Oppositions between Bosnia’s three major ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – were behind the civil war of 1992-95 and still threaten to tear apart the country. Data on the size of the population were uncertain for a long time after the war, but a census in 2013 showed that the population amounted to 3.5 million residents – almost a fifth less than at the outbreak of the war two decades earlier.
Before the war, the people lived side by side and many families were mixed, although there were regions where one of the three groups dominated. A significant proportion of people preferred to identify themselves as Yugoslavs. Many people were forced to choose sides during the war. The war led to large population movements, including through “ethnic cleansing”.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
The three large groups are now defined as “constituent people groups” and form a central part of the country’s state of affairs (see Political system). There are also 17 recognized national minorities, among them the Roma.
Before the war, “Muslims” was the official and rather uncontested term for residents whose ancestors were converted to Islam during the Ottoman Empire (see Older History). In order not to confuse ethnicity with religion, Bosniaks have gradually become the accepted term. Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats are sometimes used about the other two groups, to distinguish them from residents of Serbia and Croatia. Bosnian is the term for all citizens of the country.
The 2013 census had a political dimension because changes compared to the previous census – made in 1991 in what was then Yugoslavia – could lead to demands for changes in the representation of the ethnic groups. When the result was presented, it was also rejected by the Bosniense Serbs, due to disagreement over the method used to collect data. The disagreement caused the official figures to be published only at the end of 2016.
The census showed that the Bosnians made up 50 percent of the population, while just under 31 percent were Serbs and just over 15 percent Croats. The remaining just under 4 percent identified themselves in the census as “other” or did not respond.
The Federation had just over 2.2 million residents, of which 70 percent were Bosnians, 22 percent were Croatians and 2.5 percent were Serbs. In Republika Srpska, there were just over 1.2 million residents, of which 82 percent were Serbs, 14 percent were Bosnians and 2.4 percent were Croatians.
Today, Bosnia is in practice an ethnically segregated country. Most Serbs live in Republika Srpska, while Croats and Bosnians each dominate their part of the Federation. The Croats generally live in the southern and western parts, while the Bosnians make up the majority in the central areas.
Because of the war, life expectancy dropped to below 70 years. It has since risen again.
During the war, half of the residents – over 2 million people – fled to other countries or within Bosnia. Estimates of the number of people killed are uncertain but usually end up at just over 100,000. A majority of them were Bosnians, and around half civilians.
According to the peace agreement, free movement should prevail throughout the country and refugees should be able to return to their old homes. The relocation was slow at first, but after a decade, 1 million refugees had returned to their home areas, almost half of them from abroad. Yet in 2016, there were still around 100,000 internally displaced people in the country. Although a majority of those displaced from their homes during the war have regained their right to their homes and other property, the tense situation between the ethnic groups has resulted in many families still unable to return.
Up to 1.5 million Bosnians also live abroad, many of them without plans to return. And the relocation continues. In 2016 alone, the government estimated that 80,000 Bosnians had obtained work permits in EU countries.
The official language of Yugoslavia was, from 1954, Serbo-Croatian. Croats and Muslims used the Latin alphabet while the Serbs usually wrote in Cyrillic letters, but they were considered to speak dialects of the same language. Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian (as well as Montenegrin) are considered separate languages, although people can communicate across language boundaries without any major problems. The division is mainly political, but has major repercussions in, for example, school issues. All are South Slavic languages which constitute a subgroup of the Indo-European language tree.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
Bosniaks 50%, Serbs 31%, Croats 15%, others (including Roma, Albanians, Turks) 4% (census 2013)
Number of residents
3 507 017 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
47.9 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
9.2 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
11.0 per 1000 residents (2016)
-0.3 percent (2017)
1.4 number of children born per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.9 percent (2017)
77 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
79 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
74 years (2016)
Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian