The war had ended, but not the problems. The implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement encountered major difficulties. The lack of clarity of some of its provisions was exploited by each side interpreting them in their own way. Izetbegović and his associates concentrated mainly on the struggle to strengthen the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its central institutions, the return of refugees, and bringing those accused of war crimes to justice.
Major outstanding problems concerned the arbitration for Brčko and the reunification of Mostar. Izetbegović’s man for Brčko was Dr. Ejub Ganić, and for Mostar, Safet Oručević, a man whose heroic struggle had saved part of the city during the war.
Both projects were concluded with relative success after a few years: Brčko became a district, and Mostar, though somewhat dysfunctional, is a reunified city, with which its people are increasingly at ease.
The resolute struggle to reconstitute the multiethnic state also began to produce results.
Izetbegović’s health deteriorated immediately after Dayton; he had a heart attack, leaving hospital at the end of March 1996. Yet this was the beginning of ill health that was to dog him, with ups and downs, until the end of his life. The Bosnian President’s capacity to continue working was seriously restricted.
Even so, he found the strength to exercise power for a few more years. He was often invited to conferences in various parts of the world. In America, he received an award for the advancement of democracy; in the East, he was as well respected as during the war. But Izetbegović did not see his presence at meetings and conferences as a mere formality; something in him, probably that Bosnian defiance resulting from the bloody war, compelled him to a critical sense of detachment. In the West, he defended Islam; in Muslim countries, he defended the West. In the West, he was an easterner; in the East, a westerner – but in both, he was a Muslim. It is perhaps no exaggeration to conclude that Izetbegović was in fact one of the world’s best qualified figures on this subject, an old one to him. Let us not forget that Izetbegović had met probably every relevant political and many intellectual figures of East and West, of Islam and Christianity, at specific, historic moments for his country, when facing the greatest of challenges. A modern system of global cooperation was being established in Bosnia.
One of his speeches that provoked an almost revolutionary commotion was delivered to the heads of state and other representatives of Islamic countries in Tehran in December 1997. The speech, which was broadcast live on all major television channels in the Islamic East and a number in the West, was a synthesis of his reflections on the current state of affairs in the Muslim world, attitudes to terrorism, and the false impressions and prejudices held by some Muslims towards the West.
“I regard it as a great privilege to have this opportunity to speak at this important gathering of Muslim countries. I have just returned from a conference on Bosnia in Bonn, at which the situation in my country was discussed and some extremely important decisions were made... With due respect for your time and today’s agenda, I shall deal with just one subject in my talk; East and West, and my Bosnia between the two. The idea for this came to me during my latest travels, which are still continuing. In the week now coming to an end, I left Bosnia for Saudi Arabia to attend a conference on education, and then went to Europe to a conference on Bosnia, and here I am now in Teheran, at an Islamic conference – East, West, East. I believe I am fairly well acquainted with both halves of the world, and on my travels I have learned some new things, good and bad.
“I have learned the encouraging fact that there are five million schoolchildren and students in Saudi Arabia, but also the sad fact that in another Muslim country, there is 68.5 percent illiteracy. Another piece of good news I have just heard is that twenty million people attend one school or another in Iran, but the bad news is that female illiteracy is unacceptably high in almost every Muslim country. Women constitute half the human race. An uneducated woman cannot bring up the generation that will lead our people into the 21st century. Forgive me for being so frank. Pleasant falsehoods do not help, but the bitter truth may be curative. The West is neither corrupt nor degenerate. The communist system has paid dearly for deluding itself that the West was rotten – it is not. It is strong, educated and well organized. Its schools are better than ours, and its cities are cleaner than ours. Human rights in the West are at a higher level, and social welfare for the poor and the less able is better organized. Most westerners are responsible and punctual – that is my experience with them. I am also aware of the dark side of their progress, and I do not lose sight of it. Islam is best – that is true; but we are not the best. Those are two things that we often confuse. Instead of hating the West, let us compete with it. Does not the Qur’an exhort us to do just that: ‘Compete in doing good.’ With the help of our faith and learning we can create the strength we need. True, it is a hard and tiring path, it is difficult to climb a mountain, the mountain the Qur’an speaks of, but there is no other way. So let us set up education foundations everywhere. Let not one of our children be left without an education. Rich Muslim countries should help the poorer in this important task. Let us do it today, or immediately convene a special conference on the subject. Some people think we can gain the advantage by terrorism. This is a fallacy that is becoming dangerously widespread. Terrorism is the reflection of our current disempowerment, and the possible cause of our future impotence. It is not only immoral, it is counterproductive. It is immoral, because it kills innocent people; and it is counterproductive, because it has never resolved anything. Terrorism has been rejected by every serious political movement in the past. In my view, the Qur’an explicitly forbids it with that well-known phrase: to kill an innocent person is akin to killing the whole of humankind.” Sadly, there are people who forget this.
“And now, a few words of Bosnia, my country. I have referred to East and West. Bosnia lies on the boundary between these two worlds, on the Great Frontier, as we like to say. Every tenth Bosniac was killed in the recent war. So do not allow another injustice to be done to Bosnia. Tell everyone that for you, Bosnia is a holy land, for it is soaked in the blood of innocent people, your brothers in faith.”
His speech was followed by silence in the hall; his words had made a deep impression. Self-criticism is not so common at such conferences, which are usually about hypocrisy and eulogies, with others blamed for every problem.
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.