Jewish and Muslim Communities in Sarjevo

Our primary meetings today were with Mr. Jakob Finci, head of the Jewish community of Sarjevo, and Sheikh Husein Efendi Kavazovic, Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Jakob Finci is one of Sarajevo's most famous personalities.  He has led the Jewish community for years, and had a prominent, "James Bond-like" role in breaking the siege of Sarajevo (1992-95).  (He was the one who mentioned "Bond" in his talk today.)

Mr. Finci is leader of La Benevolencija, the benevolent and humanitarian society of the Jewish community here; La Benevolencija served as hospital, pharmacy, shelter, food bank, post office, dentist, international operator, day care center, elder care center - i.e., anything that was needed for the whole Sarajevo community, Jews, Muslims, Christians alike - during the siege.

Prior to Mr. Finci's presentation and the Q&A/discussion, we watched an extended version of this video, "Survival in Sarajevo: Friendship in a time of war".

Mr. Finci remains a famous Sarajevan, even more so after his successful lawsuit against the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina in which he argued to the European Court of Human Rights that Bosnia-Herzegovina's Constitution must change and must allow for "Others" - Jews, Romas or any other people who are not Muslim/Bosniaks, Croats, or Serbs - to serve as President of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Under the "Dayton Accords"/Peace Deal of 1995, and enshrined in the Constitution, BiH has a collective presidency, but the only peoples who may serve are Muslims/Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.  (Finci was joined by Dervo Sejdic in separate, and later "merged", lawsuits and (again), they won.)

Prior to our meeting, we toured the Synagogue housed in the same building as La Benevolencija; this is one of 5 surviving Synagogues around Sarajevo.



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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