Portrait of Bakir Izetbegovic

Son of the State's Founder and Winner of the Bosnian Elections

Bakir Izetbegovic, son of Alija Izetbegovic – the founder of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina – has been elected the Bosnian Muslims' representative in the joint presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enver Robelli sends us this portrait

photo: AP
Bakir Izetbegovic says he intends to improve relations between Bosniaks, Serbs and Kroats. "I am the right person for this process of reconciliation," he claims

​​ The Bosniaks are the largest ethnic group in this Balkan state, ahead of the Serbs and the Croats. Although formally Muslims, not all Bosniaks are strict observers of Islam. In larger cities such as Sarajevo or Tuzla in particular, many define themselves as Bosniaks for the simple reason that they are not (Orthodox) Serbs or (Catholic) Croats.

In the hour of his triumph, Bakir Izetbegovic adopted a conciliatory tone. The newly elected representative of the Bosnian Muslims in the three-person joint presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina says that he wants to reach out to all ethnic groups and promote co-operation in the next four years. This, he says, is the only way to take the paralysed republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina forward.

Izetbegovic is soliciting the trust of his Serb and Croat colleagues in the joint presidency. The three members of the presidency are supposed to represent their country and shape its foreign and security policies. Chairmanship of the presidency rotates every eight months because Bosnia and Herzegovina is a highly complex state made up of the Croat-Muslim Federation and the Bosnian Serb constituent republic, Republika Srpska.

Scathing criticism and reconciliation

In Sarajevo, Bakir Izetbegovic is simply referred to as "the son". He benefits from the reputation of his father, Alija Izetbegovic, who died in 2003 and who, as the first president of the Bosnian state, organised resistance to Serb aggression in the 1990s.

2010 commemoration ceremony and burial for 775 newly identified murdered Bosniaks in Srebrenica (photo: AP)
In 1995, more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by units of the Army of Republika Srpska. The Srebrenica massacre is still one of the major obstacles to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina

​​ The Bosnian tragedy left its mark on Bakir Izetbegovic from the word go. From 4 April 1992 to 29 February 1996, when the Yugoslav army and Serb militia laid siege to Sarajevo, he served his father as an advisor and head of cabinet. "I experienced history at close quarters and learned the political trade from my father," says the 54-year-old. His criticism of the existence of the Bosnian Serbian constituent republic has been correspondingly scathing in the past. According to Izetbegovic, the Republika Srpska is "founded on violence, injustice, dreadful ethnic cleansing, mass graves, Srebrenica, and routine mass rapes of women".

He toned down his rhetoric for the election campaign. Izetbegovic knows that calls for the dissolution of the Republika Srpska only strengthen the hand of nationalist Serbs and their break-away tendencies. This is why he is calling for a policy of gradual rapprochement. "We Bosniaks [i.e. the Muslims] share the country with Serbs and Croats and have a common border with Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. We have to improve relations," he emphasises, adding "I believe that I am the right person for this process of reconciliation."

photo: Wikipedia
Alija Izetbegovic was the first president of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He served in this role from 1990 til 1996. He was also the author of several books, most notably Islam Between East and West and the Islamic Declaration

​​ He went on to say that he sees no need to provide evidence of his patriotic convictions; people are well aware of what he has done to uphold Bosnia.

Bakir Izetbegovic was born in 1956 in Sarajevo, where he studied architecture. That was in the early 1980s, when his father was sentenced to 14 years in prison by the communist regime because of his "Islamic Declaration", which called for a national and religious Muslim revival.

Shortly before the collapse of Yugoslavia, Alija Izetbegovic founded the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which remains the most important Muslim political force in the country to this day. His son Bakir is a leading member of the SDA. It is said in Sarajevo that he controls the intransparent construction business in the capital. He is married to a gynaecologist; the couple has one adult daughter.

Enver Robelli

© Süddeutsche Zeitung/Qantara.de 2010

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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