Sarajevo canton minister Emir Suljagic resigns after death threats

Author: Selma Boracic
Uploaded: Tuesday, 14 February, 2012

Radio Free Europe reports on how the author of 'Postcards from the Grave' has become the latest victim of religious bigotry and intolerance in once-tolerant Sarajevo

The education minister of Sarajevo canton, Emir Suljagic, resigned his post on 10 February, two days after receiving a death threat sent to his home address in a letter which contained also a bullet. Suljagic said in his statement that he has resigned because of death threats directed against him and his family. ‘The threats started to come in after my decisions began to undermine centres of power that are not subject to democratic elections. I have been ignoring the public and private threats directed at me, in the belief that like other citizens of this country I enjoyed the protection of the law.   The threats which I and my family face prevent me from fulfilling the programme for which I got the mandate and the solemn promise which I gave to the citizens and assembly of Sarajevo.’ Recently, however, he received a letter sent to his home address which contained a bullet and the message: ‘Let go of Allah and his faith, for otherwise the hand of revenge will reach you.’ 
The pressure on the cantonal minister of education began after he had ruled that marks gained in religious classes would not be included in a pupil’s average, thus ending discrimination against children who did not attend religious classes.   ‘It is well known that everybody, from church dignitaries to the media and pressure groups, joined in my public lynching, creating thereby a situation in which the sending of a bullet to my home address became legitimate. Some of the responsibility for my persecution lies also with the media, which kept publishing my home address, thus making me and my family a clear target.’ 
One form of pressure was the issuing of a hundred-year fatwa by the religious Council of the Islamic Community of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which demanded that Suljagic should rescind his decision. One of the threatening letters which he received by email said: ‘If you don’t give up on the issue of religious instruction, my prayer will affect your next three generations, and if you do, I shall pray to Great Allah to forgive you.’ 
Suljagic’s statement goes on to say: ‘Given that I don’t wish to give in to the pressure and do what the threats demand, and bearing in mind that the security of my family depends on it, the submission of my definitive resignation is, I believe, the only personally, morally and politically responsible act left to me at this moment. I sincerely hope that my resignation will mark a starting-point for re-invigorating the institutions managed by those whom the people have elected and who are accountable to the people at election time.’ 
In some of the Bosnian media one can read that the resignation follows a disagreement between Suljagic and the leadership of the Social-Democratic Party to which he belongs.   But according to the Federation’s prime minister and Suljagic’s party colleague Nermin Nikšic, the resignation was submitted after repeated threats, and the death threat was the final straw: ‘It is a purely personal decision, a purely private stand. I have talked to him. I think it’s a pity, a pity for the Bosnian state, that we find ourselves in a situation when such forms of pressure result in people having to resign public office, which shows that our system suffers from problems.’, said Nikšic. 
This is not the first resignation which Suljagic has submitted to the cantonal government. The first came in May of last year, and related to the issue of religious instruction in Sarajevo. Then too Suljagic failed to gain adequate support from his party.   According to the website Sarajevo-x, following a public campaign against him waged by the religious establishment because of his decision that religious instruction be subject to only descriptive marks, it was in May 2010 that Emir Suljagic submitted his first resignation.   As he told the meeting of Sarajevo’s cantonal assembly: ‘Our children are not equal before the law. Those who attend religious classes get extra marks, which discriminates against those who don’t, who are thereby not treated as equals. My question to you is this: “Are we, the people of Sarajevo, such people who, to quote Orwell, divide children between those who are equal and those who are more equal?”’ 
Coming under increasing pressure to withdraw or change his decision, Suljagic was soon abandoned by his own party leaders, who gave in to the SDA demand that the contested decision be changed. According to Sarajevo-x, the leading lights of the anti-Suljagic campaign were the head of the Bosnian Muslim community, Mustafa Ceric and his acolytes, who warned the minister that, unless he rescinded his decision, he would experience a ‘Sarajevo summer’ when walking the city streets, in allusion to the ‘Arab spring’.
Translated from the website of Radio Free Europe
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