Iran’s Cultural Presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
After the Break-up of Yugoslavia, the Islamic Republic of Iran focused its main political, economic, and military orientation on the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main reason that Iran found space in this country was because of the Islamist orientation of the “Mladi Muslimani” group (Young Muslims), especially with the last representatives of this group, such as Alija Izetbegovic. Unlike the leaders of other Balkan states, the Bosnian leader of the 90s, Alija Izetbegovic had established very close relations with the leaders of the Islamic regime of Iran, largely because of his Islamist beliefs and the frustration he experienced due to the lack of support from the Western states. . These close relations resulted in the large military presence of Iran in Bosnia during the Bosnian War1. After the end of the war in 1995, Western states began to pressure the Bosnian authorities to sever the connections with Iran and expel the Iranians who had taken part in the Bosnian war. On the other hand, the Iranians, who had made large investments, besides, some of their soldiers were killed in this war, ergo; they could not withdraw so easily and leave Bosnia in the hands of the Western states. Thus, the activities of the Iranians in this country continued in the field of culture, education, and upbringing.
So, unlike other Balkan countries, Iran even nowadays continues having a wide presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and so far has made large investments in the field of education and culture in general. In this country some institutes and organizations led by the Iranians are active, likewise some other local ones, which operate with donations from the Iranians. The Iranian Cultural Center operates within the Iranian Embassy in Sarajevo. According to our research, this center conducts various cultural activities with Iranian and Shiite content. The scientific journal “Beharistan” is also published under the direction of this Center. The journal has literary, linguistic, philosophical, and cultural content and is published twice a year. It is guided by Bosnian professors or intellectuals, but it also has Iranians in its editorial office. The journal is distributed in the scientific, university, cultural, and religious centers of Sarajevo and the main cities of Bosnia. Half of the articles in the Beharistan journal are written by Iranian authors and are translated into Bosnian. This center has also published many books on political, Shiite, and Persian literature. The Iranian Embassy, through this Cultural Center, has managed to establish close relations and contacts with many Bosnian intellectuals and academics, and in many of its projects has engaged with Bosnian students who have studied in Iranian universities.
Nevertheless, another very influential and highly authoritative cultural center in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Mulla Sadra Foundation, which has been operating in Sarajevo since 2003. This foundation is headed by Akbar Eydi, a Shiite cleric who is also known as the representative for the Balkan states of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. According to the Bosnian media, Akbar Eydi is a close associate of Ali Akbar Valayati2, a senior foreign policy adviser in the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader. The goals of the Mulla Sadra Foundation are “to achieve valuable results through dialogue, acquaintances, friendships, and the exchange of experiences between the Iranians and Bosnians. Cooperation with full understanding with the university professors, prominent personalities, scientific and cultural centers, students and various social groups, and especially cooperation and coordination with the Riyaset of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
As can be seen in the website and statements of Akbar Eydi, this Foundation has clear intentions to convert the Bosnian Sunni Muslim people to the Shiite sect. Bosnian translations of Shiite religious books, especially books of the Shiite hadith, their high quality publication, their very rich portal, and many other evidences prove that the Mulla Sadra Foundation makes capital investments in the field of the Shiit theology and Islamic culture. All these activities and investments were used to install the Iranian ideology and narrative of Shiism in this country. Akbar Eydi in an interview on his Youtube channel states that in the future he intends to open a classical madrasa in Sarajevo, where he will teach Bosnian students Islam according to the classical methodology of madrasas in the city of Kom in Iran. The director of this Foundation, as noticed by social networks, the portal and the Youtube channel, is very present in the Bosnian society and has managed to establish close relations with the Bosnian Muslim youth. The Mulla Sadra Foundation has published many books by Iranian and Bosnian authors, and these publications in Bosnia and Herzegovina are known for their high quality3. It should be noted that many publications of this Foundation have Islamist political content, which reflects the official Islamist ideology of Iran. It is interesting to note that this Foundation, although named after the Iranian Muslim philosopher Mulla Sadra, has so far translated and published more books by Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei than by Mulla Sadra. So, this fact and many other activities of this Foundation prove that the activity of its leaders is presented as intellectual and philosophical, while the content is Islamist and sectarian. Also, the lectures and discourse of the director of this Foundation, Akbar Eydi, reflects the Shiite theology, especially the official theology of Iran. In this way, the whole focus and orientation of him and the Foundation is concentrated on converting the Bosnian people to Shiites. At a time when it is historically known that Bosnians belonged to Sunni Islam since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Bosnia and Herzegovina has always had and still has great Muslim scholars and theologians; hence it has never had and does not need other narratives of Islam.
But, if the Mulla Sadra Foundation carries out the Shiite cultural and theological activities, there is an even bigger and more powerful center in Bosnia and Herzegovina than this Foundation. This is the Ibn Sina Institute, which operates in Sarajevo. We will write about this institute and other Iranian organizations in BiH in the following article.
1 For more information visit: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRPT-105hrpt804/html/CRPT-105hrpt804.htm
2 Ali Akbar Valayati during the war of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992-1995, was Iran's foreign minister and was strongly involved in this war.
3 For more details about the mentioned books visit: https://mullasadra.ba/knjige/katalog-knjiga