When someone mentions Bosnia and Herzegovina, we usually think about wars and armed conflicts that have marred the history of this country (mostly the 20th century, but still, the history is marred).
Unfortunately, outside of Bosnia (and the local regions), people hardly remember some of the most well-known Bosnians whose works, lives, and deeds enriched the world’s heritage.
Another common thing associated with this small Balkan state is its traditional cuisine. If you’re planning a trip there, make sure to try burek, ćevapčići, and baklava.
About Bosnia and Herzegovina
After centuries spent under the Ottoman empire, (followed by Austro-Hungarian annexation), Bosnia and Herzegovina became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians.
After WWII the country was a part of the socialist Yugoslavia, when it finally gained its independence in a bloody civil war (in the 1990s).
Today it’s composed of two entities: Republika Srpska (The Republic of Srpska) and Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Because of the turbulent political history, there are three politicians who regularly switch places and take up the role of the president. Each politician represents the main national group of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
One politician is Croatian, the other is Serbian, and the third politician represents the will of the Bosniaks. All three of them can have a great influence on the country’s policies.
Despite its rough and complex history, Bosnia and Herzegovina spawned some amazing individuals who have contributed to the world’s literature, science, sport, music, politics, etc.
In this article we’ll be talking about them, so buckle up, and prepare to meet some of the most famous Bosnians (you won’t get to actually meet them, this is just a list, so calm down!).
List of Famous Bosnians
1. Meša Selimović
The prominent Bosnian author, professor, and an anti-fascist, (whose work received international attention), Meša Selimović, was born to a Muslim family of Bosnian-Serb origin in 1910 in Tuzla .
After finishing his studies of Serbo-Croatian language and literature in Belgrade, he returned to his hometown in Bosnia in 1936 to teach in the local gymnasium.
Soon after WWII started he was arrested for being a member of the anti-fascist resistance movement. Once he was released, he became a member of the Communist Party and the Commissar of Bosnian Tuzla Partisans.
The event that changed the course of his life was when the partisans wrongfully accused and murdered his brother without a trial.
Not being able to defend or rescue his brother from an unjust death is the central plot of his amazing novel, “Death and the Dervish.”
When WWII ended, Selimović held many important positions in Yugoslavia.
He was the professor at the Faculty of Philology, chief of the drama section at the National Theatre, art director of Bosnia Film, and chief editor at “Svjetlost” (Bosnian publishing house).
He was also a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
2. Muhamed Bešić
If you’re a football fan, you’ve probably heard about the footballer Muhamed Bešić. Today he plays as a defensive midfielder for Everton and the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team.
The talented Bosniak began his professional career in Hamburg SV, only to continue in Ferencvaros and finally, end up in Everton.
This footballer was the youngest football player to represent his national team.
He played for the Bosnian national team in their first major tournament, the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
3. Alija Izetbegović
The first president of Bosnia and Herzegovina (after the declaration of its independence), was Alija Izetbegović.
Although it’s speculated that he was a German-Nazi collaborator, many still praise him for being an Islamic activist, philosopher and a great politician .
In 1970, this politician published a manifesto called “Islamic Declaration” where he expressed his ideas about Islam, state and society . The text was later banned by the government in Yugoslavia (for being too conspirative).
Furthermore, Serbian and Croatian population living in Bosnia were unsettled with these writings and often referred to it as open Islamic Fundamentalist propaganda.
During his time as president, Osama Bin Laden was given a Bosnian passport and he claimed that he’ll bring Muslim volunteers to Bosnia.
Although controversial, Bosnian former president Alija Izetbegović left no one indifferent. His name will remain in history books as he played a major role in the country’s independence, the creation of the Bosnian national state, and its further governing.
4. Vesna Bugarski
Born in Sarajevo (little before WWII), Vesna Bugarski later became the first female architect in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
She was schooled at the University of Belgrade as the only female student. Once the department of architecture opened up in her native city of Sarajevo, she transferred back to Bosnia.
After graduating in 1964, Vesna Bugarski developed a career as an interior designer in Bosnia. Everything was going pretty well for Vesna (as a woman in the field populated by men) until the 1992 armed conflict.
Although Sarajevo was occupied and dangerous to stay in, she refused to leave.
She was murdered that same year with a grenade fired from the surrounding hills, while she was walking home from the market. Unfortunately, most of her work was destroyed as well, so there is little to no evidence of her professional accomplishments.
5. Zdravko Čolić
Zdravko Čolić is by far, the greatest musical legend that was born in the former Yugoslavia .
Bosnian Serb with a well-known tenor voice and marvelous stage persona started off as a singer in a tribute band “Ambasadori”, but it didn’t take long before some of the more established bands recognized him as a rising star.
After accepting the “bench role” with “Idoli”, he was invited by renowned composer Kornelije Kovač to record some songs with his “Korni Grupa.”
For this, he moved to the Serbian (then Yugoslavian) capital, Belgrade, but after only six months he realized that a solo career might suit him better, so he made it back to Sarajevo.
Since the audience already knew him (from several Schlager Festivals), he had almost no trouble rising to the top and becoming one of the biggest names in pop music.
Bigger than all the wars and political disputes, this singer remained popular in all former Yugoslav countries. His concerts are still sold out everywhere, from Ljubljana to Skopje.
6. Edin Džeko
As we mentioned already, Bosnia is home to many world-class footballers, playing for top-tier clubs (mostly in Europe).
Edin Džeko is one of the most successful football players from Bosnia. Currently, Bosniak is playing as a striker and a captain for Bosnia and Herzegovina national team and for Roma (in the Italian national football league).
Before that, he played for Manchester City and VfL Wolfsburg.
In 2018, after scoring his 50th league goal while playing for Roma, this Bosnian footballer became the first football player in history to score 50 goals in one of the top five European major leagues.
His impressive achievements, a national and a worldwide football career, made this footballer a legend amongst Bosnian people.
At home, he’s often referred to as the “Bosnian Diamond”.
7. Vladimir Prelog
Would you believe us if we told you that this small and troubled country spawned two Nobel Prize winners?
14 years after Ivo Andrić’s award in literature, Vladimir Prelog won the same award for his experimental work in chemistry.
Raised in Sarajevo, Prelog studied organic molecules for more than 25 years at the University of Zagreb, Croatia before he moved to Zurich, Switzerland during WWII.
He made an impact on the world of chemistry and will certainly be remembered for it.
8. Zlata Filipović
Most children from Western countries read the book or at least have heard the story of Ane Frank.
Although there is a solid temporal distance and a difference in experience, Zlata Filipović is often referred to as “Balkan Ane Frank.”
She kept a diary as an 8-year-old girl living in Sarajevo in the midst of the armed conflict
(1991-1993) and the breakup of Yugoslavia . The diary was later published as a book and it gained a lot of popularity.
Unlike Ane Frank, Zlata Filipović and her family survived the armed conflict and managed to escape to Europe.
The whole family moved to Paris, and then to Ireland, where Zlata still lives today (working in the field of movie production).
9. Goran Bregović
Controversial musician and composer, Goran Bregović is another musical legend (of former Yugoslavia).
He rose to prominence as the leading guitarist of the rock band “Bijelo Dugme”. After the breakup of the band, he managed to remain in the spotlight, as he spent most of his time composing movie scores.
Bregović is also famous for organizing the “Guća Brass Festival” that brings more than 100.000 visitors from across the world to a small town in Central Serbia .
The band which he’s currently playing in, “The wedding and funeral orchestra,” often holds concerts across European countries and former Yugoslavia.
Throughout his half-a-century-long career, Bregović shared the stage with some critically acclaimed musicians like Iggy Pop, Cesaria Evora, or Kaya, with whom he recorded an album of Balkan and Romani songs (sung in Polish).
Bregović has also performed in some of the most respectable international venues like Royal Albert Hall, L’Olympia, and even Carnegie Hall.
10. Emir Spahić
As mentioned above, Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to many successful football players.
Besides the legendary footballer Edin Džeko, and Bosnia’s “youngest pride” Muhamed Bešić, there are many other talented players who built international careers, Spahić is among them.
Spahić is a forty-year-old former professional footballer who used to play as a center back.
He’s also Džeko’s close cousin, so we could say that football runs in that family.
Spahić had a very versatile footballer career, as he played not only in his home Bosnia and Herzegovina, but he also represented football clubs in Croatia, France, Spain, Russia, and Germany.
Some of the biggest clubs this footballer played for are Montepellier, Anzhi Makhachkala, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburger Sv (just to name a few).
11. Bekim Fehmiu
Bekim Fehmiu was a beloved Yugoslavian theatre and movie actor. Although brought up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was actually a native of Kosovo but identified himself as a Yugoslav.
His father Ibrahim adopted Bekim’s highschool nickname Fehmiu as the family surname and replaced the original Imer Halili.
They spent the second world war in Kosovo, where Bekim had a chance to act in the only professional Albanian-speaking theatre in the city of Priština. He then studied at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, at the University of Belgrade.
After graduating in 1960, he joined Yugoslavian Drama Theatre in Belgrade (Serbia), but left in 1967 due to maltreatment.
Bekim Fehmiu is famous for being the first Eastern European actor to star in Hollywood in the midst of the Cold War.
Throughout his lifetime, Yugoslav actor Bekim Fehmiu built an enviable international career and a big family.
However, the wars, the hatred, and the split of Yugoslavia left a deep scar on him, and he struggled with depression for several years, before he committed suicide in 2010 .
Although he was not an ethnic Slav, but an Albanian, he committed his life to the values of Yugoslavia, which were brotherhood and unity (unfortunately only on paper, the reality was quite different).
That concept remained a central part of his identity and he suffered severely when the whole region plunged into an armed conflict.
11. Jusuf Nurkić
Born in 1994, Jusuf Nurkić is now a professional Bosnian basketball player. Currently, he plays for the Portland Trail Blazers (in the NBA) as a center.
Before starting with the Portland Trail Blazers, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls.
His basketball beginnings were in Slovenia, where he played for Zlatorog Laško. Later this basketball player (from Tuzla), played for Union Olimpija, and then for the Croatian team, Cedevita.
Just like many of his football playing colleagues this basketball star never forgot his origins, so today he still represents Bosnia and Herzegovina national team on the international basketball playground.
The Bottom Line
We hope this little article helped shed a more positive light on some of the most prominent Serbian, Bosniak, and Croatian figures of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If you’re planning a trip to Bosnia soon, make sure to visit cities like Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Mostar, and Višegrad and taste the food this country is best-known for.
You can also jump to neighboring Croatia and visit its marvelous coast and castles, head over to Serbia and take a walk through its beautiful nature, or have fun in Belgrade, the city that never sleeps.