Bosnia and Herzegovina Population

Bosnia and Herzegovina Population

The civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s still characterizes the country. In the past, the ethnic groups lived side by side, but today the country is politically and ethnically divided.

Key figures and facts

  • Capital: Sarajevo
  • Ethnic groups: Bosniakers 50.1%, Serbs 30.8%, Croats 15.4%, others 2.7%, uncertain 1% (2013)
  • Language: Bosnian (official) 52.9%, Serbian (official) 30.8%, Croatian (official) 14.6%, other 1.6%, uncertain 0.2% (2013)
  • Religion: Muslims 50.7%, Orthodox 30.7%, Roman Catholic 15.2%, atheists 0.8%, agnostics 0.3%, others 1.2%, uncertain 1.1% (2013)
  • Population: 3,503,554 (2018)
  • Control Form: Democratic Republic
  • Area: 51 129 Km2
  • Currency: Marka
  • GNP per capita: 12 172 PPP $
  • National Day: March 1st

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Population

The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is 3,835,586 (2020). In 2020, the number of residents was reduced by 0.19 percent compared to 2019. In 2020, net immigration was minus 0.4 per thousand. The birth and death rates are 8.6 and 10.2 people per 1000 residents respectively. The birth rate is 1.33 children per woman. Life expectancy at birth is 74.5 years for men and 77.5 years for women (2020).

Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Population

The population density is 74.9 persons per square kilometer (2020). The northern and central parts of the country are the most densely populated areas. 49.0 percent of the population lives in urban areas. The largest cities are the capital Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla and Mostar.

Population of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Year (Historical)

Year Population Annual Growth Rate Population Density Global Rank
2020 3,280,708 -0.610% 64.3298 135
2019 3,300,889 -0.690% 64.7255 135
2018 3,323,814 -0.820% 65.1750 135
2017 3,351,414 -1.030% 65.7162 135
2016 3,386,155 -1.260% 66.3974 134
2015 3,429,250 -1.540% 67.2424 133
2010 3,705,361 -0.320% 72.6563 129
2005 3,765,220 0.080% 73.8300 126
2000 3,751,065 -0.410% 73.5525 124
1995 3,828,939 -3.020% 75.0794 119
1990 4,463,312 0.320% 87.5181 107
1985 4,392,020 1.000% 86.1202 104
1980 4,179,744 0.960% 81.9579 102
1975 3,984,994 1.170% 78.1393 101
1970 3,760,418 1.240% 73.7359 98
1965 3,535,532 1.850% 69.3263 97
1960 3,225,557 1.900% 63.2484 95
1955 2,936,198 1.990% 57.5747 94
1950 2,661,185 0.000% 52.1823 93

Major Cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Population

Rank City Population
1 Sarajevo 696,620
2 Banja Luka 220,995
3 Zenica 164,312
4 Tuzla 142,375
5 Mostar 104,407
6 Bihac 75,530
7 Bugojno 41,267
8 Brcko 38,857
9 Bijeljina 37,581
10 Prijedor 36,236
11 Trebinje 33,067
12 Travnik 31,016
13 Doboj 27,124
14 Cazin 21,630
15 Velika Kladusa 19,219
16 Visoko 17,779
17 Gorazde 17,539
18 Konjic 15,839
19 Gracanica 15,647
20 Gradacac 15,548
21 Bosanska Krupa 15,082
22 Mrkonjic Grad 14,626
23 Foca 14,504
24 Zavidovici 14,269
25 Zivinice 13,530
26 Sanski Most 13,440
27 Gradiska 13,235
28 Bileca 13,146
29 Kakanj 12,295
30 Livno 11,637
31 Odzak 11,510
32 Stijena 10,733
33 Sipovo 10,627
34 Prozor 10,238
35 Novi Travnik 9,895
36 Ljubuski 9,876
37 Kozarska Dubica 9,848
38 Derventa 9,662
39 Jajce 9,652
40 Todorovo 9,449
41 Siroki Brijeg 9,259
42 Brod 9,138
43 Novi Grad 8,809
44 Sokolac 8,731
45 Mionica 8,590
46 Zepce 8,391
47 Kiseljak 8,364
48 Potoci 8,201
49 Fojnica 8,133
50 Milici 8,099
51 Vogosca 8,069
52 Vitez 8,029
53 Zvornik 7,915
54 Donji Vakuf 7,844
55 Capljina 7,812
56 Tomislavgrad 7,626
57 Stolac 7,622
58 Trn 7,442
59 Tesanj 7,439
60 Pale 7,347
61 Maglaj 7,288
62 Srbac 7,269
63 Nevesinje 7,202
64 Divicani 7,140
65 Kljuc 7,134
66 Buzim 7,118
67 Banovici 7,100
68 Vares 7,082
69 Hadzici 7,062
70 Prnjavor 6,988
71 Gornji Vakuf 6,903
72 Knezevo 6,755
73 Vrnograc 6,749
74 Kladanj 6,672
75 Srebrenik 6,612
76 Celinac 6,559
77 Podzvizd 6,554
78 Trzacka Rastela 6,506
79 Otoka 6,484
80 Tojsici 6,476
81 Varoska Rijeka 6,462
82 Pecigrad 6,403
83 Omarska 6,355
84 Laktasi 6,353
85 Gromiljak 6,346
86 Kovaci 6,299
87 Teslic 6,294
88 Sekovici 6,204
89 Jablanica 6,098
90 Visegrad 5,976
91 Mala Kladusa 5,922
92 Kalenderovci Donji 5,779
93 Ilijas 5,744
94 Gostovici 5,691
95 Podhum 5,690
96 Crnici 5,678
97 Zeljezno Polje 5,672
98 Citluk 5,607
99 Blatnica 5,565
100 Tesanjka 5,555
101 Sanica 5,555
102 Bosansko Grahovo 5,532
103 Orahovica Donja 5,501
104 Donja Mahala 5,454
105 Janja 5,433
106 Ostrozac 5,345
107 Mejdan – Obilicevo 5,289
108 Jelah 5,180
109 Coralici 5,112
110 Rodoc 5,048
111 Velika Obarska 5,031
112 Kotor Varos 4,957
113 Mahala 4,951
114 Kacuni 4,931
115 Sturlic 4,903

Population development in light of the Bosnia war

War and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnia War of 1992–1995 led to major refugee flows and changes in settlement. The ethnic composition after this war is a politically-influenced issue. In an independent poll from 2011, 41.3 percent stated that they are Bosnians, 35.9 percent Serbs, 13.6 percent Croats and 9.1 percent Bosnians. The latter term, “Bosnian,” is considered ethnically neutral and is often used by people of mixed backgrounds and opponents of ethno-nationalist politics.


The religious landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina is very complex, with major differences also within the major religions: Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism.

50.7 percent of the population is Muslim, 30.7 percent Orthodox and 15.2 percent Roman Catholic. 3.4 percent of the population has a different outlook on life (2013). Most Bosniaks are Muslims. Bosnia’s Orthodox are essentially Serbs, belonging to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Croatian Bosnians are largely Roman Catholic.

Historical background

In the Middle Ages, the Bosnians had their own church, the Bosnian Church. In addition, there were Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. After the Ottoman conquest of the country in the 1400s, many quickly converted to Islam. The Turks did not enforce Islam, but Islam was the religion of the victors and the elite. The privileged position of the Muslims, legally and financially, contributed to the transition to Islam. Bosnia also lacked a resourceful and well-organized Christian faith community.

By the end of the 16th century, more than half of the population were Muslims. Some of these belonged to different directions of mystic Islam, Sufism. Some such sufi orders still exist, such as nakshbandi and kadiri in Sarajevo. The cities of Bosnia became rich centers of Islamic culture, especially Sarajevo during the Gaza House revival in the 16th century.

While the Catholic Church was being persecuted, the Orthodox Church gained relative freedom under the Turks. The Turks allowed many Orthodox from Herzegovina to settle in the border areas in the northwest after the Catholic population fled in the 16th century. There have also been a number of Jews in the country, many of them seafarers who were displaced from the Pyrenees Peninsula and sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire.

Oriental urban culture was characterized by architecture, art and literature. There was great literary activity in Turkish, Arabic or Persian, but also in Bosnian language written in Arabic. Because of the historical religious differences, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats have different literary traditions and alphabets, which also prevailed in certain social differences. The fact that religious and ethnic differences in Bosnia and Herzegovina are more or less overlapping is due to the fact that religious belonging in the Ottoman Empire was an important social category that eventually evolved into ethnic identity, most recently among Muslims.

Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics are alike and speak the same language. Historically, the groups have lived relatively mixed and been in close contact for hundreds of years, mostly peaceful. Religion, or the differences of religion, has, however, often gained an important political significance in the multi-ethnic community in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Yugoslavia.

From 1804, Serbian nationalists sought to include all Serbian-inhabited areas, including those in Bosnia, in one state. In this ideology, Bosnian Muslims were defined as Serbs who had converted to Islam. In contrast, Austria-Hungary, which had occupied Bosnia in 1878, sought to build a common national identity for the country’s Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox. This was based on the idea that they spoke the same language and belonged to the same nation, regardless of religious differences. The purpose was to create a buffer between Serbian and Croatian nationalism, which both claimed Bosnian territory and defined the Muslims as either Serbs or Croats.

In the Serbian-dominated Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941), the relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church was strained. In 1937 a fierce dispute broke out over an agreement between Belgrade and the Vatican (the ” Concordate “) to normalize relations with the Catholic Church.

In the twentieth century, all violent conflicts in the country overlapped with ethnic-religious divides, both during World War II and the 1990s.

During World War II, several of the conflict lines in the bloody civil war followed the religious ones. Bosnia and Herzegovina was incorporated into the independent state of Croatia, where the fascist movement Ustasja massacred Jews and Orthodox Serbs. However, Bosnian Muslims were considered Croats with Islamic religion. Serbian Chetniks, in turn, terrorized Croats and Muslims.

During communism in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1992) there was official religious freedom, although religion was suspected. First, communist ideology was atheistic. In addition, the religious differences in Bosnia-Herzegovina coincided to a great extent with the ethnic groups and were thus highly inflamed after the war, especially between Serbs and Croats. In order to weaken ethnic nationalism, the Yugoslav authorities went hard on the religious institutions. The Catholic Church in particular was considered a hostile element. Not only were Croat Catholics loyal to Rome, a center of power outside the country at a time when Yugoslavia’s relationship with Italy was very excited. Catholicism was also regarded as the strongest ideological competitor of communism.

The regime also struck down the Young Muslims organization, and hundreds of activists were imprisoned or killed. Properties were nationalized and educational institutions closed. Under Tito, the Muslims gained some political goodwill because they improved Yugoslavia’s relations with Muslim countries.

Reducing religious differences thus became part of the titoic idea of ​​”unity and brotherhood”. In practice, this meant curtailing religious freedom and winging the religious communities. The churches and the Islamic faith community were controlled by a state committee. The authorities tolerated religion as long as it remained within purely private settings. In the public, Yugoslav sphere, which included politics, workplaces, schools and the army, religion was excluded. Those who attended church or mosque were not allowed to hold certain positions. Very many people did not practice religion. In the 1980s, a survey showed that only 17 percent of residents considered themselves religious. Bosnian Muslims were very atheistic and non-practicing.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, unlike the other republics in Yugoslavia, lacked a state people, “nation,” and the status of Bosnian Muslim status was unclear. Few Muslims would define themselves as Serbs or Croats of Islam. At the end of the 1960s, Bosnian Muslims in the Communist Party had a breakthrough for the Muslims to be recognized as a sixth nation. However, the Communists considered the nation Muslimani (with a large M) as an ethnic or cultural community and not religiously as a Muslim (with a small m), that is, the followers of Islam.

At the same time, religious flourishing took place in Yugoslavia, especially among Serbs and Croats. This was due to the fact that the 1970s religious communities began to function and articulated their nations’ dissatisfaction with the central power and thus gradually gained a more visible role in the public. An important factor was the rise of the cult of Mary in Medugorje in Herzegovina. In 1981, six Croatian teenagers are said to have experienced the Virgin Mary turned out for them. Not long after, Medugorje had become an important pilgrimage destination. The authorities interpreted the cult as hostile opposition to the Yugoslav system, and the phenomenon created great religious and national controversy in Yugoslavia. Many Serbs perceived the Mariakult in this area, where there were many Serbian mass graves from the war, as a sign that Croatian fascism was on its way back.

Towards the end of the 1980s there was a propaganda war between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. Both had taken on the role of guardian of their nation and presented their nation’s history as full of suffering and persecution of the other religious groups in Yugoslavia. One of the most important issues was the suffering of World War II.

When the majority in Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Muslims and Croats) called for independence in the spring of 1992, the Serbs launched an attack to prevent this. The nationalist regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb had close ties to the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in Croatia, respectively. The conflict was saturated by religious symbolism and myths, while many clergy helped whip up the mood and justify political agendas. For example, it was a widespread idea that one’s own nation had a special relationship with God and a sacred right to a territory. Groups with a different religion were displaced, and destruction of their cultural monuments and shrines was often a way to erase their history in the area. Those who took control of an area marked this by building their own religious monuments.

During communism, ordinary Bosnians often had little knowledge and interest in religion and religious differences, but during and after the war many became more preoccupied with their religious identity because they were forced to choose sides and identify themselves as members of one of the ethno-religious groups.. Once the local population has been divided along religious divisions in the twentieth century, it has often been linked to a divide-and-rule tactic in political centers of power outside Bosnia-Herzegovina itself.