You may have heard of the storm that Ivo Josipovic’s interview to Reuters earlier this week has caused in Bosnia. In relation to the current conflicts in the Arab world, Croatia’s president feared ““some kind of radicalization” in Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans with large Muslim populations.
Especially we have a sensitive situation because we are neighbouring Bosnia with many Muslims, and we hope that this conflict, especially Libya, will not influence relations between different nationalities in Bosnia and neighbouring countries.
Customarily, different actors of public life in Sarajevo were quick to take offence, so many were up in arms over Josipovic’s linking of the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) with the Arab world. No big surprise there, except that for once, they were right to be angry.
You can have your opinion on whether and when a Croatian president should talk about religious radicalization in neighboring countries, but the point here is that what Josipovic said is nonsense. Islamic radicalization has been a fairly important issue across the Balkans, from Bulgaria to Bosnia, for two decades now, but the notion that the current upheavals in the Arab world would somehow radicalize Bosnian Muslims, causing deterioration of their relations with other ethnic groups in Bosnia, is plainly wrong.
There is simply no history of direct and immediate exchange of influence between political and security dynamics in North Africa and the Middle East with those in the Balkans. None whatsoever. And even if one were able to identify such influences, it’s not clear why they would affect interethnic relations in Bosnia. (My sources tell me that there are quite a few things in this world that are, amazingly, totally unrelated to Bosnia and the relations between its charming ethnic groups.)
In fact, the rest of the interview suggests Josipovic himself realizes this. He describes Balkan Muslims as “very pro-European” and sharing with Croats and other non-Muslims “the same culture, similar values.” But this was always bound to be ignored in Sarajevo.
What may have happened here, of course, is that Josipovic was suggestively asked a cliché question and as an accommodating man unthinkingly felt he should oblige with a cliché answer. If so, this should teach him.