Hijab Comeback in Bosnia
After being banned for decades by communist Yugoslav rulers, hijab is making a comeback to the streets of post-war Bosnia.
"Being headscarved, I could not study in France, where basic rights are being violated, while here it is possible and normal," Alma, a student at Sarajevo's Political Science Faculty, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, May 17.
In 2004, France banned the wearing of the hijab at public schools and institutions.
Since then the issue of hijab, as an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, has been thrust into the limelight with many Western European countries following suit.
"The fact that girls wear mini-skirts does not bother me, but I expect that people have respect for me," said Alma, 25, donning a maroon headscarf.
Headscarves in the former communist Yugoslavia, of which Bosnia was a part, were worn almost exclusively by elderly women in rural areas, more out of respect for tradition than as a sign of religious feeling.
Since the 1992-1995 war, hijab-clad women have become a common sight on the streets of the capital Sajajevo, which has a strong Muslim majority.
Yet, in regions mainly populated by Christian Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, the hijab is still frowned upon as it was in the communist era.
In the ethnically divided northern town of Brcko, the issue of freedom of choice surfaced in a conflict between a Serb teacher and a veiled Muslim psychologist in an elementary school.
"My colleague refused my regular visit to his class because of my headscarf," said psychologist Semsa Ahmetspahic.
"I didn't insist on it because Brcko has a specific environment. We try to avoid situations which could lead to conflict," she said.
Brcko and its surrounding region populated by Muslims, Serbs and Croats was proclaimed a special district in 2000 by the international community overseeing peace in Bosnia.
It is autonomous from the country's two semi-independent entities and is ruled by its own multi-ethnic institutions.