Foreword by the Saker: Over a year ago, I posted an interview with Nebojsa Malic, a Bosnian-Serb who know lives in the USA. In my introduction to this interview, I wrote the following:
I understand that the topic of war in Bosnia might reopen old wounds for some readers and I also understand that some might categorically disagree with Nebojsa Malic’s point of view. To those readers I would say two things: the war in Bosnia left everybody wounded, not just one group. As for what lessons can be learned from this war, they might be painful, but they are also important because of the undeniable fact that what happened in Bosnia was the blueprint which was subsequently applied to Kosovo, Chechnia, Libya, Syria and the Ukraine. I would very much welcome another point of view on this topic, especially one from a supporter of Alija Izetbegovic. If somebody is willing to share such a point of view here, I would be delighted to publish it.
And today I am doing exactly that. Thanks to the kind efforts and courage of Ahmed, I can now post a direct reply to Malic by a Bosnian-Muslim. Ahmed is clearly a well informed person with strong views, and he is not blind to the generally (but not unconditionally) pro-Serbian and Orthodox outlook of this blog. And yet he did trust me to post his reply in full and for that I am immensely grateful to him.
The fact that I post Ahmed’s article today does not mean that I “endorse” what he says. In fact, some of what Ahmed says about Serbs and Orthodox clerics makes me cringe. In one specific instance – Srebrenica – I even categorically disagree with this presentation of the facts. But so what? It is *precisely* because we disagree that our dialog is valuable.
Some of you will disagree with Ahmed and I understand that. But I don’t think that anybody can deny that his reply is extremely well-written, his opinion frankly presented and his point of view well substantiated. If there is ever to be a reconciliation between the people of Bosnia or, more broadly, between Muslims and Orthodox Christians, then the very first condition for that is to listen to the other side honest and blunt views. And I also fully agree with Ahmed’s view that no reconciliation is possible without establishing and recognizing the historical truth, no matter how uncomfortable or painful this might be. Real pluralism is to listen to opinions we don’t like, not only those who are an exact copy of our own.
My hope is that a Bosnian Croat will one day do what Malic and Ahmed did, and give his/her view of the Bosnian tragedy.
For the time being, I want to warn everybody that I will accept absolutely no ad hominem attack, no insults and no cheap shots at Ahmed or what he wrote. Even if the moderators will be tolerant, in this case I will personally keep and eye on the comments and send any disrespectful ones to the trash bin.
Response from a Bosnian Muslim
Reading the interview with Nebojsa Malic again and again, I tried to find any sentence, any word, that would to some point admit any mistake or failure on the Serb side during the events which took place in the Balkans more than twenty years ago – and kept this region somehow unstable until today. Unfortunately, it was no surprise for me not to find anything like that. A whole text on how everything seems to be “Alija’s fault” reminded me very much of standard Serb nationalist blubbering, or as a Serb song says “I don’t like you Alija, because you’re a Balija (an insulting name for a Bosnian Muslim, used by Serbs and Croats), you’ve destroyed a peaceful dream“.
This is with italitcs and this without
Further, even the comments-section and other texts on both blogs (Vineyardsaker as well as Mr. Malic’s) gave me much more reason to doubt in any model of real peace between the nations (and we must add: Faiths), without solving some problems as pretext to this peace, from the first bulges of the Karawanks to the historical area of Macedonia.
To start where Mr. Malic like the majority of his fellow Serbs fails, it is: to give a critical review on – and therefore to question – “the own side”, isn’t as hard as it may seem. There are several points a Muslim from Bosnia simply has to admit.
First: in general, the domestic policy, is an abysmal failure and has been an open cancer-wound in the past years. Every party, from SDA to the “Social Democratic” SDP to all the patriotic/liberal etc. parties, have been nothing more but a giant tick, sucking the very last Mark out of the country. Very little has been done for the citizens and very much for several politicians. In fact, Bosnia today resembles more of a country for retired people from the West, returning “back home”, and corrupt politicians, as it has ever before.
Second: any mixture of “Religion” (in the Bosniak case: Islam) and “Politics” backfires! Many Ulama, or Islamic scholars, worldwide, have raised concerns over this topic. (For further information: Shaykh Buti in the recent Syrian conflict and similirar)
The question on how and why Islam and (today’s) Politics should be separated would go beyond the scope of this text. I will try to sum it up as much as possible. (Everybody with an increased interest on this topic is free to search for lectures from accepted Islamic/Sunni scholars).
The political and socio-ecological systems we as Muslims (in the Western Hemisphere) live in, demand acts of politicians, ministers, officials and so on, up to normal citizens, which simply contradict the rules of (Sunni)-Islam. Bringing Islam into “(Western) Politics” is like mixing fire with water. It might function to a certain degree with special additives and devices, or in this case we might say “when we subtract certain rules out of Islam”, but it definitively has nothing got to do with the original source any more. That is why until today, there is no unifying or truly “Islamic Political Party” anywhere in the world. In an even more complex manner, countries with more than one “Islamic Party” will witness fiercest fights on different levels amongst members of each side, which will go beyond any prescription of Islam. And to add fuel to the fire: they will contradict the prophetic tradition and example of the very first Islamic State – if I may call it so – the one of Medina al Munawwara, even more, concerning the (religious) minorities inside the country. In the best case, they might ignore them and deny them more rights, in the worst case: take a glance at ISIS!
Third: we as Bosniaks know very well that Alija Izetbegovic was no saint, and everything else but flawless. We are aware that he wasn’t a political genius and that, as others described it, “he got stuck inside a role which was beyond his capability“.
As I make this statements, I simultaneously raise one important question: What was/is the alternative?
Fikret Abdic, Adil Zulfikarpasic, Muhammed Filipovic etc. were mentioned in the interview as far as I recall. Many more names come up as one tries to search for “alternatives”. As many as there may be, as easy it is to debunk almost each one as proxy for either the Serb or the Croat Nationalists interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From the Bosniak perspective, anything else but Alija Izetbegovic, as bad or good as he may have been, doesn’t make sense and rises concerns and questions.
Why do I have my concerns and doubts – and share them with many Bosniaks (or let’s say: I still haven’t met anybody with a fundamentally different opinion)? First, one – or maybe the main – problem is the difference of opinion on the origin of Bosniaks (as the Bosnian Muslims like to call themselves).
Mr. Malic refers to Serbs as “natives”, a very arguable claim, but not a point of discussion in this text. The crux between Serbs and Bosniaks starts here. Oversimplified, the main idea amongst Serbs – no matter if radical or liberal, attached to the Orthodox faith or “worldly oriented”, male or female – is that the Bosniaks aren’t a nation by themselves, but are merely Serbs, who changed their faith in favour of the Ottoman (Muslim) occupant, while they themselves are the very aboriginal people of the Balkans. Every discussion beyond that is simply marked as bogus, fantasy and so on.
As former Sarajevo University dean, Dr. Biljana Plavsic, Karadzic’s successor as Premier of the so called “Republika Srpska” parastate and “Orthodox intellectual” insisted, that “it was genetically damaged Serb material which passed over to Islam”, giving pseudo-scientific support for a thesis deeply rooted in Serb religio-political mythology. Or let’s take Dragos Kalajic for example, a religious nationalist, artist, philosoph, “Orthodox intellectual”, who argued that Bosnian Muslim culture was alien to this areas, as what he called a “semi-Arabic subculture”, caused by a “genetic predetermination” which the Bosniaks inherited from the Ottomans, and which “in fact originated in North Africa”. Even the famous Patriarch Pavle, like his admirer, the militia leader Zeljko Raznatovic, argued throughout that the Serb nationalist claim to Bosnia was based on the fact – as he believed – that the Muslims were “interlopers from the East, and were not indigenous to the region“. Hence he (P. Pavle) believed that “Serbs must fight, now as never before“.
Tough words one might say. They do not represent an extremist minority amongst Serb nationalists or their opinion, but are the thought, believed and lived ideas, represented by the politicians, artists and religious leaders of an ethnic group! It gives an answer to the question how Fikret Abdic could’ve been an acceptable alternative. Or if there is a possibility of a Bosniak Kadyrov like in Chechnya.
Let’s forget everything we know (and think to know) about Abdic. What difference does it make to follow him or anybody else like him, since he is the same “traitor of race and religion” to the majority of Serbs like any other Bosniak? Until Fikret doesn’t become Filaret, it will stay so. From this point of view, a Bosniak Kadyrov will be applicabe for illiterate peasants, like Abdic until today is indeed. And though many Bosniaks might be the least attached to their faith, they won’t change it under the circumstances and pseudo-intellectual theories mentioned above. Who would?
Another thing that is more part of assumptions than it is of mere facts is the role Abdic himself played before the war during the “Afera Agrokomerc”, the affair around Abdic’s “life-time project” as he calls it, and at the very beginning of the war in Bosnia in 1992. I will not go into theories which have no proof or backing of significant relevance, there are simply some questions I raise that can’t be answered without putting Abdic into a bad light without taking Izetbegovic into concern. The first is: how was it possible, that during investigative custody, Abdic received private packages of food and medicine in a communist country, already being led by Serb nationalists, where nobody else, before and after him, was allowed to receive anything similar? What was so special about him? How was it possible that a thug and criminal like him could profile himself as national hero, while any other imprisoned Muslim, Serb or Croat, prior or after his case, had not the slightest chance like him?
Another interesting fact is: How comes that a Bosnian Muslim Politician of his rank, was able to come all the way to Sarajevo, all the 350 kilometres from Velika Kladusa, by car, in May 1992, in a country that was blocked entirely by Serb militia, or JNA in corporation with Serb militia? How comes he was able to get back to Velika Kladusa, and have not a single incident during his travels, while Alija Izetbegovic couldn’t make the few kilometres from Sarajevo airport to the seat of government without being taken hostage, interrogated and his convoy being shot at?
He resigned from the presidential chair, that’s right. But if it was due to differences with Izetbegovic’s ideas on how the future Bosnian Republic should look like, why hasn’t he mentioned a single time anything like that? He’s not giving any hints at all about infighting or that his “enemies” did something conspirational against him. Even when asked by Serbian television after his prison release few years ago, why he resigned and went back to Velika Kladusa, if there were any signals to do so, he simply answered: “There was no signal at all….No one accepted to be director general of Agrokomerc. It was impossible to be president of the country and director general of the company at the same time….I wanted to show everybody that Agrokomerc wouldn’t cease to exist”. This topic is clearer than bright daylight, whoever wants to continue with theories about deception through Izetbegovic, power struggle inside SDA and so on, is acting at one’s own risk. Simplyfied: This man was an ambitious businessman who let himself be used for nationalist interests, unfortunatel for him he took part of the other side, for nothing more but a big stash of money. In other words: a simple traitor. That’s what he will remain to the majority of Bosniaks, until the end of all times. Had he been that giant economical and political genius as many followers of him tried (and still try) to convince everybody else, there’d be a northwestern part in Bosnia with no unemployement, blooming and prosperous – he’s still allowed to have his own political party inside Bosnia, his own companies and so on. What he does is what he was doing since ever before: defraud people of their money and lining one’s pocket. Even his own followers started to leave him (his party, the DNZ split up into two different parties of which one is being “rehabilitated” through the SDA into political life), and the families and children of his soldiers suffer until today from the stigma to be part of betrayal. His influence is diminishing every day.
The other two, Zulfikarpasic and Filipovic, are easier than Abdic. There are several feasible reasons why Izetbegovic got rid of them. First, the late 80ies and early 90ies were a period of purge from Communism, in Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic circles. Both were figures from a past that had lost its place in the future. While Izetbegovic got arrested and sentenced, and after that being supervised by the Secret Police, Zulfikarpasic was appointed Deputy Minister of Trade, while Filipovic was honoured by the city of Sarajevo in the 70ies. It is true that Zulfikarpasic lost his conviction about Tito’s Yugoslavia very early and exiled to Switzerland. But his plans about a “historical union between Serbs and Muslims” showed that he had no idea what was going on inside the states of Yugoslavia.
Had their ideas (and I still try to give them the benefit of doubt concerning their plans, while Serb nationalism reached peak-point long before the negotiations!) yielded fruit, the extinction of everything and everyone which is non-Serb would have passed in such a silent manner, that Europe and the West would’ve had less concern about it than they were during the war. Which brings us to some other crucial facts standing in the way to peace between Bosniaks and Serbs:
“Meanwhile, he entrusted the head of the ulema, Mustafa Ceric, to “Islamize” the Muslims in line with Izetbegovic’s 1971 declaration, even to the point of importing Wahhabis and “Afghans” to serve as missionaries” (N. Malic).
It is incredibly amazing, how far self-deception, excess and audaciousness can push a person! One of the most disturbing features of the Bosnian War from 1992 until the end of 1995 was the widespread refusal to acknowledge the role religion played in the war. It was – and still is – only mentioned, when it comes to the Muslim side. The reality, which was frequently one of militant Christian extremism, is until today, swept under the rug.
(Before I go on: YES, there has been a unit of foreigners, called “Odred el Mudzahid”, a group of Wahhabi Takfiris from around the world, fighting alongside the Army Of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yes, they have done terrifying acts like beheading Serbs and Croats, torturing their victims and everything we now see from ISIS-henchmen. And Yes, they are criminals that needed to be expelled from the country a long time ago. But: their number isn’t as high as Serb and Croat politicians want us to believe. The unit never consisted of more than 1000-1200 men, the majority of them left as the war ended (If we take the Situation in Syria and Iraq as an example, we get to know that the so called Islamic State started with a total of 16-17.000 soldiers – how would the Balkans look today, if there had been more than 10.000 very well armed and battle-scarred “Mudzahedini”, as Serbs and Croats claim?!)
On arrival, they already had the idea in petto to fight the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina too, as they – in their eyes – were the same infidels like the Christian Serbs or Croats! Not a single one of them was called by Alija Izetbegovic or any Bosniak Politician into the country! And ask yourself this question: they weren’t dropped off by planes or helicopters into their operational zone, Central Bosnia, they came by car or bus. They had to cross either Serb or Croat borders to get to their final destination – in some cases several times. WHY ON EARTH would Serbian and Croat soldiers allow foreign “terrorists” to enter and fight them? How do I know? A very close, late family member was one of the spearheads in this unit, that’s how!).
While talking about foreigners: isn’t it still amazing and interesting, how many talk about few houndred “Mujahideen”, while no one mentions the houndreds of Russian, Ukranian, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian…soldiers and mercenaries, which came to “help their Orthodox brothers”? Is one side here without doubt the bad while the other seems to be absolutely good? Who’s whitewashing who?
This war was first and foremost an intensely religious experience for its Christian participants, especially for the Orthodox. We all tend to forget that while 8.000 Muslims have been pushed into mass graves at Srebrenica, the victorious Serb General Mladic, after offering a glass of champagne to the local UN commander, went off for church to pray. Or when we look at the video shots from the Scorpions, who are being blessed by father Gavrilo, shortly before killing children and young civilians.
Especially Muslim POW and detained civilians were forced to show the three-fingered hand gesture, representing the Christian trinity, sing Chetnik songs, being poured with beer or hard liquor or having the cross carved into their skin with knives by their Serb guards. While this pattern reoccurred in any place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the unsystematic and sporadic tortures and rapes that unfortunately occurred amongst “Muslim” warriors, were spared of religious symbolisms.
Captured Serbs had to sing songs praising Izetbegovic or Bosnia, but there is not a single report that shows any systematic appliance of religious abuse by Bosniaks.
Serb propaganda about how the Muslims were ready to turn Sarajevo into another Teheran, inside the very heart of Europe, went so far that foreign reporters asked Bosniak Army commanders, while they were drinking hard liquor and smoking pot inside their barracks, if they are fighting for an Islamic State, while on the other hand they simply ignored every proof of Orthodox (and Catholic) chauvinism right in front of their eyes, given to them first-hand by Serb clerics and politicians.
The Church itself regularly thundered against ‘enemies of God’ who would not join the struggle for a Greater Serbia, and official Church journals were a leading forum for Draskovic and other radical ideologues advocating the dream of a ‘Greater Serbia,’ and the destruction of the ‘disease’ of Islam.
A further tell-tale sign of the involvement of the church was apparent when, in 1994, the Geneva Contact Group tabled its new partition plan for the country. Under this plan, the 32 percent of Bosnians who were Orthodox were awarded 49 percent of the land, including many formerly Muslim areas which had suffered ethnic cleansing. But the church was unsatisfied even with this: Metropolitan Nikolaj of Sarajevo demanded that Sarajevo itself should be incorporated into the Serb-held areas. The argument he gave, which was supported by Karadzic himself, was that since the city’s majority Muslim population was supposedly descended from Serb converts to Islam, the city naturally belonged to Orthodoxy. This idea of the Bosniaks as ‘bad Serbs’ who should be guided by Karadzic’s ‘warriors for Christ’ back to the Orthodox fold (or face expulsion, or worse), lay at the rhetorical core of the debates in the priest-filled Republika Srpska parliament in Pale.
The Episcopal Synode in Belgrade declared about the concentration camps, in which Non-Serb citizens were imprisoned, tortured, raped and executed: “In the name of God’s truth, and on the testimony from our brother bishops from Bosnia-Herzegovina and from other trustworthy witnesses, we declare, taking full moral responsibility, that such camps neither have existed nor exist in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia – Herzegovina”. The bad “Semi-Arabs” have deceived the whole world again! Every detainee, thousands of innocent people, including several family members of mine, have made up stories about concentration camps, in fact independent and disconnected one from another, but somehow miraculously with the same stories and patterns about maltreatment…
Again, when a new peace plan was on the table, the Church showed itself more radical even than Milosevic. Pavle, Amfilohije and others insisted that the Belgrade strongman was scandalously weak in+906 upholding the Serbian right to territory. Bishop Atanasije of Herzegovina “urged Serbs”, as he said, “not to capitulate to the world as Milosevic has. The vultures from the West will not get our signature.” Examples of this could be multiplied; but the general picture is, I hope, clear. Another big question is: when generation after generation of Serb children up til today 1 are raised by their parents to detest “Turks” (Ottomans) for being occupied by them, and when the same parents teach their children the above mentioned about their Muslim neighbours, what can you expect from a society when the youngsters grow up?
So the second and much longer part would be connected to the first one I mentioned. Not only are the Bosniaks deprived of the right to define themselves as an independent nation, their religion and culture are seen as hostile, alien and sick.
What’s the connection between Izetbegovic, Zulfikarpasic and Filipovic here? Why was Izetbegovic the best choice for the Bosniaks? Did he “save the Bosniaks from extinction”? Was he “advised by US politicians”? Why was he primarly against Dayton? Well, first it was Izetbegovic who correctly – long before any trigger was pulled inside Bosnia – recognized and related the signs he was getting from Serb nationalists and politicians inside and outside the country, which at the start of his political career had already reached peak-point and made up the majority inside and outside Bosnia. Secondly, he refused any partition of Bosnia up to the very end of the war, where he was forced to sign Dayton and sell it to the Bosniaks in a time where military advance was rising. Could’ve he “have it without war”? Maybe. But why on earth would he sign any partition, when not a single part of today’s Bosnian soil had been called “Serbian” since the Middle Ages?! Why should’ve he give up big parts of the country for chauvinist demands? A “Republika Srpska” as it exists since Dayton won’t get rid of the genocidal taste in a thousand years, even the Serb citizens realise that, while any other form of a Serb country, without war, would resemble a present of immeasurable value to somebody not worthy the sand-pit in the park!
Zulfikarpasic, Filipovic and co. weren’t simply aware, at this time, what was going to happen, if they hand out the Bosniaks voluntary to the Serbs, conjoining them in a “Third Yugoslavia” as they called it. The biggest and most severe mistake Izetbegovic and the SDA-cadre made was to believe that there will be no war – and if, the West would shurely intervene as quickly as possible. My father recalled a SDA meeting before the war started, when an official was asked by a concerned citizen, “how we are preparing ourselves, since the Serbs are getting the gross of the JNA weaponry, military equipment and most probably the majority of logistical and personnel support from the JNA?”. His answer was short and simple: “We have the Democracy and the police on our side, no one can harm us”. The epic failure which Bosniak politicians made couldn’t be summed up better in less words!
Without question, Izetbegovic’s ability to evaluate the capability of a minister, official or similar, was beyond good and evil. Looking at the answer mentioned above, it seemed to be a general deficit inside the SDA. Nevertheless, he understood the situation with the Serbs and Croats better than anyone else.
As for the question on “how he was advised by US officialls”, be it true or not, there is a simple answer: there was no one he could’ve turned to, no one to give any beneficial advice. Did he listen to American advisors? Possible. Did they trick him and the whole nation into war? Definitively no! Serb militia and serb-led JNA forces had already shown their real face inside Slovenia and Croatia, they were up to war before the whole country de facto began to fall apart, as Milosevic alluded in his Kosovo-speech in June 1989 “Six centuries later, now, we are being again engaged in battles and are facing battles. They are not armed battles, although such things cannot be excluded yet.”. Only few received the message, and only a hand-full amongst them tried to take measures against a possible threat.
Another evidence for the war being planned and schemed by the Serbs are the numerous warnings Bosniaks received from their very Serb neighbours to leave their towns, cities, villages…before the day of attack, or otherwise face expulsion, abasement and death. Like in the case of my wife’s family, such warnings have been ridiculed and repelled with the words “Why should anybody kill me? I didn’t harm anyone!”. Unfortunately, in her case, the Muslims of Kulen Vakuf, a small city near Bihac, experienced another genocide and expulsion through Serb hands in mid 1992, while family members disappeared in massgraves, who, at the time of their death, have had their hands tied and were shot in the back.
The strongest indications for a designed scheme, how to extinguish everything non-Serb in this area, is simply the combination of hard evidence found in Serb literature, lectures and speeches combined with acts and deeds during wartime. Many Serbs, from simple workers to highly educated personnel, owned Ilija Garasanin’s “Nacertanije” for example. There have been too many “coincidences”, independent from one another, to call the ejection and killing, rape and torture of non-Serb population a “coincidence” or “situational acts”. Some remembered Serb friends and neighbours, telling them “coincidentally” exact the same stories while being drunk, on being given advice, how to dissolve possible resistance through “works in peace through generations”, to get closer to the “great Serbian dream”. Sounds pretty much like conspiracy theories, but: one drunk hobo telling you about the city center being burned down might be “drunk-talk”. But when many drunk hobos start to chatter one and the same story, you might start to believe there is something true about it.
Why was Izetbegovic vehemently against any peace agreement during the Dayton-negotiations in 1995? Contrary to the Croat-Savior-thesis, where it is said that the Croat offensive inside Croatia and Bosnia freed the Bosniaks too, stand some simple facts. The 5th Corps ABiH (Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina) was a natural cushion between the SAO Krajina (Serb held territories inside Croatia) and the 1st Krajiski Corps of the VRS (a special unit, founded by General Mladic himself to defeat the 5th Corps, especially the 505th Brigade, and thus, as he said “break the backbone of the Muslim Army”) and Abdic’s troops. Had the 5th Corps been defeated , the Serb Armies inside Bosnia and Croatia could’ve joined and become an unstoppable force for the Croat defense. The outgoing of the war for the Croats depended very much on the behaviour of the Bosniaks inside the Bihac-pocket.
On the other hand, the Bosniaks aided actively with men and material during the Croat operations inside Croatia in 1995 (one of the famous officers of the 5th Corps, the late Izet Nanic, is said to be killed in action on Croat soil). They got artillery-support during their own offensive from the Croat forces in return. That has nothing got to do with “saving” but is simply the result of one’s own effort.
The Bosnian Army was in artillery-reach of Banja Luka towards the end of war. Special units of the 17th Krajina Brigade ABiH made it inside the airport of Banja Luka and started with acts of diversion. Serb population inside Banja Luka was prepared to run and leave everything to the advancing Bosnian Army. In Prijedor, members of the 7th Muslim Brigade were as near as the Sana-Tex factory at the western-entrance of the city. Big and important cities in Serb held territory were about to fall. Kljuc, Sanski Most, Bosanski Petrovac; Bosanska Krupa fell completely into ABiH hands, Drvar, Mrkonjic Grad and Jajce into the ones of Croat allies, Donji Vakuf and other cities in the area of central Bosnia were conquered, to sum it up: the Serbs were on the run when peacetalks began. As Richard Holbrooke remembered, Serb president Milosevic had begged him almost on his knees to stop the advance of the ABiH and HVO inside Bosnia – what the West did. After three years of fierce fights, a real military victory for the ABiH seemd closer as ever before. Plausible reasons for Izetbegovic to get mad at every attempt to stop the advance!
I had to chuckle when I read (I don’t know anymore whose blog it was), that the Serbs came out as moral, political and military winner of the Balkan wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo! Not even Hollywood is able to market their loss in Viet Nam as a victory, as the Serbs are able to sell theirs in the Balkans. There is not a single Orthodox community of distinctive number in Slovenia, not to mention any Serb diaspora; the Croats expelled the last Serb from Croat soil in 1995, turning Banja Luka into an exile for Krajina-Serbs; the Serbs in Bosnia had thought to finish the war in three weeks, but were unable to achieve anything real after more than three years – the fourth-strongest Army in Europe couldn’t deal with a horde of furious peasants armed with deer-rifles! The first “Tank Brigade” in Sarajevo consisted of one (in numbers: 1!) single tank; everyone is free to google how many Serb tanks occupied the city! If it hadn’t been for American intervention and threats to bomb the Bosnian Army (Bosniak soldiers confirmed me in personal talks that US Apache helicopters stopped and threatend to shoot at them while they advanced to Prijedor), who knows how the war would’ve really ended? That’s everything else but victorious to me.
Did Izetbegovic save the Bosniaks from extinction? Yes and no. As mentioned before, the best job he did was to realize who his opponents were and not to trust them at any cost. That’s why he will still remain a thorn in the eye of Serb interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the next couple of decades. His actions crossed any plans of a relatively silent “expansion” of Serb territory. If one doesn’t understand that Serb nationalism from the 80ies and 90ies of the last century wasn’t going to cease without any bloodspilling, one will never understand the full reasons of his actions without the need to choose fiction over facts.
The last point I want to approach is the attitude every side has towards everything that happened. It is a big stone on the road to reconciliation. The vast majority of Muslims is without doubt accepting the fact that the life of an innocent civilian weighs more than anything else in the world, no matter which religion, nationality or skincolor one might have. It has to be saved and held sacred.
The problem between both sides is of different nature. No sane Bosniak with an atoms weight of braincells is going to accept that every party in the last conflict was on the same level concerning how the war started and who started it. That has nothing got to do with Izetbegovic, Islamic radicalism, hatred for Serbs or anything else. So one of the strongest preconditions for any kind of peacful and rational talks between Bosniaks and Serbs is the acknowledgement that in 1992, there has been an attacker (Serbs) and a defender (Bosniaks). Everything else beside acknowledging this is indistinct jibber-jabber to Bosniak ears.
The second problem is the way the (Pro-)Serb side handles Muslim war casualties. If Srebrenica is mentioned, the names “Oric” and “Kravica-massacre” shoot out as a Chili-supper does in the next morning! (YES AGAIN! Unfortunately Serb civilians have been killed by Muslims as retaliation acts during the war. It is a shameful act and a sin of unbearable weight! And not even one million dead Bosniaks justify the killing of one innocent Serb. The killers aren’t heroes and should be punished as hard as possible! Maybe that’s a positive difference for the Bosniak side: never has any Bosniak politician declared that Serb victims shot/shelled/injured themselves while defending the own criminals who did it! I mean, Karadzic is until this very moment trying to convince everybody in Den Haag and worldwide, that it was the Muslim Army that shelled and occupied Sarajevo for years). The killing of one single innocent human being doesn’t justify the death of another and so on. We can’t go on and spin the circle forever. As long as the Serb side doesn’t acknowledge the destruction of almost 300 Muslim villages around Srebrenica, the expulsion of over 70.000 Muslims into the city of Srebrenica from the area around the city, causing it to turn into a Ghetto with not enough food, water, pharmaceuticals, electricity, simply: the basic needs for a normal life for all, shelling it, killing innocent civilians, and all of this alone in the months between April and June 1992, what’s the point of discussing why and how some Muslims snapped and did what they did? Srebrenica is just one small town. What about Kozarac, Prijedor, Bijeljina, Trebinje, Sanski Most, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Petrovac, Kulen Vakuf and so on? What about the massgrave of Tomasica in the area of Prijedor? There was no Naser Oric in this place to “organize Muslims to kill Serbs”! Each time someone seriously complains about Serb victims resembles a person with a severe concussion ranting to a terminally ill cancer patient, with half a lung and no arms and legs, how life sucks when your head hurts and that you wish to die. Again, my utmost respect for every victim, independent of race and religion, but as I said: terminally ill (Bosnia) vs. head-concussion (Serbia) is a very very big difference.
Enough damage has been done and not one but many generations are filled with disgust about their neighbours, family-members and friends, that’s something where I agree with Mr. Malic but beg to differ that it was again, Izetbegovic’s fault (By the way, this guy really had no hatred for Serbs – he and many of his companions declared themselves as Serbs during Yugoslavia; mostly of the reason to honour their neighbours and keep ties close).
What can the future bring to such a country? As I stated, it looks like it is terminally ill. Yet I remain optimistic about a positive outcome, since the situation has been many times worse through the last 150 years than it is now. The Qur’an states that “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves”, and this seems to be the very recipee for a positive solution in Bosnia, concerning everyone. Is there any real chance for peace in the future? Most definitively yes, but under certain preconditions mentioned in the text. Everything besides that is a waste of time and far away of being authentical, giving reason to fear an outbreak of old patterns in near or far away future.
Nationalists tried their best in the early 90ies, on each side. There are documents which prove an intern deal between a small group of Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, to “clean” their rows from other nationalities. Everyone with an army-rank higher than a simple recruit was sent home due to “safety reasons”, if he had a different national background than the Army he was fighting for. It’s these irrational divisions between ethnical and religious backgrounds, that split the people and cause more and more trouble. It is not excluded that the same forces, up to this day, fuel the fire of national hatred.
Is it so impossible that a Serb activist pays a Serb citizen with no income to “vandalize” an Orthodox church, so he can blame Bosniaks or Croats for it? Is really every act of vandalism in mosques the deed of Serb or Croat nationalists? Politicians who are in charge and who benefit from national hatred won’t probably have that high moral standards not to use “small false flag operations” inside their own communities to secure votes… independent of their religious or national background! Maybe the near future will tell – like it did about the deal of 1993 mentioned above. It’s up for the simple citizens of the Balkans to change on the inside before they can expect change on the outside!
Ahmed was born and raised in Austria of Bosnian Muslim origin, son of a founding member of the SDA in the diaspora, activist against Wahhabi influence in his community. He has active personal ties and connections to his fatherland until today in connection with travels and exchanges.