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Smail Buljubašić – The Forgotten Imam with a Five-Pointed Star on his Turban

The Ustasha crimes that began in the Bihać region immediately after the proclamation of the NDH in April 1941 left a strong impression on individuals who witnessed these atrocities. One of those who observed these crimes was Imam (Hodja) Smail Buljubašić from Vrnograč near Velika Kladuša. However, unlike others, Smail Buljubašić openly defended the Serbs from the Grmeč and Banija regions who were persecuted by the Ustasha. In this way, he tried to encourage other fellow citizens to act as he did.


The lack of historical sources prevents a more detailed reconstruction of his engagement during the days when the Ustasha terrorised the locals. The first known document mentioning Buljubašić is the decision of the People’s Liberation Committee of the village Vrnograč dated December 13, 1942, which annulled the marriage of two spouses from this village. This historical source, dating from the time when the free partisan territory known as the Bihać Republic existed in this area and with Buljubašić’s signature on the decision of the People’s Liberation Committee, indicates that he was a supporter of the anti-fascist movement.


When the Germans launched Operation Weiss or the Fourth Enemy Offensive in early 1943, destroying the Bihać Republic, members of the 2nd Battalion of the 369th German Regiment entered Vrnograč. On that occasion, Imam Smail Buljubašić was arrested by the Germans and Ustasha. Smail Buljubašić was executed in front of the mosque, with local believers gathered nearby.


Hajro Kapetanović, a prominent communist revolutionary, left rare memories of Smail Buljubašić, writing in his memoirs: “At that time, nearly a hundred activists were killed, including seven members of the Municipal Committee of Vrnograč, with Hodža Smajil Buljubašić and councillors Mustafa Ikanović and Alo Elezović. Then twelve young people  and councillors from the village of Izačić and its surroundings were killed, including Muhamed Sadiković, a member of the City People’s Committee in Bihać, and others.”


Many years after the end of World War II, in 1983, the painter Aleksandar Lucijan draw a “gruesome” picture depicting five Germans with rifles leading Smail Buljubašić to execution. On Buljubašić’s turban (hodja’s cap), a red star was painted as a symbol of the partisans and the anti-fascist struggle. In the early 1990s, during the first multi-party elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when the communists lost power, individuals from newly formed parties decided to desecrate Lucijan’s painting featuring Smail Buljubašić. The red star on his turban was erased. The defaced painting stood in storage for years before being restored, and the five-pointed star was returned to Buljubašić’s turban. Today, this painting is located in the Municipal Council Hall of Velika Kladuša as a symbol of the fight against fascism.


Dino Dupanović

Sources / Further reading

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