By Ivana Jovanovic
The varied reactions in Serbia continue after the country’s Islamic Community chief mufti Muamer Zukorlic announced that a unique global organisation — World Bosniak Congress (WBC) — will seek to unite all Bosniaks and a UN seat.
“In the forthcoming months, a World Bosniak Congress will be formed as an umbrella organisation of all Bosniaks in the world, which will … seek representation at the UN based on the Jewish World Congress model,” Zukorlic said.
He argued that the Jewish people had obtained their position in the UN because they suffered a Holocaust; as the Bosniaks, having suffered genocide themselves, have earned a right to their own place in the world organisation.
In an attempt to put the announcement in context, Bosniak National Council President Samir Tandir told SETimes: “Given that [a Bosniak] nation state does not exist and that Bosniaks have been living autochthonous in the Sandzak area in Serbia and Montenegro but are discriminated against and endangered, and given that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not able to help them, additional protection mechanisms are needed. One of them is the said World Bosniak Congress.”
Tandir added the goal is noble and not a threat to others, but to achieve it, support is expected from friends in the international community while relying on the credentials, experience and global recognition of Zukorlic and his supreme religious authority based in Sarajevo, Reis Ulema Mustafa Ceric.
Many however, question whether a religious community can obtain a seat in the UN. The bloc’s Charter states membership is open to all peaceful states that accept the obligations and are capable and willing to fulfill them.
“The UN accepts entities — states — governments, but does not give seats to religious entities. Israel is a UN member, but the Jewish religious communities of Serbia, Albania or France are not. No Arab community from the Arab UN member states has a seat,” sociologist of religion Professor Mirko Djordjevic told SETimes.
Djordjevic explained this is a political initiative that aims at autonomy for Sandzak, Zukorlic’s actual goal.
Belgrade mufti Muhamed Jusufspahic however, often viewed as Zukorlic’s political opponent and competitor, countered by drawing a fine line between religion and nationality.
“That struggle for the national question I understand and accept. But that is not a question of the Islamic Community as an institution or of other peoples which are Muslim. However, to better realise it, the idea has to be supported by the religious authorities among the Bosniaks but not led by them,” Jusufspahic told SETimes.
He added that the idea for unification as an essential need for any people threatened by their neighbours.
But Djordjevic argues an attempt at autonomy for Sandzak cannot be initiated solely by one nationality or faith living there, as there are others.
“Zukorlic’s insistence can have big political consequences because it will destabilise Sandzak as well as the region,” he explains.
Aware of the danger, most Serbian officials have been cautious not to make statements or take a position.
Labour and Social Policy Minister Rasim Ljajic, however, scoffed at the idea.
“It would be best if they demand that [Zukorlic] become a UN secretary-general. That is equivalent to what he proposed,” Ljajic said.
Some experts say the comparison with the World Jewish Congress is not suitable because it is one of many organisations in the UN which, as NGOs, cannot influence UN decisions. Nor will the World Jewish Congress view the comparison openly.
But experts also claim the initiative is indirectly aided by the fact the Western powers want to show they are positive towards Muslims.
Some Bosniaks say Zukorlic and Ceric have no right or legitimacy to speak as if they are leaders of all Bosniaks.
“This is solely a pre-election campaign. … Very few Bosniaks respect them, not to speak of the [scant] diplomatic support they have,” Aida Corovic, president of the NGO Urban said.