The Magical Mirror in Bosnia: The Serb Republic and the Burqa

Republika Srpska steps up to a magical mirror and asks: Mirror, mirror on the wall–which is the prettiest place of them all?

The mirror answers: You have destroyed minarets where the most democratic country in Europe, Switzerland, just banned them. You are planning to ban the burqa like the most civic country in Europe, France. And you are disregarding judgments by the European Court of European Rights, just like the heart of Europe, Belgium.

This might make you not the prettiest place, but it makes you very European.

This is why Milorad Dodik is suggesting by proposing such as ban as a European standard: “Such law has been adopted in several European countries and we believe that we need to get closer to these European standards.” It is easy to dismiss this proposal as another incidiary pre-election play of Dodik’s party to polarize and mobilize, but also holds a mirror up to the rest of Europe.  It burqas are banned in Belgium and France, minarets in Switzerland, how different is the nationalist intolerance promote by Dodik and others in BiH?  While there are obvious differences between the RS and Belgium in the fact that Islam is a long-established in the latter and not in the former and that prior to 1991 a third or more of the inhabitants of the RS were Muslims. Even if burqas have not been worn and are worn only by few anywhere in Bosnia, burqas are not fundamentally alien to Bosnia. I doubt though that Dodik wants to be the Atatürk of Bosnia or that wearing burqas in the RS is both wide-spread or that it takes a ban to make wearers feel not welcome. Thus, in addition to proposing an illiberal solution to an arguably often illiberal expression of faith, it is about as provocative as a suggesting in Northern Ireland that religions involved in child abuse should be banned.

The fact that the burqa ban is getting support form such (un)expected quarters should give Sarkozy and the Belgium authorities some food for thought.

6 Responses to The Magical Mirror in Bosnia: The Serb Republic and the Burqa

  1. Damir says:

    Well, Mr. Bieber, prior to 1991, 48% of population of what is now Republika Srpska (and not Serb Republic, as you write) was non-Serbs, and 40% was Muslim. But , I guess, you might keep on guessing if Bosnia is failing or not.

  2. Saan says:

    Mr. Bieber,

    I am a secular Bosniak, and I don’t think wahhabists have any place in Bosnia. They hate traditional Bosnian culture as much as the chetniks.

    However, I would only agree banning the burqa if that meant banning of crosses all over hills in Bosnia and above the towns. This is a purely political and nationalist gesture on the part of Serbs and Croats. But I’m sure if there was such a piece of legislature before government of Bosnia the Serbs would all of the sudden love the burqa.

  3. fbieber says:

    Damir: the English translation of Serb Republic for Republika Srpska is widely used and commonly accepted (of course, the RS often uses the strange hybrid Republic of Srpska). As for the population distribution, the share of Muslims as part of the population of the territory which would become the RS in 1991 was around 29%, Croats around 9%. The data is taken from the constituent people’s decision of the Constitutional Court, No. U98/5 III, 1 July 2000.

  4. Yve says:

    it’s not the best translation.. (it’s only google translate) burqa is forbidden from 1950. in bosnia..


  5. fbieber says:

    Yes, it seems like the burqa was banned in 1950. However, I think there are probably many laws from the early socialist period which were never repealed and reviving them might lead to the re-introduction of self-management and a ban on some political parties…by the way, it is ironic that the president of the RS parliament, Radoncic, in the article evokes the legal continuity to pre-war Bosnia. This is usually an argument not so popular in the RS.

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