After the breakup of Yugoslavia (1991–1992) majority of Slavic Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the "Bosniak" ethnic designation in 1993, and they are today constitutionally recognized as one of three constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Approximately 100,000 people across the former Yugoslavia still consider themselves to be Muslims in an ethnic sense. Remaining ethnic Muslims (Muslimans) are most numerous in Serbia and they are constitutionally recognized as a distinctive ethnic minority in Montenegro.
Up until the 19th century, the word Bosniak (Bošnjak) came to refer to all inhabitants of Bosnia regardless of religious affiliation; terms such as "Boşnak milleti", "Boşnak kavmi", and "Boşnak taifesi" (all meaning, roughly, "the Bosnian people"), were used in the Ottoman Empire to describe Bosnians in an ethnic or "tribal" sense. After the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, the Austrian administration officially endorsed Bošnjaštvo ('Bosniakhood') as the basis of a multi-confessional Bosnian nation. The policy aspired to isolate Bosnia and Herzegovina from its irredentist neighbors (Orthodox Serbia, Catholic Croatia, and the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire) and to negate the concept of Croatian and Serbian nationhood which had already begun to take ground among Bosnia and Herzegovina's Catholic and Orthodox communities, respectively. Nevertheless, in part due to the dominant standing held in the previous centuries by the native Muslim population in Ottoman Bosnia, a sense of Bosnian nationhood was cherished mainly by Muslim Bosnians, while fiercely opposed by nationalists from Serbia and Croatia who were instead opting to claim the Bosnian Muslim population as their own, a move that was rejected by most of them. After World War I, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later "Kingdom of Yugoslavia") was formed and it recognized only those three nationalities in its constitution.
After World War II, in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Muslims continued to be treated as a religious group instead of an ethnic one.Aleksandar Ranković and other Serb communist members opposed the recognition of Bosniak nationality. Muslim members of the communist party continued in their efforts to get Tito to support their position for recognition. Nevertheless, in a debate that went on during the 1960s, many Bosniak communist intellectuals argued that the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina are in fact a distinct native Slavic people that should be recognized as a nation. In 1964, the Fourth Congress of the Bosnian branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia assured their Bosniaks membership the Bosniaks' right to self-determination will be fulfilled, thus prompting the recognition of Bosnian Muslims as a distinct nation at a meeting of the Bosnian Central Committee in 1968, however not under the Bosniak or Bosnian name, as opted by the Bosnian Muslim communist leadership. As a compromise, the Constitution of Yugoslavia was amended to list "Muslims" in a national sense; recognizing a constitutive nation, but not the Bosniak name. The use of Muslim as an ethnic denomination was criticized early on, especially on account of motives and reasoning, as well as disregard of this aspect of Bosnian nationhood. Following the downfall of Ranković, Tito had also changed his view and stated that recognition of Muslims and their national identity should occur. In 1968 the move was protested in the Serb republic and by Serb nationalists such as Dobrica Ćosić. The change was opposed by the Macedonian branch of the Yugoslav Communist Party. They viewed Macedonian speaking Muslims as Macedonians and were concerned that statewide recognition of Muslims as a distinct nation could threaten the demographic balance of the Macedonian republic.
Sometimes other terms, such as Muslim with capital M were used, that is, "musliman" was a practicing Muslim while "Musliman" was a member of this nation (Serbo-Croatian uses capital letters for names of peoples but small for names of adherents).
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the majority of these people, around two million, mostly located in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region of Sandžak, declare as ethnic Bosniaks (Bošnjaci, sing. Bošnjak). On the other hand, some still use the old name Muslimani (Muslims), mostly outside Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizes the results from 1991 population census as results referring to Bosniaks.
Ethnic Muslims in Montenegro, according to latest (2011) census
In Serbia, according to the 2011 census there were 22,301 Muslims by nationality, 145,278 Bosniaks as well as few Serb Muslims (ethnic Serbs who are Muslims (adherents of Islam) by their religious affiliation).
In Montenegro census of 2011, 20,537 (3.3%) of the population declared as Muslims by nationality; while 53,605 (8.6%) declared as Bosniaks; while 175 (0.03%) Muslims by confession declared as Montenegrin Muslims. Muslims and Bosniaks are considered as a two separate ethnic groups, and both of them have their own separate National Councils. Also to mention, many Muslims consider themselves as Montenegrins of Islamic faith. National Council of Muslims of Montenegro insists their mother tongue is Montenegrin.
In North Macedonia, the census of 2002 registered 17,018 (1,15%) Bosniaks and 2,553 (0.13%) Muslims by nationality. There is also a few number of Macedonian Muslims a minority religious group within the community of ethnic Macedonians who are Muslims by their religious affiliation. It is also important to note that most members of Pomaks and Torbeš ethnicities also declared as Muslims by nationality prior to 1990.
Đečević, Mehmed; Vuković-Ćalasan, Danijela; Knežević, Saša (2017). "Re-designation of Ethnic Muslims as Bosniaks in Montenegro: Local Specificities and Dynamics of This Process". East European Politics and Societies and Cultures. 31 (1): 137–157. doi:10.1177/0888325416678042.