Croatian Parliament Declaration On Position of Croats In Bosnia and Herzegovina

From Left:Zvonko Milas, State Secretary, Central Office for Croats living outside Croatia,
Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament for the diaspora,
Gordan Jandrokovic, Speaker of Croatian Parliament,
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs
Photo: Pixsell

The Croatian Parliament has Friday 14 December 2018 adopted the proposed Declaration on the Position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) (PDF Declaration). Votes for were 81, against 11 and abstaining 4. Hence, the desired consensus was not reached, which leaves space for ongoing political manipulation and set backs in the lobbying for strengthening of the power in decision making as far as Croat role is concerned there. Issues that stand out particularly relate to the need to change BiH Electoral Act so that Croats are given the prerogative to vote for their own representatives in Presidency and parliament and those relating to the full and deserved status and recognition of the 1990’s war forces Croatian Defence Council (HVO).

Advocating strongly for equality of Croatian people in that country the Declaration (Link for PDF version of the Declaration and Amendments)calls for changes to the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Electoral Act. It states that “The Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a part of one and indivisible Croatian nation, regardless in which country and in which part of the world members of that nation live.”

In its ascent to parliamentary vote the proposed Declaration had given rise to numerous criticisms from the opposition, particularly Social Democrats, who held that it represented meddling in another country’s internal affairs. Accordingly, the original text discussed in parliament on 12 December has partly been changed.

Croatian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are standing on the fence of their survival. Their status as equal people to Bosniaks and Serbs in BiH is continually eroded to the point that, despite protests and attempts to change the Electoral law, their representative in the Presidency of BiH is elected by the Bosniaks. Without a doubt, and based on jurisdiction installed within the 1995 Dayton Agreement and subsequently in the Constitution of BiH, Croatia has an obligation in protecting the constituency, equality and interests of the Croatian people in BiH. Hence, given the developments since 1995 that saw increasing deterioration in the status of Croats in BiH that places their very existence there in jeopardy, the time has arrived when Croatia has no alternative but to formulate its clear political framework that would help achieve and sustain such paramount rights of Croatian people in BiH.

To say that the debate in the Croatian parliament on Wednesday 12 December 2018 on the proposed Croatian Parliament Declaration on the Position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina was heated would be a monumental understatement. Not only was the debate that lasted some ten hours into the night heated but it clearly demonstrated the fact that a Croatian parliamentary consensus on the Declaration was almost impossible to achieve. The bottom line to the disparity on whether the Croatian parliament should pass such a declaration lies in the evidently irreconcilable views between the governing majority and parts of the opposition on the role Croatia should play when it comes to its direct stand ad activities regarding Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The “liberal” opposition headed by Social Democrats (former communist league of Yugoslavia) considers the declaration to be damaging and an encroachment into internal political affairs of a neighbouring country while another portion of the opposition, e.g. Hrvoje Zekanovic/HRAST who vied for a third entity (Croatian) in BiH, Zeljko Glasnovic/the MP for the Croatian diaspora who especially emphasised the need to cement the recognition of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) which was instrumental in protecting the borders of Croatia during the 1990’s war, considers that the proposed text is lukewarm and demands more concrete solutions favouring the protection of Croats within BiH. Proposed by the Parliamentary Committee for Croats Living Outside Croatia and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union the Declaration seeks to strengthen the position on Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina; to preserve the political subjectivity of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina particularly because of geostrategic influences being a first class strategic Croatian state and national interest.

The Declaration warns of marginalisation of the Croatian people in BiH and calls for changes to the Constitution and Electoral Act of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Declaration, of course, would have no direct power to make constitutional reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina but a consensus on such a political framework would have been likely to strengthen advocacy for major positive changes that would enable the equality of the Croatian people in BiH.

The Croatian Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Marija Pejcinovic Buric rejected criticism by the opposition that the declaration encroaches on internal political affairs in the neighbouring country. “The Republic of Croatia is only asking for the Dayton Agreement to be respected along with constitutional decisions by the Constitutional Court in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Pejcinovic Buric.

While the Declaration would not be binding for Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, the BiH presidency in Sarajevo (for which the Croat representive Zeljko Komsic was recently voted in by majority Bosniak/Muslim vote) already views it as another attack on Bosnia’s sovereignty after the two countries became involved in a previous dispute about the Bosnian general elections in October.

In its current form the Declaration does claim that the election of Zeljko Komsic as the Croat member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency at October’s polls was not in line with the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war because Komsic was elected mostly by Bosniak votes, not by those of Bosnian Croats.

For the successful functioning of Bosnia at all its levels it is essential that all its constituent peoples [Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs] and citizens be equal, to trust and believe in Bosnia’s future,” the declaration says.

With this declaration the Croatian Parliament seeks, among other things, from the appropriate institutions in the Republic of Croatia the following:

In order to realise the constitutional, legal and strategic documents and the international obligations of the Republic of Croatia in relation to Croats in BiH and towards BiH:

– that the Republic of Croatia, as a signatory and guarantor of the Washington and Dayton Agreements, and a member of the Peace Implementation Council in BiH, report to the UN Security Council and the PIC Steering Board members that the imposed amendments to the Entity Laws and the imposed changes to the Election the Dayton Peace Agreement was severely violated. Since the balance between the constitutional position and the rights of the constituent peoples in BiH at the expense of the Croatian people, but also to the detriment of the stability and functionality of BiH, the Croatian Parliament charges the representatives of the Republic of Croatia to seek before the international organisations responsible for implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement respect for the Dayton Peace Accords and that the imposed changes be removed via changes to the Constitution and the Election Law of BiH;

– that the Republic of Croatia, as a member of the Peace Implementation Council and as a member of NATO and EU in multilateral and bilateral capacities, advocates and supports the urgent changes of the Constitution and the Election Law of BiH, which would lead to the harmonisation and standardisation of the equal constitutional position of the three constituent peoples in BiH, in an institutional and administrative territorial view;

– the appropriate institutions of the Republic of Croatia are invited to increase their assistance to institutions of education, health, culture, media and Catholic Church institutions in BiH;

– to include institutions of strategic importance for Croats in BiH in the form of financial assistance from the Republic of Croatia, with full respect for their program and personnel independence and the principles of project business aimed at realising real needs and solving specific problems;

– to establish financial instruments for investment in development and employment in the majority Croatian areas, in areas where Croats lived in significant numbers before the war and from which they were forcefully deported or displaced and thus prevent departure and support the return of deported Croats to BiH;

– to stimulate new investments of Croatian companies operating and investing in BiH, especially in places with the Croat majority, where the number of Croats has been drastically reduced due to the war, due to the discriminatory policy of national majority in the Entities and counties on whose territory they are, their access to employment is disabled;

– to encourage cooperation with all local, county and state entities and representatives of the Republic of Croatia who have experience in using funds from European and other programs in the design of future projects and cross-border cooperation that would respond to the real needs of all media in BiH, especially in the areas of to which economic, scientific, academic, cultural and other subjects fulfilling the needs of Croats have capacities for the purposeful and efficient use of available resources, but also in areas where parts of the Croatian people are in a state of inadequate meeting of the needs in these areas;

– to fully valorise the role of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in the defense of the Republic of Croatia and the Croatian territories in BiH, but also in the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the whole of BiH, and to support the resolution of the status and the existential questions relating to the defence population, especially the disabled and the victims of the Homeland War;

– to give equality to Croatians outside Croatia in exercising their right to vote with other citizens of the Republic of Croatia in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, by introducing postal, preferably electronic voting, and by considering harmonisation of the number of representatives representing Croats outside the Republic of Croatia with the proportion of that population in the total number of voters.
Ina Vukic

Croatian Defence Council HVO Celebrates 25th Anniversary

25 Anniversary of HVO
Celebration in Mostar
8 April 2017

While the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to celebrated under the auspices of the Croatian National Assembly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the HVO and Homeland War unit for the veterans across more than 42 municipalities during this weekend and after, it was the celebrations held in Mostar on Saturday 8th April that appeared to fill the air with a rush of jubilant pride that the success of defending the Croatian people and their lands as well as the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) from brutal aggression in early 1990’s generates. Celebrations in Mostar commenced Saturday with a Mass for those who lost their lives defending their homeland, followed by a solemn procession, the lighting of candles and laying down of wreaths of remembrance; a celebratory Academy was held afterwards.

Croatian Defence Council (HVO) was founded on 8th April 1992 as a response to the open aggression against Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

25th Anniversary of HVO

Attending the celebratory Academy in Mostar were officials representing the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatian government and parliamentary delegation, members of BiH armed forces and veterans’ associations, war commanders, church dignitaries, Croatian Generals’ Assembly representatives and many others. Main speakers at the Academy were Dragan Covic, Croatian member of BiH Presidency, general Stanko Sopta and Croatia’s veterans’ affairs minister Tomo Medved.

 

When others weren’t capable to undertake defending the country from aggression Croatian Defence Council (HVO) was the first to stand up in defending Bosnia and Herzegovina. HVO, together with the Croatian Army and Army of BiH liberated BiH and thus made peace possible, said Bozo Ljubic, president of Central Council of Croatian National Council in BiH.

25th Anniversary of HVO
Mostar 8 April 2017

25th Anniversary HVO
Mostar 8 April 2017

The central message sent to the world from the celebration was that of unity and togetherness with a determined stand to ensure the survival of the Croatian people as equals in the multi-ethnic country consisting of Croats, Bosniaks (Muslims) and Serbs.

Attending the celebrations in Mostar Croatia’s veterans affairs minister Tomo Medved said at the Academy that without the establishment of HVO the survival of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina state would have been questionable and in dire jeopardy. He pledged support for the persecuted Croatian veterans from Bosnia and Herzegovina war (through which there is an attempt to change recent Croatian history and Croatian heroes persecuted) and to defending the truth about the Homeland War, further adding that the Ministry and the Government of Croatia shall not forget the Croatian victims and the suffering and announced the passing in Croatia’s parliament of a unique law on the rights of veterans that would also include the rights of members of HVO.

Tomo Medved
Croatian Minister for veterans’ affairs

This is an occasion in which we need to remember the path through which HVO formations went, the immeasurable contribution to the preservation of home and homeland and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Medved said.

25 Anniversary of HVO
Mostar 8 April 2017

It is to be remembered that HVO was the main armed force and the highest executive and administrative body for the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna created during the times of Homeland War in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990’s and the main armed force for Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina serving the goal of defending Croats at times of aggression.

 

On 18 November 1991 the Croatian political leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina founded the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. Due to the need to defend itself Herceg-Bosna organised the formation of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO). Only a couple of days after its formation HVO entered into large and intense battles with the much more powerful Serbian army and the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army around Kupres, where it sustained large losses, and from 13 – 23 April 1992 destroyed the large Serbian offensive around Livno and its charge towards Herzegovina and Neretva region. On 23rd June 1992 HVO seized in Capljina the first army barracks belonging to the aggressor.

 

After the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 and at the international community’s insistence HVO is defined as the Croatian component of the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and after the 2005 reforms it was transformed into the First Infantry Regiment, one of the three regiments of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

25 Anniversary HVO
Mostar 8 April 2017

From 1992 to 1995 of the terrible war, not counting the civilians 6337 Croatian men were killed as members of HVO. HVO had a key role in liberating significant parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and as such it remains a force deserving the accolades of the highest of courage and heroism. Ina Vukic

ICTY And Vicious Political Battles Against Survival Of Croats In Bosnia And Herzegovina

From left: Jadranko Prlic, Milivoj Petkovic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Berislav Pusic, Valentin Coric
Photo: AFP

If there was ever a more revealing moment of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s putrid Dayton Peace Accords lined political stage, it appears to be now. Whether staged, coincidental or not, the current boiling-point political crisis has intensified in the very month of ICTY Appeal Chamber hearing for six Herceg-Bosna Croats convicted for war crimes in 2013. In the whirlpool of the current political crisis in BiH that boils one day and simmers the next, the Croat leaders find themselves forced to balance between the needs of their own kin and the state they ostensibly represent (BiH). Despite their secessionist tendencies, the Serbs in BiH are riding this storm in costumes of some sort of champions of unity in times of twilight. Continuing the twilight zone-themed crisis, the Croats find themselves in an ‘unholy alliance’ with war-time enemy Serbs as they resist increasing Bosniak hegemony. A quarter of a century ago Bosniaks and Croats paraded the streets together, celebrating independence from Yugoslavia, fought against Serb aggressor together only to split into fighting against each other as the Bosniak hunger for supremacy grew vicious against Croats. Twenty-five years later, Croats are estranged in their own lands, Bosniaks are frustrated by their inability to govern despite their majority, while Serbs live on in a country they fought to divide.

 

It commenced on March 20th 2017 and it represents the last and biggest-ever case before the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Appeals Chamber. The case concerns six high-level leaders of the Bosnian Croat wartime entity Herceg-Bosna and the Croatian Defence Council (HVO). Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić and Berislav Pušić were convicted by the Tribunal’s Trial Chamber on 29 May 2013 for crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed between 1992 and 1994. The Trial Judgement (appealed), issued on 29 May 2013, comprised over 2,600 pages, including separate and partially dissenting opinions by Judges Jean-Claude Antonetti and Stefan Trechsel.

With the appeal hearing now completed the Appeal Chamber judgment is expected November 2017. The judgment is particularly of interest and importance to Croatia as the 2013 Trial Chamber ruled that the “Herceg Bosna Six” (named above), together with Croatia’s leadership (including dr Franjo Tudjman) had participated in a joint criminal enterprise against Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) – all as part of some Greater Croatia expansion.

The Prlic et al. trial was one of the Tribunal’s largest and most complicated. Trial proceedings began on 26 April 2006. The Prosecution completed its case on 24 January 2008 after presenting the evidence of 249 witnesses, while the Defence cases commenced on 5 May 2008 and closed on 17 May 2010 after presentation of the evidence of 77 witnesses. The total number of trial days amounted to 465, with closing arguments heard between 7 February and 2 March 2011. The Trial Judgement, issued on 29 May 2013, comprises over 2,600 pages, including separate and partially dissenting opinions by Judges Antonetti and Stefan Trechsel.

 

Moving to present day Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), whether politically triggered by the ICTY Appeal hearing for the Herceg-Bosna Six, it is of relevance to note long-standing political crisis in BiH had almost reached a boiling point in March 2017, showing a dangerous, politically volatile reappearance of increased tensions between the three constitutional ethnic groups/people (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs). The Bosniak representative of the tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, submitted a request for revision of the ICJ’s (International Court of Justice) ruling on BiH’s suit against Serbia for genocide (which in essence said there was no genocide committed by Serbs in BiH even if, in the same breath, the court ruled that the mass killings in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide), without approval of either the parliament or the Serbian and Croatian presidents. This created a new crisis in BiH that saw the Croat representative on BiH Presidency, Dragan Covic, caught in a crossfire between Bosniaks and Serbs, and faced with resurrected and intensified high-level threats by the Serbian Republic for indictments for war crimes of a number of Croatian generals and military operatives in the 1990’s war, spilling unrest and political fire into Croatia. This current political crisis is preceded by the volatile tensions between Sarajevo (BiH capital and capital of the Federation of BiH but also de jure capital of Serbian Republic) and Banja Luka (where the government of Serbian Republic entity sits) from last year when Serbian Republic unilaterally held a referendum on its own independence day. The BiH Constitutional Court and International High Representative Valentin Inzko declared the referendum a clear constitutional breach; nonetheless, long-standing President of Serbian Republic Milorad Dodik proceeded to celebrate a day that for many citizens of BiH marks the beginning of Serbian aggression on their country.

 

It almost goes without saying, agreement with Izetbegovic’s move for a review of ICJ decision on genocide would tantamount to an act of betrayal in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia, where the scars of Serb genocidal aggression have not been forgotten. Support of Izetbegovic’s move for ICJ decision, on the other hand, means that Bosnian and Croat aspirations for political parity would become even pricklier and Bosniak abuse of Croatian rights within the Federation of BiH would head in the way of deeper institutionalisation.

Nika Pinter
Croatian defence attorney
Photo: Screenshot ICTY Appeals Chamber March 2017

The ICTY Appeals Chamber judgment in the Herceg-Bosna Six case to be delivered in November 2017 will have enormous implications not only for BiH, for Croats in BiH and on stability in BiH but also for Croatia itself. Should the Appeal confirm the Trial Chamber finding that Croatian officials, including late president Franjo Tudjman, were members of a joint criminal enterprise, such a judgment would not only bring a stigma pointing to criminality of Croatia’s politics but also grave financial consequences for Croatia – said recently Nika Pinter, defence attorney for General Slobodan Praljak at ICTY Appeal Tribunal.

 

Pinter said that the past twenty years have seen the creation of a picture about Croats breaking up BiH with criminal goals implemented by aggression against BiH and committing crimes against Bosniaks in accordance with premeditated, joint criminal plan of joining part of BiH to Croatia.

 

And the evidence leads to a different conclusion – Pinter insists.

 

Those who are attacked, who defend themselves, cannot have a criminal plan.
With disappointment Pinter referred to the fact that Croatia’s political leaders have done nothing to stand up against the lies and twisted facts that have for years been spreading regarding Croatia’s role in the BiH war.

 

Outside courtrooms no one has made an effort to reply to the false claims and to insist on establishing and pointing out the truth via irrefutable evidence. There have been no arguments to refute the lies said about Croatia, its involvement in the BiH war and the alleged aggression against BiH, but instead, the space was left to the people, led by self-interests, who used half-truths in order to create a negative picture about Croatia – Pinter said, adding that all facts were available for use whether via witness testimonies, war documents, international negotiations documents, peace conferences.

 

Those in the service of lies wrote and spoke about the events and the relationship between Croatia and BiH but consciously ignored evidence of facts:
– that no government institution in BiH functioned normally and could not guarantee normal functioning because of the aggression by the Yugoslav Peoples Army;
– that BiH would not exist were it not for Croats who turned up at the March 1992 referendum and by doing so ensured international recognition of the independent BiH state;
– That upon the proposal from Croatia’s government and Croatian Parliament conclusions Franjo Tudjman made the decision to recognise the Republic of BiH in April 1992;
– that Croatia had literally made possible the survival of BiH through its unconditional and complete help to BiH in logistics, in humanitarian aid, militarily … (“were it not for Croatia, BiH would not have survived” – said Peter Galbright in his witness statement at the ICTY);
-that Croatia took in over 600,000 refugees and forcefully deported people from BiH and organised their care and shelter;
-that extraterritorial schools for Bosniaks were established in Croatia;
-that wounded members of the BiH Army as well as Bosniaks were treated in hospitals in Croatia;
-that Croatia had permitted all arms and weapons for BiH to be supplied via its own territory during the most intensive war conflict between HVO (Croatian Defence Council) and the BiH Army;
– that BiH had its military training centre for Bosniak soldiers situated in Croatia;
-that BiH Army had its military economic offices across Croatia;
– that during the whole time of the conflict the Headquarters of the supreme command of the Republic of BiH had its logistical centre in Croatia;
-that HVO and BiH Army were two armies of the same state – BiH, and that Army of BiH was not the only legal army in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
-that officers of the HV (Croatian Army) – Muslims, went across to the Army of BiH, while freezing and retaining all rights within the HV, just as the HV officers did who went across into the HVO;
-Never in the history of war conflicts have people, like Croats have, helped other people – like Bosniaks/Muslims – even when the latter turned its army – Army of BiH – against Croats – HVO – in BiH;
-The Croatian Republic of Herceg Bosna was created in September 1992 as a result of negotiations between all three sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the international representatives (Owen and Stotenberg);
-the official representatives of Herceg Bosna were present at all international negotiations together with the other two constitutional people – Serbs and Bosniaks;

 

The analysis of documents from the peace negotiations, said Pinter, shows the facts that Croats from BiH, along with dr Franjo Tudjman’s participation, which participation was insisted upon by the international representatives and communities, had accepted all proposals for peaceful solutions to the internal organisation of BiH, while Bosniaks, in accordance with their own plan for the creation of civil state “one man – one voice”, in which the constitutionality of the Croatian people would be lost, had rejected those proposals or refused to sign them, or had not acted in accordance with agreements.

 

Mujahedeen had brought in radical Islam and elements of religious war as well as contributing significantly to the idea of attacking existing allies – Croats. To claim that Mujahedeen were a propaganda effort raised by BiH Croats in order to force Croats from Central Bosnia to leave the areas in which they had lived for centuries, even if real danger from them was never a threat, is incomprehensible and unfounded as well as malicious, and regretfully, and the claim has today been disproved. Today, we are witnesses of not only the presence of a radical Islam current in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a judicial war against Croats through the processing of commanders and members of HVO without foundations based on facts for the indictments and without the elements necessary for criminal responsibility.

 

On the other hand, the Army of BiH attacks against HVO and Croats, as well as against the areas in which they lived, and consequences of those attacks have never been processed nor have they been talked about. Massive and horrible crimes. The war conflicts were most fatal for Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Exact data from the 2013 census without a doubt shows that in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats were the biggest victims, not because of the Herceg-Bosna politics, dr Franjo Tudjman and Gojko Susak, as the “Six” in the Hague, but because of the Yugoslav Peoples Army and offensive operations by the Army of BiH. If Croats are victims, and they are, then the claim that the creation of Herceg-Bosna was directed against the Bosniak people, said Pinter.

 

While the ICTY Prosecutor is seeking increased sentences for the Herce-Bosna Six from the Appeals Chamber, the defence seeks acquittal of all charges, or a retrial. The acquittal or retrial are sought on basis of wrong conclusions by the Trial Chamber regarding the existence of a joint criminal enterprise and the participation in the same by the Herceg-Bosna Six. Ina Vukic

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