To the dismay of the communist authorities, once the war was over the organization continued its operations with renewed enthusiasm. At first, Young Muslim activists received discreet warnings, but when they ignored them, the order was given to arrest them, and Alija Izetbegović spent his first spell in prison. Since he was serving out his military service in the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia at the time, the military court sentenced him to three years’ strict confinement, which he began in March 1946 and completed in 1949.
While under investigation, Izetbegović was held in the military gaol of the Marshal Tito barracks in Sarajevo, in a cell where half the inmates were under sentence of death. The mood among them was sombre as they awaited a final ruling on their appeal against the death sentence. Izetbegović’s three-year sentence was regarded as fairly lenient in the circumstances of the time, when some political prisoners received sentences of death or long prison terms. Even so, innocent as he was of any crime, he had to spend a thousand long days and nights behind bars. He was sent first to Zenica to serve his time, but after only two months was transferred to Stolac, where he spent seven months before being moved again, this time to “correctional labour” on a building site near Boračko Lake. As fate would have it, here Izetbegović found himself working on the building that was to be a recreation centre for the UDB (State Security Authority – the Yugoslav secret police), where “his udbaši,” the people who had interrogated him, would later enjoy a break from duty.
After Boračko Lake, Alija was moved to Sarajevo, where the ironies of fate showed that they had not done with him. Here he and other prisoners were to build the headquarters of the Communist Party Central Committee. Perhaps the whole idea was that the political opponents of communism were to build its temples.
The isolation of prison was made easier for the young Izetbegović by the loving letters he exchanged with Halida, a girl he had known since he was eighteen and had gone out with throughout the war. When he was sent to prison, they kept in touch by letter, describing their feelings and expressing their respect and love for each other, which separation only served to strengthen and deepen.
Alija was sent to the Hungarian border for the third and final year of his sentence, to work on the Belje agricultural estate near Beli Manastir. There he was put to felling trees, at which he became adept. Many years later, Izetbegović himself used to say that if ever he had to resort to manual labour to earn a crust, he would choose to be a wood-cutter: “of all the manual work I have done – and I’ve done plenty – that is the one that appeals most,” he would say.
He spent that winter of 1948-1949 cutting up firewood with a hand-saw. This physical activity, combined with enough food, enabled him to make a full recovery by the end of the third year of his sentence. He was 24 when he came out of prison, and looked extremely well. His family wept with joy when they saw how strong, healthy and mentally fit he was. No sooner had he left prison than, as expected, Alija married Halida. He was proud of her beauty, considering her physically far more attractive than he himself, though many women found him handsome, with his vivid blue eyes and, despite his youth, the aura of prison martyrdom about him, which earned him the respect and affection of those around him.
Just as it was the natural thing for him to marry Halida, so those who knew him best fully expected him to continue his political activities. Izetbegović renewed his connection with the Young Muslims covertly, through Hasan Biber. Exactly forty days after they made contact, on 11 April 1949, Biber was arrested. During his interrogation, he was under constant pressure to reveal Alija’s renewed involvement with the Young Muslims, but he would not buckle. The other members of the organization were still unaware of Izetbegović’s activities, so thanks to Biber, he remained at liberty, though with little time to enjoy his freedom, as he had still not fully recovered from his three years in prison. At his trial in July, Biber received the death sentence, which the zealous communists carried out in October.
This trial led to widespread arrests throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, and raids on the Young Muslims organization in Mostar began, when files and the minutes of meetings were confiscated. This was followed by a simultaneous action in Zagreb, where the authorities arrested a large group of students, all of which culminated in a trial in Sarajevo in August 1949. Some of those arrested were already on trial for the second time, and were convicted and sent to prison. Adding up all the prison sentences in all the political trials of the Young Muslims gives a total of a thousand years’ confinement. The organization was wiped out, with all its leading figures in gaol or executed.
There were, it is true, still some who continued inwardly to nurture the Young Muslims idea, and there were frequent secret meetings at which it was discussed, but the organized operations that could have turned into specific political action were over.
Meanwhile, Alija Izetbegović was studying Yugoslav society, based, it was claimed, on social equality and a refined sense of justice. In his view, however, it had more to do with hypocrisy, with ordinary people going hungry as leading communists drew their supplies from secret caches. The masses were eating potatoes and rice, while the privileged and the ideologically “correct” were living in the lap of luxury: they had everything, from milk to chocolate. Yet any open discussion about privileges was treated as anti-constitutional and anti-state.
Izetbegović spent the next ten years working on building sites, mainly in Montenegro, where he spent seven years, overseeing the construction of the Perućica hydro power plant near Nikšić. He tried to spend his free time broadening his formal education, first studying agronomy before transferred to law in his third year. Within two years, he graduated. It was 1956.
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.