bosnia report
No. 15 April - June 1996
The Deconstruction of Bosnia
by Ivan Lovrenovic

It is impossible to speak intelligibly about the 'Islamization' of Bosnia if one forgets for a single moment the key fact that Milosevic's Belgrade, Karadzic's Serbs and the former Yugoslav People's Army launched their aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina with the ideological war-cry : 'Down with Islam and eradicate the Muslims.'

The anti-Bosnian prehistory

A certain prehistory must also be borne in mind: the pretext for this anti-Bosnian and anti-Muslim jihad had been systematically constructed over a long period of time within the Serbian political establishment, in the media, in quasi-scientific pamphlets and books, at symposia and round tables, and from political platforms and pulpits, at times reaching the dimensions of major political scandals designed to shake the whole of the former common state 'from the Vardar to Triglav.' Indeed, it can all be said to have begun at the end of the nineteen sixties, when the old Communist governmental team in Sarajevo (Djuro Pucar Sr and Co) - wholly subordinated colonially to Belgrade and to the Serb hegemony in Bosnia - was replaced by a new, young team determined (with Tito's help) to win for Bosnia-Herzegovina the same degree of emancipation and statehood as was enjoyed by other Yugoslav republics. In Bosnia this was closely linked, of course, to the question of the national identity of the Muslims. Those with good memories will recall with what a degree of fanaticism Sarajevo and Bosnia used to be denied such attributes of identity as, for example, the right to produce their own TV news, have their own Academy of Arts and Sciences, or carry out a new systemization and valorization of the history of their literature.

Even the notorious Stalinist trial of 'Islamic Fundamentalists' (Alija Izetbegovic and friends) in 1983 was in fact imposed by Belgrade, as one in a series of similarly fabricated scandals. The real issue in the background was always the status of the state of Bosnia: the 'Islamic danger' served oÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÐnly as the ideological choreography. Then came the staged 'Agrokomerc' affair, which Belgrade used to bring down Hamdija Pozderac, who - as the strong man of Bosnia and future president of the commission for revision of the 1974 Yugoslav constitution - was considered too dangerous. His fall was facilitated, naturally, by the fact that a few years earlier he had been forced to accept the staging of the above-mentioned trial of 'Islamic Fundamentalists'. (Fikret Abdic, who played the role of scapegoat in the 'Agrokomerc' affair and was supposed to spend many years in jail in order to confirm the validity of the whole intrigue in formal-legal terms, is now engaged - together with the Chetniks and at the behest of the same Belgrade - in the destruction of his own country and people. A caricature worthy of Sergio Leone!)

Belgrade's preparation of an anti-Bosnian and anti-Muslim hysteria, therefore, has a long prehistory. It was unfortunate that at the time many Sarajevo, Bosnian and Muslim intellectuals, politicians, journalists and influential people in general failed to recognize the true nature and aim of the campaign, and some even actively participated in it. It was equally depressing to see, during the 1992-94 phase of the war, the official Croatian media taking over parrot-fashion and with deafening orchestration the characteristic untruths supplied by the old Belgrade factory of lies, as if hypnotized by Tudjman's ceaseless Milosevic-like refrain at that time about 'the danger of creating an Islamic state on European soil' and the inevitability of 'Bosnia's break-up, now that Yugoslavia has fallen apart.'

Expelling the 'Turks'

Thus Milosevic, Karadzic and the JNA attacked Bosnia in the early spring of 1992 with a war cry directed against a centuries-old enemy: Islam and the Muslims. That this was not a mere propaganda slogan to assist mobilization, but rather a precisely worked-out design, is testified to by the whole bloody balance-sheet to date. From the butchery of the Muslims in the streets of Bijeljina in the spring of 1992 to the recent bloody events in the area of Bihac, thousands upon thousands of Muslims were murdered, tortured in camps, women raped, huge areas completely ethnically cleansed, hundreds of thousands of people mercilessly driven into exile, while with particular dedication the most prominent and valued signs of Islamic culture were not just blown up but totally obliterated. All the mosques and Muslim graveyards on the whole of the territory occupied by Serbian troops were simply erased. Absolutely all. Is it necessary to add that among these monuments were to be found exquisite works, equivalent in their kind to, say, the cathedral at Chartres? Like for example the 16th-century Ferhad Pasha Mosque in Banja Luka. In its place you can see today - a parking lot. And in Banja Luka there never was any war - the city was 'liberated' by the JNA at the outset.

Milorad Ekmecic, the leading Serb historian and indisputable ideologue of Karadzic's movement, who is also a regular member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, presented at the start of the war 'the new Serb struggle' as a continuation - and conclusion! - of 'the job which the Serbs began in 1804 with the expulsion of the Turks from Serbia'. One should notice the specific 'retake' here: at that time, in the early 19th century, Serbia rid itself of the Islamic cultural - and Muslim ethnic - presence with its own version of St Bartholomew's Night: mass executions and deportations of the people, and complete obliteration of all mosques, graveyards and buildings decorated in the Ottoman style. (It is a kind of irony or 'revenge' of history that in a cultural sense - in their language, their cooking, the names of their cities and neighbourhoods, their political habits and every-day customs - the Serbs should remain the most loyal guardians of the Turkish spirit).

By usurping (on Zagreb's instructions) the interpretation and representation of Bosnian Croat political interests, Mate BobaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÐn and his 'Herzeg-Bosna' actively aligned themselves in the spring of 1993 with this anti-Muslim and anti-Bosnian - hence essentially also anti-Croat - campaign. They committed numerous crimes from the same repertoire -ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, destruction of mosques and such cultural monuments as the Old Bridge in Mostar - until the bloody conflict was halted in the winter of 1994 by an alternative Croat political will (expressed in the Declaration of the Assembly of Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo, and in the activity of the Croat National Council), as well as by the authority of the USA.

The fateful link between Bosnia and the Bosniaks

From the point of view of the Bosnian Muslims, this infernal circle fits logically into a wider 'international' one, with its policy of inaction (amounting in reality to practical support for the Serbian aggression) as a result of which the victim is gradually transformed into the culprit.

It should not be difficult, therefore, to understand a Bosnian Muslim who, irrespective of whether he is a believer or not, is today ruled by a sense of individual and collective existential and historical endangerment: by the fear that, as a Muslim and Bosnian, he is intended for complete annihilation. It is easy, then, to understand also the inevitability of different forms of political and ideological radicalization, and the fact that they all share a common basis: the identification of religion, state and nation.

The question arises, however, whether there exists a political will and decision to make this identification into the dominant trend in the conceptualization of Bosnian state and society. Let us put the question somewhat differently. The survival of the Bosnian Muslims is fatally linked with the survival of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is an axiom. It is unquestioned either at the intimate psychological or at the political level. The key question of every Bosnian Muslim politics is therefore: 'Which form of state organization and social order can secure the survival of that state and society?' Both now - in the conditions of war occupation, drastic reduction of territory, and overwhelming social atrophy and a horribly unequal liberation struggle - and also later, in the conditions of a realized desire for freedom and an integral state, which, however, in order to be integral must also be a state of Croats and Serbs!

The answer is clear: it can be only a secular state and society, established on the principles of political pluralism and parliamentary democracy as well as the equality of nations and people. Certainly not one based on the principles of Islam or the hegemony of the majority nation. Consequently, the paradox and terrible torment of the Bosnian Muslim position and politics today lies in the fact that, while certain forms of ideological and political radicalization are inevitable, and even 'desirable' in the motivating and mobilizational senses, it is the very protagonists of such politics - the most conscious, far-seeing and responsible Bosnian Muslim politicians and intellectuals - who will have to rein in and prevent such radicalization, since it contains the seeds of a mortal danger precisely for the Bosnian Muslims and for Bosnia.

Two levels of radicalization of Bosniak politics

This radicalization appears on two levels, which are often difficult to tell apart since they are naturally firmly intermeshed. This is best seen in the manner in which a pronounced radicalization cultivated by Ljiljan, a weekly paper whose ideological influence has become very great, especially in the emigration. One of these two levels is tied more to the religious aspect and is characterized by a call to return to Islam as the root and true value - as in the slogan pregnant with meaning: 'Islam is our father, Bosnia is our mother.'

From this context have derived those Sarajevo events which public opinion (especially in France) has invested with, in my view, undeserved importance: tÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÐhe rejection of mixed marriages, the Islamic community's protest against the alleged imports of great quantities of pork at a time of complete food scarcity, the mysterious withdrawal of this meat from the shops, etc. Similar things have been happening also, and even more, in other cities like Zenica and Travnik. Generally speaking, they take the form of an emphatic practice of outward manifestations of Islamic identity: forms of greeting, style of dress; greatly increased interest in religious education; reinforcement of religiously coloured modes of address - like a kind of new etiquette - in the organs of public administration and the army; the organization of the school system; and the still unresolved dilemma concerning the introduction of religious education into schools.

All this bears witness to as yet uncrystallized relations of competency and spheres of influence between the four most important centres of power and influence: the state administration, the religious (Islamic) community, the party (SDA) and the army. The problem is all the more complex in that, on the one hand, two of these centres (the state administration and the army) are refusing - at least at the level of declarations of principle - to be Bosnian Muslim only, insisting on their all Bosnian legitimacy, while on the other hand many important positions in all four centres are held by the same people.

In my view, however, it is the other aspect that warrants greater attention: the aspect of a wholly secular - and by type and origin wholly European - national ideology. The spectrum of its manifestations ranges from wholly legitimate and justified articulations of the national name (Bosniak, not Muslim) language (Bosnian, nor Serbo-Croat), culture, and institutions, to ones that reproduce the typical deformations of South Slav and other European nationalisms: usurpation of the state and history; the reduction of other Bosnian national (Serb and Croat) identities to their religious (Orthodox and Catholic) dimensions, something that is highly dangerous when it becomes part of the ideological mind-cast of the army; the rewriting of history to suit current political needs and in accordance with an ideological prescription; idealization of the 'nature' and value of one's own nation as opposed to all others, and if Islam as opposed to other faiths; the minimizing - or passing over in silence - of manifestations of war-criminal behaviour of one's 'own' side, etc.

I wish to draw attention to something which to me appears exceptionally significant. While in Sarajevo, and generally among the Bosnian Mulims, there still exists a clear and admirable critical confrontation with manifestations of religious radicalism - in the independent media, in the individual reactions of intellectuals, in the statements of some political parties - other manifestations of nationalism not only remain unobserved, but seem already to have become the universally accepted form of a new political consciousness and behaviour, as much in government institutions and in the media close to the government as among independent intellectuals and the media otherwise cultivating a high critical stance towards the government and the dominant party (SDA).

Between pragmatism and resoluteness

While I do not think that the real content and direction of this political process can be properly deduced (only) from the statements and positions of political leaders, it is nevertheless not without interest in conclusion to quote two Bosnian Muslim leaders, particularly since they are accepted as unquestionable authorities both at home and abroad.

In an interview given last summer to the Parisian weekly Liberation, Alija Izetbegovic, asked if he would agree to the creation of a Muslim statelet in the Balkans in the event of the international community insisting on the separation of Serb and Croat 'entities', replied very indicatively: 'No, and for two reasons: first because it would not work, and secondly because the international community would not allÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÐow it.' By contrast Haris Silajdzic, in all his public and private statements, has always been emphatic : 'this country has no choice: it will either be democratic or it will not be.'

However unclear and subject to various interpretations the space may be between Izetbegovic's pragmatism - in which a suspicious mind could even detect a kind of regret that a 'Muslim project' cannot be realized - and Silajdzic's resoluteness, I think nevertheless that in the register of desires and possible solutions delimited by these two positions one can detect no real danger of Islamic fundamentalism.

As regards the struggle with the phantasms of their national ideology, in the form of a secular 'political fundamentalism' - absolutely identical, I repeat, with all the South Slav and European nationalisms determined by the fate and status of small nations, but in the Bosnian Muslim case also exposed to an unprecedented destruction before the largely indifferent eyes of the whole world - this is a struggle which the Bosnian Muslims will have to wage themselves, as their most urgent interest. Otherwise there will be no Bosnia, of any kind, hence also no Muslim Bosniaks.

Extra-Bosnian spiritual centres

If one wishes to approach this whole problem from the position of Croat, rights and interests in Bosnia, it is useful to refer to a comparative Muslim-Serb-Croat Bosnian historical experience, as a starting point and a global political framework that can secure a minimum of necessary objectivity. We are dealing here with the historical subordination of Bosnians of all three religions to political and spiritual centres outside Bosnia: the Muslims to Istanbul, and to the centres if Islam; the Serbs first to the Patriarchate of Pec, later to Belgrade; the Croats first to Rome, later to Zagreb. Needless to say, herein has lain the source of our Hell. It was the Bosnian Muslims, however, who were forced to undergo the greatest change: in 1878, following the departure of the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia; and now, most recently, in response to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Working under the imperative need to turn to themselves - to find their centre within themselves, in Bosnia - it was the Muslims who were forced to effect the greatest transformation in the perception of themselves and of their country. Those who do not understand this do not understand anything about Bosnia; they cannot rationally and honestly comprehend the political novelty of what is happening there now. That fear of annihilation and this newly acquired self-awareness, are two sides of one and the same political process. On the one side, it is manifested as a heroic resistance to the occupier; on the other, as we have seen, as secular nationalism, European in its character and origin.

The situation of the Croats in Bosnia is in many ways the saddest, both politically and existentially. Briefly, it can be summed up as follows: they will disappear, without ever really understanding what has happened to them. From the start of the political transformation - the rejection of Communism and the first democratic elections in 1990- Bosnian Croat politics has been conducted from Zagreb and, in practice, by one man : Franjo Tudjman. What is particularly tragic, in view of this, is that he is a man who has neither knowledge or understanding of, nor affection for, Bosnia and its Croat dimension. It is enough to recall his political dogma: 'Bosnia is a small Yugoslavia: without Yugoslavia there can be no Bosnia.' It takes only a modicum of historical knowledge to grasp that the difference between the two is enormous: Yugoslavia was a political construct of 1938, Bosnia is a thousand-year-old civilizational and historical creation. It is not surprising, therefore, that Tudjman's Bosnian policy has been a litany of disasters; nor that, whenever the brink was reached, it was left to Croat forces internal to Bosnia - the Catholic Church, the Croat National Council, informal groups and individuals - to save what could be saved. This ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÐwas true on the eve of the 1992 referendum, true when the Muslim-Croat war had to be stopped, true when the Washington and Vienna agreements were reached, etc. Despite this, however, these internal Croat forces have proved as yet incapable of breaking from their dependency upon Zagreb. When one eye is fixed on Zagreb and the other on Sarajevo, it is easy to fall into a hole in the ground! Until the Croats prove capable of creating a consistent and productive Bosnian Croat political expression and programme, and begin to do what is their right and their duty in pursuit of Bosnia's and the Bosnian Croats' true interests, they will continue to play the role of a useful, yet by Zagreb always despised, political corrective to the latter's disastrous Bosnian policy.

Such a qualitative change in the Bosnian Croats' self-perception is urgently needed, since on it depends their own survival and that of Bosnia. They too must undergo that turbulent and internally contradictory process of separation and redefinition which the Bosnian Muslims have been forced to undergo. Otherwise, continued mutual isolation, drifting apart, lack of understanding - and indeed an antagonistic counterposition of the two processes - could end up by destroying the very substance of both peoples, and with that any possibility of Bosnia's long-term survival.

Translated from Dani no. 26, Sarajevo, 30.11.1994. Ivan Lovrenovic, aforemost Bosnian writer and intellectual, currently holds the post of cultural attache at the Bosnia-Herzegovina embassy in Zagreb.


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