The end of the 1980s gave a foretaste of the turbulent beginning of the 90s. The crisis in Yugoslav was reaching its peak. In the western regions of the country there were demands for democratization and for the introduction of a multi-party system, and the finger was being pointed more and more openly at Serbian hegemony. In Serbia, meanwhile, Milošević was coming to the fore, and was convincing the Serbs that it was they who were under threat, so gradually creating the psychological climate for war. Slovenia and Croatia, for their part, were increasingly keen to break away from Yugoslavia to become independent states. New political elites were coming to the fore, soon to bring changes to the country. One after another, new political parties were being formed. Franjo Tuđman set up the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, with an independent Croatia as its central aim.
Izetbegović watched all these changes, keen that the Muslim population, “from Novi Pazar to Cazin” (as he wrote in his Memoirs), be ready to meet them. From the outset it was the Yugoslav Muslim Organization of Mehmed Spaho that was his political inspiration, though he believed it had had certain weaknesses, “as was clear from the fact that it fell apart with the very first trials of war in 1941.” Izetbegović, who had a premonition of war, did not want the same thing to happen to his party. Work on the formation of the party began in November 1989, just a year after he left prison. Somewhat against his will, he was leader of the party from the outset. He admitted in his memoirs that he even asked himself, “If I’m the best, what are the rest like?” He answered himself thus: “I suppose leaders have to have some major faults, and I certainly had enough.”
The first person he contacted was Prof. Dr. Muhamed Filipović, who courteously turned him down on the grounds that, in his view, the time was not ripe to form a Muslim party. He probably had in mind the law, still in force at the time, prohibiting all political activity not under the auspices of the Communist League. Anyone acting in breach of this law could in theory receive a ten-year prison sentence. Izetbegović decided to take the risk. Throughout his life he had always challenged the odds, and besides, it seemed to him that it was in fact the time to form his party. In his quest for like-minded associates, he went to Zagreb, where political events had progressed further, and where he therefore hoped to find a better reception for his ideas – as indeed he did. There he met Šemso Tanković and Salim Šabić (who has since died). About fifteen invitees attended a meeting in the Zagreb mosque, organized by Šabić, and agreement in principle was rapidly reached to form a political party from the “Muslim cultural community,” with pan-Yugoslav aspirations: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. Branches were soon set up abroad as well; the idea spread like wildfire.
These developments were favoured by the crisis that was sweeping through the entire socialist-communist camp. The Berlin Wall fell, and with it the power of the ideology that had ruled the Eastern Bloc.
On 27 March 1990, as spring was breaking, Izetbegović called a press conference at the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo to announce the formation of his political party. His voice shaking somewhat from emotion, he read out a press statement, later to be known as the Statement by the Forty, after the number of signatories, which read as follows: “We the undersigned, faced with the crisis of Yugoslav society, which is not only economic but also political and moral, concerned to preserve Yugoslavia as a union of peoples and nations and interested in the unhindered advancement of the democratic processes that have already begun towards a free, modern state with the rule of law, desirous of encouraging this advancement and in achieving, in such a state, not only the interests common to all its citizens, but also those particular to us as citizens belonging to the Muslim cultural community, have resolved to launch an initiative to found the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), and to this end hereby announce the sixteen programmatic principles of our political action.” This was followed by the list of principles.
Though it made nominal appeal to all citizens, it was clear from the very first paragraph that the party was to be nationally-based: “The SDA is a political alliance of the citizens of Yugoslavia who belong to the Muslim cultural community, as well as to other citizens of Yugoslavia who accept the party’s programme and objectives.” (Nominally, therefore, those who were not Bosniacs were also invited to join the political alliance, but the Serbs already had their own Serbian Democratic Party [SDS] and the Croats their Croatian Democratic Union [HDZ].)
The principles dealt with the procedures of the party and its aims and objectives. In brief, the founders of the SDA called for elections, democratic rule, equality for all the peoples of Yugoslavia and in particular in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for a polity based on human rights and freedom of belief. They made no demands for the break-up of Yugoslavia, and though events were to move in a different direction, it even seemed that they saw it as a desirable though not necessary political framework.
Of particular significance for gaining a fuller picture of the political interests of the party’s founders is Principle 7:”
“Faced with the disregard for the national specificity of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the consequent encroachment upon them, and rejecting these aspirations as contrary not only to the historical facts but also to the clearly expressed will of the [Muslim] nation, we hereby affirm that the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina, both those living in BiH and those beyond its borders, are an indigenous Bosnian nation and, as such, constitute one of the six historic peoples of Yugoslavia, with its own historical name, its own land, its own history, its own culture, its own religion, its own poets and writers – in a word, its own past and future. The SDA will therefore seek to revive the national consciousness of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and insist that the fact of their national identity be respected, with all its legal and political consequences. Emphasizing the right of the B-H Muslims to live in this country under their own national name and as an indigenous people, we acknowledge the same right equally, without no qualifications or reservations, to the Serbs and the Croats, and to all the other nations and peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this regard, we affirm our particular interest in the preservation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as the common state of Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The SDA will therefore resolutely oppose attempts to destabilize, partition or encroach upon Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of the source of these and similar ideas.”
The Principles drew particular attention to the right to “absolute freedom of action of all religions on Yugoslavia.”
The document ended with the signatures of each of the forty:
Alija Izetbegović, LLB, Sarajevo; Muhamed Čengić, BSc. Eng, Sarajevo; Dr. Maid Hadžiomeragić, dentist, Sarajevo; Dr. Muhamed Huković, teacher, Sarajevo; Edah Bećirbegović, attorney, Sarajevo; Dr. Šacir Ćerimović, chief physician, Sarajevo; Salim Šabić, businessman, Zagreb; Prof. Dr. Sulejman Mašović, Faculty of Special Education, Zagreb; Prof. Dr. Fehim Nametak, scientist, Sarajevo; Salih Karavdić, attorney, Sarajevo; Fahira Fejzić, journalist, Sarajevo; Dr. Šaćir Čengić, physician, Sarajevo; Edhem Traljić, LLB, Sarajevo; Džemaludin Latić, writer, Sarajevo; Omer Pobrić, musician, Sarajevo; Dr. Sead Šestić, scientist, Sarajevo; Dr. Tarik Muftić, chief physician, Mostar; Safet Isović, performing artist, Sarajevo; Dr. Šemso Tanković, senior lecturer, Faculty of Economics, Zagreb’ Mirsad Veladžić, MSc.Chem.Eng., Velika Kladuša; Dr. Kemal Bičakčić, chief physician, Sarajevo; Abdulah Skaka, artisan, Sarajevo; Omer Behmen, BSc.Civ.Eng., Sarajevo; Šefko Omerbašić, chief imam, Zagreb; Dr. Mustafa Cerić, senior lecturer, Faculty of Islamic Studies, Sarajevo; Dr. Sulejman Čamdžić, scientist, Zagreb; Prof. Dr. Lamija Hadžiosmanović, Faculty of the Humanities, Sarajevo; Dr. Halid Čaušević, LLB., Sarajevo; Kemal Nanić, BSc.Civ.Eng., Zagreb; Bakir Sadović, student, Sarajevo; Faris Nanić, student, Zagreb; Nordin Smajlović, student, Zagreb; Husein Huskić, MSc. Mech.Eng., Zagreb; Mirsad Srebrenković, LLB, Zagreb; Nedžad Džumhur, BSc.Chem.Eng., Banja Luka; Fehim Nuhbegović, businessman, Zagreb; Đulko Zunić, businessman, Zagreb; Prof. Dr. Almasa Šaćirbegović, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Sarajevo; Prof. Dr. Ahmed Bračković, Faculty of Economics, Sarajevo.
There was talk that the forty signatories might find themselves on the wrong side of the law; yet things were changing, and the authorities no longer had the strength for another major political trial. All that happened in reaction to the formation of the SDA was that a series on the 1983 trial of Alija Izetbegović was launched in Oslobođenje. The journalist who had reported on the trial had retained the style that prevailed at that time: the same accusations, the same way of faking them, as if nothing had happened in the meantime. The hidden agenda of the series was to use the Izetbegović case as yet another way of showing what kind of political “freaks” were founding the party. The authorities, who really did see the newly-emerging political actors in this way, were convinced they would win the forthcoming elections, and that these reminders of the “reactionary plans of ex-cons and incorrigible fanatics” would merely increase their lead. They got it wrong, however. Time would show that the people were sympathetic to the “ex-cons,” and were increasingly ready to adopt their political aims as their own.
Two months after the press conference at the Holiday Inn, the Constituent Assembly of the SDA was held at the same venue, in a packed hall, where euphoria swept through all those present. As eye-witnesses report, the “initial fear” had been replaced by “defiance and resolve.” The invitees included many distinguished figures. The cameras focused in particular on Adil Zulfikarpašić, a Bosnian émigré and cult figure who at the time was still living in Zürich, where he had founded the Bosniac Institute and assembled some extremely valuable documents on the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With others of like mind, he had already been a signatory to a number of democratic initiatives relating to the former Yugoslavia. He had considerable political experience, and his presence served as a major incentive to other SDA members to continue their political action. Izetbegović had personally invited Zulfikarpašić to the constituent assembly. In Zürich the two had already discussed forming the party, and had clashed over the term Muslim versus Bosniac: Zulfikarpašić held the view that the term Bosniac should be incorporated into the programme document from the outset, while Izetbegović agreed that the term Muslim was not appropriate, but did not agree with the immediate use of an alternative. He believed that the sudden introduction of the term Bosniac could confuse people when the population census was carried out, and wanted to leave the renaming of the nation for a later date, which was done.
In his Holiday Inn speech, Izetbegović addressed the issue of possible encroachments on Bosnian territory, saying, “I am certain I rightly understand the deepest sentiments of the Muslim people when I say that they will not allow Bosnia to be dismembered. The shameful Cvetković-Maček agreement to partition this country is dead and gone, and the force being born in this hall today is the guarantee of that.” These words were met with a burst of applause.
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.