bosnia report
New Series No. 8 January - March 1999
 
The Crime Committed in Banja Luka

by Mirko Filipovic

It cannot be denied that the most significant and most horrendous incident of the past few months, so far as Bosnian Croat Catholics are concerned, took place recently in Banja Luka. It is there that the Constitutional Court of Bosnia- Herzegovina met to consider the issue of the constituent status of the three peoples [Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs] on the territory of the state as a whole. What was actually being discussed was whether the constitutions of the two entities, according to which only Serbs are constituent in Republika Srpska and only Bosniaks and Croats in the Federation, are unconstitutional. This question was posed by Alija Izetbegovic in the name of the Bosniak people, arguing that these provisions in the entity constitutions are contrary to the Constitution of Bosnia- Herzegovina, as well as to the wishes and interests of the Bosniak people, which feels that it ought to be constituent throughout the territory of its state as is every people's right.

One might have assumed that this position would have been resisted only by the representatives of the Plavsic Karadzic creation, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of Serbs outside their Republika Srpska while treating non-Serbs who wish to return there as inimical to 'the Serb cause'. So they are uninterested in whether Serbs living in Sarajevo, for example, are constituent there, since such Serbs, by remaining where they are, in their eyes are nothing but traitors. They are much more concerned with preventing others from becoming constituent in 'their republic', for they might end up with a bare majority there.

One might have assumed that Croat representatives, i.e. those meant to be concerned with Croat rights, interests and desires, would have resolutely defended the right of the Croat people to be constituent throughout the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. For in doing so, they would have been asserting also the old Croat historic right to Bosnia- Herzegovina, not in the sense of denying that same right to the others, but in the sense of the inalienable right of the country's Croats to their sole - i.e. not reserve or temporary - homeland.

One might have assumed that they would at least have some sense of obligation towards the people whom they claim to represent, towards its thousand-year-old existence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and also towards its most recent history: the 1991 referendum in which the Croat people [of B-H] clearly stated its historic wish. It would be natural to assume that the slightest change in that publicly and legally binding wish would demand at least a new referendum. Natural to assume that it would be necessary to seek the people's opinion about such a fateful issue as the question of its constituent status, or, ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ failing that, at least to engage in the widest possible consultations with the various institutional forms of its presence in the country: political parties; cultural, scientific and educational organizations; the Church, etc.

One might have assumed that the representatives of the ruling [Croat] party would at least insist on what they so loudly boasted of during the election campaign: the Croat people's equality with the other peoples of Bosnia- Herzegovina - which they claimed themselves to have achieved for the first time in history. Or on the right of all to return to their homes, about which they were drivelling only recently. Or on the need for a general agreement about the return of all, which they were selling not a month ago to Westendorp and others in Madrid.

One might finally have assumed that at least the Catholic Church in Bosnia- Herzegovina would have reacted quickly and angrily to the incident in Banja Luka. But no, not even this. A spokesman for the Vrhbosna Archbishopric tersely stated that its views were 'widely known'. The Fransciscan provinces in Sarajevo and Mostar likewise said nothing (their views too are perhaps 'widely known').

Professor Luka Markesic, a prominent member of the Bosnian Franciscan province, had this to say to Voice of America: 'It is understandable that no one wishes to be a second-rank citizen in the place where they want to live. It is impossible for people to return to their homes without adopting the principle that all three peoples are constituent on the whole territory of Bosnia- Herzegovina. As for the idea that Croats are endangered in B-H in the areas where they are not in a majority, which means the largest part of B-H, that problem cannot be solved within the terms of the policy which Zagreb has pursued from the start. The more foresighted have always maintained that every mention of a partition of B-H spells danger for the Croats in particular. The HDZ representatives now say that B-H Croats are endangered, even though not long ago they were insisting that they had solved the Croat national question in B-H to perfection: that there had not been a better solution since the 7th century [when the Slavs settled in the Balkans]. Now they speak of dangers posed to the Croats, but do not wish to admit that they themselves are mainly to blame. I would agree that Croats are endangered in B-H today, but this danger derives largely from the fact that the B-H Croats are not in charge of their political destiny, nor are they able to deal with their own problems. This is being done for them by Zagreb, or, to be fairer, by a narrow political circle in Zagreb. Sarajevo - not Mostar or some other city but Sarajevo - is the place where the political future of the B-H Croats must be decided, because Sarajevo is Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital.'

Oslobodenje, Sarajevo, 27 February 1999. And, of course, neither did the Mostar clergy say anything. Bishop Komarica [of Banja Luka] was the only one who made a public visit to the [Federation] presidency to ask Mr Jelavic how this could have happened. Mr Jelavic, however, was at that moment 'obliged to attend a funeral', leaving his secretary to explain to the bishop that their views were 'widely known', and that Mr Bender had been a little incautious (how shameful!) in saying what he did before the Constitutional Court.

What then took place in Banja Luka? Only a crime. Mr Ivan Bender [of the HDZ] asked the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina to rule that the Croats are not a constituent people in Banja Luka. That the Croats are not a constituent people in Kotor Varos. That the Croats are not a constituent people in Derventa. That the Croats are a national minority in Bosanski Brod.

According to the 1991 census, the population of the municipality of Banja Luka was 195,699: 28,558 Bosniaks, 29,026 Croats, 106,826 Serbs and 3ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ 1,282 others; that of Bosanski Brod 34,138: 4,088 Bosniaks, 13,993 Croats, 11,383 Serbs and 4,668 others; that of Derventa 56,489: 7,086 Bosniaks, 21,952 Croats, 22,938 Serbs and 4,513 others; that of Kotor Varos 36,853: 11,090 Bosniaks, 10,695 Croats, 14,056 Serbs and 1,012 others.

The present Republika Srpska constitution, in other words, makes 46% of the pre-war inhabitants of Banja Luka, 65% of those of Bosanski Brod, 57% of those of Derventa and 62% of those of Kotor Varos into second-class citizens. The constitution is clearly designed to deter their return and in that way maintain Republika Srpska's ethnic purity, achieved by genocidal means. This is what he demanded, insisting that this was the wish of the Croat people and that he was speaking as an 'expert' in its name. Did he really not understand that his demand amounted to a knife in the back of the Croat people and in broad daylight too? It seems that he did not, given that this shameless incident - part of the conscientious implementation of a long-established policy - was met with deep silence, though it is also true that there was no public support for, or open agreement with, Bender's 'expertise'. The only ones who publicly took his side were the representatives of the Serb republic.

Fra Mirko Filipovic, himself a native of Posavina, is the editor of Svjetlo rijeci [Light of the Word], published by the Franciscan Province of Silver Bosnia. Address: Splitska 39, 71 000 Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. E-mail address: svjetlo@bih.net.ba. His comment (slightly shortened here) appeared in Svjetlo rijeci, no. 191, February 1999.

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