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Interview: Europe’s far right and islamophobes in support of Serbian aggression

Foto: Mete H., Shutterstock

(iz). More than 26 years ago, the Dayton Accords ended the genocidal war in Bosnia, in which countless Bosniak Muslims were murdered, maimed and expelled by Serb (and Croat to a lesser degree) soldiery.

Now, after more than a quarter of a century, bloody nationalism is once again dangerously loud. A first step is the de facto withdrawal of the entity of a “Serb Republic” from the country’s state structure. Serb leader Dodik found help not only in Belgrade, but also in Hungary and above all in Moscow. So far, there has been no significant reaction from the USA or the EU.

We spoke to the Bosnian journalist and observer Harun Karčić about this. He sees the West as ill-prepared and does not hold out much hope for countries like Turkey or the “Muslim world.” Harun Karčić is the editor and host of a foreign affairs show on Al Jazeera‘s Balkan languages channel. Over the past decade, he has authored numerous articles on Islam in post-communist Bosnia and Herzegovina and the role played by foreign powers in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and more recently China and Russia.

Islamische Zeitung: Dear Harun Karčić, Milorad Dodik, political leader of Republika Srpska, recently announced the withdrawal of his political entity from the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina. New, pro-Serbian laws are to be passed within six months. What is the wider background for this step?

Harun Karčić: Milorad Dodik has been taking about his desire for the Republic of Srpska to break away from Bosnia and Herzegovina and join neighboring Serbia for many years. In fact, it is an old plan that Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić first espoused in the early 1990s, so what Dodik is advocating now is essentially a continuation of their plan.

The idea is simple – kill or expel all non-Serbs living in eastern and northern Bosnia and then declare independence and join neighboring Serbia. The first step has been achieved, now the next steps will follow. This is all happening at a very difficult moment: the EU and USA are preoccupied with Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine; islamophobia is rising throughout Europe; far-right parties are also on the rise; the Muslim world is in a mess and Turkey, the only regional power, is in a deep economic crisis. Internally, Bosniak Muslims are more divided than ever.

Islamische Zeitung: Many people may not be aware of what this entity is. What is it all about?

Harun Karčić: Back in 1991, Bosnian Serbs decided they did not want to live with their Bosniak Muslim and Croat Catholic neighbors, so they formed their own Serb Autonomous Regions which in 1992 merged to become the The Republic of Srpska.

They killed and expelled almost all Bosniaks and Croats from their territory, which under the Dayton Peace Agreement received 49 per cent of the country. The other entity is called Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Bosniaks and Croats are concentrated, and makes up 51 per cent. Bosnian Serbs in have a high degree of autonomy – their own parliament and government, judiciary, and police force.

The Federation, on the other hand, is divided into ten Swiss-styled cantons, each of which has a high degree of autonomy. There is a central government, however, it is weak and prone to vetoes by either of the three ethnic groups. However, this was the only compromise solution achieved during the Dayton Peace Agreement. 

Islamische Zeitung: The present order in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the result of the Dayton Agreement (1995). Is the renewed escalation from the Serbian side inherent in the construction of the present state itself?

Harun Karčić: Bosnian Muslims, or Balkan Muslims in general, have been viewed as the physical remnants of the much-detested Ottoman Empire by their Christian neighbours. What happened in Bosnia in 1992-1995 is no different from the previous atrocities and expulsions against Muslims in Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria or Greece over the past 150 years. Every European political disorder or security crisis over the past 150-200 years was used as a pretext to solve the ‘Eastern Question’, in other words, to expel what remains of Balkan Muslims. 

Islamische Zeitung: Dear Harun Karčić, the people in Bosnia are the first to be directly affected by such radicalisation. How do they perceive the sabre-rattling of the Serbs?

Harun Karčić: Even after the last war, Bosnian Muslims did not take any acts of revenge against their Serb neighbours. This is very interesting to note. They placed their complete faith in the international community and in the ICTY Tribunal in The Hague which sentenced several high profiled Serb politicians and military commanders to long prison sentences for genocide and crimes against humanity. Serb and Croat nationalists, as well as ill-intentioned Western journalists, have often concluded that the relatively small number of Bosnian Muslims adopting a Salafi was of practicing Islam was a sign of Bosnian Muslims being radicalized. This is not true. Religious revival in the post-communist Balkans and transnational religious trends are linked to newly discovered religious freedoms and not interconnected with the war. Small numbers may have been, but also bear in mind that many genocide survivors from Srebrenica found solace in alcohol, and I know quite several them. 

Islamische Zeitung: Some reactions were heard from individual politicians in the USA and the EU. Are foreign countries and multinational organisations doing enough to prevent an increase in tensions?

Harun Karčić: No, we are essentially on our own. We are too Muslim to the EU, and too European to the wider Muslim world. The world is in a very tense situation. The EU and US are more concerned with Russia’s postures towards Ukraine and how it might threaten the wider NATO alliance.

The EU has never had the strength to speak with one voice, so the most they can do is issue communiques that no one reads. Additionally, far right nationalism is rising in the EU, so we even have countries such as Hungary which now support Serb secessionists. The only media outlet which has been vocally supporting Bosniak Muslims and which thoroughly understands the situation is Israel’s Haaretz.

Turkey is in an economic crisis and is not too interested in Bosnia; the Arab states are in a post-Arab Spring mess; Muslim majority countries in Asia are not closely following the situation in the Balkans. They will most likely start collecting donations for Bosnian Muslims once they see us slaughtered on TV.  

Islamische Zeitung: Neighbouring countries such as Hungary, but above all Russia, support or help the Serbian actions. What are the interests of these actors?

Harun Karčić: Russia does not want Bosnia to join NATO, that’s why they would rather have Bosnia break up or remain a frozen conflict. Bosnian Muslims are, compared to Serbs and Croats, most eager to join NATO and the EU. Russia also has traditional Orthodox Christian ties with Serbs. Hungary has found a new alliance with Bosnian Serbs – they are both Islamophobic and far-right. They see eye to eye when it comes to Muslims in Europe. It is a major success for Milorad Dodik to have an ally in the EU and NATO. 

Islamische Zeitung: One of our Bosniak writers recently said that young Bosniaks, Croats and also Serbs are facing the same challenges and problems like youth unemployment or lack of opportunities. Can the new generation still be enthusiastic about a national-racist rhetoric of a Dodik?

Harun Karčić: Unemployment and corruption are problems all three ethnic groups face, however, Serb and Croat nationalism and their hatred towards Bosnian Muslims is an overriding factor. The younger generation of Serb and Croat nationalists is not different from the old, maybe even worse. They grew up listening to parallel historical narratives about the 1992-95 war and are more hateful towards Bosnian Muslims than their parents. They are genocide deniers and very islamophobic. Exceptions are rare, I only know a few Serbs who openly admit that Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims. 

Tuisa Hilft - Kurban

I’m not at all optimistic about Balkan Muslims. This is very much reminiscent of the final years of Granada.