Bosnia and Herzegovina in ten flags

Thierry Domin
First published May 12, 2003

It is between the XIIth and the XIVth Century that the lily flower was introduced here as coat of arms (see flag 1). This flower was carried by the Bosnians and remained as a symbol of the country; it is funny to see this symbol of French royalty now used as a symbol by the Muslims: the lily flower indeed appears on the flag of the Federation, as representation of its Bosniac component. They are two different explanations about the lily flower.

During a short period in the XIIth century, Hungary ruled Bosnia. Hungary was led by a French-originated king, Roger-Charles of Anjou who reigned under the name of Karoly the First. He brought to the region the coat of arms of Anjou, a French province: the lily flower.

But, other historians state Bosnia became part of the Hungarian kingdom, once again, at the beginning of the XIVth Century. Hungarian dynastic struggle broke out in 1302 with the end of the Arpad dynasty. The King of Naples claimed the throne, and it was during this struggle that, by pledging allegiance to one side and to the other, the Bosnian bans managed to carve out their independent fief. The Bosnian dynasty became quite close to the Angevins, and the daughter of Stjepan, king of Bosnia, married Louis I, king of Hungary. The kings of Naples were the Anjou family, a junior branch of the French royal family, and bore France's similar coat of arms, differentiated by a label of gueules, a heraldic distinction. It's likely the Kotromanjic adopted, or were granted, fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms as reward for taking the Angevin side.

During the occupation of the Balkan countries by the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia came under Turkish rule in 1463 when the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured the Castle of Babovac and ended the Kotromanjic Dynasty. The Turks established the area called Bosnian Sandjak. A large part of the Slavic population converted to the Islam religion, and became known as Bosniacs (Muslims). New towns of the Islamic-Oriental type were developed, and the economy was changed by the introduction of an estate-landowner system.

The first-known flag of this country goes back to 1760 (see flag 2), when the Bosnians engaged in defensive wars against Austria and Venice, and at the same time were also demanding an autonomous status within the Ottoman Empire. Adopted Ottoman institutions (landowners, captains, janissaries) were accepted as Bosnian. But there were numerous rebellions, such as the movement of Husein Bey Gradascevic (1831-32) (see flag 3), that finally defined the extent of Bosnian autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.

After the Christian Rebellion (1875-78) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the great Eastern Crisis began which resulted in the Berlin Congress (1878) giving a mandate to Austria-Hungary to occupy Bosnia. As a matter of fact, Bosnia remained independent only a few months (see flag 4). After great resistance, mostly by the Bosniacs, the Austro-Hungarian Empire established its authority in Bosnia, leaving the country as 'Corpus Separatum' within its historical borders. 'Corpus Separatum' (see flag 5) meant that Bosnia was granted with a substantial autonomy and belonged neither to Austria, nor to Hungary.

WW I is said to have begun in Sarajevo, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, summer 1914. And about 20 years after its end, WW II started with huge fights in the Balkan area.

After the invasion of Yugoslavia (1941), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) came under the authority of the Independent State of Croatia, being on the separation line between the German and Italian occupation zones. During WW II, BiH supported the antifascist fight (see flag 6). In November 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council was established and BiH regained its statehood and legal status.

In 1946, within the Yugoslav State, BiH got its constitution and the status of a Republic (see flag 7). Within the Yugoslav Federation, it was the only Republic, which was defined by its historic existence, instead of a newly created national one.

Tito died in 1980. In the process of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, after the multiparty elections in 1990, and after the citizens' Referendum (conducted February 28 to March 1, 1992), BiH determined to be an independent and sovereign country within its historical borders. By Resolution 755 of the United Nations Security Council, on May 20, 1992, BiH was internationally recognised. But peace was far removed from this newly formed union. On Apr. 5, 1992, Slobodan Milosevic sent the Yugoslav National Army along with Serb nationalist forces across the Drina River into Eastern BiH. It was the beginning of a three and half years long war.

GFAP, signed in Paris, December 14, 1995, finally established a single state (BiH) (see flag 8) composed with two entities, Federation (see flag 9) and Republika Srpska (see flag 10).

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Bosnia's coat of arms (XIIth Century).


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1760 Western Herzegovina Landlords flag.


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The flag of the 1831 revolt.


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The flag of the 1878 independence.


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BiH as 'Corpus Separatum' in Austria-Hungarian empire.


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Flag of Tito's 'Partisans'.


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Flag of BiH within Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.


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Current flag of BiH (adopted Feb.4, 1998).


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Flag of the Federation of BiH. Note the lily flower (Bosniac symbol), the draught-board shield (Bosnian-Croat symbol) and the ten stars representing the ten Cantons.


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Flag of Republika Srpska. Compare to other Slavic countries as Russia or Serbia. Always the same three colours appear, blue, red and white.