The brief war in Slovenia broke out on 17 June 1991, the beginning of the break-up of Yugoslavia under fire. It began with the secession of this small state, with a population of two million, from which the conflict soon spread to Croatia. There the police clashed with the JNA, culminating in the siege of Vukovar and the shelling of Dubrovnik. The top Serb echelons stormed their way through Croatia, on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm illustrated by two remarks made by their leader, Jovan Rašković: “The Serbs are a crazy people” and, “Stepping on Serb meadows, you can get from Knin to Belgrade.”
Izetbegović held to the view that Bosnia and Herzegovina would not remain in a rump Yugoslavia, without Slovenia and Croatia, for it would no longer be Yugoslavia: it would be Greater Serbia. He had the support not only of his own party, but also of most middle-class intellectuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Karadžić’s response was his famous parliamentary speech in which he threatened: “Don’t think you won’t lead Bosnia and Herzegovina to hell, and the Muslim nation perhaps to extinction,” speaking not only to parliament but also to the camera, and to a horrified public. Izetbegović reacted immediately. “Karadžić’s speech and its message are the best possible explanation why we may not remain in Yugoslavia. No one will want the kind of Yugoslavia that Mr. Karadžić wants – no one except the Serbs.”
The clamour of arms could be heard everywhere, and under Izetbegović’s leadership, the SDA decided to set up a National Defence Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, from which the Patriotic League would later emerge, the first military formation created to defend the country. This was on 10 June 1991. Though poorly armed, the Patriotic League would itself later become the pattern for the organization of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the official army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Another sign of resistance was the decision, put forward by Izetbegović and adopted by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not to send military recruits to Croatia. It was on this occasion that he appeared on Sarajevo Television to appeal to his people not to respond to the call-up, uttering the famous (and controversial) words: “Remember, this is not our war.”
Later these words would be reinterpreted to suit Tuđman’s regime as meaning that the Croatian struggle for independence was not Izetbegović’s war, when he really meant the very opposite.
One of the manoeuvres with which attempts were made to prevent the war spreading to Bosnia and Herzegovina was the “Serb-Muslim Accord” engineered by Zulfikarpašić and Filipović. Armed with Izetbegović’s agreement, the two of them went to Belgrade for talks with Milošević, but the results were slim; the agreement was used to set up “rump Yugoslavia” through the back door – and for the Bosniacs, that simply meant “Greater Serbia.” Nonetheless, this unsuccessful accord was yet another sign of good will on the part of the Bosnians to prevent the war into which the country was hurtling at breakneck speed. A conference on Yugoslavia was held in The Hague in early November, but ended in total fiasco; it was now obvious that war was inevitable. Still hoping for a miracle that might avert it, Izetbegović suggested that the European Community send a good will mission to Bosnia and asked the UN to send “blue helmets” to prevent the conflict already breaking out around the Bosnian borders from escalating.
This was the atmosphere in which the SDA’s first Congress was held on 1 December 1991. The three-day congress was attended by 600 delegates and as many guests, to whom Izetbegović described the situation in his speech. Though he, of all key participants, least wanted war, it seemed to him that it was now inevitable, and he predicted an all-out war in which everything would “disappear in smoke and infamy.” The international media would later often quote these prophetic words.
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.