In Sarajevo, the Ruling Party’s “Victory Over Anti-Fascism”

A young city official has proposed renaming Tito Street in Sarajevo. Harm Rudolf Kern on the party politics and ideology behind the controversial idea.


 

In the name of Allah and a new generation of Bosniaks, Sarajevo Old Town councilor Tarik Dautović, announced last week that he would make every effort to rename Sarajevo’s central Tito Street, named for the late leader of socialist Yugoslavia, as Izetbegović Street. Dautović peppered his announcement with anti-communist rhetoric and plenty of enthusiasm for his political party: the Party of Democratic Action, or SDA. Alija Izetbegović, for whom Dautović proposed changing the name of the street, was the first President of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina and SDA’s founding father. Though SDA officially distanced itself from Dautović’s announcement, the statement itself unambiguously reflected SDA’s ideology of Bosniak nationalism.

The Dautović Announcement

In his personal pledge to turn Tito Street into Izetbegović Street, Dautović cited the great achievements of his party in the city of Sarajevo, including the installation of new tiles on the square in front of the National Theater and the Trebević cable car, which in reality remains far from finished. He furthermore thanked the lord for the naming of a school after Mustafa Busuladžić and announced that there would be more schools named after Mehmed ef. Handžić, Kasim ef. Dobrača, Omer Stupac and Halid Kajtaz. Without wasting any time explaining to the public why any schools should be named after these particular individuals, Dautović presented the crux of his argument, and his mission:

“I swear to Allah, we will do all we can to change the name of Tito Street! Sarajevo’s main street cannot carry the name of that criminal, dictator and leader of a totalitarian-communist-criminal-atheist system that suppressed all Muslim seed and Bosniak intellect. It will be named after Alija Izetbegović.

And we won’t justify or adjust ourselves to anyone. I say this in the name of a new generation of Bosniaks.”

Impassioned responses followed on social media and in the mainstream press, turning the Dautović Announcement into a true scandal. Journalists, public personalities and ordinary Sarajlije voiced their outrage at the proposed name change and their attachment to the current name of Tito Street. A fellow councilor from another party launched an official initiative to provide Tarik Dautović with a street map of the Old Town, since Tito Street does not fall within the Old Town’s jurisdiction. The initiative furthermore encouraged Dautović to concentrate on the Old Town’s real problems, rather than on the names of streets in neighboring districts of Sarajevo. Other reactions were less humorous and hit below the belt, clearing the way for a counter “justice-for-Tarik” spin.

The scandal indeed took a sad turn when the SDA Youth Association dissociated itself from Dautović’s statements, leaving many wondering in the name of what generation the proposal was made. The Old Town SDA leadership also officially distanced itself from the Dautović Announcement, stressing that Dautović had expressed his personal opinion only and not that of the party.

The significance of the Dautović Announcement, however, goes far beyond its author, since its contents unambiguously reflect the SDA’s nationalist ideology with regard to the renaming of schools and the airing of anti-communist sentiment.

SDA’s New Strength and Nationalist Ideology

In the local elections of 2016, the SDA did well in Sarajevo, winning mandates in all of the city’s sub-municipalities save for the Old Town where an ex-SDA member prevailed. Party leader and national president Bakir Izetbegović — Alija Izetbegović’s son — proclaimed victory after the first polling results came in, stating that SDA had “conquered the Center municipality that is, maybe, more valuable than ten other municipalities”. SDA’s dominance was solidified with the appointment of SDA candidate Abdulah Skaka to the office of mayor, the youngest in Sarajevo’s history.

The youthfulness of Skaka and other SDA members like Dautović featured prominently in the 2016 election campaign that inaugurated these young candidates under the slogan “time for new strength”. Skaka himself explained that he entered politics after he understood “that literally every mahala in the Old Town is full of young people that are dissatisfied with the state of affairs… every mahala, every street has revolutionaries that want to change the world”. Is this the angry new generation of Bosniaks in whose name Dautović wants to change the names of streets and schools?

It would certainly seem so, since within a month of assuming office, the first school to be named after Mustafa Busuladžić was announced. The public’s response was one of outrage, as many found the idea of naming a primary school after an individual who had made fascist statements during WWII shocking and unacceptable. Dautović has praised the Busuladžić case as an example and is calling for other schools to carry the names of similarly-minded historic figures such as Mehmed ef. Handžić and Kasim ef. Dobrača. Both of these contemporaries of Busuladžić welcomed the fascist world order during WWII, hoping it would benefit their traditionalist movement. These controversial individuals play a central role in the SDA-imposed memorial culture in Sarajevo, represented by Handžić Street in the Center and the Dobrača Street in the Old Town. The SDA narrative glorifies the duo for their intellectual legacy and presents them as martyrs for both the anti-communist and the anti-fascist cause.

Multicultural Man Builds the World, Izetbegović Square, Sarajevo (Photo credit: author)
Multicultural Man Builds the World, Izetbegović Square, Sarajevo (Photo credit: author)

The ambiguity of the SDA’s claim to both fascist and anti-fascist legacy was best articulated by young Mayor Skaka himself during an interview given on the occasion of Sarajevo’s Liberation Day. Attempting to explain the importance of the date for Sarajevo, Mayor Skaka made an apparent slip and said that Sarajevo celebrated that day as nothing less than “the victory over anti-fascism“.

Skaka’s own family background is also closely intertwined with the last two names mentioned in the Dautović Announcement: Omer Stupac and Halid Kajtaz. These two men led the Young Muslim organization in the period after WWII. Their ideology had no obvious links to either fascism or anti-fascism, but is often described as combining elements of anti-communism and Islamic revivalism. Both of Mayor Skaka’s grandfathers were prominent members of the organization and one of them, Ismet Kasumagić, championed the celebration of Stupac and Kajtaz as martyrs for their beliefs. Kasumagić was furthermore a close associate of Alija Izetbegović, who operationalized the Young Muslim ideology, legacy and network in the creation of the SDA as the Muslim and later Bosniak nationalist party.

The idea of renaming one of Sarajevo’s main streets after Alija Izetbegović stands out among other suggestions made in the Dautović Announcement because a central square in the Old Town already carries the SDA founder and first leader’s name. The irony of the whole affair is that the Izetbegović Square, unlike Tito Street, actually falls within Dautović’s jurisdiction as a councilor and is in a poor and rundown state. While SDA-initiated proposals for changing the names of streets and schools have continued to divide public opinion, the statue of the Multicultural Man on the Izetbegović Square stands neglected and sadly falls apart.

These reflections reveal that although Dautović expressed what his colleagues in the party say was merely his personal opinion, that his beliefs unambiguously match the ideological profile of SDA and its predilection for Bosniak nationalism, anti-communism and open flirtations with fascism. It is truly scandalous that Dautović demands the names of streets and schools to reflect this ideology in the name of a new generation, while in fact a new generation of pupils in Bosnia protests against the national segregation and ideological infiltration of schools in Bosnia. In other words, there is a new generation that has proclaimed their hope that new changes are to come, it’s just not the “new strength” and “youthfulness” propagated by the leadership of the SDA.

Two days after the Dautović Announcement was made, the Sarajevo Film Festival closed with a free evening concert by the famous Yugoslav rock band Plavi Orkestar, gathering a crowd of over 40,000 people on Tito Street.

Of course, among the hits that Plavi Orkestar played that night was the anthem “Don’t be a fa fa fascist”.

 

Cover photo credit: author

Harm Rudolf Kern

Harm is a student in the Master’s Programme for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz. During his education at Leiden University he developed a strong interest in the history of Yugoslavia. He complemented his BA in Modern and Contemporary History with a Minor in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language at the University of Amsterdam. He currently lives in Sarajevo, where he conducts research for his MA thesis and drives tourists around in a blue Yugo as the founder of Yugo Tour Sarajevo. Follow him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/yugotoursarajevo/

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