Relations with the West

During the course of the many talks on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which continued almost throughout the war, Izetbegović met not only Muslim leaders but practically every other major statesman of the day.  Some even came to besieged Sarajevo, including France’s President Mitterrand, as did many officials from international organizations and US officials, three of whom came to a tragic end on the slopes of Sarajevo’s Mt Igman.  

Izetbegović did not hesitate to express his sharp criticism of the West’s policies towards the crisis.  He had the impression that the international community had not worked out a clear plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and therefore wrote to the UN General Assembly on several occasions, calling for urgent military action against Karadžić’s and Milošević’s troops, or alternatively to allow their victims to defend themselves, by lifting the arms embargo.  Europe’s governments remained irresolute, however.

Izetbegović’s mood during the final third of the Bosnian war is perhaps best illustrated by his speech at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Budapest on 5 December 1994.  These are some passage from that speech:

“Recent events in our country have filled me with bitterness, so I shall be brief and to the point.  There is really something ironic in the fact that as I stand before this forum of an organization founded twenty years ago for security and cooperation, and has those two great words in its very title, I have to speak about things that are the very opposite: about insecurity and non-cooperation....

“One gentleman, a senior official, told the world and the people threatened with slaughter and annihilation, with cynical indifference, that the Serbs had won – as if this was a football match, and he was blowing the final whistle...

“From the outset, Paris and London have acted as the patrons of Serbia, blocked the Security Council and NATO, and thereby prevented every move to end the Serb war of aggression...

“What is happening in Bosnia is a clash between democracy and the most heinous forms of nationalism and racism.  Our opponents recognize only one nation – theirs, they recognize only one religion – theirs; only one political party.  Everything that is not theirs is condemned to extinction.  Even cemeteries are being ploughed up. Read the latest report by the UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Mazowiecki, about what is happening in the territories held by the aggressor.  I would ask the gentlemen working so hard to make a state out of the monster that calls itself ‘Republika Srpska’ – and some of those gentlemen are sitting in this very hall – whether they will next turn their hand to having that ‘republic’ recognized and its creators sitting here with us next time. I would ask those gentlemen whether they are preparing to have that entity, founded on violence and genocide, invited to join the family of civilized nations....

“In a war of liberation, there is some intangible quantity that resists analysis. This is why military and political analysts from the West keep getting their forecasts wrong.  Our people are fighting for their liberty, and more – for their very survival.  Such a struggle is usually a hard one, but also one that is hard to lose. Not one war of liberation has been lost in the past fifty years, and I see no reason why ours should be. No one and nothing can force 150,000 soldiers to lay down their arms. I recommend you all take that into account, both for our sake and for yours.  I hope that the friends of Bosnia will not hold these words against me; and as for the rest, after all that’s not my concern.  Thank you.” 

Izetbegović often had the impression that people were actually waiting for the government in Sarajevo to suffer a military defeat.  This gave rise to a profound sense of bitterness which, as in this speech at the OSCE summit, he was unable to conceal.  In their autobiographies, western mediators such as David Owen or Richard Holbrooke described Izetbegović as a man with whom it was very difficult to negotiate.  He found it hard to reach a decision, and even when he did, it was uncertain whether he would soon change his mind.  He was not (eerily) easy-going as was, say, Milošević, who would somewhat craftily draw the line between life and death for the people in the field over a whisky.  Nor was he a fanatical historical idealist like Franjo Tuđman, who dreamed of making Croatia into a state with the most territory (as a banate) it had ever had, whatever the cost.  Nor did Izetbegović have the backing of a powerful army to help him in the negotiations.  All he had was legality, justice and the truth – but these are the very issues that become relative in times of war, when the force of argument has to face the arguments of force.  As a result, during the negotiations he had to resort to tactics to such an extent that he got on the nerves of those impatient careerists, the international mediators.

Nonetheless, when all is weighed in the balance, most of them held Izetbegović in high regard.  It was obvious to them that as regards his policies and his military opponents, the other parties to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s crisis, he was a moral giant.  They saw him as a serious man who all his life had been ready to go to gaol for his ideals.  True, the war was the greatest test of the moral side of Izetbegović’s personality, as recognized in particular by Western intellectuals, with whom Izetbegović seems to have more success than with politicians.  The French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy was entranced by Izetbegović the man, as he wrote in Le Monde, and in 1995 El Mondo proclaimed him man of the year after the signing of the Dayton Agreement.  Several universities bestowed honorary doctorates on him, and his understanding of politics gave him the standing of a man who had advanced democracy.  He received a medal from the Center for Democracy in Washington, an award from the Crans Montana Forum for the advancement of democracy, and many more accolades at home and abroad.  For his part, when asked what he thought about the world’s statesmen after all those meetings, Alija Izetbegović replied, “These people are usually surrounded by pomp, by police guards, by everything that gives the masses the impression that they are outstanding figures.  However, they are perfectly ordinary, and some are even extremely average.  All we politicians are more or less the same.  Except for a few individuals, there is no one I could say I admire.  Of course, there are those I like; I like Clinton, for example, because of his easy-going ways, a kind of general attitude.  Perhaps I’m not putting it well, I simply have the impression that he is a good man and, if I were an American voter, I would vote for him. Kohl is an exceptional man, I have also met Mitterrand three times, and then Chirac... They are not great men, but I couldn’t say of any of these leaders that they were below average.”


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.