Muslims’ Nation‐Building Process in Socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1960s

Sevan Philippe Pearson. Nations & Nationalism. Volume 24, Issue 2. April 2018.

During the 1960s, the Yugoslav Socialist authorities gradually recognised Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Muslims as a nation. Interestingly, in the 1940s, the Yugoslav Communist leaders refused to consider Muslims even as an ethnic group and saw them only as a religious community whose members had to designate themselves as Serbs or Croats. Why did the regime decide to recognise Muslims as a nation in the 1960s, whereas 20 years earlier they supported the opposite position? To understand the shift, this nation‐building process must be understood as the result of a dual dynamic on the federal and the republican level, where important changes occurred. At the federal one, the Communist authorities initiated a decentralisation process within the context of Yugoslav self‐management in the 1950s, which significantly reinforced the republic elites. This coincided with the resurgence of the national question in the whole of Yugoslavia. Simultaneously, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a new elite progressively rose to power in the 1960s and put the ‘Muslim question’ on the political agenda. This led to the gradual increase in status of the Muslims from a religious community to an ethnic group at the beginning of the 1960s and then to a nation at the end of the decade.


Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was one of six republics composing the Yugoslav Federation under Communist rule between the end of WWII and 1992. An important characteristic of BiH was the historical presence of three main communities: the Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croats and the Bosnian Muslims, who today are referred to as Bosniaks. The latter are the descendants of converted Slavs, who gradually adopted Islam after the arrival of the Ottomans from the 15th century onwards. From the 19th century, the Orthodox and then the Catholics underwent a ‘nationalisation process’, the former designating themselves as Serbs, whereas the latter identified themselves as Croats (Bieber: 20). The question of the Muslims’ national affiliation was more complex.

Until 1878, Bosnia’s Muslims identified themselves mostly with the Ottoman Empire as well as a part of the Umma, the worldwide Islamic community (Höpken: 236). From that year, Austria‐Hungary began to occupy and administer BiH, which broke the Muslims’ traditional ties with the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the Serb and Croat leaders put them under pressure to identify themselves as Serbs or Croats, respectively. Both national elites looked with interest at BiH’s territory but neither constituted an absolute majority. Thus, to legitimise BiH’s annexation to neighbouring Serbia or Croatia and to answer the question ‘To whom does Bosnia belong?’ (čija je Bosna?), they needed the Muslims on their side (Höpken: 184). This policy did not succeed regarding the masses, as the Muslims had developed a peculiar identity for centuries with their own way of life, literature, music, gastronomy, etc. The main consequence of that pressure was, however, the split of the Muslim elite into pro‐Serb and pro‐Croat wings and sometimes, but more rarely, a specific Muslim one (Höpken: 238). Moreover, a part of the Muslim intellectuals, encouraged by Austria‐Hungary’s Governor, Benjamin Kállay, began to support the creation of a common Bosnian identity, which was intended to overcome the religious differences and which eventually aimed at replacing the different national identities and to counter Serbian and Croatian nationalisms (Banac: 360). This context explains the difficulty for the Muslims to develop a strong political and national identity. But in spite of those internal divides, the Muslim elite struggled for their religious community’s autonomy (Höpken: 247).

At the end of WWI, BiH became part of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In that state, officially only one nation existed, which was composed of three ‘tribes’, as reflected in the name of the country. When, in 1929, the King assumed all political power and renamed the country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, he also decided to push a common national Yugoslav identity (Yugoslavism) to counter the Serbo-Croat rivalry and conflict, which threatened the very existence of the state. Again, the political context was not favourable for the Muslims to express a specific national identity, and their main political Party, the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation, looked pragmatically at Yugoslavism as a way to escape pressure from the Serbs and Croats. Thus, it allowed a sense of a particular community identity while overcoming tendencies of ‘Serbianisation’ and ‘Croatianisation’ (Banac: 371; Bougarel: 61-2; Saltaga: 144).

In 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia, dismembered it and supported the creation of several administrative units on its ruins. One of them was the Independent State of Croatia, led by the Ustaše, the Croatian Fascists. Geographically, it included most of today’s Croatia, some small parts of Serbia and Montenegro and the whole of BiH. The state persecuted Jews, Serbs and Roma, who became victims of large‐scale crimes, whereas the Ustaše considered Muslims to be Croats of Islamic faith. Another important actor during WWII on Yugoslavia’s territory was the Serbian nationalist Četnik movement, which also committed crimes during their guerrilla struggle, in BiH as elsewhere, against Croat and Muslim civilians (Hoare: 255-6). A third actor became increasingly important: the Partisans led by Yugoslavia’s Communist Party. Although this political formation had been forbidden since 1921, they had developed several plans for Yugoslavia’s future in secrecy. They started a Partisan war in 1941, gradually gained control and, at the end of WWII, created a Yugoslav Federation based on the model of the Soviet Union. In this new state, the equality (ravnopravnost) of all nations was central. The Communists decided to establish BiH as one of the six Yugoslav republics, even though it had, unlike the other five, no titular nation. Indeed, after taking power, the Communists recognised only the Serbs and the Croats as nations in BiH while they defined the Muslims as a religious community who had to ‘choose’ between Serb and Croat national belonging. Interestingly and contrary to its initial decision, from the 1960s, the regime gradually recognised Muslims as one of BiH’s three nations.

Thus, the central question of the article is the following: Why did the Yugoslav Communists, who denied Muslims nation‐status in the mid‐1940s, decide to make a nation out of them in the 1960s? A starting point for explaining this change of policy lies in the observation that the different Communist regimes lacked a clear strategy in their nationalities policy (Carrère d’Encausse: 33). They constantly adapted it to the changing political context and strategy played an important role in their decisions, especially as the Communist power seemed to be endangered (Carrère d’Encausse: 91; Martin: 20 and 73). This point of view is shared by scholars of Yugoslav history, and some of them underline the experimental character of the Communist policies (Rusinow; Sundhaussen). Thus, to understand the decision to recognise the Muslims as a nation in the 1960s, it is necessary to emphasise the combination of different elements of the political context, which brought the regime to that decision as part of ‘experimentation’ in the nationalities policy: the growing tensions between the Serbs and the Croats, the increasing autonomy of the federal units, the development of the non‐aligned movement and, more importantly, the specific role of the Muslim and Bosnian‐Herzegovinian political elites.

The existing literature on this topic offers numerous good explanations. However, until now, there has been no study that explains this deep change in the Communists’ attitude towards the Muslims between the 1940s and the 1960s. Wolfgang Höpken certainly describes in detail the Muslims’ nation‐building process and underlines the role of the political and intellectual elites, but he ignores the link between political developments in Croatia and Serbia and the Muslims’ recognition process in BiH. This article brings just this to light, based on a detailed analysis of archival material from the Central Committee of the League of Communists of BiH (CCLCBiH), which can be found in Sarajevo (Arhiv Bosne i Hercegovine) and in Belgrade (Arhiv Jugoslavije). Another contribution, by Ludwig Steindorff, offers a general overview but does not explain the evolution of the Yugoslav Communists’ approach to the ‘Muslim question’. Moreover, several contributions focussing on the socialist period concentrate on the year 1968 as the moment the CCLCBiH officially proclaimed Muslims one of the three nations of the republic (Kamberović; Lučić). Others focus on the census of 1971, when the Muslims had the opportunity to declare themselves as such and as one of the six Yugoslav nations (Lučić ; Lučić). A consideration of the intellectuals’ role in the articulation of Muslim identity is another important contribution (Lučić). One of the most detailed studies on the topic is the newly published research on the recognition process of the Muslims as a nation between 1956 and 1971, which provides a very clear understanding of the context and the dynamics from the late 1950s, which led to the decision to recognise the Muslims (Lučić). However, it does not emphasise the contrast between the Communists’ position at the end of WWII and the 1960s. Thus, this paper pursues two goals: first, to explain the Yugoslav Communists’ policy shift regarding Muslims between the 1940s and the 1960s. Second, it illustrates the lack of a clear ideological line regarding the national question in Socialist Yugoslavia. It then appears that the Yugoslav Communists ‘experimented’ within and adapted to changing political contexts, especially after the break with the Soviet Union in 1948. In any case, the decision to recognise the Muslims as a nation must be seen as a Bosnian‐Herzegovinian initiative, in which the local elites played a central role.

The Yugoslav Communists and the National Question in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Interwar Period

Before considering the Yugoslav Communists’ point of view on the national question in BiH, it is necessary to recall their changing orientations regarding the nationalities policy in the interwar period. In the early 1920s, the Party advocated a centralised Yugoslav state (Djilas: 61); however, from 1924, the Yugoslav Communists gradually changed their position—under the influence of the Soviet Union—and suggested the right for each of Yugoslavia’s nations to have its own state (Djilas: 84-5). After the National Socialist takeover in Germany, the Yugoslav Communists—following recommendations from Moscow—advocated a Yugoslav federal state (Djilas: 94-5). This short overview shows the lack of a constant line in their nationalities policy. Moreover, BiH played no central role in the Yugoslav Communists’ nationalities policy in the interwar period (Hoare: 162 and 169) and only from 1939 did the Party address this special issue.

In that year, BiH was divided, and some parts of it were included in a new Croatian autonomous region, called banovina. This decision was the result of long‐standing tensions between the central government in Belgrade and Croats’ main political organisation, the Croatian Peasant Party. The latter sought more autonomy for the Croats, contradicting the centralised form of the state. To put an end to the growing tensions threatening the very existence of Yugoslavia, the central government in Belgrade accepted the creation of a Croat ethnic entity. The Yugoslav Communists highly criticised that decision, however. At its country‐wide conference in 1940, the Party advocated BiH’s autonomy and opposed any sort of division between Serbia and Croatia (Bougarel: 77-8). However, although the majority of the Party leaders criticised the fact that the Muslims had been ignored, they considered them Serbs or Croats and denied them any status as a specific ethnic group (Filandra: 201-2). This point of view influenced the debates during WWII on BiH’s future status within the planned Federation.

Bosnian Muslims as ‘Nationally Undetermined’ and as Yugoslavs, 1946-1959

The establishment of BiH as a Yugoslav republic was not self‐evident for the leading Communist figures. With the Soviet Union as a model, in which each republic had a titular nation, the Yugoslav leaders at first (in 1943) thought to declare BiH as an autonomous region because of its lack of a titular nation and the presence of three communities. This raised to which republic the autonomous region would be tied: Serbia or Croatia? Such a solution would only satisfy the appetite of the Serb or Croat nationalists, which was unacceptable for the Yugoslav Party leaders (Bandžović: 106; Pejanović: 133; Redžić : 103). Moreover, BiH’s prominent Communist figures committed themselves intensely to an equal republic status. In early 1944, they succeeded to convince Tito and the main leaders of the Yugoslav Party to make BiH the sixth Yugoslav republic (Bandžović: 118; Đilas: 356; Haug: 103), but that decision was a compromise with Serb and Croat Communist leaders, who denied the Muslims any political status (Bojić: 226). Thus, in exchange for BiH’s republic status, Muslims, whom the Communists had often considered de facto a separate ethnic or national group during WWII, had to choose a national belonging between Serbs and Croats.

Several points explain the Yugoslav Communists’ position regarding the Muslims’ national identity and their refusal to grant them a particular status. First, as Terry Martin (2) has shown in his study of the Soviet Union, the new socialist regime needed the support of the different ethnic or national groups in order for the revolution to be successful. In the case of Yugoslavia, the Communist Party tried to mobilise Muslims in their Partisan struggle. For that purpose, they were designated a specific group like BiH’s Serbs and Croats in the documentation and appeals to the population (Redžić: 70 and 73; Katz: 114-5). However, this policy was simply instrumental and as soon as the Yugoslav Communists had firmly secured their power, the Muslims lost their strategic importance. Second, the Muslims in general were underrepresented in the Partisans’ ranks as compared with their share in the population. For that reason, the Party regarded them mostly as non‐loyal (Bandžović: 114). Moreover, the legacy of historical complex relations between Muslims, Serbs and Croats played a role as well. The Ottoman Empire used to organise public life according to religious affiliation. Whereas Muslims enjoyed more rights and privileges, Christians were considered second‐class subjects. This policy contributed to resentment towards Muslims. During the 19th century, as the Orthodox and Catholics were experiencing a gradual ‘nationalisation process’, they looked upon Muslims with ambivalence. As Edin Hajdarpašić notes, they were equally considered potential co‐nationals and the incarnation of the enemy. To express this ambivalence, the author proposes the use of the expression of ‘(Br)Others’ (Hajdarpašić: 16). This historic distrust for their fellow Muslim citizens meant that Muslims continued to be ‘(Br)Others’ for Serb and Croat Communist leaders. Third, the new regime dismissed religion as a criterion to define national identity, as the Yugoslav Communists in the early years of the new, federal Yugoslavia relied on the practise in the Soviet Union, which had done the same (Hirsch: 255) from the 1920s. As the core of the Muslims’ identity was religion and the culture resulting from it, the regime considered them more as a religious community. Fourth, referring to Stalin’s definition of the nation, which underlined, among several other criteria, a compact territory, the Yugoslav Communists noted that this criterion did not exist for the Muslims, who lived dispersed and mixed with Serbs and Croats (Cadiot: 117; Mrdjen: 79). Finally, the Yugoslav Communist leading figures considered the national question as definitively solved by the creation of the Federation. In that context, there was no need to recognise an additional nation, as all of them should eventually disappear (Höpken: 196).

The Serbs’ strong numerical position and factual domination of the Party apparatus both at the federal level as well in BiH pose an additional explanation for that policy towards the Muslims, as many Serb Communist leaders were not supportive of the Muslims’ recognition as a nation (Novak: 300-1; Redžić: 70). In 1948, Bosnian‐Herzegovinian Serbs made up 62.39 per cent of the whole Party membership in the republic (Katz: 195), whereas their share in BiH’s population was 44.61 per cent. Thus, in the Yugoslav census of 1948, the Muslims were given the possibility to declare themselves as either Serbs or Croats (Höpken: 195).

In the same year, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union broke their ties, and the Yugoslav authorities considered the reinforcement of a common identity important for countering the Soviet influence. In that sense, they fostered a strong Yugoslav identity and patriotism (‘Yugoslavism’) and undertook several steps to that aim. In 1954, linguists reached an agreement in Novi Sad to create a language common to the Croats, Montenegrins and Serbs. Moreover, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) began to advocate common Yugoslav cultural roots with the help of intellectuals (Djilas: 175). However, it remains unclear until now whether the Yugoslav Communists intended to create a Yugoslav national identity or not. Probably, they fostered a Yugoslav patriotism without knowing whether this would lead to the emergence of a common national identity (Calic: 194; Connor: 433-5; Cvetković‐Sander: 43; Haug: 122-3).

An additional illustration of the policy to reinforce Yugoslav identity was introducing the possibility to declare oneself Yugoslav in the census of 1953. Censuses do not merely count the population. In her study on the Soviet Union, Cadiot (144) emphasises the central meaning of censuses, intending to contribute to the creation of an imagined Soviet community. In Yugoslavia, the new category ‘Yugoslav’ had the same aim. However, it turned out to express the ‘imagined noncommunity’ (Zahra) of the Muslims. Indeed, the majority of BiH’s Muslims ticked the category ‘nationally undetermined’ in 1948 (778,000 out of 948,000 Muslims) and in 1953 ‘Yugoslav—nationally undetermined’ (891,000, or a similar share, and 31.1% of the whole BiH population) (Höpken: 195). Zahra (98-9), in her studies on national identities in Central Europe, underlines that ‘national indifference’ can be an answer of specific communities to policies aiming at nationalising them. In the Yugoslav case, the Muslims refused to affiliate as Serbs or Croats and chose their only option to express their ‘national indifference’. Thus, only very few chose Serb or Croat national belonging, and those results became important to the Yugoslav leaders’ perception of the Muslims and their identity from the late 1950s onwards.

The Late 1950s and Onwards: Initial Critiques of Muslims’ Identification as Serbs or Croats

The policy that Muslims should declare themselves as Serbs or Croats began to raise some discrete criticism within the League of Communists of BiH (LCBiH) from 1956 onwards. At their third Congress in March 1959, some Party members briefly mentioned the topic, but it was not a central issue during the debates. However, for the first time, several Communists openly criticised the policy (Lučić: 51, 56, 65-7). Some months later, on 19 November 1959, at the second Plenum of the LCY, Tito briefly mentioned the Muslims and their status:

I mention this to you in passing, to show that these issues related to the nationality of the Muslims should be gradually liquidated. One should let the people, if they want, be nationally undetermined citizens of Yugoslavia. Let this person be Bosnian or Herzegovinian. Either way, they are not calling you anything else than by the name Bosnian abroad, regardless of whether one is Muslim [in the text: musliman], Serb or Croat.

This short standpoint represents an implicit criticism of the policy implemented towards the Muslims from the end of WWII to date. For Tito, it was not necessary to expect this community to identify itself with either Serbs or Croats; instead, its members could remain ‘nationally undetermined’. This statement was the result of some important political developments within Yugoslavia.

The census results of 1948 and 1953 showed that the Muslims did not identify themselves either with Serbs or Croats. Moreover, the national question, which the Communists had considered definitively solved in Yugoslavia, was put back on the table in the late 1950s and discussed again within the LCY. At the core of the growing conflict was the country’s degree of decentralisation. In the early 1950s, the Party had introduced a system of self‐management, which foresaw a gradual decentralisation of the state. But there were two main streams among Yugoslav Communists. A centralist one did not support strong decentralisation, whereas a reformist one advocated more autonomy for the republics. This divide corresponded to a split between the republics: specifically, Slovenia and Croatia opted for more autonomy (Ramet: 83; Calic: 227). Tito considered this divide a significant risk for reviving the Serbo-Croat conflict of the interwar period, and in 1962, during a meeting of the LCY’s Executive Committee, he even expressed his fear of Yugoslavia’s possible collapse (Zečević: 255-8). It seemed important to him to reinforce the periphery, that is, the republics around Serbia and Croatia and specifically BiH to offset the longstanding Serbo-Croat rivalry (Kamberović: 57).

In addition to these aspects of domestic policy, Yugoslavia’s international relations may have played an important role in this first turning point concerning the Muslims’ status. From the mid‐1950s onwards, Yugoslavia, India and Egypt began to discuss creating a ‘third way’ between the two Cold War blocks, and in 1961, they officially formed the Non‐Aligned Movement in Belgrade. Among the twenty‐five country members of the movement, Muslim ones were strongly represented. In that context, Tito could have tried to improve Yugoslavia’s own Muslims’ position in order to gain influence within the movement (Beinsen: 158; Friedman: 154 and 167; Malcolm: 229). Moreover, the Non‐Aligned Movement underlined the necessity of the right to national self‐determination (Westad: 107). Under such conditions, it was difficult to require Muslims to declare themselves as Serbs or Croats. To sum up, the combination of these three aspects—census results from 1948 and 1953, the resurgence of debates on the national question and the emergent necessity to reinforce the Yugoslav periphery to soften the Serbo-Croat conflict plus Yugoslavia’s role within the Non‐Aligned Movement with many member Muslim countries—provide a better understanding of the first domestic turning point towards the Muslims.

However, this does not fully explain the new policy towards BiH’s Muslims. The role of the Muslim political and intellectual elites is also central. Besides a general increase of education in BiH—in 1945, 72.9 per cent of the population was illiterate (Šarac et al.: 13), whereas in 1961, the proportion declined to 32.52 per cent (Katz: 57)—the Muslim elite thus grew stronger. In 1946, Muslims constituted 20.29 per cent of the membership of the LCBiH (Katz: 195), whereas in 1961, they made up 29.7 per cent. This Muslim political and intellectual elites perceived Tito’s 1959 standpoint as a signal. Following the initiative of the CCLCBiH, the Federal Commission for Ideology discussed the Muslims’ status in the upcoming 1961 census and recognised them as an ethnic group. Though the archival material does not give exact information explaining how that decision came about, frequent allusions in the Commission’s documents to the CCLCBiH might suggest the involvement of Party leaders from BiH in that decision. This hypothesis is supported by Hamdija Pozderac’s presence in the Commission. The latter, a Muslim Communist from BiH and professor of political science at the University in Sarajevo, was a member of the CCLCBiH from 1965 and Chair of BiH’s Presidency from 1971. Moreover, in 1967, he led a research group in Sarajevo about the Muslims’ national identity (Kamberović: 169). Simultaneously, Enver Redžić, a Muslim historian who was, among other engagements, a member of the CCLCBiH (on its commission for history as well as its commission for ideological work) and director of the Institute of the History of the Workers’ Movement in Sarajevo, published an article in the official Party journal Socijalizam (Redžić 1961), attempting to demonstrate that the Muslims were a specific ethnic group (Redžić). An important motivation for the Muslim elite to act in favour of improving their community’s political status was the hope of gaining more influence and better positions within the Party and the state, as Yugoslavia was governed by a complex system of national corporate interests (Baskin: 115).

That first step, the introduction of the category ‘Muslim in an ethnic sense’ in the Yugoslav census of 1961, led to the introduction of an important spelling differentiation in Serbo-Croatian. Whereas the Muslims as a global religious community were designated with a small ‘m’ (muslimani), the Muslims in an ethnic sense were written with a capital letter ‘M’ (Muslimani). Compared to the 1953 census, in which 31.1 per cent of BiH’s population had declared themselves ‘Yugoslavs—nationally undetermined’, in 1961, there were 25.7 per cent Muslims and 8.4 per cent ‘Yugoslavs—nationally undetermined’. Interestingly and contrary to the following census (in 1971), the new category ‘Muslim in an ethnic sense’ was not publicly explained, and there was no information in the media (Lučić: 430). This lack of clarity is likely why a significant part of the Muslim population declared themselves ‘Yugoslavs’ and not ‘Muslims’. Moreover, many of them felt insecure to choose the new category due to the Party’s repressive policy against national identities that continued through the late 1950s (Saltaga: 211). Similarly, there was some prudence within the LCBiH regarding the Muslims’ status. As the majority of Yugoslav Communist leaders considered the community only a religious one in the mid‐1940s, proposing the recognition of the Muslims as a nation would have been a too significant step for the CCLBiH. Designating the group ‘ethnic’ both highlighted their specificity and denied all claims that they were actually Serbs or Croats. Thus, the census of 1961 constituted an opportunity for the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian leaders to test the upgrading of the Muslims’ political status.

Thus, in the early 1960s, Muslims were considered an ethnic group but not officially a nation like Serbs and Croats. However, some doubts remained. For instance, in the CCLCBiH’s Commission for ideological work, one member questioned whether the Muslims were a nation. Interestingly, the Yugoslav regime never defined the concept of ‘ethnic group’; it must be then understood as a sort of hybrid between two core categories: the nation, designating, at that time, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins and Macedonians, and the national minorities or nationalities, defining the communities whose national homeland was outside Yugoslavia, like Albanians or Hungarians (Jončić: 3).

The recognition of Muslims as an ethnic group was followed by a change in BiH’s new Constitution in 1963. The preamble mentioned Muslims (with a capital letter) next to Serbs and Croats. However, nothing was said of their exact status, whether they constituted an ethnic group or a nation. The speculation on that issue continued in the following years, all the more so when a sixth torch—each one representing a nation—was added to the Yugoslav emblem in 1963. This ambiguity lasted until 1968 when the CCLCBiH decided, after some new political developments, to put an end to it.

The Abandonment of ‘Yugoslavism’ and Aleksandar Ranković’s Dismissal in 1964-1966: Reinforcing the Republican Elites

The eighth Congress of the LCY in January 1964 is a turning point in several respects, two of which seem important for the present issue. First, the national question was discussed in detail at a Party Congress for the first time since the end of WWII (Grandits: 17). Second, Tito clearly stated that there was no plan to create a new Yugoslav national identity despite the Party’s 1950s policy to support a strong Yugoslav belonging. On the contrary, Tito openly supported the existence and development of different nations in Yugoslavia.

The content of our [national] relations has to be of a kind where the Brotherhood and Unity of our peoples can develop further. However, there are persons, even communists, who have already become tired of this strong slogan of our People’s Liberation War and who believe that nations have already been superseded by our socialist social development and that they actually should pass away [literally should ‘die off’ (‘odumru’)]. But these people are mistaking the union of our people with the liquidation of our nations and want the formation of something new and artificial: a uniform Yugoslav nation. […] I know that only some are probably concerned, but these few can cause great damage. Insofar as these few are within our League of Communists, it has to be said that there is no place for them among us because they are harmful.

The rejection of imposing national belonging—in this case, a Yugoslav one—was an additional signal for the Muslims that they could not be forced to adopt an imposed national identity. The message was clear, and in March 1965, the fourth Congress of the LCBiH criticised the imposition of Serb or Croat national identification on the Muslims as well. Interestingly, Esad Cerić, a member of the CCLCBiH who was newly elected secretary of the Committee came to the conclusion that the Constitution of 1963 had solved the ‘Muslim question’ in that sense, as they were recognised ‘as a nation, in the sense of an ethnic group’. This statement illustrates, however, how unclear the Muslims’ status remained after the eighth Congress of the LCY: sometimes they were seen as a mere ethnic group, sometimes as a nation or even as both.

The 1965 fourth Congress of the LCBiH was important in an additional respect. Younger politicians came to power, such as the economist Branko Mikulić, changing the demography of the political elite. This new elite, whether Muslim, Serb or Croat, was better educated and had mostly not been prominent Party figures before or during WWII. Moreover, they brought a new perspective on the national question and advocated more intensely for equal rights for Serbs, Croats and Muslims in BiH. At that time, however, there was no unequivocal decision on the Muslims’ status, and the ambiguity—as ethnic group or nation—remained: the Muslims continued to be frequently designated as an ethnic group but sometimes de facto seen as a nation. For instance, in March 1966, when referring to the Muslims, Hamdija Pozderac considered that a nation is an ethnic community. Another prominent Muslim political figure from the CCLCBiH, Osman Karabegović, stated in April that same year that the Muslims were a Serbo-Croatian speaking nation (narod). Thereafter, an important event brought a change and indirectly contributed to ending this ambiguity.

From the 1950s onwards, a cleavage divided the LCY between centralists, led by the Yugoslav conservative Minister of Interior, Aleksandar Ranković, and reformists under the ideologue of self‐management, Edvard Kardelj. The two currents struggled to ensure more influence within the political system. In 1966, several listening devices were discovered in Tito’s house, and Aleksandar Ranković, who was also head of the secret police, was accused of having installed them. In June 1966, he offered his resignation (Rusinow: 185-6). That important event in Yugoslavia’s history opened a new era characterised by a growing influence of the reformists, an atmosphere of liberty, and thus, liberal feelings promoting alternative understandings of Marxist ideology (Jović: 34). In several republics, strong aspirations towards more autonomy were expressed in different manners. This was especially the case in Croatia with the language issue.

National Agitation and Muslims’ Status 1967-1971

In March 1967, a group of 140 Croat intellectuals, out of whom, eighty were Party members, published a ‘Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Literary Language’ in the Croatian newspaper Telegram. They criticised the Novi Sad agreement of 1954, which considered that Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins spoke one common language. The signatories of the Declaration advocated for the recognition of a separate Croatian language. Some days after the publication of this demand, the Serbian Writers’ Association in Belgrade published a ‘Proposal for Consideration’ and supported the same right for Serbs throughout Yugoslavia (Rusinow: 225). In short, both documents demanded the split of Serbo-Croatian and the recognition of separate Croatian and Serbian languages. The resurgence of the conflict between Serbs and Croats on the language issue was accompanied by a renewed implicit rivalry over BiH’s territory. For example, the Croat Communist Većeslav Holjevac, Zagreb’s mayor from 1952 to 1963, published a book in 1967 in which he designated the Muslims as Croats of Islamic faith (Holjevac), whereas the Serbian Academy of Sciences (in Belgrade) published a volume in which the Muslims were labelled Serbs.

The CCLCBiH considered these developments a threat and decided to not only emphasise BiH’s territorial integrity but also its republic status, as well as its equality in terms of rights (ravnopravnost) within the Federation. Concretely, the risk of a linguistic split between the Serbian and the Croatian languages threatened BiH in two respects. First, it could destroy the linguistic unity of the republic. Second, questioning the linguistic affiliation could lead to a question of national affiliation of the Muslims. Would they speak Croatian or Serbian, or would it be necessary to create a ‘Muslim language’? In the first two cases, the Muslim and Bosnian‐Herzegovinian elites perceived the choice between one of the languages as a step ‘backward’ as the destruction of all they had achieved since 1961 regarding the Muslims’ status as a separate group. Moreover, Joco Marjanović, professor of political science and member of the Executive Committee of the CCLCBiH, stressed in 1967 that a separation of the languages might bring back the question ‘To whom does Bosnia belong’?

To avoid this question, the elites found it necessary to reinforce the republic as an equal entity within the Federation. Thus, it seemed very important to the CCLCBiH to underline the specificity of the republic as an entity of three equal nations, to ‘affirm’ its position within the Federation (Lučić: 105-6) and thus to pursue a more autonomous policy towards Belgrade and Zagreb. This is why, in May 1968, the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian leadership decided to officially declare the Muslims as one of BiH’s three nations during the twentieth session of the CCLCBiH.

Individual liberty in the form of the expression of national feeling and belonging is one of the basic foundations of the equality of people and peoples. Experience has demonstrated the obvious harmfulness of the various forms of pressure and insistence in earlier periods to make Muslims declare themselves nationally as Serbs or Croats because it is obvious and regularly proven that the Muslims are a people of their own.

With this decision, the CCLCBiH put an end to the ambiguity regarding the Muslims’ ethnic or national status, which—as mentioned earlier—also contributed to reinforcing BiH’s position within the Federation. Moreover, the republic would no longer be a point of discord between Zagreb and Belgrade. That fear was not a figment of some BiH’s Communists’ imaginations; in the 1971 ‘Croatian Spring’, the Croat national institution (Matica hrvatska) led a mass movement for more rights for Croatia and raised the idea of revising the boundaries with neighbouring BiH (Calic: 252). That same year, Mihailo Ɖurić, sociologist and philosopher teaching at the Law Faculty in Belgrade, indirectly questioned BiH’s territorial integrity when he criticised Yugoslavia’s inner boundaries and the fact that 40 per cent of Serbs lived outside the Republic of Serbia (Đurić: 232-3).

At this point, another important parameter must be underlined: some Communists reckoned that the absence of a clear ethnic or national status for Muslims could lead them to return to their religious roots. The Islamic Community (IC), the official religious institution, on several occasions, showed some aspiration to play a leading political and representative role for the Muslims (Kamberović: 73). At least this was the perception of the Commission for Religious Affairs of the LCBiH, which often warned of that risk and demanded to foreclose any political role for the IC. Indeed, the 1960s corresponded to an ‘Islamic revival’ (Karčić): from 1959 to 1965, the number of mosques rose from 901 to 1,265. This intensive construction activity coincided with the release of imprisoned Muslim intellectuals like Alija Izetbegović, who had been sentenced shortly after WWII due to their affiliation with the ‘Young Muslims’, a movement aimed at creating a pan‐Islamic state. Concerning BiH, they advocated for an Islamic ‘rebirth’ among the Muslims, in which religion should constitute the basis of all social life (Bougarel: 280-2; Filandra: 214; Omerika: 120). The possible resurgence of such a movement was an additional motivation for BiH’s leaders to offer the Muslims a more secular identity, that is, a national one. Together with the threatening context mentioned above, this could explain the willingness of the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian leadership to recognise the Muslims as a nation.

To give substance to that decision, the CCLCBiH sought the support of many Muslim intellectuals to create a secularised national identity through the Muslims’ history, culture and literature. An important event to that end was a conference on history held in November 1968 in Sarajevo, organised by the Institute of History of the Labour Movement in the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian capital and led at that time by Enver Redžić. According to him, an important objective of the conference was ‘to provide a basis for the republic’s equal status with other Yugoslav republics, and to prevent any tendencies to negate the equality of the three national groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ (Lučić: 27). More generally, Muslim scholars set about writing their community’s history to prove that the Muslims constituted a nation. Therefore, two books on the Muslims were published and received great attention. Atif Purivatra, professor of political science at Sarajevo University and also member of the Commission of interethnic relations of the CCLCBiH, was very active in promoting the recognition of a Muslim national identity, publishing Muslims’ National and Political Development in 1969. He tried to establish that the Muslims were a separate ethnic community distinct from Serbs and Croats (Purivatra). Salim Ćerić, member of the CCLCBiH, published The Serbo‐Croatian‐Speaking Muslims with a similar argument about Muslims’ ethnic specificity (Ćerić), which received important media attention throughout Yugoslavia (Lučić: 30).

These scientific activities were part of the ‘affirmation policy’ of the Muslim national status. A first important test of that policy was the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian political elite’s struggle to introduce the national category ‘Muslim’ in the Yugoslav census of 1971. As shown in detail by Iva Lučić, the issue was discussed at the federal level and raised some resistance from Macedonia. The leaders of that republic feared that the recognition of a Muslim nation in Yugoslavia would lead to the split of their own Macedonian nation; specifically, they feared that the Macedonian Muslims would no longer identify themselves as part of the Macedonian nation but rather of the newly recognised Muslim one. After several discussions, they were reassured that ‘Muslim in a national sense’ designated only a population of Islamic culture and of Serbo-Croatian language, which excluded the Macedonian‐speaking Muslims. Eventually, the new category ‘Muslim in a national sense’ was introduced and took root. Indeed, contrary to the 1961 census, the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian authorities launched a large‐scale information campaign. They published and distributed a brochure explaining the new category in the forthcoming census (Purivatra and Suljević). Moreover, several Party members published articles in Bosnia and Herzegovinia’s main daily newspaper, Oslobođenje, with the same aim.

According to the results of the 1971 census, Muslims made up 39.6 per cent of BiH’s population, Serbs 37.2 per cent and Croats 20.6 per cent. In 1972, BiH’s new Constitution unequivocally mentioned Muslims as one of the republic’s three nations for the first time. Moreover, it seemed important to the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian political elite to emphasise the three nations’ equality in order to not only reinforce the republic in comparison to Croatia and Serbia but also to ensure BiH’s inner stability. For that purpose, the CCLCBiH advocated the promotion of all three nations’ cultures as well as their proportional national representation (referred to as the ‘national key’) within the state, the Party, the administration, in teaching staff and in leading positions of cultural and media institutions (Pearson). Therefore, it was important to have clear categories in the census in order to ensure implementation of the ‘national key’ on an equal basis between the three nations. As such, contrary to the Bosnian Croats, who remained underrepresented within the Party during the whole socialist era, the proportion of Muslim Party members rose from about 20 per cent of the membership in the late 1940s to 35.3 per cent in 1981, whereas the Muslims constituted about 30 per cent of the population at the end of WWII and reached nearly 39.5 per cent in 1981. Similarly, Muslims in the CCLCBiH rose from 19 per cent in 1959 to 25 per cent in 1965 and about 33 per cent in 1974 (Höpken: 201).

Conclusion: The Recognition of the Muslims as a nation—A Bosnian‐Herzegovinian Initiative

This article set out to investigate why the Yugoslav Communists, who denied the BiH’s Muslims a nation status in the 1940s, changed their position in the 1960s and made of them one of BiH’s three nations. It must be stressed that the achievement of this status was a process profoundly influenced by the changing Yugoslav political context. Contrary to the Soviet Union, where a conscious policy of ‘creating’ nations and national territories was pursued and reinforced by the promotion of local elites (korenizacija), Yugoslavia followed a different path. Whereas in the Soviet Union, the ‘creation’ of nations was a process led by the centre, recognition of a Muslim nation was initiated by Bosnian‐Herzegovinian elites. They followed a path characterised by ‘experimentation’, constantly adapting to the evolving political context. In the early 1960s, that status evolved to ‘ethnic group’ but not a nation. Only after political changes in the mid‐1960s and the growing rivalry between Serbia and Croatia did the status of nationhood became a political option.

Thus, the Muslim political and intellectual elites seized the opportunity offered by those favourable developments in Yugoslavia’s domestic as well as international policy to advocate a better status for their community. BiH’s Muslims’ national recognition changed BiH’s position within the Federation. By asserting it as the republic of three equal nations, the Bosnian‐Herzegovinian leadership aimed at definitively and permanently answering the longstanding question ‘To whom does Bosnia belong’? and to free the republic from the Serbo-Croat rivalry. This solution turned out to be valid for a time, until the nationalistic movements gained in strength, especially with the Serbo-Croat conflict in the 1980s throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, thus dragging BiH’s nations into the 1990s’ war.