According to a new report published by the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research think tank last Friday, there has been a dangerous rise in Islamophobia and anti-Bosnian rhetoric by mostly Serbian and Croatian politicians and media outlets, unseen since the horrifying Bosnian War of the early 1990s.
The European Islamophobia Report 2018 showed a worrying trend of portraying Bosnia as a “radical Muslim haven”, used in an attempt to undermine or de-legitimize Bosnia with the aim of dividing the country into different territories again. Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader, attempted to dehumanize Bosnian Muslims by describing the adhan (the call to prayer) as “howling” on national Serbian television. Serbia’s foreign Minister Dacic has also issued controversial statements, including one in which he spoke to the Good Morning Serbia talk show and compared Bosnia to ISIS:
[Bosniaks] are waiting to pass 50% in population so they can create the first Islamic state in the middle of Europe. We won’t ever allow Bosnia to become an Islamic State.”
The report also highlighted the use of describing Bosnia as a “failed state” by many Croatian politicians, in an attempt to paint the country as a radicalized territory full of extremists. The then Croatian MEP Marijana Petir claimed only last year that Bosnia is becoming an extremist state, stating that “foreign fighters are returning to Wahhabi settlements that have sprouted right along the Croatian border, radicalizing the Muslim population in Bosnia”.
By describing both the country and Bosnian Muslims as backwards and extremists, it can become an open playing field for Islamophobic comments and abuses to affect the lives of ordinary Bosnian people. Abdussamed Podojak, from Sarajevo, told Al Jazeera:
The consequences have already been deadly and can get even worse. Because of all these [Islamophobic] statements and opinions [by politicians], I know a lot of people who don’t feel safe to go to another part of our country, which is absurd … the rhetoric promoting Islamophobia is more than a catastrophe.”
These worrying reports of the rise in Islamophobia and anti-Bosnian rhetoric comes at a time when the events of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 are still fresh in the minds of many. The war, which saw mass atrocities such as the massacre of Bosnians in Srebrenica, resulted in more than 100,000 civilians dead – most of whom were Bosnian Muslims. Labeled by human rights groups as mass genocide, the ethnic cleansing that killed countless numbers of people was a result of the massive breakup of Yugoslavia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While still recovering from ethnic divisions and tensions, the countries that occupy what was once Yugoslavia, which now include independent nations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo, have had relative peace since the atrocities of the war.
As the report highlights, however, the rise in nationalistic political point-scoring in the region has resulted in the rise in Islamophobia in the region once again. Calls for a “greater Serbia” or “greater Croatia”, which was used heavily during the Bosnian War, is seeing a dangerous resurgence. Since the war, from 1996 until 2017, an estimated 13 Bosnian Muslims have been killed with 20 injured in what is reported to be hate crimes in the Republic of Serbia. None of the murderers have been prosecuted as of yet.
The rise of nationalist and neo-fascist movements across Europe and the US shows a deeply troubling trend of populist politics, where societies are being divided into ethnicity, languages, and religions. With the rise in Islamophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and open racism, reports like this highlight the dangers of forgetting the lessons of the past.