Bosnian vision that bled to death: Dreamer or fundamentalist? Whatever the truth, says Tony Barber, war has killed off Alija Izetbegovic's hopes for his homeland

THE DESTRUCTION of Yugoslavia is, in one sense, the story of six men. They are the presidents of the republics that constituted the now defunct state. Five have Communist backgrounds: Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, Milan Kucan of Slovenia, Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia, and Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro. Each has successfully ridden the tiger of civil war; each is still in power.

The sixth man is a former anti- Communist dissident, jailed twice for his beliefs. Today his republic is a war zone, its capital city ravaged, its biggest nationality pinned into miserable enclaves, its economy bleeding to death, its men killing each other with artillery shells and rifles, its women widowed, its children orphaned. He is Alija Izetbegovic, the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia is a member of the United Nations, a country whose declaration of independence last year was encouraged by the United States and the European Community. But the parents have deserted their infant. By the end of this year, even the diplomatic fiction of a united Bosnia will probably have been abandoned. Instead there will be Serbian Bosnia, poised to merge with Serbia, Croatian Bosnia, poised to merge with Croatia, and a few slithers of land for the Muslims.

Some people - not least, Serbs and Croats - believe Mr Izetbegovic shares responsibility for the Bosnian catastrophe. At best, they say, he clung stubbornly to a false dream: a single Bosnian state in which Muslims, Serbs and Croats would share power and respect each other's rights. At worst, his enemies allege, he was a Muslim fundamentalist out to create an Islamic state in Europe, and he deserved the retribution inflicted by the Serbs and Croats.

Mr Izetbegovic was born in the northern Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac on 8 August, 1925. As a teenager, he experienced the horrors of the Yugoslav civil war of the 1940s. Many of the worst atrocities occurred in Bosnia, and the Communist victors wasted no time in executing and imprisoning their enemies. In Bosnia, they turned their attention on the Young Muslims, an organisation committed to defending Bosnia's Muslim Slav people. Tito and his comrades labelled the group terrorist and outlawed it.

Mr Izetbegovic had just started his law studies at Sarajevo University when a police informer denounced him as a member of the Young Muslims. He was sentenced in 1946 to three years in prison for 'pan-Islamic' activities - that is, alleged attempts to set up an Islamic state. After his release, he resumed his education and practised law, but the security police kept a close eye on him.

They took a particular interest in his efforts to develop a theory of Islam that was compatible with modern civilisation. In his major works, such as Islam Between East and West and Problems of the Islamic Renaissance, he makes clear his devotion to Islam and advocates a 'moral renewal' in the Muslim world. But he contends that Muslims living in a multi-cultural country should not have intransigent social attitudes.

By 1983, the Communist authorities had had enough and put Mr Izetbegovic and 12 other Muslims on trial for 'counter-revolutionary acts derived from Muslim nationalism'. The future Bosnian president received a 14-year sentence, of which he served almost six years.

The main charge against him - and the one that Serbian and Croatian nationalists continue to cite - concerned a 50-page treatise, The Islamic Declaration, that he had written in 1970. The prosecutors said the work showed that Mr Izetbegovic wanted to create an ethnically pure Muslim state out of Bosnia, Kosovo and other Muslim-inhabited parts of Yugoslavia. They called it 'the modernised platform of the former terrorist organisation, the Young Muslims'.

In his defence, Mr Izetbegovic said his treatise 'offers a vision of a democratic and humanistic social order'. The work praises Pakistan as a model for 'the introduction of an Islamic order under modern conditions', but also argues that 'the Islamic order can only be established in countries where Muslims represent the majority of the population'.

After the Communists lost their grip on power in 1990, Mr Izetbegovic founded a political party called the Party of Democratic Action (PDA). It rapidly won favour with Bosnia's Muslims. In December 1990, when Bosnia held free elections, the PDA won 86 of the 240 seats in Bosnia's assembly. But the vote split on ethnic lines: Serbs voted for the Serbian Democratic Party, which won 72 seats, and Croats voted for the Croatian Democratic Community, which won 44 seats.

As the leader of the largest party, Mr Izetbegovic became Bosnia's president. At this stage he did not want an independent Bosnia. His solution to Yugoslavia's troubles was to turn the country into a loose, confederal union with most powers devolved to republics and regions. It was, however, too late. Croatia was hell-bent on full independence, and Serbia was hell-bent on bolstering the position of Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia.

The outbreak of war in June 1991 concentrated the attentions of Mr Milosevic and Mr Tudjman on Bosnia. Both had proxies in the republic, eager to seize land at the Muslims' expense. Whether Mr Izetbegovic could have halted Bosnia's break-up is debatable. But his determination to keep Bosnia together as a multi-national republic with an active central government meant that, while the Serbs and Croats acquired weapons and drew up maps of partition, the lightly armed Muslims grew ever more vulnerable.

Mr Izetbegovic may also have misjudged the mood of the Bosnian Serbs. When Serbian militants threw up barricades in Sarajevo in March 1992, he led a huge citizens' protest around the city and the barricades came down. The president took this as a sign that ordinary people's desire for peace would triumph over the ambitions of the extremists. It was not so. War broke out in April, Muslim towns were overrun in eastern Bosnia, and Sarajevo came under siege. In May, Serbian forces in Sarajevo kidnapped Mr Izetbegovic as he returned from peace talks in Lisbon. He was held for 24 hours until the EC and UN secured his release.

In 15 months of war, he has argued repeatedly that the Muslim- led government forces could reverse the Serbian and Croatian conquests if the UN arms embargo was lifted. He did not like the Vance-Owen plan for a decentralised Bosnia of 10 mainly ethnically-based provinces, but he eventually signed it - only to see the West tear it up.

Nothing remains of his original vision for his homeland. Mr Izetbegovic feels a bitter sense of betrayal - by the West, which told him it believed in Bosnian independence, by the United Nations, which promised to protect his people, and by Serbs and Croats, who talked peace but dealt in war.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick