” (USAID, 2005, p. 15). However, the country makes numerous strides through the integration of various ethnic groups in all the institutions of government

Another example of a society where ethnical stratification is still a major issue to date is the United States. The country is ethnically stratified into different classes. However, the stratification criteria commonly practiced in the United States trickles down to a race. The country is composed up of four major races. The white majority is perceived to have alienated all the other groups such as African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics (Beeghley, 2008). The main group that had felt the full force of ethical stratification was the African American minority. They were discriminated against in all forms of society. For instance, they were not allowed to vote and mix with the children of the white race. They were socially and economically disjointed in comparison to the major races living in the USA (Beeghley, 2008). Although racial discrimination might have reduced in the United States, it is still practiced in different institutions. Additionally, organizations that represent ethnical stratification still exist. A good example is the white supremacist movement that, although abolished constitutionally, continues to function.

Ethnic groups and societies, in which people live, tend to struggle because of their differences in mentality and purposes that cause violence to erupt. For example, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina may be compared to the ethnic conflict in the United States of America. Furthermore, various countries may have similar patterns of ethnic conflicts. The common thing is that in the United States of American and Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than two major ethnic groups are in the struggle. First, ethnic stratification existed within American society among the majority groups. In this case, the majority groups were whites and African Americans in the United States; while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority included Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks. Each level of social stratification comes with its benefits. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely dominated by one group similar to the United States, where most institutions were dominated by a single entity (Beeghley, 2008). In both cases, there was no regard for the law. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the factions never adhered to their constitutions. The same case happened to the United States, where ethnic communities were racially discriminated, although they had the same constitutional rights.

These are the main similarities. There are four main groups in America (African Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, and Latino(a) Americans) that come in the opposition to each other due to the pressure of ethnic milieu, cultural uniqueness and ethnic identity, emphasized by discrimination and prejudice (Ting-Toomey et al., 2000, p. 47). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are three groups (Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians) that stand on the offensive, partly because of the religious and political motives. Even the fact that in the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina “all … citizens have equal rights and freedoms concerning demonstration of religion and other convictions” (as cited in Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers, 2003, p. 3) does not quite explain the situation with ethnic conflicts. Nevertheless, the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina fall under alike patterns. For instance, the ethnic conflict in the United States has been resolved and it is still resolved by the internal forces without international interference. The research on Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that the country presents a “case of a liberal peace-style international intervention, aimed to ensure stability” (Bojicic-Dzelilovic, 2015, p. 1). Another important feature that distinguishes the ethnic problem in America and Bosnia and Herzegovina is the fact that the United States has remained one country, while the conflicts of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians have resulted in the breaking up of Yugoslavia even though there is no severe discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, the United States is a country where people had to fight against discrimination based on the color of skin and prejudice and to gain equal rights. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the main conflict was based on the war for independence, but the war was also fought to stop the ethnic cleansings.

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It may be concluded that ethnic stratification as a form of social stratification arises because of various reasons. In addition, ethnic societies and groups present different national contexts. It is not always ethnic discrimination that is the reason for conflicts. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where people, having equal constitutional rights, have fought for their historic territory and because of the general intolerance of peoples. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina were stratified in their ethnic groups that fought for their territorial independence. In the United States, there was a conflict aimed at gaining equal rights. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, ethnic problems were rooted in the fight for territory and independence. Experts say that the conflict in the country under discussion is not resolved, and further research is needed to analyze the current situation. Nevertheless, it is important to note that ethnical stratification is not an issue that fades away quickly. It still exists among different societies, although its levels are low. A better approach in dealing with the above-mentioned issues is by integrating the members of various ethnic groups into a larger society.

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