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Demographic Consequences of the 1992-95 War

Murat Prašo

Following the Dayton Accords, which enshrined the principle of ethnic partition, five regions belonging to three entities were formed in practice on the territory of the Bosnian state: two regions under Bosnian Army control (the central core of Bosnia, and the Bihac' enclave), two under HVO control (a swathe including most of western Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a small portion of Posavina) and one controlled by Pale (this too will be subdivided into two discrete regions, if international arbitration allocates the Brc"ko corridor to the Bosniak entity). It is true that the Dayton Accords did not envisage separation of the Croat and Bosniak ethnic groups, but this looks increasingly inevitable. How the Bosnian state will function in these conditions is an open question. In regard to the population, however, the picture is quite clear. It is possible, therefore, to make some initial estimates regarding the demographic losses and ethnic composition of the country itself and the three de facto entities.

The 1991 census figures, published by the Statistical Annual of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, taken in conjunction with past birth and death rates, allow a reasonably reliable projection to be made for the number of inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of 1995. Least reliable are the data on refugees, where we have used UNHCR and (for 61 out of the total of 110 municipalities) also B-H government sources. The estimate presented here does not pretend to full accuracy, but it does give a rough picture of the demographic situation at the end of the war. It tallies pretty closely, moreover, with a similar study made at the Economic Institute in Sarajevo; since this was conducted quite independently, the match adds verisimilitude to both analyses. The results of our analysis are presented here first for the country as a whole, then for the areas under control of the armies of the three ethnic groups.


In the absence of war and allowing for the usual rates of death, birth and migration, at the end of 1995 Bosnia-Herzegovina would have had 4.5 million inhabitants: some 780,000 Croats (17%), 1.4 million Serbs (31%), almost 2 million Bosniaks (44%), 250,000 Yugoslavs (6%) and over 100,000 others (2%).

In reality, however, at the end of 1995 there were only 2.9 million people in the country: some 468,000 Croats (16%) , fewer than 1.3 million Bosniaks (44%), 987,000 Serbs (34%), 116,000 Yugoslavs (4%) and 52,000 others (2%).

Of these 2.9 million people remaining in the country, some 2.3 million may be termed domiciled inhabitants (i.e. people living in 1995 in the same regions, now controlled by predominantly ethnic armies, in which they had lived in 1991). The remaining 600,000 are refugees who have found 'asylum' in territories controlled by their own ethnic group within the country (this figure does not include migration within the regions controlled by the respective armies).

A further almost 1.3 million people from the pre-war population (28%) have become refugees living outside Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some 290,000 Croats, 460,000 Bosniaks, 330,000 Serbs, 130,000 Yugoslavs and 50,000 others have 'temporarily' left the country in this way. Some 200,000 Croats and the same number of Serbs have found refuge in their respective 'secondary homelands' of Croatia and Serbia, while the remainder - amounting to almost 870,000 (a figure that includes Bosniak refugees in Croatia) or every fifth inhabitant - are scattered throughout the globe. What the war criminals describe as 'humane resettlement', in other words the total number of people either displaced across 'entity' borders inside Bosnia-Herzegovina or driven into foreign exile, amounts to almost 1.9 million, or 42% of the projected 1995 population.

So far as war losses are concerned, some 328,000 inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina were killed or have disappeared. Bosniaks were absolutely and relatively the greatest victims of the war, with about 218,000 dead or 'disappeared' (66% of the total, whereas they made up only 43% of the population), while almost 21,000 Croats were lost, about 83,000 Serbs, about 5,000 Yugoslavs and almost 2,000 others.

In short, what we may term the net loss to the country (i.e. war losses + those living in exile outside Bosnia-Herzegovina) amounts to some 1.6 million people, or 35% of the projected 1995 population, while the gross loss ( including also refugees living within the country but outside their domicile area) amounts to 2.2 million people, or 49% of the projected 1995 population.


State area = 51 129 sq km

Population displaced within B-H	  600 000

Population in exile outside B-H	1 259 000		100%
Bosniaks				460000		37%
Croats					290000		23%
Serbs					330000		26%
Yugoslavs				129000		10%
others					50000		4%

War losses (dead or disappeared)	329000		100%
Bosniaks				218000		66%
Croats					21000		6%
Serbs					83000		25%
Yugoslavs				5000		2%
others					2000		1%	
A closer look at the situation in the individual regions gives an even more dramatic picture.

HVO-controlled regions

In 1991 532,000 people used to live on the territory which, at the end of 1995, found itself under the control of the HVO. Without the war, by that date the areas in question would have had 543,000 inhabitants. As a consequence of the war, however, there were in fact just 221,000 of the original 1991 population left, together with an estimated 100,000 newly settled Croats displaced from other regions of the country - making 321,000 in total. 16,000 people from this territory died during the war (6,000 Bosniaks, 7,000 Croats, 3,000 Serbs), or 3.3% of the pre-war population. A further 306,000, or 58% of the prewar population, left by choice or under compulsion for exile abroad or for other regions of the country. The gross population loss was thus 322,000, or 59% of the projected 1995 population. 11% of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina now lives on this 24% of the state territory, with only 58% of the prewar population density (26 inhabitants per, instead of 45).

The prewar ethnic picture is now totally changed. 250,000 non-Croats have been 'ethnically cleansed' (106,000 Bosniaks, 129,000 Serbs, 19,000 others), while some 50,000 Croats have also left the territory either voluntarily or under pressure. These were more than compensated for, however, by Croats displaced from other areas, so that net emigration was 221,000. 307,000 Croats live here today, comprising 96% of the total population compared to 49% before the war.

160,000 Croats, or 34% of the total remaining within the borders of Bosnia- Herzegovina, find themselves outside this ethnically pure area. They are confronted with the the dilemma of whether they still have sufficient political strength to act as a factor of the country's integration, or whether they will be displaced in some further round of 'humane resettlement' (either to the HVO-controlled area or to their 'secondary homeland' of Croatia). The question remains open whether some 52,000 Croats from this territory and 290,000 from Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole (39% of the country's remaining Croat population), now scattered throughout the world, will ever return to their homes.

HVO-controlled area

Area controlled = 12 271 sq km (24%  of total state area)

Populationin1991			529000		100%
Bosniaks				117000		22%
Croats					259000		49%
Serbs					130000		25%
Yugoslavs				16000		3%
others					7000		1%

Projected 1995 population		543000		100%
Bosniaks				120000		22%
Croats					266000		49%
Serbs					133000		25%
Yugoslavs				17000		3%
others					7000		1%

Actual 1995 population			321000		100%
Bosniaks				8000		2.5%
Croats					307000		96%
Serbs					1000		0.3%
Yugoslavs				3000		0.9%
others					2000		0.6%

Domicilepopulation*	221000		100%
Bosniaks				8000		4%
Croats					207000		94%
Serbs					1000		0.5%
Yugoslavs				3000		1%
others					2000		1%
*i.e. original 1991 population still living in the HVO-controlled area

VRS-controlled region

The Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) controlled some 45% of the territory of Bosnia- Herzegovina in late 1995 (i.e. before the post-Dayton territorial transfers). Just under 1.7 million people had lived in these areas before the war: 33% of them Bosniaks, 12% Croats, and 7% Yugoslavs or others, along with 48% Serbs. But in 1995, instead of a projected population of rather over 1.7 million, only about 900,000 people were still living there: three quarters of a million of the original 'domicile' inhabitants, supplemented by almost 150,000 Serbs displaced from regions controlled by the other two armies. This current population has an entirely different ethnic profile: just 3% Bosniaks, 1% Croats, and 7% Yugoslavs or others, along with the 89% Serbs.

The gross population loss of 970,000 is actually greater here than the current remaining population. 147,000 people, or 8.7% of the pre-war population, died during the war (85,000 of them Bosniaks, 57,000 Serbs and 5,000 Croats, Yugoslavs or others). In addition, some 830,000 people or 49% of the pre-war population of the area left either for other regions of the country or for exile abroad: 453,000 Bosniaks and 202,000 Croats, the vast majority of whom were removed by systematic 'ethnic cleansing', along with 107,000 Serbs, 44,000 Yugoslavs and 22,000 others who also went, whether voluntarily or under pressure. 31% of the current total population of Bosnia-Herzegovina lives today on this 44% of the state territory, with a population density (just under 40 inhabitants per sq. km) that is little more than half what it was before the war.

Outside this ethnically pure area, there are 180,000 Serbs in the rest of the country(13% of the remaining total number of Bosnian Serbs), and a further 325,000 (24%) in exile outside Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are faced with the same kind of problems and dilemmas that confront the Bosnian Croats.

VRS-controlled area

Area controlled = 23 008 sq km (45% of total state area)

Population in 1991			1680000		100%
Bosniaks				551000		33%
Croats					209000		12%
Serbs					799000		47%
Yugoslavs				81000		5%
others					43000		3%	

Projected 1995 population		1729000		100%	
Bosniaks				566000		33%
Croats					215000		12%
Serbs					821000		47%
Yugoslavs				83000		5%
others					43000		3%

Actual 1995 population			904000		100%
Bosniaks				28000		3%
Croats					11000		1%
Serbs					806000		89%
Yugoslavs				37000		4%
others					22000		2%

Domicile population*			754000		100%
Bosniaks				28000		4%
Croats					11000		1%
Serbs					656000		87%
Yugoslavs				37000		5%
others					22000		3%
*i.e. original 1991 population still living in the VRS-controlled area

AB-H-controlled regions

Although neither the leading Bosniak political party nor the Army of Bosnia- Herzegovina advocated, or systematically practised, aggression or ethnic cleansing, the results of the war in the areas under their control are not very dissimilar from those in the other 'entities'. This circumstance has lent a degree of superficial plausibility to the frequent, and frequently ill-intentioned, claim that the three 'warring parties' fought with identical aims, that the conflict was of a confessional, ethnic or civil nature, and that no side was fighting a defensive or just war.

The territory which at the end of 1995 was controlled by AB-H had, according to the census, been inhabited in 1991 by 2.17 million people (57% of whom were Bosniaks, 14% Croats, 20% Serbs, 9% Yugoslavs or others). A normal demographic growth would have led, by the end of 1995, to over 2.23 million inhabitants. Today, however, it is estimated that there are some 1.67 million (or 58% of the B-H total), of whom 1.32 million are domicile inhabitants and 350,000 refugees from the other 'entities'. Population density has dropped from 137 per sq km in 1991 to 105 at the end of 1995.

The gross loss for this territory amounts to somewhat over 900,000 (or 40% of the projected 1995 population). Of these, about 166,000 (7.6% of the 1991 population) died during the war, and 734,000 (33% of the 1991 population) emigrated as a result of it. Some 127,000 Bosniaks, 9,000 Croats, 23,000 Serbs and 7,000 others died or 'disappeared', while just over 250,000 Bosniaks, just under the same number of Serbs, nearly 140,000 Croats, and some 90,000 Yugoslavs or others, left the country or migrated to regions under HVO or VRS control. However, about 350,000 refugees came in under pressure from other regions, so that the net emigration amounts to some 380,000 people.

Of the three newly created ethnic entities, this one is least 'pure'. Of the 293,000 Croats registered in the 1991 census, 51% have remained; 40% of the 438,000 original Serb population has also remained. This clearly indicates that ethnic cleansing was not a deliberate policy here. That was not in itself sufficient, however, to counteract the demographic effects of the war. With 350,000 Bosniaks having been deported to this region and disproportionate numbers of Croats and Serbs having left it, its ethnic make- up has drastically altered. Thus, at the end of 1995, Bosniaks formed 74% of its actual population, Croats 9%, Serbs 11%, Yugoslavs and others 6%.

Outside the AB-H-controlled entity but within the country's borders, only about 36,000 Bosniaks now remain: too few to represent any kind of political force. Meanwhile, the 460,000 Bosniaks who now live abroad (some 27% of the country's remaining Bosniak population) are dispersed across the globe, and their eventual return to their homes is problematic to say the least.

ABH-controlled area

Area controlled = 15 850 sq km (31% of total state area)

Population in 1991			2170000		100%
Bosniaks				1235000		57%		
Croats					293000		13.5%
Serbs					438000		20%
Yugoslavs				147000		7%
others					55000		2.5%

Projected 1995 population		2227000		100%
Bosniaks				1269000		57%
Croats					301000		13.5%
Serbs					450000		20%
Yugoslavs				151000		7%
others					56000		2.5%

Actual 1995 population 			1671000		100%
Bosniaks				1238000		74%
Croats					150000		9%
Serbs					180000		11%
Yugoslavs				75000		4.5%
others					28000		1.5%

Domicile population*			1 321 000	100%
Bosniaks				888000		67%
Croats					150000		11%
Serbs					180000		14%
Yugoslavs				75000		6%
others					28000		2%
*i.e. original 1991 population still living in the ABH-controlled area


The future demographic development and ethnic structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina can be discussed only in relation to two prior determinants: the issues of power and the right of return.

When ethnically based parties hold power, ethnic tolerance is by definition under threat; when these are also mere extensions of regimes holding power in neighbouring states, it becomes impossible. Consequently, as long as protagonists of ethnic partition remain in power in Croatia and Serbia, there is little chance of ethnic pluralism being reconstructed in the areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina that are, directly or indirectly, under their control. The Dayton Accords do include a right of return for all refugees, with each individual supposedly deciding whether to return or to seek compensation for lost property. In the situation, however, where power continues to be held by the same people who expelled them, the security and future of them and their families remains quite uncertain. It may be expected, therefore, that the majority will opt for the more 'rational' variant, i.e. for financial compensation, however meagre this may be. In that case, the ethnic picture in the areas under HVO and VRS control will be frozen.

If that happens, then it must be regarded as unlikely that the area under AB-H control will in practice remain open for the return of refugees either, since tensions can be expected to rise there as a direct function of the non-observance in the other two 'entities' of the Dayton right of return. If the international community's help in establishing the rule of law over the whole territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina should fail, and particularly if substantial economic aid is not forthcoming, then this is only too likely to be the site of the war's next phase.

Economic development and the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its neighbours into Europe offer the most promising option, since they will make the borders between states less important and also eventually bring down the regimes in Bosnia- Herzegovina's immediate vicinity.

The original version of this text appeared in Most ['Bridge'], Mostar, No.93, March- April1996.