Muslim refugees threaten Sarajevo's tradition of tolerance: Serbs and Croats are being alienated as radicals tighten their grip, writes Marcus Tanner

WHEN Amala Simic's daughter said she had refused to greet the teacher of her Sarajevo school with the Arabic word marhaba (hello), her mother feared this headstrong 10-year-old was courting trouble. 'I told her to mumble something, because I do not want her to be a black sheep,' she said. 'It could be dangerous to refuse to say marhaba when 90 per cent of her classmates are attending religious classes in the mosque.'

This story had a happy ending. 'My neighbours are both Muslims and were furious about their children greeting teachers in Arabic,' Mrs Simic said. 'They called a parents' meeting, where the head backed down and said marhaba would be voluntary.'

Now that the secession of Croatian and Serbian-held regions is an accomplished fact, Muslims of a radical hue are tightening their grip on Sarajevo, to the dismay of the capital's secular Muslims, Serbs and Croats. They fear the city's identity on the crossroads of different faiths, where Muslims, Jews and Orthodox and Catholic Christians all rub shoulders, is dying.

Immigration is changing the face of Sarajevo. The homes of departing Serbs and Croats are filled by poor Muslims from the countryside, the victims of 'ethnic cleansing'. Sarajevo's mayor claims that 120,000 Muslims have moved into the city since the war began. The incomers bring rural religiosity and ethnic passions which are foreign to the city. No matter how loyal, Serbs and Croats no longer feel welcome.

They were excluded from the new Muslim assembly, the Bosnjacki Sabor, which has become a more influential body in the rump Bosnia than Bosnia's official, multi-ethnic parliament.

'We are frightened,' said Monsignor Vinko Puljic, the Catholic Archbishop of Sarajevo. 'If Bosnia goes down the road to becoming a Muslim state I fear a tendency towards theocracy. For Muslims, religion and state are bound closer than they are for us.' He said Sarajevo was a haven of tolerance compared to other regions controlled by the Muslim-led Bosnian army. 'Catholics here come to church without danger. In central Bosnia, the priests live under house arrest and the faithful are afraid to go to church.'

The remnant of Sarajevo's Croatian middle-class despise and fear the newcomers. 'Muslim refugees want to set the rules,' said Nina, a student. 'They want to be able to urinate in the middle of the street.' Davor Scipioni, a Croat and a former soldier in the Bosnian army, said: 'I feel more and more like a refugee in my own city.'

Sarajevo's secular Muslim intellectuals do not send their children for religious education in the mosques and do not use words like marhaba. But many are embittered with the way Western governments have treated Bosnian Muslims, and seem reluctant to oppose religious militants.

'An Islamic state is the logical outcome of the policy of the West towards Bosnia,' said Zdravko Grebo, a philosopher and liberal activist. 'A few years ago Muslim radicals had no following in Bosnia. But if Serbs and Croats unify with their mother countries, what is left will be a Muslim state.'

The powerful Imam of Sarajevo, Mustafa Ceric, is seen by some as the force behind the drive to make the rump Bosnia a Muslim state. He insists Europeans lost the right to influence Bosnia when they failed to stop Christian Serbs from butchering thousands of Muslims at the beginning of the war.

'Our only crime in your eyes is that we are Muslims,' he said. 'Europe has allowed 250,000 Muslims to be killed and now they want us - the victims - to admit we are a threat. You have no moral right to tell us anything. We will make a state where Muslims will not have to apologise for being Muslim.'

The Imam contrasts the unofficial pressure in Sarajevo against Serbs, Croats and secular Muslims with the organised terror waged against Muslims in Serbian-held cities like Banja Luka. There the mosques have been dynamited and most Muslims driven out or killed.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride