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Among Bosniaks in Serbia, Vocal Support for Palestinians

Serbia has refrained from taking a firm stand on Israel’s war in Gaza, but in one town in the southwest, Palestinian flags are everywhere.

Palestinian flags and headscarves are everywhere on the main street of Serbia’s Novi Pazar.

“There’s no set price,” said Senada Bogucanin, gesturing to the T-shirts on her stall emblazoned with the Palestinian flag and resistance symbol in the shape of a fist. “Leave as much money as you can because we’re collecting to help Palestine.”

“We must stand with the people of Palestine,” the elderly street seller told BIRN.

It’s a common refrain in Novi Pazar, a city in southwestern Serbia populated mainly by Muslim Bosniaks.

Photo: BIRN/Zoran Maksimovic.

On November 2, tens of thousands turned out here to protest against Israel’s war in Gaza, launched in retaliation for an October 7 attack by the Hamas militant group that killed 1,200 civilians and soldiers and saw some 240 Israelis taken hostage. Israeli air strikes and ground operations since have killed more than 11,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Actor Haris Secerovic was among the speakers at the protest, telling the crowd that they would “never forget the dead and murdered civilians and innocent children of Gaza and Palestine”.

“We condemn every drop of innocent human blood. A human is a human, no matter where he is.”

Azra Semsovic, who as president of the ‘En-Nisa’ association was one of the organisers of the event, said it was “just a reflection of our sadness for Gaza”.

Photo: BIRN/Zoran Maksimovic.

“If there is nothing else we can do, at least we can go out into the streets and show our dissatisfaction, concern and wish for the obvious genocide to stop.”

Palestinian flags could be seen at a recent half-marathon in the city and chants of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ were heard from the stands at a football match between Novi Pazar and Belgrade’s Partizan.

Analyst Teo Taranis said such a response was to be expected in Novi Pazar.

“The local, predominantly Muslim population is religiously and emotionally connected to the Palestinian people,” Taranis told BIRN.


Banner in Novi Pazar calling on citizens’ boycott of certain products. Photo: BIRN/Zoran Maksimovic. 

The ongoing conflict has prompted a boycott of certain products by some Novi Pazar residents.

In a local restaurant, Muhterema Culjkovic said she and her friend were drinking lemonade instead of Coca-Cola as a way to avoid products made by Israel’s chief ally, the United States.

“We don’t miss popular sodas, because the sense of empathy is stronger than some of our unhealthy choices,” said Culjkovic. “Lemonade is certainly a healthier alternative.”

The manager of the restaurant, Enis Hamidovic, said his was the first to stop offering what he called “Zionist products”.

“Other restaurateurs heard this and did the same,” he told BIRN. “We know we’re a drop in the ocean and that we cannot threaten anyone’s business, but at least we showed whose side we are on.”

Local authorities have joined in the effort, setting up a bank account where aid donations can be made as well allocating some 21,000 euros from the local budget for the people of Gaza, said Novi Pazar mayor Nihat Bisevac.

Restaurants removing Coca-Cola. Photo: BIRN/Zoran Maksimovic.

Rasim Ljajic, a former Serbian government minister and founder of the ruling political party in Novi Pazar, said that he had never seen such an outpouring of support, even during the 1992-95 war in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina when tens of thousands of Bosniaks were killed.

“I do not remember such an outpouring of emotion and empathy in the more than 30 years that I have been involved in politics,” said Ljajic, founder of the Sandzak Democratic Party. “What Israel and [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu are doing is an unprecedented crime.”

Some aid has already made its way from Novi Pazar to Gaza.

Palestinian flags in Novi Pazar streets. Photo: BIRN/Zoran Maksimovic.

“In just 10 days I collected 12,000 euros and immediately forwarded it,” said fashion designer and philanthropist Selma Hasic Manic. “It’s not easy to deliver that help to them, but thanks to our friends and one organisation that found a way… help is getting where it is needed most.”

“We send money, and they buy oxygen, medical and hygiene products, food and water and deliver that to the most vulnerable.”

Bogucanin, the street seller, said people from other towns in Serbia also left donations, something she said made her “extremely happy”. Ljajic also said it appears a majority of people in Serbia is on the side of the Palestinians, even though the government has avoided taking a stand.

“You would have to be made of stone to remain indifferent to the war in Gaza,” he said.

Source : Balkan Insight