bosnia report
New Series No: 37-38 January - March 2004
The Master of Fragments
by Miljenko Jergovic

The assertion that 'Islam is best, but we are not' will not offend anyone or move them to commit infamy, if it is taken together and not in parts. But the truth is that both Muslims and non-Muslims are strongly inclined to see only the first part. The other is forgotten, in some cases due to the arrogance and mind-set of the [Muslim] majority, in others [the non-Muslims] in order to accuse the majority of being anti-social and exclusive. Izetbegović too in his political action does not take his assertion seriously. His Bosnia is not a Bosnia in which the SDA tells the Muslims that they are not the best, but a Bosnia in which the Catholics and the Orthodox are told that they are not the best. Alija Izetbegović never found the way to return dignity to his people without offending the dignity of others. Bosnia is like this despite Izetbegović's words, and thanks to his deeds.

The best political years of Alija Izetbegović's life are long gone. They were those between 1990 and 1992. Bosnia at that time was still a country in which its people, including the president, believed in the good will of men and found the time to listen to those who told them they were wrong. Then came silence. The trust in good will was lost. Izetbegović found himself in the position of listening only to himself, and to those who started to treat him as a walking legend - a walking icon of Bosniak salvation. They were not able to tell him he was wrong when he made mistakes. The only fault they found with him was his gentleness, goodness and patience. It is in the nature of idol worshippers to treat their idol's faults as virtues, to complain, indeed, about its surplus of virtue. In this way they unwittingly play up to him. This is a dangerous game even for a clever man, since in the end he comes to believe it. It seems to me that in this sense Izetbegović became a victim already in 1993. Today he is irritated by independent journals, and spends all his time criticizing the political and intellectual opposition, although it is they - what a paradox! - who understand best his human and political faith, and who n all likelihood will save the positive gains of his rule. It is a pity that he decided not to listen to them precisely when it was most needed.


Miljenko Jergović is one of the best known younger Bosnian writers. His Sarajevo Marlboro was published in English translation by Penguin in 1997. This extract is taken from an essay written in 1998 and republished following Izetbegović’s death



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