The Denial of Bosnia

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Pennsylvania University Press, 2000 - 156 pages
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In 1997, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, one of Bosnia's leading public intellectuals, was scheduled to lecture on Bosnia at Stanford University but was unexpectedly denied an entry visa by American authorities. This book, first published in Bosnia in 1998, is an expanded version of that lecture. It is an indictment of the partition of Bosnia, formalized in 1995 by the Dayton Accord. It is also a plea for Bosnia's communities to reject ethnic segregation and restore mutual trust. For the first time, English-speaking readers can hear this important voice of dissent from within Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mahmutcehajic (pronounced “ma-moot-che-HI-itch”) argues for the history and reality of a Bosnia-Herzegovina based upon a model of “unity in diversity.” He shows that ethnic and religious cultures have coexisted in Bosnia for centuries. Partitioning of Bosnia, therefore, should have been unthinkable except that a multi-ethnic, multi-faith Bosnia stood squarely in the way of Croatian and Serbian leaders determined to enact their own nationalist programs. The decisive moment came when the international community accepted the Serb-Croat argument that ancient ethnic hatreds were endemic to Bosnia. At that point, ethnic segregation became not only acceptable but desirable. With the complicity of Western powers, Serbs and Croats proceeded to carve out ethnically cleansed states. Mahmutcehajic examines the reasons why Western liberal democracies have regarded with sympathy the struggles of Serbia and Croatia for national recognition, while viewing Bosnia's multicultural society with suspicion. As one of Bosnia's former political leaders in the early peace talks, he describes with authority how the parties were often physically aligned during formal talks, with Bosniak negotiators on one side of the table and everybody else—Serb, Croat, and international representatives—on the other. In the end, justice was subverted and the final solution justified on the basis of an intractable “conflict of civilizations."

Mahmutcehajic confronts the religious dimension of the Bosnian dilemma with refreshing honesty. As a Bosniak committed to interreligious dialogue, he calls for more than simple toleration among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. He remembers that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the same deity, and it is this common transcendent perspective that should open the door to the acceptance and celebration of religious diversity. Only in this way will Bosnia reclaim its unique civilization.

The Denial of Bosnia has dire implications for the future of a Europe searching for a viable post–Cold War order. Will Europe accept ethnic segregation as a solution to the contradictions of ethnic diversity or find a way to protect and build upon this diversity? Bosnia, though currently divided and shaken to its foundations, could become a model for European progress. The greatest danger is for Bosnia to be declared just another ethnoreligious entity, in this case a “Muslim State” ghettoized inside of Europe. If protected and allowed to develop, however, Bosnia too could find a place in the new European order.

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About the author (2000)

Rusmir Mahmut&_ehaji&_ is one of Bosnia's leading public intellectuals. A dissident during the Communist years, he was elected Vice President of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Government in 1991, serving under Alija Izetbegovic and holding the post of Minister of Energy, Mining, and Industry. He played a critical role in attempts to gain international recognition for Bosnia-Herzegovina but resigned from all government functions at the end of 1993, in protest against the acceptance by the greater part of the political establishment that Bosnia should be divided into ethnic parts.

Since then he initiated the founding of the International Forum 'Bosnia' a non-government organization that brings together the leading intellectuals of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the effort to create and strengthen a civil society founded on dialogue and trust, human rights and the rule of law.

Mahmut&_ehaji&_ was born in 1948 in Stolac (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He graduated in 1973 from the University of Sarajevo and received his MA in 1975 and his Ph.D. in 1980 from Zagreb University. He specialized at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy in 1982, and conducted his postdoctoral studies at the Catholic University at Leuven (Belgium).

He has worked as a researcher and Manager of the Institute of Safety of the Sarajevo University and as the Manager of the Institute of Ergonomics at the same University. Between 1985 and 1991 he was professor and dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of Osijek University (Croatia). In addition to holding numerous academic, professional, and political posts, he was also president of the editorial board of the philosophy journal Dialogue.

He is now co-editor of the journal Forum Bosnae. In his field of scientific specialization he has published more than one hundred professional and scientific works including eight books. In addition, he has published eighteen prose books, philosophical and political essays, and several translations in the Bosnian language.

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