Ally of Bosnia's unity
by Mile Stojic
I heard of Alija Izetbegović for the first time in 1983, at the time of the trial of a group of Muslims. Among them I knew only Melika Salihbegović and Džemaludin Latić. Melika contributed regularly to literary journals in which I myself was involved. Her volume of poetry was published at the same time as mine by the Sarajevo house Svjetlost; the imprint was pathetically called Nada [Hope], and its editor was Risto Trifković. Džemaludin Latić, on the other hand, was studying literature at the faculty of philosophy and was of a retiring disposition. His first book called Mejtas i vodica was shown to me in manuscript form by Ivan Lovrenović, who was then editor of Odjek. Lovrenović fell in love with Latić's book, admiring its linguistic forms based on the ikavica of Western Bosnia.
The papers informally named Izetbegović as leader of the group, the main proof being his Islamic Declaration, which no one had seen, but which was said to be a conspiratorial document containing an elaborate strategy for the overthrow of socialism and the installation of a clerical state. The fact that no one had seen the text did not prevent the papers from comparing Izetbegović with Khomeini and making similar airy accusations.
The Cyclops of Greater Serbia
The background to the trial of Young Muslims was an attempt to destroy the Yugoslav Federation as established by the 1974 constitution. The greatest barrier to the process of 'de-federalizing' the Federation, which had become a frequent topic at party meetings in Serbia, was the leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina, personified by Branko Mikulić, Hamdija Pozderac and Milenko Renovica - politicians who made Bosnia-Herzegovina into an equal federal subject in the sphere of economy, and removed from it the stigma of a culturally backward society. This was the time of daily harangues voiced in Belgrade and Zagreb against Bosnian 'Zhdanovite etatism'. (One of their authors, watching Bosnia's destruction, publicly apologized not long ago for what he had written at the time.) What was particularly held against the BH (Branko and Hamdija) team was their 'imposition' of an 'artificial Muslim nation', which according to the historian Milorad Ekmečić 'was created by diktat in order to remove Bosnia's Serb attributes'.
The tribute demanded from Bosnia by Belgrade was the heads of Hamdija Pozderac, Fuad Muhić, Muhamed Filipović, Alija Isaković, Nijaz Đuraković, Atif Purivatra and other Muslim intellectuals and politicians who had defined the status of the Muslim people in the contemporary Yugoslav and Bosnian states. But the trial conducted in Sarajevo targeted a socially marginal and largely unknown group of devotees of Islam. The Cyclops of Greater Serbia, then still cloaked, was not happy with this offering and demanded more. 'The innocent have been arrested, the guilty remain free' was the comment of the Belgrade satirical paper Jez on the drastic sentences passed on Izetbegović and his friends. The Čaršija showed great sympathy towards Izetbegović's group after its release from prison, with Dobrica Ćosić receiving them in his grand home and organizing the first publication of the Islamic Declaration in Belgrade.
The attack on Pozderac and Mikulić continued with the famous 'Agrokomerc affair', when Fikret Abdić, the director of this exceptionally productive socialist enterprise, ended up in prison because of his alleged use of unsupported credits - a practice that was in fact widespread at the time among Yugoslav enterprises. This political process, orchestrated by the Belgrade media, in the end produced the desired results. Hamdija Pozderac, Bosnia's most important leader, who was also a member of the Yugoslav federal presidency, was forced to resign - and died soon after. The importation of horror into Bosnia could now begin. The first multi-party elections in Bosnia showed that two of the chosen victims, two jailbirds under Communism, Fikret Abdić and Alija Izetbegović had won the trust of the Muslim people. Abdić, who won most Muslim votes, was a hard-bitten character from the Bosnian Krajina, determined to win his revenge. Although Abdić was an atheist, Izetbegović immediately brought him into his party, convinced that ‘Babo’ was his greatest political asset.
A Devotee of Bosnian Unity
Although Abdić won most votes, Izetbegović - supported by the presidency members elected by the other two peoples - managed to win for himself the post of chair of the presidency, and his political star started to rise in an already darkened Bosnian sky. What happened next was dictated by the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in which Izetbegović came to play an important role, given that Bosnia became a main war aim of its two warring neighbours. People who argue that Izetbegović was mainly responsible for the war, or that his responsibility matches those of Tuđman and Milošević (the tale of three equally responsible warring factions), cannot forgive him for defending Bosnia's integrity. Although some of the decisions he made during the war contributed to the loss of its sovereignty, the truth remains that he favoured Bosnia's unity, that he stood for a united Bosnia. It is another matter whether he knew how, or was able, to bring it about. The stories that he wished to make Bosnia into an Islamic state, based on his Islamic Declaration, were told by Serb and Croat nationalists whenever they wished to justify their crimes. On the other hand, Izetbegović gave Bosnian Islam a mass base and in doing so made it into a European spectre. His name will remain associated with the agony of his state and his people, but also with the international recognition of the former and the affirmation of the latter. He leaves behind a country that is in ruins, devastated and pillaged - including by his closest collaborators - but nevertheless undivided. [...] Alija Izetbegović was not a man of hatred.
Mile Stojić is a prominent Sarajevo writer, poet and journalist