As the Bosnian war dragged on year after year, the hastily mustered patriotic troops grew into an organized army with its own rules. The nearest and dearest of many combatants suffered a terrible fate: deportation, injury, rape, murder... In some of the places where Bosniacs were massacred, entire families were wiped out. These traumatic events filled people with anger at the enemy, and in some cases their rage gave rise to the desire for revenge. One can understand their mental state, but a proper army cannot be ruled by emotion; it was vital to prevent retaliation from becoming the norm. The only person who seemed able to do this was Alija Izetbegović, whose authority was unquestioned among the troops, and that is what he tried to do. He seized every opportunity not only to encourage the men to keep on fighting, but also to make them aware of the moral aspect of the Bosnian struggle. He insisted that they refrain from killing civilians and from damaging or destroying Orthodox and Catholic places of worship. When he was told by David Owen and Thorwald Stoltenberg, in August 1993, that BiH Army troops had committed atrocities against Croat civilians in the village of Doljani near Jablanica, Izetbegović wrote to General Rasim Delić asking him to take immediate action: “A few days ago I asked over the telephone for an investigation into accusations by the HVO [Croat Defence Council] that a unit of our troops had committed an atrocity by massacring a number of civilians of Croat nationality in the village of Doljani near Jablanica. I have not yet received a report on the matter, and it is important you inform me of the results of the investigation and let it be known publicly. Use every opportunity to warn our men that they must uphold the laws of war. Do not hesitate to punish the offenders severely, and do not hesitate to let it be known publicly.” Despite these warnings, some BiH Army troops undoubtedly committed atrocities against Serb and Croat civilians. One known case is that of the village of Grabovica in Herzegovina, where members of the Bosnian army killed 27 Croat civilians. Izetbegović ordered an immediate inquiry into the case, and promptly forwarded the documents on the atrocity to The Hague, via a factotum.
This horrific case notwithstanding, the “balance sheet” of casualties of war reveal that such things were not widespread, but tragic exceptions. Unlike the Serb army, with its built-in genocidal plan, and the HVO, which in its own way acted to create homogeneous ethnic territories by expelling non-Croats, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina successfully preserved the image of an army that refrained, despite the indescribably difficult circumstances, from mass executions, arson and looting. The model was simple: the respective armies reflected the official policies on behalf of which they are waging war, and the official policy of the authorities in Sarajevo was a multiethnic state based on civil and human rights.
In year one of the war, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina was without doubt a multiethnic army with a number of extremely competent and experienced non-Bosniac generals, most notably former JNA officers Stjepan Šiber, a Bosnian Croat, and Jovan Divjak, a Serb. They greatly enhanced the Bosnian army’s multiethnic credentials, which was one of the ideals of Bosnia’s patriots. But as the war progressed, and in particular once the conflict with the HVO broke out, the number of non-Bosniacs in the BiH Army dwindled, and the number of units with a Muslim prefix grew. It is hard to judge objectively, without the necessary historical distance, how far the loss of non-Bosniacs from the Army could have been prevented and the tendency to turn a multinational army into a mononational one could have been halted; and still harder to reach an unambiguous conclusion concerning Izetbegović’s role in the process. Still, the fact remains that by the end of the war in 1995, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina was almost entirely Bosniac. It should also be recalled, however, that mononational or not, it resolutely defended multinational, universal principles.
Throughout the four years of war Izetbegović, though supreme commander, was himself in almost constant mortal danger. The Presidency building, where he came to work every day, was shelled more or less fiercely every day the city remained under siege, taking hits from all kinds of missiles, which sadly killed 57 people.
In addition, Izetbegović often toured the free territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, unhesitatingly flying in dilapidated, insecure helicopters, giving rise to stories of his legendary courage. Wherever he landed in free territory, he was greeted as an unchallenged leader. This war-time enthusiasm was comparable with the struggles of Latin America’s revolutionary idealists; and indeed, in his beret adorned with the fleur-de-lis symbol of the Bosnian army, to some people he looked like a modern-day Che Guevara or Tito.
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.