Bosnian immigrants in St. Louis face ‘backlash’ after 9/11

Elvir Mandzukic vividly remembers hearing bombs and seeing chaos from the Bosnian Civil War. The recent conflict in St. Louis has worried Mandzukic about going through the same thing again.

By Jordyn Grimes

St. Louis demonstrators put on their coats, grabbed their signs and blocked off Gravois Road to protest in the bitter cold for justice for their fellow Bosnians who were murdered. 

Haris Gogic was robbed and killed by Joseph Fox in 2013. Zemir Begic was killed with hammers by a group of teenagers in 2014. 

Bosnian immigrants left their home in hope of safety and new opportunities, but Begic and Gogic were not safe.  

The Bosnian Civil War in Bosnia-Herzegovina was ethnically rooted between three different types of Bosnians: Bosnian-Muslims, Serbians and Croatians. Tens of thousands of Bosnians were forced to move to America to flee the war. 

Elvir Mandzukic walks you through the difference between Bosnian-Muslims, Serbians, and Croatians, as explained in the paragraph above. Animation by Jordyn Grimes.

Elvir Mandzukic is the Faculty Development Center coordinator at Webster University. He stayed in Bosnia during the war. 

Although Mandzukic didn’t come to the United States to flee the war, he came in hope for new opportunities without oppression. He thought he was living in a safe place where he could rebuild and restart. 

“Imagine you’re walking on the street, and you’re in the city and then you hear swishing sounds from the mountains because they are trying to bomb you,” Mandzukic said. 

He worked with humanitarian groups during the war to help other Bosnians. Some of his family were in concentration camps, and some of his friends lost their lives.

Mandzukic was part of a project following the Bosnian Civil War called the Bosnian Student Project. One of the organizers of the project was Patrick McCarthy. He and his team brought academically qualified Bosnian students to the United States on scholarships to study at colleges and universities.

McCarthy is an associate dean and director at Saint Louis University’s Library. McCarthy wrote a book titled “After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis” where he discusses the impacts of the Bosnian Civil War and the Bosnian community within St. Louis.

“I think people probably do face some barriers when you’re struggling with language and you look different and you have a different way of doing things,” McCarthy said. 

Shortly after Mandzukic moved here and started gaining a sense of confidence, 9/11 occurred. 

“It was a backlash against Muslims,” McCarthy said. 

Patrick McCarthy stands outside of the Sebilj in Bevo Mill. He goes there frequently to visit the fountain. Photo contributed by Patrick McCarthy.

Mandzukic was a Muslim immigrant in a foreign country during 9/11, and he said the stares were evident. The tragic event made him nervous about the possibility of the same thing that happened in Bosnia happening here. 

After 9/11, the St. Louis community wanted to build a fountain in South County in support of the Bosnians, but there was some opposition. After overcoming a legal challenge, the fountain was built. 

Soon after, the fountain was vandalized. Somebody stuck a hose through the mail slot and flooded the building. 

McCarthy believes it is understandable for Bosnians to question their safety in the United States currently. He parallels the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol with the Bosnians voting to become independent in 1992 which led to the Bosnian Civil War. 

The Sebilj in Bevo Mill is now a common attraction. People in St. Louis come see the fountain and take pictures with it. Photo contributed by Patrick McCarthy.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing a ban on countries that had Muslim majorities. 

McCarthy questions if Trump had been president during the Bosnian Civil War, who would have still come to the United States. 

McCarthy believes the Trump administration caused friction between the Muslim community and St. Louis.

“There’s a pendulum that tends to swing back and forth in American history and culture,” McCarthy said. “It’s usually reflected by the political rhetoric of the country at the time.”

Mandzukic said the U.S. needs to bring the pendulum of inequity to a halt. He said in order to create a safe and just society, we must consider how we are treating our fellow citizens. 

“We all need to step up and learn how to be fair and impartial with the people around us,” Mandzukic said. 

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