Notes from Prison: 1983-1988

Developing Just Leadership

Author(s): Alija Izzetbegovic

Publisher: Ezania

Published on: Rabi' al-Awwal, 1427 2006-04

No. of Pages: 225


What the reader is about to embark upon (and perhaps read) is my escape to freedom. To my regret, this, of course, was not a real escape, but I wish it were. This was the only possible escape from the Foca prison, with its high walls and iron bars-an escape of mind and thought. Had I been able to escape, I would have given preference to the real, physical escape.

I also assume that the readers would rather hear an exciting story of a prisoner's escape from a well-guarded prison rather than read my thoughts and comments on issues in politics and philosophy. I could not speak, but I could think, and I decided to use that possibility to the maximum.

At first I had silent discussions on all kinds of things and I commented on the books I was reading and the events taking place outside. I then started taking notes, secretly at first, but I then became quite "arrogant". I sat, read and wrote. Thus, 13 little notebooks came about, in the format that technicians call A-5, written in the smallest script and deliberately illegible, so that Mirsada, my typist, went into torment to copy them. I want to thank her for her patience in deciphering my codes. In those notes, "dangerous" words such as religion, Islam, communism, freedom, democracy and authority were replaced by other words that only I knew, words that years later even I found strange and hardly understandable.

For almost the entire first year I wrote nothing, I could not write. That was the year of investigation, trial and adjustment. I think that the first notes were made in 1984, and then notes continued every day for almost five years. As I can see, the last one is marked 3676 and dated 30 September 1988. At the time I was still facing almost 13 years in prison, and death seemed to be my only hope. I kept this hope well hidden, like a big secret that only I knew, a secret that they could not take away from me.

The value of these thoughts, therefore, is not in the thoughts themselves, but rather in the circumstances they were written in. On this side of the wall there was the total silence of the prison, and on the outside there were inklings of a tempest that was to become a hurricane in 1988, that would crush the Berlin Wall, sweep away Honecker and Ceausescu, destroy the Warsaw Treaty and shake the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. I had an almost physical sensation of the passage of time and its phases changing right before my eyes.

It was a time of radical revision of thought and belief, following the disastrous experiences of communist governments of the European East. The world was going through an immense transformation that was to change the lives of millions of people and turn the flow of history in a different direction. The world that had been bipolar for a long time became unipolar. I do not know if that is good, but it did happen.

In addition to bookbinder's glue, those well over 2,000 days were the only things keeping together these scattered thoughts. They are, to an extent, a comment on key events made by a man who was prevented from taking part in them, but who had plenty of time to follow them and to give his own judgments-however right or wrong.

These are thoughts on freedom, the physical and the inner, on life and destiny, on people and events, on books read and their authors, on imagined, unwritten letters to my children-in other words, on everything that could have crossed a prisoner's mind during those long 2,000 days (and nights).

While writing, I marked the notes 1, 2 and 3. Notes marked number 1 were some general thoughts that seemed to me, at the time, to be on life, people and freedom. In want of a better name, I gave them the same title now. Number 2 was some facts and opinions of others that I would have, had there been an opportunity, indicated to my son Bakir, with a desire that he should read them and know them. I used to do that quite often when I was free. This chapter was, in a way, a series of unwritten letters to my son. Number 3 was everything I would have added to my book "Islam Between East and West" if I had written it then. Just a reminder, facts and ideas of this book are grouped around one basic thought, forming what I call, for a reason or not, "the third way theory."

While preparing the final version of the manuscript, I moved thoughts on religion, politics and communism from Chapter 1 to separate chapters (2, 3 and 5), and I moved notes on Islam out of "number 2" (Chapter 6). The Appendix was added later. It is a collection of parts of almost 1,500 letters that I received from my children while I was in prison. If literature was my intellectual escape to freedom, those letters were my emotional escape. I am not certain if my children knew or if they ever will know what they meant to me. When I read them, I felt not only as a free man, but also as a person upon whom God had bestowed all the riches of this world. That is why I took the liberty of publishing them in the Appendix. It seemed to me that some of their sentences gave a good picture of the time and the circumstances, of thoughts and atmosphere in the family of a political prisoner and, of course, a little something on their authors.

When I started working on the manuscript more than ten years later, my intention was to transform it into a consistent, complete text. Unfortunately, I did not get much further from the original arrangement I had made in prison (the "three stacks," as I called them). I felt that I did not have the time, and perhaps nothing better could be made from the material available. So, I give the readers my manuscript almost raw, the way it was produced.

Perhaps I could tell you a story related to these notebooks, since it is an illustration of the prison atmosphere. Whenever I finished a notebook, I never left it in my own locker. I deposited it with a colleague-a prisoner convicted for murder. Thus, only one notebook, the one being "worked on," could be confiscated at one time. The prison authorities, in fact, searched our lockers looking for "dangerous things." Dangerous things were weapons-and manuscripts. Everyone was equally subject to searches, only some of us were "more equal." My friend's locker-for he was a peasant-was merely looked at. Towards the end of my imprisonment, another friend from prison, Veselin K., convicted for forgery, carried ten of these notebooks outside in a chess box. When he delivered the package to my children, he refused to take any money. People whom we call criminals sometimes enjoy certain popularity, even liking. The reason is that they usually know what real comradeship is, and they are willing to take chances. So-called "nice people" often lack these qualities.

My son Bakir went through the entire manuscript before the final editing. I am grateful for his patience and numerous useful suggestions. This is all. All I have left to say is that within each chapter notes are presented chronologically.

Alija Izetbegović
Sarajevo, 15 September 1998

(Courtesy: Ezania; Cover: Other Books, India)

(Disclaimer: This material is made available here strictly for educational purposes)

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