In early January 1991 the newly-elected member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina began attending meetings of the enlarged Presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, consisting not only of its own members but also the presidents of the republics, and also attended by the federal Prime Minister, Ante Marković, and the Defence Minister, Veljko Kadijević. Fruitless attempts were made to reach consensus on the future of Yugoslavia. In despair, the Macedonian and Bosnian presidents, Kiro Gligorov and Alija Izetbegović, tabled a proposal for a “graded federation,” as a compromise between the options proposed by Slovenia and Croatia on the one hand, and Serbia on the other. Though clearly made with the best of intentions, the initiative came to nothing, and barricades began going up in the regions of Croatia inhabited by Serbs. Assisted by armed locals, the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) followed Slobodan Milošević’s orders and surrounded the area they claimed as a Serb Autonomous Region, a model later to be transferred to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By the spring of 1991 the SDS was creating Serb Autonomous Regions by force, as facts on the ground. Military sources reveal that the JNA distributed 51,900 items of infantry arms to the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991, to which should be added another 17,300 rifles distributed by the SDS through its own channels – which again means the JNA – according to intelligence sources. It was clear that Karadžić was attempting, in the absence of arguments, to strengthen his negotiating position by force of arms.
Meanwhile, Izetbegović was acquiring his first experiences as an international statesman. In March 1991 he travelled to Austria, where he met Kurt Waldheim, then president of Austria. It was Izetbegović’s first official foreign visit. Waldheim had his own major problems at the time, his Nazi past having been revealed. Even so, Izetbegović decided to go to Austria, a country of great importance for the fledging Bosnian diplomacy. Later, Austria’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Alois Mock, was to receive the order of Zmaj od Bosne (Dragon of Bosnia) from Izetbegović, in recognition of all that his country had done for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Visits to Iran and Turkey followed. The reception he received in Tehran was far beyond what Izetbegović had expected: he was met at the airport with a guard of honour of three branches of the Iranian army, every one of the country’s highest-ranking officials, and a line of fifty diplomats. For a man who had until recently been a traitor to the regime, this was a considerable shock, and he was not sure he had been at his best during that first reception. It is well known, however, that Iran would later play a crucial part in arming the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in deliberate defiance of the unjust arms embargo imposed on the country.
His visit to the United States left Izetbegović disappointed by the lack of understanding of the Yugoslav crisis, and under the impression that the USA would not do anything. As part of the diplomatic offensive, he also went to Rome to attend a meeting of European Community countries, at which a Declaration on Yugoslavia was adopted.
While all this was going on, Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović also met a number of times in the summer of 1991 to try to find a way out of the crisis. The heads of state of Serbia and Croatia tried to persuade the Bosnian to agree to some kind of three-way partition, but Izetbegović responded with the proposals he and Gligorov had put forward. On his return from Split, where he had attended one of these meetings, he was asked by a journalist to comment on the speculations about the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to which he replied, “For me, that is non-negotiable.”
The permanent museum exhibition is located in the towers Kapi-kula Ploča and Širokac. In the Ploča tower, the life of Alija Izetbegović as statesman and politician is displayed on chronologically arranged exhibition boards, accompanied by text and photographs. In the Širokac tower, the exhibition is dedicated to Izetbegović's role as the Supreme Commander in the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Serbian agression.
Established in the recent times, the Museum „Alija Izetbegović“ offers modern answers to questions from the past, but also sets the foundation for the future. Through its objective scientific approach, it encourages young people, intellectuals and researchers to approach modern history with expertise and knowledge.
The Museum educational programs are designed for elementary and secondary school students. They include professional tours of the permanent museum exhibition, interactive school workshops, pedagogical and educational publications, lectures, special programmes observing important historical dates, etc.