This project by Krithika Varagur examines the modern political context of and foreign influences on Islam in the Balkans, specifically Bosnia, Kosovo, and Albania. It started as a continuation of research into Saudi proselytization in the Islamic world and then expanded to include foreign influence more generally, from Turkey (in onetime Ottoman territories) to Qatar. What emerged was a portrait of a grassroots religious resurgence in all three countries after the fall of Communist Yugoslavia, one that defies easy categorization and is heterogeneous, comprising personal piety, political tension (with explicitly secular states), and, in a fringe minority, extremism and jihadism.
Reportage for this project included everything from a reinvented Bektashi Sufi pilgrimage in Albania—once the world’s first atheist country—to the plight of so-called “ISIS widows” who emigrated from Bosnia to Syria and now have stateless children in Kurdish refugee camps. And in Kosovo, the last major Saudi campaign before 9/11 led to a thriving Salafi community within just two decades. In all these countries, where foreign media steeply dropped off after the Yugoslav Wars, religion is a lens into civil society, politics, and national security.