Croats and the Bosnians in Bosnia and Herzegovina share the same view on two major points: since the war ended, the transitional period has not come to an end, and politicians have become more corrupt. Yet, they differ on the rise of radical Islam, a matter denied by Bosnians, feared by the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats
Ian Hamel, returning from Sarajevo
Would you like to know the religion of someone talking to you in Bosnia? It is an easy matter; It is enough to know the telephone company he is a subscriber of. In this country, with population of 3.5 million people, there are three ethnicities, Bosnians (Muslims), the Serbs and the Croats.
The theatre owner who we are meeting in a Sarajevo downtown inn, looks optimistic, and confident, as he says: “Look around you! These are all Muslims, but they are drinking wine. And in the Old Ottoman Town, you find mosques, an Orthodox Cathedral and a Catholic one. Radical Islam has no place here.”
Actually, everything is calm in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, stores sell pens and toy air planes made of used ammunition. Red spots on the pavement identify the sites where civilians were killed in 1992-1995, by snipers hiding in surrounding hills. Visitors can always be seen at the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. Pictures of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood are sold at book shops, as well as books of the group’s most influential preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is now based in Qatar.
At the headquarters of the daily “Dnevni Avaz” paper, journalist Arden Halimick agrees with the theater owner, and says: “There are some Bosnians who went to fight in Iraq and Syria, but they were fewer than the Kosovo population. Many of them were killed and returnees were arrested and jailed.”
Referring to the Salfist groups in the northeastern part of the country, he said: “This was only Serbian propaganda. When the police forces went to the village of Gornja Maoca, they found bearded men and women wearing hijab, but did not find weapons. Leader of the group in Gornja Maoca, Nusret Imamović, was on a US list of wanted terrorists. He was also so close to al-Qaeda, and trained more than 200 Bosnian young men”.
A new question is raised: Goran Kovacevic, professor at Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Security Studies, University of Sarajevo, affirms that some Gulf states would pay 250 euro for a man to let his beard grow, and 200 euro for a woman to put on a hijab.
Halimick, with a smile on his face, comments: “People here are impoverished, and if what you say is true, no man would shave, neither a woman would go out bareheaded. He recalls that the last terror attack in the country took place in 2015, carried out by an extremist Islamist who killed two military personnel.
In short, talking about political Islam is a “taboo” in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But if you refer to the elections due on 7 October, Bosnians are never tired of talking about corruption in political circles.
A political analyst at Germany’s Friedrich-Ebert foundation says: “Nothing has been done to combat corruption or organized crime. Independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed, and the separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judiciary authorities is merely a dream: corruption has penetrated all state institutions.”
Gains from the Gulf
In fact, when the international community imposed ceasefire on the warring parties, an uncontrollable monster came into existence; the country, with a total area of 50,000 square meters, was divided into three regions: Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Bosnians and Croats live, controlling 51 per cent of the territories, with Sarajevo a capital; and the Serb Republic, which is divided into two parts, with Banja Luka as a capital. Bosnians and Croats are not always in harmony. Thus, one finds a variety of governments that are opposing and impeding each other. Even political parties lack tangible projects to offer, and confine their efforts to national programs to muster supporters just to defend them against other groups. The result: over two decades, this small country has failed to get out of backwardness, corruption or paralysis.
The European Union (EU) has stopped financial aid since it was vain.
The Serb Republic is several kilometers from Sarajevo, and it has its own national anthem, flag, national day, and is free of the power of the Bosnian government.
The international community has left Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, which was for the good of radical Islam: Who cares now for this Muslim country in Europe? Only Turkey and the Gulf states, according to a headline of L’Express magazine reading “Hope coming from the Gulf.”
The magazine wrote about “Sarajevo Resort”, located 30 kilometers from the Bosnian capital with up to 160 private villas, an artificial lake, swimming pools, restaurants, and playgrounds. The project, financed by a Kuwaiti company, includes a mosque and a supermarket for halal food.
In the vicinity of Sarajevo, there is a whole residential area where middle class Arab visitors stay, as they cannot afford the luxurious hotels in London or Paris. It is within reach in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they enjoy a nice weather, forests, snow-covered mountains, rivers and water springs. There are also mosques and halal restaurants at the Old Ottoman Town in Sarajevo. Restaurants do no serve “a drop” of wine. However, just nearby, at Marcela Tita, you can find inns and night clubs. Those Gulf visitors cause no problems. On the other hand, they help raise the GDP – per capita, which does not exceed 4,000 euro, and also curb the unemployment rate which hit 25 percent.
Alija Izetbegović’s nature
What is Al Jazeera channel doing in Sarajevo? Doing its media work of course. But why does the channel invest huge sums of money to settle in a four-storey building in a country with no advertising revenues, at the time when it closed Al Jazeera America (AJAM) just for economic reasons?
Al Jazeera Balkans channel employs about 250 people in former Yugoslavia, and it has offices in Belgrade (Serbia), Zagreb (Croatia) and Skopje (Macedonia), with resources that exceed those of all the local channels.
A teacher explains this, saying: “Of course, Al Jazeera defense Doha stances at the face of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, but the major goal is to support Turkey, Qatar’s ally in the Balkans. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was received as a hero in Bosnia and Herzegovina last May. Bakir Izetbegovic, did not hesitate to say that Erdogan was not only the president of Turkey but also “our president”. He added that God has sent Erdogan to the Turkish people.
In a report entitled “Erdogan’s hand on Bosnia,” Le Point magazine said last August that the Bosnian capital football team was financed by the Turkish Airlines, and that the Turkish TV had produced a soap opera on the life of Alija Izetbegović, the Bosnian president during the 1992-1995 war. He was referred to as the ally of bigger brother Erdogan. Bakir was Alija’s son introduced by the European as a moderate Muslim at the face of the devilish Serbs, during the Yugoslavia war. But the fact was different.
In 1943, Alija was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood; He cooperated with the Nazi, and supported the Waffen Mountain Division of the SS (Handschar). After the World War II, the Yugoslavian Communist regime arrested him on charges of “Islamic radicalism”. He was the one that brought millions of people since 1990 to fight the Serbs. Most of the fighters were dismissed from the country after the war ended thanks to pressure from the US. But many managed to stay and even married Bosnian women.
Over the period 1992-1995, 350 million dollars were sent to Bosnia through an international organization founded by two Sudanese. In 2005, a specialist in the Balkans affairs wondered about the vague situation of the “Bosnian nationalists” who did want their relation with the radical networks be exposed, and in the meantime were unable to break up with them, due to the latter’s growing influence over the political life in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” (1)
In fact, the Bosnian nationality was granted to Muslim migrants from Africa and Asia. Up to 700,000 migrants from 30 African and Middle East countries settled in Sarajevo, Zenica, Tuzla and Bihac.
A report by an international organization concluded that the economic crisis in the country offers a favorable climate for radical Islam to grow. Some years ago, Nusret Imamović, leader of the Salafi group Gornja Maoca, brought together more than 500 young men in a hotel in Tuzla for a conference themed, “Sharia advantages and failure of democracy.” What was really worrying was that only 30 people of the 80,000 population of the city protested the conference.
At the time before the war, Muslims used to practice moderate Islam in line with the Hannafi Sunni school. Now, young people cannot complete their studies but through scholarships in the Middle East. Millions of dollars are offered annually to the poor families.
A friend told me that Bosnia applied for the European Union membership. Negotiations have not moved an inch forward and people feel they are rejected due to their religion, Islam. They prefer denying radical Islam to fighting Salafists. Serbs find no embarrassment to accuse their Bosnian “brothers” of receiving all migrants passing through the Balkans, mostly Muslims, to increase the Muslim population in the country.
The US State Department did not only criticized the Bosnian authorities for indecisiveness on countering radicalism, but also slammed the lack of coordination between the investigation agency and in Bosnian police on the national level, and in Sarajevo on one hand, and the police on the level of the “Muslim-Croat federation, on the other.
In a report on the Islamic radical movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the relation with the Serbian region, of Muslim majority, between Bosnia and Kosovo, the “French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless people (OFPRA)” criticized “ the inaction on the side of the international, and the local community’ to face radical Islam, particularly that the Bosnian authorities cannot counter the current.
Vlado Azinovic, associate professor, the School of Political Sciences, University of Sarajevo, said that the Bosnian state lacks the “political will to move effectively.”
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: presence and impact of the international Islamist networks, August 22,2005.