The history of the Balkan Jews lasts more than 500 years. The deportation of the Balkan Jews occurred in 1941. Initially, the Jews were exiled in 1492 from Spain (a period known as the Spanish Inquisition). Later on, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Bayezid II, accepted and welcomed them. The Ottomans implemented the policy of accommodation (istimalet) regarding foreigners (mainly for Jews and Christians) in order to preserve the cosmopolitan character of the empire.
The names of some Balkan cities where the Jewish population was living for centuries were: Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Monastir (Bitola – North Macedonia), Belgrade (Serbia), Split and Dubrovnik (Croatia). Many Jewish people lived in Skopje (North Macedonia) and Zagreb (Croatia) as well.
Some prominent personalities among the Balkan Jews were Estreja Ovadija Mara (Haim Estreya Ovadya) from Bitola, North Macedonia, Slavko Goldstein from Karlovac, Seka Sablić from Serbia, Danilo Kis from Hungary, Branko Lustig from Hungary, Breda Kalef from Serbia, Jakob Finci from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Elvira Kohn was a Jewish photographer from Zagreb, Croatia. Breda Kalef is an opera singer living in Belgrade. Estreya Ovadya was a member of the Yugoslav Partisans Unit (National Liberation Army) against the Germans (1941 – the year of the German occupation of Yugoslavia). Estreya Ovadya died relatively young, at the age of 22.
North Macedonia is one of the countries that lost its entire Jewish community. The Jews from Bitola, Skopje and Štip were gathered in the Tobacco Monopoly in Skopje before being transported in the trains and deported to the Treblinka concentration camp. Among the Jewish people, who joined the Yugoslav Partisans Unit was also Samoil Mizrahi. He is one of the few Macedonian Jewish survivors. Rasela Mizrahi, the current member of the Macedonian political party VMRO-DPMNE and deputy of parliament, is the granddaughter of Samoil Mizrahi. Before the emergence of World War II, almost 8000 Jewish people lived in different regions of North Macedonia, mainly Skopje, Bitola and Štip. More than 3000 people were deported from Bitola, around 700 from Štip, and the rest from the suburbs of Skopje. During that period, more precisely in 1941, Bulgaria occupied or annexed various territorial units of Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece. Bulgaria protected its own Jews. North Macedonia accuses Bulgaria of the deportation of the Macedonian Jews. Bulgaria denied completely such claims and considered them to be unfounded.
The world didn’t learn yet the lessons from the Holocaust, that’s why numerous wars still occur nowadays.
The majority of the Jews of Bosnia were of Sephardic origin. There were also Ashkenazi Jews, especially during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia. More than 20 000 Jews lived in Bosnia, mainly in the capital Sarajevo. However, nowadays less than 300 Jews remain in Bosnia. All others were persecuted for many years since the start of World War II, and were deported to Auschwitz. One of the most famous Bosnian Jewish documents is the Sarajevo Haggadah dating back to the 14th century.
Truth commissions are established after genocides are committed. The main role of the truth commissions is to conduct the process of the discovery of the truth based on scientific results or proofs. Regarding the Holocaust, the Nuremberg trials were organized and the war perpetrators were held accountable for committing the worst crimes in history mainly to Jews, but also for persecuting the Romani people and people of Slavic origin. Three years later, after the Genocide of Srebrenica, more precisely, in 1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established.
To conclude, the Holocaust, the Genocide of Srebrenica, the Genocide of Rwanda are the world’s darkest and worst atrocities. The political leaders should wake up, being dormant won’t serve them, because humans’ lives are in question. The worst outcome of the war is the countless number of victims. Apparently, yet certainly, is very easy to sit in the political chair of governance (the presidential chair or the one of the Prime Minister), but to serve the people that elected her or him is portrayed to be an impossible mission. This is called an abuse of office, and in legal terms, abuse of office requires a sanction or in other words ‘impeachment’.
Similarly, history teaches us lessons, but the elected political leaders obliterate these lessons, or close their eyes in front of the real truth or the problems the people live with. If we observe the situation more closely, the unique legal objective is to entail responsibilities. But for whom? Generally, this rule is abided by the civilians, politicians generally do not follow this rule, rarely, especially in the countries where dictatorship rules and the presidents extend each time their mandates. The longevity of the mandates lasts for a few decades, which in essence reminds us of the communist way or monarchical model of governance where the charisma of the ruler is portraying its omnipotency and reputation. This conception is against the values of democracy.
Generally, the mandate of an elected leader should last for 5 years at maximum and no more. Only by implementing properly the values of democracy, and eradicating the status of perennial leaders governing for many decades, we can perhaps live in a harmonious society with incredible cultural diversity. Always the decision of the popular vote should be adopted during elections. In other words, the electoral procedure of Universal Direct Suffrage (UDS) should be the primary contributor to a peaceful society. In the aftermath of a war such as the one in Bosnia and Rwanda, only transitional justice can exist, but never again, a democracy, because of ethnic tensions and social disruptions. What is the image of democracy in a transitional society? Well, it is a very complicated one, for instance in the case of Bosnia, the political regime is very unique: tripartite separation of powers, three presidents, three Prime Ministers.
Moreover, regarding Jewish history, it is very true that even after the Holocaust, there is an increased rate of antisemitism. Muslims in the world face the threat of Islamophobia coined by the West. The world is in a state of chaos, and the political leaders do not notice even that. What is the future of democracy? We don’t know yet. The failure of the legal system doesn’t give us the possibility to predict the future of democracy.
Cover Photo: Showing Estreja Ovadija Mara