Sarajevo, July 16th, 2016
In the aftermath of the failed coup d’état in Turkey on July 15th, some countries in the Balkans witnessed an unprecedented outpour of uncritical support for the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and public cheering for the subsequent anti-democratic measures his regime imposed in the country. During one such public gathering, in the Old City of Sarajevo on July 16th, I was thrown off by the enthusiasm with which Erdoğan’s Bosnian supporters justified even the notion of death penalty for those suspected of participating in or supporting the coup. As one elderly man waving a Turkish flag told me cheerfully: “And if he decides to hang the traitors, I’ll travel to Istanbul myself, just to see them hanging in the streets.”
Here offered is another kind of voice about the political reverberations of these recent events in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is unfortunate that it remains a largely solitary one.
Interview with Prof. Dr. Enver Kazaz, professor of South Slavic languages and literature at the University of Sarajevo, writer and literary critic
By Eldin Hadžović
“Turkophilia has crosslinked the Bosniak mental space”
Original text published on July 27th, 2016, by Novosti
Professor Kazaz, were you surprised by almost unanimous support of the Bosniak political establishment to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after the failed military coup in that country – despite reports of brutal reprisals against the putschists – during which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was abandoned?
Not by the support itself, since other lesser or bigger world power players showed support to the autocrat from Ankara, as much as by its content and tone. Ironically speaking, these semi-educated Bosniak politicians screamed so much that it appeared as if the coup attempt happened in their homes, their own bedrooms. Where does this kind of support and condescension come from? Certainly not out of their love of democracy. That is evident from their silence against murderous regime, for instance, in Saudi Arabia, where poets are condemned to death simply over a suspicion that they do not believe in God. This establishment, a political underbelly actually, is cooing that country as “Saudîja”. Democracy is important to them only as a means of increasing personal bank accounts contents. So, why were they screaming? Only to cozy up once again to Erdoğan, “the leader of all Muslims”, as he was titled by Bakir Izetbegović, and the one to whom Alija Izetbegović “bequeathed Bosnia” on his deathbed. Alija’s son furthermore exclaimed that Erdoğan is his brother, and “our leader”, and that “the people are defending democracy”, and “showed whom they want”. But the potentates were not the only ones screaming. The academic community did it too. For instance, the academician Esad Duraković, or a one Amina Šiljak-Jesenković, who presents herself as a turkologist, although that is difficult to substantiate with any scientific work. Duraković spoke as Erdoğan’s spokesperson, claiming that “the Zionists stand” behind the failed coup, while Šiljak-Jesenković accused Gülen as the instigator and leader, precisely as “The Sultan from the Bosphorus”, as Erdoğan is called by the Western liberal media. Nobody offered one single argument for their claims, only pure propaganda. No one uttered a single word about Erdoğan’s autocratic ruling style, about his attempt to alter the constitution to strengthen the presidential powers, about the complete abandonment of the Kemalist tradition and its secularism as the foundation of the contemporary Turkey, about the obvious attempt to force Islamism as the normative ideology for today’s Turkey, about the eradication of the Enlightenment and rationalist narratives acknowledged even in the late Ottoman Empire, as Orhan Pamuk writes brilliantly in his novel Istanbul. Everyone in this Bosniak talk of the failed military coup is silent about the mass arrests and purges conducted by the Erdoğan regime against people labelled as Gülenists, affecting scholars, judges, university deans, journalists and tens of thousands of people exposed to the state terror as in the darkest totalitarian regimes. The media, police and religious persecution is of such scope that one can talk about Erdoğan as an Islamic Stalinist. This dark side of Erdoğanism is completely invisible in the Bosniak public space, where political emotionalism and turkophile identification replace arguments and analysis, aiming to shape today’s Bosniaks as Erdoğan-type of Turks. I would say that Erdoğanism and the superficial emotionalist Turkophilia and Islamophilia, peppered with neo-Ottoman fantasies, are the key hallmarks of the discussion in the Bosniak political, academic, religious, and media elites. We certainly have to publicly condemn any kind of violence, and especially military coups, in order to protect democratic tenets. However, we also have to condemn the violence of a repressive state apparatus against people whose guilt has not been established. By unison cheering for Erdoğan, the Bosniak elite-wannabes are keeping their own people in mental slavery, not allowing it any kind of emancipation from his militant narratives.
During the war, the Serb and the Croat chauvinists offensively referred to the Bosniaks as the Turks, while the Muslim leaders – including Alija Izetbegović – insisted on the Bosniak identity, strongly rejecting the ‘Turks’ label. This has changed after the war, as we have seen many manifestations of ‘Turkification of Bosniaks’. Where does this aggressive Turkophilia among Bosniaks come from?
I am not quite convinced that Mr. Izetbegović had any kind of systematic politics, especially not the kind that would profile a modern form of a Bosniak national identity. On his deathbed, he bequeathed Bosnia to Erdoğan, as I already said. The only significant traits of his politics of the Bosniak national identity are anti-modernism and anti-communism, with Islam as the foundation of national identity. We are talking about a person who was bestowed the “Service to Islam” award in Saudi Arabia in 1994, and abandoned the 1992 “Platform of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which defined the aims of the defense against aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina and ideologically projected this country as a civil, secular and multi-ethnic society. Indeed, Bakir’s father did mutter something about the Bosniaks not being the Turks, as if that had to be pointed out at all, but he gladly formed Muslim military brigades. He had muttered it only to counter the aggressive chauvinistic Serb and Croat ideology, which used Ottomanophobia and Turkophobia as propaganda preparations for war crimes against the Bosniaks. Alija Izetbegović did not have a systematic politics, so he degraded state authorities and developed a whole system of parastatal institutions that provided logistics for the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Put simply, his identity politics has been chaotic and random, a narrative and symbolic paronomasia, which his son now reduces to abject Erdoğanism and neo-Beylerbey ideological phantasm. That is why one needs to be very precise: Izetbegović Junior has no ideology other than the Erdoğanist phantasm. He is a bare pragmatic potentate. The aggressive Turkification of Bosniaks, of which you speak, to me seems as a base Erdoğanisation of the Bosniak elites, lost in their semi-education. Furthermore, this love between Erdoğan and Izetbegović is not followed up by economic cooperation. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where Turkey invests only pennyworth, while in Serbia and Romania it is more substantial.
Is it not ironic that the son of Alija Izetbegović leads this Turkification among the Bosniaks, which irresistibly resembles the Russophilia of the Serb nationalists?
Indeed, today’s victimized Bosniak elites take up their narrative model for national identity formation from the Serb chauvinistic elites. And this is a full-circle paradox: former victim copies the identity formation narrative model from its former executioner. Turkophilia has crosslinked the Bosniak mental space just like Russophilia with the Serb, as well as Teutonophilia with the Croat mental space. The mental war of these three ‘philias’ indicates that all three Bosnian-Herzegovinian ethnies are, in fact, entirely auto-colonizationary. They are simply not capable of moving beyond that, because their intellectual potential is equal to zero.
What does this say of the Bosniak national identity?
From that narrative paronomasia it is possible to extract processes of archaization, ghettoization, victimization, re-Islamization, clericalization, Arabization, Turkification, militarization, masculinization, de-Bosnization of today’s Bosniak national identity. However, describing all of these aspects would require far more space than foreseen for this conversation. It is important to point out that the Bosniak identity since the 19th century was shaped by processes of de-Ottomanization and incorporating traits of the European rationalism and Enlightenment. This is the paradox: today’s Bosniak elites are more archaic and conservative than those of the 19th century, the ones who Europeanized the Muslim ethnic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina of that time, and established the frame of its development into a nation.
Would you agree that, along these processes, the Bosniak nationalism became more aggressive, and manifesting itself increasingly like the nationalist-chauvinist hysteria in Belgrade and Zagreb of the early 1990s, or would you say that this potential always existed with the Bosniaks?
Every nationalism in the Balkans is aggressive and quickly turns into chauvinism. The moment it gains a more substantial power, and the Bosniaks today have in the territories where they rule, it becomes aggressive towards any form of otherness. The militancy of the Bosniak nationalism is most obvious in the way in which the media controlled by both Izetbegovićs persecute non-Bosniak intellectuals with substantial intellectual, literary and pro-Bosnian symbolic capital: Marko Vešović, Ivan Lovrenović, Miljenko Jergović, and, as of recently, Nenad Veličković.
The Faculty where you lecture, as well as the University of Sarajevo, plays a key role in these processes. Could you identify the main figures and their roles in these processes?
The Faculty of Philosophy shares the same fate of the collapsing values in the entire society. It needs to be pointed out, few honorable exceptions aside, that the symbolic imagination of the radical collective Bosniak identity is formed by the works of a considerable number of professors of the Faculty. In that sense, the University of Sarajevo and other Bosniak universities follow the same model as the Serb or the Croat universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The higher education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like the entire educational system in the country, is the factory of nationalist narratives, but also the important place of scholarly accountable critique, minute as it may be.
What is the role of the Islamic Community in this context?
After the despotic leadership of Mustafa Cerić, the biggest Bosniak social pest at the turn of the millennium, the new Grand Mufti Kavazović managed to largely de-politicize the Community. Yet he too ventures into the field of politics. The religious institutions in the South-Slavic regions like to appropriate the political power. Grand Mufti Kavazović was indeed the one who responded differently to this siren call of political religion that turns metaphysical God into a political flag. The religization of politics and ideologization of religion have abolished a metaphysical God in the local Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Islam. Why would any religious community renounce the alluring power of the political and ideological God and return to the metaphysical one?
The census results, published almost three years after the survey, show what we have long been aware of – that Bosnia and Herzegovina is no longer a multiethnic society, but rather a sum of three monoethnic environs. How do you explain that the Bosniak elites prefer to exult over “the Bosniak victory in the census” rather than to worry about the “ethnic purity” of Sarajevo?
I recently wrote about the death of multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina based on the census results. It shows that today’s tri-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with ethnically most homogenous territories in the world. The Bosniak, as well as the Croat and the Serb elites do not talk about that, they only try to claim ethnic territories based on the population percentages. That is why the Bosniak elite’s talk of “the Bosniak victory” in the census reveals an ideological background centered on the phantasm of ‘a greater state’. Meanwhile, the tri-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina emerges as the fulfillment of the war politics. To say with bitter irony, if anyone won in the census, it is Radovan Karadžić, the war criminal. Today Bosnia and Herzegovina exists in the fissure between the political elites’ aspirations to use peace and constitutional means to accomplish their war goals, making the joining of the EU impossible. That fissure is where the last remnants of the once multiethnic country are vanishing.
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