Aspects of Islamic Radicalization in the Balkans After the Fall of Communism

by Mihai Dragnea (Volume editor) Joseph Fitsanakis (Volume editor) Darko Trifunovic (Volume editor) John M. Nomikos (Volume editor) Vasko Stamevski (Volume editor) Adriana Cupcea (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection XIV, 282 Pages
Series: South-East European History, Volume 2


This book explores the channels through which Islamic fundamentalism has spread among Muslim populations in the Balkans since the fall of communism. The authors collectively examine political and religious ties between Balkan Muslims and various private organizations and state institutions in Muslim states, with a particular focus on the reception of Salafism and its Saudi version, Wahhabism. In that context, they debate the extent to which war crimes committed by Muslims during the Yugoslav Wars were motivated by Salafism, rather than being a result of domestic ethno-national conflicts. Finally, the book also addresses the ideological climate that has generated volunteers for Islamic State (Daesh) in recent years.
Cumulatively these essays emphasize the risks to national security in the Western Balkans represented by the return of Islamic State fighters and the spread of so-called jihadist-Salafism within Muslim communities. The volume is intended to help the reader understand the Balkan states’ foreign policy as a response towards the Muslim world in the context of the global war against terrorism. It is the outcome of a research project of the Balkan History Association.

"This volume shows that Muslim communities in the Western Balkans face intense propaganda from radical Islam and the incitement of hatred and interreligious divisions, aiming to indoctrinate moderate and tolerant Balkan Muslims. Kosovar youth, for instance, are exposed to a radical ideology which, under the influence of imams trained in fundamentalist madrassas in the Middle East, aims to create a new kind of Muslim, one who is ignorant of the past, of national identity and the values of democracy, and who is concerned only with 'Islamic' values propagated through Salafism."
—Kolë Krasniqi, University "Haxhi Zeka" in Peja, Kosovo
"Although Islam has historically been a socio-cultural pillar of Southeast European societies, the recent turmoil and failed revolutions across the Muslim world have influenced sections of Muslim communities in the region. This excellent collected volume is a much-needed attempt to trace the subtle workings of re-Islamisation and changes in traditional Muslim identities under the influence of foreign forms of Islam. All chapters show remarkable scholarly achievement and the fruitfulness of pursuing interdisciplinary perspectives on the development of Balkan Muslims communities since 1989."
—Francesco Trupia, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland

Table Of Contents


Introduction: Post-communist Encounters in Islamic Faith and Security in the Balkans
        Mihai Dragnea

Chapter One: Constructing a New Threat: The Securitization of Islam in Post-war Kosovo
        Joseph Coelho

Chapter Two: Islamic Radicalization in Kosovo: A Case in Multi-layered Identity
        Henrique Schneider

Chapter Three: Salafism in Albania between Deculturation and Post-socialist Legacy
        Gianfranco Bria

Chapter Four: Mainstream and Online Media, a Useful Tool on Fighting Violent Extremism in Albania
        Iris Luarasi

Chapter Five: Building a Community Resilient to the Islamic Radicalism: A Case Study of the Muslim Community in Montenegro
        Marko Savić and Almedina Vukić Martinović

Chapter Six: Risks for Islamic Fundamentalism and Radicalism after the Fall of Communism in Bulgaria
        Bogdana Todorova

Chapter Seven: Missionary Islamic NGOs in Romania: Da’wah Materials Disseminated among Muslims in Romania
        Cornel Andrei Crișan

Chapter Eight: Mujahideen in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 until 1995
        Mijo Beljo and Lucija Zadro

Chapter Nine: Foreign Fighters and Global Jihad in the Balkans: The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina
        Michalis Marioras

Chapter Ten: Factors That Moderate Islamic Radicalization in North Macedonia
        Zhidas Daskalovski

Chapter Eleven: “Islamic Terrorism” in the Serbian Sandžak under Salafi Influence
        Darko Trifunović

Chapter Twelve: Beyond the Balkans: Islamist Terrorism in Europe with Balkan Connections
        Klemen Kocjančič

Conclusion: The Trajectory of Islamist Militancy in the Balkans
        John Nomikos and Joseph Fitsanakis

Editors and Authors



Islam in Europe has become a micro industry for scholars and pundits alike. Confronted by the idealized “enemy within” an audience is guaranteed for the well-positioned expertise on offer in scholarly and journalistic forums. Alas, as recognized in the current volume generously supported by the Balkan History Association, navigating the inaccuracies catering to these audiences often pits meaningful insights and attempts at corrective clarity against institutional support in Europe. This tension between scholarly ethics and a specific demand is only intensified when applied to the Balkans, where a considerably large indigenous Muslim population still lives.

Fixated on identifying a growing schism between what ostensibly constitutes, in their understanding of it at least, “tradition” and new iterations of religious faith, scholars of Islam in the Balkans have been especially keen on registering transitions in the larger world to account for what shapes Muslims’ unique place in the larger story of Southeast Europe. In a gesture toward the contemporary handwringing over Islam being a faith of reactionary radicals, many have referenced politically motivated versions of the political action regularly unleashed in regions European Muslims call home. Alas, the primary source of this rising of a so-called political Muslim is not as reactionary as has been often assumed. What manifests proves to be often a complex interplay of the ontological and contingent, with individual and distinctive group responses to varied local conditions upsetting any attempt at writing a sweeping general account of Muslim experiences in Europe.

A son of migrants from the Gramsh region of what is today Southern Albania, perhaps best articulates the analytical quagmire that results. Antonio Gramsci wrote from prison that “[a] common error in historico-political analysis consists in an inability to find the correct relation between what is organic and what is conjunctural. This leads to presenting causes as immediately operative which in fact only operate indirectly, or to asserting that the immediate causes are the only effective ones … In the first case there is an overestimation of mechanical causes, in the second an exaggeration of the voluntarist and individual element.”1 For more than a century, scholars have repeated this common error when representing Muslim societies to their audience.

What emerges, evolves, and transforms in face of contingencies entirely beyond the reach of those affected to influence, is a by-product of what Gramsci noted as the conjunctural. The intersection of the a rising political Islam and the resulting liberalism associated with the socio-economic, cultural, and political forces unleashed by Modernity have an uncomfortable shared role. They both, in other words, cannot be understood without the other. Moreover, in the context of globalization that itself is often misattributed to events taking place since the Cold War ended, the very theme this volume investigates with analytical regularity is itself a complex reflection of relations more contingent than organic.

Put differently, what we must constantly look for, when reading scholarship on Islam in Europe, is the frame of tensions used. In most contexts, tensions induced by the larger encroachments of liberalism in societies (be they inhabited by Muslims exclusively or not) invariably constitutes the sociological dynamic worthy of first analysis and then confrontation. When they concern Muslims, the formulaic accounting for their response, presented as “Salafists” when reactionary, end up becoming no mere misapprehensions of recent history. The misnomers become justifications for actions often inappropriate for what constitutes deeply local and immediate concerns that need more empathetic engagement rather than generic condemnation. The misuse of internal and larger communal confrontations the faithful have with economic and social change is not, however, a story unique to the Balkan Muslim.

Already back in the late 19th century, those orientated around the principled reasonings of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani recognized that, thanks to their rendering of a universal message God sent to humanity, future Muslims (as believers who “submit” to only God) need not be economic, spiritual, and political subordinate to the rising capitalist empires. Indeed, the intellectual tool of resistance to globalization this generation of al-Afghani acolytes set, emerged from a set of historical conjunctures that included contemporary manifestations of resistance to expansive liberal capitalism in Sudan, Yemen and throughout Eastern and Western Africa. As such, there was a fluid interchange of different conditions demanding different iterations of faith, a principle known as “ijtihad.”2

What is crucial to recognize, however, is that these Salafists were not of the same ethical and intellectual constitution as those who would soon commandeer this movement within a generation. For many others, the ascendency of liberalism and its insinuation into Muslims’ epistemic orientations evident in the late Ottoman universities many Balkan Muslims attended and Egypt’s al-Azhar, which operated under British occupation, had been proof enough that their faith was now the by-product of liberal power. The subsequent distortion of the so-called Salafist movement, as commandeered by Cairo-based thinkers such as Rashid Rida, led to the imagining of historic shifts in ways Gramsci warned while in an Italian prison. What the Rida crowd of “Muslim brothers,” who with British support spread in the shadow of Saudi Wahhabism, argues is that the modern Islam emerging from within global capitalism constitutes an organic change of legal, moral, and spiritual orientations. The subsequent decades of war and destruction in the Muslim Balkans, Middle East/North Africa and larger world became mere reaffirming signals that it was time to leave previous ethical and cultural imbrications to the fate of the larger world.3

It was Rida’s contribution that shaped the current iterations of “political Islam” that receives much of the focus from scholars today. Reading the latest generation of research into a seemingly unique Muslim experience with globalization, Muslims in the Balkans face an unprecedented radicalization of their faith, made possible with the fall of communism. Inspired by a growing micro- industry in the study of radical Islam, these new considerations in respect to Muslim communities found in Europe remains, unfortunately, focused on Muslim diasporas. The products of migrations to Europe, these Muslim “migrants” insinuate economic disparity and a corresponding alienation to the modern world. The resulting studies of “guest workers” and “refugees” needlessly perpetuate the neat binary implicating Muslims as inherently alien to the liberalism pervading their “host” societies over the last century.4

In contrast to the studies on how conflicted migrant Muslims lived with Europe as migrant, little to no effort has been invested in reflecting differently on Europe’s indigenous Muslims. As such, Balkan Muslim communities’ relationship with fellow southern Slavic, Albanian, Bulgarian, Romanian, or Greek speakers are regularly treated as illicit as well. Based on new indices of European identity, Europe’s indigenous Muslims have become isolated operatives of change only tangentially referenced as part of the contemporary Balkan story. It is the “foreignness” of their faith, claimed today by Turkish/Qatari/Saudi state-backed religious leaders, that informs the study of the religious subject. As subordinates to the various projects of foreign clerics, Albanian Muslims, for example, have thus become “overdetermined” in the scholarship.5

The assumed position of authority “Islamic states” have over the Muslim communities of the Balkans continuously treats an Albanian subject as the target for “interpellation” within an ideological framework (liberal democracy, human rights, individual rights) that (mis)read the last 200 years of the region’s socio- cultural history. Balkan Muslims are thus assumed to be objects of others’ authority. In return for being reduced to a “community” different from those presumably “European” around them, being Muslim and thus alien, shaped the new associations taking place since at least World War II.

As we explore, it may be useful to recall that many Muslims have long resisted submitting to ideologies of state affiliated “political Islam” now notorious in the literature on the Balkans. Going back to at least the 1950s in the Yugoslav context, the question in whose interests does the scholarly treatment of Islam in the Balkans today serve demands we dispute claims to authority that narrow reflections on what must be acknowledged as relations between peoples of various faiths and social practices in the Balkans over the last century. Instead of being viewed as an analytical monolith, in other words, Muslims inhabiting the Balkans prove to experience a plethora of challenges today that politically disaggregate as much as unite them.

In acknowledging historic struggles between the plethora of Sufi traditions long inhabiting the region against first Yugoslav, and then since the 1990s Turkish/Qatari/Saudi objectifications, it is possible to analyze the “various faces” of Islamic radicalization. Indeed, this is precisely the autonomous reference to Islam that the Yugoslav state sought to subjugate by way of the Islamska Zajednica established in Sarajevo. Opportunistic zealots evoking links to the Rida era were empowered by Tito’s state to train Yugoslavia’s religious leaders in the hope that Belgrade could control the doctrinal and cultural content of all Muslim institutions in the country. The creation of this organization in 1952 was specifically meant to erase the diversity that diluted the ability to control those who worshipped outside state sanctioned institutions, especially in Kosova and Macedonia. In fact, the first act of the Islamic Community of Yugoslavia was to prohibit the work of Sufi orders by aggressively closing “unregistered” mosques. Furthermore, scholars hired by the Islamska Zajednica actively sought to tighten their hegemony over Islamic life by monopolizing religious authority through licensing schools. In time, those sanctioned by Sarajevo claimed scholarly and spiritual superiority over “reactionary” forces found in Kosova and Macedonia. Interestingly, as Sarajevo increased its oppression of, in particular, Albanian Sufi traditions, the notion of what was “a proper religious life” dovetailed to that of what was a proper gauge of one’s political loyalty to the Yugoslav state.6

The cases in the Balkans covered in this volume reflect different sensibilities that warrant deeper investigation by way of exploring this history with rival institutional authority. Confronting Balkan Muslims today are liberal sensibilities that become the instruments of representatives claiming ownership to changing “values” Albanians, in particular, are expected to embrace if they hope to secure membership in the larger European family. Trapped by their association with the “Orient,” post-1990 Albanians have proven willing to do almost anything to secure their integration into Europe. In part, this overture to Europeans by way of referencing a selective past that necessarily excises Islam from the larger Balkan collective history leads to several necessary ideological adjustments that threatens to rewrite the history of the entire communist and now post-communist era.7

As the individual contributions to this volume suggest, combined with the ever-increasing anti-Islamic discourse seemingly sanctioned by the West via media and scholarship, there are the manners in which Muslims in the Balkans wish to publicly characterize their relationship to their faith. Faced with the expectation that they adapt to the neoliberalism ushered in with the end of communism, Muslims from throughout the Balkan prove to mediate their anxious self-definition outside the epistemic demands laid out in Islamophobic frames. Critically, the various manifestations of persistent religious association observed throughout prove to come in face of new religious elites with foreign affiliations. These Qatari/Saudi/Turkish clerics, often with formal sanction from European Union representatives, have instrumentalized their claims to authenticity in the face of the left-over “unorthodox” local religious traditions deemed incapable of providing for a people needing to adapt to the post-Cold War world. As such, an insinuation of certain values that introduces the frame of “secularism” seems to, in affective spirit often detached of institutional presence, take form in the iterations of the religious (often foreign funded) formality that claim authority over the Balkan Muslim lives studied in this volume.

Isa Blumi

Stockholm University

September 2022

1 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey N. Smith (New York: International Publisher, 1971), 178.

2 Henri Lauzière, The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

3 Consider the thoughtful, initial accounting of this process of capitulation to liberalism among Muslims in Joseph Massad, Islam in Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

4 Zoltan Pall and Martijn de Koning, “Being and Belonging in Transnational Salafism: Informality, Social Capital and Authority in European and Middle Eastern Salafi Networks”, Journal of Muslims in Europe 6, no. 1 (2017): 76–103.

5 Isa Blumi, “Battles of Nostalgic Proportion: The Transformations of Islam-as-Historical-Force in the Ideological Matrix of a Self-Affirming ‘West’ ”, in Althusser and Theology: Religion, Politics, and Philosophy, ed. Agon Hamza (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 182–97.

6 Isa Blumi, “Religion and Politics among Albanians of Southeastern Europe,” in Religion and Politics in Post-socialist Central and Southeastern Europe, ed. Sabrina P. Ramet (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014), 286–313.

7 Isa Blumi, “Battles of Nostalgic Proportion: The Transformations of Islam-as-Historical-Force in Western Balkan Reconstitutions of the Past”, in Nostalgia, Loss & Creativity in South-East Europe: Political and Cultural Representations of the Past, ed. Catharina Raudvere, (London: Palgrave, 2018), 37–71.


XIV, 282
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (August)
Islamic studies Islamic faith Fundamentalism Anti-secularism Islamic radicalization Islamism Salafism Wahhabism Organized violence Jihadism Terrorism Mihai Dragnea Adriana Cupcea Joseph Fitsanakis Darko Trifunovic John M. Nomikos Vasko Stamevski Security studies Post-communism Balkans Aspects of Islamic Radicalization in the Balkans After the Fall of Communism
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. XIV, 282 pp., 29 b/w ill., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Mihai Dragnea (Volume editor) Joseph Fitsanakis (Volume editor) Darko Trifunovic (Volume editor) John M. Nomikos (Volume editor) Vasko Stamevski (Volume editor) Adriana Cupcea (Volume editor)

Mihai Dragnea, PhD, is an associate researcher at the University of South-Eastern Norway and president of the Balkan History Association. Joseph Fitsanakis, PhD, is Professor of Intelligence and Security Studies at Coastal Carolina University in the United States, where he also serves as Director of the University’s Intelligence Operations Command Center. Darko Trifunovic, PhD, is a founding member and Director of the Institute for National and International Security in Belgrade, Serbia, and a Senior Advisor at the Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens. John Nomikos, PhD, is Director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens, Chairman at the European Intelligence Academy and Assistant Professor at Webster University (Athens Campus). Vasko Stamevski, PhD, is full Professor at the Faculty of Law of the International Slavic University "Gavrilo Romanovich Derzhavin" in St. Nikole, North Macedonnia, and Vice-Rector for International Cooperation. Adriana Cupcea, PhD, is a researcher in the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.


Title: Aspects of Islamic Radicalization in the Balkans After the Fall of Communism
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