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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Sandzak Muslims in Serbia

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Serbia Facts
Area:    88,361 sq. km.
Capital:    Belgrade
Total Population:    10,526,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

While the post-Milosevic political system in Yugoslavia and then Serbia and Montenegro and then just Serbia has improved conditions for nearly all minorities in the country, Sandzak Bosniaks remain disadvantaged in many ways, and the Sandzak region has seen both intercommunal and intracommunal violence. Sandzak Bosniaks are territorially concentrated in the Sandzak, a region in south eastern Serbia and Montenegro. Nevertheless many of the previous overt discriminations against them have been removed, and they hold numerous national and regional political posts. But despite all of these changes, the Sandzak Muslims are dissatisfied with their standing in the country. While some extremists have called for an independent Sandzak, especially in light of the Montenegrin referendum for independence which split the Sandzak into two countries, the primary split among Sandzak Bosniaks is between those who see engaging in Serbia as the key to improvement of their standing and those who think that engagement with Serbs is fruitless and who want official autonomy. Although sporadic violence plagues the Sandzak, it is very unlikely that the Bosniaks will engage in rebellion.

As of 2000 with the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic, the regime in the country liberalized substantially, and although reforms remain in progress, the democratic process improved substantially. Additionally, the federal government created the post of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs in 2001, which was filled by Rasim Ljajic, a Sandzak Muslim leader. Finally, the region itself has been relatively conflict free since the end of the conflict in Kosovo in 1999.

Sandzak Bosniaks face few official political or cultural restrictions but do face informal discrimination and restrictions. While Sandzak Bosniaks have kin across the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there does not appear to be much more than moral support coming into the Sandzak for the Bosniaks there.


Analytic Summary

The Sandzak region is located on either side of the Serbia-Montenegro border and borders Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has long been inhabited by Bosniaks (GROUPCON = 3), dating back to the Ottoman Empire. While not physically or linguistically distinct from the majority Serb population (RACE = 0; LANG = 1) they are traditionally Muslim (RELIGS1 = 5) as opposed to the traditionally Orthodox Christian Serbs (BELIEF = 2). In early 1989, ethnic relations began to worsen in the Serbian part of Sandzak after nearly four decades of tolerance and quiet. As Serbian nationalism began to resurface so did Serbian discrimination against Muslims in Sandzak. While the conflict in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina left the Sandzak relatively unscathed, the atmosphere of ethnic cleansing led to many Bosniaks no longer feeling comfortable in Serbia and emigrating from the Sandzak in the 1990s.

Despite the drastic improvements in the treatment of Sandzak Bosniaks in Serbia since the end of the Milosevic era, there still are many elements that need improving. Unemployment is higher in the Sandzak and the Serbian government has not invested much in improving the situation and when it has, it has focused on Serb villages (ECDIS06 = 2). Bosniaks do hold several positions in the National Assembly of Serbia and in 2001 Rasim Ljajic, a Sandzak Muslim leader, was appointed to the Federal Ministry for Minority Affairs. While there has been progress in increasing the percentage of Bosniaks on the Montenegrin police force, the Sandzak region of Serbia has not had the same success and Bosniaks report abuses. Additionally, in 2005, the Serbian National Assembly Education Committee called for a ban on "Bosnian" language in Serbia (CULPO2 = 2). Although the differences between Bosnian and Serbian are dialectic and regional, the issue has been politicized throughout the former Yugoslavia. There are numerous political parties representing the Sandzak Bosniaks, showing the fractionalization among them. Among these are the Party of Democratic Action, the List for Sandzak, the People's Movement of Sandzak, the National Movement of Sandzak, the Sandzak Coalition, the Committee of the Islamic Committee, the Sandzak Islamic Community, and the Bosniak National Council. The demands of these groups are divided between regional autonomy and better integration and equality with Serbs (POLGR06 = 3).

While there have been no reports of militant activity by Sandzak Bosniaks (REB04-06 = 0), there is a history of protest. Until the breakup of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s the group, like all other segments of Yugoslav society, was banned from protesting. However, under the Tito regime, Muslims were treated well, and their beliefs and rights were tolerated. At the beginning of the 1990s the group began holding demonstrations, rallies, and organizing politically. Between 2003 and 2006, there was much violence reported in the Sandzak, some of which resulted in deaths. Some of the violence was suspected to be interethnic between Bosniaks and Serbs but much of it was likely between Bosniak factions themselves. In most cases, the perpetrators were never apprehended and it is difficult to discern the source of the violence.



Andrejevich, Milan. 1992. "The Sandzak: The Next Balkan Theater of War?" RFE/RL Research Report. 1:47. 26-34.

International Crisis Group. 4/8/2005. "Serbia's Sandzak: Still Forgotten." Europe Report. No. 162.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1990- 2006.

Minority Rights Group International. 2008. "Serbia Overview." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples., accessed 7/12/2008

Schmidt, Fabian. 1994. "The Sandzak: Muslims between Serbia and Montenegro." RFE/RL Research Report. 3:6. 29-35.

U.S. State Department. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Serbia and Montenegro. 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006