Hehehe, you thought Belgium was confusing? Brother please, if you want complication, come to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It’s time to learn Geography – NOW!!! Hey everyone, I’m your host Paul Barbato. If you’re ever on a game show and there’s a million dollar question, chances are this country will be on that million-dollar question – so pay attention, you might win some money. Bosnia-Herzegovina have what seems like a very simple flag, but there’s a lot hidden underneath it. First of all the flag has a blue field with a yellow triangle, and seven full stars and two half stars at the top and bottom of the hypotenuse of the triangle. The triangle represents the three constituent peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina – the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats, it also respectively represents the map of Bosnia which kind of looks like a triangle. The stars represent Europe and are meant to go on forever hence the half stars at the bottom and the top. Some say the flag was even partially adapted from the European Union flag. The colours white and blue and yellow are traditionally seen as colours representing peace. Now let’s find out peaceful this country is, shall we? Remember Belgium, and how confusing that whole Flanders-Wallonia thing was? Well, get ready because we’re gonna conquer one place, two regions, two entities, and a weird third semi-rogue autonomous region district. Just for a warning, you might have a seizure trying to understand all of this stuff so if your brain’s not that strong just fastforward to the Physical Geography part and we’ll have some nice pretty pictures for you to look at! First of all, Bosnia-Herzegovina is located in that lovely area of mass confusion in south Europe known as the Balkans. Located to the south of Croatia, west of Serbia and north of Montenegro. You would think the Bosnia-Herzegovina is landlocked but if you look very close, you’ll notice they have the smallest little panhandle which touches the Adriatic Sea for only about 25 kilometres or about 15 miles. Now here’s where things get tricky – when you hear the name Bosnia and Herzegovina, you would think it kind of sounds like two separate nationalistic entities, kind of like the UK, or the United Arab Emirates but that’s not really the case. So first of all, what exactly is Bosnia and what exactly is Herzegovina? Well, in the shortest and simplest way I can put it, they’re just regions. Although the borders are vague and not clearly defined, Bosnia is generally located in this area and Herzegovina is generally located in the south, in this area. Culturally, the people of Bosnia are the same as the people in Herzegovina except there are more ethnic Croats living in the south by Herzegovina, especially on the border of Croatia. The only reason why it’s separate is because some guy in the 1400s created his own country, he had the title of Herzog which is where the name Herzegovina comes from – but other than that it’s just the same country. Now here’s where things do get divided though. Bosnia-Herzegovina is kind of divided into two separate entities, each one with about half the land of the country that serve the three different people groups known as the ‘constituent peoples’, a unique term that only applies to Bosnia-Herzegovina. We’ll explain more about this in the demographics. Essentially, Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Republic of Srpska. I know, it looks like it’s pronounced ‘s-puh-puh-perp-ska’, but it’s pronounced ‘Srpska’. Triple dipthongs are an amazing linguistic phenomena. Most of the ethnic Serbs live in the Republic of Srpska, and each side has its own capital. Sarajevo, for the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Banja Luka for the Republic of Srpska, however Sarajevo acts as the national capital for the entire country as well. Furthermore, the Republic of Srpska is split into two regions, and then they are both divided into cantons (or counties) and municipalities – ten for the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and seven for the Republic of Srpska. Keep in mind Bosnia-Herzegovina has two small municipal exclaves on the Sava River on the border of Croatia known as the Posavina canton county. These belong to the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and make the smallest cantons. Then you have the weird Brčko district – I know, it looks like ‘Bm-bizh-ko’. It’s pronounced ‘Birch-ko’. That was a quadruple dipthong – gotta love these Slavic words! This place is kind of seen as a ‘neutral ground’ and kind of belongs to both entities, and it kind of governs itself. All of this was done to kind of alleviate the demographical tensions in the country after the Yugoslav wars in the 90s. However the strategy behind it has always been kind of shaky at its foundations. Speaking of war, this place has a lot of lingering reminders of its brutal past. Like in Sarajevo, there’s a tunnel museum and the Sarajevo ‘roses’ which are mortar blasts in a sidewalk that were filled up with pink concrete. They do have a little small sense of humour though. They made an ironic ICAR Canned Beef Monument dedicated to the longest airlift raid attempt in history for nearly three years in which humanitarian airlifts from all over Europe and especially in the UK would drop off food supplies that were often expired leftovers from previous wars that nobody wanted to eat. Many times the food contained pork that many of the Muslims in the country had to abstain from eating, so it was useless to them. It was literally the world’s most sarcastic monument ever. Now if you thought Bosnia-Herzegovina was pretty quirky with their land borders, then you’ll notice that the actual land has a lot more tricks and gimmicks. First of all, the country is mostly mountainous or hilly as it lies on the Dianaric Alps in the Balkan Peninsula, with flatter lands in the north-east by the Panonian Basin. About half the country is forested and about 30% of the land is arable, mostly in the north-east regions, whereas the south, mostly in Herzegovina, is more rocky and dry than the rest of the country. Here’s where things get a little interesting – yes, the country does have a lot of potential arable land but the problem is due to its war past, the country still has about two hundred thousand landmines that they have to clear from the ground. But I mean hey, that’s only like a third of the amount from Albania, remember? Woohoo, slightly less danger! Then, in the Republic of Srpska, you can find the last jungle (or primeval forest) in southern Europe, the Perućica forest, which is only accessible to explorers in the company of rangers. The world’s tallest Norwegian spruce tree can be found here and many captivating waterfalls and ancient trees that take you back years in the past. Now here’s the funny thing – many people in Bosnia around Sarajevo will tell you that they’re pretty certain that the country has the world’s largest manmade ancient pyramid. Located near the town of Visoko, the hills in the region seem to have an almost perfect geometric shape that creepishly resembles a pyramid with almost equal sides and angles. Modern archaeologists are sceptical, but if you look at the pictures from above, I mean, it does kind of look like a pyramid. I don’t know, you be the judge. Also, thanks to its mountainous terrain Bosnia-Herzegovina was selected and hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. However since then the entire area including the bobsledding trail is all but completely abandoned and tagged with graffiti. It’s actually a kind of popular tourist spot these days. Bosnia-Herzegovina just doesn’t stop when it comes to the strange atmosphere but the people here are even more complex. Here’s the rule of Bosnia-Herzegovina – you always have to constantly think in threes. Never refer to everyone in the country as just ‘Bosnian’. Half of everybody will get super mad at you. First of all, the country has about four million people, about 48% of whom are Bosnians, 33% Serb and 15% Croats, with the remaining 4% from other nations. The three main people groups of this country are pretty much what make it function in such a weird way. Now here’s the funny thing – Bosnians, Croatians, Serbians and even Montenegrans can all pretty much understand each other with their languages, their languages are all pretty much the same Slavic-based dialect with a few differential nuances. The only difference is that typically Serbian is written with the Cyrillic alphabet, and Bosnian and Croatian are written with a Latin based alphabet. However they will fiercely tell you that the languages are separate and distinct languages – Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian. They even put warning signs in all three languages on cigarette packs. So essentially it’s like this – “Hi! I’m speaking American!” “Hello! I’m speaking British!” “Hi! I’m speaking Irish!” “You know what you guys all pretty much understand each other and you’re all kind of saying the same thing, aren’t you all speaking the same-” “NO!!!” Now here’s where things get really confusing – Bosnia-Herzegovina has a bicameral legislature that includes a three member presidency, one for each of the people groups – the Serbs, the Croatians and the Bosnians. That’s right, a country has three Presidents. You don’t see anything like this anywhere else in the world. However, the state government is highly decentralized and a lot of the legislation just goes to the respective entities. Culturally, this place just sticks out. As a former part of the Ottoman Empire, Islam spread to the nation and today is still part of the religious majority. Muslims make up about 45% of the population, most of whom are non-denominational Muslims. About 36% are Serb Orthodox Christians, and 15% Catholic, mostly from the Croats. It’s kind of strange because Bosnia is one of the few places in the world where you can find the whitest Muslims you will ever see in your life. It’s funny though because for a long time Bosnia-Herzegovina was also under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so you kind of get this weird European-Muslim-Eastern mix in terms of culture. It’s also kind of known as the place where World War One started. Remember Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Yeah, that’s kind of how the country interacts with itself. Now how does it interact with the outsiders? Now this is where things get very politically divisive, because the country has a very deep history in alliances and enemies. Without getting into too much detail, essentially in the 90s the country was in a straight up war internally and it was basically against all three people groups. After the war ended and the Dayton Agreement was signed, the country cooled off (kind of) and the people agreed to calm down (a bit) and stop killing each other and make a new country that had a full sovereign status as one, but with divided regions that were somewhat segregated. Did you get that? This was the best they could do, and I mean honestly with a country with that much internal animosity it worked kind of well. It’s like: “Look, we all hate each other and we still do but things have gotten a little too crazy so let’s just agree to stop all the chaos and hate each other in a distant yet constructive way, so that our country can still make money and not get ridiculed by everyone else outside. Deal?” “Deal.” In terms of outside friends, Bulgaria was the first country to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s sovereignty and immediately stepped in with bilateral relations and the two get along just fine today. Surprisingly, Malaysia is also a huge supporter of the country and during the war became the only country in Asia to accept Bosnian refugees. To this day many Bosnian students study abroad and live in Malaysia. Now, when it comes to best friends it really depends on who you ask in the country. Of course, the Croats will tell you Croatia, the Bosnians will most likely say Turkey and the Serbs will say Serbia. In a weird way, though, the division of peoples kind of inadvertently increases the diplomatic relations the country as a whole has access to. For example, Bosnians may not like the Russians but the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina do. Therefore the country as a whole benefits from the relations that one people group engage in, regardless of how the second feels. Isn’t that weird? It’s like: “The friend of my enemy is by default my friend too.” Welcome to Bosnia-Herzegovina! Many Bosnians have actually tried to contend for a unified central government, all under one legislation. However, the Republic of Srpska is fiercely opposed to this. They only kind of reluctantly agree to be under Bosnia-Herzegovina’s sovereignty, just by a few strands of hair. They’ve even threatened that if Kosovo gains complete independence, they will have no problem annexing themselves back to Serbia, which would make Serbia look like this. In conclusion, Bosnia-Herzegovina is like the Belgium of the Balkans but with stranger conflicts, quieter controlled anger, slightly dysfunctional politics but with a pinch of sarcasm and dry humour that gives the country its spicy appeal. Stay tuned, Botswana is coming up next!