Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians

Can someone tell me the difference between Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians and why they are killing each other?

You’re two decades too late for most of the killing. But they all speak a similar language (two Serbs may have a more different language than a Bosniak and Serb). Ethnically they’re similar. Most importantly, religiously they’re different. Serbs tend to be Orthodox, Croats are Catholic, Bosniaks are Muslim. But the war was hardly religious in nature, just like the Troubles in NI were largely political/historical/social. Please check Wikipedia pages on the war. When Yugoslavia split, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovian and Slovenia left, and the leftover was mostly Serbs, who wanted their own patch of land. Ethnic cleansing happened (which doesn’t imply massacres like genocide), although all groups are guilty, some more than others.

Person of that ethnic group:

Person from that country, regarless of ethnicity:

So there are Bosnian Serbs. Sometimes those may be more ambiguous, especially Croat is sometimes not used.

More crudely, think of them as tribal groups or even like urban gangs, where you belong to the group you are born into.

Do note the ethnic cleansing wasn’t a 1990s novelty - back in WW2 the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and put the Croats in charge, who seemed A-OK with building their own extermination camp as long as they got to kill Serbs on top of the Jews & Roma. Murdered quite a bit more of the former than the latter, actually.

Was in Croatia and Slovenia last year, and I can definitely assure you that they’re not killing each other at the moment .

Serbo-Croatian is generally considered to be a single language, but with different Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and (perhaps) Montenegrin standardized forms. Croatian uses the Latin alphabet, while Serbian and Bosnian use both Cyrillic and Latin. There are a variety of dialects/subdialects as well.

Years ago, humorist P.J. O’Rourke offered the best explanation of how to tell the Serbs, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims apart:

“The Serbs are the ones who never go to Orthodox services. The Croatians are the ones who never go to Mass. And the Muslims are the ones who, five times a day, DON’T face Mecca and pray.”

I’d go just a little farther than tend - in the modern period they’re pretty much examples of ethnicity by religion. The roots are more ancient than that of course ( there were Croats and Serbs before they were Christianized ), but for at least the last few centuries that has pretty much what it has amounted to. Serbs that converted to Catholicism were usually absorbed into the Croatian mainstream in a generation and vice versa for all the others. Linguistically they’re essentially the same folks, unlike say the Slovenes or Macedonians ( the latter themselves pretty indistinguishable from the Bulgarians ).

But it is correct to say those are mostly tribal ID’s, like the Protestants and Catholics in N. Ireland.

Quite right. My father’s side of the family were all Croatian Serbs - that is Serbs living in the military border regions of Croatia controlled by the Habsburgs ( one of my great-grandfathers listed his country of origin on the U.S. census as “Austria” even though he came from Croatia ).

To make things even more confusing, outside authorities like said Habsburgs were in the habit of using geographic ethnicity - so everyone from the region of Croatia was a Croat. A good deal ( though certainly not all ) of the irregular light cavalry raised from the region and referred to as “Croats” in military histories were actually Orthodox Serbs that had been settled in said border regions particularly after the late 17th century. For example during the period of French occupation of the Illyrian Provinces, Napoleon raised a number of Croatian units, one of which included a relative on my father’s maternal line whose enduring takeaway from the his times as a cavalry officer was the quality of the soup in a Parisian restaurant :D.

Ah. So you’re unabashedly descended from the utter *bastards *who made the cravat a thing. Good day, SIR.


(the word cravat is derived from the French cravate, itself a bastardized pronunciation of “Croate”. Because Croat soldiers wore neckerchiefs, a bunch were indeed hired by Nappy and brought back, and the rest is ghastly sartorial quasi-obligation.)

Alternately, you could take the explanation of the (Croatian) mom of a HS buddy of mine about Bosnians (such as her 2nd ex-husband, my friend’s father): “They are Turks who happen to speak a Slavic language.” Take it with a grain of salt, though: her first ex was a Serb, and that marriage went downhill almost immediately, probably not helped by her in-laws referring to her as “that Croatian pig.” When Rod Blagoevich won the Illinois gubernatorial race (helped by many people who normally voted Democratic, and were relieved to be able to vote for anyone who wasn’t George Ryan), her comment to Henson was “Are you happy now? Your Serb won.”

Ah, it’s never boring around here. In many ways Chicago is really a very Slavic town.

Hmm, you think maybe that’s their greatest crime - its pretty serious - true enough - but…

Croats are typically Catholic.
Serbs are typically Eastern Orthodox.
Bosnians are typically Muslim.

They got along fairly well until Milošević stirred all the shit up.

That was largely P.J. O’Rourke’s point- that outsiders tended to view the conflict in the Balkans as part of a centuries-old war based on ancient religious hatreds. In reality, the Balkans have been (at best) only tepidly religious for a long time.

Well, they did have some issues during WWII as stated above, but things had settled down and there was quite a high level of intermarriage in Yugoslavia. While the primary shit-stirrer does by most accounts seem to be Milošević, Tuđman (Croatia) was involved in a high level of nationalistic shit-stirring, too. Plenty of blame to go around. I spent several months in a divided town (Croat/Serb) in Western Slavonia (Pakrac, specifically, where the first shots of the Serb-Croat hostilities began) a bit after the war (1996), and it was just a sad, sad story all around and a completely pointless war.

Becoming less and less one language. Words that were distinctively Serbian have and are being purged from what is “now” the Croatian language as Croatian words have and are being purged from the “now” Serbian language…and under penalty of law. An ugly divorce.

I’d be curious to see a site on the legal penalties and what they apply to. I have not heard of such a thing.

I’m probably exaggerating, but I do remember reading an article (over ten years ago), that stated that schools, government, etc. were absolutely forbidden to use or teach words that were considered from the other country. Mostly Croats using Serbian words.

Gavrillo Princip was a Bosnian Serb.

Language was definitely a delicate thing when I was there. Even when talking to strangers whose ethnic identity you didn’t know, it was best to say “samo malo govorim vas jesik” (“I only speak a little of your language”) rather than name the language as Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian or even Serbo-Croatian/Croato-Serbian. And there was also a synthetic push to separate the languages even more, with the Croatians digging out historically Croatian words that had fallen out of use (or even creating new words) and using them instead of the more colloquial and modern word that Serbs also used. I don’t know how many of these changes stuck, though.

It would not surprise me if official institutions like schools and the government would be required to conform to a set of language standards. That makes sense to me. I’m just not aware of any legal penalties for using the “unapproved” words.

To expand a little, to this day, Bosnia is still fairly divided, with a Serbian division to the north and east of the country called Republika Srpska (“Serbian Republic”) and the rest, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Bosniak-Croat Federation. I don’t know how it is now, but Republika Srpska in the late 90s and early 00s was a fairly intense and insular place, and a refuge for Serbian war criminals. I haven’t followed Balkan politics in a number of years, now, so I don’t know what the climate is like down there now.

Now, before the war, things were a lot more mixed, with Sarajevo (which is in the Federation) being something like one-third Serb.