bosnia report
New Series No: 37-38 January - March 2004
He was a brave man
by Safet Orucevic

I met Alija Izetbegović in 1992, when he was supreme commander of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I myself, I must admit, was one of the 'optimists' who did not expect a war, let alone that kind of war, so I was in a dilemma as to whether I should leave Mostar, if need be forever, or stay on. His arrival in Mostar and my acquaintance with him 'mobilized' me completely for the defence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We became close during the negotiations with Boban, Š ušak and Tuđman. I admired his immense effort to pull Bosnia-Herzegovina away from the talons of Belgrade and Zagreb, his struggle to secure the survival of Bosnia, and of the Bosnian army.

I witnessed many difficult moments for him, successful and not so successful negotiations, good and bad decisions on his part. I watched his dangerous and almost fanatically forbearing game designed to loosen a little the knot tied around our country's neck. I found myself, due to circumstances, close to him when Srebrenica was falling, and a little earlier during the attempt to lift the siege of Sarajevo. I travelled with him to all parts of the liberated territory and visited with him the front lines. We were together in many difficult and dangerous situations. He was very brave. [...] Being deeply religious, he saw all events primarily through that angle, which is why he felt more strongly about some people than they, perhaps, deserved. His greatest virtue was his feelings about his family, which during the war I took as a sign of weakness, but now I am not so sure.

His role in our country's defence will be remembered longest. I remember vividly, in particular, the unforgettable words in which, at a wartime meeting with soldiers, he condemned the killing 'of two little Serb girls by members of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina'. It was a crucial intervention, that prevented the army - in desperation at the encirclement and fury at its impotence - from opting for vengeance [...]

I was with him when decisions were made in regard to Herzegovina, when my advice was not heeded. Yet the President knew that he had made several major mistakes in regard to Herzegovina, in both war and peace. This is why we grew apart. After the Rome Agreement of 1996, I asked for an end to compromises with the HDZ at Mostar's expense. It is not at all accidental that they [the SDA] have proved unwilling to solve the ten-year old problem of Mostar, mainly thank to their relationship with, and dependence upon, the HDZ. Izetbegović was irretrievably stifled by careerists and insincere men. This made him confused: overnight he would turn good decisions into bad ones. It led him in the end to distrust practically everyone, but it led also to the loss of friends, both his own and those of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was aware too that some of his decisions would forever remain part of his burden.

Alija Izetbegović earned much praise during his life, but he suffered also much humiliation. Aware that his work would be viewed quite differently after his death, he wished to explain and justify some of his decisions, which is understandable. He also knew that the political life of the Bosniaks would change once he was gone.


                     Safet Oručević was the long-standing mayor of Mostar


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