By Bojana Milovanovic
Serbian Islamic Community Mufti Muamer Zukorlic — a fierce critic of Serbian authorities who believes Bosniak rights are not being observed — hoped to change the image of minority rights in Serbia when he ran in the May 6th presidential race.
“Minority members, since I understand you best, know that, if you elect me as president, your interests will be best protected,” Zukorlic said.
He said that Sandzak, a region with a Bosniak majority, should have greater autonomy and closer relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He believes that Serbia has not sufficiently developed institutions that need to protect Bosniaks national and cultural identity.
Although his message did not prevail — he won just 1.39% of votes — he still managed to win the majority in Novi Pazar, home to his Islamic Community.
In Novi Pazar, 33% of citizens voted for Zukorlic, while Democratic Party candidate Boris Tadic won 29%. Novi Pazar — with 110,000 inhabitants — has the youngest population in Serbia. About 18% of the population are Serbs, the rest are Bosniaks.
But Novi Pazar Mayor Meho Mahmutovic told SETimes that Bosniaks’ rights are not in jeopardy, as they have several political parties and are involved in all levels of power.
“Perhaps certain rights, which were problematic in the past, can be enhanced further. We offer proposals for solving each problem and that is done through state institutions. Problems have been identified and we are working on them,” Mahmutovic said.
One of the issues currently being dealt with is the insufficient presence of Bosniaks in the Novi Pazar police. “Through a positive discrimination system, the police will employ a larger number of Bosniaks and that problem will be solved,” Mahmutovic said.
Belgrade salesman Stefan Radic, 24, told SETimes that the minorities in Serbia have even greater rights than the majority population.
“Everyone is always complaining and pressuring Serbia over minority rights, but I don’t see that endangerment. Because of so much supervision and attention, minorities are even more protected than us Serbs,” Radic said.
Novi Pazar is one of the rare cities with many children and few schools, making it necessary for three shifts in schools.
“In collaboration with the education ministry, we have decided to build two elementary schools this year and we will build another one or two in the coming period. That way we will take the strain off of existing schools and solve the problem of the third shift,” Mahmutovic said.
He advocates Serbia’s association with EU, a policy of peace and economic recovery, not only of Novi Pazar but of the entire Sandzak region.
“The stabilisation of economic and political conditions will allow for investors to come to Novi Pazar and Sandzak, which will result in the employment of young people. Youth should be provided with conditions that will help them stay in the city,” said Mahmutovic.
Mirza Seirbegovic, 35, owns a private shop in Belgrade. He came to Serbia after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997. He tells SETimes he does not feel threatened as a Bosniak in Serbia, but adds there are “various ill-meaning people.”
“Nothing horrific has ever happened to me, but I am aware of unpleasant looks by certain people when they hear my name and realise of what nationality I am. Still, I have friends who don’t care about that and I’m surrounded by them,” Seirbegovic said.