French President Emmanuel Macron has described Bosnia and Herzegovina as a “ticking time-bomb” and the greatest concern for Europe in the Balkans due to what he said was its “problem of returning jihadists”.
Croat member of Bosnia’s presidency, Zeljko Komisic, said he would summon France’s ambassador to Sarajevo for an explanation of the comments Macron made in an interview with The Economist magazine, published on Thursday.
Asked about his successful bid in October to block Albania and North Macedonia from starting European Union membership talks, Macron said neither of the two nations was the primary source of concern in the Balkans.
“If you’re concerned about this region, the first question is neither Macedonia, nor Albania, it’s Bosnia-Herzegovina. The time-bomb that’s ticking right next to (the EU member) Croatia, and which faces the problem of returning jihadists,” Macron said, referring to escaped or released fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group who could return to Europe.
The French Foreign Ministry had no immediate response to the reaction in Bosnia.
A spokesman for Bosnia’s Islamic community, Muhamed Jusic, described Macron’s comments as “scandalous” and said the French president was slandering Bosnia to justify preventing Balkan countries with “significant Muslim populations” from fulfilling their aspirations of EU membership.
“Some 300 Bosnian citizens, most of them women and children, went to the battlefields in Syria and Iraq compared to over 1,900 French,” Jusic said, adding that France has double the number of foreign fighters than any other western European country.
“These days, France awaits the return of 450 jihadists. … I don’t see how this is a bigger problem in Bosnia than in France,” he added.
The Associated Press wrote in 2015 that out of a continental total of 5,000 fighters who have gone to Iraq and Syria, “France has the uncomfortable distinction of being Europe’s leading exporter of jihadis.”
According to Bosnian intelligence, 241 adults and 80 children left Bosnia or the Bosnian diaspora between 2012 and 2016 for Syria and Iraq, where 150 more children were born.
About 100 adults, some half of them women, remain there, while at least 88 have been killed or died.
In 2014, Bosnia became the first country in Europe to introduce prison terms of up to 10 years for its citizens who fight in conflict abroad or recruit others to do so.
Fighters who have since returned to the country were tried and, in most cases, sentenced to prison.
Many criticised Macron’s statement on Twitter.
možeš biti sekularan, napredan, moderan, šta god i koliko hoćeš svejedno je, jer bosanski Musliman, Bošnjak, Bosanac, kako god, uvijek je terorista i džihad ratnik.
ovo dole je Macron izjavio u The Economistu. pic.twitter.com/JeXe79Niyd
— faruk sehic (@faruksehic70) November 7, 2019
Translation: “You can be secular, progressive, modern, whatever and how much you want. It doesn’t matter because a Bosnian Muslim, Bosniak, Bosnian is always a terrorist and a jihad fighter.”
The more Macron explains his views on the Balkans, the more it is clear that it is based on ignorance, bias and arrogance. Europe's ticking time bomb is not I Bosnia but in West European unwillingness to understand that Europe is bigger than just it's Western half.
— Florian Bieber (@fbieber) November 7, 2019
In my life:
# of YEARS spent in 🇧🇦: 21
# of terrorist attacks I was in the immediate vicinity of: 0
# of DAYS spent in 🇫🇷: 8
# of terrorist attacks: 2.
I either have such lousy luck, or we are talking about the wrong 'ticking bomb' here.
— Aleksandar Brezar (@brezaleksandar) November 7, 2019
The only bomb ticking in Europe is that of far right extremism and fascism. History of Europe as nation states as @TimothyDSnyder puts it is that of bloodshed, extermination and genocide. There is no better past to look to. https://t.co/ZxvWpOc3bC
— Emir Suljagić (@suljagicemir1) November 8, 2019
Others noted how Macron’s controversial statement parrots the unfounded allegations made by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, her office and Croatian MEPs over the years that Bosnia is a security threat that is harbouring fighters.
In March, news broke that Croatian intelligence had attempted to plant weapons and explosives in a mosque in Bosnia as part of a false flag operation, confirmed by Bosnia’s minister of security.
Extraordinary disinformation from Macron's interview w/ @TheEconomist. We need to unpack this claim viz. Bosnia bc it's extremely pernicious and dangerous, and something he's clearly cribbed from Croatia's increasingly far-right leaning President Garbar-Kitarovic. [Thread] pic.twitter.com/CCBkKHlyYs
— Jasmin Mujanović (@JasminMuj) November 7, 2019
.@EmmanuelMacron is arming Serbia, together w Putin. Serbia is issuing threats against its neighbors almost daily. Yet, he somehow thinks that main problem are the returning fighters? This is the absurd @KolindaGK talking point. https://t.co/0iFv0mISFq pic.twitter.com/2FcaiMKFRU
— Reuf Bajrović (@ReufBajrovic) November 7, 2019