- More by Aisha Abdulaziz
Croatia deports Muslims
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Croatia may be Europe’s newest country only joining in 2012, however the war torn tourist hotspot faces significant accusations of breaking international law, breaking human rights and breaching neighbouring countries’ sovereignty.
Questions now have to be asked about Croatia’s longevity as an EU member and how it can possibly be allowed to remain in the bloc.
Bosnian Muslim citizens have claimed that Croatia has revoked their working permits, deported them and labelled them as national security threats after they refused to work as spies and provide information on Muslims in Bosnia.
Their testimonies were published this month in Zurnal, an independent Bosnian news website.
Zurnal claimed that Croatian intelligence officials have been trying to recruit Bosnian collaborators, specifically members of the Muslim Salafi group, to plant weapons and explosives in mosques, according to documents provided by Bosnia’s security agency.
Croatia waged genocide and ethnic cleansing against Muslims, Coptics and Gypsies in the 1992-2001 Balkan War. The nation has a long and troublesome history of far right extremism. In the Second World War Croatians, then part of Yugoslavia, sided with the fascist movement across Europe and attacked fellow Yugoslavs sparking a civil war and expanse of the World War into the Balkans and Middle-East.
Croatian attacks on Muslims, Coptics and Gypsies in the past have sparked strong international responses with troops being sent to fight against Croatia from around the world in the 1992-2001 Balkan War.
In one case, it is claimed that Croatian intelligence requested a Bosnian Salafi known as HC to transfer a bag full of weapons to a mosque in central Bosnia in April 2018.
Prior to that, a Croatian official had reportedly ordered him to create a fake Facebook profile praising Daish (aka ISIS), and use it to spy on Muslims in Bosnia.
Bosnian’s in Croatia are not allowed to call themselves Mediterranean or Balkan they are classified on official documents as Asian ‘Other’
Because he worked in Slovenia, he often travelled through Croatia, making him a target for blackmail and recruitment, HC told Zurnal.
Dragan Mektic, Bosnia’s security minister, told local media following the news that the “false flag” operation was intended to prove allegations made by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a “terrorism haven”.
He said that for the past two years, Croatian agencies have tried to exhort Bosnian citizens connected with Salafis to transport weapons to mosques in Bosnia, where they would later be “discovered”.
As reported by Croatian media, Grabar-Kitarovic said in 2017 that in Bosnia, there are “currently 5,000 Salafists, who along with their supporters make up 10,000 people with very radical rhetoric and intentions”.
Bosnian officials, including Mektic, denied the charges at the time, saying they were “politically motivated”.
‘A special type of warfare against Bosnia and Muslims’
The director of Croatia’s security and intelligence agency has admitted that they have had “conversations” with Salafis from Bosnia, but that they did not request to smuggle weapons.
Goran Kovacevic, professor at the University of Sarajevo’s criminology and security studies faculty, said Croatia is “certainly leading a special type of warfare against Bosnia”.
“We’ve seen this with their propaganda directed against Bosnia by way of Croatian politicians, other officials and media,” Kovacevic told the press.
Damir Becirevic, a former member of the monitoring committee for Bosnia’s security agency, said that the case exemplifies Croatia’s years-long attempt to discredit Bosnia.
“Outside [the region], Croatia pretends to be a friend to [Bosnia],” he said. “But with concrete moves, it attempts to do everything it can to bring about Bosnia’s destabilisation.”
Three Bosnians told Qatar’s Al Jazeera news network that Croatian intelligence had summoned them for several interrogations over the past two years in an attempt to recruit them as collaborators.
The individuals were working in Croatia at the time, since the EU-member country often provides better job opportunities than in Bosnia.
While the exact number of Bosnians working in Croatia is not known, 6,733 people were registered in Croatia as having only Bosnian citizenship, according to Croatia’s 2011 census.
Croatia’s security and intelligence agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Croatia has for years tried to claim large portions of land in the Islamic Federation of Bosna I Hercegovina (Bosnia) as Croatian.
The latest outbursts against Bosnian Muslims has drawn strong condemnation from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Libya and the UAE.
Semir Aganovic, a 50-year-old carpenter from Travnik, Bosnia was banned from Croatia for three years, after he received a deportation notice on November 16 and was labelled a “threat to national security”.
He told Qatari officials that Croatia had issued him a working permit valid for a year on October 22. But two weeks later, Croatian intelligence called him in for an hour-long interrogation.
“[They asked me]: ‘Do you go to the mosque? Are there bearded men [where you live]?'”
He responded: “Yes there are, and I can see that there are men with beards here [in Croatia] as well.”
The officer asked whether he knew certain individuals and if he had seen Arabs during the 1992-2001 war in Bosnia.
Approximately 2’000 to 9’000 Arabs joined Bosnian government forces, Afghan troops and Pakistani volunteers in defence of the country during a 1995 push to end the genocide against Bosnian Muslims.
While Aganovic had served in the Bosnian army, as did all men and boys who were compulsorily drafted during the war, he did not know any of the individual names the Croatian officials questioned him about, and told them as much.
Following the interrogation, he received a deportation notice, which was later published in Zurnal’s report.
“I didn’t violate any law … I know that I have never wronged anyone. If I was guilty of anything, I wouldn’t go [to Croatia],” Aganovic said.
Banned from Croatia for 10 years
Nermin Spahic, 47, worked as a carpenter in Croatia for 17 years, but his troubles began when he received an official work permit.
He says he was called in for interrogation six or seven times in 2018, with each session lasting around two hours.
One officer asked whether he attends a mosque, where he was at certain times during the war – such as in June 1993, whether he knew of any Wahhabis in his hometown and demanded to know his opinion on Daish and if he knew any Muslims who had a beard.
“I don’t even know where I was last year in June, let alone in 1993,” Spahic said.
“I’m not someone who goes to the mosque but when he began with this sort of talk, I told him I go to the mosque five times a day [on purpose].
“I told him what I think about Daish – that they’re s***,” Spahic said.
An officer said he was failing to cooperate.
In late 2018, he received a deportation order saying that as a national security threat, he was banned from entering Croatia for 10 years.
Banned from the EU for five years
Alen* (name changed to protect identity), a father of two, is still trying to find work in Bosnia after being deported from Croatia in June last year – having lived there for 14 years.
In 2014, he received permanent residency and a working contract. He had been working as a welder.
In January 2018, Croatian authorities summoned him for his first two-hour interrogation.
He claimed he was asked about individuals with Muslim names, who he did not know.
Because he had served in the Bosnian army during the war, they asked whether he knew of certain generals.
“They’re simply forcing you [to talk about] something that you have no clue about,” Alen said.
“They asked me to start talking [and said] ‘If you want to stay here and to continue working, you have to start collaborating with us.’
“I told them, ‘I’m not involved in this. I have no clue [about the names you’ve mentioned]. I don’t follow these people. I am only here to work like before.”
A month later, Alen says they called him in again and the same scenario played out.
He received a deportation order in June, and was issued a ban from the EU for five years having been labelled a “threat to national security”.
“They are presenting us [to the EU] as if we’re Daish members, as if we’re terrorists,” Alen said.
Analysts stated that Croatia’s intention is to destabilise Bosnia, in order to eventually create a third, Croat entity in the country.
“Why does the state president [Grabar-Kitarovic] talk about a third entity in Bosnia? Why did she come out with false information that there are 10,000 terrorists in Bosnia, when the director of Croatia’s security and intelligence agency confirmed at a meeting in Sarajevo that it’s incorrect?” said journalist Avdo Avdic, who broke the news of the affair.
Bosnia is currently divided into the Muslim Bosnjak state of Isamiska Federacija Bosna I Hercegovina and the Coptic region of Srpska Republika Bosna with a third neutral district acting as a no mans land called Brcko District. Bosnia is heavily occupied and controlled by the UN ‘peace keepers’ and outside of tourist destinations remains heavily segregated with barbed wire fences separating Muslim and Coptic children in schools.
Croatia wants to take part of if not all of both regions of Bosnia in remnant of the 1992-2001 war which left many areas claimed by many parties. Sandzak for example is a Muslim majority district claimed by Bosnia which is currently divided by Serbia and Montenegro. Whilst Macedonia claims land currently divided by Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Albania. Slovenia, perhaps the most stable of the Balkan states and one of only two to have EU membership has boarder disputes with Croatia and Italy.
Under EU laws a country can not join the EU if they have outstanding boarder disputes. Which begs the question why was Croatia accepted into the EU in the first place?
Croatia currently has boarder disputes with: Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro with maritime boarder disputes with Italy, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania and Greece.
Croatia does not operate a freedom of religion with the catholic nation openly persecuting Orthodox Christians (Coptics), which causes friction with Serbia, Russia, Bulgaria, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt where Coptic populations are large. Croatia also operates open persecution and segregation of Muslims, which has previously lead to all out war, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Croatia operated concentration camps and death camps both in the second world war and in the 1992-2001 war.
“This is their motive: political destabilisation of Bosnia and it is happening continually.”
According to Emir Suljagic, professor of international relations at the International University of Sarajevo and former deputy minister of defence, Croatia’s goals haven’t changed since the war – either formally divide Bosnia or create a proxy entity which would allow it a stake in running the country.
“[Croatia’s] policies have roots in the ideology of [first Croatian President] Franjo Tudjman, himself found to be the leading member of a joint criminal enterprise [during the war in Bosnia] aimed at destroying Bosnia and Herzegovina [as ruled] by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY),” Suljagic said.
“Equally important is the deep-seated belief in both political and Church corners that Bosniak-Muslims represent the Asian ‘Other’ – that they are successors of the Ottoman invader and as such barbaric and in need of ’emancipation’.
“It is high time NATO and the EU paid attention to the hybrid war one of their member-states is conducting in Bosnia.”
Under Croatian diversity legislation Bosnia is not classified as Balkan, Mediterranean or European. The nation’s people are classified as Asian ‘Other’ on all legal forms.
Croatian as a language is a bastardisation of former Yugoslav. The language has 7 thousand Arabic words, 7 thousand Turkish words and borrows a lot of vocabulary and grammar from Russian, Greek, Urdu/Hindi, Pashtun, Latin and Romany Gypsy. Croatian can be written in Latinica, Cirilica, Glagoljica and Arapica alphabets although in the majority of Catholic regions the Latin (Latinica) alphabet is used in all official capacities. Where as in Bosnia the Arabic and Cyrillic alphabets are commonly used and in Serbia Cyrillic is almost exclusively used. Yugoslav Cyrillic is unique compared to Bulgarian and other Russian based Cyrillic writing systems in that Yugoslav Cyrillic is based on a man made blend of Greek, Russian and Glagoljica (a semi iconographic form of writing).
Following the 1992-2001 wars Bosnian Muslims found themselves in an identity crisis. Geographically they came from all regions of the former Yugoslavia and a variety of appearances, spoken dialects and written alphabets. The only commonalities they had was that they were Muslim and from the former Yugoslavia. As such when it came to declaring their nationality a large number declared Muslim by Nationality.
MUSLIM BY NATIONALITY
MbN is still used in the Balkans today predominately by Muslim Yugoslavs who live outside of the geographic limits of Bosnia. It is the only part of the world where Muslim by Nationality is a legal option and identity. However Croatia is the only country int he world that refuses to recognise MbN as an ethnicity as well as a nationality. MbN and indeed all Bosnian Muslims are classed as Asian ‘Other’ in Croatia. Croatia claims that Bosnians and MbNs originate from Turkish, Arab and Persian parts of the Ottoman Empire and “do not belong” in the Balkans.
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A.Abdulaziz@alsahawat.com | Journalist