Speech by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess PhD
Delivered at the European Parliament on March 1 2022
Dear Members of the European Parliament, fellow panelists and guests, I am grateful to Mr. Romeo Franz, Germany’s Member of the European Parliament, for organizing this important celebration of 30 years of Bosnia’s independence. It is a privilege not afforded to many to speak before an audience like this.
Being an outspoken advocate against hate in my role as the Global Ambassador of the Congress of Bosniaks in North America, I have interacted with thousands of Bosnians in recent months. Many fear for Bosnia’s future.
The war has ended decades ago though Bosnians are reinjured daily through continued genocide denial, discrimination, and corruption. One genocide survivor recently pleaded with me that I do something, ANYTHING, to stop the violence from recurring. Should Bosnia descend into another bloodshed, she said: “I will hang myself.” Ordinary Bosnians are in a state of perpetual threat because they are still powerless – victims always are – to end the daily assault on their own and their country’s very right TO EXIST. Bosnians need allies willing to change this unbearable status quo, and those allies are YOU – the new generation of change makers in Europe.
For a moment, I want to take you back to years that preceded Serbia’s invasion of Bosnia, supported by the Serb separatists in Bosnia. It is relevant to what is occurring in Europe today. In the late 1980s, Serbia’s rising demagogue – Slobodan Milosevic – took the control over military, politics, and media in the former Yugoslavia as he engaged in fearmongering. Milosevic started to propagate the victimhood narrative claiming Serbs were under the threat of the rising diversity urging them to prepare to take up weapons and transform former Yugoslavia into Greater Serbia – a country for Serbs only. He likened Serbs to the protectors of the ethnic purity and whiteness in Christian Europe. Milosevic and Serb nationalists’ agenda mirrored that of white supremacists today. For them, Bosniaks as Bosnian Muslims embodied a form of ethnic impurity warranting their decimation. Before too long, the media was producing untrue stories of Bosniaks like me throwing Serb babies to animals in the Sarajevo zoo, sounding eerily similar to some of the current QAnon falsehoods undermining social cohesion not just in Bosnia, but in your OWN societies too.
By June of 1992, Serbia’s and Bosnian Serb forces were bombing and killing us daily under the military siege that lasted for nearly 1,200 (twelve hundred) days in my hometown of Bihac. Death…defined the next 4 years of my life and that of most Bosnians.
In October of 2020, I published an essay on the parallels between anti Muslim racism that fueled genocidal killings of Bosniaks and the growing threat of the far right globally. I warned against the kinds of violence we witnessed on January 6th in the US. Today, white supremacists flock to the Serb nationalist narrative premised on a long-held fear of Muslims. Bosnia’s de facto ethnic segregation serves as an inspiration for white supremacists and neo-Nazis in your OWN countries. They see how extreme violence can serve as a pathway to ethnic and racial purity.
Like those who partook in the executions of ordinary Bosniaks, white supremacists today leverage this anti-Muslim bias in our societies to awaken fear not just of Muslims but also of Black people, Asian people, immigrants, gays, Jews, and other groups. Actions you pursue in Bosnia matter not only to Bosnians, but to the citizens of your OWN nations. Who Europe truly IS – IS always defined in Bosnia.
It is precisely this anti-Muslim hate that Milorad Dodik has used to stall Bosnia’s progress. But, Dodik isn’t alone in portraying individuals like me as the existential threat to Europe. He has built a network of supporters throughout Europe which has allowed him to destabilize the Balkans as he and his key allies – Serbia and Russia – see fit.
So, I call on you today that you act before it is too late. Watching a lifeless body of a 6 year old Ukrainian girl yesterday across our TV screens is a direct call to YOU – to stop the hate narratives and aggressors. In closing, I ask you to:
- End a deeply embedded anti-Bosniak and anti-Muslim hate by supporting united Bosnia and Herzegovina where each and every citizen will enjoy the rights afforded to citizens of other European democracies, where lives are not defined by one’s ethnicity or race.
- Expand sanctions beyond Dodik to all entities that continue to deny genocide and perpetuate discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Support Bosnia’s upcoming elections to prevent voter intimidation;
- Engage diverse Bosnian groups, scholars, experts, diaspora, and local communities in any and all reform efforts; Don’t negotiate with separatists.
- Request that Serbia publicly recognize Srebrenica Genocide and end genocide denial;
- Support efforts to ban those denying genocide from political office in Bosnia;
- Increase the NATO and EUFOR presence in Bosnia;
- Disallow Republika Srpska’s capture of state assets, property, land, and forests to prevent those assets from being handed over to the external actors (particularly Serbia and Russia);
- Expediate Bosnia’s NATO and EU memberships not just to secure Bosnia’s future, but to secure the future and stability of united Europe.