Muslims in Bosnia Converting to Christianity, Fear for Their Lives
New Straits Times
14 December 1993.
BRCKO, Tuesday. — Hundreds of Muslims [Bosniaks] living in Ser-controlled areas in Bosnia have converted to the Orthodox Church and changed their names to distance themselves from their Islamic origins.
But the move in Brcko and surrounding villages is being warily watched by Bosnian Serb authorities worried about its effect on international opinion.
Since January some “hundred people, most of them Muslims” have changed their names, civilian leader Luka Puric told reporters in the north-eastern town of Brcko, 160km west of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Although the phenomenon existed before war broke out in April 1992, the numbers have sharply increased since the start of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Puric said about 30 name-changes were registered from January to April 1992, but more than 100 had taken place between the start of the war and December 1992.
Aleksandra Simikic, 28, changed her name from Mirsada when she was baptised in the Orthodox Church. She says two of her friends have also taken the plunge adopting a Serb name and the Orthodox faith.
Her mother is a Muslim [Bosniak] and her father a Serb, and she says she and her friends call themselves “Yugoslavs” in censuses.
Zina Cujic, 21, who also adopted the name Aleksandra, said: “I have always lived with the Serbs and it is better like this.”
A census carried out in 1992 showed that 44.4 per cent of Brcko’s 87,332 residents were Muslims [Bosniaks], 21 percent were Serb adn 25 percent Croat.
But now the town’s mosques have all been destroyed, the vestiges of a legacy left over from the Turkish occupation from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Many of those opting to change their names come from mixed families, but others believe such a gesture of loyalty towards Bosnian Serb authorities will guarantee their safety in a conflict that has pitted neighbor against neighbor.
Brcko’s Bosnian Serb leaders eyed the move with suspicion, fearing it might be denounced as proof of the pressure being brought to bear on the Muslims.
One police leader said: “We should have banned these identity changes. Now the Serbs will be accused of having pressurised the Muslims to assimilate.”
Orthodox priest Father Slavko said he carried out about 60 baptisms last year and fewer this year.
But having undergone such a radical identity change, many face a long wait for new papers.