Aug 26, 2011

Sanjak: Together We Are Stronger!

Sanjak’s Islamic communities need to work together if the realization of their civil and political rights is going to be achieved

Below is an article published by The Economist. Image above is from The Economist.

SANDZAK, admits Muamer Zukorlic, a prominent Muslim leader in the region, is not going to be the Dubai of the Balkans. But only give us autonomy, he tells its people, and “you’ll live like they do in Monaco!” Politicians promise many outlandish things, but it seems particularly cruel to suggest to citizens of this marginal region in south-west Serbia that they could soon be living it up like residents of the balmy tax haven.

Mr Zukorlic’s strident calls for autonomy are causing concern about this Serbian borderland. It has a population of 236,000, with a slight majority of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). Some once feared it could become an ethnic flashpoint, as Kosovo did. Nermin Gicic, who teaches at Mr Zukorlic’s Islamic Faculty, says that his boss’s demand would cover not just Serbian Sandzak but the other half of the region, over the border in Montenegro. But it would not challenge the sovereignty of either state, he says, nor would it be based on ethnicity.

Few think the calls for autonomy will come to much. Some in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, think that encouraging Mr Zukorlic is a good way to rattle the Serbs. But in April Bakir Izetbegovic, a senior Bosniak leader, distanced himself from Mr Zukorlic after meeting the Serbian and Turkish presidents.

Besides his university Mr Zukorlic runs kindergartens, a good slice of the media and now political parties in Sandzak. He has set up an institute to examine Serbian crimes against Bosniaks throughout history. With all this he is filling a vacuum: the two Sandzak Bosniaks in the Serbian government, says Mr Gicic, are interested only in “guarding their comfortable chairs in Belgrade”. But Mr Zukorlic has his detractors. His recent bout of hectic activity is about “controlling everything,” says Sead Biberovic, a civic activist in Novi Pazar, Sandzak’s main town.

Serbia’s Muslims, of whom Sandzak’s Bosniaks form a majority, are split among two rival organisations. Politics is not the only issue. Serbia’s parliament is considering restoring assets seized under the communist regime. In Sandzak a huge amount of community property is at stake, but nothing will be returned so long as the groups are squabbling.

Mr Zukorlic at least enjoys the support of Mustafa Ceric, the leader of Bosnia’s Muslims. On August 19th Mr Ceric visited Sandzak, causing trouble with some politically charged comments. Next year, when his term expires, Mr Zukorlic may launch a bid to succeed him. (Mr Ceric himself aspires to become an official leader of all Europe’s Muslims.)

Sandzak’s Bosniaks say they are under-represented in state institutions like the police. But they are more worried about jobs and corruption. One recent graduate says that in order to get work in a local school, she would have to bribe the head teacher with several years’ worth of salary.