Feature 29 Aug 17

Turkish TV Series on Bosniak Leader Vexes Serbs

A series celebrating the life of wartime Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic, now being filmed by Turkish state broadcaster TRT, caused Bosnian Serb leaders to suggest a retaliatory film praising Radovan Karadzic.

Hamdi Firat Buyuk BIRN Sarajevo
Alija Izetbegovic (centre) with US Defence Secretary William S. Cohen in Washington in 1997. Photo: USA.gov

TRT only started filming the mini-series about Izetbegovic earlier this month, but it has already sparked more debate in Bosnia and Herzegovina than any other Turkish TV programme - including the Turkish soap operas that are highly popular in the country.

Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, suggested angrily that Radio Television Republika Srpska should consider retaliating by making a movie about Radovan Karadzic and his role in what Dodik described as “the struggle for the freedom of the Serb people” during the 1992-95 war.

Izetbegovic, who was the first president of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina after it sought independence from the former Yugoslavia, led the country and its Bosniak population until his death in 2003 - but some Bosnian Serb officials, like Dodik, claim that he was an Islamic radical.

In Turkey however, Izetbegovic is seen as a major political statesman, explained Ahmet Tezcan, a veteran journalist and the chief screenwriter on the forthcoming series, which is entitled ‘Alija’.

“No one can speak against Izetbegovic in Turkey. He is beloved by the entire nation. He is accepted as a great leader, democrat, freedom fighter and ideologist by all Turks,” Tezcan told BIRN.

Tezcan insisted that there was no intention to offend Bosnia’s other ethnic groups with the mini-series.

“We decided to film Alija’s life because he is a great intellectual and a politician,” Tezcan explained.

Osman Softic, a Bosnian expert on Turkey and Bosnia-Turkey relations, said that many Bosnians do not know how much Izetbegovic is admired in Turkey, where he is seen as the founding father of an independent nation as well as the leader of its Bosniaks.

“I think they are not aware of the historical significance of the late president Alija Izetbegovic to the Muslim world and to Turkey in particular,” Softic told BIRN.

He added that Izetbegovic and current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shared close bonds until the Bosniak leader’s death 14 years ago.

It has been reported that Erdogan was one of the last visitors received by Izetbegovic on his deathbed.

The Turkish leader said last year that he decided to visit Izetbegovic after he was informed on his way back to Turkey from a European trip that the Bosniak leader was in poor health, and changed his plane’s route in mid-air to head for Sarajevo.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan pays tribute at Alija Izetbegovic's grave in 2012. Photo: YouTube printscreen.

Erdogan said that during their last farewell, Izetbegovic asked him to take care of Bosnia and Bosniaks for him - a story that is often repeated by the Turkish president and his supporters in order to explain Bosnia’s importance to Turks and its significance in Turkey’s foreign policy.

“These bonds [between Turkey and Bosniaks] are based on personal friendships, historical destiny, ideological and religious affinities,” Softic said.

Softic accepted however that that the fact that Turkey has become an important player in the Balkans over the last decade, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has caused unease among non-Muslims.

“Turkey definitely resonates well in the Balkans, but only among the Muslim populations such as the Bosniaks, Albanians and other Muslim groups. On the other hand, it worries the Christian populations who tend to view rising Turkish influence as a kind of ‘neo-colonial’, so-called neo-Ottomanist threat, so to speak, given the past history of the region,” he said.

Karadzic proposal infuriates Bosniaks

The ‘Alija’ series, directed by Bosnian director Ahmed Imamovic and starring both Turkish and Bosnian actors, is still being shot, with two out of six 90-minute episodes mostly finalised so far.

Bakir Izetbegovic, Alija Izetbegovic’s only son, who now holds the positions that his father once held - the Bosniak member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency and the leader of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA - has voiced his excitement about the project.

“As his family, the most important thing is to show his life in the right way, and I am sure that the TV show will be very successful,” Izetbegovic said on August 11 at the official launch of the production.

Meanwhile Dodik’s suggestion that Radio Television Republika Srpska could retaliate by making a hagiography of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic is reportedly being taken seriously by the channel.

RTRS’s director general, Drasko Milinovic, told Belgrade-based newspaper Novosti on August 15 that his channel would be ready to take on this “very serious job” if there was a high-quality script and production team involved.

This infuriated many Bosniaks, who resent any praise for Karadzic, the wartime president of Republika Srpska who was sentenced last year by the Hague Tribunal to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, although he is now appealing.

But ‘Alija’ screenwriter Tezcan told BIRN that he has no problem with the proposition, arguing that Karadzic’s life should also be made into a film or a TV series.

“I personally support this idea and I would like to say that I could write the scenario for this potential project. In particular, Karadzic’s fugitive years must be filmed so that Bosnia and the Bosnian war can be better understood,” he said.

Tezcan added that after the ‘Alija’ series is complete, its main producer Sancak Medya is planning to make a feature film about Izetbegovic and his role in the Dayton peace accord negotiations which led to the end of the Bosnian war.

He also insisted that Dodik and others who have spoken out against TRT’s ‘Alija’ will be surprised when they watch it because the series seeks to promote peace and a multi-cultural and multi-religious Bosnia.

“Izetbegovic defined himself first as a human and then a Muslim,” he said.

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