Bosnians began to immigrate to North America around 1900, though their numbers remained small until the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resultant civil war in the early 1990s produced a flood of refugees. In the U.S. 2000 census, of the 328,547 Americans who claimed Yugoslav descent, about 100,000 were Bosniaks (Bosnians of Muslim descent). In the 2001 Canadian census, 25,665 people claimed Bosnian descent. In both countries, the vast majority of Bosnians were refugees. The earliest Bosnian immigrants settled in Chicago, Detroit, and other industrial cities of the North. In 2000, more than 75 percent lived in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary, Indiana. The rapid influx of refugees after 1992 led to Bosnian settlements in New York City; St. Louis, Missouri; St. Petersburg, Florida; Chicago; Cleveland, Ohio; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Bosnian Canadians have gravitated toward Toronto and southern Ontario, mainly because of developing economic opportunities there.
The modern country of Bosnia and Herzegovina occupies 19,700 square miles of the western Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic Sea between 42 and 45 degrees north latitude. Serbia and Montenegro lies to the east and the south, Croatia to the north and west. The land is mountainous with areas of dense forest. In 2002, the population was estimated at 3,922,205. The people are ethnically divided between Bosniaks, who make up 44 percent of the population; Serbs, 31 percent; and Croats, 17 percent. The population is similarly divided along religious lines: 43 percent Muslim, 31 percent Orthodox, and 18 percent Catholic. All groups speak similar Serbo-Croat languages. Throughout history, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been ruled both as independent provinces under larger nations and as a joint province. Bosnia was first ruled by Croatia in the 10th century, before control passed to Hungary for 200 years. The region came under Turkish rule (Ottoman Empire) from 1463 until 1878, during which time large portions of the population were converted to Islam. As the border regions of the Ottoman Empire became embroiled in international conflict during the 19th century, Catholics from Bosnia generally adopted a Croatian identity and Orthodox Christians a Serbian one, leaving Muslims as the only remaining “Bosnians.” When Austria- Hungary took control of the region in 1878, Bosnia was united with Herzegovina into a single province. In 1918, Bosnia became a province of Yugoslavia until 1946 when it was again united with Herzegovina as a joint republic under the new Communist government of Josip Broz, Marshal Tito. Yugoslavia struggled economically in the 1980s, leading to increased tensions between the country’s various ethnic groups and a declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence in 1991. The following year the question of independence was decided by a referendum that flung the country into a three-way ethnic civil war. Bosnian Serbs purged Bosnian Muslims from their territory, laid siege to the capital of Sarajevo, and embarked on a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” In 1994, Muslims and Croats joined in a confederation to fight the Bosnian Serbs who had taken control of most of the country. In 1995, with the help of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air strikes, the Muslim-Croat confederation regained all but a quarter of the land. NATO stabilization forces continued into 2004 to occupy the country, which was governed as a republic under a rotating executive.
It is difficult to arrive at precise figures for Bosnian immigration. Prior to the 1990s, Bosnian in Yugoslavia was equated with Muslim, and religious categories were not used for enumeration of immigrants. Bosnians ordinarily identified themselves in political terms as Turks or Austro-Hungarians prior to World War I, or as Serbs, Croatians, or Yugoslavs after World War I. Only with the growing sense of nationalism in the wake of independence did the term Bosnian (meaning “from Bosnia”) become widely used and finally incorporated into the record keeping of the United States and Canada.
The first Bosnian settlers to enter the United States in significant numbers were peasant farmers from the poorest areas of Herzegovina. Most settled in Chicago and other midwestern cities after 1880, where they worked on the new subway system and in other construction projects. A second group of Bosnians, implicated by their association with Serbian monarchists or the fascist Croatian Ustasha regime, immigrated to the United States in the wake of the 1946 Communist takeover of Yugoslavia. They tended to be well educated and broadly representative of the diverse Muslim society of Bosnia. The largest group of immigrants came in the wake of the 1992 war with Serbia, in which 2 million Bosnians, mostly Bosniaks, were made refugees. From only 15 immigrants in 1992, Bosnian immigration jumped dramatically as the fighting wound down, with almost 90,000 being admitted to the United States by 2002.
The first influx of Bosnians into Canada was after World War II, fleeing from the Communist regime. Although most were Muslims, they largely considered themselves Croatians of Muslim faith. By the late 1980s, there were about 1,500 Bosnian Muslims in Canada, the majority having come into the country after the mid-1960s, when Yugoslavia relaxed its emigration policies. In the wake of the “ethnic cleansing” between 1992 and 1995, thousands of refugees were admitted to Canada. Of the 25,665 Bosnian immigrants in 2001, 88 percent (22,630) arrived between 1991 and 2001.
See also Austro-Hungarian immigration
; Croatian immigration
; Serbian immigration
; Yugoslav immigration