Bosnia

‘This rhetoric has resulted in genocide’: Bosnian community speaks out against Dodik’s speech in Budapest

CN: this article contains discussion of genocide, war, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and violence

REPORT

Last week at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit, the Serb member of Bosnia’s Presidency, Milorad Dodik, called for European leaders to protect a “Christian Europe” from “migrants from the Middle East”. The Bosnian-Serb leader also claimed that “Muslims will never leave their values”, and asked Europe: “in a couple of decades from now, do you think Europeans will be living in Europe?”. Referencing or alluding to Bosnia’s Muslim population (Bosniaks) several times, Dodik’s comments come 26 years after Bosnian-Serb forces attempted to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Bosnia of its non-Serb population in the Bosnian War (1992-1995). This attempt – often referred to as the Bosnian Genocide – saw the construction of rape camps and concentration camps, culminating in the genocide of thousands of civilians. An estimated 100 000 Bosnians were killed, the vast majority Bosniak (Muslim).

Elected to Bosnia’s three-person Presidency in 2018, Milorad Dodik has become infamous for stirring anti-Muslim hatred in post-war Bosnia, and for promoting a virulent form of Serb nationalism in the region. The leader recently urged ethnic Serbs to make the 21st century “the century of unification”, alluding to the Serb nationalist concept of a ‘Greater Serbia’, which has historically sought to unite all ethnic Serbs under one homogenous state through any means, including ‘ethnic cleansing’.

This week, Dodik further ramped up tensions in Bosnia by announcing supposed plans to set up a separate army for Bosnian-Serbs “within months”. While the Bosnian-Serb leader has rarely been known to match fiery rhetoric with action, his nationalist discourse, coupled with Islamophobic and anti-Muslim remarks, continues to make healing and moving forward increasingly difficult in post-war Bosnia.

In light of the ongoing threat of ethno-nationalist violence, Politika News spoke with four Bosnians from around the world to better understand the significance of Dodik’s comments at Budapest.


Arnesa Buljušmić-Kustura: Former Deputy Director of Remembering Srebrenica UK, Author of Letters from Diaspora, Genocide Researcher, Survivor of the Siege of Sarajevo

It turns out the poorer a society is, the more children are born. So what is the end? Where does it lead to? And may I ask the question again: do you want to live in European nations, or do you want to live in a Europe where there are so many different peoples? It is important that we talk about a Christian Europe.

~ Milorad Dodik at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit

How do gender and religion intersect in the rhetoric peddled by Dodik?

Arnesa: The rhetoric peddled by Dodik isn’t necessarily anything new. Nationalists and fascists of the past have long relied on misogyny to tie it into nationalism. Narratives about “protecting a Christian Europe” have almost always also led to rhetoric around women’s bodies, reducing them to only baby-making machines.

Dodik’s statements are simply reminiscent of the fascists of the 1940s: “protecting borders”, birth rates, “purity of a Christian Europe” – and Dodik knows exactly the audience he is dogwhisliting at too. Nationalism is almost always tied to sexism because how can one further its nationalism if its women are not spewing out babies as if they are cattle.

But all this should show is that the nationalists will always use whatever means necessary to further their own goals of creating that “pure space” free of those it considers less, in this case Muslims and other non-Christians. Women’s bodies are simply yet another tool to further xenophobia in their world. 


Dr. Ermin Sinanović: Political Scientist, Executive Director of Center for Islam in the Contemporary World (Shenandoah University), Islam Scholar

I’m asking you, in a couple of decades from now, do you think Europeans will be living in Europe or such other peoples? […] or some others who can come from anywhere and do come in great numbers and they cannot assimilate […] because they come from a completely different religious part of the world, different civilisations?

It turns out the poorer a society is, the more children are born. So what is the end? Where does it lead to? And may I ask the question again: do you want to live in European nations, or do you want to live in a Europe where there are so many different peoples? It is important that we talk about a Christian Europe.

~ Milorad Dodik at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit

How should we understand this rhetoric, and is it unique to Bosnian politics?

Ermin: Dodik’s comments on Muslims in Europe are reminiscent of the rhetoric from the 1980s and the 1990s, which resulted in genocide, ethnic cleansing, and massive depopulation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ironically, he is decrying demographic decline when the policies he continues to support are responsible for Bosnia’s decrease in population by about 40 percent.

It is only logical to conclude from his comment, “Muslims do not abandon their values,” that there is no place for Muslims in Europe. The demographic challenge he and other European leaders are talking about is a code word for Muslim immigration. Dodik’s remarks are not surprising at all.

As usual, there is a minimal reaction from those who supposedly promote democracy and the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Aida Hozić: Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Florida, Associate Chair of the Department of Political Science (University of Florida), Author of Hollyworld: Space, Power and Fantasy in the American Economy (Cornell University Press, 2002)

It turns out the poorer a society is, the more children are born. So what is the end? Where does it lead to? And may I ask the question again: do you want to live in European nations, or do you want to live in a Europe where there are so many different peoples? It is important that we talk about a Christian Europe.

It is very difficult to stimulate or incentivise a young woman to bear children. But this also depends on the general atmosphere. We do have to modify the general atmosphere

~ Milorad Dodik at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit

How should we understand this rhetoric from Dodik? And is it new?

Aida: This is an old mantra from Milošević’s time; Serbia as the defender of Christianity, women should be mothers of heroic Serb warriors. The same story was popular in Croatia, especially in Tudjman’s time, as it is now in contemporary Poland and Hungary.

What is race for the US, that’s gender (and Islam) for Europeans, and their borderlands especially. Although, of course, permutations of all these racialized and gendered identities – as well as class and poverty – make political mappings more complex everywhere.


Aida Haughton (née Salkić) MBE: West Midlands Board Member at Remembering Srebrenica UK, Housing Administrator at YMCA North Staffordshire, Community Practitioner at the New Vic Borderlines theatre, Bosnian War survivor

They [Europe] told us we have to show that we have good relations with Muslims, but why should they be the victims?

We are Christians. Muslims will never leave their values. […] We have to protect Europe, the whole of Europe. The future is not only stability and energy but also demographic stability is very important for the future.

~ Milorad Dodik at the Fourth Budapest Demographic Summit

As someone who survived the Bosnian War and dedicates time educating people on where hate can lead, what struck you about Dodik’s comments in Budapest? 

Aida: I have spent my whole adult life educating people how hate speech, if left unchallenged, can lead to intolerance, prejudice, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

In fact, division to ‘them’ and ‘us’ is one of 10 steps of genocide, so any divisive rethoric, especially coming from political leaders, sounds alarms within me. 

I expect politicians to work for the people and a better society, not against it, so any inflammatory statement, no matter how big or small, must be challenged.

I still vividly remember how it was to be shelled and shot at just because of my identity, so witnessing a promotion of distrust among different communities such as refugees or Muslims, brings back not just those bad memories, but a fear that such communities are being stigmatised yet again, not because of their actions, but simply for being who they are. 

Finally, the lack of accountability while making such statements, damages not just this politician’s reputation but it also questions both their past and future work, nationally and internationally.


As military escalations are painstakingly placated in nearby Kosovo, those who lived the horrors of the Bosnian War will look at Dodik’s increasingly bold statements with alarm. In the 1990s, it was a combination of opportunist leaders such as Slobodan Milošević in Belgrade and nationalist ideologues such as Radovan Karadžić in Banja Luka (Bosnia) who galvanised swarms of ethno-nationalist fervour at a community level. Today, the likes of Dodik seem happy to try the same. Moreover, it is in Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s government that he finds continued support.

Few have forgotten that in 1995, it was Vučić who stood before the Serbian Parliament and declared the infamous line: “kill one Serb and we will kill a hundred Muslims”. Today, the same Vučić, as President, continues to demonstrate a readiness to prop up ethnic nationalist dreams in the region with rhetoric and shows of military might. While Dodik proclaimed the need to protect “a Christian Europe” in Budapest last week, it was Vučić who dismissed climate change and the rule of law as “a jihad against those countries which are disobedient”.

As the EU appears to waver on the accession of Western Balkan nations to the Union, many in Bosnia and the surrounding region will be asking where the incentive is for leaders like Vučić and Dodik to change their rhetoric and policy.

How can the Bosniak community feel safe in a country where calls to ‘counter Muslim birthrates’ are coupled with calls for a separate army to serve the country’s Orthodox Serbs? Where do Bosnians look for guarantees of democracy and safety? While these questions may remain painfully unanswered, one thing is clear: the Bosnian community both at home and abroad remain undeterred in their fight for unity. As one survivor told us last year, “Bosnia has a way of coming back”.


Politika News would like to thank Arnesa, Aida, Ermin, and Aida individually for their time.

Article Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s