“Don’t think that you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and the Muslim people maybe into extinction. Because Muslim people cannot defend themselves if there is war here.”
This public statement of Radovan Karadžić, former Bosnian Serb political leader, from October 1991, was like some kind of announcement of the genocide against Bosnian Muslims, ethnically identified as Bosniaks, less than a year before the attack on Bosnia. Karadžić grew up in the secular communist state of Yugoslavia. His Serb ultra-nationalism was some sort of cover-up for his followers, who made a war in Bosnia, from a Serbian and partly Croatian perspective, becoming the modern version of a crusade. Karadžić, who was once even a member of communist party, therefore an ‘atheist,’ at least in public, almost overnight “turned” into a hard-line Serb nationalist, when communism lost its power in Bosnia and the rest of the ex Yugoslavia, nearly 30 years ago. For him, that meant also becoming some weird type of ‘hard-line Christian’ too. That’s partly because Serb nationality is organized in a way that one has to be a member of the Eastern-Orthodox Church, if not a follower, in order to be a Serb. It would be just one of many reasons why the top clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the 1990s gave support to the Serbian warlords, even though they knew about their plans to eliminate Bosnian Muslims (both secular and more religious ones) by heavy artillery and by propaganda. Besides mass killing, systematic expulsion and deportation, the Serbian army destroyed more than six hundred mosques and masjids across Bosnia. They were destroyed mainly in an organized way, by explosives and bulldozers, not coincidentally while fighting in the frontline and not as collateral damage. The Croatian army was involved in this too, just on a lesser scale than Serbians. Of course, like in any war, there were war crimes committed at each end, including Bosnian defenders in this case, only without genocidal approach from the Bosnian side, and without systematic removal of the churches.
Journalist and political hypocrisy in the ‘coalition’
Western media, for the most part, don’t define Karadžić in terms of his religious affiliation. This made those who live in the Western world, who are not Serbians, distance themselves like it has nothing to do with them, even when some Serbian and Croatian nationalist politicians were claiming and admitting they were fighting for the Christendom, or simply “defending” the Western world from the Muslims in the Balkans area. As Swedish journalist C. Christensen once stated on the same topic – “It’s the power of words”, even if it would be just one word, like adding ‘Christian,’ to Karadžić’s name when writing about him. But the mainstream media in the West are not doing that. They avoided it after Karadžić was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment by International Tribunal in the Hague. The same goes for the recently sentenced former general of the Serb army in Bosnia, Ratko Mladić. By now, it would be fairer to label that army as a Christian army, rather than just Serbian army. Believe it or not, during the war in Bosnia, Croatian and Serbian armies were more Christian than the Bosnian army was Islamic. Only three to four brigades of the entire Bosnian army back then had sharia regulations in their organizational structures, with a limited number of hard-line Mujahideen fighters.
Someone may argue that this is all in the past, with Karadžić and Mladić in prison just like many other butchers from those years. Recently, Serbian and Croatian media are active again in their anti-Muslim and anti-Bosnian propaganda, not too different from their narratives back in the early 1990s. They are demonizing Bosniaks saying they are “threat” to Europe” or host possible “terrorist cells” with at least “10.000 radicals,” which is not backed by any pieces of evidence. The narrative is very similar to those from three decades ago, which was followed by the destruction of Bosnia and the suffering of almost the entire Bosnian population, together with the aforementioned organized destruction of ancient Islamic infrastructures across Bosnia. Back then, Christian priests were publically “blessing” tanks, cannons and other artillery which shelled and bombed civilians in the Bosniak towns and cities. They were sprinkling holy water on them, in front of photo and TV cameras.
More interesting, and maybe more tricky, is that now Serbian and Croatian officials and journalists are pretending to defend the secular and liberal values of their countries and of the West in general, even atheism. They are not mentioning Christendom too much this time, except when it seems to sound more popular. The so-called secular media is monitoring every public move coming from Bosnian Muslim representatives. Besides Croatia and Serbia, such media, especially newspapers, are dominant in Bosnia. It may seem paradoxical, but in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, most of the local media are monitoring activities related to the Muslims. For example, during the Ramadan, there is a lot of criticism about public iftars organized in Sarajevo, despite the fact that these public iftars contributed to the tourism. The secular media and a few local politicians were verbally attacking Islamic community and anyone who would defend it. Thereafter there was a failed attempt to ban girls and women with hijab from working in state institutions. Social networks and some “secular” newspapers were filled with insulting and mocking comments against hijabi ladies. Around the same time, Serbia, Croatia, and parts of Bosnia where Bosnian Croats and Serbs are the majority or ruled by their political parties gave up on secularism long time ago. Huge crosses are being erected on the Bosnian Mountains, on the peaks that are overlooking Bosniak villages and towns, by no coincidence. Rivers in Serbia are being baptized, believe it or not. Pictures of the pope, Serbian patriarchs, icons with ancient saints, statues too, are all placed in the public schools. Children are learning how to cross themselves properly, they are being taught Christian theology even in the pre-school kindergartens. Priests are suggesting to their congregation who to vote for at elections. Church holidays are state holidays. It would be fine if it wasn’t imposed on people, almost dictated to the population.
Everyone who thinks deep enough, and who is well informed, should be mindful of the recent Islamophobia in the Balkan region, with Bosnia included, for a couple of reasons at least. One would be the still fresh memories of the genocide from the 1990s and the fact genocide was partly ‘awarded,’ with almost half of the country given to the Serb chauvinist political leaders who are ruling it, and who are often denying participating in the genocide. The other one could be related to the fact Bosnia is in the heart of Europe, and that Bosnian Muslims are (together with Albanians) authentic Euro-Muslims who lived in Bosnia for centuries, meaning they can’t be treated like foreign element in their own country and land.
If a similar war or aggression happens on Bosnia again, there are small chances for the Bosnian Muslims. Their country is already administratively teared apart by the Dayton peace accord signed in Dayton, Ohio under the administration of Bill Clinton, designed by late US diplomat Richard Holbruk. There are Bosniaks who are tackling all of this, through media and social networks, but at the same time, Bosniaks are verbally divided in between the so-called secularists and atheist on one side, and traditional believers on the other side. It is important for us to bind together and be aware of what is truly happening in the region.