Alija Izetbegovic


Izetbegovic is better known as the hero of Bosnian Muslim resistance during the siege of Sarajevo, who led his country to independence.

Bosnian politician, activist, lawyer, author and even philosopher. He was the first President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. He served until 1996 and then later became a member of the Presidency of Bosnian and Herzegovina until 2000. Nicknamed Dedo, or grandfather, he was a popular figure in the Bosnian Muslim community.

Early Life

He was born in 1925 in northern Bosnia. During World War II he joined the ‘Young Muslims’, an Islamic organisation and was arrested by the Yugoslav communists and sentenced to three years in prison in 1946. He earned a law degree and practiced commercial law on his release from prison but found an outlet for activism through his writing.

He published the ‘Islamic Declaration’ in 1970, a manifesto expressing relationships between Islam, state and society. The publication was banned due to the fear that fundamentalist Sharia law was being introduced into Bosnia. This was often used as false propaganda against him throughout his political career. He was tired before a Sarajevo court in 1983 for Bosnian nationalism, accused of organising a visit to a Muslim congress in Iran. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, later reduced to 12. In 1988, as communist rule faltered, he was pardoned and released.


Towards the end of the 1980’s, multi-party introduction in Yugoslavia prompted Izetbegovic to establish a political party: The Party of Democratic Action. The party was largely muslim and complimented the other ethnically based parties appearing in Bosnia. In accordance with Bosnian constitution, the first two candidates of each of the three constituent nations would be elected to a seven-member multi-ethnic rotating presidency. The Croat won the election and became prime minister and the Serb took the Presidency, with Izetbegovic becoming the chairman of the Presidency.

Throughout the war, it became obvious that rival nationalists were incompatible. Bosnian Muslims and Croats sought an independent Bosnia whilst the Serbs want to remain in Yugoslavia. Eventually, through the establishment of the Lisbon Agreement, Bosnia became a tri-ethnic cantonal state; Izetbegovic representing the Bosnian Muslims, Karadzic representing Bosnian Serbs and Boban representing the Bosnian Croats. However, Izetbegovic withdrew his signature and declared his opposition to a partitioned Bosnia.

His role in the Bosnian War

In 1992, Izetbegovic call an independence referendum for recognition of Bosnian and Herzegovina as an independent state. Following in the footsteps of Slovenia and Croatia. The referendum was boycotted by the Serbs and achieved a 67% turnout of which 99% voted in favour of independence. He announced independence on 3rd March 1992.

Izetbegovic was depending on the international community to prevent war but it did not happen. Instead war broke out across the country and the poorly-equipped government were left to fight the dominant Yugoslav army. He consistently promoted a multi-ethnic Bosnia under a central control. He continued to live in the besieged city of Sarajevo and turned to the Muslim world for support. He showed unwavering courage during the war years, running his affairs of state from sandbagged office in Sarajevo and surviving kidnapping. He was disappointed during the Dayton peace accords as international mediators forced negotiations on equal footing with the Serbs and Croats. Partition was the price of peace.

Izetbegovic became a Member of the presidency of Bosnian and Herzegovina at the end of the Bosnian war until he stepped down, due to ill health and because of his displeasure of the direction of the international community’s involvement in Bosnia, in 2000. Izetbegovic died in October 2003 from heart disease and put an end to the ICTY investigation.

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