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Sarajevo School Renamed For Controversial Bosnian Who Backed Nazis

Students of the former Dobrosevici Elementary School will return to a school with a darker name.
Students of the former Dobrosevici Elementary School will return to a school with a darker name.

When students at the former Dobrosevici Elementary School on the outskirts of Sarajevo return to class after their summer break, they'll see familiar faces, textbooks, and desks.

What won't be familiar is the nameplate on the school itself.

In a controversial move, the authorities renamed the school last week after Mustafa Busuladzic, a Bosniak activist whose fascist and anti-Semitic views during World War II ended with his execution in 1946.

The change in name came after a heated battle in the city council over whether Busuladzic's role as a distinguished Muslim intellectual outweighed his support of Adolf Hitler and Germany's Third Reich during the war.

Busuladzic was arrested but never legally convicted for his actions. Some in Bosnia-Herzegovina consider him a martyr.

"It is truly embarrassing that Sarajevo has joined this pervasive global trend of historical revisionism and the celebration of those who certainly should not be celebrated. These are names associated with the celebration of the fascist regime," says Sabina Cudic, a member of the regional council that debated the name change.

Mustafa Busuladzic
Mustafa Busuladzic

The initiative came from parents of students at the school, as well as others who say Busuladzic was "misunderstood."

In the council debate on the renaming of the school, members of the conservative Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said it was time to rehabilitate "Bosniak intellectuals who were ideologically opposed to the previous regime."

They also pointed out that many people from a Muslim group that he was a member of -- including the first Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovic -- have had streets named after them.

Indeed, Busuladzic isn't the only controversial figure to have a school named in his honor in Bosnia.

Hussein Dozo, a Nazi SS officer who later worked as a professor known for his role in interpreting the Koran, has a school named after him in Goradze.

Swapping Old Bad Ideas For New Bad Ones

Changing the names of streets and public buildings has been commonplace across Eastern Europe in the years since the fall of communism.

In the former Yugoslavia, many cities and towns have sped to erase signs of the now-dissolved country, including removing monuments and memorials to its former strongman leader, Josip Broz Tito.

In neighboring Montenegro, a 1991 referendum saw about 90 percent vote in favor of changing the name of the capital from Titograd back to its previous name, Podgorica.

But some warn that political regimes have used changes in the names of streets, towns, and buildings to impose their own ideology or values on the public. The moves are also seen sometimes as a way of quietly rehabilitating legacies.

Following the 1992-95 war that tore Bosnia into ethnic shreds after it declared its independence, the country remains a fragile state reliant on external aid with an economy hobbled by a complex and unwieldy power-sharing system.

Many say that system perpetuates wartime divisions and has allowed nationalist parties, who have failed to reform their wartime goals into peacetime platforms, to cling to power.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Sarajevo cantonal authorities went ahead and named as school after such a controversial person," the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia said in a tweet on August 17.

Written by Alan Crosby based on reporting by Dzenana Halimovic

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