Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

Assessment for Sandzak Muslims in Yugoslavia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Sandzak Muslims in Yugoslavia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Yugoslavia 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

With the installation of an ethnically diverse and democratically elected government, 2000 marked a new beginning for the Sandzak Muslims. Many of the previous discriminations against them have been removed, and they hold numerous national and regional political posts. In addition, around 34% of the Montenegrin police force are Muslims, a huge change from pre-2000 numbers. But despite all of these changes, the Sandzak Muslims are dissatisfied with their standing in Serbia and Montenegro. While they call themselves Bosniaks, and the state of Serbia and Montenegro wants to consider them the same as the Bosniaks of Bosnia, they themselves think of themselves as members of the state of Serbia and Montenegro. The Sandzak Muslims consider their dialect to be the same as that of the Serbians and refuse to call their dialect Bosnian; they rather use the term Serbian. Because of these beliefs, they do not want an independent state, or a state that can merge with Bosnia, but instead they want an autonomous region like Vojvodina. Now that the Sandzak region is splint between Serbia and Montenegro, the Sandzak Muslims will likely not get their autonomous region. Given the desire for autonomy and the newly open public sphere, protest is likely to continue. However, Sandzak Muslims are unlikely to use violence in the near future.

Analytic Summary

The Sandzak region is located on either side of the Serbia-Montenegro border. It has long been inhabited by Muslims (GROUPCON = 3), dating back to the Ottoman Empire (TRADITN = 1). In 1943 the region briefly declared itself autonomous but Yugoslavia regained control in 1945 (AUTON = 1). While not physically distinct from the majority (RACE = 0), and completely assimilated into the Serbian language (LANG = 3), their Islamic faith (BELIEF = 3) has led to discrimination by the Serb and Montenegrin majority. 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 Moslems in Sandzak. As a result of this discrimination, the group is highly organized (COHESX9 = 5).

Since the removal of Milosevic from power and the establishment of a democratically elected government, the government's polices towards the Sandzak Muslims have greatly changed. Restrictions on their rights in court have been removed (POLIC103 = 0), restrictions baring or limiting their right at organizing politically have been removed (POLIC403 = 0).Additionally, they are now able to hold positions in the civil service (POLIC703 = 0) and run for high office (POLIC803 = 0). A Sandzak Muslim was appointed to the committee responsible for drawing up the new charter for the creation of Serbia and Montenegro, but he turned down the position because he did not think the Sandzak Muslims would benefit. Rasim Liajic, a Sandzak Muslim leader, was appointed to the Federal Ministry for Minority Affairs in 2001. Despite these drastic improvements, there still are many elements that need improving. There have been reports of plain clothed Serbian policemen beating up Sandzak Muslims in the Kosovo region. There have also been complaints of a saturation of Serbian policemen in the Sandzak region (REP1701-03 = 2)

There are numerous political parties that represent Sandzak Muslims. 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 all basically revolve around one idea, regional autonomy (AUTGR403 = 1). While there are more demands (greater political rights in own community (POLGR203 =1), greater participation in politics at the central state level (POLGR303 = 1), equal civil rights and status (POLGR403 = 1), change in unpopular officials or policies (POLGR503 = 1), and a protection of land, jobs, and resources that they believe are being used for the advantage of other groups (ECOGR503 = 2), it is believed that these will come with regional autonomy. The Sandzak Muslims have made it clear that they do not want a full-scale independence, only autonomy. These grievances recently intensified during the talks on the restructuring of Yugoslavia as Serbia and Montenegro.

While there have been no reports of militant activity by the group (REB01-03 = 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. Additionally, under the Tito regime the 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. This strategy has continued to this day as seen by the continuing attempts at raising awareness of their cause through political organizing, and the successful holding of a demonstration in Belgrade protesting their treatment in 2000 (PROT00 = 3). Such protests have continued through 2003 (PROT01-03 = 3).


Andrejevich, Milan. "The Sandzak: The Next Balkan Theater of War?" RFE/RL Research Report, 1 (47), November 27, 1992, pp. 26-34.

Schmidt, Fabian. "The Sandzak: Muslims between Serbia and Montenegro." RFE/RL Research Report, 3 (6), February 11, 1994, pp. 29-35.

Lexix/Nexis: All News Articles, 1990 to 2003.

US State Department Country Reports 2001-2003.

Search Refworld