World Bulletin / News Desk
Nicknamed ‘the Wise King’, Alija Izetbegović was born on 8 August 1925 to a Muslim family. When he was in college he became curious about his religion and joined a Muslim youth club, before becoming a member of an organization for the development of ideas when he was just 15 years of age. This organization, which was originally founded for the debate and exchange of ideas, later became a leading organization for education and charitable works.
In those days, Serbian communists and Croatian nationalist were in a state of conflict, whereas Bosniaks would avoid becoming involved. However, in 1945 the communists entered Bosnia and power in the region was ceded to Josip Broz Tito. Tito first targeted opposition coming from the Croatian nationalists, and then shifted his focus to the Bosniak Muslims. He began a campaign of Soviet communist propaganda, banning the activities of Muslim organizations and arresting their members. Alija Izetbegović was among those who were arrested. He was sentenced to five years in prison. This was his first, but certainly not his last encounter with a prison cell.
While Tito was busy trying to wipe all traces of Islam out of Bosnia, Izetbegovic busied himself with the problems of the Muslim world and thinking of solutions for them. In 1970 he began publishing works to spread awareness of the plight of the Muslim world. This publication, known as the ‘Islamic Bulletin’, was set up to awaken the Muslim community, revive their struggle and call them to unite under the banner of Islam. It not only had an impact in Yugoslavia, but also sent shockwaves across the entire world.
After Tito passed away in 1980, a disagreement arose over who would replace him as leader. All the federal states of Yugoslavia agreed to temporarily operate autonomously from one another until a new leader could be decided on. This brief period of semi-freedom allowed Aliya Izzetbegovic to pen a book called the ‘Islamic Manifesto’, which was published in 1983. As a result he was accused of wanting to establish a radical Islamic state in the heart of Europe, for which he was given a 14-year prison sentence. However, this only spread the word about his book even more, allowing it to be read across the entire Muslim world.
He was released after being pardoned in 1988. Meanwhile, the communist states were seeing their power decline and Izzetbegovic started predicting the downfall of Yugoslavia. While the concept of independence became more and more relevant across the Yugoslav states, Izetbegovic founded the Democratic Resistance Party for the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On 5 December 1990, the party won the Bosnian elections and Aliya Izzetbegovic became the president of the federal state. The other states followed suite and one by one they all started declaring their independence. Izzetbegovic took the idea of independence to referendum, and with an outstanding ‘yes’ vote, declared Bosnian independence in 1 March 1992. Following this, Serbs and Croats began to invade Bosnia-Herzegovina in a joint mission. In front of the entire world, Serbs and Croats slaughtered and raped hundreds of thousands of people including women and children. The west largely remained silent about the massacres. Muslims around the world protested, but their governments also remained relatively quiet. The Bosniaks, who were being wiped off the face of the planet, seemed almost hopeless.
Through these tough times, Alija Izetbegović led his people with great bravery. Despite Serb bombardment of Sarajevo reducing it to ruins, he refused to abandon the capital city. He fought side by side with his soldiers and led them on the battlefield. At the same time, he represented his people in diplomatic relations, seeking a peaceful solution to the end of the war. The war was finally ended when he signed the 1995 Dayton Treaty in the US. As the enemy forces retreated, Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrated its independence, founded on the struggle and sacrifices of some 200,000 martyrs. After the Dayton agreement, Izetbegovic was re-elected as the president of Bosnia and continued to serve his nation until 1998.
Alija Izetbegović passed away on 19 October 2003. He will forever be hailed as a hero in Bosnian history.
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