A Matter For Self-Preservation: Croatians In Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croats in BiH rally against
2018 election of Zeljko Komsic for their representative in the presidency
Photo: Jabuka TV

On Sunday 7 October 2018, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) held general elections, including for its three-member presidency. The multi-ethnic institution, which includes one representative from each of the country’s three ethnic communities – the Croats, the Muslim Bosniaks and the Serbs – is one of the power-sharing bodies established to promote and sustain equal rights in the fractured state after the bloody war in the 1990s. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords set the stage for ethnic equality when it comes to rights and power. Despite the late 2016 BiH Constitutional court ruling that Electoral law must be changed in order to ensure each ethnic group votes for its own representative in the presidency and other governing institutions, the law had not been changed! Hence, the Croats of BiH were left with the prospect that mainly Bosniaks vote-in and vote for the candidate Bosniak political lead supports to represent the Croats into the presidency!

That utterly unacceptable prospect has been a sad reality for Croats and is, once again – a wretched reality: Bosniaks voted Zeljko Komsic (Democratic Front party) into the presidency while the Croats’ vote for their strongest candidate Dragan Covic (HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union party) – failed. This is the third time Komsic had been voted in as the Croat representative on the presidency and the first two times (2006 and 2010 as member of the leftist, pro-communist Social Democratic party). Furthermore, given that Komsic was a highly decorated member of the BiH Army (Muslim) during the war and not a member of the Croatian Defence Council, which ended up defending BiH Croats against the Serb and later Bosniak onslaught, his very presence among Croats is treated with great disdain and rejection. In fact, post the 11 October Mostar-based protest “Not My President”, he has been declared as persona non grata in several Croat dominated municipalities.

Anti Zeljko Komsic rally
Mostar 11 October 2018
Photo: Jabuka Tv

The presidency’s new composition is fuelling more tension and distrust than what was the case in the lead up to the elections, threatening Bosnia’s future as a country led and made up of three equal ethnic groups. While elected candidates of their respective ethnic political parties represent the Serbs and Muslims – Milorad Dodik and Sefik Dzaferovic – the third seat is filled by Zeljko Komsic against the wishes of most of Bosnia’s Croats. The “fire-accelerator” adding to the fuelling certainly includes the lame, politically orchestrated and questionable 2017 ICTY verdict of “joint criminal enterprise” against Croats in BiH and Croatia, which has evidently provided the Muslims with “perfect” excuses for covering-up and denial of the their brutal and criminal attempts to annihilate Croats in BiH during the war. It’s opportune and perhaps politically significant to mention here that there are actions and initiatives currently being undertaken in Croatia with the aim to have this ICTY verdict re-examined and reviewed as it is deemed unsafe and not representing the truth or justice.

According to election rules currently in place, and protested bitterly by Croats as well as members of smaller ethnic communities, Croats and Bosniak Muslims vote together in one half of Bosnia, the Federation, while the Serb candidate is elected by the Serb Republic. Hence, Bosniaks (not majority Croats) having voted Komsic in as Croat representative is laced with inevitable and unacceptable Bosniak influence over the fate of Croats in BiH as a constitutionally equal group. Regardless of the fact that Komsic advocates unity within BiH (between the three ethnic groups), something the West seems to like or want, even “Blind Freddy” can see the deepening disadvantage and discrimination against Croats there. Unity does seem unachievable.

One cannot, therefore, neither dismiss nor criticise as unwarranted the increasingly spirited calls for the formation of a third entity in BiH, i.e. Croat entity for self-preservation in particular.

With so much energy that Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic had poured into supporting Dragan Covic’s election campaign for the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that this narrow and specific support may actually have been a purposeful tactic to favour and play into Russia’s cold war tactics for control over that part of South-East Europe where, guided by Russia’s choices, Croats of BiH are not likely to factor in importance or decision-making. It does appear Croatia’s leadership did not try hard enough to influence and grow influence (e.g by the US and/or EU) for a truly representative outcome for Croat in the BiH presidency, thus leaving room for the Serb muscle (supported by Russia) and Muslim Bosniak muscle (supported by Turkey) to grow even stronger at Croats’ peril and fear.

Indeed, a worldwide consensus of political analysts comes through with BiH seen as a battleground of a new Cold War. Russia has certainly been expanding its political muscle and influence in magnifying ethnic tensions in countries that hope to join the European Union. And Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of those. Furthermore, with Bosniaks/ Muslims turning their gaze firmly towards Ankara and Istanbul, with the EU reviving its dormant aims for enlargement through the consolidation of Europe platform, security risks to NATO members are accentuated.

When a country elects a president, or members of presidency as is in BiH case, it is not usually the case that the candidates include those whose stated aim is to break the country apart. But, in BiH, it happened – Serb leader Milorad Dodik has made it his career to break up BiH and join the Serbian Republic to Serbia. Russia/Putin stands behind him firmly in such a path. The situation bears distant echoes of Ukraine, where Russia originally agreed that Kiev could join the European Union — though not NATO — and then changed its mind, leading to the revolution that prompted Moscow to annex Crimea and foment secession in eastern Ukraine.

The biggest winner of the elections seems to be Dodik, who will command majorities in both the Serb Republic and the Serb delegation in the joint parliament. Dodik and his party have been the dominant political force in the Serb Republic since 2006, at threatening to secede from Bosnia.

“My first priority will be the position of the Serb people and of the [Serb Republic],” Dodik said in his victory speech. During the campaign, he argued that Bosnia is “not a state,” while calling its capital of Sarajevo a “foreign territory.”

Reinforced from Serbia and Russia, Dodik’s inflammatory words are now a clear threat and the Dayton Agreement is looking more fragile than ever before.

With Donald Trump’s putting America first path, which tends to leave the impression of a neo-isolationism, it would appear that the U.S. has, on that path, thinned its former muscle as a policeman in the South-East Europe (Balkan) region. The alarming consequences of this, particularly for Croats in BiH, are perhaps that Russia and Turkey have taken advantage of the U.S. retreat to reassert themselves in old spheres of interest. Furthermore, the virility (or relative lack of it) in Croatia’s leadership’s support for Covic’s election campaign would easily place that support into cruising along with Russia waters. Vladimir Putin has backed populists across the Balkans to counter the expansion of NATO and the European Union. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed up in Bosnia recently during his presidential election campaign, embracing Bosnia as his own. The EU, meanwhile, has been pouring in money, though the carrot of membership and is coming up with a road map for expansion using consolidation as its main mechanism.

The competition with Russia is sowing and activating fresh instability in a region still emerging from the vicious war of 1992-95. Bosnia’s complicated constitutional framework, along with unresolved internal tensions, makes it susceptible to Russian efforts to wield its influence to transform Bosnia-Herzegovina. Political and intellectual elites in the Serbian Republic entity have served Moscow’s cause by promoting Russia within the entity as an alternative pathway to development. This has so far made Euro-Atlantic integration impossible for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

New particles of instability are filling the skies above the region every day and, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, threatening more than ever the preservation of Croats as equal people alongside Serbs and Bosniaks. The idea of a Croat entity within BiH is gaining more and more justified ground. It is beginning to emerge as possibly the only option for self-preservation, regardless of the fact that Croats in BiH have spent decades post-Dayton Agreement in compliant agreement to make it work and despite being increasingly discriminated against and belittled within the Federation with Bosniaks, further compounded by the likewise antagonistic Serb Republic entity. Ina Vukic

Interview With Zeljko Glasnovic – Croatian Diaspora MP

Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament
representing the Croatian Diaspora
Photo: SBS Radio and Television Australia

 

By Stjepan Ivan Mandic, Fenix Magazine

Translation into English: Ina Vukic

Croatians In the diaspora carry Croatia in their hearts.  Croatia must professionalise its administration and its public governance. It must have functional institutions that would implement laws. Independent judiciary that would guarantee safety in the administration of law must exist, Zeljko Glasnovic said.

Member of Croatian Parliament for Croatians living outside Croatia, retired Croatian Army (HV) and Croatian Defence Council (HVO) general Zeljko Glasnovic had recently spent two weeks visiting Australian Croatians. He led the tour of Australia, organised by Croatian Diasporan Voice Association, accompanied by other delegates from Croatia and was guest speaker at forums held in Melbourne, Geelong, Perth, Canberra and Sydney.

This interview was carried out with him after his return from Australia and in it General Glasnovic speaks about his meetings with Australian Croatians and about the impressions he brought back from there.

– Croatians in Australia are in a complete information blockade there. They are isolated because the Croatian media is constantly creating a perception of a situation that is not real, but false. Forums were organised and as part of these Jakov Sedlar’s film “Hundred years of Serbian terror in Croatia” was shown. Other guests were historian Igor Vukic who is systematically disassembling the myths about Jasenovac, publicist Josip Jurcevic and our best culturologist prof. Tomislav Sunic.

What did you speak about?

– I spoke about the state Croatia is in and the need to modernise the Croatian State, which is going very slowly. Given that the topic was “Croatia Uncensored” I too spoke without censure. And so, I also spoke about the Croatian diplomacy, which has so far been mostly inert. There has been no diplomacy for the economy nor have real conditions for people to return to Croatia been created. Unfortunately, it’s now coming to light that some of our diplomats were involved in criminal activities, and that was covered up and is still being covered up. It has to do with people who are anational, who have no feeling for the nation (state), who want to live a life of Monte Carlo style even though they have Balkan work habits. Nevertheless, the clearing away of such Yugoslav cadres is slowly progressing. I’ve heard that a lawsuit against an Ambassador for money expenditure is on the way and that lawsuits against the one who visited “public houses” and against the one who stole the furniture from the Sydney consulate and shipped it to his home in Croatia are also being prepared.

Which meeting had the most people attending?

– More or less all meetings were well attended. But, Sydney had the biggest number people. I gave a considerable number of statements and interviews, one of which was in English, for those who do not possess enough knowledge of the Croatian language to understand why we came there.

In the reports that came through there was a mention that you were the first member of the Croatian Parliament to officially visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

– Yes, I took part in the Last Post Ceremony there and solemnly laid a wreath as sign of respect and remembrance for the members of the Croatian and Australian armed forces who participated in past wars and today’s conflicts across the world. On that occasion I handed over a gift of the commemorative plaque of the HVO First Brigade Ante Bruno Busic, which attracted significant attention and respect as expressed by one of the Australian War Memorial heads. In my statement for the media I said that the fact that we have no central memorial for all Croatian war victims who have fallen, from the Carpathian Mountains to the Austrian and Italian borders, is a tragedy for Croatia. I think that it’s a historical disgrace that, unlike other civilised countries that respect their dead and make the effort of burying their remains with the greatest of military honours, not one single Croatian government has even attempted to compile an official list of fallen Croatian soldiers from the First and the Second World Wars.

Zeljko Glasnovic at
the Australian War Memorial, September 2018
standing in front the War Memorial’s exhibit
of Tom Starcevich, Australian Victoria Cross recipient of Croatian descent

What do you think are the main deficiencies in the non-functioning of the Croatian state apparatus?

– Croatia must professionalise its administration and its public governance. It must have functional institutions that would implement laws. Independent judiciary that would guarantee safety in the administration of law must exist. There is nothing without safety in the administration of law. And that is where we must start. Unfortunately, the old Balkan brigand saying, which says ‘work little steal hard’, has remained in the Croatian blood. They take pleasure from deceiving the country. However, the biggest barrier for Croatia as a country is the communist mental heritage. It has completely demolished the moral and ethical values of the Croatian society, as does the Croatian media that systematically blocks all critical news. There is no democratically Christian and truly conservative media in Croatia. We do not have a truly Croatian television or something that would connect Croatians from the diaspora to the homeland. Recently, the state television has commenced broadcasting the so-called Fifth channel for Croatians outside the homeland. And all one can see there are repeats of old opuses and series but there are no concrete things to address the questions for the Croatian emigration such as postal voting, getting rid of double taxation etc.

Why is it so?

– Because the left and the right UDBA wing doesn’t want that. Because they want to remain endangered by the Croatian émigrés, they’re scared of their monetary power and the knowledge they have accumulated while living abroad, in the world. And these people (living abroad) carry Croatia in their hearts. The Croatian diaspora is the largest business branch that invests into Croatia every year more that the whole lot of the foreign investments. It was like that during the 1970’s and it is so today. Croatians from the diaspora are as undesirable in the homeland just as, I often say, a Pork steak is at a Jewish wedding. But, it can’t go on like this for much longer. Croatians in the diaspora need not despair but fight for Croatia and for their own people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because, if it wasn’t for Croatians from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the four Croatian Defence Council (HVO) assembly regions we would not have a Croatian state today.

No Dogs, Catholics Or Muslims Allowed

Civilians of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993 running for cover to avoid Serb snipers during the city's siege Photo: Chris Helgren/Corbis

Civilians of Sarajevo in
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993
running for cover to
avoid Serb snipers during the city’s siege
Photo: Chris Helgren/Corbis

The referendum held on 25 September 2016 in the entity of Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska/RS) within Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) regarding confirmation that 9 January should be set as public holiday for the celebration of the Day of Republika Srpska/Serbian Republic Statehood Day may to many in the outside world seem benign but given BiH’s geographic position coupled with the 1990’s history puts it all in a different light. But, in reality and in truth this frighteningly defiant move led by Milorad Dodik, RS president – and nourished and supported via Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s promises of financial supports – has all the hallmarks of officially legitimising war crimes, especially ethnic cleansing and genocide (including Srebrenica) committed during 1990’s against Croatians and Bosniaks/Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina/BiH in that self-proclaimed Serbian territory situated within sovereign borders of BiH.

 

It once again brings to a chilling reminder the chilling “banner”, the “warning sign” under which Serb aggression operated there in that BiH sovereign territory in the 1990’s: No Dogs, Catholics or Muslims Allowed.

 OHIO, Nov. 21, 1995 from Centre left: President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, President Alija Izetbegovic of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and President Franjo Tudjman of the Republic of Croatia sign the Dayton Peace Accords. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Schlumbohm

OHIO, Nov. 21, 1995
from Centre left:
President Slobodan Milosevic
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,
President Alija Izetbegovic
of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina,
and President Franjo Tudjman of the Republic of Croatia
sign the Dayton Peace Accords.
Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Schlumbohm

 

In November 1995 the primarily US-driven international Dayton Accords peace agreement ended the war in BiH and it preserved BiH as a single sovereign state, divided into two largely autonomous parts/entities: the Bosniak-Croatian Federation and the Serbian Republic. Dayton Accords, although made having peace in mind, in essence meant that peace had no chance as no conductive environment was created for proper reconciliation, in many ways the Serb aggressor was rewarded with its own region to govern autonomously. Dayton Accords agreement had sealed the fate of BiH as a sovereign state made up of three constitutional peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) into a perpetual state of ethnic rivalry, recriminations, dysfunction and fear that Serbs were only “an inch” away from achieving their initial goal of creating their own sovereign state from parts of BiH’s sovereign territory they’d cleansed of all non-Serbs.

 

Milorad Dodik had officially, with apparent newfound determination, begun threatening to hold a referendum on secession of Serbian Republic from BiH in 2014 if Bosnia does not become a confederation of three states (Serb, Croat and Bosniak). At that time he sought to seize on the Crimean referendum and subsequent Russian annexation as a political and moral guide and an example of self-determination in action, however wrong, tragic and misguided these actions may have been held by the leaders of the Western democratic world. Dodik had planned for the referendum regarding 9 January as the Day of Serb Republic/ Statehood Day (which date by the way coincides with the Serb Orthodox religious holiday) to be held on 15 November 2015 but this and any such referendum was thwarted via BiH Constitutional Court’s ruling, making such referendums illegal.

Milorad Dodik September 2016 Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

Milorad Dodik
September 2016
Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

Defying BiH Constitutional Court and BiH Parliament, to which Serbian Republic answers, the referendum held Sunday 25 September saw the Serbs living in that entity in overwhelming numbers voting Yes to declaring 9 January as the Day of Serbian Republic. The relatively very few Croats and Bosniaks now living in the Serb Republic (having returned there post 1995 Dayton Accords agreement) had refused to vote in the referendum because, in essence, the referendum represents Dodik’s rehearsal for an eventual secession of Serb Republic from BiH and, therefore, the destruction of BiH as the world knows it now.

A further element of defiance and repulsive attempt to legitimise genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by Serbs in this referendum can be seen through Biljana Plavsic’s comments as she voted in the RS representative office in Belgrade, Serbia. Biljana Plavsic, whose actions in 1992 as a member of collective presidencies of both Bosnia and the breakaway Serbian Republic of Bosnia constituted crimes against humanity and who actively supported the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in Serb-held lands, who is an ICTY convicted war criminal said last week that the referendum represents a defense of Serbian Republic – of that in which she herself had participated in the 1990’s.

Whether the leaders of Croatians and Bosniaks living in BiH consider Dodik’s defiant move with the referendum as some kind of an internationally acceptable foundation for a movement that would split BiH into three different ethnically defined sovereign states (Bosniak, Croat, Serb) is at this stage a disquieting point occupying a great deal of political analyses space throughout the world. As desirable as contemplation of such a division of BiH into three sovereign states may appear to each of the three ethnic groups at this moment may be, this articulated in the media desirability or political assessment in essence masks the real and dangerous prospect of the possibility of repeated Serb violence and aggression against Croatians and Bosniaks in BiH.

 

Croatian refugee families from Serb Republic still today in their thousands seek return to their rightful homes in Banja Luka. Photo: HINA

Croatian refugee families from Serb Republic
still today in their thousands seek return to their rightful homes in Banja Luka.
Photo: HINA

Dodik’s defiance with holding the referendum and his subsequent defiance of the BiH State Prosecutor by refusing to answer a summons to appear before the prosecutor regarding his breach of the Constitutional Court order that declared the referendum illegal, are acts that are very likely to motorise the Serb population’s energy for renewed attacks against non-Serbs in BiH. Dodik has found it handy to interpret everything commented against his referendum as threatening to his personal safety and so:
I will not go to the prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo but I am ready to give a statement in any other judiciary office in the Serb Republic,” Dodik told a news conference 27 September 2016. He therefore rejects the jurisdiction of the government of Bosnia Herzegovina to which Serbian Republic entity must answer. He has therefore, in his mind and in his deeds already cut Serbian Republic’s ties with BiH.
If Dodik fails to comply with a summons, and fails to justify it, the prosecution will then issue an arrest warrant,” said Bosnia’s Security Minister Dragan Mektic, a Bosnian Serb.

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina with entities of Serb Republic/ Republika Srpska and Croat Bosniak Federation

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina
with entities of
Serb Republic/ Republika Srpska
and Croat Bosniak Federation

 

All this says that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a more dangerous state than at any other time since Dayton Accords in 1995, with looming possibility of renewed violence and crimes against humanity. It confirms that, despite atrocities committed in early 1990’s and guilt confirmed via international criminal tribunal and domestic criminal courts, Serbs have not learned to keep their fingers off sovereign territories and state borders that have been established/recognised on an international level for many decades. Collective catharsis associated with the atrocities and war crimes as some guarantee of lasting peace in BiH has made no progress despite Dayton Accords and the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This latest behavior of Bosnian Serbs evidences the fact that reconciliation in BiH (in former Yugoslavia, really) has been a pipe dream, and a utopian dream concocted by the West and the European Commission who thought that equating the aggressor with the victim would reap positive results of reconciliation and peace. Permitting Serbian Republic to exist within BiH in the first place was the beginning of that pipe dream, which was above all cruel to the victims of war crimes and, as such, it was never going to work. Daytom Accord should have either split BiH into three distinctive sovereign states (Bosniak, Croat and Serb) or insisted on retaining BiH as a single sovereign state without entities or divisions of autonomous territory between its constituent ethnic/national groups.

But as things have panned out, the world must cringe with disgust watching the referendum signatures of the majority of the genocidal Bosnian Serb “nation” celebrating without an inkling of shame or remorse their “state” founded on war crimes, forced deportations, ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, genocide, torture…and all that permitted by way of world leaders’ benign political statements that offer only political analyses of the past and no visible intention for decisive involvement to stop such lunacy that is creating new victims of the imposed ethnic Serb superiority in that region. This is a true perversion of justice for the victims of crimes against humanity and freedom to live peacefully anywhere within one’s country’s sovereign borders.

By way of referendum for Serb Republic Statehood Day Bosnian Serbs are erecting a monument to those who committed genocide. This comes without real sanctions and practical intervention against this shame for humanity as all of the political analyses and statements by world leaders about this appear more benevolent toward this Serb cause of celebrating genocide than toward anything else. Turbulent times are on the cards once again for Bosnia and Herzegovina; for Bosniaks and Croatians. Together with political instability in Macedonia, violent protests in Kosovo, the destabilisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will have a destructive influence on the entire Balkan region. The referendum in Republika Srpska also perfectly shows how history can be used to drum up hostility between nations. Desirous of peace and life without fear, a life that moves away from daily infliction of pain contained in politically live reminders of the 1990’s war, Bosnian Croats may do well by utilising this latest practically unchecked Bosnian Serb defiance and seek their own independence or autonomy within or without BiH. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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