Bosnia’s first veiled mayor began her duties this week, after an election which saw her becoming the first hijab-clad mayor in the country, and possibly in Europe.
Amra Babic, who served as a regional finance minister before running for mayor, will now run the Bosnian town of Visoko, in an electoral win she describes as a “victory of tolerance” amid government debates elsewhere in Europe over laws to ban the Muslim veil.
“It’s a victory of tolerance,” Babic, a wartime widow told the Associated Press last week. “We have sent a message out from Visoko. A message of tolerance, democracy and equality.”
“I am the East and I am the West,” she declared. “I am proud to be a Muslim and to be a European. I come from a country where religions and cultures live next to each other. All that together is my identity.”
Now Babic, for the next four years, will run a town of 45,000 people, with a population consisting of mostly Bosnian-Muslims.
And her electoral pledge for the town? Babic has said she wants to fix the infrastructure, partly ruined by the Bosnian 1992-95 war; in turn hoping to make Visoko attractive for investments, encourage youth to start small businesses and lower the unemployment rate which stands at more than 25 percent.
Bosnia fell into civil war in 1992 that left 200,000 people dead and displaced millions as Serb forces launched ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims.
“We are proud to have elected her,” Muris Karavdic, 38, a local small business owner told AP. “It doesn’t matter whether she covers her head or not. She is smart and knows finances.”
Babic decided to wear her headscarf after her husband was killed while fighting in the Bosnian army in the war-scarred Balkan nation, the On Islam news website reported.
Bosnia, a small country on the Balkan Peninsula, is home to three ethnic “constituent peoples”: mainly Muslim-Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
Out of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s nearly 4 million population, some 40 percent are Muslims, 31 percent Orthodox Christians and 10 percent Catholics.
Babic sees her victory as breaking multiple barriers, from bigotry against women in a traditionally male-dominated society to stigmatization of the hijab that sprang up under the communist regime.
“Finally we have overcome our own prejudices,” she told AP. “The one about women in politics, then the one about hijab-wearing women — and even the one about hijab-wearing women in politics.”