An eyeball overview of media outputs, particularly British, since Sunday 12 October 2014 – when general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) closed – tells us that candidates from “nationalist rival ethnic groups” (Bosniak [Muslim], Croat and Serb) achieved victory! It’s difficult to say whether the negative spin or connotation in these mainstream media reports, by way of using the “dirty” word “nationalist”, comes out of a concerning lack of knowledge about the mechanism (tripartite presidency where the chair rotates every eight or so months) put in place in 1995 by the Dayton Agreement for B&H presidency or whether it is a reflection of politically malicious and inappropriate disquiet of many with the fact that, finally, after 8 years Bosnian Croats have secured a proper voice of representation in the tripartite presidency.
There is no doubt about it, Croats have long been discriminated against not only at the level of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, but also in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (to which they belong in co-existence with Bosniaks, while Serbs alone were given their own ethnic entity in form of Serbian Republic), where parties with predominant Croat electoral support have not entered government and where political decisions are made that have a major impact on Croats as a people.
Over the last eight years the following condition in BiH Presidency endured: Croats did not have their own representative in the Presidency (apart from predominantly Bosniak vote giving a place, twice, to Zeljko Komsic (who fought in the 1990’s war in the Bosniak run ArmyB&H), Serbs had one representative, while Bosniaks had two. This was so despite the fact that the B&H Constitution refers to Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks as equal constituent peoples, and stipulates that the B&H Presidency is composed of a Croat, Serbian, and Bosniak member – three members representing the three constituent peoples. So really, Zeljko Komsic was not a Croat representing the Bosnian Croats on the presidency but he was there as a “Croat for the Bosniaks”, so to speak.
So, we come to the importance of the Sunday 12 October 2014 elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina for Croats: the results have and will markedly change the relationship of power between political parties in the country, although the challenges for that deeply divided country remain the same. The latter being a matter that has no solution on the horizon, there is an uplifting reason to celebrate: the biggest win in these elections is that the Bosnian Croats now – finally – have a legitimately elected Croat representative as member of B&H Presidency, Dragan Covic, the leader of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of B&H. As to the other ethnic make-up of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic, Party of Democratic Action/SDA, remains as Bosniak/Muslim member and as to the Serb member it is most likely that the close numbers between the two candidates will favour Mladen Ivanic from the Alliance for Change rather than Serbian Republic’s Milorad Dodig’s favourite, Zeljka Cvijanovic from the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats/SNSD.
The great thing to celebrate for Croats in B&H is that the new government in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at any level, will not be able to be formed without the Croat representation!
Croat, dr. Dragan Covic, is a new player on the podium of power in Bosnia and Herzegovina and – halleluiah – he minces no words when he carries the interests of Bosnian Croats under his wings.
“Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina will have an electorate in which they will elect their representatives just as the other two ethnic groups have,” Covic said at his press conference on Monday 13 October. “That is the minimum needed by this country. No one has the right any more to speculate with the interests of the Croatian people… I am particularly gladdened by the fact that we have been so convincing that we have won over 80% of votes in some counties and the result that we were victorious in all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Croatian population is not a minority.”
Back to the politically malicious and inappropriate disquiet I mentioned at the beginning of this article it comes to mind that Dragan Covic’s sweeping victory comes with a certain sense of sweet vindication. That is, Covic was elected a member of the B&H Presidency in general elections of 2002. But was removed from that office in March 2005 by the ludicrous Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served then as the High Representative for B&H, amidst court convictions for abuse of power, which convictions were subsequently overturned by court of appeal and Covic was in relation to other attempts to pin corruption against him absolved of any guilt, finally, in 2012. Ashdown had in 2005 rated Covic as a threat to the reputation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ashdown did always take the pompous high-road and argued that something must be done to prevent Bosnia self-destructing, or rather being destroyed by its leaders. Well, he didn’t do much by way of progress, his “reign” over Bosnia and Herzegovina saw to it that ethnic divisions sharpen, especially that Croats get trampled on by Bosniaks while the Serbian Republic entity founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing flourishes, and corruption and unemployment become entrenched.
And so perhaps it will be in Bosnia and Herzegovina the way others, not Ashdown, think is best: for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take responsibility for their own future.
The unwieldy power-sharing arrangement for the Presidency that is a part of a political system created by the US-brokered Dayton peace accord in 1995 is a system that has not worked for over a decade. Last Sunday’s voting was held amid mounting social discontent over endemic corruption, ethnic disputes and dire economic woes. Unemployment is over 44% and poverty, despondency – at around almost every corner one turns. All this is the legacy of those like Paddy Ashdown – the know-it-all with no visible substance or connection to reality. The feasibility of continuing with Dayton Agreement should have been number one item on his agenda when he was High Representative. Surely after ten years it was crystal clear that Dayton Agreement was no longer in agreement with B&H reality but working against any prosperity it originally thought it could bring about.
The re-elected Bosniak leader Bakir Izetbegovic talks of a potential new coalition to break the deadlock over reforms, move towards EU and NATO integration and fight corruption and crime. Oh dear, what has he been doing during the past mandate in that position!?
While the Serbs will continue pushing for independence from B&H it is of a particularly comforting note that the elected Croat Dragan Covic is not impartial to the possibility of a separate Croat entity within Bosnia. Certainly, if one is to judge the future by the behaviour of Bekir Izetbegovic just after his electoral victory was announced yesterday, there will be no changes for the better; the Bosniaks will continue usurping power and claiming superiority over Croats. And that just will not do for much longer. Freedom and self-reliance is the only formula that will save the Croats in that swamp of despondency and tragedy. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)