By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a country of immense natural beauty and thousands of years of cultural history that resonates to the present day.
With human habitation attested to as early as 16,000-12,000 BCE by the Badanj cave carvings, this beautiful land has been home to many peoples: Ancient Illyrians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Croats, Serbs, Franks, Turks, and Bosniaks to name a few (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2020). Through thousands of years of cohabitation, these ethnic groups flourished and created a vibrant multi-ethnic society marred periodically by violence.
In modern history, ethnic identity was suppressed under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and a collective Yugoslav character promoted. However, as SFR Yugoslavia started to break apart in the late 1980s, Bosnia once again became a battleground filled with ethnic tensions.
After years of vicious fighting in which no side escaped unharmed, the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in Dayton, Ohio. This peace treaty brought together the three warring groups–Serb, Croat, and Bosniak–and created a new shared government. In fact, BiH is still governed by the Dayton Accords, and to this day remains the only country in the world to be governed by a peace treaty. The Accords split the country into two national entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srbska, both of which would retain separate governments, police forces, court systems, and customs services.
As a result of ethnic tension and monetary inflation, it became clear that Bosnia needed a new currency. Yet like all post-war debates, the 1997 discussions over the formation of a new currency were strained. Even the name of the proposed currency was a debate.
An initial proposal for the “Baher” by the Bosnian Central Bank Chief Kasim Omićević as an abbreviation of the country’s name with no historical baggage was rejected due to pronunciation issues with some negotiators asserting that their constituency did not pronounce the “h” in Herzegovina (Coats, 66). Instead, a neutral name was chosen: the Bosnian Convertible Mark, to be abbreviated internationally as BAM and domestically as KM.
Additionally, it was decided that in order for both entities to agree on the new banknotes each would need control over the design of their respective notes. However, each entity also needed to approve the other’s designs (Coats, 66). Initially, the Federation proposed an “unobjectionable” design, while the Republika submitted a more inflammatory proposal depicting the Serb retreat from the Battle of Kosovo Polje on June 28, 1389, and a series of Serb national heroes.
Following a series of discussions with the central bank and the “international community”, the Republika returned with a series depicting “the faces of writers on one side and art objects on the other” (Coats, 154). However, when the Federation expressed interest in this idea as well, the Republika withdrew the design proposal. Eventually, a French company was contracted to design a banknote “that would look a bit like a German mark and [would] leave blanks for faces and objects on each side” (Coats, 155). Their mandate included the necessary restriction that both series should be identical except for the “difference in the face and the object and the fact that the name of the central bank in Latin letters would be placed on top in the Federation version and the Cyrillic version would be on top in the Republika’s version” (Coats, 155).
However petty this may seem, the process of negotiation and compromise played an integral part in rebuilding a Bosnian national identity after a brutal war.
Initially pegged to the German Mark, the Bosnian Convertible Mark is now valued at 0.51 euro. Since the currency is decimal, one mark is equal to 100 feninga. The first series of paper currency printed in 1998 included seven denominations: 50 feninga, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Mark. As the BAM’s buying power declined, the Bosnia Central Bank decided to retire the 50 feninga, 1 Mark, and 5 Mark bills. Also, a 200 Maraka bill was introduced in 2002. Interestingly, all the bills except the 200 Mark, are printed by Imprimerie Oberthur, a French printing company.
50 Feninga – фенинга (1998 – 2003)
Valued at only 50 feninga, this bill was the smallest denomination bill introduced in the 1998 KM series.
With a blue and purple color scheme, these handsome notes circulated for only five years before their purchasing power became negligible. Consequently, the Central Bank pulled the 50 feninga bill from circulation in 2003 and replaced it with a copper-plated steel coin. The face of the bill printed in the Federation depicts Skender Kulenović, a poet, novelist and dramatist who wrote the important essay From the Emerald Una / Iz smaragda Une and the back of the bill shows a fragment from Zgošća Stećak, a medieval tombstone. The Republika Srpska bill portrays the Yugoslav novelist Branko Ćopić, whose book Heretic Story / Jeretička priča criticized the Socialist Yugoslav regime, and a traditional house and book on the back.
1 Mark – марка (1998-2008)
The one Mark bill lasted 10 years in circulation before being retired. Following the example of the other bills, this denomination depicts two famous writers, Ivan Frano Jukić on the Federation bill and Ivo Andrić on the Republika bill.
Jukić, a Franciscan monk who in 1850 wrote Bosnia’s first European style constitutional document (Želje i molbe kristjanah u Bosni i Hercegovini, koje ponizno prikazuju njegovom veličanstvu sretnovladajućem sultanu Abdul-Medžidu), fought tirelessly against the Turkish occupation. Andrić wrote the famous book The Bridge on the Drina, which deals with life under the Turkish occupation. On the reverse of the Federation and Republika bills are a fragment of the monumental medieval tombstone Stolac Stećak and the Bridge on River Drina respectively.
5 Mark – марака (1998-2010)
Legal tender from 1998 until December 31, 2009, the 5 Mark bill was accepted by commercial banks until March 31, 2010.
Similar to the later 200 Mark bill, the 5 Mark denomination only had one series for both the Federation and Republika. The face depicted Meša Selimović, whose highly successful novel Death and the Dervish / Derviš I smrt critiqued communist Yugoslavia through an imagined story set during the Turkish occupation. The back shows a simple forest vignette.
10 Mark – марака (1998 – Present)
The smallest denomination bill in circulation today, both 10 Mark bill designs follow the pattern of depicting famous writers on the face. Mehmedalija Mak Dizdar, whose poetry ranks among some of the most important Bosnian poetry of the 20th century, is shown on the Federation bill, while Aleksa Šantić, who wrote poetry about the suffering of the Serb people, is on the Republika bill.
The Križevići tombstone is shown on the back of the Federation bill and a simple loaf of bread on the Republika bill.
20 Mark – марака (1998 – Present)
Antun Branko Šimić, an important Croatian poet, appears on the face of the Federation 20 Mark bill and a close up of the Radimlja tombstone on the back.
The Republika Srpska bill portrays the famous Bosnian Serb poet and guslar musician Filip Višnjić. The back of the Republika bill depicts a Gusle similar to the one played by Višnjić.
50 Mark – марака (1998 – Present)
A striking red color, the 50 Mark bill is the workhorse of the Bosnian economy, and as such millions of people handle these bills every day.
The writer Musa Ćazim Ćatić appears on the Federation bill while the strident anti-Nazi poet and diplomat Jovan Dučić is depicted on the Republika bill. As on the other Federation bills, the 50 Mark’s back depicts the Zgošća Tombstone and the Republika bill a pen, spectacles, and a book.
100 Mark – марака (1998 – Present)
While not the largest circulating bill since the introduction of the 200 Mark in 2002, the 100 Mark still widely circulates.
The Federation version shows the Bosnian Croat poet Nikola Šop and another example of the famous Bosnian tombstones, the Zgošća Stećak. Meanwhile, the Republika version depicts Petar Kočić who was the most important Bosnian Serb writer of the Austrian-Hungarian period on the face. Another design duplication occurs on the back of the Republika 100 Mark bill where a pen, eyeglasses, and book similar to the 50 Mark bill appears.
200 Mark – марака (2002 – Present)
While the 200 Mark bill has only one design for both entities (like the discontinued 5 Mark bill), there is a more interesting aspect to this bill: the 200 Mark has almost the same design as the one Mark bill from the Republika Srbska, despite the fact that their circulation overlapped from 2002 to 2008. They both depict the writer Ivo Andrić on the front and the Bridge on River Drina on the back.
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“Bosnia and Herzegovina“, Encyclopædia Britannica.
O’Brien. O’Brien Currency Guide: Bosnia & Herzegovina (Convertible Mark). Old Currency Exchange. (April 30, 2015).
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF SRPSKA. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
Coats, Warren. One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Jameson Books, Inc. (2007).
Proposed Republika Serbska Bill: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.719.9938&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).