The challenges Balkan Muslims face in Europe (part 1)

Europe 07 Mar 2021 Contributor
Today's Focus
Balkan Muslims
Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 01 2020: Srebrenica-Potocari memorial and cemetery for the victims of the 1995 massacre. © Elmirex2009 | Dreamstime.com

SalamWeb Today is starting a series of articles on the challenges which the Balkans Muslims face.

The Balkans commonly known as Balkan Peninsula is a geographic area spreading between Europe and Asia that faces North Africa from its sea borders. The region is named after Balkan Mountains that are extended throughout Bulgaria.

The Balkan region includes countries like Romania, Albania, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia. It also includes seven countries that were the members of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia like Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was disintegrated in the 1990s.

Who are the Balkan Muslims?

The Balkan Muslims were faced with new problems with the downfall of communism and the disintegration of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Almost 200,000 Muslims were killed in Bosnia while thousands of innocent people were murdered in Kosovo.

Particularly, the genocide of 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica a town in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1995 has been the worst oppression that the Balkan Muslims suffered. Despite all these atrocities which took place in the presence of a civilized world, the Muslims had continued to exist and survived in Balkans so far.

The Muslims are in a majority in the Federal Bosnia Herzegovina. They are in a minority in Croatia and Slovenia. In Serbia (Sancak and Preşova Valley) and in Montenegro Muslims’ position as a minority is very weak. But Muslims are in an absolute majority in Kosovo and in North Macedonia, where Muslims cover almost half of the population.

Muslims are in majority in Albania. But as an official census of 2011 has shown a decrease in the Muslim population in Albania. Many Muslim leaders objected to the process of the census that the generic Muslim option had been split into categories like Bektashi Muslims, Sunni, and others. They think many intellectuals in Europe fear that Albania should not look “too Muslim” country in Europe. In Bulgaria and Greece Muslims are a minority.

According to statistics, excluding turkey, the total Balkan population is 50 million out of which 17 million are Muslims. It shows that Islam is the second-largest religion in the Balkans after Christianity.

The Balkan’s political and economic problems

The Balkan population is being politically rehabilitated, after the wars following the transition period. Balkan countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Greece, Croatia are the members of EU. Negotiations for membership are underway for Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania.

Kosovo is a partially recognized and disputed territory in Europe. On the other hand, Macedonia recently solved its naming issue with Greece and it has been named North Macedonia. And also because of the political instability in Bosnia Herzegovina, these countries have issues of membership with the EU. Out of Balkan countries only Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Kosovo have not joined NATO while the rest of all are now its members. There have been some political achievements but the social situation of Muslims is still not clear.

The economic crisis of 2008 which was the worst financial crisis since the 1929-30 great depression, affected the Balkan badly. Balkan economies are in crisis for the last two decades. The reform process has not achieved its target in the region due to various reasons. Western Balkan still remains the least developed part of Europe.

The steps taken for the integration and development of the Balkan are praiseworthy but still, it has a long way to go.

(To be continued)

(Written by Ijaz Ali, a freelance journalist from Pakistan. He holds a Master Degree in European Studies from Germany and can be reached at [email protected])