Fight Erupts Over New Bosniak Academy of Sciences

A new academy of science started by Muslim religious leaders in Bosnia and Serbia has stirred debate across the Balkans. Serbian academics say the academy is a political move aimed at increasing tensions between Serbs and Bosniaks in the region, and some Bosniak scientists say the new organization is an attempt by Muslim clerics to increase their influence that adds little to the existing academies of science in the region.

(Bosniaks, often referred to as Bosnian Muslims, are the largest ethnic group in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B.I.H.); they form a minority in neighboring Serbia.)

The heads of Muslim communities from BIH and Serbia established the Bosniak Academy of Sciences and Arts (BANU) at a meeting at the International University of Novi Pazar in Serbia on 9 June. Great Mufti Muamer Zukorlić, leader of the Muslim community in Serbia, told Tanjug press agency that the academy will be an "elite, trans-border academy for all of the Bosniaks worldwide, who will be represented by the best quality people from science and arts."

BANU, which has 21 founding members and is chaired by Ferid Muhić, a philosopher from Skopje, Macedonia, will have dual headquarters in Novi Pazar and in Sarajevo, the capital of B.I.H. It says it will focus on research related to Bosniak heritage and identity.

But the new academy has been mired in controversy from day one. One of the founding members is former BIH President Ejup Ganić, against whom Serbia has filed an international arrest warrant on allegations of war crimes. And the academy is meeting with outright hostility in Serbian circles. The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU)—which declined to comment for this story—has called on the Serbian government to review BANU's legitimacy.

Serbian science and education minister Žarko Obradović has already said that he will file a complaint with the state prosecutor because the new academy violates a 2010 Serbian law that made SANU the highest scientific institution and the only one that can represent Serbia at international meetings of academies of sciences. "The foundation of the academy does not seem to be a result of any authentic scientific, cultural, or artistic needs, but a totally arbitrary, rushed political action," Ganić's deputy, Slobodan Jauković, told press agency BETA.

Among Bosniaks and Croats, too, there is criticism. The academy is "marginal" and "illegitimate," Šaćir Filandra, a professor of politics at the University of Sarajevo, told Glas Srpske newspaper. "It is owned by a small group of people who are not intellectuals and so it lacks legitimacy," he said, adding that there is no consensus among the Bosniak intellectual community about the need for a new academy.

There are already two science academies in BI.H.: the Sarajevo-based Academy of Science and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serbian-oriented Academy of Sciences and Arts of the Republic of Srpska—the Serbian part of B.I.H.—which is based in Banja Luka. Rajko Kuzmanović, president of the latter academy, told Press Online that BANU "has none of the elements that would give it the right to call itself a scientific institution," and that it "has no backing in the law."

Many Serbians see the new academy as part of a campaign for increased Bosniak political power in a region long troubled by civil wars and divided along ethnic and religious lines. Serbian media have widely branded the academy as the beginning of yet another secession move, this time of Serbia's Sandžak region, where Bosniaks form a majority. (Serbia saw Montenegro and Kosovo peel off and declare themselves independent states in 2006 and 2008 respectively.)

Esad Džudžević, president of the Bosniak National Council in Serbia, told Tanjug press agency that it's Bosniaks' right to form a new academy, but he questioned the fact that the initiative comes form the top of the Islamic community and as such contributes to the "clericalization" of politics in the region.

Zukorlić dismissed the uproar as "hysterical" in an interview with Danas newspaper on Monday. "Nothing spectacular or negative happened to Serbia or Serbian people, and not even to SANU. He said that unlike SANU, which is a state institution, BANU is a citizens’ association. Both have a right to exist, he said, and he called for collaboration between the two academies.

It's not the first fight over scientific academies in the region. Serbia had three science academies until 1992, when a decree signed by then President Milošević cancelled the academies in Kosovo and Vojvodina, a semi-autonomous province in Serbia's north. SANU fought the 2003 relaunch of the Vojvodinian Academy of Sciences and Arts, but a new constitution passed by the Assembly of Vojvodina in 2009 made the academy legal once again.