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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Bosnia the Good: Tolerance and Tradition
Rusmir Mahmutcehajic

Budapest: Central European University Press, 2000
236 pp. Biblio. Index. Pb: 13.95 GBP; ISBN 963-9116-87-4

The book is an elegantly formulated rejection of the projects to split Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war (and subsequently) in to "ethnically homogeneous" units. Mahmutcehajic, one of the most prominent Bosnian and Bosniac intellectuals, attempts to define Bosnia as a paradigmatic case of a society based on diversity of religions, traditions and nations. He locates this diversity less in the Western discourses of Multiculturalism of such authors as Charles Taylor or Will Kymlicka, but rather in the traditions of the region and Islam.

In fact, the book takes a critical position of both the predominant Western view of Islam and Bosnian Muslims/Bosniacs, and even more so in relation to the two "Western"/"Christian" national ideologies-Croat and Serbian nationalism-which threatened to rip Bosnia apart in the early 1990s. The author argues that the nationalist demands for the separation of Croats, Serbs and Bosniacs, as pursued during the war, contradict the historical legacy of Bosnia. Mahmutcehajic highlights elements of Bosnia identity and cross-communal historical traditions that could point to the development of an over-arching loyalty and identity structure in Bosnia.

Bosnia the Good highlights the dilemma which faced the Bosniacs throughout the 1990s and before. On one hand, it acknowledges the need for a non-national(ist) Bosnian identity which is based on the country's diversity. On the other hand, it offers only little clues how such an identity could develop outside the Bosniac nation. Mahmutcehajic outlines in detail how the Bosniac community and its national and religious identity fit into a larger identity, but offers only few hints how Croats and Serbs could be included into such a project. This difficulty is highlighted both in the limitation of Bosnian identity under Austro-Hungarian rule (Kallay) to the Muslim community and the limitation of success of multi-national parties in recent years to Bosniacs.

While not resolving the complex topic of identity in Bosnia, the book offers some valuable insights on cross-cutting traditions of tolerance and co-operation which were not only denied by nationalists, but also by many Western observers who focused exclusively on the break-down of co-existence, ignoring the rich tapestry of cross-community contacts and joint life for most of Bosnia's history.

The value of the book lies not only in an alternative view on the destruction of Bosnia and-in consequence-of the flaws of the post-Dayton state, but also in highlighting some of the moral dilemmas associated with post-conflict state-building in general on how to accommodate demands by political leaders advocating their groups (supposed) interests through the use of violence.

Florian Bieber
International Relations and European Studies

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