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Bosnia And Herzegovina : Religious Tensions Rising

By Elizabeth Kendal

World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)

Special to ASSIST News Service

ANS (09/20/06) – This comprehensive posting on the rising ethnic-religious tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two parts: an examination of the present situation, and an overview of the history that has created its context.

While the recent religious incidents that triggered this posting might seem to be fairly insignificant, the issues and their potential to inflame conflict are not. In fact the issues emerging in Bosnia and Herzegovina today are reminiscent of those that led to war in 1992.

When sparks appear in the midst of an incendiary environment, then regardless of how small they appear, they must be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly with the goal of preventing an explosion. This posting submits that Bosnia and Herzegovina warrants the immediate, diligent attention of religious liberty monitors, advocates and intercessors, as well as peace-makers who can recognise romanticism, embrace realism, and care more about protecting flesh-and-blood than illusory political ideals.




On 11 August, an explosion damaged the tomb of Bosnia ‘s 1992-1995 war-time Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic.

While portrayed by his Western allies as a moderate, Izetbegovic was actually an up-front Islamist backed by Iran . His “Islamic Declaration”, first published in 1970, was republished in Sarajevo in 1990 just as Yugoslavia was starting to break apart. Izetbegovic was awarded the King Faisal Award in 1994 and the Figure of the Year in the Islamic World in 2001.

Izetbegovic’s Islamic Declaration clearly expresses his worldview: “There can be no peace or coexistence between Islamic faith and non-Islamic faith and non-Islamic institutions. The Islamic movement must and can take power as soon as it is morally and numerically strong enough, not only to destroy the non-Islamic power, but to build up a new Islamic one.” And, “Panislamism always came from the very heart of the Muslim peoples, nationalism was always imported stuff.”

This is doubtless why, as conflict was escalating in Croatia and Yugoslavia was tearing apart, Izetbegovic withdrew his signature on 28 March 1992 from the 18 March 1992 Lisbon Agreement that had been constructed to prevent conflict in Bosnia by dividing the state into three autonomous entities: Bosniac, Croat and Serb. Two days after withdrawing his signature Izetbegovic illegally called for a referendum on secession despite the objections of the Bosnian Serb minority.

For a critique of Alija Izetbegovic and his role in instigating the Bosnia conflict see “Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003”, by Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic, a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. (Link 1)

Izetbegovic’s tomb is located in the Kovaci (Martyrs) Cemetery in Sarajevo ‘s Old Town . Nobody was injured in the bombing, which occurred a little after 3 am, and damage to surrounding buildings was slight. Dejan Anastasijevic reported from Belgrade for TIME magazine (29 August), “Most Muslims blamed the Serbs, who for their part insisted that Muslims staged the explosion; the ongoing investigation has so far proved fruitless.”

The following week, a group of Muslims forced their way into a Serbian church which has been built on the site of a mosque in eastern Bosnia . (Link 2)


The issues fanning tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina today bear a striking resemblance to the issues of 1992 that triggered the Bosnian war. In 1992, war was triggered by calls from Bosnian Islamists, led by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, for Bosnia to secede from Yugoslavia and become an independent, single, undivided state. This would have placed some 1.3 million Bosnian Serb Christians of the Eastern Orthodox tradition under Muslim and Croat domination in what Islamist openly planned would become an Islamic State. Serb resistance was met with jihad. Fighting was halted through the Dayton Accords (December 1995) which created the independent state of Bosnia and Herzogovina, but divided it into two autonomous entities: the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska ( Serb Republic ), each with its own government, parliament, army and police.

The issue today is that the West led by the US is agitating for Constitutional reform in Bosnia that will strengthen the central (Muslim dominated) government at the expense of the entities. Ekrem Krasniqi in Brussels and Anes Alic in Sarajevo, wrote for ISN Security Watch in November 2005, “In essence, the constitutional changes aim to reverse the international community’s quick-fix measures to end the war, which entailed making ethnic division a political reality – a reality that is no longer feasible in a country hoping to join the EU.” (See ISN’s “Redefining Bosnia “: Link 3)

While the US is not calling for the dismantling of the Republika Srpska, some Bosnian Muslim leaders are. Nicholas Wood reports for the the New York Times, “Haris Silajdzic, a Muslim, a former foreign minister and a presidential candidate, has campaigned against the proposed changes, saying they would leave the Serbian republic in place. The Serbian entity should be abolished and absorbed into a stronger Bosnian state, he contends. That idea, diplomats here say, is unrealistic, but it appeals to nationalist Muslim voters.” (Link 2)

Prime minister of Republika Srpska (RS), Milorad Dodik, has said he will never agree to reform police and security forces as demanded by the European Union as a condition for EU association talks. Serb leaders have responded to Islamist calls for the abolition of RS by saying that if moves are made to dissolve RS, then RS will hold a referendum on secession. It is estimated that around 90 percent of Serbs in RS would vote to secede from Bosnia if a referendum were held.

Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of Bosnia ‘s three-man rotating presidency said that Serbs wanting to secede could pack their bags and leave but they could not take one inch of Bosnian territory with them.

AKI reports: “RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik retorted that Tihic’s statement represented a drastic example of ‘hate and chauvinism’ which will only further inflame ethnic passions in Bosnia . ‘In Tihic’s statement one can easily recognise an Islamic concept which sees Bosnia as its exclusive right,’ said Dodik. ‘Serbs are constituent people in Bosnia [and] claim the same right to the country and to live in it,’ said Dodik.” (Link 4)

The Islamist principle that “Islamic lands” cannot be seceded is why Bosnian Islamists regard any RS move towards a referendum or secession as unacceptable and doubtless as grounds for jihad. As in 1992, the Serbs would rather face jihad rather than be returned to dhimmitude (the subjugated state of non-Muslims living under Islamic domination).


The stated aim of the Constitutional reform is to move Bosnia from “stabilisation” to “transition”. The Dayton Accords which ended the 1992-1995 war stabilised Bosnia by separating warring constituents into two entities: the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republiska Srpska. Now, the West alleges, it is time for Bosnia to transition toward EU membership by strengthening its State institutions at the expense of the entities.

While the Islamists are anxious not to cement any degree of Serb autonomy, the Serbs are anxious not to lose their autonomy. Most Serbs are concerned that the Constitutional reform could simply be a slow road towards the dissolution of RS.

The appeal of Mr Dragan Cavic, the President of Republika Srpska, is simply that the stability brought by the Dayton Accords’ division of Bosnia should not be sacrificed in the transition process. “We are committed to success [of transition into Europe] and we need success, but a clear prerequisite of our support should be keeping the Dayton’s Entity Status of the Republic of Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina . . . European phase can not replace the Dayton phase. . . . These two cannot confront each other, they can supplement each other.” (Link 5)

While economics is the primary subject being openly discussed by EU and US advocates of constitutional reform, behind the scenes the talk is equally of unity, democracy, eliminating ethnic divisions, religious tolerance and other fine-sounding ideals.


Bosnia ‘s present set up of two autonomous entities, each with its own parliament, government administration, courts, police force and services, as well as a central government makes for a very expensive system. In fact, around 60 percent of Bosnia ‘s GDP is spent simply maintaining state and entity apparatus, and this is contributing significantly to the weakness of the Bosnian state.


The less talked about reason behind the US-led drive for constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina is more idealistic. The West still has a desire to “prove” that Muslims and Christians can live together in harmonious, tolerant, democratic, golden Islamic societies, as allegedly in history(!) and in Lebanon(!). And as they will in the new Iraq ! It is important to Europe and the US that this human experiment, which is little more than a forced marriage, not fail. If the Bosnia experiment fails, then the prospects for London , Paris and other multicultural, pluralist democracies with rapidly growing Muslim populations are grim.

A hugely important address on this subject was given by Bat Ye’or on 31 August 1995 at the International Strategic Studies Association’s Symposium on the Balkan War – “Yugoslavia: Past and Present”. Bat Ye’or’s address, entitled, “Myths and politics: Origins of the Myth of a Tolerant Pluralistic Islamic Society”, is essential reading for understanding the politics of and international ideals behind Bosnia and Herzegovina . (Link 6)

While intended to unite Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs), Croats and Serbs under Bosnian nationalism, the proposed constitutional reforms are actually dividing the constituent peoples. A March 2006 nation-wide survey conducted by the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies ( Ljubljana , Slovenia ) revealed that only 29.3 percent of those surveyed supported the constitutional amendments while 59.8 percent disapproved. (Link 7)

Serbs in the Republika Srpska generally reject the reforms as they strengthen the Muslim-dominated central authority at the expense of the entities, lessening Serb autonomy. The Croats also reject the reforms and are voicing their preference to carve out their own autonomous ethnic entity. Most Bosniac Islamists either support the reforms or want them to be more radical because they conform to Islamist aspirations to strengthen the central (Muslim-dominated) government and extend its powers to all corners of Bosnia .

But Bosniac Islamists who advocate the forcible abolition of the Republika Srpska do not do this with shouts of jihad or with the language of Islamic imperialism. They do this by denouncing ethnic and religious separation and by extolling the virtues of unity, tolerance and democracy, in much the same way that Arab nationalism did. They do this by crying victim and saying the murderous, evil, demonic Serbs should not have any right to self- rule on “Bosnian” (read “Muslim”) land.


The proposed constitutional reforms failed to pass a vote in the Bosnian parliament on 27 April, so further discussion has been put off until after the 1 October 2006 parliamentary elections. However, constitutional reform is now an election issue. As the tension and rhetoric escalates, international voices are calling for calm. (Link 8)…[Go To Full Story]