A Jewish President of Bosnia? Why not?!

Today, we met Jakob Finci.  Finci is 70 years old or so; born in an Italian detention camp in WW2, after his parents were sent there (rather than Auschwitz).  They survived the war and the detention camp and returned to Sarajevo after 1945.  But the rest of Sarajevo's Jews were not so lucky.  85% of Sarajevo's Jews disappeared during the War.  Today, there are only 1,000 Jews in all of Bosnia; 700 or so of these are in Sarajevo.  And Jakob is their community leader.

Jakob is a lawyer by training.  During the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, he stopped practicing law and turned his attention to La Benevolencija, the Jewish community NGO that served as shelter, soup kitchen, pharmacy, and even post office to all Sarajevans, regardless of religion.

After the Bosnian war ended, Jakob worked to establish Sarajevo's Inter-Religious Council.  He served as the Jewish representative, as there is no full-time Rabbi in the city.  He also served as the Council's first president (from 1997-2000).

In 2000, Jakob was nominated to a new committee aimed at reforming Bosnia's bizarre constitution (thanks Dayton Accords - you did stop the war, thank God, but you left Bosnia-Herzegovina in a political quagmire ever since).  He and his colleagues did their job, but then (in 2006), Bosnia's Parliament rejected the proposed reforms.

In 2006, Jakob Finci then sued Bosnia in the European Court of Human Rights and won!  His case?  That he has no ability, as Jew, to run for the highest office in the land - the Presidency - or the House of Peoples.  The Constitution (thanks to Dayton) says only 1 "Bosniak" (Muslim), 1 Croat, and 1 Serb can be elected.  No Jews, no "others".

He won this case in 2009, as did another Bosnian "other", Mr. Dervo Sejdic, a member of the Roma community of Bosnia.  Together, the Sejdic-Finci case has put Bosnia on notice that it MUST reform its Constitution and allow for any person to run for that (and other) offices.

Jakob told us today - he would not expect anyone but a Muslim, Croat and a Serb to win the 3 seats of the collective Presidency; but it's critical to Bosnia that others be allowed to, so that Bosnia can be in compliance with all of Europe on this issue - and in hopes of reforming Bosnia's constitution on so many other issues.



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