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Bosnian Town Elects Woman Mayor, Islamic Head Scarf And All

Amra Babic, the newly elected mayor of the central Bosnian town of Visoko
Amra Babic, the newly elected mayor of the central Bosnian town of Visoko
A local election outside Sarajevo has produced some notable news related to tolerance and government in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Beset with obstacles to effective governance since the Dayton Peace Agreement in late 1995, Bosnia remains riven in many ways by religious and ethnic discord between its Muslim, ethnic Croatian, and ethnic Serbian communities.

But voters in the 40,000-resident town of Visoko on October 7 elected a woman mayor, Amra Babic, who wears the Islamic head scarf.

Babic, a trained economist and former finance minister on the canton level, hailed the choice as "a model for Europe and Islam" in an AFP story. She called it "a great victory of democracy."

"I will never abuse politics for religion," Babic was quoted as saying. "If I have the strength to protect my own rights, I will find the strength to protect the rights of others."

RFE/RL's Balkan Service says the news has received scant attention in local media, noting that head scarves are not necessarily a reflection of closely held religious beliefs so much as a routine fashion accessory.

They suggest it's a clear victory for Bosnian women, however.

That's a perspective that Babic herself embraced, saying, "My fellow citizens showed a great open spirit because they elected me first as a woman but also as a woman who wears a veil."

The victory has been picked up by media outlets from Iran to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, calling her "Europe's first hijab-wearing mayor."

Babic is a member of the late Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action, a leading party among Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslims that played a historic role in independence.

The Islamic head scarf, or hijab, was illegal in the former Yugoslavia.

Babic told AFP that she never wore one until turning to Islam for comfort after the death of her husband, with whom she has three children, in the Bosnian conflict of 1992-95. She now heads a civic group that brings together the families of Muslim men killed in that fighting.

"I put on the veil after my husband's death," she recalls, adding that the religion had helped her to overcome the loss.

"My religion tells me that everything that happens is God's will. It helped me to concentrate my energy and survive. My sons are my greatest motivation," she said.

-- Andy Heil

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