Izetbegovic interviewed in 1990
by Senad Pecanin
Izetbegović interviewed by Senad Pećanin in 1990, before the first multi-party elections
Formation of the ‘party of historic Muslim culture’
We have already said at a press conference that Article 4, para 2., which bans [political] association on a national basis, is unconstitutional. We have even complained to the Constitutional Court. It is a clear infringement of national equality in Yugoslavia, since this restriction does not exist in the other republics. Another more important reason in my view is that we now have a strange situation, where a whole people is in practice denied the right to be a political subject - since a people that does not have the right to organize itself politically is not a political subject. It is strange that parliament makes laws in the name of a people that is not allowed to organize.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is now being partitioned, they are tearing it apart... Academician Strugar [of SANU] has already divided up Bosnia and clearly specified which part should go where: so much to Serbia, so much to Montenegro, so much to Croatia. And there is a daily appropriation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of the Muslims - who, of course, are first denied their national individuality. This individuality, which lies at the foundation of the existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a republic and as a factor of stability, cannot survive without the Muslims becoming organized, without the Muslims articulating their views through the creation of their own parties and institutions - not all institutions, of course, since some must be shared.
‘Muslims’: a religion or a nation?
This [the name 'Muslim'], in my view, is above all a confessional name. Our party has not yet taken a position on the issue of the name [but I can state] my personal view. It is obvious that Muslim as a national name is not adequate. It is another matter how this came about. There are historical reasons for it, and a degree of imposition too. But it is most likely that a more adequate name will be found in the future, maybe ‘Bosniak’. We are dealing, in my view, with a process. It is not opportune for the Muslims to open this issue at the moment, since a census will be held in a year and it could create confusion among the people. My view is that ‘Muslim’ as a national name cannot survive, since it is unscientific.
On the SDA
We started with the assumption that it was a Muslim party. Our position is that it is neither a Muslim national party, nor a confessional party. The SDA is a party of citizens belonging to the Muslim historico-cultural sphere, as well as of other citizens who accept its aims. The preparatory committee includes Croats, Serbs, Muslims, Yugoslavs in a national sense, one Montenegrin and, I think, one Albanian. From the national point of view it is a mixed party; its programme contains no demands regarding the realization of particular religious values or principles. It demands freedom of religion as a civic right. We have stated in our programme that the founders of the party started with the intention of creating a Muslim party that could also be called a Yugoslav Muslim Party or a Muslim National Party. It is another matter whether, if we succeeded in removing Article 4, para 2., we would create a Muslim party which, despite its name, would be multinational in that there would be no religious criteria for membership. As to whether it would be left or right of centre - these criteria are pretty elastic and in a way subjective: people use them as they will. If we use the usual criteria, then I see this party as a party of the centre, maybe somewhat right of centre. We conceived our party as a Yugoslav one, not limited to Bosnia; but if I were asked what its priority should be, I would say it is to preserve Bosnia-Herzegovina in its present borders. Therefore, our message to those who lay claim to Bosnia-Herzegovina is to count on us - we shall not give it up. Together with the Serbs, Croats, Romas, etc., of course,.
The SDA and Yugoslavia
This is what our party thinks of Yugoslavia:'Faced with the crisis of Yugoslav society which is not only economic, but also political and moral; interested in the preservation of Yugoslavia as a community of nations and nationalities, as well as in unhindered continuation of the democratic processes in the direction of a free, modern and legal state; desiring to support that development and to be in that community...'. We conclude this statement with the assertion that our party will cooperate with all democratic parties, but not with those working for the destruction of Yugoslavia or its re-division, or with those advocating chauvinism and intolerance. We have a number of parties today which hold congresses and produce tons of material in which Yugoslavia is not mentioned at all. In one of our brief public proclamations, by contrast, we twice mentioned Yugoslavia and placed ourselves unreservedly on the side of its preservation. To be frank, this is nothing to do with romanticism or emotions: it is our belief that the preservation of Yugoslavia is in the interest of people belonging to the Muslim sphere. Yugoslavia is their interest, their naked interest, which naturally does not exclude love. We believe that Yugoslavia's destruction or re-division would be most harmful to those citizens who we hope will vote for our party. Our ambitions on the Yugoslav level, we can say quite openly, reflect the fact that the Muslim people forms a weak spot in Yugoslavia because it is not sufficiently enlightened. For example, in 1971 there was not a single Muslim literary anthology published, while there is a History of Yugoslav Literature - a book of 400-500 pages, which I have read from cover to cover - that does not include a single Muslim writer. We think that something must be done to enable this people to defend its rights, prove itself, wake up, educate itself, organize and support the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina - become the backbone of the preservation of this republic. Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina will help the Muslim people to survive.
I do not share the fear of national institutions for two reasons based on experience. The attempt to suppress national feelings in Yugoslavia has failed; the same is true for the Eastern bloc, where the national problem has surfaced in a manner that has no parallel in the West. We have the opposite case of the United States [where ethnic affirmation is legal and encouraged]. To use a parallel from chemistry: if you try to suppress national feelings, you will produce nationalism, since national feelings plus repression equals nationalism. If not, you will have the expression of national feelings as something that is natural, which no one will see as strange. Bosnia-Herzegovina for me will always be a state of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and others who live in it. No people alone can rule Bosnia. History shows that it is hard to govern Bosnia; it is a strange country, but it can be governed only by these three peoples. We are not talking about Bosnia as a Muslim state: Muslims form only a half, not the majority of its population.
Senad Pećanin is editor of Dani