Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Tradition Betrayed (B&H edition)

Year of Production
Production location
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Original Format
Book (text)
Original Language
Bosnian translation from English
History of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Research Period
from ancient times up to 1994
Sarajevo, Tuzla and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The book was translated, published and distributed free of charge as part of FAMA's 'Mobile University' initiative – a new model of education. Project was launched as a gift to citizens of Sarajevo, Tuzla and Mostar.
No. of editions
FAMA is a publisher for Bosnian edition only – as such, we are unable to display book in English language. The book was printed within the besieged Sarajevo.


Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine, Jr.
Suada Kapic
Nura Dika Kapic
Graphic Designer & Layout
Emir Kasumagic
Azra Baksic
Amra Visnjic and Medina Pasovic
Printed in
Autorska prava
© FAMA International


Because of their influence, those who watch, observe, analyse and explain meaning to the masses are considered a kind of elite; however if this elite use faulty methodology or have impure intentions, it can lead to disastrous consequences. We, the founders of FAMA, the first independent multi-media company in the former Yugoslavia, were fully aware of the sensitivity of the area in which we chose to invest. From the very beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, we knew that documentation, of all types and forms, would play a vital role in the fate of current and future generations. In keeping with our own personal principles, our methods rely on fact, oral history and recorded documentation (documented documents). It is through our unique insight and gift of foresight that we have been able to develop a step by step methodology that 'makes the obvious visible'.

Gaining insight. This involves watching events attentively with an open mind as an observer rather than a participant, in order to note significant elements of the observed phenomenon; then putting these elements together to identify early signs of any emerging dominant trends that might launch a new process of cause and effect.

Continuing research through oral history. Those who participated in an observed event talk about their own experience of it, without commenting on other participants. These elements are recorded in photo/video format.

Structuring the research. Putting first hand facts and documented documents of a particular event, period or phenomenon into a structure that transfers this knowledge in a form acceptable to an audience, devoid of any indicators that would point to a conclusion. Readers, viewers, students, researchers draw their own conclusions on the basis of the given format.

Converting the structure. This phase involves producing a format suitable for mass production (maps, albums, films, encyclopedias).

Creating a study pack. We have created an educational pack consisting of different sections that can be used for different levels of education, as our unique contribution to the interpretation of the period 1991-1999.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Tradition Betrayed
(B&H edition)

This is the first book to examine Bosnia's rich historical traditions in the light of the conflict that erupted there in 1992. The authors explain the origins of Bosnia's major ethnonational groups and in the religious conversions of the Middle Ages and under the Ottomans as a prelude to the transformation of its principal religious communities into twentieth-century nationalities. The roles of Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats in the events affecting the Yugoslav peoples in the twentieth century and then as Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s are vividly presented. Donia and Fine take issue with a widespread perception of Bosnia's history as consisting of perpetual violence and tribal hatred among the Serbs, Croats and Muslims. In contrast, they emphasise that a rich tradition of diversity, pluralism and toleration developed over many centuries and flourished until very recently. This tradition in every day life echoed in politics by coalition – building and a habit of pragmatic compromise. Bosnia-Herzegovina: A Tradition Betrayed shows how the forces of extreme nationalism caused Bosnia's multiethnic tradition to be betrayed – first in World War II and now in the current conflict.

ROBERT J. DONIA received his MA and Ph.D in Balkan history from the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright research scholar in Sarajevo in 1974-5. He is the author of Islam under the Double Eagle: The Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 1878-1914 and has taught at universities in America.

JOHN V.A. FINE, Jr., received his MA and Ph.D from Harvard University and has both studied and taught at the University of Sarajevo. He is Professor of Balkan and Byzantine History at the University of Michigan, and author of a two-volume history of the medieval Balkans and a monographic study of the Bosnian Church.


On April 6, 1992, a crowd of demonstrators estimated at over 50,000 gathered in front of the Bosnian Parliament building in Sarajevo to demonstrate for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The demonstrators were members of all three of Bosnia's largest nationalities: Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Directly across the street, from the upper floors of the ultra-modern Holiday Inn built for the 1984 Winter Olympics, heavily-armed Serbian militiamen fired randomly into the crowd, killing and wounding dozens of peace demonstrators. This cavalier killing spree quickly dispersed the crowd and marked the demise of the few remaining hopes that moderation and compromise might prevail in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Sarajevo massacre of April 6 contained many elements that would recur in the Bosnian war in subsequent weeks and months. The victims were unarmed civilians who hoped for the preservation of a multiethnic Bosnian society which had roots and traditions dating back many centuries. The perpetrators were nationalist extremists, organized and heavily armed by political and paramilitary leaders intent on destroying Bosnia's multiethnic group, in this case the Serbs. Symbolically, the Sarajevo massacre stilled the voices of peace and mutual tolerance; the shrill shouts of ethnic hatred and national divisiveness triumphed by force of arms.

The war that began in Bosnia in 1992 encompassed death, atrocities, and terror on a scale unknown in Europe since World War II. The perpetrators of the Bosnian war seemed to know no bounds in the cruelty, brutality, and havoc they wrought on their adversaries and on the innocent inhabitants of the land. Television cameras captured some of the killings and brutality, and daily newscasts revealed the awesome depravity of the conflict. Viewers around the world saw starving prisoners, victims of systematic rape, mutilated corpses, calculated destruction of homes and cultural monuments, mortally wounded victims of random shelling, and the results of ethnic cleansing. The daily images of warfare, coupled with the reality of United Nations troops in the area and the prospect of deepening involvement by NATO and the United States, were hauntingly reminiscent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Bosnia, however, is no Vietnam: it is not a far-away land about which we, collectively, know nothing. The argument for "collective ignorance," so persuasively advanced by both critics and supporters of US intervention in Vietnam, is simply not valid for the lands of the former Yugoslavia. Inspired by Cold War fervor, the US Congress appropriated many millions of dollars in the decades after World War II to fund research centers and exchange programs so that Americans could know more about the lands where Communism held sway.

Yugoslavia, with its open borders and accessibility to outsiders, became the destination of choice for hundreds of Western students and scholars who studied all aspects of Balkan history and civilization. Some of the best studies of Yugoslav and Bosnian society and history have been prepared by Western specialists and published in English. Many leading scholars and political leaders of the former Yugoslav lands have studied and taught at American universities. At the height of the Vietnam War, with 600,000 US troops engaged, the number of Southeast Asian specialists in the United States did not begin to approach the number of knowledgeable scholars in the 1990s who are familiar with the history and culture of Southeast Europe.

Despite a substantial reservoir of Western knowledge about Bosnia and Southeast Europe, public debate about policy options in the former Yugoslavia appears to us to be deeply mired in false dichotomies, flawed analogies, gross historical exaggerations, and well-worn shibboleths with little foundation in historical reality. Many of these myths are the product of nationalist propaganda spread by Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian Muslim publicists, but they have been endorsed and repeated by those who mold or influence policy. Propaganda, historical precedent, and superficial analogies have been harnessed to justify a particular policy action or inaction. To those who oppose Western intervention, the analogies advanced are Vietnam, Beirut, and Northern Ireland. Bosnia is another "Vietnam quagmire," a hopelessly insoluble problem with no conceivable positive "endgame" for the United States and the West. For others, principally those favoring a more assertive Western role, the relevant analogy is Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich having deceived himself and others into believing that appeasement would bring lasting peace.

Bosnia lends itself to few simple analogies and no easy answers. Even so, one need not despair of understanding the roots of the conflict or of evaluating prospective policy alternatives to American and European involvement in Balkan affairs. In the search of understanding the complex situation and arriving at guideposts for action, an examination of historical traditions and past behaviour provides insights into the sources of current events and illuminates potential solutions. At the very least it should help dispel falsehoods spread by propagandists and enable policy-makers to avoid foolhardy missteps.

Our intent in this volume is to explore the historical roots of Bosnian society from the arrival of Slavic tribes in the 6th and 7th centuries AD to the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia, and to identify the traditions and patterns of social and ethnic relations that have characterized Bosnian society throughout its history. We describe the major historical processes that account for the present-day ethnic composition of Bosnia: religious conversions in the medieval and early Ottoman periods; the subsequent evolution of distinct ethnoreligious communities; and the rise of political nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. We also trace the origins of the present conflict in Bosnia and describe, in overview, the course of the Bosnian war.

The history of Bosnia and its inhabitants intersects and sometimes blends with that of other South Slavs, so some of our inquiry leads us to treat Bosnia's relations with its neighbours. In the twentieth century, the development of a South Slav state - Yugoslavia - and its subsequent disintegration have profoundly influenced the lives of all inhabitants of Bosnia. Some of our account necessarily centers on Yugoslavia, for Bosnia's experience over the past seventy years is incomprehensible without an appreciation for its Yugoslav context.

As two historians who have studied the history of Bosnia, and who lived in Sarajevo at different times in the 1960s and 1970s, we have drawn upon our personal observations and experiences from that time as well as our historical research into the area. We are specialists on the medieval (John Fine) and modern (Robert Donia) periods of Bosnian history. Our account, although historical in approach and broadly chronological in organization, frequently reaches back and forth in time to draw comparisons and identify long-standing historical traditions. Chapters 1-4, dealing primarily with the medieval and Ottoman periods, were written by John Fine; chapters 5-11, treating the modern era (1875-1994), were written by Robert Donia.

This is not a conventional history. We have sought to discern patterns rather than merely describe events, to characterize developments rather than chronicle episodes, and to identify the long-term traditions that transcend a single historical era. Furthermore, while we have not set out to provide a detailed history of the war, our account is intended to shed light on the sources of the Bosnian conflict that began in early 1992. We fervently hope that the war, which continues at the time of writing (April 1994), will end in peace for Bosnians of all ethnic groups.