On Monday, November 5, 2018, Prof. dr. Damir Marjanović, a renown geneticist in the fields of forensic genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology, held a guest lecture for students who are taking the third-year course Ethnicity and Cultural Politics, taught by Prof. dr. Adis Maksić, about the genetic makeup and sources of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population.
Prof. dr. Marjanović presented to the students the results and conclusions of several population genetics studies he and his associated conducted in the early 2000s about the genetic origins of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, based on a similar study conducted several years before in neighboring Croatia.
In the study, over 250 representative individuals from over 50 municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina had their DNA analyzed. The haplogroup identified in each individual’s DNA allowed the researchers to determine the historical origins of that person and the approximate time when her/his ancestors settled in the region.
There are four major haplogroups identified as present in the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 2005 study: HgI, HgE, HgJ, and HgR-M17. The two most frequent haplogroups are HgI and HgR-M17, oftentimes called the ‘Illyrian’ haplogroup and the ‘Slavic’ haplogroup due to the time of arrival and the geographic source.
Ancestors of people with the HgI or the ‘Illyrian’ haplogroup arrived around 25,000 years from the Middle East and survived the last Ice Age in the Western Balkans while ancestors of the people with HgR-M17 or the ‘Slavic’ haplogroup arrived here from east Eurasia around 5,000 years ago, where they survived the Ice Age.
The research team, then, juxtaposed this genetic information to established facts to draw conclusions about migration patterns of the current population. According to the study, there are three main patterns: forced migrations due to the last Ice Age, migration from the Middle East during the Neolithic Period, and migration from east Eurasia from 2,000-1,300 years ago.
Only minor and statistically insignificant variations were noted between Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, and others, implying that members of all peoples belong to the same genetic population, which is defined as a group of people (or, more broadly, animals) with similar genetic characteristics and traits that are passed down from parents to offspring.
The research, according to Prof. dr. Marjanović, “has little to say on ethnicity and much to say on genetic history” because ethnicity is a socially constructed phenomenon while genetics is not. “Ethnicity is best left as another matter for another field of study,” Prof. dr. Marjanović noted.
As a part of the Ethnicity and Cultural Politics course offered by the Department of International Relations and European Studies for its third-year students, students are exploring the role ethnicity and forms of culture play in (domestic) politics, which has profound impacts on interstate relations, both contemporarily and throughout history.
Guest lecturers from other disciplines, such as this one, provide analytical insight to students who aim to under the actors, concepts, and phenomena involved in ethnicity politics. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a prime example of ethnicity misused for political purposes and with disastrous consequences, which is why Prof. dr. Marjanović’s lecture is especially useful.