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

On High Alert – Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina


Slaven Raguz
Croatian Republican Party
Bosnia and Herzegovina

With October 7th general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) approaching fast, preparations have entered into their final phase after all running political parties and independents have submitted their full candidates’ lists to the Central Election Commission (CIK), which among other things verifies candidates. This election comes in the middle of the country’s worst crisis since the 1992-1995 war and may not even lead to the establishment of new governments on all levels due to the broken election law and the competition among local political rivals is fierce, perhaps more fierce than ever.

Given that the BiH Constitution guarantees composition of BiH as a conglomerate of equals, i.e. three constitutional ethnic peoples (Bosniak, Croat and Serbs) and given that the equality status has not so far in practice been afforded to or asserted by the Croats the fierceness of electoral competition naturally takes the battle of asserting Croat’s rights to the highest of levels. It is also a justified high level as Bosniaks keep pursuing the lines of electing Croat representatives «for Croats», clearly towards the agenda of keeping Bosniak superiority over Croats to the level of keeping alive the possibility of renewed conflict. Then, senior officials from the Republika Srpska (Serbian Republic) entity are still denying the federation’s statehood and advocating eventual secession.

The backdrop to BiH crisis and asserting the ethnic equality guaranteed by its Constitution is charged with strong political currents within BiH when it comes to international influence. On the one hand, there is the current espousing of Russia’s prominence in BiH and while Russia’s encroachment in the Balkans is widespread, it’s most pronounced in Republika Srpska, where denial of its 1990’s genocide remains a prominent political weapon. But, regretfully, the Federation (made up of Bosniaks and Croats) also shows strong leaning towards Russia. Current Croat leader in Presidency of BiH, Dragan Covic of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party is aligning himself with Russia and Republika Srpska. Although campaigning for Croats’ asserting equal power in BiH, Covic seems to have taken his rhetoric to the extreme nationalist levels that appears a convenient (to him) lip service, instead of sticking to equality of all peoples as a measure of justice; the only measure for future success of BiH. The Bosniaks are and have been pressing on with their allegiance to Turkey and other Muslim forces, thereby significantly increasing Turkey’s involvement in the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants Bosniaks to recall that their country was once part of the Ottoman Empire!

Personally, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan have oscillated between warm friendship and heated rivalry over the 15 years the two men have held power in Moscow and Ankara. What they now share is resentment of the West − Mr. Putin’s Kremlin has been locked in a sanctions war with the United States and the EU, while Mr. Erdogan believes some Western leaders supported a 2016 coup plot against him − as well as a desire to redraw the international order.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has become their “new” playground and the matter of equality of Croats there is their “sacrificial lamb”. It’s all about their own power and influence, it’s not about enforcing the BiH Constitution and spirit and deed of the 1995 Dayton Accords.

Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, still in a subordinate position to the Bosniaks in the Federation, are at these upcoming general elections, once again, in the sharp focus of disappearance or oblivion.

On the street level, the rational reasoning that prevails is that the country must be organised so that it can stimulate the enhanced culture and education that are important for the identity of each of the three ethnic components.

If the concept and backbone of Dayton Accords are to survive, the building of such a Bosnia-Herzegovina is a moral imperative for all its people and nations seeking to remove existing iniquities and realise their individual and common good. International help, especially from the United States and the European Union, would appear indispensable for the realisation of this aim at this time of crisis and foreign interference from Russia and Turkey.

More than 70 parties and scores of independent candidates are set to take a part in the run for positions in the next parliament to be moulded through the results of October 7 general elections. The old worn out phrase when it comes to general elections race there that “the greatest surprise is that there is no surprises” could in fact be toppled this time around when it comes to political parties/candidates representing Croats of BiH.

Croatian Republican Party BiH logo

The Croatian Republican Party, formed in 2014 and mainly active on local government levels has now registered some 70 candidates across different cantons/electoral districts.

Acting with Christian-democratic and right-centre principles the Croatian Republican Party (HRS) of Bosnia and Herzegovina is headed by Slaven Raguz; a seasoned politician determined to achieve that for which HRS is advocating: respect for the legitimacy of the will of all people, not only the Croat but of people from all ethnic backgrounds who live in BiH. Furthermore, the HRS drives home the determination that only Croats have the right to elect their own representatives, even if they choose their representatives wrongly.

In a published statement, August 6, 2018, Slaven Raguz, among other things states: “The exclusive aim of our politics is the entry into the system of government so that, within 4 years, we can send onto the scrap heap of history all of you mental communists who have dispersed us all over the world with your arrogant, greedy, selfish and blind politics. We are not certain if we will succeed, as you have privatised even the electoral process, but one thing is certain – despite everything we will not stray from our course.

These are the kind of determination and dedication to Croats’ rights in BiH that are needed – absolutely. A great deal of the current sub-ordinance suffered by Croats in BiH and shocking inequalities are due to the fact that Croat official leaders in BiH have been and are deeply brushed with the communist mindset that has no room for full assertion of Croats’ rights. It’s akin to a “Men’s Club” for favours and deals which have everything to do with the individual leader and nothing with the people/nation.

The position of the Croat member of the BiH Presidency, Dragan Covic, has triggered in past months a lot of discussion about changes to the Electoral Law (as found necessary by the Constitutional Court some 20 months ago). The problem is that Bosniak voters elect the Croat member and this needs to change. Covic (HDZ) is a candidate in these elections, however, his campaigning for Croat rights and equality appears more like an agenda with ulterior motives than a true dedication to the status of Croats in BiH. Judging by his past performance, his allegiance to Russia and friendship with Serbian Republic’s Milorad Dodik he cannot be trusted to deliver for Croats.

The current political climate in BiH when it comes to Croats appears not to be about Croats or the HDZ in BiH, despite Covic’s loud rhetoric about Croats’ rights, but about Dragan Covic and ensuring there can never be another challenge to him. It appears as a personality cult building assisted by Russia and Serbian Republic.

This is an incumbency agenda masquerading as a collective rights protection agenda. The same stuff communist Yugoslavia was awash with!

Furthermore, the other loud candidate for Croats in BiH in the Democratic Front’s leader Zeljko Komsic whose scandalous history with Social Democrats, former communists, and allegiance with Bosniaks, on whose votes he appears to depend significantly, also leaves no trust nor hope for Croat equality rights in BiH.

With Covic and Komsic in the electoral matrix one can clearly see Russia and Turkey competing for power and influence in BiH and its future.

The question that could be asked is whether the current political impasse in Bosnia and Herzegovina has the potential to become the ultimate litmus test for the fragile political setup and lead to an outbreak of renewed hostilities. Certainly, if a new government is not formed after the elections the scenario would lend itself to a total breakdown of the social and political system. The physical prelude to such a breakdown would inevitably be the inability to pass the budget (due end of March 2019), which in turn would lead to inability to pay out pensions and public sector salaries… What mechanisms and skills would be needed to prevent such a breakdown may yet be a plot that’s unfamiliar to all.

It does appear, though, that if the seats delegated to Croats are won by “right wing” parties, particularly those truly dedicated to Croats’ rights of equality as well as the rights of other Constitutional ethnic groups, placing each on equal footing, who, like the Croatian Republican Party, oppose the political trails Covic and Komsic are taking, there won’t be a conflict or an exacerbation of its possibility in BiH. Ina Vukic

Existential Threats For Croats Of Bosnia and Herzegovina


Signing of Dayton Accords, 1995

The outdated 1995 Dayton Accords for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), devised to stop the 1990’s war only stopped the war but did not bring true peace or stability to the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina has for the last two decades remained frozen in time of the days of the war, only instead of gunshots being heard on the ground it is the political turmoil and its dark demeanour that increasingly amplifies the Bosniak agenda to overpower Croats in the Federation of BiH part of the country while they look away from the Serbian push to achieve independence from BiH of the Serbian Republic/Republika Srpska entity, founded on crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing against Bosniaks and Croats.

Past two decades of perpetual political and economic dysfunction, security threats amplified by radical Islam (that has found a friend and a fighter/feeder in Bosniaks), palpably fading European and American interest, and the divisive foreign influence of Russia and Turkey, the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s emerge as a threatened nation even if on paper they are one of the three constitutional people (Bosniaks/Muslims, Croats and Serbs) that make up BiH. Croats in BiH have been marginalised during the last two decades. Bosniaks have elected a Croat member of the Presidency and formed a federal government twice without legitimate Croat support, completely ignoring Croat electoral will.

The proximate catalyst for the country’s current crisis centres on this year’s national elections. In December 2016, BiH’s Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a controversial law governing elections in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the bigger of BiH’s two autonomous entities, the other being Serbian Republic/Republika Srpska, dominated by Orthodox Serbs). In a legal quirk, the Federation’s numerically larger Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) can elect designated Catholic Croat representatives to seats on the legislative House of Peoples, effectively disenfranchising them. In a February 2017 resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Brussels-based European Parliament cited “the importance of the recent decision of the Constitutional Court on the principle of constituent status and equality of its three constitutive peoples to elect their own legitimate political representatives…in the House of Peoples.” The Bosniak-dominated government in Sarajevo, however, steadfastly refuses to implement the Court’s decision thus threatening the integrity of the election process. Unless the law is amended (attempts to do so have so far failed scandalously) there will be no constitutional basis to hold elections and form the next Federation government. Worse, the central government would then be unable to form as its legislators are, in part, selected from each Entity’s parliaments.

It’s becoming evident that the International Criminal Tribunal’s verdicts against Serbs and Croats in The Hague have injected into Bosniaks, particularly their leader Bakir Izetbegovic, a new vigour to pursue Bosniak plans for control of BiH and if not the whole of BiH, then definitely the Federation BiH (Bosniaks and Croats) entity. It was this week that Izetbegovic claimed that both Croatia and Serbia were aggressors against BiH. Izetbegovic’s political motives are clear in this even if they are devious and rotten to the core. Given the appalling lack of responsibility for war crimes pinned against the Bosniaks, who committed heinous crimes of mass murder and ethnic cleansing against the Croats in BiH, one finds it difficult to circumvent the likelihood of political engineering that favours the Bosnikas, with blatant bias and injustice towards the Croats in particular. The Bosniak plans to suppress and exterminate Croats as equals by any means possible have been there from the start and continue. This is evident today as it was during the war.

Unchecked migration in BiH, particularly from Islamic countries and increasing adoption of radical Salafi Islam from foreign fighters (Mujahideen) who came to the country during its 1992-95 war to fight alongside Muslims against Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats as well as from ever tightening camaraderie in the relationship between Bosniaks and Middle-Eastern Islamic leaders are a cause for real concerns, especially to BiH Croats.

Any solution that gives Bosniaks majoritarian control would result in the annihilation of Croats as a constituent people in BiH.

The threat of future terrorist attacks linked to ISIS camps in Bosniak controlled territories in BiH, widening communal violence that keeps escalating in the lead up to this year’s elections geared to the scenario that each constitutional people should vote for their own representatives so that eventually deciding power in the country is equally shared, unchecked migration, Russian military adventurism in Republika Srpska entity on a pretext of “peacekeeping,” merit renewed high level attention and resolution with international involvement, specifically the US and the EU, including Croatia. Russia’s and Turkey’s fingers need to be removed and influence sidelined.

As much as the European Union/Commission was deeply involved with its often more detrimental than useful role in the 1990’s war in former Yugoslavia, particularly in the framework of aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina who had chosen to secede from Yugoslavia, it has become blatantly apparent that the EU on its own is unable to assume the responsibility of sorting out the political mess and crisis in BiH, which is emerging as a real threat of a new war. But – no more Dayton-like accords or agreements. The European Union’s ability to play a critical diplomatic role in crafting global policy towards global challenges has been demonstrated through its response towards Russian aggression against Ukraine. But the EU is a conglomerate of sovereign states and success in crafting global or regional policies was dependent on US engagement and commitment. The historical, ethnic and cultural inseparability of Croats in Croatia and BiH dictates and empowers Croatia’s involvement in ensuring that Croats of BiH enjoy equal rights within the conglomerate of three constitutional peoples. During the war that raged from Serb aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina in early 1990’s, the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular president Alija Izetbegovic, pleaded with Croatia to come and help defend Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Croatia took on as well as providing for some 500,000 refugees from BiH. Having this fact in mind it is natural and just that Croatia needs to protect the interests of BiH Croats – with a stronger and more assertive voice than what has been heard so far.

On Wednesday 2 May, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn urged the Bosnian political leaders to reach an agreement on electoral reform, ahead of a new negotiations meeting. Without amendments to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Electoral Law there would be difficulties in implementing the results of the election to be held in October, said Mogherini and Hahn.

The ongoing local facilitation efforts by EU and US ambassadors to Bosnia and Herzegovina have provided a framework conducive to a solution being found, it is noted. It is also stated in Mogherini and Hahn statement that the EU expects the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach a compromise without further delay in the best interest of their country.

“If the results of the general election cannot be implemented, the formation of a new government could be at risk,” they emphasised.

“The holding of elections and the implementation of their results, including proper functioning of the institutions, is a fundamental democratic requirement for any country aspiring to join the European Union. Holding the future election results hostage to party interests is not an option,” reads the statement.

Leaders of Federation BiH’s (FBiH) parliamentary parties gathered on Thursday 3 May in Sarajevo in yet another attempt to reach an agreement on changes in the BiH Election Law. After five hours of debate, they came out having reached one conclusion – it is necessary to engage the Venice Commission (Council of Europe) so that it can decide whether the suggested changes are in accordance with EU standards.

As in all earlier cases, negotiations around the changes of the Electoral role are currently hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to BiH, Maureen Cormack, with the participation of the EU Special Representative, Lars Gunnar Wigemark. It means that the international community wants to see this problem solved as soon as possible and -at best- before the Central Election Commission BiH officially announces the general elections’ date. This is expected on May 8 and parties have just a few days to agree and adopt changes in Parliament. Given the track record on this matter with the Bosniak thirst for control (led by Bakir Izetbegovic) and alarming (perhaps purposeful) absence of due self-determination in the official Croat leadership in BiH (led by Dragan Covic), that have so far worked to the detriment of asserting equality for Croats in BiH, one somehow doubts any agreements will be reached by coming the Tuesday or by October. One does not doubt, however, that a stronger political force in BiH is desperately needed to ensure the survival of Croats there, as an equal constitutional ethnic make-up of the country. Ina Vukic

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