The Bosnian Project

TransConflict is pleased to present ‘The Bosnian Project, which explores the question of  identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina – particularly whether or not there is a shared, Bosnian identity? 

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


By Roberto Tenace


After a long period of research and several trips to the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, we (my colleague photographer Matteo Di Giovanni and myself) felt the need to start a project about the composite nature of this country and its people. To us, it was important to explore the many characters of a country that underwent major changes. Furthermore, it was especially important to grasp the nature of these changes that continue across Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We asked ourselves what does being Bosnian mean? Is there a shared identity; a Bosnian identity? So we travelled across the country in search of particular stories that – in our view – tell something meaningful about the historical, religious and social paths Bosnian people are presently following. The images focus both on the people and their respective contexts. Through personal stories and ‘solid’ landscapes, the frames recount different facets of today’s Bosnia.

The documentary explores the current linguistic situation in Bosnia, where words have become borders, while short video landscapes allow a viewer enter the mood of the country, the same mood we experienced. Our collaborative work converged in a cross-media project, since we thought it to be the best way to tell such a complex story.

Next steps

The Bosnian Project will now start travelling. An exhibition consisting of photographs, documentary and video landscapes will first be organised in Pescara, Italy in the forthcoming period. For three weeks, visitors will be able to explore and broaden their understanding through a series of events accompanying the exhibition. Public talks, screenings and live performances will help the audience to understand how close to us – as both Italians and Europeans – Bosnia really is, and how similarities with the Bosnian context can be found all across Europe.  That is actually the main point – with Croatia joining the EU in July and Serbia making gradual progress towards membership, Bosnia and Herzegovina will find itself on the border, and it will have to either look across or past it.

After Pescara, the exhibition will continue through other Italian cities – Bari and Rome, to mention only a few – waiting to eventually cross the Adriatic sea.

To learn more about the Bosnian Project, please click here!

The Bosnian Project is published as part of TransConflict’s TransCulture initiative, further information about which is available by clicking here! 



20 Responses

  1. Marina Antić

    Within the first 10 minutes there’s been at least a dozen mistakes in translation and/or terminology. BosniaN and BosniaK are two different concepts, the first pre-Dayton, multi-national, the second post-Dayton, mono-national (or what used to be called Muslim by nationality).
    Secondly, common identity is not JUST a prospect or future possibility. It is, despite all the virulent denials from the three mono-national power elites, a PRESENT reality. In fact, the passion and virulence of the denials bears witness to just how common that reality is (the Lady doth protest too much methinks!).
    Eliding the difference between Bosnian and Bosniak tends to line up well with the mono-national ideology because Serb and Croat power elites do, in fact, agree that these two things are the same because they like to deny the existence of any common identity, just like the Bosniak power elites welcome the equation of the two concepts because they also like to deny the existence of any common identity AND this elision gives them a perfect baseline for their own mononational constructions of Bosnian identity. In other words, the nationalists’ worst enemy is not another nationalist, but the one who denies the simplicity of such identifications.
    But, back to the question of what is BosniaN: I suggest you look at Paul Gilroy’s concept of conviviality and how it applies in this case. What Gilroy suggests is that we start from the real, actual, existing common life events and build the analysis from the ground up. What your project does is what so many of Western projects do: start from the claims of the national power elites and then go looking for proof it is or ain’t so. If you really want to discover what is Bosnian, look at the problem from the bottom up – you will find many instances of conviviality in BiH that could illuminate your project.
    Having tried to get funding for such a project in the past, I must warn you – the Western sources of funding for such projects are practically non-existent because it isn’t very practical to fund a project that would deny the basic premise of Western engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the idea that we are really always already just specks of red, blue, and green on a map. (On how inappropriate that map from the beginning of your piece is, check out Stef Jansen’s “National Numbers in Context: Maps and Stats in Representations of the Post-Yugoslav Wars” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. 12, 45 – 68.)

  2. MGS

    The identity of Bosnia is complex and starts with religion. and is tied to religion wrapped in religion. If you’d like to explore the history of Bosnia it is there you need to start. I would suggest that you begin with the Bogomils ( God’s loved ). It’s what’s ultimately led to the mess that is the patchwork of relgious communities of what was Jugoslavia.

  3. Nedad Memić

    Being a linguist, it’s often very hard to comment on works or papers dealing with linguistics and made by non-linguists. I will just try to point out a few things I found worth commenting in this video. First, the message of this piece is more or less clear: language in the Balkans – and especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina – serves as an important instrument of national homogenization. This homogenization is based on a traditionalistic view that every nation is supposed to have their own language (although this premise doesn’t work with the most European nations, let alone with numerous African, American and other nations). The linguistic schools in all Balkan states are usually traditionalistic and have served to national(istic) elites over the past 20 years.

    My major objection to this movie: It’s certainly a mistake to promote the opinion that the present linguistic situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is something that appeared only 20 years ago and prior to that everything had been fine. The concept of the Serbo-Croat language was be as much a political project as Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian are now. We shouldn’t forget that the Croatian linguists opposed to the official communist Serbo-Croat language politics already in in the early 1970s and re-introduced the name Croatian in Croatia (from the 1970s up to 1991 the language in Croatia was then called “Croatian or Serbian”). The language usage in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Communism time was also burdened with political issues – there is a widespread opinion (especially among Croats and partly Bosniaks) that the language in BH was under a strong influence of Belgrade and that especially Croats couldn’t use Croatian language and that the language specifics used by Bosniaks such as orientalisms (Turkish, Persian, Arabic loanwords) and a more common usage of the phonem “h” as in “lahko, mehko, promaha etc.” were downgraded as dialectal.

    The other aspect which I certainly find wrong is presenting Bosnian as a “new language” which is now “introducing Muslim and Oriental lexicon”. Traditionally, the term Bosnian was a common name of the language used in Bosnia-Herzegovina until the 2nd half of the 19th century: e.g. by Franciscans, Muslim poets, writers etc. Later on, the Austro-Hungarian politics tried to promote it (unsuccessfully) as a part of their political program. Eventually, the name was abolished in 1907 and basically didn’t have a chance for a true national and political emancipation in the 20th century unlike Serbian and Croatian. The usage of Oriental words has always been a characteristics of all Bosnian dialects – regardless of the nationality and religion of their speakers. However, those specific Bosnian orientalisms became now more popular in a colloqial speech of Bosniaks because their connotation is now seen much more positively as in time of Communism when they were either mainly used by elderly Muslims or in an informal speech. But in general, the usage of orientalisms has been decreasing in the last century and a half and this is an on-going trend.
    On the other hand, there is still a dispute among Bosnia-Herzegovinian linguists how to understand Bosnian: as a national language of Bosniaks (which is getting predominant) or as the mother language of all those Bosnians and Herzegovinians who accept Bosnian as the name of their mother tongue? A huge blow for the latter option is that all standardization works for Bosnian (dictionary, spelling rules etc.) have been written solely by Bosniaks. On the other hand, a certain amount of people (regardless of their ethnic background) who consider themselves Bosnians (mostly from interethnic marriages) refer to their language as Bosnian and haven’t changed their language behavior.
    Finally, the aspect of the language usage: it is still very hard to differentiate a Bosnian Serb form Bosniak or Bosnian Croat if they speak in their local idioms. The differencies appear when using the standard language (which is usually a political construction). But even in those cases thse differencies remain minor. The majority of pluricentric languages in the world show more substantial differencies than BCS – for instance BrE and AmE, European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese etc.
    Yet, every language community has the right to name and standardize the idiom they want to speak. In those terms, the language situation in BH won’t result in any joint language with a single standardization soon – what should be worked on are some guidelines of a common language policy which will regulate the language usage in the everyday life and administration in a more efficient way.

  4. There is no such entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina called “Srpska”, its legal name is “Bosnian Serb Republic” or in Bosnian “Bosanska Srpska Republika” (U.S. Dept of State, Britannica Encyclopedia…) odd mistake coming from an linguistic documentary.

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