Global Independent Analytics
Enric Ravello Barber
Enric Ravello Barber

Location: Spain

Specialization: History, Catalunya, Spain, Geopolitics, Nationalism in Europe, Islamization, Immigration

THE ISLAMIZATION OF BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

This article presents a historical overview of the situation of Islamization and fundamentalism in Bosnia.

On November 18th, 2015, a terrorist attack by the Bosnian Islamist Enes Omeragic in Sarajevo killed two policemen and reminded the public that a Muslim state where fundamentalism is gaining strength exists in Central Europe. This country, Bosnia, and Herzegovina has already applied to join the EU.

A Brief History of Bosnia

Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats are Slavic peoples of the same family that arrived in the Balkans around the seventh century. They speak the same language of Serbo-Croatian, although each country names it in a different way: Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian. Bosnians and Croats write with the Roman alphabet while the Serbs use the Cyrillic one. Despite sharing the same language and origin, there is one element that differentiates them and has driven them to oppose and confront each other throughout history: religion. These peoples were Christianized in different ways. The Serbs were Christianized between 867 and 869 by the Byzantine Emperor, Basil I, after they acknowledged his authority and therefore became Orthodox Christians. In 879, Pope John VIII recognized Croatian sovereignty under Duke Branimir, which indicated that their Christianization was held in a Roman Catholic context.

The situation remained so until the conquest of the Balkans by the Ottoman Empire in 1463, when Bosnia, which until then had been part of Croatia, passed into the hands of the Ottomans and most of its population subsequently converted to Islam. This did not happen with the Serbs, who maintained their religion even in the era of Ottoman rule. Meanwhile, Croatia was always defended from the Turkish onslaught by the Most Serene Republic of Venice, and then by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is the origin of the atavistic enmity between Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks (the name given to the Bosnian Muslims).

Geographically, Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into two areas: Bosnia, the north of the country, and Herzegovina, which owes its name to Stefan Vukčić, who in a letter to Emperor Frederick II dated shortly before the Turkish invasion, signed as the Grand Duke of Bosnia. In German, Duke is Herzog, and the area came to be known as Herzegovina (The Duchy) in the documents of the time, being formalized in the mid-nineteenth century. Even as a Turkish province, it was officially called Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia remained under Turkish rule until 1878 (although between 1718-1739 it was taken by the Austrians), when the Bosnians, infected by the nationalist revolution of their Serb neighbors, rebelled against Sultan Abdul Hamid II. These revolts led to intervention in their favor by the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians, who eventually jointly expelled the Ottomans from Bosnia. The region then became administered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War, however, Bosnia became part of a new state, Yugoslavia, which would be divided again in World War II, during which Bosnia became part of the Independent State of Croatia. Bosnia’s nature changed again after 1945.

For centuries, the Catholics (Croats) and Orthodox (Serbs) who lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina defined themselves as Christians, while Muslims were called Turks, a term that is not equivalent to Osmanlis or Turkus which refer to the actual Turks.[i]  If the Bosnian Catholics were fully identified with Croatia, and the Bosnian Serbs with Serbia, then the Bosnian Muslims were left in the position to prioritize Islam as their main identifying feature.

This is where the fundamental issue arose. There were two possibilities of substantiating the existence of a Bosnian state after the end of the first Yugoslavia. One rested in including Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims in a unitary republic based on Bosnian nationalism. The other possibility was utilizing Islam as the main element upon which a national identity could be built (Islamic nationalism) without solving the situation of Catholic and Orthodox “minorities” and their role in a state understood to be Muslim.

Alija Izetbegovic

Under Titoism, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a Yugoslav republic in which most citizens relied upon the term Yugoslav (without any other reference) in the civil registry to denote nationality. It was only during the 1960’s and even more sharply during the Bosnian emigration to Germany that a Muslim sense of identity began to spread among Bosniaks, who felt that Tito had recognized Muslims as a separate identity within “Yugoslav citizenship” in 1961 when they, due to high birthrates, became the largest group in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the detriment of Orthodox Serbs. Tito’s recognition of this Muslim identity is to be understood within the larger context of Yugoslavia’s bet on integrating with the so-called non-aligned states of the Muslim faith.

The beginning of the process of Yugoslavia’s disintegration with the independence of Slovenia and Croatia opened the door for internal conflict in Bosnia and the possibility of creating an independent Bosnian state. For some, it was the time to build a Muslim state in the Balkans. Among the most dangerous figures who came to this new awareness was a certain Alija Izetbegovic, who would become president of the Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina. Obviously, this religious-national definition was a declaration of exclusion for Serbs and Bosnian Croats from a common national project, hence their desire and their need to "re-join" the national states where they would be recognized as such, i.e., Croatia and the then-Yugoslavia (Serbia) respectively.

Izetbegovic: Our Purpose is Islamization

Alija Izetbegovic had been part of the “Young Muslims” organization created under the influence of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In 1970, he published a text entitled “The Islamic Declaration”, reprinted in Sarajevo in 1990, where he outlined his political-religious intentions: "Our purpose: Islamization... everything in the history of the Muslim peoples is a memory of greatness and the value that has been created under the auspices of Islam. Turkey, while being an Islamic country, has reigned over the world, while its European copy represents a third-order country like many others in the world. The Islamic movement should and can take power from the moment there is the numerical and moral strength to do…  there can be no coexistence between Islamic and non-Islamic beliefs ... political and social institutions.” During the 1970’s and ’80’s, the important influence of Egyptian Islamism in Bosnia was compounded by a new, even more important factor: Iran. Iranian Islam was more attractive for Bosnians, and Iran took advantage of this circumstance to win the support of the future leaders of the SDA (Party of Democratic Action chaired by Izerbegovic), some of whom were arrested in 1983 upon returning from a Tehran conference organized by Iran, then at war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, to promote the unity of Shiites and Sunnis.

Once the Bosnian conflict erupted, the bulk of aid for Bosniak Muslims came from Iran, whose networks of support  - both logistical and sanitary - demonstrated high efficiency.  86% of Bosnian Muslims came to say that they have a "favorable or very favorable opinion” of Iran. In 1992, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a jihad against the Serbs, and although its aid to Bosniaks was smaller in scale to that of Iran’s, it still laid the foundations for a dangerous relationship between Bosnia and the most radical form of Islamic fundamentalism.

Bosnian fundamentalists

The United States made an appearance in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia by supporting the Muslim side and the “unity” of Bosnia-Herzegovina that would include Serbs and Croats under the command of Muslims and President Alija Izetbegovic while negating any possibility of the Croatian minoring joining Croatia (traditionally an ally of Germany) or the Orthodox minority joining Serbia (a friend of Russia). The US’ goal was to trim any advantages gained by Germany and the EU in the case of an independent Croatia and Slovenia and prevent a powerful alliance between Serbia and Russia. To this end, Washington took up the Muslim flag (as in Kosovo later for the same reason) and formalized a new Islamic-American entente against any possible rapprochement between the two great continental powers, Germany and Russia.

For its part, the Muslim government in Sarajevo, advised and armed by the Pentagon, provoked an irreversible situation for Croats and Bosnian Serbs and hoped that its constant provocations would unleash a wave of violence allowing Bosnian Muslims to win the sympathy of Western Europe and thereby obtain armed intervention in their favor. As the US Secretary of State recognized, what at first was a multi-ethnic and legally elected Bosnian government, became “an extremist and anti-democratic Muslim state." The Government of Sarajevo and its Armija (the name of its army) had few scruples in striving to portray Serbs as barbarians in the West, thus allowing the Americans to lengthen the conflict with the aim of destabilizing and weakening as much as possible this area vital for European balance. In this context, on May 27th, 1992, an explosion in front of a bakery killed 16 Bosniaks. As the shocking and horrifying images appeared on television around the world and were repeated ad nauseam by CNN, the blame was unhesitatingly put on Serbian paramilitaries for such a cruel crime. Later, British and French secret services recognized that it was a car-bombing carried out by Muslims whose sole purpose was to attribute the attack to the Serbs in front of the world’s public opinion, but this last "detail" was not reported in world news. On August 27th of the same year, another slaughter raged in a Sarajevo market. NATO responded to the slaughter with a large operation: 60 bombers attacked Serb positions. A month later, British experts also concluded that the missile launched against the market full of civilians came from  Muslim ranks, but the veil of media silence only spread.

Islamic radicalism: a threat to Bosnia-Herzegovina

"Bosnia was a model of inter-religious tolerance. This Islam in that area was more secular than you could imagine. Muslims of Sarajevo were so far away from the Middle East. Today, however, after ten years of turmoil, Bosnian Muslims also have entered the international game of fundamentalism.”[ii]

Between 1992 and 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina became an issue of first order for international Islamism. After 2001, research on Islamist terrorist networks always trailed to Bosnian soil. With astonishing ease and the clearly complicit attitude of the local authorities, Islamists from Africa and Asia obtained Bosnian citizenship. It would appear that the arrival of these Africans and Asians was a response to the specific will of the Muslim government in Sarajevo. This campaign of “express nationalization” met two purposes: (1) securing the military merits of the Mujahideen who took up arms for the Armija, and (2) allowing the arrival of fundamentalist acquaintances of Bosnia who would “re-Islamize” the local population. The second goal provoked and still causes a degree of confrontation between the “stamp of traditional, moderate Bosnian Islam” and the “imported fundamentalist Islam” brought by neo-Wahhabi missionaries who considered Bosnia a territory to be “re-Islamized.”

That same Bosnia, led by Alija Izetbegovic, could not grant the Croatian and Serbian communities their desire for self-determination. The war that erupted out of this tension occupied the front pages of all international newspapers in the ’90’s. Peace came with the Dayton Agreement of 1995, according to which Bosnia-Herzegovina would be divided into two entities within a unitary state. The Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina includes Muslims and Croats, and Republika Srpska was left for the Serbs, which enjoys considerable autonomy but is prevented from joining Serbia only by pressure. The division of the governing body of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is collegial. It is composed of two representatives of the Federation (one Catholic and one Muslim) and a Serb from Republika Srpska. Whomever of the three presidents receives the most votes becomes the chairperson of the Republic. Based on this division, on a surface level the Serbian area has an administrative relationship with the rest of the country. But the problem is that the Federation is witnessing a duel phenomenon: the Wahhabi re-Islamization of key Muslim Bosniaks and the marginalization and harassment of Croatian Catholics.

Since the ouster of Alija in 2000 and his death in 2003, to this day the presidents of the Federation (including Alija’s successor, his son Bakir Izetbegovic) have intensified the process of Islamization, which is especially visible in the capital of Sarajevo. The capital, once known for the good relations between Serbs, Muslims, and Catholics within it, now resembles Ankara more than the European city that it always was. In the words of Cardinal Franc Rode "Sarajevo has become a virtually Muslim city." After his trip to the area in June 2009, the cardinal told Vatican Radio, "Catholics were the main victims of the war and many fled the country to Croatia and more distant countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand... in Sarajevo, a city of 600,000 inhabitants, today there are only 17,000 Catholics." He also noted that in many towns where there had never been any mosques, new ones are now being built, stating that "there is a clear desire to Islamize the region of Sarajevo." This year the Cardinal of Sarajevo, Vinko Puljic, denounced the growth of fundamentalism in Bosnia, but the authorities do nothing to stop it. As in many other European countries, the construction of mosques and madrassas (Koranic schools) is financed by Saudi petrodollars.

Serbs and Croats have been victims of "religious cleansing” carried out by Kalashnikovs and crescents, but, in conclusion, we should point out that the main losers are the Bosnians themselves. Although Muslim, they are a European, Slavic people Islamized by force by the Turkish invaders in the modern age. They are now being re-Islamized with Saudi petrodollars and fanaticism. They themselves need to reconsider the idea of a Bosnian Muslim state as a national state, not a religious one. They should be the ones to fight the Islamic fundamentalism that threatens the identity of their people and the transformation of Bosnia into an Islamic logistics base for attacks on Europe.

No one should be surprised that the Salafist preacher in Bosnia until 2013, Nusret Imamovic, is now number 3 of Jabhat al-Nusra, the second largest terrorist group in Syria, and that his replacement, the Bosnian fundamentalist Bilal Bosnic, is now in charge of ISIS recruitment and managing "donations," particularly from Kuwait. [iii]

 


[i] Thierry Mudry “Bosnia-Erzegovina. La nascita di una nazione” en Orion, nº5, mayo 1996. Milan.

[ii] Aldo dei Lello, L´utopia con la toga. L´ideologia del triunale internazionale e il proceso Milosevic. Ed. Sovera Multimedia. Roma 2002-

[iii] Read more at: https://neupic.com/articles/atentado-en-bosnia-habra-mas

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