Bosnia War Report in The Context of Ethnic Conflict and Violence

In war zones, innocent children play with tanks that take lives and set fire to hearts…


In the first part of this study, besides the explanation of the Bosnian War with its historical facts, there is an article that includes its evaluation within the framework of ethnic conflict and violence literature. In addition, in the first chapter, the evaluation of the theories in the current literature was made by the author.


I adopted and used the deductive method. After briefly mentioning what comparative politics is, I examined a brief history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the war. Afterward, I mentioned the subjects and methods of comparative politics. After summarizing the literature on ethnic conflict and violence, I made an analysis of ethnic conflict and violence on my subject, the Bosnian War. I have clarified the aspects of the literature that I agree with and disagree with.

As a result, it was revealed which of the theories in the existing literature I adopted and which ones I did not. At the end of my article, I mentioned the points that I have not encountered before in the literature and the cases that I would like to add.

Keywords: Bosnian War, comparative politics, theories


Before an analysis of the Bosnian war in the context of ethnic conflict and violence and a review of comparative political issues, that is, first, a conceptual analysis of the existing literature and the nature of this field should be done. This analysis allows us to understand the subject with a holistic perspective and provides convenience to make further readings on the field. As a result of this, the readings will enable us to criticize in light of the existing literature. Apart from this, these preliminary studies and further readings-analyses will shed light on creating new pieces of literature by taking support from the existing literature.

Comparative politics asks questions and tries to find answers in areas such as democracy, democratization, regime, state, nation, political culture, modernization, economy, and democracy. Comparative politics is a dynamic and constantly up-to-date field. This dynamism in the field makes it possible for us to find an answer to new questions and problems by developing better methods on what has been written about events taking place in the world.

In addition to this, ethnic conflicts and their causes are also emphasized in this field, which examines the issues of political science mutually. In short, it should be noted that the world is a laboratory for the field of comparative politics. Population, nutritional sub-headings such as macro-micro economy, and level of development (…) are also the material of this laboratory.

In general, the subject of comparative politics is to explain the similarities and differences between countries. Those working in this field examine processes such as democratization, periodic patterns such as the bipolar world, and expected/unexpected irregularities such as migration through events.

For any issue to be fully understood, the requirement to determine its conceptual analysis and definition is generally correct. However, it is not possible to give a precise definition (“efrâdını cami ağyârını mani”) for dynamic and constantly updated events, situations, and issues. In order to be able to define comparative politics, a definition can be made based on the literature or a definition can be made by analyzing the events that contain past, present, or future predictions.

Types of studies in comparative politics include single case-country studies, two or more case-country studies, cross-regional studies, global comparisons, and thematic studies. In this report, it is possible to evaluate the report as a single-case study, since the issue of ethnic conflict and violence will be discussed in the context of the Bosnian war.

As a comparison method, the “Snapshot Approach”, which is explained with a photograph taken for a certain period, is used to compare a particular country, and the “Longitudinal Approach”, is used to compare countries with different historical processes and where processes come to the fore rather than certain periods.

Ethnic conflict and violence, which are the subject of this report, can be counted as the study-research areas of comparative politics as well as democracy, the relationship between economy and democracy, political culture, revolutions, and democratization.

As a result, there is existing and still developing literature in the field of comparative politics, which will always be up-to-date. Although there are many intellectuals, thoughts, and works written in this field, we live in a global world where each event has a worldwide impact in terms of its causes, consequences, and political, cultural, and religious effects. Therefore, it is possible to carry out studies in new different fields as well as on topics such as democracy, democratization, economy and its relationship with other fields, ethnic conflict, and revolution, which are widely discussed in such a dynamic field as comparative politics.

Bosnian War in the Historical Process

The Balkans is a geography where the communities that have existed for many years under the auspices of the Ottomans have lived with more peaceful and humanitarian feelings compared to recent periods. It is clear that a multi-ethnic and religious structure has dominated the geography from the past to the present. For this reason, the region has evolved into a region that is at the heart of conflicts, problems, wars, and genocides, especially after the emergence of currents such as nationalism that deeply affected cosmopolitan states and caused their disintegration.

Problems arose as a result of the Serbians trying to establish dominance in the region with the nationalist impulse and being a tool for pan-slavist policies. Since there were many areas and fronts in which the Ottoman Empire was busy at that time, its efforts in the Balkans did not find a response and it lost some of its lands after the Balkan wars.

After this, new kingdoms emerged in the region during the first world war. After the Second World War, states such as Italy, Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria, which tried to establish dominance in the region, carried out various occupation activities. Later, with the entry of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States into the game, Marshal Josip Broz Tito established the Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was included in the non-aligned movement (which can be defined as a third bloc outside the eastern and western blocs) during the Cold War, entered the process of disintegration in the 1990s. The Bosnian war is the outcome of a more painful period, which, like other states, entered the process of independence during these times.

If the Bosnian war is evaluated in the context of historical realities, it can be said that ethnic, religious, and sectarian distinctions are a determining parameter. It should be noted that the Serb, Croat, and Bosnian nationalities (Although they are all based on Slavic origin, there is a religious distinction and it has a different meaning in the Ottoman Millet system) and phenomena such as Islam, Christianity, and even sectarian Orthodoxy-Catholicism have adherents in the region. Therefore, it is clear that even small crises have the potential to be the spark of great massacres.

Existing Literature on Ethnic Conflict and Violence

Primordial Approach

Proponents of this “Primordial Approach” argue that the source of ethnic conflict and violence within a particular country stems from the dislike and hostility of groups within that country. The realities of these groups, which have found some historical response, such as identity differences and resentment, are the defense of this approach. Intensity and power in self-definitions experienced in society are actually the factors that fuel this.

Apart from this, they argue that antipathies, antagonism, and immutable cultural differences cause this ethnic conflict and violence. Additionally, according to this theory, it can be said that the seeds of hate arguments originating from history are re-emerging for ethnic conflict and violence. Of course, the level of feeling of ethnic and religious affiliation also increases this violence and ethnic issues.

In this chapter, it is also necessary to examine Huntington’s argument about the clash of civilizations. After the disintegration of a great power like the Soviet Union, phenomena such as war are now explained on a cultural basis rather than an ideological framework. I mean the wars between different cultures and civilizations.

There are some criticisms for each approach, and below I explain the criticisms for the Primordial approach. The first criticism here is one in terms of space. Critics point out that cultural diversity, ethnic diversity, and religious divisions exist in many parts of the world. The question they ask is “Why is there not such ethnic conflict and violence in the rest of the world, but in certain regions?” In other words, according to them, the space argument is not sufficient to explain these conflicts and ethnic problems. Because although some countries contain many ethnicities, religions, and cultures, they are not tested by ethnic violence and conflicts.

The second point of criticism is that the explanations brought by the Primordial approach are insufficient not only in terms of space but also in terms of time. This means why ethnic conflict and violence occur in a culturally diverse region in some periods but not in others. Why is there peace in one period, but there is war, violence, genocide, and massacres in the next periods?

When this theory is evaluated in the context of the Bosnian war, it can be said that it is partially correct. Because it is true that there is a conflict on the basis of such cultural and ethnic diversity in the Balkans in general and in Bosnia in particular. However, the criticisms made about this theory are just as true. Let’s take the “time” critique. Although he can explain the existence of such a cultural crisis at the time of the Bosnian War, he cannot explain a peaceful situation in the same region, in a different time period (for example, after the Balkan conquests).

Discrimination and Repression Theory

This theory assumes discrimination and oppression as the cause of ethnic violence and conflict. The fact that there is discrimination between ethnic groups and that different groups fuel conflict has been supported by the proponents of this theory. According to them, this discrimination, which has economic, cultural, and political dimensions, manifests itself in various forms in society.

If you were asked to choose a keyword for this theory, it would be “grievance”. There are also some criticisms about this theory, and these criticisms are not very different from the space and time criticism brought to the Primordial approach.

Critics who say that political and economic discrimination and other concepts like poverty, and grievance also exist in the rest of the world stated that there is a time and space problem with this theory.

Another point of criticism is the prediction of this theory that it will increase violence and conflict regarding oppression. However, some academics have a thesis that oppression will reduce violence and conflict.

It can be said that this theory partially corresponds to the historical hatred arguments of the Balkans and especially the Bosnian war. Because an event that could be seen as discrimination was in the Ottoman Empire. The allocation of larger lands to Bosnian Muslims together with the “timar system” disturbed the Serbs in the region. Such accumulative historical hate arguments have turned into bloody brutality when the time and place come.

Apart from this, the argument that the pressure factor increased violence and conflict in the region does not seem very true for Tito’s period (compared to the periods after his death).

Group Competition Theory

This theory argues that one group is in a better position economically than another group within the country and that there is competition due to this problem. For example, if a group has better opportunities for career opportunities, it creates a basis for ethnic conflicts. In short, it is argued that these rivalries between groups with limited resources may also cause violent ethnic conflict.

During the collapse of Yugoslavia, the federal states demanded independence one by one. The reason for this is the fact that the northern Yugoslav countries actually have more wealth. So they actually wanted to be independent of the southern Yugoslav countries which were pulling them back economically. Although this is the case, I don’t think there is an economic or material situation in the first place among the causes of the Bosnian War and ethnic conflict and violence in the region.

In addition, I think that the time and space problem mentioned above is also valid for Group Competition theory. Because there is no country or period without corruption, inequality of economic opportunity, and inequality in economic and material terms.

Theory Derived from International Relations / War Theory

Scholars working on this theory try to explain ethnic conflict and violence using the international relations method. One of the international relations theories, the realist theory can be given as an example. Just as there are conflicts between states and there is anarchy, such an environment of conflict can also occur within the country. In this theory, a security dilemma arises when the state disappears, the regime loses its functionality, and state institutions are not functional.

Theorists state that a group (I mean ethnic, religious groups) in the country does not feel safe and takes various precautions. I think this theory can be explained directly by the Bosnian War and the collapse of Yugoslavia. Because Serbian ethnic groups (e.g., Chetniks) tended to take up arms and violence on the grounds that they did not feel safe.

I think that the theory derived from international relations is the most explanatory theory in explaining ethnic conflict and violence (in particular, the Bosnian War, which is the subject of my study). As I mentioned before, every theory has its right and wrong sides, and none of them is completely right or wrong. Therefore, when we consider the Bosnian War historically, the conflicts and wars that have emerged since the collapse of Yugoslavia actually fit the formulation of this theory. There is a point of criticism about this theory that wars and conflicts between states cannot be explained like civil wars and conflicts. I do not support this criticism because I do not think that state institutions, regimes, or domestic issues differ from foreign policy even if they differ technically.

We can set up this formulation as follows:

The formulation of this theory, which we can find the exact equivalent of in the example of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian War, is as follows. First of all, we are witnessing the collapse of the central state. This situation creates a window of opportunity for ethnic, religious, and sectarian groups within the country to seize power. Afterward, we witness a “fear for security” process in which each group is concerned about its own security. At this stage, each group starts to perceive the groups it defines as “other” as a threat and takes up arms. As a result, preventive wars and attacks are carried out to prevent the “other” from becoming stronger.

 “Role of Elites” Theory

This theory argues that the elites engage in provocation and inclination to violence and that ethnic conflict and violence arise from this. For them, elites “build” (there is a conscious process to build) opposing identities and create political struggles between extremists and moderates in order to maintain and increase their power, and garner political support in their favor. In this theory, political elites follow policies that will create hostility between identities. It is true that there is actually an actor-centric point of view.

It is possible to say that there was such a process among Serbian groups at the beginning of the Bosnian war after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It can be said that the Bosnian war is an outcome of the more extremist group coming to power and provoking violence.

The critique of this theory is that the elites have such an inclination, but it raises the question of why ordinary people, the common people, go after them. It can be said here that there is a psychological bias for the public, such as glorifying their own community due to the provocation factor of the elite. The second point of defense is that the people do not really follow the elites, but rather their own interests. The third point is that there is an asymmetric information flow in the middle. In other words, people really cannot obtain accurate information about people outside their own group.

Finally, it is necessary to mention a phenomenon that I have not encountered in the written, printed, online and visual content that I have used while preparing this report. I think it is necessary to use the concept of marginalization to explain ethnic violence and conflict in Bosnia. Because people are under the influence and perception management in various ways with the influence of media organs. I think the decisions they think they have made freely are actually the result of direct or indirect guidance. It is a fact that if these opposing groups or groups acting unconsciously in the Bosnian War had obtained pure information from accurate sources of information and had access to impartial information about the history, they would have been on the side of peace, not war, as a requirement of their conscience.


In this article, I evaluated the Bosnian War within the framework of ethnic conflict and violence literature. I have stated which theories I support or disagree with and on what grounds. It must be said, however, that no idea can be said to be entirely accurate or false in my opinion because each of them contains a piece of truth or falsehood. In this sense, I think that the theory derived from international relations (war theory) and the theory of the role of elites are the most explanatory theories regarding the Bosnian War. In the last part, I approached the phenomena of marginalization and perception management, which I have not encountered before in this concept, but which I see as some of the important reasons for the Bosnian War.




Academic Books

  • Cüneyt Yenigün, Ümit Hacıoğlu, “Bosna Hersek: Etnik Savaş, Eksik Andlaşma”,


  • Ivo Andric, “The Bridge of the Drina”
  • Semezdin Mehmedinoviç, “Saraybosna Blues”

News and Press (Both National and International)

Enes Bera Koşar

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Enes Bera Koşar

Istanbul Medeniyet Univ. Political Sciences Balkan Studies eneskosar00[at]


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