Sabre-Rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina

July 2022, Protesters gather outside the Office of the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo: David I. Klein)

For a couple of years now a political crisis looming in Bosnia and Herzegovina has escalated during the past two months towards a crisis worse than the one during the 1992-1995 war that saw 100,000 people killed, that saw genocide committed by Serb aggressor, that saw Bosnian Muslims import Islamic Mujahideen forces in the process of slaughtering Bosnian Croats as if their slaughter by the Serbs was not enough. The Croat population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has reduced drastically since 1995 and is now threatened to become an ethnic minority in cantons or areas across the country instead of remaining one of three Constitutional peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina nationally. The Electoral laws have permitted Muslims to elect Croat representatives and, contrary to Serb and Muslim population Croats have for years been denied the exclusive right to elect their own representatives into the parliament and other assemblies that carry on the governing within the country.

Christian Schmidt, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina overseeing implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the devastating war, said on several occasions in the past few months that leaders of the country’s Bosnian Serb-dominated entity (Republika Srpska/ Serbian Republic) have systematically challenged Dayton Agreement provisions and intensified their activities aimed at usurping powers granted to the federal government. While the Dayton Accords successfully ended the massacres, this arrangement currently exacerbates problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Namely, the creation of the ‘Republika Srpska’ and the tripartite presidency essentially rewarded Bosnian Serb leaders of the Bosnian War with unimpeachable influence over the new Bosnian state. The clear ethnic divisions inherent in Bosnia’s two entities as well as its ethnically segregated presidencies enables its leaders to pit their ethnic groups against each other for political gain and Croats being in lesser numbers in the Federation are systematically being oppressed and quashed by Bosniak/Muslim powers.

High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, German diplomat Christian Schmidt, Schmidt is the eighth international administrator in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the end of the 1992-1995 war. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement (1995) established two separate entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs (Republika Srpaska) and another – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – dominated by the Bosniaks (Muslims) but also consisting of Croats where both Muslims and Croats were to have equal status and power. The two entities are bound together by joint central institutions, and all-important decisions must be backed by both. But when Muslims elect Croat representatives to the parliament and assemblies the issue has been that such representatives have not fully acted in the interests of Croats.

Schmidt said in his May 2022 report to the U.N. Security Council that the actions by the Bosnian Serb entity, known as Republika Srpska, “not only erode the fundamentals of the agreement, but directly threaten to undo more than 25 years of progress in building up Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state firmly on the path towards European Union integration.”

In July 2021, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution put forward by Russia, which has close ties to the Bosnian Serbs, and Moscow’s ally China that would have stripped the powers of the international High Representative immediately and eliminated the position entirely in one year.

The High Representative’s powers have come under criticism from Bosnian Serbs for not offering the possibility of appealing his decisions, which have immediate effect. The Office of the High Representative has dismissed dozens of officials, including judges, civil servants, and members of parliament, since its inception, and overturned other actions.

Schmidt said Republika Srpska’s government and National Assembly have sought to chip away at state institutions by creating parallel bodies in the Bosnian Serb entity. At the same time, he said, representatives from Republika Srpska elected or appointed to the National Assembly and state institutions either don’t participate in decision-making or block decisions not in the interests of Bosnian Serbs.

“This has the effect of impeding the state’s ability to function and exercise its constitutional responsibilities,” Schmidt said.

He pointed to “non-existent” legislative output, stalled reforms required to advance toward EU membership, international agreements on hold, and the failure to adopt a state-level budget for the second year in a row.

On April 16, 2022, Schmidt suspended a law adopted by Republika Srpska that would have enabled the Bosnian Serbs to take over state-owned property on their territory, calling it unconstitutional. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said in an interview that action by Schmidt couldn’t stop the law from taking effect.

Another contentious issue has been the lack of agreement between Bosniaks and Croats in the federation on electoral reforms, which Schmidt said has prompted Croat parties to cast doubt on the holding of the 2022 general elections (due 2nd October, that decide the makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, national, entity and cantonal governments), including by withholding financing for the elections.

Bosnian Croats have for years now claimed debilitating discrimination and demanded that the voting system be changed to make sure that Bosnian Croats alone choose Croat representatives. Bosniak officials have denied the claims and talks on the election reform have been stuck and shape the critical stage of the political crisis currently stifling the country.

Schmidt insists the 2022 general elections will be held in October under the same rules as in 2018, even though at that time calls for electoral laws changes were loud with many believing that the election results were illegal because the electoral laws were not changed to exclusively enable the Croats to vote for their own representatives.

UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, recently called for Bosnian politicians to “turn the page on rhetoric and policies of division,” and instead, “focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country, and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on equality of all citizens.” For this to happen, the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina need to stop being politically rewarded for stirring ethnic strife OR permit equal rights and equal representation in governments of all three Constitutional peoples as designed by the Dayton Agreement. The desire for power (especially Bosniak and Serb) has led Bosnian leaders to lean towards divisive, sectarian politics that allow them to deflect from their own failures. Creating a more inclusive political system that addresses and respects ethnic differences without being solely defined by them would perhaps be an answer.

Christian Schmidt is adamant to impose measures for the re-functioning of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, which include Electoral law changes and changes to the Federation Constitution. The changes to the Constitution, for example, mean that Bosnia’s constituent nations under Dayton Agreement – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – if their numbers in any Federation entity canton are less than 3 per cent, will no longer have representatives in the House of Peoples of the Federation parliament. This possibility has created uproars on all sides as it seriously weakens the strength of a constitutional people on national level. The political atmosphere of intolerance and sabre-rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina is seriously escalating, while Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic are also at loggerheads regarding the best approach that would see Bosnian Croats receive their due powers and rights and avoid a terrible destiny of being reduced to an ethnic minority in the country or obsolete as far as governing of the country is concerned. 

In his Press Release of 28 July 2022, Christian Schmidt said that irresponsible rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina must stop: “Warmongering and inflammatory statements, such as this one by Mr. (Bekir) Izetbegovic, are dangerous and hark back to the tragic conflict in the 1990s. They spread fear amongst all citizens, add to tensions, and in no way contribute to the promotion of cooperation, stability, and reconciliation in the country. Mr. Izetbegovic, together with all political leaders, should work on finding ways to keep the youngest and the brightest in the country instead of advocating for robots to replace them,” said the High Representative.

Considering the legislative and constitutional changes Schmidt looks to impose in Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said this week:  “We hope that the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, will take steps that will ensure at least minimal equality for Croats after the elections on 2 October.”  From where I am standing it is deeply concerning that Plenkovic talks of “minimal equality”, thus planting the idea that he would be happy with crumbs for Bosnian Croats rather than an equal slice of the power bread loaf. Quite scandalous and cowardly really. Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic has been quite clear and stronger in expressing his views. “Across (the border) they are threatening war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They threaten war. Sefik Dzaferovic (Muslim member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency), who was a Mujahideen hostess in 1993, the man was in the committee for welcoming Mujahideen in the security unit in Zenica, now he and his boss are threatening war, drones. That’s a bigger topic for me than anything else. They are trying to beat up the Croatian people there… What is going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina is raging and threatening and politically endangering a nation of people. The issue of national security is not Ukraine, but Bosnia and Herzegovina. The language of hatred and intolerance is rampant in the streets of Sarajevo. The High Representative is being threatened, he can blame himself for that, because he is amending the Election Law and the Federation Constitution, which does not give Croats anything, but even that is considered a bit too much. He panics under the pressure of the Mahallas and Kasabs, the pub, the street or the Berlin police …,” Milanovic told the media during this week.

Bosnian Croats appear almost as an endangered species in that political environment with inadequate voices and inadequate propping supports from outside, from official Croatia. Bosnian Croats want to ensure that only Croats can vote for the Croat presidency by creating their own electoral district, to ensure that Bosniaks/Muslims cannot use loopholes in the existing electoral law that allow them to vote for Croat representatives as they have been doing and thus endangering Croat interests and rights. On the other hand, if public claims threaded through the media that Christian Schmidt is aiming to Islamise Bosnia and Herzegovina surface with substance then it will be clear that Croats are to be more disadvantaged than ever regardless Schmidt’s new proposed legislative changes that aim to provide freedom of all Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens to return to their homes where they had lived before the 1990’s war without fear or impediment. As 2nd October draws near this sabre rattling that’s been happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina will either die down or increase in intensity to perhaps a new armed conflict with alarming consequences beyond the country’s borders. Ina Vukic 

Comments

  1. Americaoncoffee says:

    2023 and 2024 will come the biggest rattling ever.

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