Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Komsic affair – restored!

Zeljko Komsic
Photo: bljesak.info

Balkan history is replete with examples of how disingenuous political tactics used to establish an ethnic hegemony lead to tragedy. Unfortunately, people who refuse to recognize history’s mistakes are prone to repeating them.

By Gordon N. Bardos/ transcoflict 

Some six years ago, the present author did a mathematical analysis of Bosnia’s 2010 electoral results which showed that the ostensible Croat candidate for the Bosnian state presidency, Zeljko Komsic, had in fact received some 70-80 percent of his votes from Bosniac voters. Two months ago, in a replay of the 2006 and 2010 elections, Komsic again won election to the Bosnian presidency by effectively disenfranchising the vast majority of Croat voters, heralding what is likely to be yet another period of political instability in the country.

To anyone familiar with the history and fate of the two Yugoslavia’s in the 20th century, historical precedent suggests that Komsic’s election under these conditions should be of considerable concern. The disingenuous political manipulation involved in Komsic’s election is nothing new—and unfortunately we have considerable evidence of the consequences such tactics have had in the past. As this year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the first Yugoslav state, it is worth reviewing Komsic’s election from the perspective of how previous such attempts have fared.

Probably unavoidably, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) that emerged in 1918 from the breakup of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires started out as an administrative extension of the independent pre-war Kingdom of Serbia. This pre-war Serbian kingdom had the moral authority of being on the victorious Allied side, and the organizational advantage of having a fully-developed governmental bureaucracy and military force. Unfortunately, what this pre-war Serbian bureaucracy lacked was the political experience needed to understand that governing a diverse, multiethnic and multi-religious population would be significantly different than governing a largely mono-ethnic and mono-religious Serbian national state.

Thus, almost by default, the post-World War I Yugoslav state simply tried to expand and impose Serbia’s pre-war unitary political system upon the whole of the new South Slavic state. Yet the problem with this strategy, as Ivo Banac noted in his study of the first Yugoslavia’s formation, was that

unitarism was plainly opposed to the reality of Serb, Croat, and Slovene national individuality and moreover in contradiction to the empirically observable fact that these peoples were fully formed national entities of long standing…to ignore the fact that the South Slavs were not one nation, one culture, and one loyalty, or to insist that they could acquire these unitary characteristics in due course, only weakened the already fragile state and diminished the prospects for good-neighborliness based on the rejection of all forms of assimilationism and on respect of Yugoslavia’s multinational character, the only policy that could strengthen the Yugoslav polity…Cooperation was not the aim of political leaders, nor could it be as long as the centralist bloc refused to respect a principle of concurrent majority in each national community…A pretense was made that such parties as the Democratic Party were ‘multitribal,’ though in fact the Croat and Slovene Democrats had no stable support in their communities. Yugoslavia was indeed a highly diversified multinational state, but multinationalism could not promote consociationalism while the national ideologies of the principal group encouraged the notion that domination through assimilation was imminent.

Given these ideological blinders, in the first Yugoslavia neither multi-party democracy nor royal dictatorship could develop a framework for a united state which at the same time satisfied the legitimate interests of Yugoslavia’s various ethnic groups to autonomy and self-governance. After some two decades of chronic instability, the outbreak of World War II provided the final nail in the first Yugoslavia’s coffin.

Tragically, during World War II these problems came back to haunt the South Slavs in the form of the fratricidal civil war which afflicted Yugoslavia from 1941-45. Josip Broz Tito’s communist movement emerged victorious from the bloodbath, due in no small part to the fact that it was perhaps alone in formulating a political platform able to attract at least a modicum of support from amongst Yugoslavia’s various peoples.

One of the most important pillars of this platform was the creation of an ethno-federal system, and an implicit acceptance of the political equality of Yugoslavia’s constituent peoples, regardless of size (the implicit acceptance would become more explicit as time went on). For many academic specialists of Tito’s Yugoslavia, this was in fact the key reason for the Partisan movement’s successes; Susan Woodward, for instance, has claimed that “the commitment to recognize the separate existence of Yugoslav nations and their sovereign rights was critical to the communist victory after 1943.”

Nowhere was this more critical than in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), where the famous 1943 declaration of the Anti-Fascist Resistance Council of BiH (local acronym: ZAVNOBiH) claimed that Bosnia was “neither Serbian nor Croatian nor Muslim…but Serbian and Muslim and Croatian,” thereby explicitly endorsing the concept that all three ethnic groups were equal constituent peoples in BiH.

Yet even though the Yugoslav communists were more astute politically when it came to dealing with Yugoslavia’s national question, they too failed to find a formula to resolve it, just as the Habsburgs and the Royal Yugoslav government had failed before them. By the 1960s, for instance, Dennison Rusinow would claim that

the tendency to subsume all other questions and conflicts to the national one and to interpret and simplify every issue in national terms, reminiscent of old Yugoslavia and of the Habsburg monarchy before it, was again becoming nearly universal.

Indeed, as time went on, the main Marxist theoretician in the Yugoslav communist leadership, Eduard Kardelj, became more and more pessimistic about resolving the problem. By the 1960s Kardelj would claim

We have up until now tried everything possible to maintain Yugoslavia; first it was a unitary state, then it became a federation, and now we are moving towards a confederation. If even that does not succeed, then it only remains for us to admit that the Comintern was right when it claimed that Yugoslavia was an artificial creation and that we—Yugoslav communists—had made a mistake.

With Tito’s death in 1980, the terminal stage of Yugoslavia’s disintegration began. Although the country’s collapse was caused by multiple phenomenon (both domestic and international), one of these most certainly was Slobodan Milošević attempt in the latter half of the decade to impose his own designated leaders in Kosovo, Montenegro and Vojvodina, all in an attempt to build an artificial majority coalition for his chosen vision of a more centralized, unitary Yugoslav future. Predictably, the leaders of Yugoslavia’s other republics/ethnic groups objected. As Slovenian president Milan Kučan argued, “Can the imposition of majority decisionmaking in a multinational community by those who are the most numerous be anything else but the violation of the principle of the equality of nations, the negation of its sovereignty and therefore the right to autonomous decisionmaking…? “ The rest, as they say, is history.

Just as it had in the two Yugoslavia’s, disagreements over the principle of the equality of nations in a multi-ethnic state plagued Bosnia & Herzegovina from its beginnings as well. In 1991-1992 Bosnia’s Serbs justified their rebellion in part on the argument that their equal rights as a constituent nation in BiH were being violated by the outvoting of the Croat-Muslim coalition in Bosnia.

Resolving this issue would plague peace negotiators for the duration of the war; indeed, one of the prerequisites for ending the Bosnian war was for international negotiators to reconcile themselves to the necessity of applying federal and consociational principles to any post-war settlement. As the late Richard Holbrooke once noted,

Bosnia is a federal state. It has to be structured as a federal state. You cannot have a unitary government, because then the country would go back into fighting. And that’s the reason that the Dayton agreement has been probably the most successful peace agreement in the world in the last generation, because it recognized the reality.

Somewhere over the past few years, however, a new concept has crept into Bosnian politics, which Ivan Lovrenovic has described as an “epochal precedent”: a renunciation of the ZAVNOHBiH idea that Bosnia & Herzegovina was “Serbian and Muslim and Croatian, which excluded the idea the criteria of majority and minorities in governing, in claiming to have greater rights,” in favor of the notion that there is now a political majority and political minorities in BiH. Entirely predictably, the unilateral abandonment of the ZAVNOHBiH principles has thrown Bosnian politics into chaos.

Numerous motivations are driving this policy. Islamist elements in the country have for decades wanted an unchallengeable unitarist order in the country. As Alija Izetbegovic demanded some forty years ago

There exists one order, one dynamic, one well-being, one progress which can be built on this land and in this region, but that is not the order, progress and well-being of Europe and America…the Islamic movement can and must move towards taking power as soon as it is morally and numerically strong enough so that it can not only destroy the existing non-Islamic [order], but build a new Islamic power.

While Bosnia’s secular unitarists have a different metaphysical inspiration, the end result is largely the same. Unfortunately, few international observers have been keen enough to recognize this. Among the rare few has been Sumantra Bose, who once correctly noted that many of “the strongest opponents of diffusion of political authority and sharing of power [manifested in the Dayton Peace Accords] are very often deeply illiberal elements—ethnic majoritarian nationalists . . . who sometimes try to obscure their real agenda, centralization and domination, by invoking the principle of equality of all citizens regardless of ethnicity or nationality.” Bose would also note,

The shrill protests of many (not all) Bosnian and foreign integrationist revisionists against the Dayton settlement are inspired, in fact, not by a value-based commitment to a multi-national, civic, society but by a desire for a less decentralized, more unitary state which will put the disobedient and disloyal Bosnian Serbs (and to a lesser extent, the intransigent BiH Croats) in their place. The underlying motive is to settle accounts from the war, rather than build a forward-looking vision and strategy for the reconstruction of Bosnia & Herzegovina in the overall context of the Yugoslav region.

Somewhat ironically, although the advocates of this policy claim to be civic non-nationalists who reject “constructed” ethnic categories, they either do not understand or do not care about the intellectual contradiction at the heart of their own argument—that dividing ethnic groups into permanent political majorities and minorities does not break down ethnic identities and allegiances, it reifies and reinforces them.

Moreover, given the realities of contemporary Bosnia, what the unitarists are actually trying to impose is not a civic, non-national state and society, but a form of internal colonialism in which one group of people in one part of the country is allowed to establish political domination over other groups of people in other parts of the country.

While Komsic claims he has the understanding of the American ambassador in Sarajevo and the High Representative, most reasonable people agree that in a complex multiethnic country such policies are detrimental. As far back as September 2006, for instance, Haris Silajdzic explained the obvious to Komsic,

I believe that if we live in a system of ethnic representation and if the Bosniacs choose the Bosniac representative, and the Serbs the Serb representative, that it is not just towards the Croats that someone chooses their representative on their behalf. I believe that that is dangerous for BiH…and that will cause citizens of Croat nationality to feel revulsion towards BiH. And that could lead the Croats to ask for a third entity.

Other prominent public figures in Bosnia have voiced similar concerns. Senad Hadzifejzovic once noted that Sarajevo’s imposition of Komsic on the Croats was akin to the HDZ trying to impose the rebel leader Fikret Abdic on the Bosniac electorate, while Muhamed Filipovic has said that if Komsic had any morals he never would have even presented himself as a candidate. Meanwhile, scholars such as Mile Lasić and Sacir Filandra have argued that the unitarist nationalism Komsic represents was as dangerous to Bosnia & Herzegovina as Croat and Serb separatist nationalism.

Even individuals whose political opinions on most things are diametrically opposed have expressed similar views on this issue. On the eve of BiH’s October elections the leader of the Islamic Community of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Husein Kavazovic, explicitly stated that “I do not consider it good that the members of one people choose the representatives of another people,” while Milorad Dodik, for his part, warned that others should not make the same mistake the Serbs made in Yugoslavia. The prominent Sarajevo commentator Nedzad Latic has perhaps been most dire of all, warning that the political games Komsic and his followers are playing were “leading Bosnia to hell.”

To conclude, it is worth going back to the quote by Ivo Banac cited at the beginning of this piece. Banac’s description on the problems facing the first Yugoslavia was written in 1980s to describe what had taken place some six decades earlier. An interesting thought experiment, however, is to take what Banac wrote in the 1980s, and, by changing tenses and a few nouns and adjectives, see how his words apply today, some forty years later. What we get is the following:

…unitarism is plainly opposed to the reality of Bosniac, Croat, and Serb national individuality and moreover in contradiction to the empirically observable fact that these peoples are fully formed national entities of long standing…To act as if this is not the case, to ignore the fact that the peoples of Bosnia & Herzegovina are not one nation, one culture, and one loyalty, or to insist that they can acquire these unitary characteristics in due course, only weakens the already fragile state and diminishes the prospects for good-neighborliness based on the rejection of all forms of assimilationism and on respect of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s multinational character, the only policy that can strengthen the Bosnian polity…Cooperation is not the aim of political leaders, nor can it be as long as the centralist bloc refuses to respect a principle of concurrent majority in each national community. Instead, the centralists seek to impose a patchwork majority, consisting of Bosniac parties and their tactical allies, onto the parties that represent most of the non-Bosniac groups. A pretense is made that such parties as the Democratic Front are “multitribal,” though in fact the Croat and Serb Democrats have no stable support in their communities. Bosnia & Herzegovina is indeed a highly diversified multinational state, but multinationalism cannot promote consociationalism while the national ideology of the principal group encourages the notion that domination through assimilation is imminent.”

As the French might put it, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Balkan history is replete with examples of how disingenuous political tactics used to establish an ethnic hegemony lead to tragedy. Unfortunately, people who refuse to recognize history’s mistakes are prone to repeating them.

(Gordon N. Bardos is president of SEERECON, a political risk and strategic consultancy specializing in Southeastern Europe)

Croats In Bosnia And Herzegovina – Victims Of Dayton Agreement

Message from Bishops of Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, “Dayton Agreement has not brought peace and justice” – May 2017

 

Joint statement
Of the Members of the Commission “Justitia et pax”
Bishops’ Conferences of Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Croatia and Slovenian Bishops’ Conference

Members of the Commission “Justitia et pax” of the Bishop’s conference (BK) BiH gathered on 6th of May 2017. in the center of the Banja Luka’s Diocese to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Commission. The members of the same commissions of the Croatian and Slovenian Bishops’ Conferences (HBK and SŠK) joined them. A special guest also attended the “jubilee” session: Cardinal Peter Turkson, longtime President of the Pontifical Council “Justitia et pax”, and now president of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the newly appointed body of the Holy See.

From their common session, the participants give out to the church and general public the following

 

STATEMENT
In the spirit of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of Pope St. John Paul II, The „Justitia et Pax“ Commission (Justice and Peace) of the BK of BiH strive to – among other:

• Promote justice and peace in the area of the BK of BiH according to the principles of the Evangelical and Church social sciences;
• collect news and results of research on justice and peace, on people’s progress and on human rights violations, and then to evaluate and present to the public the conclusions;
• to cherish the relations with Catholic associations and other institutions, as well as outside the Catholic Church, who are genuinely interested in achieving justice and peace in the world;
• Maintain special relations with the Pontifical Council „Justitia et pax“, that is with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Since its beginning, the Commission is a member of the Conference of European Commissions „Justitia et pax“.

I. The bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina, even before the founding of the Commission “Justitita et pax” – in the spirit of the Gospel and the social sciences of the Catholic Church, consistent with the Church’s attitudes regarding war and peace many times – together and individually – appealed and urged that the war should not start, to stop the imposed war and to establish just and lasting peace for all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have always been committed to the fundamental human and civil rights and liberties of all nations and faiths. They raised their voices firmly against all sorts of war and post war crimes and violence – that was done to people not minding if the people were Catholics or non-Catholics.

Bishops, during the war (1992-1995) in their numerous appeals to domestic and international politicians, made it clear that they did not agree to any alteration of the boundaries of their dioceses nor to the disappearance from these territories of mostly Croat people and the Catholic Church, that has always been and stayed for centuries the most loyal parent and patron”.

They continued to do so after the war as well.

In their statement from 29 January 1995, the bishops also wrote:
“We are deeply saddened by the unacceptable oversight of the International Political Community, which showed an incomprehensible concession to aggression and „force of strength“, and indifference to the people suffering from unequal injustices, violence, demolitions and slaughter… We are astonished and wondering whether political interests and prestige are more endlessly important than humans, people and nations who are without any guilt being put in front of genocidal extermination after so many centuries of their national survival, religious practice of “cultural openness to all in this region”?

In their letter to High Representative Carlos Westendorp on 4th of December 1998, they were also very clear and consistent:

“We seek realization of the right to a safe return and a life worthy of human in its own property and in its own homeland, not only for members of his Catholic community who wish to return but also for members of every other religious community or ethnic group.”

The bishops of BiH also, ten years after the war (29th of October 2005), yet again, publicly warned that the Dayton Peace Agreement becomes a permanent source of instability and as that a threat to peace, and that it brought most damage to the members of domicile Croatian people, that is the Catholic church:

“Even though they are the least numerous and the largest victims of war, 67% of them have fled, and only 13% of them returned by now (2005), Croats are also victims of the Dayton Agreement, because as the constitutive people they have no rights as minorities as well. As the eldest nation in BiH, they only seek to be equalized in the rights and duties of the two other nations in that country. ”

Also during the next 10-12 years, the bishops of BK BiH in their numerous public performances critically but cautiously warned of imposing and controlled chaos in the unfairly organized, dysfunctional and overwhelming state creation, where it was not possible to secure or assure needed progress and a safer future for all nations and citizens of BIH.

To such a consistent and principled attitude, they were obliged by the guiding words of Pope St. John Paul II, said in Sarajevo on April 13th 1997, by which they are as bishops “obliged to warn against violence, to put an end to injustice, to address evil by its proper name and with all legitimate means defend their communities”.

 

II. In the spirit of clear and consistent warnings and allegations by Bishops of BK BiH of numerous shortcomings in the basic arrangements of the state of BiH and the selectivity and inconsistencies in the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement during the period of more than twenty years, the Commission “Justitia et pax” of the same Bishops’ Conference also spoke up.

In its numerous reports, the Commission was:
• Clearly noting and explaining the causes of the constant state of disempowerment of citizens and people in BiH;
• Proposing concrete solutions;
• appealing to all relevant domestic and international political factors for a rooted change in the existing unsatisfactory social and political state in the country;
• continuously pointing out that one of the main sources of disempowerment of citizens and nations in BiH is undemocratic, irrational and dysfunctional organization of the multiethnic state of BiH, which is all the bitter fruit of the unethical solutions imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement.

The Commission has repeatedly in their annual reports pointed out that Annex 4 of the Dayton Peace Agreement as the Constitution of BiH was not legitimate because its signatories were not democratically elected by the citizens of BiH and its constitutive nations. It is not legitimate considering that as an international agreement it has never been ratified in the Assembly of BiH or endorsed by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Commission has repeatedly pointed out to the fact that the said Agreement stopped blood spills but did not bring justice and righteousness to all the people of the country, but a permanent political conflict between domestic parties and politicians. This conflict that makes the state of BiH more and more unstable and non-perspective, is threatening indirectly the neighboring countries as well.

In recent years, the Commission has repeatedly warned in its repeated statements for public which addressed all responsible domestic and international officials in an increasingly dramatic situation – of the deconstructed domicile Croatian people. Nowadays (22 years after the war) according to church statistics, the Croatian people are, in the whole country, more than 45% of its pre-war number gone. In almost half of the country – in the RS entity – due to thorough ethnic cleansing and disabling the sustainable return of the exiled Catholic population, more than 90% never returned.

Over the past years, the Commission has often called for the consistent and strict application of Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement to create all refugees and displaced persons the conditions for a safe and sustainable return. It is generally known that in all previous donor and rebuilding actions the least aid was given to the Croatians (3%!), especially Croats in the RS area, where the results of their sustainable return are devastating. We have stressed that without sustainable return, of the refugees who are still willing to return, the justice will not be satisfied and the reconciliation between people will not be made. The war, which exiled hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes, destroyed their lives and properties, was a country or countries project. Therefore, the restoration of a house, the return, the creation of conditions for normal life should also be the project of a country or countries. Therefore, the Commission considered and still considers that nobody, in the name of any of their goals, has the right to declare the return of refugees and displaced persons completed until Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement is implemented and until the exiled Croats – Catholics do not receive the same conditions as the others for their sustainable return.

Apart from the painful and dramatic fact of the physical extermination of the domestic Croat – Catholic people, the Commission has repeatedly warned officials and the general public also of completely erasing of their cultural, ethnic and political identifications and terminology – from deleting them in their home offices to changing street’s names, suppressing cultural societies and religious institutions.

They also warned of the fatal disregard of a large number of Croat’s representatives in the legislative and executive authorities on the level of the entire country, and in particular of the RS entity, for the survival of the Croat people in their own homeland and for the necessary financial assistance to the few Croat Catholics who, even with many problems, managed to stay in their hometowns, or they were, with great obstacles, able to return, where they had been forced out from.

With such behavior, these political representatives of the Croatian people agreed to legalize the violent persecution and extermination of the people in the great part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this way the definitive disappearance of the Catholic Church in those areas.
The Commission repeated the words of the Bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bishops of the Republic of Croatia from 1993, with which they jointly stressed that they cannot “reconcile with any political solution to the future of the wounded country (BiH), which would lawfully allow destruction of more than half of the members and the properties of the Catholic Church and the Croatian people in the Republic of BiH. This would virtually extinguish two Catholic dioceses in Europe”.
The Commission encouraged all responsible authorities to be more determent and jointly agree on the organization of the country with the guarantee of all basic and civil rights and freedoms, personal and collective in all parts of the country. They warned that partial and short-term solutions of the country’s regulation would continue to create new injustices and not only question the further survival of the state of BiH, but also of the domicile people in some of its current parts.

 

III. The Catholic Church in these parts, in the past and present, fearlessly and consistently defended man’s dignity, his religion and fundamental human rights.

The public knows that in such Bosnian-Herzegovinian relations, domicile Croats and Catholics do not have the same opportunities to participate in public information that prevents the creation of a true public image of the situation and problems of Croatians and Catholics in BiH. It is commonly shown in the public that everyone else in the country has more problems than Croats. When it is reported of problems of Croats and Catholics, it is done in a sensationalist and non-objective way, which makes perception of Croats misleading, they are seen as the burden of Bosnia and Herzegovina and as a disturbance factor in it.

This time again we repeat our moral judgement – on which we have the right – as Christians and as citizens – that to all citizens of ours for far too long crushed country – and thus the local Catholics must have the right to build their future, just like in every other modern European prosper and functional legalized country, which has been disrupted during all the years after the war.

This time again the Commission repeats the bitter and dramatic fact that Catholics in BiH today are physically the most vulnerable part of the Catholic Church on the entire European continent.

We are witnessing the continuation – even increase of the uncertainty of the physical survival of the Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the tirelessly efforts of the Church’s leadership that in this politically and legally disordered country becomes a truly needed fair and lasting peace factor.

The Commission warns again that in BiH unjust legalization of crimes committed in the 1992-1995 war continues, as well as political turmoil, conflict and general social insecurity, making the return of displaced persons unable, preventing employment, especially among many young people, increasing the instability of numerous families, and affective and social separation of the whole communities.

The Commission yet again encourages all those responsible to step up their approach to rooted constitutional changes of the entire BiH society principled on federalism, decentralization, subsidiarity and legitimate representation of its constitutive people and national minorities.

The Commission calls on the international community representatives in BiH to provide more effective political, legal and material aid for the establishment of real equality across the country among members of the three constitutive people – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

The Commission joins this time again to all those who are struggling to make the final adaptation of the Constitution – one for the whole country – instead of the current four different ones.

 

IV. Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the „semi protected issue“ of the International Community, that same International Community –has unfortunately left it throughout all the post war years to be a „place of insecurity“ instead of a peace zone. Every human being, and especially a politician, is certainly clear that maintenance of such a „controlled chaos“ in BiH is a latent danger not only for a stable peace in this part of Europe but also for world peace.

Therefore the „Report“ from the Europen Parliament from February 15th 2017., which expresses more willingness to more effectively assist the state of BiH in the process of stabilization and joining with European structures than in previous years is welcomed and supported.

The „Justitia et pax“ Commission of BK BiH, together with the Croatian BK Commission and the Slovenian BK Commission, expresses gratitude to European politicians, especially from Croatia and Slovenia, for their valuable contribution to the preparation and adoption of this document of international character, based on which we hope – will be ultimately more efficient to work on regulating BiH as a legal, safe and prosperous country for all its citizens, ethnic and religious communities, and especially the disenfranchised Catholic population in it.

We are grateful, especially to the Holy Father and to the Holy See for all the valuable care and support for the life and the work of the Catholic Church in this country – in particular its shepherds – for truth, justice, equality, forgiveness, reconciliation and just Peace for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Stanislav Zore,
Archbishop of Ljubljana, metropolit,
President of Commision „Justitia et pax“ SŠK
Vjekoslav Huzjak,
Bishop of Bjelovar-Križevci,
President of Commision „Justia et pax“ HBK
Franjo Komarica,
Bishop of Banja Luka,
President of Commision „Justitia et Pax“ BKBiH

 

 

In Defence Of Croatian Community Of Herceg Bosna

dr. sc. Mato Arlovic

The ICTY Trial Chamber 2013 conviction of the “Croatian Six from Herceg Bosna” (currently awaiting Appeal Chamber decision) has motivated dr. Mato Arlovic (a Judge at the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia) to awaken his research in constitutional law within the expertise written for the purposes of defence before he had become a Constitutional judge. Hence, arrived the book “Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna and the (re)organisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. It is an important book because it negates the famous joint criminal enterprise supposedly led by the Croatian state and army heads – writes Marinko Jurasic of Vecernji List, as foreword to his interview with Arlovic.

Your book significantly defends dr, Franjo Tudjman’s and HDZ’s politics towards Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

– I must correct you. I am not defending Tudjman’s and HDZ’s politics, I am defending the truth. I speak of facts, of proof, of arguments and decisions that confirm that all the Acts passed and all the actions that followed go in favour of independence and sovereignty of BiH. I am bothered when the truth is negated … The aim of my book is not that anyone indicted of war crimes be acquitted or his guilt lessened. No, the aim of my book is in that noone is punished for something he did not do, to prevent a new injustice. Not only because it would constitute an injustice towards one nation of people but that injustice would also become the cause of new divisions and conflicts in this region. I advocate for those who are found to have committed crimes to be convicted for that is the first step towards reconciliation and a satisfaction for those who suffer.

Did the Republic of Croatia have a right to defend itself?

– I think that the rejection of Croatia’s application to present its arguments as a Friend of the court that it did not participate in joint criminal enterprise had deeply violated the principle of fairness as well as of approach to the court, and the highest of Croatian bodies are the ones who must express their standing on that. It’s not only that Croatia did not participate in it, but had it not done what it had there would be no independent and sovereign state of BiH today. In that situation it would be a grave injustice and untruth to condemn Croatia as an aggressor and a divider of BiH.

While a joint criminal enterprise did not exist in Croatia, the same Croatian leadership was creating a greater Croatia in BiH!?

– In the indictment against the generals, the state and army leadership is accused of joining together for the purpose of ethnically cleansing the Serbs from Croatia, while in the indictment against the Herceg-Bosna Six they are connected to a criminal enterprise for dividing BiH and the creating of Croatian Banovina, that actually encompasses a much larger area than the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna. At the end of that indictment it actually says that it also concerns “all other known and unknown persons”, which opens the possibility that all Croats in BiH and in Croatia had joined intoa criminal enterprise, which of course cannot be the truth. All the more because such a form of crime is not regulated by any Act but had appeared in the Hague Prosecution’s practice. If the Trial Chamber judgment were to become final it would open up some serious questions. It would follow that Croatia was an aggressor against BiH, led its war through ethnic cleansing and that it is responsible for the destructions in BiH. And that question of justice. How can a country that had itself been attacked from outside and from its rebel Serbs inside, in the situation when it’s helping its neighbouring country and in defending itself, be pronounced an aggressor against that neighbouring country from whose territory the aggression against itself was launched!? One wouldn’t know what’s harder – the question of political responsibility or the legal responsibility. The Croats in Croatia and in BiH would once again carry the stigma of being guilty for the 90’s war, as it was after WWII.

But, president Tudjman led talks about dividing BiH?

I don’t negate that, but I was appalled by the rushed and unfounded assumptions Rebicic came out with in his book “Geneza jedne zablude” (The genesis of a delusion). He writes that in Karadjordjevo, Milosevic offered Tudjman a division of BiH, and in an other place it’s written written that in a telephone call he warned Alija Izetbegovic that together with dr. Tudjman in Karadjordjevo Milosevic proposed division of BiH at the expense of the Bosniaks. Then, that Tudjman and HDZ leadership considered all non-Croats as citizens of a second order, which is one of the worst accusations that, in essence, equates with nazisocialism. I was politically active then and not negating the extreme right-wing elements, I can say that it is a complete untruth that the whole of the State politics was like that. Ribicic’s expertise is founded upon the testimonies of public dignitaries from Croatia who came out with their pereptions without evidence that any decision by any State body was made, and everything comes out from saying that there were talks of dividing BiH. And that is “fait accompli”, BiH will be divided and Greater Croatia put together.

The key proof of that is the conversation in Franjo Tudjman’s presidential office, HDZ leadership in Croatia and in BiH on 27th December 1991.

It’s true that there was talk there about solving the crisis in BiH and a possible division of BiH. It’s true that some participants seriously objected to that because the Croats in BiH would lose the possibility of being equal and constitutional nation, that is, they would become a minority in BiH. But even those talks, as all other talks, wee led during the times of war and, therefore, I’m amazed at those who without any reservation state that the politics of dividing BiH were led. Of course, the actors in those talks held their fingers crossed in their pockets and were not sincere in the measure by which their assertions could be taken as truthful. In Tudjman’s case the decisions confirmed that.

There was political bluffing, insinuation, exaggeration…?

In military terminology that’s one of the forms of a special war. If that talk was crucial, how come it occurred a month and a half after the Croatian Community Herceg Bosna was founded. Ribicic writes that the talk was led at the time when Slovenia and Croatia had already been recognised internationally, which is not true. Only some countries, that were not themselves internationally recognised, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, had recognised Croatia and that in itself had a morally-political and not an international significance. The decision regarding a change of borders can only be made by the Croatian parliament, and nobody refers to its Acts. That is, even in the Constitutional decision regarding sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Croatia and in the 25th June 1991 Declaration, as well as in the Decision regarding the severing of all ties with the Former Yugoslavia on 8th October 1991, it is clear and unambiguous that the right to independence is recognised for all other republics of the former Yugoslavia. And what’s occurring after the talk about the division of BiH. At the invitation by the Carrington Commission on former Yugoslavia the Croatian parliament passes an agreement that all states of formerly joined states and the USSR, if they implement the right procedure, should be internationally recognised. Then, dr. Tudjman as HDZ RH president, together with HDZ BiH and the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna leadership, calls upon Croats in BiH to come out at the 29th February 1992 referendum together with the Bosniaks and to vote for an inependent and sovereign BiH. That referendum would not succeeded with the Croats because the Serbs boycotted it, and there were not enough Bosniaks to make up the needed majority.

And they’re being accused of intending to create a Greater Croatia all that time?

– That’s right. It’s important to see that at that time there were three political concepts for BiH. Bosniaks wanted unitary BiH. Serbs wanted a confederative BiH if a link with Yugoslavia remained, and if not, then theseparation of Serbian Republic and belonging to Yugoslavia. Croats were for a sovereign and independent BiH of three equal and constitutional nations while BiH exists, and voted at the referendum for that which they had written down and in the decision to form the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna. And after it was decided on an international level to recognise BiH, the first country that did that on 7th April 1992 was Croatia. All that time Croatia supplied BiH with medical, humanitarian and military assistance. Individual uits were made up of Bosniak members of the Croatian Army (HV), who were organised, equipped and trained in Croatia for the battles in BiH against the Serb aggressor that had by that time already occupied 70% of BiH territory. The most complex training of Bosniak officers, and MIG pilots, was carried out in Croatia. Here, some 700,000 displaced persons were cared for, medical help given to more than 3,500 wounded at Firule (Split) … Does a country that wants to divide the other country and take over its territory do that!?

All the while a third of Croatia was occupied.

– Those who had come out with the postulation about Croatian division of BIH are unaware that with that they had perhaps supported the most cunning postulation of Greater Serbia politics, demonstrated via a special war, because acceptance of a division of BiH would open up a process of dividing Croatia. Radovan Karadzic was the first to use that postulation at1990 elections in order toconvince Alija Izetbegovic that he would try and trick him by such means. It was crazy to expect that via the Croatian Community Of Herceg Bosna the intention was to annexe that part to Croatia for the purposes of creating a Greater Croatia, and that the same criteria would not be used in Croatia where the self-proclaimed “Republic of Serbian Krajina” commenced the process of joining the territory to Yugoslavia and Serbian Republic within BiH. One can think about dr. Tudjman as one likes but he knew how to think in military and geopolitical terms for Croatia’s interests and, simply, everyone should forget about such postulations. That postulation is a total miss, even if the talk of possible division of BiH did damage the public perception. But later, Alija Izetbegovic himself offered a division of BiH to Tudjman because he wanted his own state.

You claim that the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna was a necessary form or self-organisation?

– According to the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of BiH the right to defence was a duty of every citizen, and municipal councils had an important role. Citizens living in them had a duty to self-organise themselves in defending freedom, territory and the sovereignty of their republic if the central authorities cannot function. When Serb attacks started Prime Minister Jure Pelivan said at the Assembly of BiH that the government was not controlling the situation, and Izetbegovic said “that is not our war”. And then, in 24 municipalities, arising from the right of necessary self-organisation the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna was organised as a community of municipalities. The Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna did not arise within a procedure that’s characteristic of an act that would have a constitutionally legal force but rather it was much closer to statutory decisions made by units of local self-government. The decision was signed by presidents of the municipal councils who were elected to those positions at democratic elections. A referendum was not carried out. The decision calls upon the Constitution of BiH. In it, it’s written that it is of a temporary nature while the situation lasts in BiH and that the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna is being formed- what is very important – on the territory of BiH. “The area” belongs to the units of local self-government, and “the territory” to the state. If, according to the classic theory, a state is made up of territory, population and legitimate authority, the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna had no territory and admitted that it was formed within BiH territory, respected the constitutionally-legal system of BiH, and had no population of its own. One of the accusations against the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna was that by using Kunas it negated the monetary sovereignty of BiH. But at that time in BiH everyone was using German Marks. One of the important proofs that the Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna was not of a state-forming shape is in the decision made by the ministry and upon which it existed and exists today as an association of citizens who promote cultural contents.

After that it grew into a republic?

– That was the result of international agreements, that is, the initiative about three entities which do not bring into question the international subjectivity of BiH. Croats were among the first to sign that international act just as they were to sign all other acts proposed by the international community, while others refused to sign. Serbs did not adhere to the Washington Agreement, which in some of its elements for the Constitution of the Federation of BIH offered a reorganisation into a composite state. NATO military action followed, which broughtthem to the Dayton Agreement. For Serbs, at all times, the variation of separating the Serbian Republic and annexing it to Serbia was valid, and some represent that stance to this day. The international community also held talks about dividing BiH in their search for models for its internal organisation. My opinion is that it is a big delusion that one can guarantee constitutionality and equality of all three peoples and at the same time carry out an internal reorganisation based on ethnic principle. That is not possible! The civil principle of internal organisation of BiH must be contitutionally and legally institutionalised.

Everyone is accusing the Washington and the Dayton agreements?

I do not agree. In legal nature they are international contracts for peace. They stopped the war. The Serbs relinquished a part of the occupied territory, but a part of their war conquest was recognised. It is not just to accuse one nation because it defended itself, and not the other two. Annex IV of the Dayton agreement contains the Constitution of BiH and it can only and exclusively be changed by the elected members of BiH parliament. Therefore, the problem is not in the international community but in the (im)possibility of agreements between the political leaders of the three peoples in BiH. They represent maximalist attitudes because every appeasement and compromise is treated as a betrayal within their entities. In such a situation it is easier to expect the international community to make moves and take over the responsibility. Hence, I call them political entrepreneurs. Organised in this way BiH cannot be compatible with the EU. BiH needs thorough changes and that is why I put out 12 points of possible considerations for a new organisation of BiH, and at that I start from the need to make a combination of the national and civil across the entire BiH territory. The Constitution must guarantee the constitutionality through its institutionalisation of the protection of the individual, of members of minorities who are now excluded from the nation, and through parity of representation of the three equal and constitutional peoples in all bodies of representation all the way to the national level. The Constitutional court is there to guarantee fundamental rights and freedom of all, and if it cannot do that because it is not independent, and given that BiH is a member of the European Council, then there is the European court for Human Rights that guarantees fundamental freedoms and rights, and when BiH become a member of the EU there is also the court in Luxembourg.

Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic

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