Mustafa Cerić, Ph.D.
Grand Mufti of Bosnia (1993-2012)
Владимир Владимирович Путин
An Open Letter
Dear President Putin,
I am not entirely sure if it makes sense for me to write you an open letter. It seems that there is nothing that connects us in kinship, neighborhood or rank. You are far from my Bosnian house, but you are somehow involved in my Bosnian life. You have long alternately held the highest political and state functions of the Russian Federation while I had held the highest spiritual office for twenty years in war and peace as the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. Politics and religion are formally separated, but they have one common point of meeting – the human life on which neither politics nor religion has a total monopoly.
Mr. President, we have never had a direct meeting, but I did watch you up close in Moscow at an international conference on religious dialogue organized by the Russian Patriarch Alexei II before his death in 2008.
The second time I visited in Moscow was in June 2011 for a meeting of the European Council of Religious Leaders, held under the auspices of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. I was well received at the hotel of the Moscow Patriarchate. During my stay there, I smelled strongly of incense. I was privileged to attend the morning liturgy at a nearby church. I listened carefully to the liturgical melody in Russian, which was not foreign to me because it had a Slavic sound and an Eastern echo. Old women in black dresses with a black veil on their heads, like the hijabs, devoutly sang a liturgical song in the choir. My presence did not distract them at all because the look of my face made them feel like I was one of them. It was only when they noticed that I was not participating in the liturgical prayer that they became somewhat apprehensive. This second visit to Moscow remains a sad one, however, because on that occasion I received the sad news that my mother had passed away in the mercy od God Almighty.
My third visit to Moscow was in March 2019 within the framework of the international religious conference under the title: Islam is a Message of Mercy and Peace held in Moscow and Grozny and organized by the World Muslim League – Rabita. In conversation with Muslims in Chechnya, I had not heard a single unkind word about you.
Mr. President Putin, this information about my visits to Moscow may not be important to you, but it is important for me to tell you that I felt comfortable as a guest in Russia, especially among the Muslims in Chechnya, who praised you more than I expected. Of course, I was glad to hear that from them after everything they went through in Chechnya in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. We in Bosnia know very well what that means.
Dear President Putin, we are happy when guests with good intentions come to Bosnia. Especially those of world reputation and international influence, such as your Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. We expected His Excellency to come with good intentions and good news:
- We expected him to enter the main gate of an independent, sovereign and internationally recognized Bosnian state, the gate which is entered by all world statesmen and diplomats, who come to pay us an official visit. Unfortunately, your Minister Lavrov did not respect that Bosnian domestic and diplomatic rule, but entered the Bosnian state at the side door of a Bosnian village nearby Sarajevo, where he was received inappropriately and not in accordance to his diplomatic stature by Milorad Dodik. This does not serve the honor of the great Russia to treat the Bosnian state, which is sizably small but morally it is greater than many countries in the world. Doing so, Minister Lavrov broke the reputation of Russia. The power of the great is not proven before the small, but rather, the power of the great is proven before the equal or more powerful than himself.
- We expected Minister Lavrov to know “Who is Who” and “What is What” in the sovereign Bosnian state, which is complex, but it does not deserve to be made even more perplexed than it is. Unfortunately, your Minister Lavrov did just that. Consciously or unconsciously, his diplomatic skill to convey your expressions of respect for all Bosnian citizens, and not just for one village nearby Sarajevo, where the majority of Bosnian citizens are of Serbian ethnicity, was missing. This is not Russia, which I remember from my previous visits. Mr. President you must know that Minister Lavrov has disgraced you in Bosnia.
- We expected Minister Lavrov to understand that Bosnia belongs to the European zone of influence, where NATO has primacy without a question. Also, Lavrov should have known that the Sultan, to whom Bosnia reports nowadays, is no longer sitting in Istanbul, but in Brussels. The same goes that the Tsar, to whom Serbia reports nowadays, is not sitting in the Kremlin, but in Brussels as well.
- We expected that Minister Lavrov had mastered those basic lessons about Bosnia. However, he did not because he has fake political and diplomatic instructors in the persons of Aleksandar Vučić and Milorad Dodik. Mr. President, it is not known who misinforms you more, but it is known that Vučić and Dodik compete with each other who should come first to convince you to believe their false stories rather than your own eyes. Hence, we have to tell you the truth: – Do not trust Vučić’s and Dodik’s fake stories. They themselves do not believe in what they say. They cannot sit on two chairs. If they continue like this, they will miss both chairs. However, it is obvious that they are still trying to sit where you tell them, but also where Brussels and NATO tell them. But this is mission impossible, just as it is impossible for you from the distant Russia to constantly save an unpredictable and disobedient Serbian nation, which has an identity crisis because it has neither the courage nor the wisdom to face itself by the truth about its genocidal crimes in Bosnia.
- We expected Minister Lavrov to have information that an independent and sovereign Bosnian state has an official opportunity to join NATO because Bosnia belongs to its natural geography: the European Union and NATO. Vučić lies when he infers that Bosnia does not have an official position to enter NATO. That is why it was not appropriate for Minister Lavrov to mention at all that Russia is not in favor of Bosnia joining NATO. First, Bosnia has not and will not ask Russia where and with whom it should be in a political and military alliance. Secondly, the guest has no right to dictate to the host how he should arrange his house rules and order. This is not an issue on which Russia should declare itself at all. Bosnia is not Syria, where Russia can maintain a dictatorial regime against the freedom of the Syrian people by military force.
- We expected Minister Lavrov to come to Bosnia with the intention of cleaning Russian hands of the Serbian genocide in Srebrenica; we expected him, on behalf of anti-fascist, civilizational and democratic Russia, to express his condolences and sympathy to the Bosnian victims of genocide and to apologize to the Bosnian public for the deliberate omission of Russian diplomacy when it blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council Resolution condemning the July 1995 genocide, proposed by the United Kingdom and supported by the United States and European Union countries.
- We expected, Mr. President Putin, that you know that we in Bosnia still cannot believe that it was your personal position that Russia stay on the side of the perpetrators of the Serbian genocide in Srebrenica, a genocide that was proven without a shred of doubt and convicted in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the court established by the Russian vote in the United Nations Security Council as well. Russia’s veto against the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution on the Serbian genocide in Srebrenica will certainly remain as the darkest stain on the face of Russian diplomacy and morality. That, President Putin, is the same as the Holocaust denial in Auschwitz, which was liberated from the Nazis by the Russian Red Army. Imagine how Jews, victims of the Holocaust, would feel if Russia used its veto against the Holocaust Resolution? That is how the Bosnian victims of the Serbian genocide feel today after your veto against the Srebrenica Resolution. I would like to know how you, President Putin, feel when you know how the victims of the Serbian genocide feel in Bosnia because of your veto?
- We expected, Mr. President Putin, from your Minister Lavrov to visit the cemetery in Potočari nearby Srebrenica, where the victims of the Serbian genocide were buried; we expected him to be convinced on the spot of the crime of the Serbian genocide, which Russian diplomacy in the United Nations Security Council flagrantly and shamefully denied!
- We expected from your Minister Lavrov that instead of spending time with Dodik in a village nearby Sarajevo, he would spend some time with the victims of genocide. That honorable act would have surely spared him the unheard-of scandal surrounding the stolen icon from Ukraine, which Dodik presented him as a gift. This stolen gift is the most shameful act of banditry, which Bosnia, and I believe Russia, does not know in the history of its diplomacy.
- We expected Minister Lavrov to finally return to Bosnia the original Charter of Kulin Ban, which we do not know how it found itself in Moscow, just as we do not know how the stolen Ukrainian icon fell into the hands of Dodik, which he unlawfully gave to Minister Is this not, perhaps, the same case with the Bosnian Charter of Kulin Ban as it is now with the Ukrainian icon?
- We expected that you, President Putin, know that Dodik has been not so long ago a favorite of the West against Russia. He came to power in Banja Luka by the force of tanks, but then he changed his mind and became Russian favorite against the West. Both of these maneuvers are Dodik’s deceptions and perversions that we in Bosnia wrestle day and night. The least that we needed from your Minister Lavrov was for him to visit Bosnia and offer Dodik the support of Russia, from which only he personally benefits. We are sorry, President Putin, but Minister Lavrov did not deserve better than Dodik’s deliberate misguidance and deception, as he misguides and deceives everyone around him, especially his own Serbian people, who were shamefully betrayed after the scandal over the stolen icon from Ukraine. Minister Lavrov disgraced himself, he disgraced you, he disgraced Russian protocol and Russian diplomacy, he disgraced Russian culture and civilization. The way out of this impasse of Russian diplomacy in the world is Lavrov’s resignation.
- Dear President Putin, there is another way out, which we offer you. Namely, we invite you personally to attend the funeral of the victims of the Serbian genocide in Potočari nearby Srebrenica next year 2021. Do not listen to Vučić’s story about an attempt on his life in Potočari in 2015. This was an unfortunate incident that Vučić staged and provoked himself. No one at the funeral in Potočari has ever been looked down upon, let alone stoned except Vučić, to whom mothers gave “Srebrenica flowers” in order to arouse in him a sense of recognition and remorse for the Serbian genocide. But Vučić’s stone heart remained harder than stone; it remained so because Vučić is a savant in the art of presenting himself as a false martyr at the expense of the real victims of the Serbian genocide!
- M President Putin, do not be afraid! Come to Potočari next year to see for yourself the scale of the Serb genocide against the Bosniaks/Bosnians just because they were not desirable for Serb politics in Bosnia and the Balkans, and to realize how wrong your Lavrov-led diplomacy was when it vetoed the Security Council Resolution of the United Nations on the Serbian genocide in Srebrenica.
- Come, President Putin, to Potočari. The Srebrenica mothers will put the “Srebrenica flower of memory” on the victims of the Serbian genocide on your lapel in the same way as it was placed on the lapel of Pope Francis and US President Barack Obama. You must have heard a promising political message these days from US President-elect Joe Biden who said: – We will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. This golden rule should also apply to Russia, the rule which should be proven in Srebrenica at the funeral of the victims of the Serbian genocide on the eleventh of July.
- M President Putin, I want to believe that you are a great man, about whom I have heard all the best from my brothers in Chechnya. I want to hope that you will respond to my invitation to come to Potočari next year. It will be the greatest moral victory for you personally and for Russia. Do not count on Vučić and Dodik. They are the past. Reasonable people look to the future because the Almighty God created our eyes to look forward not backward!
Until then, Mr. President, accept the expressions of my respect in the hope that you will understand my message as I wish that Dodik will happen neither to us nor to you once again.
Dodik has embarrassed not only the Serbian people and the Bosnian state as Chairman of the Presidency, but also your Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who, because of him, disgraced the Russian protocol and diplomacy in front of the whole world. May this shame never happen again, especially in Bosnia!
May I say, Mr. President, that Bosnia & the Bosnian folk have great respect for Russia and Russian peoples, their historic traditions of honesty and high ethical standards, the land of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
I hope, Mr. President, you do have great respect for the autonomy and agency of Bosnia as an independent and sovereign Slavic State in the heart of Europe as well.
Please, Excellency, accept the assurances of my highest consideration.