Obituary: Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003

October 22, 2003

Obituary: Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003

Alija Ali Izetbegovic, the controversial Bosnian Islamist leader of a largely secularized people, died on Sunday, October 19th, 2003, in Sarajevo, at the age of seventy-eight.

On April 4, Izetbegovic announced a full mobilization, and that night the war began in earnest. Two days later, Izetbegovic declared the independence of Bosnia. In 1995, after three years of war and at least 200,000 deaths, the Dayton Accords were signed, by Izetbegovic, among others. In almost all crucial aspects, this agreement resembled the one reached at Lisbon. Zimmerman's whispers were replaced by Richard Holbrooke's bellows. Consistent with its characteristic fatalism, the Sarajevo Street was not impressed by Dayton. One still hears it said that "the difference between the Lisbon and the Dayton agreements is simply two years of mass graves."

There is plenty of moral and criminal guilt to go around for the unnecessary civil war in both Croatia and Bosnia. Here we enter especially murky ground. What remains clear is that war criminals should not go unpunished. In all likelihood, the Bosnian Serbs committed more atrocities than their Bosnian Muslim or Croat enemies, because they kept winning battle after battle.  However, this takes nothing away from Izetbegovic's guilt-nor from that of Franjo Tudjman, Croatia's first president who also died peacefully without being indicted for his role in, among many other acts, the ethnic cleansing of 350,000 Serbs from Croatia in a single weekend in the summer of 1995. But with both Tudjman and now Izetbegovic gone and with the failure of the ICTY to indict them while they were alive, despite the evidence,  it becomes that much easier to whitewash those terrible events in the Balkans and to maintain the absurd position that all sides in the Balkans have legitimate interests save the Serbs.   Some of the guiltiest have taken their deeds to their graves. One can only hope that their deaths will result in a permanent repudiation of their policies.


Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic, an editor at The National Interest, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.