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Bos/Hrv/Srp 28 Sep 16

Goodbye to Dreams of Tuzla!

Dusica Stilic

I, a Bosnian, Dusica (daughter of a Serb) Lukrecija (daughter of a Croat) Stilic (wife of a Bosniak), have a feeling that my friends are subtly saying goodbye to Tuzla’s ‘otherness’ - hence the title; as if they are waking from a dream in which we all slept (or so I believed).

Promotional flyer for Bahrudin Bato Hadziefendic. Photo : BIRN

You remember my political escapade? I was loud, I promoted values, and I pointed out what I disagreed with. I even went so far as to call people names. Was I stupid or naive, I wonder?

This year’s elections, mind you at local level, seem to me the quietest, and at the same time, the worst and nastiest ever. 

I’m not sure whether the parties really tried to gather people who they believed would bring them votes, or just fished around to find and put on the list anyone who still wanted to have their name and face on a poster. (Well, some people always hoped for that but never got the chance, until this year.)

As much as I tried not to waste my time with the campaign frenzy, reading about the elections and discussing the candidates, it was impossible. I should have de-activated my Facebook account for a month. Now it is too late; they got me!

It all started when several candidates for the City Council contacted me, asking if I would vote for them. Sorry, nothing personal, but I have a strict rule. I only vote for people who are a) clean on all accounts and b) have achieved something on their own.

Then, having been dragged into thinking about various candidates, I did some research to see what was on the menu for this year’s feast (and what a feast it will be!). Tuzla, my city, faces a challenge (the biggest ever, it seems); one usual suspect, one expected suspect and six new (shiny) stars in the sky – a cute bunch!

Of them all, however, I had an interest in only two, despite the fact that they are also the only two whom my vote will not go to, no matter what.

The first is the current mayor, Jasmin Imamovic, who has been in office for some 15 or 16 years. I have often been loud against his rule, or, to be more precise, complained about the way he has invested our city’s funds. But what I am seeing this year is a significant increase in the number of people turning against him, actually not only him, but his party, the Social Democratic Party, SDP.

This is a surprise for Tuzla. Although the SDP stopped being my cup of tea a long time ago (I don’t see them as a truly democratic, or as more honest than the others), I never thought such a large number of people would openly protest (mind you, on Facebook) against the “reds”, i.e. the SDP, who are widely perceived as the heirs of the former communists and always enjoyed much support in Tuzla. Now, it seems, the number-one priority of many voters is to exterminate Tuzla’s redness.

This brings me to the other candidate. I keep trying to understand whether it is all in my head or something is really wrong here. This other candidate was jointly nominated by the Union for a Better Future of BiH, of Fahrudin Radoncic, and the Party of Democratic Action, SDA.

Bahrudin Bato Hadziefendic is a young doctor by profession, who treated people only for a few years before moving over to the management of a pharmaceutical company. Professionally, I have heard a lot, mostly good. On the human side, I also heard a lot, also mostly good. So, although he would never have been my first choice, because he represents parties I perceive as nationalistic, this young man had potential.

Until I opened his web page!

I would have never done so, had it not been for some friends talking about him, mentioning his grandfather and discussing a text published on one of the local portals.

What’s with the grandfather, I wondered? So, I sat behind my computer and started my research. I found his web page and he says he’s the best for Tuzla. I started reading and got to the point where he talks about his roots, mentioning his great-grandfather, Mujaga Hadziefendic, who was the third mayor of Tuzla at the end of the 19th century, and continuing to say he was a grandson of the “legendary” (that is the term used) grandfather, Muhamedaga Hadziefendic.

I must admit, I had never heard of the grandfather (although he does come from a respected family and some of his descendants are my friends). No wonder I hadn’t, for my grandfather was a partisan and my other grandfather helped the resistance, while he didn’t.

You see, his grandfather is “legendary” because he and his soldiers defended the local Muslim population from Serbian Chetnik attacks and massacres in World War II, which was a noble thing. But, the other side of this coin, he was also commander of the Hadziefendic Legion in the Home Guard of the Independent State of Croatia at the beginning of the war and was later involved in recruitment of local population, mainly Muslims, into the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar.

I spent three days researching and reading from varying different and contradicting sources about this division and its role in World War II, both locally and in Europe. The grandfather’s title was SS-Sturmbannfuhrer, i.e. major of the Armed SS.

In my book, he was a declared fascist.

Don’t misunderstand me, it is not this particular fact that bothers me. It is not even the SBB-SDA candidate’s interview with the daily Avaz, in which he says: “It makes me proud when people in some places around Tuzla, after hearing my surname, ask what Muhamedaga was to me”. That does not bother me; everyone has the right to be proud of anything they want.

And I don’t want to go into history; I am not qualified to say if the Hadziefendic Legion committed crimes, or judge whether calling him “legendary” is the same as rehabilitating the Chetnik leader Draza Mihajlovic. But it does bother me to see that, 80 years after the end of the World War II, we still keep looking into the past instead of aiming for the future (a multicultural and multiethnic one, if I may add!).

Honestly, I cannot be totally nonchalant about anyone being proud of their family’s fascist legacy. When people tell me: “Come on, he is not like that, it is just PR”, I freak out. What does that mean: it is just PR? Does it mean we now use fascism to win votes? Is fascism to be used for the extermination of the reds (a synonym for the former system, in a way “personified” in the SDP)?

When did we drop nationalism? Please, bring it back. It was more benign than this!

To go back to Facebook and the elections, and then I will (I hope) link this all into what I want to say; every time I open Facebook, I see people sharing posts, promoting different candidates and parties (including promotion of their own candidacies, which is what I also did back then). Among all these posts, I see a lot of my friends sharing this guy’s PR and I guess this means they support him and will vote for him. Hence, I conclude, they agree with the politics he represents.

Does he himself agree with such politics? Is he aware of the messages being sent and does he agree with them? Did he participate in their creation? Did he suggest them?

Talking about the messages brings me back to the beginning of this text: is it just me, or things are going in the wrong direction? You know, when I was loud about Imamovic, I was never sent any friendly warnings such as: “Don’t publish these things, don’t make enemies, you never know what can happen.” But, this time, only after a few Facebook comments and posts, I was.

So I need an explanation: does the support he gets mean that the end of multicultural Tuzla is near? Do you, my friends who support his candidacy, which subtly uses fascism to fuel a populistic campaign, think the time has come for me to pack my bags?

Excuse my ignorance, but to me, all collaborators are the same. Excuse my ignorance, but if you dislike the SDP as former communists, isn’t there anyone else, except nationalists and fascists?

Excuse my ignorance, but do we live in the same Tuzla, or, perhaps, your tap on my shoulder is not really a sincere gesture of friendship? Excuse my ignorance, but does this mean I should “reform” my identity (to match the circumstances), “reform” what I am and vote for a nationalistic party, too?

Excuse my ignorance, but are you in fact awakening me from the illusion of cohabitation?

P.S. I hope for only one thing in this situation; I hope Bato is not only a puppet of his own party, but, indirectly, a puppet of the SDP. You see, eight years ago, when Imamovic’s position was also shaky, a counter-candidate for the post of mayor was a man from Kalesija, near Tuzla, and the story was that he was going to cover our precious artificial salt lakes with earth once he became the mayor. Guess what. Everyone got scared of that and voted for Imamovic.

Talk about it!

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