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Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us

History of the region

Pray with me for peace, because Satan wants war and hatred in hearts and peoples. Therefore, pray and sacrifice your days by fasting and penance, that God may give you peace. The future is at a crossroads, because modern man does not want God. That is why mankind is heading to perdition. You, little children, are my hope. Pray with me, that what I began in Fatima and here may be realised.

25th January 2023

History of Bosnia and Herzegovina


Medjugorje is located in the Herzegovina region of the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (known informally as Bosnia).

The region has a complex and challenging history, but it is important to have at least an overview of it to better understand the sensitive ethnic and cultural divisions that exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina today.

The inhabitants/citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are officially termed Bosnians. Bosnians are largely made up of three ethnic groups:

Bosniaks - about 50% of the population and mostly Muslim.
Serbs - about 31% of the population and mostly Eastern Orthodox.
Croats – about 15% of the population and mostly Catholic.

The locals in Medjugorje consists of about 99% Croats. Most Croats would identify as Catholics and as speakers of Croatian.

Early History - 15th Century

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long recorded history dating back to ancient times. Christianity has been present there since at least the 6th Century, and Slavs settled in the Balkans in the 7th century. The Franciscans have been present in region since the 13th century.

15th - 19th Century: The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire gained control of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the late 15th century and introduced Islam to the region. Many Bosnians who had previously been separated from both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches converted to Islam, and their descendants are now known as Bosniaks. It's important not to confuse the term 'Bosniak' with 'Bosnian,' which refers to all inhabitants or citizens of the country, regardless of their ethnic, cultural, or religious background. Forced Islamisation of some Catholics and Eastern Orthodox also occurred.

Despite being under Ottoman rule, the Croat Catholics of the region managed to maintain a significant Catholic population under the care of the Franciscans. Catholicism continued to play a vital role in the local Croat culture and identity. Many Franciscans and other Catholics were martyred due to their refusal to convert to Islam and their resistance to Ottoman authority.

In 1849, Herzegovinian Franciscans established their friary for Herzegovina at Široki Brijeg, dedicating it to the Assumption of Mary. Subsequently, in 1901, a new section of the friary was constructed, housing a secondary school and a seminary established by the Franciscans.

1878 - 1918 Austro-Hungarian Empire

In 1878, following the Russo-Turkish War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was granted the right to administer and occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina, though the region remained under nominal Ottoman sovereignty. In 1908, Austria-Hungary fully annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1914, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb nationalist. This became one of the key events that led to World War I. Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia, and subsequently, Germany, Britain, France, Belgium, and Russia were all drawn into the conflict that became World War I.

1918 – 1941 Kingdom of Yugoslavia

In 1918, after World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of a new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) under the rule of the Serbian monarch.

1941 - 1945 The Independent State of Croatia (NDH)

In 1941 during World War II, Yugoslavia was occupied by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and they established a puppet state named the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). This state was placed under the control of the largely Croatian Ustaše regime.

The Ustaše were a Croatian fascist and ultranationalist organisation and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, and Roma as well as Croatian political dissidents during World War II in Yugoslavia. The tragic conflict in Yugoslavia had one of the highest death tolls by population in World War II.

Around one million people died in Yugoslavia during the war and about half of these were civilians. Genocide and ethnic cleansing were engaged in by all sides, but particularly by the Ustaše and Chetniks, and then towards the end of the war and afterwards by the Communist lead Partisans.

The region surrounding Medjugorje was no exception, with Serbs being massacred at the Prebilovci massacre near Šurmanci by the Ustaše in 1941, and Croats being massacred by the communists at Široki Brijeg, including thirty Franciscan Martyrs at the Široki Brijeg Friary in 1945.

1945 - 1991 Yugoslavia

After World War II, the Communist-controlled Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was established under the leadership of the Croatian communist leader Josip Tito, and political opposition was systematically suppressed. The federation consisted of six republics: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia (including the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina), Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia.

Following Tito's death in 1980, historical ethnic divisions began to resurface. In the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and Communism in Eastern Europe, from 1989 to 1991, ethnic tensions within Yugoslavia escalated significantly. In 1991, Yugoslavia disintegrated, leading to a series of extremely brutal ethnic conflicts that continued until 2001.

1992-1995 Bosnian War

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian War that followed was one of the most brutal and vicious wars in modern Europe, marked by notorious war crimes. During this war, war crimes were predominantly committed by Serb forces, although there were instances of such actions by Croat and Bosniak forces as well.

Similar to the situation during World War II, the region surrounding Medjugorje was not immune to the brutality and severity of this conflict. Remarkably, Medjugorje itself remained largely untouched by the war. Despite nine bombs landing in Medjugorje, none of them exploded, including a Serbian cluster bomb that landed just one hundred metres from Saint James's Church but failed to detonate. In some instances, fighter bombers sent to bomb Medjugorje couldn't locate the area due to sudden cloud cover, forcing them to abandon their missions.

Aid supplies sent from various parts of the world to Medjugorje during the war were distributed throughout the region to assist people of all ethnicities.

In May 1993, representatives of the United Nations and various ethnic and regional leaders convened one of their negotiation meetings in Medjugorje. Their goal was to work towards the implementation of the Peace Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

1992 – Present day

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1991 and gained international recognition in 1992. The country is currently working towards membership of the EU and NATO. Although great progess has been made, Bosnia and Herzegovina still struggles with internal political and ethnic tensions. Even after three decades, the nation is still reconciling with the aftermath of the war and its enduring divisions.