The earliest cultural and linguistic roots of Bosnian history can be traced back to the Migration Period of the Early Middle Ages. At that time, the Slavs from southeastern Europe invaded the Eastern Roman Empire and settled the Balkan peninsula. There, they mixed with the indigenous paleo-Balkan peoples, mostly romanized tribes, generically known as the Illyrians on the territory of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also the Celtic population which had intermingled with these since the 4th century BC, and to a lesser extent the Germanic-speaking Ostrogoths which had entered the area in the late 4th century AD. From the chaos of the Dark Ages, from 800 AD, the Slavic tribes coalesced into early principalities. As these expanded, they came to include other Slavic tribes and territories, and later evolved into centralized Kingdoms.
In the twelfth century, a Bosnian state arose that was characterized by an independent religious structure. It developed as a powerful kingdom in the fourteenth century; the designation Bošnjani was used to describe the kingdom's inhabitants. Although there is no credible source for the name, it is speculated that the name could be drawn from a regional name derived from the name of the Bosna river, which flows through the heart of the land. However, the river's name suffer from the same problem as well, so problem of the name persist.
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. (September 2012)
Territorial expansion of the Bosnian kingdom in the Middle Ages
The Bosnian Kingdom grew and expanded under the Kotromanić dynasty to include Croatian and Serbian territories. As a consequence, even more Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians dwelt within its borders, along with adherents of a native Bosnian Church whose origins and nature are a subject of continued debate among scholars. Those belonging to this sect simply called themselves Krstjani ("Christians"). Many scholars have argued that these Bosnian Krstjani were Manichaean dualists related to the Bogomils of Bulgaria, while others question this theory, citing lack of historical evidence. Both Catholic and Orthodox Church authorities considered the Bosnian Church heretical, and launched vigorous proselytizing campaigns to stem its influence. As a result of these divisions, no coherent religious identity developed in medieval Bosnia as it had in Croatia and Serbia.
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. (June 2014)
As the centuries passed, the Bosnian kingdom slowly began to decline. It had become fractured by increased political and religious disunity. By then, the Ottoman Turks had already gained a foothold in the Balkans. First defeating the Serbs at the Battle of Kosovo and expanding westward, the Turks eventually conquered all of Bosnia and portions of neighboring Croatia. Territory that partly belonged to the medieval Croatian Kingdom and partly to the Bosnian Kingdom remained under Ottoman rule for centuries, so long that it was referred to as Turkish Croatia (later as Bosanska Krajina).
These developments altered Bosnian history, as many residents adopted Islam, adding to the complex Bosnian ethno-religious identity. The Bosnian Church disappeared, although the circumstances of its decline has been debated as much as defining its nature and origins. Some historians contend that the Bosnian Krstjani converted en masse to Islam, seeking refuge from Catholic and Orthodox persecution. Others argue that the Bosnian Church had already ceased to operate many decades before the Turkish conquest. Whatever the case, a native and distinct Slavic Muslim community developed among the Bosnians under Ottoman rule, quickly becoming dominant. By the early 1600s, approximately two-thirds of the Bosnian population was Muslim.
Bosnians at the time of the Austro-Hungarian
occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1878 to 1918, Benjamin Kallay, Joint Imperial Minister of Finance and Vienna-based administrator of Bosnia, promoted Bošnjaštvo, a policy that aimed to inspire in Bosnia's people 'a feeling that they belong to a great and powerful nation'. The policy advocated the ideal of a pluralist and multi-confessional Bosnian nation and viewed Bosnians as "speaking the Bosnian language and divided into three religions with equal rights." The policy tried to isolate Bosnia and Herzegovina from its irredentist neighbors (the Orthodox in Serbia, Catholics in Croatia, and the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire). The empire tried to discourage the concept of Croat or Serb nationhood, which had spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina's Catholic and Orthodox communities from neighboring Croatia and Serbia in the mid-19th century. Croats and Serbs who opposed the imperial policy and identified with nationalist ideas, ignored claims of Bosnian nationhood and instead counted Bosnian Muslims as part of their own nations, a concept that was rejected by most Bosnian Muslims. Following the death of Kallay, the policy was abandoned. By the latter half of the 1910s, nationalism was an integral factor of Bosnian politics, with national political parties corresponding to the three groups dominating elections.
U.S. scholars Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine conclude that:
||A Bosnian's identity as a Bosnian - even if it originally referred to his geographical homeland or state membership - has roots going back many centuries, whereas the classification of any Christian Bosnian as a Serb or a Croat goes back barely a century. The idea of being Bosnian Muslim in a "national" (as opposed to a religious) sense is even more recent.
|— Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine, excerpt from their book- Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed
During the period when Yugoslavia was established as a nation, the political establishment in Bosnia and Herzegovina was dominated by Serb and Croat policies; neither of the two terms, Bosnian or Bosniak, was recognized to identify the people as a constituent nation. Consequently, Bosnian Muslims, or anyone who claimed a Bosnian/Bosniak ethnicity, were classified in Yugoslav population statistics as under the category 'regional affiliation.' This classification was used in the last Yugoslav census taken in 1991 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The census classifications in former Yugoslavia were often subject to political manipulation because the counting of populations was critical to power of each group. In the constitutional amendments of 1947, Bosnian Muslims requested the option of 'Bosnian.' But, in the 1948 census, they were given only the choices to identify as 'ethnically undeclared Muslim', 'Serb-Muslim' or 'Croat-Muslim' (the vast majority chose the first option). In the 1953 census, the category "Yugoslav, ethnically undeclared" was introduced; the overwhelming majority of those who identified by this category were Bosnian Muslim.
In the 1961 census, the Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims were categorized as an ethnic group defined as one of 'Muslim-Ethnic affiliation,' but not as a Yugoslav "constitutive nation" alongside Serbs and Croats. In 1964, the Fourth Congress of the Bosnian Party assured the Bosniaks' of the right to self-determination. In 1968 at a meeting of the Bosnian Central Committee, Bosniaks were accepted as a distinct nation, though the leadership decided not to use the Bosniak or Bosnian name. Hence, as a compromise, the option of "Muslims by nationality" was introduced as a category in the 1971 census. This was the official category for use by Bosniaks until the final Yugoslav census in 1991.
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. (September 2012)
In 1990 the name Bosniaks was reintroduced to replace the term "Muslim by nationality". This resulted in Bosniak, or even Muslim, as terms being (re)coined recently as a political compromise. In the centuries of the Ottoman Empire, distinctions among citizens (for taxation purposes, military service etc.) was made based primarily on the individual's religious identity, which was closely tied to ethnicity.
The number of people who identified as Bosnians under the latest (2013) population census is not exactly known, however it is not above 2.73%, as this is the number of people who identified as "Others" and "Bosnians" are listed under this "Others" category.