Bosnia's 'Wise King' commemorated on 18th death anniversary

Alija Izetbegovic died 18 years ago following career marked by suffering of 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

Bosnia's 'Wise King' commemorated on 18th death anniversary

Tuesday marks the 18th anniversary of the death of Alija Izetbegovic, the first president of independent Bosnia and one of most important Muslim thinkers of the last century.

Izetbegovic -- a politician, writer, and lawyer who came to international prominence during the country's bitter 1992-1995 war -- is commemorated every year on his death anniversary.

Often dubbed the "Wise King," Izetbegovic managed to gain independence for his country on March 1, 1992, months after Slovenia and Croatia broke away from the former Yugoslavia.

He died in Sarajevo on Oct. 19, 2003 due to natural causes, having served as president of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1996 and as chairman of the Bosnian presidency until October 2000.

Speaking on how he met with Izetbegovic and the days they spent during their work together, academic Mirko Pejanovic said: "He never allowed any decision to be made in haste. He looked for solutions based on everyone's wishes. He would talk about the issues that needed to be resolved in an open and democratic environment. He also loved to talk to the public and get their opinions."

"There was incredible rain during his funeral," Pejanovic said, adding: "I mingled with the crowd. I saw closely that Alija was a leader who gained the trust of the people. He had incredible patience, perseverance, and faith to make tomorrow better."

Early life

Many Muslim families, including Izetbegovic's, moved to the northwestern city of Bosanski Samac in 1868 due to Serbian excesses in Belgrade. His grandfather, father, and their families lived nearly sixty years in a two-story house until the move in 1928.

Izetbegovic was born in Bosanski Samac city on Aug. 8, 1925, as one of five children of the couple Mustafa and Hiba and the grandson of a Turkish woman (Sidika). Here, he spent his first years of childhood.

When he was 21, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for his activities with the Young Muslims organization in 1946.

After his release, Izetbegovic enrolled in the Faculty of Law and earned a degree at the University of Sarajevo.

Writings and trouble

It was in Izetbegovic's Islamic Declaration, published in 1970, that Bosnian independence, national consciousness, and the expansion of Islamic thought found an audience.

His writings landed him in trouble with the Yugoslav authorities. Along with 12 other Bosniak scholars, he was jailed for 14 years after being accused of "separatism and establishing an Islamic state" in 1983, but was released five years later.

He entered politics that same year and founded the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in 1990 with the aim of empowering Bosniaks in their own land.

Being one of the six republics of Yugoslavia, Bosnia's SDA won 86 seats in the 240-seat parliament in the first multi-party elections of 1990.

In February-March 1992, a referendum on independence for Bosnia-Herzegovina was held, in which 99.44% voted in favor of independence with a turnout of 64%.

A month later, the EU and US recognized the new state.

Bosnian War

However, the then-political leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, rejected the result and was the political face of an armed campaign that culminated in ethnic cleansing and a return to mass murder in post-war Europe.

But neither during the ensuing war nor during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys did Izetbegovic lose the spirit of resistance.

In November 1995, Bosniaks -- amid international pressure -- stopped the war and signed the Dayton Agreement, bringing peace to the country.

After stepping down as chair of Bosnia's presidency in 2000, Izetbegovic lived alone in his single-story home in the capital Sarajevo.

Leaving a flag to his country, Izetbegovic died eight years after the Dayton Agreement was signed, in 2003.

He contributed profusely to the Bosnian civil consciousness, writing several publications and periodicals throughout his career.