By Rodolfo Toe
A feud between Bosnian schools connected to Fethullah Gulen, alleged leader of the recent Turkish coup, and Turkish authorities in Ankara could exacerbate rifts within Bosnia, an international relations expert told BIRN.
“Importing conflicts from other countries into Bosnia and obliging our citizens to express their support for one of the sides will create new divisions in our society,” Esref Kenan Rasidagic, professor of international relations at the University of Sarajevo, told BIRN.
Turkish president Recep Tayyp Erdogan has criticised schools in the region allegedly connected to Gulen’s ‘Hizmet’ movement in the past.
But Turkish government denunciations of the schools have increased significantly after the attempted military coup on July 15. Turkish President Erdogan has claimed that Gulen and his followers are responsible for the coup.
Schools connected with the Hizmet movement have operated in Bosnia since the end of the 1990s war, according to the movement’s website.
After the coup attempt in Turkey, Bosnian media speculated that these institutions are currently operating under an umbrella educational organisation called ‘Bosna Sema’, that includes 15 schools in several Bosnian cities, among them Sarajevo, Zenica, Bihac, Tuzla and Mostar. Bosna Sema also operates an International University in Sarajevo.
Last week, the Turkish ambassador to Bosnia Cihad Erginay called on local authorities to take measures against these schools, without explicitly mentioning their names.
“We expect governments from all over the world to fight against this terrorist organisation because we have seen that … they infiltrate state institutions; [to counter this phenomenon] it is a duty both for state institutions and parents [who send their kids to these schools],” Erginay claimed.
Erginay stated that some countries have already taken some measures against these educational institutions, and urged the Bosnian government to do the same. Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are among those that have moved against the schools according to Croatian news agency Hina.
“This organisation doesn’t menace only Turkey,” Erginay told Sarajevo-based television Face TV.
Quarrels about the Gulen schools have also spread to Croatia. The Turkish ambassador to Croatia Ahmet Tuta told Nova TV on Monday that parts of Gulen’s ‘terrorist organisation’ were present in Croatia.
“It has a foreign language school that works [in Croatia], which is also trying to organise other activities, but the Croatian authorities are very careful and watch what they do. I hope that this cooperation between Croatian and Turkish authorities will continue,” said Tuta, adding, “all intelligence reports and information were sent to the Croatian authorities accordingly.”
While Bosnian authorities didn’t react to Erginay’s words, some members of the main Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which has developed strong ties with Erdogan in recent years, warned that schools following Gulen principles may represent a problem for the country.
“We don’t need these schools, we have our own system,” Salmir Kaplan, a SDA member of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of two Bosnian entities, told the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Kaplan argued that the best solution would be to close the schools.
Bosna Sema, in a written statement, recognised that its foundation was inspired by Gulen, but denied having any current connections to him.
“Bosna Sema schools are Bosnian schools operating with due respect to local regulations,” Orhan Hadzagic, Bosna Sema’s public relations head, told BIRN, pointing out that “apart from the initial idea of launching operations, the association has no connection with Gulen.”
Hadzagic also described the pressure from Turkish institutions as, “an action of interfering in the internal affairs of our country,” and he called on the Bosnian government to react.
Esref Kenan Rasidagic agreed that the alleged Gulen-connected schools are regulated according to Bosnian law, and that shutting them down would be very difficult.
“First of all, they are not Turkish schools, they fully operate under the Bosnian law; second, it would be not easy for Bosnian authorities to simply shut them down, since the educational system is very fragmented in our country,” Rasidagic said.
He also pointed out that, in any case, Bosnian authorities should act independently from the political quarrels in other countries.
“If we decide to close the schools that are part of the Gulen movement in Bosnia, than what will happen the day the government in Turkey changes? Should we shut down the other Turkish educational institutions as well?” he concluded.