By Aynura Akbas


As a specific form of political existence, citizenship refers to legal, political, and social bond between individuals in a polity and their government, public authority, or the state. This bond also regulates the relations among individuals and has both practical and normative implications. Besides the traditional approach to studying citizenship in terms of its legal status, the field of sociology began to study citizenship by focusing on membership, inclusion, exclusion, participation, and allocation of resources. Increasing social pressure caused by the emergence of new social movements in the 1990s has further led to proliferation of citizenship being understood in terms of individual rights. Over time, citizenship has undergone numerous changes. Transformations of citizenship brought to the fore the question of how citizenships are contested and remade to mean different things in different contexts. This process is especially peculiar in terms of new states.

Development of citizenship in European nation-states was largely driven by various political struggles relating to its conception and practice, but also to the matter of languages and political cultures. Over the last couple centuries, most of Western European nation-states developed into representational democracies with distinct national citizenship laws which regulate inclusion, exclusion, and extension of citizenship rights. Most citizenship laws of these countries conceptualise citizenship in terms of ethnic concept of nationality whereby nationality is extended to children of nationals, and in terms of political concept of nationality whereby nationality includes children born on the territory of the state. Nevertheless, the criteria of inclusion, exclusion, and extension of citizenship was subject to multiple conceptual and practical changes, especially in developing democracies, immigrant-receiving states, and in newly formed states. 

Conceptualisation of citizenship in newly formed nation-states is different from older-established states because new nation-states use politics of national identity as the main source of new citizenship. Traditionally, ethnic or civic citizenship laws are attributed to historically formed ethnic or civic national identity. However, in newly formed nation-states such as those of post-Yugoslav and post-Soviet republics, there may not be a historically formed conception of national identity that can easily translate into citizenship law. In such conditions, ideological factors and political goals may overpower previous institutional legacies. For example, Soviet citizenship law was inclusive and extended its citizenship to anyone without any requirements, but newly formed republics that were fuelled by the desire to establish national identity, did not continue the Soviet politics.

Citizenship in newly formed states tends to rely on re-making of ethnic citizenship through the process of re-ethnicization. Joppke outlined several important steps in the process of re-ethnicization. For example, membership to citizenship is ascribed at birth and it has no time limitation, meaning that citizens do not lose membership when they leave the country for an extended period of time. Moreover, all non-members are obliged to “naturalise” in order to gain access to citizenship status. On the contrary, most Western nation-states which experienced a large influx of immigrants coming from other countries, have liberalised and de-ethnicised citizenship rights to extend citizenship through naturalisation processes and other methods.

Re-making of citizenship in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina

This article examines practices and projects of citizenship in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a particular focus on the “(re)making of” citizenship in the period after the 1992 – 1995 armed conflict. We side with Štiks’ argument that citizenship is instrumentalised for the purpose of ethnic engineering with a goal to differentiate and establish ethnic core group or ethnic majority.

It was in May 1980 when Josip Broz Tito, Marshall of Yugoslavia and one person whole of the Yugoslav system revolved around, died and left its six republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina) with a vacuum of authority. The term Titova Jugoslavija (Titoist Yugoslavia) accurately depicted the role of his personality in the Yugoslav state and is considered one of the main reasons for the failure of “Yugoslav consciousness” following his death, that is, a failure of “a  Yugoslav  socialist  patriotism,  which  is  not  the opposite  of  but  rather  a  necessary  internationalist   supplement  to  democratic national consciousness”. Another issue that complicated the reality of the Yugoslav state after Tito’s death was in that “until the very end, the concept of nationality (narodnost), unclear in the Yugoslav constitutional system, remained in contrast to the concept of people (narod)”. While it may generally be understood that people (narod) refers to “ethnic formations whose ethnic centres lay within the boundaries of Yugoslavia”, it is important to emphasise that there exists a difficulty in translation when it comes to the term narod. Narod (as in many Slavic languages) can often mean a nation or people in the national sense, but it can also denote people as the category without any national content. Nationality (narodnost), one the other hand, referred to “ethnic centres outside Yugoslavia”. This ambiguity of concepts and lack of clarity regarding their meaning in the Constitution of 1974 contributed to them becoming important part of discussions on self-determination and the possible secession of the republics. Such discussions often tangled political goals with freedom of interpretation in understanding the relations between the concepts of nation and that of the republic. Those who argued for the national right of self-determination “identified the nation with Yugoslavia’s six officially recognized narodi (…) apparently taking it for granted that the distinction between narod (nation) and narodnost (nationality) would survive the socialist regime that had introduced it”. Budding argues that “the political legacy of “nations and their republics” (…) was one of the socialist Yugoslavia’s foundation stones”. It was primarily because of that that “Yugoslavia’s political discourse frequently merged territorial and personal nationality, casting republics as the political representatives of nations”. While each of the republics functioned as a multinational polity in the time of Yugoslavia, in the post-socialist context “the idea that each republic belonged to a particular nation took on a new significance, becoming a significant obstacle to the development of civic nationalisms”. 

Bosnia-Herzegovina soon turned out to be the most difficult place to which to apply this idea because it was “the only republic not associated with one dominant ethnic group; “Bosnian,” a common term of identification, was strictly a regional distinction”.  In fact, because of its diverse composition, most of Bosnian politicians of the time perceived the country as ““Yugoslavia” in miniature; nationalism, they thought, could have especially explosive consequences”. The census of 1991 reported a population of 4.1 million, of whom 41% identified as Muslim, 31.4% as Serb, 17.3% as Croat, and 7.6% as Others. Elissa Helms notes that, although many urban Bosnians felt that ethnic and religious identity was not central to their lives but rather an imposed idea by nationalist politicians, this was generally a simplified narrative told to foreigners as a way to counter the outside image of BIH as the stronghold of nationalism. In reality, ethnic differences were not only present in Yugoslavia, but they were fostered and maintained through census categories and power-sharing mechanisms. Moreover, none of the three ethnic groups living territorially intermixed felt like a minority, but rather as equally important part of the nation.

The peace agreement introduced “democracy of ethnic oligarchies” and positioned the country as a form of international protectorate, thus limiting its full sovereignty. The Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the armed conflict also introduced an institutionalised re-ethnicisation process through the concept of “constituent peoples” and a new political system based on ethnic representation and ethnic quotas on all levels of government. 

Štiks defined the process of ethnic engineering as part of the process of “creation of new independent citizenship regimes as the intentional policy of governments and lawmakers to influence by legal means and related administrative practices the ethnic composition of their population in favour of their ethnic core group.” The purpose of ethnic engineering in relation to new citizenship regimes is to “exclude as much as possible, legally, politically and practically, members of other ethnic groups from new citizenship and at the same time to include co-ethnics at home, overseas, but for the most part those living in the neighbouring countries.” 

After the dissolution of the Yugoslav multinational federal and after the end of armed conflict, newly independent and politically fragmented Bosnia-Herzegovina began the process of building remaking of citizenship regime. In the process of nation-building and re-making of citizenship, many people who did not belong to core ethnic groups were excluded from membership and participation, which caused widespread exclusion and deterioration in civic rights and in human rights. Moreover, in a broader context, many people “suffered immediate degradation in their civic status once Yugoslavia began to disappear.” Due to the dissolution of the Yugoslav state, individuals who did not reside in republics of “their” nation, became aliens “in the place where they had long resided, or simply stateless.” The issue of statelessness particularly caused issues and widespread human rights abuses. Vulnerable groups such as refugees, internally displaced persons, and the Roma, all became stateless. 

Unlike many new nation-states, most post-Yugoslav states all applied legal continuity model whereby “all previous citizens of the former socialist republics would be automatically rendered citizens of the new states.” However, other elements were also included as part of new citizenship regimes. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, ethnic preferences were introduced for extension and acquisition of citizenship status. What was once a community of equal citizens under the law became groups of individuals differentiated by status based on ethnic grounds. This also determines their level of inclusion, exclusion, and extension of citizenship. There were individuals who were invited to acquire citizenship based on their ethnic identity, thus having dual citizenship. Bosnia-Herzegovina shares citizenship status with Croatia and Serbia. There were also individuals who were excluded based on having a different ethnic identity.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular, there is a direct impact of external forced on civic status of individuals and citizenship laws via the medium of international intervention. The Constitution established three constituent peoples who enjoy greater rights solely on the basis of their ethnic identity. This translates into electoral processes and allocation of political posts in state institutions. As Štiks when ethnic engineering moves to a wider range of political processes, it entails “excluding members of other groups as political competitors,” as well as “outright political exclusion” and in its extreme form “forcing people to leave their places of residence, expelling them or ethnically cleansing a territory where political competition and elections take place.” In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the politics of outright political exclusion of minority groups led to violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) which, based on the non-discrimination principle in the cases of Sejdić and Finci and others, criticised and sanctions the rigid ethnicization of Bosnian political space.


Modern-day conceptualisation of citizenship is undergoing rapid changes. Fuelled by new social movements, massive social and political uprisings, we are increasingly drawn to re-imagine what it means to be a citizen. There is an evident trend of imagining a more collective citizenship. European Union integration process brought a different supra-national conceptualisation of citizenship. 

Therefore, it is imperative that Bosnia-Herzegovina moves away from ethnic binaries and allows more space for a new conception of multicultural civic citizenship. While the world is increasingly drawn to postmodern post national conceptions of citizenship, it is time that Bosnia-Herzegovina escapes the limiting constrains of ethnic citizenship and creates a new citizenship regime derived from values of plurality and inclusion.


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