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Zukorlic Re-elected Chief Mufti

| 14 July 2008 |

Muamer Zukorlic

Novi Pazar _ Members of the Council of the Islamic Community in Serbia have re-elected Muamer Zukorlic as the chief mufti in Novi Pazar despite non-recognition of the vote by rivals.

The chief mufti’s term in office is five years, and Zukorlic has been at the helm of the Islamic Community council since 1993.

Zukorlic said his re-election was a sign of support for the legality and legitimacy of the community he was heading.

“Trust bestowed upon me is a great honour and it translates into my responsibility to continue defending and building a free and autonomous Islamic Community,” Zukorlic told the media.

He went on to say that the Islamic Community wanted to be a partner to the state in developing further mutual relations but added that these relations would now be tried and tested in order to see “if the state’s attitude towards this community has changed.”

Mufti Zukorlic explained the state had to show its good will by launching an investigation into the conduct of some state organs in the previous period.

He called on the authorities to show respect for the Muslims who would not, as he put it, allow the situation in which they would be entitled to fewer rights than other peoples living in Serbia.

Speaking about the main goals of the Islamic Community in the forthcoming period, he said Bosnia and Herzegovina would continue to be the spiritual centre of the community, going on to say that he recognised solely reis-ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric as the supreme leader.

“Bosnia is the oldest child of Turkey, the country which is perceived by all the Muslims in these parts, including Albania, as their mother country,” said Zukorlic.

Zukorlic was first elected leader of the Sandzak Muslims in 1993, when the Meshihat (Islamic Community Council), as an organisational unit of Bosnia’s Islamic Community Riyaset (the Supreme Council) was formed in this Muslim-dominated south-western region of Serbia after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.

Zukorlic is now 38. At the time when he was elected leader in 1993, he was the youngest religious leader in the Balkans.

The Riyaset of the Islamic Community of Serbia, headed by Adem Zilkic, refuses to recognise the election.

Friction and infighting within the Islamic community between supporters of Zilkic and Zukorlic has intensified in the last year.

The Islamic Community led by Zukorlic recognises the supreme leadership of the Riyaset based in Sarajevo and reis-ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric, whereas the Islamic Community of Serbia has no organisational links to Sarajevo and considers reis-ul-ulema Adem Zilkic as its supreme leader in Serbia.

Some analysts say the bitter political conflict between the two most influential Bosniak politicians Rasim Ljajic (who is favouring Zukorlic) and Sulejman Ugljanin (who is closer to Zilkic) has effectively given rise to the rift within the Islamic community in Serbia.

Muslims in Serbia Clash; Church Desecrated

| 07 April 2008 |


St. Peter's Church in Novi Pazar

Novi Pazar _ Two rival Muslim groups have clashed over the right to hold prayer in a mosque while a Serbian Orthodox Church was desecrated in a separate incident in southwest Serbia.

Both incidents happened over the weekend but were not linked.

Relating to the first incident, the two Islamic communities issued conflicting statements on the number of injured people, accusing each other of triggering the skirmish.

The Riyasat of the Islamic Community in Serbia, headed by reis Adem Zilkic, charged that rival members of the Islamic Community headed by mufti Muamer Zukorlic stopped Zilkic’s followers of holding prayers at the mosque in the town of Trnava, near Novi Pazar, the biggest town in Sandzak, the mostly Muslim populated region in Serbia.

The Riyasat claimed that no one was injured, while spokesman of Zukorlic's Meshihat of the Islamic Community in Serbia, Sead Sacirovic, said that at least four believers were hurt, among them a 70-year old who was punched in the head.

Zilkic’s Riyasat is close to Belgrade’s authorities while Zukorlic considers Bosnia and Herzegovina as the centre of his Meshihat.

The division of the two communities has led to many clashes in the past.

Both sides claimed they had a video recording of the incident outside the Trnava mosque but neither side has shown it yet.

In the meantime, Zilkic sternly condemned an incident in which unknown perpetrators wrote "vulgar and offensive" graffiti on the wall of the Serb Orthodox Church in Novi Pazar.

"Desecration of any religious object causes discord and, according to the Koran represents a greater sin than murder," said the statement issued by Zilkic’s Riyasat.

The church of St. Peter in Novi Pazar was built in the 9th century, and is the oldest preserved Serbian place of worship.

Emphasising the good relationship with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the statement said that ‘’those who do not wish well to their own people, especially when it comes to multiethnic territories such as Sandzak, cause this and similar provocations.’’

"Bosniaks and Serbs have been sharing this mutual space for years, living in peace, tolerance and successfully resisting all temptations," it added.

The church heads who reported the incident to local police, demanded urgent action in finding and punishing those responsible.

Recognition Without Power

A report from independent Kosovo.
by Stephen Schwartz
03/31/2008, Volume 013, Issue 28

Whether Belgrade will actually throw itself into a full-scale provocation against Kosovo statehood is debatable. Kosovar Albanians are more concerned that the European Union will simply divide the country and hand the north over to Serbia. Strikingly, Kosovars have a clear-sighted view of global politics: Vladimir Putin's Russia is the big threat, and Serbia is a pawn in Russia's bid to turn back the expansion of NATO and assert Russian influence over the whole of Europe.

But many Kosovars also understand that their country stands between two fires--revived Slavic imperialism and the threat of Islamist aggression. Kosovars themselves are rarely demonstrative about their Muslim faith--I saw only six young women in head coverings during a week in the country (though the hijab is more common among rural grandmothers), and Islamic literature is difficult to find. But the situation is dire in neighboring Macedonia.

There, the regime has given free rein to Arab governments and foundations to build new mosques that spread jihadist doctrines. Wahhabi aggression against the long-established Sufi presence in the western Macedonian city of Tetovo has reached a real crisis point. Only four months ago, two buildings at the Harabati Sufi center in Tetovo were occupied by Saudi-supported Wahhabis with their scruffy beards and automatic weapons. Now the Wahhabis, mobilizing what appear to be street vagabonds recruited and paid to fill up the Harabatis' spacious Ottoman complex, have taken over most of it. They scream insults and threats at the Sufis and fire their weapons into the air at night.


Macedonian government appears eager to sow discord in the large Albanian community within its borders. Its benevolent policy toward Wahhabism parallels a similar one in south Serbia. Physical clashes between Wahhabi agitators and indigenous Muslims have become a common feature of life everywhere except in Kosovo. In the south Serbian town of Tutin, for instance, the beginning of March saw fighting between the moderate, traditional Muslims led by local mufti Muamer Zukorlic, and a Wahhabi group calling itself "the Islamic Community of Serbia" and run by an unknown named Adem Zilkic, openly aligned with Kostunica's Serb nationalists. During a riot on March 7, an Albanian supporter of the moderates, Enver Shkreli, was shot in both legs, apparently by Serbian police supporting the radicals.

Back in Kosovo, a trip around the republic discloses further evidence that recognition does not mean sovereignty. Kosovars have yet to be issued passports, and the post offices have no stamps representing the new state--travel documents and the mail are still under the authority of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). More grating to many Kosovar Albanians has been the imposition of a denationalized Kosovo flag, blue with a gold map of the country and six white stars, in place of the traditional Albanian red and black double-eagle standard.

At the level of daily life, recognition without sovereignty could also be called recognition without power--a pun of sorts, since after eight years of foreign administration Kosovo still sees its electrical system crash into darkness on a nightly and often daily basis. Austria is only now talking about donations to upgrade Kosovo's schools. So what have the internationals accomplished since 1999, aside from accumulating exorbitant salaries, taking over the best neighborhoods, denying the Kosovars economic and political reform, and expressing a general contempt for the local inhabitants? Well, they have created a new class of prosperous local employees, who have learned English (because the internationals seldom study the Albanian language) and built their own upscale homes and districts. But the Albanian members of the U.N.-EU bureaucracy, while often the most robust defenders of Kosovo's "paper independence," would doubtless suffer loss of income and status if the internationals left.

The Kosovar Albanian political leadership is widely seen as corrupt, and the existence of an underground economy in Kosovo is undeniable, although it has little or nothing to do with lurid tales about drug dealing put forward by Serbian advocates. Given that the U.N. and EU have not permitted the establishment of secure local economic institutions, the growth of an uncontrolled economy was inevitable. Kosovars have a large diaspora sending money home from the United States, Germany, and Switzerland, and without financial stability inside the new republic the funds have to go somewhere. But there is a greater corruption in the rise of politicians and functionaries who owe their prosperity to their accommodation to and employment by the internationals.

On the night of March 12, I traveled with Albin Kurti, the popular leader of Kosovo's Self-Determination movement, and a group of his colleagues to Dumnica, a tiny village on the northeastern frontier with Serbia. Dumnica is close to Merdare, where a Kosovo Republic border sign was installed early in March. Serbian army reservists threatened to cross the frontier to tear down the marker, but were prevented from doing so by Serbian authorities, who appeared suddenly cautious after the worldwide public relations disaster represented by the mob attacks on the American and other foreign embassies in Belgrade late in February.

The area that includes Merdare and Dumnica is called Llap and has long been a center of Albanian patriotism. When Serbia conquered Kosovo in 1912, Slav armies poured into the territory through Llap, and thousands of Albanians were slaughtered, their villages burned and possessions looted. Llap was also a major theater of fighting in the 1998-99 war. Villagers there are hard workers, good savers, and boast such amenities as camera cellphones and portable computers.

Kurti had come to Dumnica to explain his criticism of the Kosovo political class and its acceptance of paper independence. The village is not shown on maps, and with the border unmarked, we joked about what might happen if we drove too far up the road and found ourselves in Serbian hands. The stars were brilliant in the deep, rural night. Finally, thanks to the ubiquity of cellphones, we were taken to a large house where the elders of the village were crowded into the special room reserved for guests. Outside, guards were posted while Kurti spoke.

What unfolded was a scene of traditional village democracy. Kurti presented his case for full independence, a real ministry of defense and an army and police, firm borders, a new constitution written by the Kosovars themselves rather than by foreign experts, and all the other institutions needed to prove that independence is real. He was answered, always respectfully but nonetheless critically, by some who said that at least Kosovo now has its own standing in the world, and that the Albanians must be patient in waiting for complete freedom.

One of the most moderate speakers was an imam who had come to the meeting from Kacanik, at the other end of Kosovo. Patriotic verses were recited and the names of past heroes invoked. For a foreign observer, nothing was more fascinating than the faces of the villagers--strong, intelligent, intent as they listened to Kurti, a man who can discuss Heidegger and postmodernism with facility, but who addressed this gathering simply and directly. Later, another Kosovar who disagrees with Kurti admitted that he is an exceptional speaker, calling him "the human laser, whose words go straight to people's hearts."

To my surprise, little was said in Dumnica about Serbia. To emphasize: The villagers, with their long collective memory, see Russia as the main enemy, standing behind and using Serbia. Finally, all Kosovars are grateful to America, but many are worried because American diplomatic representatives in Pristina too often call on the Albanians to stay silent, contradicting the strong stands of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, whom the Kosovars admire.

Nevertheless, even on the Serbian border, the Kosovars betray no fear. Indeed, it occurred to me, watching the faces and listening to the sharp words of Albin Kurti, that there are two borders in Dumnica. One divides Serbia from Kosovo. The other separates the old world of massacres, totalitarianism, Russian imperialism, and what Secretary Rice has criticized as the Serbian fixation with the past, from the new world of security, investment, democracy, and friendship with America. Nearly all the Albanians in Dumnica are Muslims, yet they act as if the war with radical Islam will be no more than an episode, while the danger of confrontation with Putin's neo-czarist expansionism has returned to bedevil the world.

And the news then on the front pages prompted this further reflection: Even as Kurti was speaking, on the other side of the world China--Russia's partner in U.N. obstruction of Kosovo's full liberation--had sent troops to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, where dozens of demonstrators were shot dead. India, anxious to keep the torturers of Tiananmen Square happy, had arrested and beaten Tibetan demonstrators, and Nepal had surrendered to a Chinese demand to close its border and prevent protestors from heading to Mount Everest for a pro-Tibetan action. But the Tibetans in Lhasa, led by Buddhist monks even tougher than the martyrs of freedom in Burma not long ago, would come back to defy Communist bullets and tear gas. Over the weekend of March 16 and in the week that followed, Lhasa and other places would still be defying Chinese "order," and stone-throwing Tibetans would repeatedly be answered with rifle fire.

Kosovo and Tibet, on the front lines between liberty and tyranny, make the case for a new international League of Democracies, from which Russia and China would perforce be excluded. It is a concept the country folk in Dumnica would understand.

Stephen Schwartz writes frequently about the Balkans.

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