Balkanalysis.com

Balkanalysis on Twitter

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Continuing Political Evolution

By Apostolis Karabairis

Internal correlations and trends in Bosnia and Herzegovina have changed considerably over the past few years. However, contrary to the early post-war years, academic and press analysis has covered much less the recent developments in the country, following the interest and policy shift from Clinton’s democratization doctrine of the 1990s to Bush’s counter-terrorism doctrine of the 2000s. Consequently, the case is that very often the models used to understand the current Bosnian reality are now obsolete and do not respond to the recent changes.

All through Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first post-war decade, our understanding about the country was that it followed a linear evolutionary progressive path to what was defined as a desirable goal by the international community (stability, state integration, inter-ethnic reconciliation etc.). Indeed this process, under the guidance of the international community and the given Dayton framework, was presenting a net positive outcome year by year, despite the various obstacles, and was giving an impression that achieving positive peace and functional state was “only a matter of time.”

Further, the understood description of Bosnia’s party system used to be simple and clear as well. All parties had mono-ethnic electoral base (even those maintaining a somehow multi-ethnic cadre) and the degree of nationalistic attitude was the criterion according to which parties were classified on the political axis. This classification was uniform in all three ethnic political realms: the war-time right-wing dominant parties were on the one edge of the axis as the ostensibly most nationalistic ones (SDA, SDS and HDZ for Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats respectively), while on the other edge there were parties identifying themselves as left-wing, and perceived as favouring inter-ethnic re-approach (notably SDP and SNSD); the in-between space was taken up by parties which had split from the dominant nationalist ones, rejecting their hard-line practices, but still favoring ethnically exclusive policies.

However, after the year 2005 this scheme was no longer suitable to describe the Bosnian political scene. By the general elections of the following year, a reshuffle within the party system became apparent. After the retirement of the hardline and so-called “father of the nation” Alija Izetbegovic in 2000, leadership of his dominant Bosniak party SDA was granted to Sulejman Tihic, a new-generation politician, who distanced the party from much of its past and moved it toward more moderate stances.

On the other hand, SBiH, the standard center of the Bosniak political spectrum, saw its attitude hardened due to the return to active politics of its founder Haris Silajdic, a war generation politician, who tended towards more obstructionist and non-compromising tactics, albeit while still cloaking these tendencies in a civic discourse and argumentation.

In Republika Srpska in early 2006 the SDS-led government coalition broke apart and the opposition SNSD leader and the West’s protˆšÂ©gˆšÂ©, Milorad Dodik was voted in to form a new government. Soon after the mid-term government change, the Bosnian Serb political scene experienced a rapid rise of nationalist calls from SNSD, the party that had been considered as constituting the core of the Serbian anti-nationalist movement.

Based on nationalist-populist rhetoric a few months later in the October elections, SNSD achieved a sweeping victory, which further allowed its leader to solidify a rule leaning towards autocracy.

As for the Croats, in spring 2006 their dominant nationalist party HDZ, which up to then had enjoyed a near monopoly on the Bosnian Croat electorate, faced a major split, when a great share of the party’s members left to found a new party, HDZ 1990. The latter took over the edge of the Croatian political spectrum, as it turned out to be more obstructionist and less prone to compromise, thus rendering the remainder of the HDZ comparatively more moderate.

Apparently the three ethnic political realms are not uniform and there are no clear ideological cleavages among the parties any more, while any comparison among them should now take into account more dimensions.

This realignment of the Bosnian party system may be in part the reaction of the local political elites to the transition their country is going through. On the one hand, international representatives have made it clear that their engagement is soon coming to an end, so domestic politicians are now more and more often called on to assume full responsibility and make deals with potential political cost, regarding issues that until now they have gladly ceded to the hands of an unaccountable international community.

On the other hand, the launching of state constitution reform debate (since the Dayton Agreement, whose part is the state constitution, allows for amendments to itself for ten years after its entry into force, namely December 2005) has brought inter-ethnic power-sharing back to the negotiating table. In this transition setting local elites, who seek their new share of power, do not have an incentive for constructive talks.

History has shown that under the current circumstances, when one demonstrates willingness for compromise, they at the same time risk having their power shrunk, as was the case with the HDZ split; on the other hand, when one makes narrow appeals to their respective ethnic constituency, power can easily be gained, as has been the case with Dodik and Silajdic.

Indeed in this concurrence many observers point out serious setbacks and a remarkable rise of nationalist rhetoric, which until 2005 had been in a declining trend, and for the first time many of them are less confident to the Bosnian project as time goes by.

This development has led deep intervention advocates to speak about the need for stronger international guidance, as long as the all-important constitution reform period lasts, since Bosnian politicians apparently are not mature enough to go through this procedure on their own without causing a turbulent atmosphere that could put at risk what has been achieved so far.

However, even if domestic parties were able to smoothly arrive at an agreed settlement, the involvement of the international community would still be necessary. Because the current parties have been created and developed within the existing setting that reinforces ethnic exclusion, any new framework agreed by the parties themselves will do nothing but perpetuate their existence and way of functioning.

That is why the Office of the High Representative of the international community should make use of its imposing authority for as long as it retains such powers and craft a new legal framework that encourages local actors to transcend the existing status quo of political isolation behind ethnic lines, by making parties dependent on support of all ethnic groups.

Of course, such an effort would meet status quo parties’s resistance, but once a solution like this is imposed and becomes binding for all, not only existing parties will adapt to the new framework, as they have been doing to date, but it will also boost the opportunities for alternative forces within the Bosnian society that are now truncated by the current unfavourable regulations.

What is important is that this is not a zero start point, because there is already small capital to begin with. Apart from the sizeable solidified successor party SDP, which bears the pre-war anti-nationalist heritage of the former regime, there are a couple of recently founded parties calling for an overcoming of the status quo, which, far from being marginal, have made remarkable gains in the last elections. These are the People’s Party-Working for Improvement (“Narodna stranka Radom za boljitak”), and Our Party (Nasa stranka), which moreover hold the unprecedented achievement of having a significantly multi-ethnic electoral base (even SDP’s voters are largely Bosniaks).

If the international community successfully assists Bosnia and Herzegovina in navigating the rocky waters of the state constitutional reform period, and sets up institutions that favor inter-ethnic interdependence, it will have crucially contributed to a viable and functional Bosnian state. Of course, the strong sense of ethnic belonging in the country will continue to be a salient factor, but the larger point remains to make Bosnians understand that their interests lie in common action and not in confrontation.

Having done this, the international community can make its long-anticipated dignified exit, guaranteeing that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a source of instability for the region, but a success story instead.

Looking for More Balkanalysis.com Publications?

Find Balkanalysis.com articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy Balkanalysis.com articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Snow Descends on the Balkans, to the Relief of Ski Resorts

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The first New Year’s gift of 2009 to the citizens of many Balkan countries has come in the form of the season’s first significant snowfall, blanketing large areas in Macedonia, northern Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Albania.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, some 16cm of snow has accumulated in the past three days- posing a challenge for motorists as city officials, caught dozing by the holidays and an insufficiency of snowplows, have been unable to clear major central streets. In Sofia, Bulgaria, similar conditions have been encountered, but authorities have a more formidable fleet of snowplows (137, to be exact) at their disposal.

Despite a handful of minor accidents, however, Macedonian citizens have generally been enjoying this unusual chance to sled in the center and to see the giant faux Christmas tree in the square, distastefully topped by a giant pink T (a gesture to likely sponsor T-Mobile), adorned by actual snow. Forecasts call for snow to continue falling until Tuesday, and resume later in the week.

Snowfall has been enabled by freezing temperatures across the region. So far, the standard has been set in ever-chilly Erzurum, Turkey. This eastern Anatolian town recently recorded temperatures of minus 36 Celsius.

Snow has also made things interesting in northern Greece, where officials have called on drivers to use chains amidst freezing temperatures as low as minus 13 Celsius and snowfall of up to 25cm across Epiros and the province of Macedonia.

Aerial footage from northern Albania shown earlier this week showed the mountainous region completely snowed under. Already hard enough to navigate in the best of times, this sparsely populated area has become inaccessible in large parts due to snowfall of up to half a meter.

Nevertheless, the sudden snowfall has also meant relief for some ski areas that had until now been hit hard by the lack of snowfall. In Serbia, the snowfall has been a boon for ski areas such as Mt Kopaonik, currently full of skiers and with 45cm of snow coverage.

Macedonia’s main ski area, Mavrovo in the west, was bare until a few days ago, causing concern among company officials. One official stated last week that since snow-making equipment was too expensive, they have been left at the mercy of the elements- which had been proving uncooperative, until this week. Now, however, the center reports over 40cm of snow coverage, many visitors, and predicts that the snow will remain for the duration of the season.

Macedonia’s other major ski center, Ski Centar Kozuf on the Greek border, did not open earlier due to cold temperatures, a company representative stated on December 30, adding that the resort would be opening soon. This new operation claims to have the most modern equipment in the Balkans, including artificial snowmaking guns and a state-of-the-art, six-person German-made lift.

Still a work in progress, the resort which opened just last year has yet to finish paving the 30km-long access road from Gevgelija, let alone to finish construct all of the facilities (though all of the allocated space for ski lodges has long since sold out). Here, the goal is to make an environmentally- and aesthetically-friendly resort; for example, while there will be a movie theater, it will be built underground.

The previous lack of snow, coupled with the general global economic downturn, have meant ski resorts in the region have been late to open or are seeing lessened demand. In Bulgaria’s leading resort area of Bansko, for example, there were still plenty of reservations available during the usually packed holiday period. The reduced number of skiers thus far has also meant declining profits for travel agencies booking tours and local hoteliers. Other, smaller Bulgarian resorts include Chepelare in the Rodopi Mountains (set to open on Jan. 7), are less hectic and cheaper as well- good for bargain-seekers.

Indeed, with no end in sight to the economic recession, regional ski centers can only adjust prices and hope that the skies at least will cooperate for the remainder of the winter season. However, the strange weather patterns of the past few years, perhaps caused by global warming, mean that nothing can be taken for granted and skiers should enjoy the conditions while they have them.

Top Balkan Ski Resorts

Want to make use of the good weather? The following Balkan ski resorts can be found online here.

Bulgaria

(See here)

Bosnia

Bjelasnica

Serbia

Kopaonik

Macedonia

Mavrovo

Ski Centar Kozuf

Greece

(See here)

Report from Bosnia

Nicky Gardner, editor of hidden europe magazine (www.hiddeneurope.co.uk) reports from Pocitelj in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The photo, this week’s Photo of the Week (‘Geometries’, Pocitelj, Bosnia) is the work of Susanne Kries.

The international community has always looked for good news from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Like Bush beleaguered in Iraq, ever-looking for any glimmer of peace, so with Bosnia: every indication of reconciliation is fˆš„¢ted as evidence of how post-Dayton Bosnia has evolved into a credible multi-cultural state. Dayton was a great way to end a war. Whether it was a good start to building peace is quite another matter.

Whatever the reality, audiences in western Europe and the USA delight at images of the rebuilt Mostar bridge, forever citing it as representing a new mood in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many pundits see the bridge over the Neretva gorge as somehow bridging the divide between Islam and Christendom, though whether the bridge’s architects ever intended it to bear the weight of such an awesome responsibility is quite another matter. But it is a fine ideal and in 2005 UNESCO inscribed the bridge and the surrounding complex of Ottoman and post-Ottoman buildings onto its World Heritage List.

A little further down the Neretva towards the Adriatic is another site that has World Heritage aspirations. The Bosnian government has been pushing the case for inscribing Pocitelj on the UNESCO List. This fortified township with mediaeval and Ottoman elements is a fabulous spot, clinging to a sheltered hillside overlooking the Neretva. There is an exquisite mosque, a madrasa, hammam baths, an imaret (soup-kitchen) and a sahat-kula (Islamic clock tower). In the housing that tumbles down the hillside, Mediterranean and Oriental influences collide: a medley of hipped and gabled roofs on stone buildings with oriel windows that look out onto little courtyards that shelter fig trees. Already well known among travellers in Herzegovina, for it sits right beside the main road from Dubrovnik to Mostar and Sarajevo, Pocitelj is well aware of its potential appeal to tourists. If it makes it onto the UNESCO List, the crowds will surely come. And Pocitelj, like Mostar before it, will be cited as evidence that Dayton was, after all, no bad thing.

You can read more on the Balkan region in every issue of hidden europe magazine. Recent issues have included essays on sworn virgins in northern Albania, on the Vrbas valley in Bosnia and on the Prespa lake region of Macedonia (this latter piece by Chris Deliso of Balkanalysis.com). The May 2008 issue of hidden europe includes articles on the Prokletije Mountains of Montenegro, on Pecs in southern Hungary and on the Bosnian town of Brcko.

Sarajevo Announces Revocation of Citizenships, but Bosnia’s ex-Mujahedin Have Vanished

By Christopher Deliso

A lengthy and controversial administrative review carried out by Bosnian Muslim authorities has concluded, with the announcement that the citizenships of almost 400 foreigners, most of them former mujahedin, will be revoked and that those involved will be deported. However, the announcement appears to be a merely symbolic measure, as the ex-jihadis have largely disappeared without a trace.

The review was carried out under strong pressure from the US government, which wanted to rid Bosnia of the mujahedin which it, under the Clinton administration, had been ultimately responsible for allowing into the country as a lever of influence against the Bosnian Serbs.

According to a report from AKI on March 21, a total of 367 foreigners have lost their Bosnian citizenships. The foreigners whose passports were cancelled included natives of Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Mali, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Some of the largest groups by nationality included Egyptians (31), Algerians (30) and Tunisians (37). The largest nationality represented in terms of numbers, however, were Turks, at 72 almost a quarter of the total. There were also some individuals from countries not usually associated with Islamic terrorism, such as North Korea, Ukraine and Moldova.

AKI cited Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje as reporting that “many of the individuals due to be repatriated have in the meantime disappeared without any traces.” The investigative process took some nine months and processed 1,500 naturalized citizenships.

Interestingly enough, according to Oslobodjenje, the special commission that was formed in March 2006 to investigate the matter was stymied by an uncooperative Bosnian government, which said that “the identity of persons granted citizenships and officials who signed illegal documents were protected under “state secrecy.'” In a development indicating potential collusion between the police and the former fighters, the commission complained that Sarajevo police failed to inform it regarding the whereabouts of illegal foreigners, “though a request for such information was made in March 2006.”

The issue of the foreign mujahedin is an embarrassing one, not only for the Muslim authorities but for the US, Germany, Austria and other Western countries that aided and abetted their arrival as proxy troops against the Bosnian Serbs in 1992- a jihad ordered by Osama bin Laden himself, with the long-term strategic goal being the infiltration of Western Europe.

Most scandalously, the commission found that in certain cases individuals not even in Bosnia were given passports, such as was discovered, in 1999, in the case of Osama bin Laden himself. “Bosnian embassies and consulates in many European and other countries were issuing Bosnian passports to foreigners often without any documents or real connection to Bosnia,” stated the AKI report. A total of 16,000 citizenships were granted to foreigners between April 1992 and January 2006, it added.

At the same time, other recent developments indicate that the extremist threat in Bosnia has been exacerbated. A previously unknown radical group threatened to kill Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Republika Srpska, the Serb-populated constituent republic of Bosnia. According to German website Jurnalo.com, citing the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine, a letter sent to Dodik and “signed by the previously-unknown organization Nova Bosna (New Bosnia), threatened to blow up Dodik’s vehicle as well as vehicles of his escort… [his] family would also be targeted, it said.”

The terrorists’ ultimate goal, according to the letter, was “to blow up an entire convoy of vehicles” including that of the prime minister. The description of weaponry allegedly already in place for such an attack — “the most sophisticated equipment for the destruction of tanks, planes and helicopters from a distant position” — is chillingly reminiscent of scenes from the video biography, widely available in the Balkans, of the late Jordanian mujahedin in Chechnya, Khattab, in which the jihadis shriek “Allah Akbar!” as they fire RPGs from a mountain at Russian troop carriers passing along the road far below.

The stated reason for the threats against Dodik was Serbia’s Feb. 26 acquittal at the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the 1992-1995 war. Further fallout of this ruling was attested in another AKI report, from March 12. It reported that the Muslim minority of Srebrenica, site of the alleged “genocide’ against Muslims in 1995, was demanding “a special district for their municipality.

They also called for the abolition of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska.” At a meeting convened by Muslim mayor Abdurahman Malkic, “local leaders demanded that the town be exempt from the jurisdiction of the RS, which they said was a “genocidal creation.’ They said Srebrenica should be organised as a special autonomous district under the control of Muslim authorities in Sarajevo.” The angry Muslims threatened to leave Srebrenica if their demands were not met.

Giving their protest slightly more weight was the remarkable reported presence of the ambassadors of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Libya during the announcement, indicating that the provocation was a well-calculated and well-thought-out policy on the part of these Muslim states, which apparently share the extremist view that Republika Srpska is an illegitimate entity. Ironically, the West, keen to continue downsizing its presence in Bosnia, has continuously pushed for the further centralization of authority in Bosnia- increasing the resentment of Bosnian Serbs, who after all did not fight in the 1990’s to live under Muslim domination in the next century.

Another relic of war likely to touch a nerve occurred with the recent arrest of two former Bosnian Muslim commanders on war crimes charges against Croat prisoners of war. The arrests will inflame the sentiment of Islamists, and could be used by them to paint the Muslim government in an unfavorable light, as having sought to appease the international community at the expense of Muslims. According to Reuters on March 22, police arrested Nisvet Gasal and Musajb Kukavica, accused of committing atrocities against Croat prisoners at the “notorious” Stadion detention camp for Croats in Bugojno. Gasal was the alleged manager of the camp, and Kukavica was his deputy, reported the British news agency.

The spotlight that the recent ICJ decision in the genocide case has thrown on Bosnia seems to have also attracted some “old friends.’ In an interview for the Bosnian edition of Vecernji List newspaper earlier this month, a senior Islamic Jihad official, Ali Abu-Shahin, stated that the group will send fighters to Bosnia if and when required, attesting that in the 1992-1995 war, “we sent them fighters who with their lives gave the greatest contribution to that struggle.” Tellingly, Abu-Shahin, now in hiding, also commented on the ICJ ruling, averring that it was part of the international community’s plan to “eradicate” Bosnia’s Muslims- something that would allegedly somehow be expedited by the ascension of German Pope Benedict XVI to power.

Other recent disturbances in Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat republic include the closure of the country’s oldest mosque, the Careva (Imperial) Mosque in Sarajevo and popular unrest in the village of Kalesija. Both were linked to the fundamentalist fervor of one Jusuf Barcic, a local Wahhabi leader who caused tension when he and his followers ordered villagers to cloak women, forbade music, and urged for religious observation according to the Saudi style (as they interpreted it to be). When Barcic wanted to give a lecture on “original Islam’ at the famous Sarajevo mosque, he was expelled. Bosnian Islamic Community leader Reis Ceric has complained that Wahhabi chauvinism should not be tolerated. However, he has done little to prevent the sect’s expansion.

Recounting the showdown that took place several months ago in Kalesija, Barcic’s hometown in northeastern Bosnia, analyst Anes Alic wrote in a March 20 Jamestown Foundation report that the Wahhabi leader and his followers were confronted by angry residents in the mosque at which the former apparently both prayed and lived.”A fight broke out after the locals threw out the Wahhabis’ belongings from the mosque and set fire to them. The fight was broken up by special police forces.”

Barcic, who began preaching radical Islam “after he returned from schooling in Saudi Arabia in 1996,” had been previously sentenced in 2001 to seven months in jail. Most amusingly, the defender of “original Islam” has also collected a number of outstanding traffic tickets, but “since he does not accept the civilian government and its laws as legitimate, he refuses to obey the laws, including stopping at red lights, according to a public police report.”

Behind the rabble-rousing Barcic, however, is a foreign Islamist whose name has appeared frequently in the Bosnian and Croatian newspapers of late. Bosnian analyst Alic discusses this alleged “ringleader” of the country’s Wahhabi movement, a Tunisian named Karray Kamel bin Ali, reportedly a close confidante of Barcic’s. According to Alic, the Tunisian was “the mastermind behind the recent incidents.”

Kamel bin Ali, who received Bosnian citizenship after marrying a Bosnian woman in the early 1990’s, and is also referred to as Abu Hamza, had formerly been imprisoned with Barcic and was released only a few months ago. A commander of the foreign-sponsored mujahedin unit in the Bosnian Muslim Army during the 1992-1995 war, Abu Hamza was accused of murdering an Arab, the Egyptian Hisham Diab, alias Abu Velid, in 1997 in the central Bosnian city of Zenica.

“After managing to evade arrest for three years, Abu Hamza was finally brought down in Germany in 2000 and deported to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison,” recounts Alic. However, an investigation into the case “showed that the real Hisham Diab was still alive and an active member of an organization called “New Jihad’ and a former close associate of the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The identity of the person Abu Hamza killed in Zenica remains unknown.”

Citing a Bosnian police source close to the investigation of Abu Hamza, Alic discloses that Abu Hamza “was part of a 15-20 member group of Egypt’s militant Gama’a al Islamiyya that arrived in Zenica and Travnik in 1992. During his stay in Bosnia, Abu Hamza used several names and falsified documents. He used the names: El Akil Abdellah Ahmed, born in Yemen; Bega Kamel, born in Libya; and five other names with Yemeni and Libyan documents each with different places of birth and dates. While in prison, Abu Hamza saw several different criminal investigations launched against him, including one for the murder of a Bosnian Croat policeman and another for the torturing of non-Muslim refugee returnees.”

As the Bosnian war wound down, Abu Hamza reportedly sought to continue the jihad on other fronts. Italian police suspected that he was planning suicide attacks, “including one plot to kill the Pope during his visit to Bologna in September 1997.” Although Italian authorities sent a request for Abu Hamza’s extradition in 2001, his Bosnian citizenship was cited by the government in their decision to not comply- no doubt an example that influenced American and European pressure on Bosnia to revoke the mujahedins’ citizenships.

According to the report, other foreign mujahedin fingered by Italian investigators in the same operation included Tunisian Khalil Jarray and Yemeni Saleh Nidal, both members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). “The two were arrested by international forces in Bosnia on terrorism charges, but were quickly released after Italy failed to send enough details to sustain their warrants. Their whereabouts are now unknown.”

Ultimately, however, the financial source for the Abu Hamza-Jusuf Barcic Wahhabi group, according to police sources cited by Alic, is Austria. Islamic interests in Vienna controlled by a former Bosnian Muslim cleric, Muhamed Porca, are being used to funnel money to the troublemakers in Bosnia. Porca, who was Barcic’s colleague in Saudi Arabia, “calls for establishing a parallel Islamic community in Bosnia, which would lean toward radical Islam,” states Alic. “Last year, Porca donated a car to Barcic, which was confiscated by police after traffic incidents and irregular documents, according to a source in an anti-terrorism federal police unit.”

This contention corresponds with information Balkanalysis.com has received independently from Western security officials in Balkans as well as regional officials. According to one Macedonian counterterrorism official, fundamentalist leaders based near Struga in the southwest of the country are in close contact with Porca, even having met with him in Italy to develop a strategy for enhancing cooperation.

Further, for example, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage earlier this year Macedonian Television 2 broadcast Wahhabi-created video in the Bosnian language, documenting a trip to Mecca from the 2004 pilgrimage (Macedonia’s second public TV station, MTV2 is reserved for minority programming). While not particularly radical in itself, the fact that the material came from a known Austria-based Wahhabi group, Tewhid, is perhaps noteworthy. Islamist propaganda from Tewhid and other Austria-based outfits, such as Kewser Kultur-Verein of Linz, is disseminated throughout the Balkans in Islamic bookshops, mosques and even open markets.

Despite several attempts to contact the television station, Balkanalysis.com was unable to locate anyone who might have been responsible for broadcasting the Wahhabi propaganda on Macedonian public television (Bosnian-language programming gets much less airtime than the largest majority, the Albanians).

Austria became the major logistical and financial center for the Bosnian mujahedin during the 1990’s, all with the consent of US, Austrian and German intelligence, which allowed the Islamists to set up shop in order to arm the jihadis in Bosnia, via Slovenia and Croatia.

A major player in this was the bin Laden-funded Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) which “eventually became the principal humanitarian front for moving arms to Bosnia,” according to Alms for Jihad, an exhaustive account of terrorist funding by J. Milton Burr and Robert O. Collins. The TWRA had been established in 1987 by a Sudanese native, Al-Fatih Ali Hassanein, who had collaborated with the Bosnian Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic since the late 1970’s, when the former was a medical student in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

From 1992, when the war began, Hassanein through the Vienna-based TWRA was able to move huge amounts of money for al Qaeda into Bosnia; “some $80 million were remitted on a Vienna account in the First Austrian Bank in 1992 and $231 million the following year,” state Burr and Collins. But the IWRA was just one of many Austria-based charities that armed the jihad in Bosnia, solidifying the extremist networks and organizational base in Europe at the same time.

The aftereffects of the jihad in Bosnia included the mujahedin who chose to settle down- something that would increasingly become a thorn in the side of the Sarajevo government as it sought to appease its major supporters in the West.

Now that the mujahedin have apparently fled, Western countries are naturally keen on tracking them down. The consensus among a range of intelligence and counterterrorism officials surveyed by Balkanalysis.com is that the majority of mujahedin have managed to escape to neighboring Balkan states with Islamic populations, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania, and through these or other routes to close-knit Muslim communities in Western European cities.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, the slow growth of fundamentalist Islam continues, as expressed in an increasing number of violent incidents between Wahhabis and mainstream Muslims, attempts to influence education and social life by the former, as well as threats against public figures deemed to be “enemies of Islam.”

Such a “blacklist,” including 200 well-known Bosnian personalities, was compiled in 2006 by Active Islamic Youth, a radical group with strong links to the ex-mujahedin. According to a new BIRN report, “physical conflicts have also become more common. The media have reported fights in mosques across Bosnia, in Banovici, Cazin, Kladanj, Kalesija, Sarajevo and other towns and cities… the increasing number of public incidents provoked by Wahhabists has drawn sharp criticism and questions about the movement’s goals. Fears exist that it seeks to abolish the secular state and introduce Islamic religious law — “sharia’ – in political and everyday life.”

Looking for More Balkanalysis.com Publications?

Find Balkanalysis.com articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy Balkanalysis.com articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

A Brief Travelers’ Guide to Sarajevo’s Local Traditions

By Lidija Jularic

Sometimes it seems that in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, everyone knows everything about everyone. The position of Sarajevo itself in some way implies that this is a city in which social control is very strong. It lies in a long narrow valley surrounded by wonderful little hills that are densely populated and mountains.

There are two main roads that connect two sides of the city — that is to say, valley — and on one of these roads there is a tram-track, while on the other there is a trolleybus line. Therefore, taking public transport puts you as a local (living in some of the Sarajevo neighborhoods) in a situation where you have a good chance of encountering someone you know on any given day.

In fact, Sarajevo appears to be a huge net of all sorts of acquaintances; someone knows someone who knows someone with whom he went, for instance, to elementary school once. When one passes along the main pedestrian street, Ferhadija, always bustling with people, he will almost surely meet someone he knows- and not just one!

Ferhadija Street is the Austro-Hungarian part of the city center that transforms into Bas Carsija – the old Ottoman part of Sarajevo, with old architecture and full of traditional shops.

sarajevooldtown1balkanalysis.jpg

Sarajevo has developed a tradition whereby those with exhibitionist longings, who want to ‘see and be seen’ must come and stroll this part of the city.

Actually, the tradition to take a walk on a city’s main pedestrian street is widespread also in other parts of the Balkans. Thus, if someone were to behave strangely on Ferhadija by, say, walking too fast, he would immediately stand out, and become a topic of discussion.

This is quite unusual for the capital city of any modern country since capitals are usually more respectful of the individual’s personal freedom and anonymity. But in the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, a person cannot ago unnoticed, either in actions or in dress.

This kind of social control might seem somewhat provincial. However, a 20-year-old local law student, Emir, explains this better: “actually this is not control… we call this “mahala.’ Sarajevo was always mahala and everyone knew what the other is doing. And when the word gets out about a fight, and who attacked who or, let’s say, hit somebody…anyone who said that he doesn’t know would be lying.”

Mahala was the name for a residential area in the Ottoman Empire. Bosnia & Herzegovina was more than 500 years under its rule; the other part of the city that was a market area was called the Carsija. Emir believes that there have always existed these kinds of speculations in Sarajevo and he gives a simple illustration: “Did you see the one yesterday who was dressed in… who is he?’ “Yes, yes, I know, I saw him on the street.”‘ This “activity’ is also wittily referred to as “MIS – Mahala Intelligence Service’ (Bosnian: Mahalska Obaveztajna Sluzba), as Emir further clarifies.

There is one phrase in Sarajevo called “mahala story’  that in translation means “neighborhood gossip’. With another anecdote, Emir gives an idea about how this looks in practice. In that time SFOR, the former NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia, was looking for the famous Hague war crime tribunal suspect, Radovan Karadzic, in Pale, a town near Sarajevo that was the administrative center for Bosnian Serbs in the recent war and is today a part of the Republic of Srpska (one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Emir was having an appointment in Bas Carsija, but because he was early he went to one of the coffeehouses and said to the owner to turn the radio on so they could hear what is new with the SFOR action. (Coffeehouse owners and costumers in Sarajevo usually do not bother with formal relationships). The owner answered: “I have no need for that. I made a trip through three or four shops around here, and I know better about everything than this radio, I know better than SFOR what is going on!”

sarajevooldtown2balkanalysis.jpgThe concept of the “mahala story’ is in large part connected with a familiar atmosphere that shows almost on every corner of Sarajevo. For example many times costumers address the shopkeepers, owners of cafes or other public institutions officials by their own names. Even the guy that cleans the shoes on Titova Street is known by name: Miso.

There is another quite important thing concerning this cozy atmosphere, 48-year-old Senad, who knows well the essence of “Sarajevo spirit’ (famous in the times of the former Yugoslavia), says that before the recent war they were never paying attention to one’s nationality; this was partially due to the fact that they knew each other mostly by their nicknames. Senad speaks about this while describing how in the past Sarajevo locals knew the owners of cafes: “you would know a man for hundred of years, but you wouldn’t know what his religion is… however, you know him by his nickname: Zizo, Zizi, Bene… You don’t have a clue if he is a Serb or Croat or Muslim or Jew, you don’t know that. You have been going to his cafe for years, but you don’t know what his nationality is except you know he is Bene.”

And Senad concludes: “This is the way we lived.”

Sarajevo’s cozy atmosphere and local traditions is part of the hidden city, and tourists who come only for a day or two, traveling throughout the Balkans, can not feel it just by passing along Bas Carsija and informing themselves of a little of the city’s history and the war, and than moving along to the next Balkan country (yes, this a critique of backpackers).

Maybe it is a better option for the visitor to Sarajevo to slow down, to not try and process new information so efficently and to delay the journey a bit. Joining the locals and listening to their stories in an old-style Sarajevo coffeehouses over a cup of Bosnian (Turkish) coffee or a fiery cup of rakija is an excellent and enjoyable way to become a bit more intimately acquainted with this special city between the hills.

Looking for More Balkanalysis.com Publications?

Find Balkanalysis.com articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy Balkanalysis.com articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

The Young Turk Revolution and the 1908 Annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina

By Dejan Stjepanovic

Introduction

The relation between the Young Turk Revolution and the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1908) is particularly interesting in light of the postcolonial debate. Most intriguing is the fact that unlike the case of Bulgaria (an emerging nation-state) which declared independence from the Ottoman Empire the same month in which Bosnia-Herzegovina was annexed, Austria-Hungary was a state structure in a rather similar political situation to that of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of scholarly literature that both encompasses and relates these two historic events.The drive of the Young Turk movement to reform the Empire and restore the constitution was an attempt towards political modernization, intended as a way of preserving and consolidating of the Ottoman Empire. Not only was it an effort to strengthen the Empire but also to show, if not supremacy, than at least the fact that the Ottomans were equals to the other European Great Powers, politically and culturally. The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), as the Young Turks were formally known, was just the continuation, though more energetic and with little less ideological baggage, of a long process of reforms that had started in 1839 with the Tanzimat movement under Sultan Abdul Mejid I.

At the same time, Austria-Hungary was experiencing similar problems, relating to the nationalism of its subject-peoples, and the relatively low status it then enjoyed compared to the other European empires. As one of the methods of asserting its strength and esteem it annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, which it had held under occupation since 1878.

So unlike the Young Turks’ policies, which aimed at the fortification of the state through inner reforms and constitutionalism, Austria-Hungary adopted a colonial policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina. It tried to justify this attitude through the discourse pertinent to the idea of “the Eastern Question’ and “the Sick Man of Europe.’ And, it worked, but only for a while since it found itself facing another emerging strong force, that of ethnic nationalism.

The Young Turk Revolution

The Young Turks were a group of intellectuals of different ideological backgrounds who united against the authoritarian regime of Sultan Abdulhamid. They were “committed to the modernization and reform of their country’ [i]. The origins of the Young Turk movement can be found in 1889, when a group of students unsuccessfully conspired against the Sultan. This initial attempt at changing the Hamidian absolutist regime failed, and many of the prominent members were forced to flee the country.

It was thus in 1891 in Geneva that the exiled Ottomans formed the Committee of Union and Progress (the official name behind the Young Turk movement). However, on the territory of the Ottoman Empire the CUP established itself as a clandestine organization in Salonika in 1906. It was these Macedonian branches of the CUP that had had a decisive role in the revolution of July 1908, which started in fact in the Macedonian town of Resen near Lake Prespa.

The fact that the Macedonia-based Young Turks were ready to use force to speed up the modernization of the state can be explained by several factors such as the “example of Macedonian guerrilla organizations, the prospect of European-imposed and -implemented administrative arrangements, and a heightened sense of the vulnerability of the Ottoman state to secession and annexation in the Balkans.’ [ii]

The revolutionaries were well aware that Macedonia, which had endured turbulent, multi-sided revolt for almost a decade, could not stay within the Ottoman realm if the state did not undergo serious reforms that would enable it to resist the threats of the Balkan nation-states and colonial schemes of the Great Powers. Only an effective state based on the constitutional guarantees for the equality of all Ottoman citizens, the Young Turks believed, could stave off such perils.

Another idea that played a paramount influence on the Young Turks, perhaps the foundational one, is often referred to as “Westernism.’ From the first part of 19th century the imperative to imitate and adopt Western values and mores, a doctrine which became known as Westernism, was the “constant concern and ambition of all Turkish reforms and reformers’ [iii].

This idea involved the omnipresent praising and idealization of Western institutions, technology and general way of life. The Young Turks’ belief was that if the great achievements of Western civilization were adopted in the Ottoman Empire, the expected resulting adoption of capitalism would thus bring prosperity to the population.

However, the partial adoption of Western models throughout the 19th century often turned out to be superficial; the expense of modernization too was underestimated. The Ottoman elite, in many cases, opted for the symbolic presence of the modern state apparatus and institutions rather than for deeper structural reforms.

This can be best illustrated by the Ottoman presence at the world fairs and the particular instance where a modern Turkish soldier’s uniform, representing progress and an advanced and modernizing Ottoman state was juxtaposed to the “backward’ and “uncivilized’ one of the Janissary. Or, by the fact that among the priorities for certain underdeveloped regions was the construction of government and military buildings as a sort of facade for the vanishing glory of the state.

This fits Makdisi’s discussion of Ottoman Orientalism as a “defining facet of Ottoman modernity’ [iv] in which the Ottomans would adopt Westerners’ idea of the backwardness of the East and the superiority of the West and then, sometimes, apply it in reference to their “backward’ Arabic subjects.

It is worth noting that most of the Young Turks came from the army corps. They were “the products of modern secular military or civilian professional schools.’[v] The fact that most members of the CUP came from petty bourgeois families or were officers in the army helps explain why they were so vociferous in expressing both liberal and national ideas.

The army was also one of the segments of Ottoman society that was modernizing the fastest (with the aid of German instructors and new weapons), fitting a general trend observable throughout the Balkans at the time. The preceding Sultans saw the need for the army to modernize according to the Western model, on both practical and symbolic levels (the latter best illustrated by the adoption of Western-style uniforms). It was perhaps the first time that opposition to the Ottoman regime and reform-minded activists came from the middle-class rather than from the religious elite, the ulema.

A combination of the ideological movement (presented by the external CUP) and a more militant fraction within the Empire created a force by which Abdulhamid could be forced to compromise. The primary interest of the revolutionaries was the adoption of legal reforms and centralized institutions reminiscent of the ones in the Western countries; as a first step towards this goal, they demanded the reinstating the Ottoman reform constitution of 1876, which had been abolished by Abdulhamid.

Calling for the restoration of the 1876 constitution and pledging to force new values on an aged regime, the CUP-controlled Third Army Corps prepared for the long march from Macedonia to Istanbul. The heads of the revolutionaries were two army officers, Niyazi Bey and Enver Bey. Their movement found overwhelming support among the European armies, which in turn asked that their demands be taken seriously by the sultan.

The ultimatum put forward to Abdulhamid said that if he failed to obey the demands for restitution of the Constitution, the European armies would depose him. The Great Powers had just spent five largely fruitless years in pushing the sultan to stop persecution of Christians in Macedonia, with little success, through the Murzsteg reform program. Since the European powers didn’t have to be directly involved in the Young Turks revolt, it provided a better and safer opportunity to call for change from a distance.

The sultan, naturally, tried to find a way out of the increasingly dire situation. He attempted to use force, while relying on Albanian support for his cause. Yet he soon realized that the CUP’s power was too strong and that he had to concede his defeat. Abdulhamid capitulated on 23rd of July 1908, and agreed to recall the Parliament and restitute the Constitution. It was a total victory for the Young Turks, who took control of the Ottoman government in a relatively bloodless coup d’etat. The first step of the new government was the proclamation of constitutional rule, a move that found broad support among the population of the empire, irrespective of their ethnicity.

This was the beginning of the so-called liberal phase of the second constitutional era- which was, however, to be of very short duration. In September 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria declared its independence and Greece annexed Crete.

The now empowered Young Turks saw these as acts of aggression by the European powers and as a collective betrayal of the peoples of the Ottoman Empire. In this dizzying atmosphere of annexation and secession, the more centralist, authoritarian and nationalistic elements among the Young Turks came to the fore. Although the Western powers were initially sympathetic to the dismantling of the Hamidian autocracy, they nevertheless continued with their expansionist policies against the Ottoman Empire.

Interestingly enough, the CUP government managed to channel the public disapproval of the loss of the aforementioned Balkan provinces by claiming that they were the outcome of Abdulhamid’s wrongheaded policies. However, the rapid succession of crippling events also called into question the legitimacy of the CUP’s fledgling government, which had based its argument for self-empowerment largely on the promise that it would be able to stop any further dismemberment of the Empire.

The Annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina

At the Congress of Berlin (1878), which revised the Treaty of San Stefano that ended the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78, Austria-Hungary was given the right to occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Great Powers, especially Britain and Austria-Hungary, were not satisfied with the treaty of San Stefano, as they thought it had given too much influence to the Russian Empire in the Balkans through its creation of a Greater Bulgaria. Thus the intention of the Treaty of Berlin was, apart from the recognition of the nation-states of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, to redistribute spheres of influence in the Balkans. It was all part of the broader “Eastern Question.’

The European Great Powers considered that the Ottoman Empire would definitely collapse as they considered it to be autocratic, backward and anachronistic. The rhetoric relating to the idea of the “Sick Man of Europe’ became influential and was used as the justification for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

In the 1878 treaty, Austria was given the right to occupy and administer the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The conditions of the occupation were outlined in Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. According to this article, Austria-Hungary was to administer the province. Furthermore, in the secret agreement between Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire it was agreed that, “the Austro-Hungarian representatives declare, in the name of IMS and R. Apostolic government that the rights of sovereignty of IMS the Sultan over the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be undermined… that the occupation will be considered provisionary” [vi].

Irrespective of the fact that Austria-Hungary was only given the right to administer the province by the then-30 year-old treaty, the government of the Dual Monarchy in September 1908 took action; its stated justification was that the Young Turk Revolution had forced Austria-Hungary to redefine its position in Bosnia-Herzegovina- and so annex the provinces.

Austria-Hungary argued that it could not leave the status of the provinces unsettled in the light of the events taking place in Istanbul- allegedly, out of “concern’ for the welfare of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many argue that Austria-Hungary had long been set on annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina and merely used the revolution in the Ottoman Empire as a convenient pretext. Austria-Hungary wanted to assert its dominant position in the Balkans, especially against the Russian influences and Serbian nationalism. It wanted to use the annexation as proof of its ongoing vitality vis-a-vis the other European Empires and nation-states.

According to Sked [vii] it was a case of imperialism, though not imperialism in its classical form. He illustrates this by the facts that the inhabitants of the provinces could not acquire the citizenship rights enjoyed by other Austro-Hungarian subjects, by the large scale military presence, limited economic and social progress and the large bureaucracy and tax bills. He concludes by saying that “Austrian rule… may not have been totally unenlightened by the standards of the time, but it amounted to imperialism none the less’ [viii].

On the other hand, Robert A. Kann [ix] sees no grounds for colonialism or pseudo-colonialism in the annexation, arguing that the Dual Monarchy received no financial gains from the province. However, there were also colonies of, for example, the British Empire which did not make direct profit.

Thus, I would support Sked’s position and further stress it by the rhetoric of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor’s proclamation of the annexation [x]. The proclamation did not only embed colonial rhetoric but also the one relating to the backwardness of the Ottoman Empire, using discourse such as:

“bring remedies to the ills from which your country was harshly subject to for years… You, yourselves must find advantageous that order and security have replaced violence and oppression… that moralizing influence of better education has been carried out and that under the protection of orderly administration each can benefit from the fruits of their labor… The new regime constitutes a guarantee that civilization and that well being will be solidly established in your country” [xi] .

The idea that Austria-Hungary had to undertake a civilizing mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the quintessential example of the prevailing stereotype of the time: the colonial, modernizing Western power which is juxtaposed against the oppressive, non-egalitarian and backward Orient.

The reaction of the Ottoman diplomacy to the annexation was negative. The Porte protested, pointing out in vain that the Treaty of Berlin had been violated. Although some of the other Great Powers complained, their appeal fell on deaf ears. The only action the new government of the Ottoman Empire could undertake was the boycott of Austro-Hungarian goods. But this did have some effect and finally, the Ottoman Empire accepted the offer of £2,200,000 as a compensation for the lost property in the provinces. Soon after, the Great Powers consented to the suppression of Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, thus recognizing Austro-Hungarian sovereignty over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There is an interesting fact regarding the relations of the Dual Monarchy versus the Young Turk revolution. Austria-Hungary saw Abdulhamid’s authoritarian regime as a justification for intervention. But as the Young Turks were about to proclaim a constitution in the Ottoman Empire, it annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina instantaneously, without any prior warnings. The reason behind this is that were the Ottoman Empire to indeed adopt the old constitution, it could easily accommodate all its ethnic groups as representatives in the executive power and would thus have a much stronger moral claim to the preservation of the Empire.

Both the Young Turks and the Austro-Hungarians were aware of that, but the time factor was on the Austro-Hungarian side. They annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina before the CUP had had a chance to consolidate its power. The fact that Austria-Hungary considered the constitutionalism of the Young Turks as a legitimizing force can be observed in the relation to the post-annexation political framework. “Under the impression of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 which seemed to open new perspectives of closer links with the emerging Ottoman constitutional monarchy, the Austrian regime felt obliged to work for a compromise where all the demands of Muslim community were satisfied.” [xii]

Conclusion

Contrary to their expectations, the Young Turks’ desperate attempt to reorganize and preserve the Empire intact by restoring the Constitution did not bear much fruit. Paradoxically, within a couple of months following the revolution which promised the end to the dissolution of the Empire, it lost its sovereignty over Bosnia-Herzegovina to another empire which was also in desperate need of reform. Both empires saw the greatest threat to their well-being as coming from the emerging nation-states, and both of them were competing for prestige on the international political scene. However, Austria-Hungary as a predominantly Christian, Central European empire enjoyed stronger backing by the other powers who considered the Ottoman Empire doomed anyway. Austria-Hungary was also more successful, at least for this short period of history, in applying its colonial policies. Of course, it did not last, but without the benefit of hindsight, the Austrians of that time might be forgiven for their optimism.

Most significantly, the fact that Austria-Hungary recognized the constitutional reforms aiming at the modernization of the Ottoman state as a legitimate force speaks for the view that the Young Turk Revolution was moving in the right direction for the preservation of the Empire. However, it came a bit too late.

Had the CUP’s revolution occurred earlier or if Abdulhamid had continued with the reformist policies of his predecessor rather than reverting to more traditional and Islamist policies, the course of history would have been somewhat different. This is not to say that the Ottoman Empire would have kept all of its Balkan possessions. Yet certainly the reforms would have been more far-reaching and inspired greater confidence, which in turn could have expedited rapprochement with the other Great Powers. As it was, however, change came too late, while the European powers’ appetite for colonial expansion remained insatiable.

Bibliography

Adanir, Fikret and Suraiya Faroqhi (eds.). The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography. Leiden / Boston/ Koln: Brill, 2002.

Anderson, M. S. The Eastern Question: 1774 – 1923. London: MacMillan, 1991.

Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. London: Pimlico, 1997.

Deringil, Selim. “The West within and the West without: Identity and World View of the Late Ottoman Elite. An Attempt at Some Case Studies” (working paper)

Ergil, Dogu. “A Reassessment: The Young Turks, Their Politics and Anti-colonial Struggle,” in Balkan Studies, volume 16, no.2. Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1975.

Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526-1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Kayali, Hasan. Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Makdisi, Ussama. “Ottoman Orientalism” in American Historical Review, Vol. 107., No.3 June 2002.

McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Peoples and the End of Empire. London: Arnold

Sicker, Martin. The Islamic World in Decline: From the Treaty of Karlowitz to the Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Westport: Praeger, 2001.

Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918. London & New York: Longman, 1992.

Trifunovska, Snezana (ed.). Yugoslavia through Documents: From its Creation to its Dissolution. Dordrecht / Boston / London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994.

Turfan, M. Naim. Rise of the Young Turks. London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002.


[ii] Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1918. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

[iii] Dogu Ergil, “A Reassessment: The Young Turks, Their Politics and Anti-colonial Struggle” in Balkan Studies, volume 16, no.2. (Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1975) p.39

[iv] Ussama Makdisi, “Ottoman Orientalism” in American Historical Review. Vol107. No.3 June 2002

[v] Ergil, p.26

[vi]“Secret Agreement Between Austria and Turkey Relative to Bosnia and Herzegovina” (Berlin, 13 July 1878) signed by Andrassy, Karolyi and Haymerle in Snezana Trifunovska (ed.), Yugoslavia through Documents: From its Creation to its Dissolution. (Dordrecht / Boston / London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1994.) p. 96 [translated from the French by Alexandra Clemence]

[vii] Alan Sked, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918. (London & New York: Longman, 1992.)

[viii] Ibid. p. 246.

[ix] Robert A. Kann. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526-1918 (Berkeley:University of California Press, 1974)

[x] “Proclamation of the Annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Emperor Franz Joseph” in Trifunovska, 1994.

[xi] Ibid, pp.108-109

[xii] Fikret Adanir, “The Formation of a “Muslim’ Nation” in Fikret Adanir & Suraiya Faroqhi (eds.), The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography, (Leiden / Boston / Koln: Brill, 2002.) p. 276.

…………………………

*Dejan Stjepanovic is currently a project associate for the Vojvodina Secretariat for National Minorities; former Freedom House researcher and a graduate of Nationalism Studies (MA) at Central European University. He focuses on issues of nationalism, regionalism and democracy in Southeastern Europe.

The Indictment of a People

By Robert Leifels*

The politicians and intellectuals have missed the boat regarding the death of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and label their Wall Street Opening Bell-like screaming as a rush to judgment. It is quite natural for them to worship at the shrine of the perceived beauty of their own words; a need to sell newspapers and so on. After all, a scorpion can’t help himself for being what he is. But the “judgment” they blabber on about was already passed down years ago. I know because I witnessed it while it was happening.Mr. Milosevic, according to Western law, was to be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet he was found dead before his case was finished. So one can say that according to the rule of law, when Milosevic died he was innocent.

All the journalists who heralded the trumpet of freedom and democracy in denying this condition have therefore forgotten this basic principle of Western law. And the Hague judges too have most certainly lost their way in their quest for self-glorification. Mr. Milosevic’ corpse wasn’t even through rigor mortis yet when the Bench declared he was “probably” going to be found guilty anyway. In America, such a statement made by a sitting judge would be grounds for a mistrial, were the defendant alive.

Respect for the System

Throughout twenty years of service as a New York City police officer, I and my colleagues were constantly under scrutiny. Sometimes oversight verging on the fanatical, we thought, was enforced to ensure that the power of law enforcement entrusted to us and those we served with was not abused. It is well known that power unchecked will lead to abuse, and the truism that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” can apply to anyone in a position of power, not just to high politicians. Most of the time, the feeling of being under a microscope was unpleasant and it was resented. But fundamentally, such oversight was a good thing; there were indeed times when justice did prevail and “the system worked.”

On the other side of things, one individual I once arrested for robbery was swiftly bought before a judge, and soon after pleaded guilty and was sentenced. About a year later, it was discovered during a hearing that the defendant had given a false name – in fact, he had given the name of his brother! It is standard procedure to record the name of the arrested defendant on all documents as given by the defendant. Fingerprints are then sent through channels to state record offices and to the F.B.I. If there are any other names found for the defendant during this process then they will be added as A.K.A.’s, “Also Known As.”

In this matter nothing of the sort was discovered. However, during the hearing it was proven that this guilty defendant who had a long record had managed to slip through the cracks in the system, and was doing time using his brother’s name. His brother was attending college during this time, and had never had any brushes with the law. So when he graduated he would have had, unbeknownst to him, a felony record. Imagine the nightmare he would have lived through, trying to prove he hadn’t been in prison!

“Business is Business”

Tempered by my years on the force, inspired by my deep love of “the American Way,” I ended up working in Bosnia in 1997, as a Police Monitor with the International Police Task Force. There I performed my duties as a professional police officer and walked and rode my “beat.” The first thing one learns as a young beat officer in New York is not to take sides. For many reasons it is just bad business. One can think what one likes, but as the wise old saying goes, “business is business.”

I soon learned, however, that in the Balkans fairness and objectivity had no place. I was labeled by some unscrupulous sorts as a “Serb lover.” OK, your honor. I found the Serbian people to be, by and large, good and honest people. Even though this observation did not affect my conduct, I guess I have to plead guilty. “Order in the Court!”

I soon found that the American rule of law and supposed adherence to a sense of fairness that I was accustomed to were not respected in the Balkans, because of the preordained policy “from above” that we were supposed to honor. It was this policy from the UN bosses, the Western governments, that most hampered our efforts to be fair. After three years in Bosnia and Croatia, I came to realize that those vaunted ideals will not even get the chance to be buried in some “mass grave,” as they never were even living on the side of the International Community in the first place.

A Provocation

There were numerous occasions during my time in the Balkans upon which this was driven home. Here is one example.

One night while patrolling the Zone of Separation between the Bosnian Federation and the Republika Srpska, it was made quite evident that the UN believed the Serbs were to be punished at every instance available, while Bosniaks were not to be touched. The latter knew this, and they took advantage of the situation to launch provocations against the Serbs. If there was no reaction, they would at least get to enjoy a good and malicious laugh, but if there was a reaction, it would become an international incident that the Bosnian Muslims could hold up to the world as yet another example of Serb aggression.

Such a scenario could have materialized on that night, except for the notable restraint of the Serb police supervisor. In the first moment, two Bosniak police confronted RS police on the International Entity Border Line, spouting numerous insults. It was quite evident that the Muslim police were drunk. It was also quite evident that the RS police were not. According to anyone’s conception of basic police procedure, officers are not to be inebriated while on the beat.

Furthermore, the Dayton Agreement stipulated that local police were only to patrol the ZOS accompanied by International Police Task Force (IPTF) officers. The Bosniak police were, however, by themselves, whereas the RS police were accompanied by officers, in this case myself and another IPTF monitor.

Being clearly in violation of the Dayton Agreement, the intoxicated Bosnian Federation police were ordered out of the ZOS. Yet they refused. In fact, they responded insolently by using obscene language and actually put one foot over the accepted line of separation in defiance. To the Bosnian Serb supervisor’s credit he ordered his men to leave the area rather than take the bait.

However, by morning the reality that I had seen during the night had been twisted completely. The IPTF commander informed the Zvornik Station Commander that he was infuriated, having learned that RS police had provoked an incident during the night. Who could have made such a story up? And how could it have found such a credulous audience, willing to pass judgment before having verified the facts?

Fortunately, once the commander read my official report attesting to the clear violation of Dayton by Bosnian Federation police, he dropped the whole matter. Later, during my patrol, the RS supervisor mentioned above told me that he was glad I saw first-hand the incident and the tactics that he said were commonly used by the Bosnian Federation Muslim officers. Little by little, one provocation would lead to another, until finally the Serbs would be put into a situation where they had to defend themselves. Then the media and International Community entities would use the provoked incident as more “evidence’ of the Serbian propensity for evil.

Haunting Memories

The murder of radio and television personnel in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing remains in my mind, and it will never go away. I watched Serbian television and I saw the announcers and broadcasters visibly shaken while speaking. I learned that they were asking Wesley Clark and NATO not to kill them while they were trying to do their job and report the news. A few days later they were blown to bits for the crime of freedom of speech. They were just working people, like you or I, though to Wesley Clark they were part of the Serbian military machine and a legitimate target. It was not the first time that NATO had bombed a Serbian media outlet, as readers of Richard Holbrooke’s self-satisfied memoir know.

My ancestors fought in several wars to defend our American values and way of life. I devoted twenty years of service to upholding the rule of law, while trying to make a better and safer New York for all of its citizens. In recent years, however, American power has been misused, at radical variance from our values, employed to run Serbian families out of their homes by the hundreds of thousands. Almost everyday, Serbs and non-Albanian Kosovars are dying at the hands of thugs protected by NATO and KFOR. In winter, the elderly die from an enforced lack of heating in Kosovo enclaves. Now that Kosovo appears headed for independence, the situation is only going to get worse.

Sixty years ago, my father fought against the Nazis, only for his son to witness the extermination of the Serbs – once America’s best Balkan ally in the fight against the Nazis. Now America is helping to ensure the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs, which means rewarding the still militant descendents of the very people who fought against America, on the side of fascism, committing untold atrocities in the process. The US and the EU are accomplishing something right now that even Hitler could not.

The way it appears, my country might just as well be formally converted to fundamentalist Islam. Collectively, the United States had already beheaded an entire people.

……………………………

*56 year-old Robert Leifels is a former Marine who served as a Lieutenant in the New York City Police Department for twenty years, from 1973-1993. He worked as a Police Monitor in the International Police Task Force, both with the United Nations and the OSCE, from June 1997-April 2000 in Bosnia and Croatia. The mission included an assignment as Operations Officer in the Zvornik region in 1997, which included Srebrenica.

Mr. Leifels is currently residing in Ukraine, where he is researching Russian Martial Arts as practiced in that country.

Hague’s Website Uses Controversial Photo in Subtle Propaganda Bid

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Although they are small, for students of propaganda the images that emerge when one selects various topic headings on the Hague Tribunal’s official website speak volumes about the international court’s slick PR and ingrained biases.

The overall perception one gets from the selection of photos is that of a rock-solid institution, presided over by learned and morally unassailable judges, trying war criminals who are little more than modern-day Nazis. As such, the Hague’s reputation as the sober, dispassionate arbiter of genocide is upheld.

By far the most flagrant of these photos, and the one underpinning them all, is however, a controversial and still potent piece of propaganda work, a picture which more than any other fed Western bloodlust for intervention- and still serves as a subtle justification for the international court’s very legitimacy, 14 years after it was taken.

When one selects the “latest developments” heading on the top, up flashes an image of ITN’s infamous 1992 Fikret Alic “concentration camp” picture- an image which has been called one of the greatest media hoaxes of the Bosnian War.

The photo, of an apparently emaciated refugee caged behind barbed wire, was printed on the front pages of media worldwide as proof of Serbian genocidal tendencies. They did not mention, however, that the man had a physical condition that affected his appearance and that the cameramen were inside a small fenced-in enclosure, and the “prisoners,” on the other side, were free.

The comprehensive original article challenging the conventional wisdom has been ignored, nevertheless, by the Hague, which slyly reifies the outcome of the propaganda – that when you think of a war criminal, you’re thinking of a Serb.

As Znet put it, “this hugely dishonest photo was featured everywhere in the West as proving a Serb-organized Auschwitz, was denounced by NATO high officials, and helped provide the moral basis for the creation of the ICTY and its clear focus on Serb evil.”

That’s not the way the Hague sees it, of course. When we asked the tribunal’s media relations department to comment on the inclusion of the controversial photo, Liam McDowall from the ICTY Registry ignored the question, brushing it off as “cavalier” and “uninformed.” Predictably, he dismissed the original article exposing the fraud as “shrill,” while not even trying to disprove the facts laid out in the article. After all, when you are the law, it’s very easy to live in the rarified airs above it.

Further, Mr. McDowall attempted to deny the validity of the query in a devious, sideways manner by recommending “some of the judgements issued by the Tribunal’s Chambers in cases related to Prijedor and the detention centres operated in northwestern Bosnia where non-Serbs were held against their will.” He failed to mention, as the above article does, that some of these cases were informed by testimony that later turned out to be false.

True to form, the spokesman also sought to discredit critics of ITN and its dubious photo by referring to this story on the libel case the network successfully launched against the magazine that had originally brought the issue to public attention with the above article.

Nevertheless, after a follow-up message, Mr. McDowall failed to comment on the fact that the case was won – no matter how it was spun by the winners – less on its merits than on the way British libel law is stacked against the defendant (incidentally, the prime reason why paragons of human morality such as Richard Perle are so fond of threatening libel lawsuits in the UK).

It is interesting to note that the tribunal spokesman’s instinctive reaction to our request was to justify the use of a picture that was at very least highly controversial, simply by inferring the former existence of “concentration camps” in Bosnia. In other words, no matter what was the real story with the dubious photo, the subject was irrelevant because there was sufficient external evidence that a photo very much like it could be real. (This is the sort of logic, by the way, that is also the trademark of the tribunal’s character assassination approach to justice).

And this has been precisely the problem with the whole sorry history of Western media coverage of the Balkans: no specific image or account has to actually be true when it can at least resemble numerous other similar ones. Thus we enter a Baudrillardian world populated by copies of copies, simulations of simulations, image-driven imitations of reality propelled and validated by their own proliferation.

All philosophical interjections aside, when considering the issue solely in terms of public policy and the responsible working of an allegedly impartial court of international justice – after all, this is the United Nations we’re talking about here, not a political party – why should an emotive and evocative image such as the Fikret Alic photo, with all of its accumulated “history” and connotations, be displayed on the front page of the tribunal’s website?

As could be expected, we received no answer to this question from the Hague. Indeed, Mr. McDowall was silent again when we brought up the fact that the website of the Hague Tribunal for Rwanda, itself based on the exact same vaunted principles of universal justice and human rights, has no comparable visuals on its own homepage.

Other photos on the Yugoslav tribunal’s website are equally telling and serve their own subtle propaganda uses for the purpose of upholding the Hague’s desired self-image. For example, on the far left, under “ICTY at a Glance,” the reader sees black and red-robed judges standing in ceremonial formation, almost like academics from some prestigious university at an honorable event. The caption refers to the court as an institution; the photo infers authority, sagacity, and collective righteousness (indeed, who could ever doubt such a group of well-attired justices?), marking the court itself with a stamp of august credibility.

Under “ICTY Cases and Judgments” in the middle, a more close-up photo of the same bunch working away in the courtroom is provided. The inference again is of a legitimate and hard-working set of judges (multi-ethnic too, it appears) endeavoring so that justice be done.

While the “ICTY Publications” photo is not particularly interesting, the remaining two – accompanying “Basic Legal Documents” and “Practical Information” – are. They both show rock-solid buildings, presumably the tribunal’s; the subtle message is that the Hague itself is set on solid philosophical foundations, grounded on the “rule of law,” impressive, imposing, an entity unto itself.

Considering the infinite possibilities the Hague’s website designers had at their disposal, this home page topography cannot be considered accidental. The specific selection of images assembled on the Hague website only reinforces the view that the international war crimes tribunal is less about justice, and more about deception, petty politics and slick PR.

Hague Judge Silences Bin Laden Bosnia Testimony, as NATO’s Claims Questioned

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Judge Patrick Robinson immediately shut down a Western journalist on the Hague Tribunal witness stand last week, when she disclosed having seen Osama bin Laden waltz into the office of late Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in November 1994.

Just as veteran British journalist Eve-Ann Prentice, who covered the Yugoslav conflicts for the Guardian and the Times told of the famous OBL, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice objected, and the judge “cut off the testimony immediately declaring it “irrelevant,'” according to the defense’s recap of a devastating day of testimony.

However, considering that the defendant, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was trying to make a case that the Bosnian Serbs were fighting because Izetbegovic wanted to create an Islamic state that would not be particularly tolerant of Serbs, it would seem that this “explosive” mention of his connection with the world’s most wanted man would in fact be quite relevant.

According to the report, while Prentice was waiting in Izetbegovic’s foyer for an interview she, and a journalist from Germany’s Der Speigel, “saw Osama bin Laden being escorted into Izetbegovic’s office… needless to say this evidence did not sit well with the tribunal.”

Prentice was by no means the first to make the bin Laden-Bosnia connection. Izetbegovic’s plans for making Bosnia an Islamic state were long known, and the fact that there was a strong foreign mujahedin presence in Bosnia, would both indicate that her squelched testimony was highly relevant indeed.

However, as in all the other tribunals designed to bolster the Official Truth established by government interests – not least of all the 9/11 Commission – evidence such as hers is blotted out immediately or blocked in advance.

And vitally, the mass media has lost interest too, now that the “good news” has stopped flowing in like it used to, when the prosecution against Milosevic had the momentum. Since the former Yugoslav president has taken the offensive, however, Western media coverage has stopped altogether, expect for the occasional report fearing that his various illnesses might interfere with “justice” being done.

However, though the big media did not cover the testimony, the pro-intervention IWPR at least had to react to the damaging testimony. In a recent article, it cited Prentice’s impartiality- and then proceeded to act as a mouthpiece for the prosecution, stenographing Mr. Nice’s use of quotes from Prentice’s own book to show that even she was aware of Serbian evils.

But the IWPR didn’t mention bin Laden, nor various other important details that emerged from Prentice’s most damaging testimony, on the Kosovo conflict. Unlike the Western journalists who were merely waiting on the Macedonian border to hear the after-the-fact (or fiction) testimony of refugees, she was actually in Kosovo. In fact, owing to her proximity to the depleted uranium bombs NATO was dropping all around her, Prentice later became ill with cancer.

Having interviewed hundreds of ordinary Albanians, Roma and Turks during the war, Prentice’s first-hand fieldwork suggested that many of the Albanian refugees were forced to leave their homes not by the Serbian army but by the KLA- which cynically hoped to provoke Western outrage at an allegedly Serb-caused refugee crisis. It worked.

Prentice’s first-hand experience also contradicted the Official Truth on a number of other fronts. While the Hague prosecution accused the Serbs of bombings in Gnjilane, Istok (Dubrava Prison), Orohovac, and Meja, she stated that NATO bombing raids were responsible. “In the case of Meja… Ms. Prentice spoke to several victims in the hospital and they told her that NATO had bombed them. While she was in Gnjilane she did not see any evidence of the deliberate burning of shops and houses alleged by the indictment. All she saw was the destruction caused by NATO.”

Further, “the indictment says that Serbian troops forced the Albanian population to leave Prizren from March 28th onwards. But Ms. Prentice said that there were a lot of Albanians in Prizren while she was there in May.”

The disinterest of Western leaders in the full reality of the wars in Yugoslavia reappeared with one telling vignette. When speaking about Bosnia, Prentice spoke of a visit to Pale, where “she was surprised to find that a large number of non-Serb refugees were being given shelter there. Before she actually visited Bosnia she had believed what the rest of the media told her about the Serbs.”
Apparently, so did her country’s leaders:

“she recounted one occasion where she tried to convince Robin Cook to visit Pale so that he could see for himself that non-Serbs were living freely in the Bosnian-Serb capital. Cook, who was on a fact finding mission, told her that he would not visit Pale because he thought the Serbs were “monsters.'”

Needless to say, the IWPR report doesn’t mention this vignette. Nor did it mention that Prentice contracted cancer from NATO’s depleted uranium bombing. It did make a subtle but determined effort to disparage her testimony, however- just as it has in the past given sympathetic attention to prosecution witnesses who later turned out to be liars. Some things just come with the territory for media bodies funded by the same governments that created the Hague monstrosity to begin with.

Al-Qaeda on Trial: The Hague and Bosnian Muslim War Crimes (Part 2)

By Carl K. Savich

The continuation of yesterday’s piece on the war crimes trials of Bosnian Muslim commanders at the Hague, this article provides vivid examples of mujahedin tactics as well as the fallout of supporting their cause for the US, up to and including the war in Iraq.

The El Mujahed Unit: Makeup, Objectives and Tactics

The mujahedin in Bosnia were “incorporated and subordinated” within the 7th Muslim Brigade when it was formed on November 19, 1992. On August 13 of the following year these holy warriors were organized in the “El Mujahed” Battalion, which was made part of the Bosnian Muslim Army.The Battalion of the Holy Warriors, or Kateebat al-Mujahideen, was “officially mobilized… on the personal orders of Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, to whom the unit was directly responsible.”

The Bosnian Muslim military command put this unit in the 3rd Corps area of operations and subordinated it to the command of that Corps. The mujahedin acted as shock troops to spearhead offensives by the 3rd Corps of the Bosnian Muslim Army. Along with the El Mujahed Battalion, the Bosnian Muslim Army contained other irregular paramilitary forces, such as the Black Swans and the Mosque Doves.

The El Mujahed Battalion has been accused by Hague prosecutors of murder, ritual execution, ritual beheading, torture, and imprisonment of Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat civilians and POWs. Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat civilians and POWS were forced to dig trenches under fire for the Bosnian Muslim Army and were used as human shields during offensive operations of the Bosnian Muslim armed forces. According to the ICTY indictment, “at least 200 Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb civilians were killed.” Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb POWs were killed and tortured.

The mujahedin unit employed horrific tactics of torture and murder designed to terrify the Christian populations of Bosnia. At the Orasac Camp, which was staffed and run by Saudi and Afghan mujahedin, Bosnian Serb civilian Dragan Popovic was ritually beheaded on October 20, 1993. Other POWs were then forced to kiss his severed head.

ICTY prosecutor Witkopf characterized this as “a beheading that can only be described as a ritual beheading.” Other POWs and civilians were forced to dig their own graves. POWs were terrorized and physically and psychologically abused and mistreated. POWs were also forced to give blood.

The gruesome practice of beheading has long precedent in the Balkans. During the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans, Serbian Orthodox Christians, being kaurin or unbelievers, were ritually beheaded by Muslim Turkish forces in order to terrorize the rayah or Christian population, also defined as dhimmi, a conquered people.

Ritual beheadings were always part of the policies of Muslim occupation forces, who sought to conquer the Christian infidels of Europe. In his propagandizing, Osama bin Laden falsely asserted that the Christians had a lock on crusading. But Islam has been expansionist ever since the time of Mohammed, invading eastern and western Europe, Asia, and north Africa, and forcefully converting the subjugated subjects to Islam. Bosnia was under Muslim Ottoman Turkish occupation for over four centuries. Spain was under Muslim occupation for over 700 years.

Mujahedin Atrocities and War Crimes in Bosnia

Islam is stated to be a religion of peace and compassion. But this is not how Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat Christians experienced it. The al-Qaeda and US-sponsored mujahedin were supposed to be there merely to provide protection for Muslims vulnerable to Serb and Croat attacks. Most of them had posed as workers for so-called Islamic humanitarian and charity organizations in order to enter the country. But far from being a force for self-defense, the mujahedin went on the offensive, with the full backing of the Bosnian Muslim government of Izetbegovic, committing widespread war crimes and atrocities on a massive scale against Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croats, soldiers and civilians alike.

These war crimes demonstrated the contempt the mujahedin had for Christianity and for so-called Western civilization and culture. Evan Kohlmann wrote about “their remarkable fanaticism and blind cruelty.” Mujahedin troops from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia had “routinely performed crude, disfiguring, non-medical circumcisions on Bosnian Serb soldiers.” An 18-year old Bosnian Serb soldier “was so brutally circumcised that eventually the entire organ required amputation.”

No only were Bosnian Serb Orthodox Christians victims of the mujahedin. Bosnian Croat Roman Catholic Christians were also targeted for torture, death and expulsion. For example, the mujahedin ethnically cleansed all non-Muslims from Zenica, their stronghold and key operational base. In 1992, Dejan Jozic, a 13-year old Roman Catholic Bosnian Croat boy, was captured by the mujahedin and asked: “Why doesn’t your family leave Zenica?” Three mujahedin threw the boy to the ground. The ring finger of his right hand was then amputated. The Jozic family then fled from Zenica after this shocking example of Islamic terror.

The US propaganda machine censored and suppressed these horrific acts of genocide committed by Muslim forces in the name of Islam. The CIA propaganda outlet in Europe, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, similarly covered-up and censored these Muslim war crimes and atrocities committed against Orthodox and Roman Catholic civilians and POWs.

A Bosnian Serb POW described his treatment after the engagements in the Vozuci region on May 27, 1995:

I was captured by a group of 12 mujaheddins including a Bosnia Muslim who served as interpreter… One of the mujaheddins ordered me to kneel down, took out his butcher knife with semi-circular blade and small handle which he held hanging around his neck, on his chest. He wanted to cut my had [sic] off, but the Muslim interpreter intervened, telling him something in Arabic… They put a knife under our necks, as if they were going to cut our throats. Then they brought a cardboard box in which there were two cut off human heads with blood still dripping… One day, they brought us out in the camp area for all the mujaheddins to see us. In my assessment, there were one thousand of them. The lined us up in such a way that we were surrounded by them, and they were singing and shouting something in Arabic. One of them had a knife in his hands and was persistently trying to come close and cut our throats, but two others prevented him. He was foaming with rage.

Another Bosnian Serb POW stated:

As soon as we arrived, the mujaheddins tied us with a hose, into which they let air under pressure, to make it expand and press our legs. This cause terrible pains and Gojko Vujicic swore [to] God, so one mujaheddin took him aside and cut his head off. I did not see what he used for the cutting, but I know that he brought the head into the room and forced all of us to kiss it. Then the mujaheddin hung the head on a nail in the wall.

Bosnian Serb POWs were “held like animals and starved for days, slowly being tortured to death.” Serb POWs were given knives and forced to kill each other or be killed themselves:

[O]nce they fell from wounds, Mujahedeen would decapitate them, with cleavers or chain saws, and those who were still alive were forced to kiss severed heads that were later nailed to tree trunks. Prisoners were hung upside down by ropes, they were nailed, or the Mujahdeen [sic] tied bricks to their testes and penises and pushed them into barrels where they slowly drowned pulled down by the weight of the bricks.

Videotapes were made of these war crimes by the mujahedin and sold to encourage recruits to join their rank
s. Mujahedin also forcefully converted Bosnian Serb POWs to Islam. US reporter John-Thor Dahlburg of the Los Angeles Times was told by a Bosnian Muslim soldier who was a member of the mujahedin forces that the mujahedin “like to kill. Whenever they could kill with their knives, they would do so.”

However, such accounts were exceptional. In general, the US media and Clinton administration censored and suppressed these horrific war crimes and atrocities committed against Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat Christians. Why? The Bosnian Muslims were the proxies of the US government, of NATO, and of the EU. In a world where large parts of the Muslim population have long been hostile to the West and especially to America, Bosnia presented a fine opportunity for the US to show its alleged compassion for Muslims. The US media and government carefully concealed and covered up the war crimes that its Muslim Al-Qaeda proxies committed in Bosnia. If that failed, the appropriate media spin was put on the story by US government-sponsored reporters.

But the US media and government were well aware of the war crimes and atrocities that were being perpetrated by their Islamic proxy troops. Nevertheless, this information was censored and suppressed. Instead, the US media and government focused on alleged Bosnian Serb war crimes against Bosnian Muslim troops in places like Srebrenica. Yet (until relatively recently it was least) the fact that the mujahedin had taken over Bosnian Serb towns and villages, had tortured and executed, had ethnically cleansed and displaced Bosnian Serbs and Croats POWs at will has been ignored. Such examples change the whole complexion of the Bosnian civil war. The same justification the US originally used for the mujahedin presence –that is, for self-defense of a vulnerable population – was never granted to Bosnian Christian forces whose populations were living in equal if not greater danger.

What motivated the mujahedin in Bosnia?

The Jihad combatant was necessarily a shahid or martyr, one willing to die for Islam. Many of the Arab mujahedin sought shuhada or martyrdom in Bosnia, dying for the propagation of Islam. By the end of 1992, out of a total mujahedin force of 300 in Bosnia, at least 22 Saudi Arabian mujahedin were killed in combat, along with 12 others from Egypt. In Travnik, 53 mujahedin were killed. Abu el-Ma’ali justified this loss of human life thus: “…the way of Jihad must have its pure blood which Allah picks and chooses to be a fuel for those who are left.”

Many of the mujahedin left “testaments” in case they were killed in battle. Abu Abd Al-Aziz Muntesib, a Saudi mujahedin killed in the Teslic assault of 1992, left a testament that explained why he was waging a jihad in Bosnia:

In the name of Allah, the Benevolent and Merciful!

Praise to Allah and blessings and salvation to the Servant of Allah. May Allah bless and save Him….

I entreat Allah to convey this testament to you while I rejoice with my Lord in the gardens of paradise, happy that Allah is content with me… with my brothers who died a martyr’s death that I yearned for so long and Allah, may he be glorified and exalted…Moreover to exalt his faith and fulfill my desire with the death of my enemies, may Allah curse them! Furthermore, to rejoice at the sight of an Islamic caliphate that will fill the land with its justice, after so much violence.

Oh, my parents, I beg Allah for you to receive the news of my death with joy, because I shall not die for the sake of liberty or out of patriotism, nor any other false aim. On the contrary I shall die, if Allah wills, for the sake of Allah, and erecting the first pillar of Islam, for Islam to spread and take root in the world…

And you, my father, know that a martyr’s death for the eternal goal is the privilege only of those whom Allah has chosen. And, as Allah the Exalted says: “and among you there will be chosen ones who will die a martyr’s death for the holy purpose.” May Allah be praised three times for bestowing and designating me to die a martyr’s death! …

The Exalted furthermore said: “Do not say of those who died for the sake of Allah that they are dead, but that they are living” …

I entrust you to take care that my brothers are raised in the spirit of the jihad, to instill the love of a martyr’s death in them, the splendour of the faith and its words…

This testament of a Saudi mujahedin gives a good picture of the mindset of the Islamic holy warrior and his motivations. The objective of the jihad is to create a global “Islamic caliphate.” However, this fact has been censored and suppressed in US government and media accounts of the Bosnian mujahedin. US propaganda claimed that in Bosnia, at least, the mujahedin acted in self-defense. But this is not so. Al-Qaeda and related mujahedin are aggressively seeking a global Islamic community, a series of interconnected Muslim states from Spain to China. The notion of the separation of religion and state is unknown in Islam, and the mujahedin perceive martyrdom, whether in battle, suicide bombings or other terrorist attacks, as legitimate and appropriate tactics in advancing Islam. They are thus guided by a religious fanaticism and zealotry that is unknown in the West. In Western thought, religion is seen as only one aspect or dimension in defining man. There is a secular and multi-dimensional component to human identity in Western thought. In Islam, man becomes one dimensional. As noted in the mujahedin testament, man lives and dies for only one thing, “for the sake of Allah.”

Steven Emerson presented a report on July 9, 2003 to the 9/11 Commission in which he detailed the activities of the commander of the Bosnian Muslim “El Mujahed” unit, Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros:

When senior Al-Qaeda recruiter Shaykh Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros was interviewed in 1994 about his experiences organizing the Arab-Afghan jihad in Bosnia, he explained: I—alhamdulillah [Arabic, “All praise is due to Allah”] —-met several prominent Ulema [Muslim scholar]. Among them…. Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin Baz… and others in the Gulf area. Alhamdulillah, all grace be to Allah, they all support the religious dictum that “the fighting in Bosnia is a fight to make the word of Allah supreme and protect the chastity of Muslims.”

Abu Muaz al-Kuwaiti, one of the mujahedin commanders in Bosnia, explained why his men were in Bosnia:

As for why we came to Bosnia-Hercegovina, we did not come here except for Jihad in the Way of Allah (Glorified and Most High), and to assist our Mujahideen brothers.

According to Evan Kohlmann, Barbaros told other senior Al-Qaeda members who were assembled at a meeting in Zagreb that al Qaeda’s objective in Bosnia was not to bring humanitarian assistance to Bosnian Muslims, as US propaganda had claimed, but “to establish a base for operations in Europe against al-Qaeda’s true enemy, the United States.” Thus, Al-Qaeda had been manipulating the US all along. Whether they knew it or not, Clinton and his foreign policy team were playing with fire by enabling the foreign mujahedin in Bosnia.

From Bosnia to Iraqi: Al Qaeda Retaliates Against its Former Enablers

The end result of the American aid for the mujahedin, which as is well known began in 1979 in then-Soviet Afghanistan, manifested spectacularly on Septmber 11th, 2001. However, the blowback of both this aid and its continuation in Bosnia goes on even today. The jihadis once active in Bosnia remain at the front lines of the war against America, on the new battleground, Iraq.

Recent reports have claimed that Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda mujahedin veterans from the Bosnian civil wars of the 1990’s
are now killing US troops and Western civilians in Iraq. In a Tanjug news report from December 29, 2004, “French Journalists’ Captors Were Bin Laden’s Veteran from Bosnia”, it was reported that French journalist Christian Chesnot, of Radio France Internationale, along with Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro, was held by “veterans of Osama Bin Ladin from Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Chesnot was held hostage for four months in Iraq by the “Islamic Army in Iraq.” Chesnot told Tanjug reporters:

Our captors told us they had fought in Bosnia… One of them, a youngish man, aged 30 or so, told us he had been in Bin Laden’s camp in Afghanistan and that he had fought in Bosnia… We realized that this was one of the Arab war leaders that had fired rockets in Bosnia and chanted ‘Jihad, Jihad.’…   We realized also that some of our abductors were members of what we called Planet Bin Laden.

Chesnot stated that one of their abductors played them a tape of Bosnian music and informed them that two Macedonian hostages and the Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni had been executed by the Islamic Organization in Iraq. One of their Arabic captors spoke about the “international jihad,” “Sheikh Osama,” and “the dream of a Muslim state from Andalusia to China, and the fight against Christians.”

Partial Bibliography

Eykyn, George. “‘Mujahidin rush to join Islamic fundamentalists in war.” The Times of London, September 23, 1992.

—Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Second Report Submitted to the Commission of Experts. 1993, IHRLI Doc. No. 28401-29019.

Fisk, Robert. “To Sarajevo, by way of Riyadh.” The Independent, December 22, 1992.

Kohlmann, Evan F. Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network. Oxford: Berg, 2004.

—”Right of peoples to self-determination: Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.” United Nations General Assembly Item 106, Provisional Agenda, August 28,1995.

O’Neill, Brendan. “How We Trained Al-Qa’eda.” The Spectator. September 13, 2003.

Post, Tom with Joel Brand. “Help From the Holy Warriors.” Newsweek, October 5, 1992.

Wiebes, Cees. Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995. Munster, LIT Verlag; New Brunswick: Transaction, 2003.

2004-2009 Back Archives