Izetbegovic, Alija Ali 1925-2003

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IZETBEGOVIC, Alija Ali 1925-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born August 8, 1925, in Bosanski Samac, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina); died from injuries suffered in a fall, October 19, 2003, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Politician and author. Izetbegovic was the former co-president of Bosnia-Herzegovina who helped lead his nation to independence from Yugoslavia. A controversial leader whose devout Islamic faith was seen by critics, at times, to conflict with his ability to lead, Izetbegovic would have been murdered by Serbian guerillas during World War II had it not been known that his grandfather, the former mayor of Bosanski Samac, had saved the lives of dozens of Serbs during World War I. Allowed to live, he continued his wartime association with the Young Muslims, a conservative Islamic group that had been outlawed by the new Yugoslavian government after World War II. This political activity led to his being jailed from 1946 until 1949. After his release, Izetbegovic attended law school and received his degree from the University of Sarajevo in 1956. He passed the bar four years later. Working as a legal advisor in Sarajevo, he became known as a leading Muslim intellectual and published his controversial 1970 tract, "Islamic Declaration." Opponents saw this piece as evidence that Izetbegovic wished to turn his homeland into an Islamic state, but supporters asserted it merely defined the role of Islam within the political world. Ten years later, in 1980, Izetbegovic published Islam between East and West (published in the United States in 1984), which focused on the status of Muslims in Bosnia and which also helped make the author a controversial figure in Yugoslavia. In fact, he was arrested and sentenced to fourteen years in prison, though he was pardoned after five. Free again in 1988, Izetbegovic cofounded the Bosnian Muslim Democratic Action Party two years later. By this time, political and ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia were reaching their height as the Communist government collapsed. Izetbegovic became chair of the National Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990. Initially, this new government consisted of an eight-member shared presidency comprised of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, including Izetbegovic. Izetbegovic tried to frame a compromise that would grant equal representation to all of Yugoslavia's republics, but nationalistic Croats and Serbs decided to partition Bosnia between their two sides instead. In reaction to this, Izetbegovic and his party declared Bosnia an independent state in April 1992. The Serbians responded with a horrifying campaign of "ethnic cleansing" that targeted Muslims in Serb-held territories, causing about two million Bosnians to lose their homes and costing the lives of more than 250,000 people. Izetbegovic fortified himself in Sarajevo, refusing to move his government despite relentless shelling from the Serbians. Eventually, in 1995, his determination won out, and he signed the American-brokered Dayton accord with Croatia's Franjo Tudjman and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic to end the war. Had Izetbegovic not held fast in Sarajevo, Milosevic admitted at one point, Bosnia's capital would surely have been lost. In 1996, Izetbegovic shared the presidency of the new Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina with two other presidents, but stepped down in 2000 because of his increasingly poor health; yet he held on to the leadership of his political party. A year later, however, he resigned from that post as well and spent his retirement writing his memoirs, later published as Izetbegovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Notes from Prison, 1983-1988 (2002).



Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2003, Section 1, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2003, p. B9.

New York Times, October 20, 2003, p. A15.

Times (London, England), October 20, 2003.

Washington Post, October 20, 2003, p. B6.