Muslim refugees threaten Sarajevo's tradition of tolerance: Serbs and Croats are being alienated as radicals tighten their grip, writes Marcus Tanner
Tuesday 05 October 1993
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.
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