Here's the latest in our regular series of posts detailing Alija Izetbegovic's Nazi past. This one is from that 'obscure' and 'conspiracist' 'Chetnik' newspaper The New York Times.
Oliver Kamm v David Binder and the New York Times? Go for it Ollie!
October 20, 2003
Alija Izetbegovic, Muslim Who Led Bosnia, Dies at 78
By DAVID BINDER
Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian president whose dream of a Muslim-led independent Bosnia and Herzegovina was transformed by Balkan ethnic rivalries into a protracted war, died Sunday in Sarajevo. He was 78 years old.
The cause of death was heart disease complicated by injuries he suffered in a fall at home, The Associated Press said.
In a sense, he became the father of a republic that was the first Bosnian state since a short-lived medieval kingdom. But it was a profoundly divided country whose very creation in 1992 provoked a fierce internecine battle between Muslims, Serbs and Croats — wars in which some 200,000 people were killed and more than were one million driven from their homes. Even after the American-brokered Dayton peace accord ended 42 months of fighting late in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina remained a state administered largely as an international protectorate with few prospects for future unity.
Imprisoned for his Islamic convictions during Yugoslavia's Communist era, Mr. Izetbegovic (pronounced ih-zett-BEH-go-vitch) built a Muslim political organization in 1990, as the old Yugoslavia began to dissolve into a maelstrom of competing nationalisms. After winning elections late that year, Mr. Izetbegovic led his republic toward independence that was supported by the West but not by the Serbs who made up some one-third of the prewar population.
The Bosnian Serbs had repeatedly warned of war if Mr. Izetbegovic declared independence. Gambling that international recognition would provide protection, he declared independence on April 6, 1992.
A sense of mission clearly drove him. "I would sacrifice peace in order to win sovereignty for Bosnia," he said early in his presidency, "but for that peace in Bosnia, I would not sacrifice sovereignty."
But he overestimated the commitment of the West to an independent Bosnia and underestimated the determination of the Serbs.
The Bosnian Serbs, backed by Serbia itself, initially enjoyed superior firepower and laid siege to Sarajevo, shelling the city that had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics for all three and a half years of the war.
The Serbs claimed they were battling "Islamic fundamentalism," although the Muslims of Bosnia were overwhelmingly a secular people. In his strong religious faith, Mr. Izetbegovic was the exception rather than the rule.
As the support of Serbia eroded and Mr. Izetbegovic's Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army improved, the three sides fought to an effective military stalemate. Ultimately, after a NATO bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs in the late summer of 1995, this balance became the basis for a peace settlement and the silencing of the guns.
By then, Bosnia was a shambles: a country divided along ethnic lines with less than a third of the territory under the control of Mr. Izetbegovic's government, its cities shattered and many of its smaller towns razed.
Alija Izetbegovic was born on Aug. 8, 1925, in Bosanski Samac, a town in northern Bosnia now under the control of Bosnian Serbs. His father was a bookkeeper. The family moved to Sarajevo in the 1930's. He grew up among the Slavic Muslims who already in the last decades of the 19th century had developed a strong sense of identity, even of nationhood.
During World War II, when Bosnia became part of the puppet-Nazi state of the Croatian Ustashe, Mr. Izetbegovic joined the Young Muslims, a group torn between siding with the German-sponsored Handzar divisions organized by the German SS or with the Yugoslav Communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. Mr. Izetbegovic supported the Handzars.
After Tito's Communist government was established in 1946, a military court sentenced Mr. Izetbegovic to three years in prison for his wartime activities. Once free, he earned a law degree at Sarajevo University and remained engaged in politics.
He is survived by his first wife, Halida, who lives in Turkey; a son, Bakir; two daughters, Leila Aksami and Sabina; his second wife, Melika; and his third wife, Amira, whom he married in 1993 under Shariah, the Islamic code of law. In February 1995, the newspaper Slobodna Bosna published congratulations to him on his fourth marriage, without naming the woman.
His major work, "Islam between East and West," published in 1980, was, by the author's definition, "not a book of theology" but an attempt to define the "place of Islam in the general spectrum of ideas." The book argues that "Islam is more than a religion."
But Mr. Izetbegovic became better known for a 1970 manifesto entitled "The Islamic Declaration" that was widely brandished during the Bosnian war by Serbs as "proof" that fundamentalism was about to engulf Bosnia and entrench itself in Europe.
Circulated among Bosnian Muslims, the declaration was seized upon by the Communist government in 1983 as grounds for Mr. Izetbegovic's arrest on charges of conspiring to create a Muslim state. Convicted with 12 others, he received a 14-year sentence but was released in 1988.
His two terms in prison appeared to imbue Mr. Izetbegovic with a patience and implacability that gave him the inner strength to endure a grueling war as the symbol of his beleaguered people. But his spells of other-worldliness also maddened many international interlocutors.
As Yugoslavia began to fall apart, Mr. Izetbegovic founded the Party of Democratic Action, a Muslim grouping which triumphed in Bosnia's first non-Communist elections because Muslims then had a plurality of about 40 percent in the republic.
At first, the ethnic parties formed a coalition with Mr. Izetbegovic as president. A Serb became speaker of Parliament and a Croat was named as prime minister. But tensions soon became overwhelming.
During the death throes of Yugoslavia, Mr. Izetbegovic often showed prudence. At one stage, he argued for a loose confederation that might preserve the state.
By January 1992, after Croatia and Slovenia had seceded and won international recognition, Mr. Izetbegovic's options had narrowed: either independence from Slobodan Milosevic's truncated Yugoslavia, with the risk of war, or a life within it that could become as intolerable for Bosnia's Muslims as it had become for Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
Indecision gripped Mr. Izetbegovic, who had made scant preparation for war. On Feb. 23, in Lisbon, he signed, along with leaders of Bosnia's Croats and Serbs, a European-brokered agreement creating a confederal structure for the three Bosnian ethnic groups. A few days later, influenced by what he saw as an encouraging conversation with Warren Zimmermann, the United States ambassador, he changed his mind.
The Izetbegovic government then staged a countrywide referendum on the issue of Bosnian independence. Muslims and Croats endorsed independence by 99.4 percent while the Serbs boycotted a vote their leaders said was illegal.
Street fighting broke out in Sarajevo on April 5. The next day, the European Union recognized Bosnia, and the United States did so a day later. By then, the Serbs were already shelling Sarajevo, and a concerted campaign to drive Muslims from their homes along the Drina, Bosna and Sava rivers in eastern and northern Bosnia had begun.
Through the summer, Bosnian Serb forces seized 70 percent of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expelling hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Many were herded into detention camps where men of fighting age were sometimes executed; women and children were pushed across the lines after suffering abuse and humiliation.
With neither the United States nor the European Union ready to go to war for the state they had recognized, Mr. Izetbegovic turned increasingly to Islamic states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya, for assistance. Osama bin Laden visited him in Sarajevo in 1993 and sponsored some fighters from Arabic countries to fight on the Muslims' side in Bosnia, according to a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Through more than three years of war, there were repeated international efforts to make peace. But Mr. Izetbegovic's resolve stiffened as his army grew stronger, and an American-brokered truce with the Croats in March 1994 helped him concentrate on battling the Serbs.
Determined to cut losses and establish contiguous territory in a war that was now going against them, Gen. Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb forces overran the eastern Muslim enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa in the summer of 1995. The massacre of thousands of Muslims from Srebrenica by General Mladic's forces drew international condemnation and helped galvanize the United States and other Western powers into ending the war.
The ultimate determination of Mr. Milosevic to end the war and the defeat of Serb forces in Croatia also stiffened a new resolve within the Clinton administration and at NATO. Beginning on Aug. 30, 1995, American-led NATO forces hit the Serbs with air raids that turned the tide of the war.
Mr. Izetbegovic remained reluctant to the last to accept the division of Bosnia. By the terms of the Dayton accords, 51 percent of Bosnia went to the uneasy alliance of Muslims and Croats, while 49 percent went to a Serbian republic.
The nationalist leaders who signed the Dayton accords ending the violence were Mr. Izetbegovic; Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian president who died in 1999; and Mr. Milosevic, who is on trial at The Hague, accused of war crimes.
Mr. Izetbegovic continued to serve as president of Bosnia, though the position eventually became a three-person office. He stepped down in October 2000.