Should there be a third, Croat entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Author: Krešimir Zubak
Uploaded: Thursday, 08 April, 2010

The former Bosnian Croat leader, who was the only Bosnian delegate to refuse to sign the Dayton peace agreement, argues that it is necessary to discuss openly the demand for a third, Croat entity in B-H, precisely in order to explain why it would serve neither Bosnian nor specifically Bosnian Croat interests.

 

 

A recent conference of the Croat National Council (HNV), held on 5 February 2010 in the Oval Hall of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH) parliament, considered the position of the Croat nationality in Bosnia-Herzegovina and upheld the view that the Bosnian Croats do not enjoy a position of equality with the other two Bosnian nationalities [Bosniak and Serb].

 

Over the past decade and a half this view was has been aired at many political, confessional and other gatherings, at meetings of governmental bodies, in public declarations and in talks with international community representatives, as well as among ‘ordinary’ people, between friends and acquaintances.

 

Testimony to this state of affairs given to the HNV conference, and in particular that coming from cantons (Tuzla, Sarajevo) which have hitherto been presented - albeit with decreasing success - to the Bosnian public and to international bodies as good examples of multi-ethnic life, provided further support for the HNV’s conclusions (see below). It made clear, in a way that could only be described as dramatic, that it is impossible for the Bosnian Croats to continue in this way.

 

However, the justifiably worried participants did not come up with any answer on how to proceed. It was said, largely in asides, that this situation cannot be overcome by the formation of a third, Croat entity - something that is once again being advocated - because that would be both unjust and less advantageous to the Croats than the current two-entity system.

 

Is this indeed the case? And if so, can the demand for the establishment of a Croat entity be rejected solely on the basis of an ethical argument that need not be true? Maybe one should explain to those who reject a priori such a demand that it is in principle perfectly legitimate. It is legitimate because the Croats, like the other Bosnian nationalities, are a sovereign people who can freely judge and decide on their rights, interests and needs. Our sovereignty is limited only by the sovereignty of the two other peoples with whom we form the common state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Accordingly, if one of the three peoples possesses (more exactly, was given) an entity with a clearly demarcated territory that bears its name and is called a republic, then the Bosnian Croats too have a right to form their own entity along similar lines.

 

If one adds to the argument of legitimacy the fact that Croat representatives are now habitually ignored in the state and federal parliament, and in the Federation’s executive bodies, in a way that openly violates the constitution (e.g. in regard to national representation at the highest level), and also the evidence and data presented to the HNV conference, then the advocates of a third entity appear quite justified in their demand.

 

Also, as some of them point out (though not publicly), the Bosniak leaders are perfectly aware that their violation of the laws and constitution of FBiH, and their abuse of their considerable numerical superiority in the governmental bodies, invalidate their public calls for Bosnia’s reintegration in accordance with the principle of equality of citizens and nationalities. These Bosniak leaders know full well that their behaviour only encourage RS politicians to hinder the country’s reintegration in every possible way, legal and illegal. But it does not stop them. Why? The advocates of a Croat entity have a ready answer. In their view, the Bosniak politicians are doing this intentionally and in pursuit of a long-term plan: they wish to encourage the departure, not the return, of non-Bosniaks, and thus in time to realise the aim adopted not so long ago, in 1993 in Zenica, to achieve absolute domination in the central part of the country and that providing a link to the sea.

 

And they add this. The international community, with its so-called April and Butmir packages of constitutional reform, is seeking to marginalise entirely the Croat representatives in institutional bodies - by turning the House of the Peoples of the Bosnian parliament into an advisory body to the latter; and by turning the Council of Ministers into a government without parity representation; and by having the Bosnian state presidency and deputies to the Council of Peoples elected in the Bosnian parliament’s House of Representatives, in which the Croat representatives would not be elected by Croats but by all deputies. All this would mean that the more numerous nationalities would decide who should represent the Croats.

 

In view of all this, one can well argue that the demand for a separate Croat entity cannot be answered with a purely ethical argument, and that the position of the Croat nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina should be subjected to a wider debate which would include also the issue of a third entity. After all, the above-cited arguments appear reasonable and convincing also to many educated Croats, who as a result see a third entity as the only possible way forward. And if these people are told that their own particular area would be included in such an entity, they become even more enthusiastic about the idea. To confront this solely with the argument of rightness is to be seen as blinkered and unconvincing. We need a public debate. I am sure that such a debate would throw up many additional arguments why a three-entity solution would not be in the Bosnian Croats’ interest, in the same way that the two-entity solution is not either.

 

It would be necessary to begin with the following consideration. Would it be possible to establish a Croat entity in the political conditions and circumstances of today? What would we gain by it? What would be the price of it?

 

To achieve such an aim, it would be necessary to meet at least three conditions: to achieve an inter-Croat agreement on the areas which this entity would include; to gain the agreement of the other two nations’ political leaders; and to gain the agreement of the international community to remodelling Bosnia’s constitutional setup. I do not see any of these conditions being met in the near future.

 

The international community - i.e. its most influential members, who can rightly be held most responsible for the prolonged crisis in which Bosnia finds itself, because the model which they imposed on it generates only conflicts and problems - have repeatedly declared themselves against the creation of a third entity. Their determination was proved in connection with so-called Croat self-government, when they used all measures, including repressive ones, to prevent the possibility of the emergence of a third entity, without ever bothering to explain why they are so set against it. This despite the fact that they support a two-entity arrangement the nature of which implies, stimulates and legitimizes the demand for a third entity - and for that matter Bosnia’s disintegration too.

 

It is true that the international community’s officials tend to say they would accept whatever the local politicians agree on. The implication is that they would accept also a three-entity solution, and this spurs on the advocates of a third, Croat entity. But bearing in mind the interests of the key international players, all they would accept, in my view, is what is contained in the April and Butmir packages - which one must resist, of course, because to accept that would not only legalise the existing arrangement, but also allow aggravation of the Bosnian Croats’ existing position. They will not agree to a third entity, irrespective of the fact that occasional public statements by them can be interpreted differently. And, as our experience teaches us, it is better not to test their credibility.

 

But even if we had their agreement, the question of all questions is what price would we have to pay for the agreement of our constituent partners?

 

It would be a waste of time and effort to dwell on the Banja Luka politicians, who of late have been displaying a growing understanding for Croat discontent. They would gladly accept a Croat entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, because that would ensure the survival of their own entity. But, as everyone knows, they would not cede an inch of RS to help its creation.

 

What about the other partner? Did [SDA leader] Sulejman Tihic agree, as the Croat participants in the negotiations confidentially say, to that part of the so-called Prud accords which speaks of a model of Bosnia’s internal constitution based on four federal units: i.e. to there being, in addition to RS and Sarajevo, a third, Croat federal unit albeit without continuous territory?

 

I doubt that Tihic would agree to Mostar joining such a Croat entity as its capital city. Or to the inclusion of municipalities in which Croats are a relative minority, but in which they have achieved a significant degree of economic prosperity, such as Kiseljak, Vitez or Žepce. Or to the return of large numbers of Croats to, say, Jajce, Bugojno and Travnik. Even if he were to agree to this, he would not be able to make it stick.

 

It is my belief that, if Tihic did agree to something like that, he had in mind a Croat federal unit of the kind that would have been left to us if Operation Neretva 1993 [which the Bosniak leaders] agreed on in Zenica had been successful, an operation the consequences of which [for the local Croat population] in Grabovica, Uzdol, Trusina, Jablanica, etc. remain to be dealt with by the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I think he would agree, if the Croats surrendered also parts of the Posavina county, bereft of the Odžak municipality, of course. And that would be it. A Croat federal unit without a continuous territory. One need not spell out what the consequences of this solution would be for us. It would be the remains of the remains of the Croat portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 

This is the price which we would be asked to pay, in return for what? The story of the Herzegovina Croats being hostage to the Bosnian Croats would be laid to rest. There would be a sense of equality with the others on a psychological plane, because we would have our own entity. At the constitutional level the leaders of this dwarf entity would gain the right to entity voting. Is this it? Could a Croat consensus be reached on this basis?

 

It could not, in my view. This is not something to which we should aspire. And this is why a debate about a third entity is needed, to free us as fast as possible from any such illusion.

 

The author became the main Bosnian Croat leader after the dismissal of Mate Boban in late 1993. As such he played a major role in the Washington Agreement and the foundation of the Federation of B-H, becoming the latter’s first president. A member of the B-H presidency, he attended the 1995 Dayton Peace Conference as representative of the Bosnian Croats, and was alone among the Bosnian delegates to refuse to sign the final Agreement, after which he resigned all his posts. In the first postwar elections in 1996 Zubak was chosen as Croat representative on the B-H Presidency, with 90% of Croat votes. In 1998 he left the HDZ and founded a new party NHI (New Croat Initiative), in opposition to the HDZ policy of seeking a third (Croat) entity based in Herzegovina and essentially abandoning Croat interests in Posavina and Central Bosnia.

 

***

 

HNV Resolution on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Constitution

 

SUBORDINATE POSITION OF THE CROAT PEOPLE IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

 

The theme of the Conference of the Croat National Council (HNV), held on 5 February 2010, was ‘The Subordinate position of the Croat people in Bosnia-Herzegovina’. The inequality of the Croats derives from the country’s constitution, chartered in the Dayton Agreement, which to make it worse was not implemented equally and justly across the whole territory and in relation to all Bosnian people and Bosnia’s nations. This explains the Croats’ subordinate status and our demand for a more equitable organisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

 

All discussions concerning the country, its constitutional arrangement and its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, should start from the actual situation faced by the country’s state and society. This situation can be characterised as follows:

 

1. State institutions do not function. The state parliament and government are blocked by party-political interests. The performance of the courts and the prosecutor’s office is poor.

 

2. The entity division of the state prevents the formation of a single economic area, maintains and intensifies national inequality, and generates permanent political tensions.

 

3. Democracy has been suspended. Constitutionally guaranteed basic human rights are violated.

 

4. The state and its institutions are being increasingly confessionalised, religious and national differences are growing, and society is polarised along these line.

 

These features point to a deep crisis affecting all the people and the nations of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially the Croats, who are the smallest national group, the most resettled and dispersed within and outside the country’s borders. The crisis manifests itself particularly in the inferiority that they experience as a nation, and that they share with other constituent nations - the Bosniaks and the Serbs - and even more with the national minorities belonging to the category of ‘others’. This is why the Croat National Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina demands a just arrangement that would prevent their subordination and make them equal to others. For this to happen, it is necessary to make positive changes at the local and global levels of our common state and homeland.

 

1. B-H must be built as a sovereign, democratic, legal and secular state. This is the only way to secure for its citizens life, home, work, and property, and to solve individual and social problems of the young and the old alike, regardless of natural, cultural and religious differences. It is only under the protection of such a state that the Croats, as the smallest national group, can live safely together with other national groups in freedom, peace and security.

 

2. Bosnia’s division into two entities runs contrary to the country’s geographical nature and history, which is why this arrangement is dysfunctional, unjust and undemocratic for all its nations and citizens. It is an instrument of discrimination in that it prevents their equality and association. This affects especially the Croats as the most dispersed nationality.

 

3. A three-entity organisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be worse than the existing dual one, which is also unjust and dysfunctional for the Croats. Such a constitutional solution would turn the majority of Croats into a national minority in the other entities, isolate them within their own entity, and stimulate their further exodus and disappearance, which has already reached alarming proportions. No national group can accept to live as subordinate, under the domination of others.

4. A new state model for Bosnia-Herzegovina must be based on justice, reason and functionality, as proposed also and independently by the Bosnian [Catholic] bishops’ conference. Regionalisation or cantonisation, with a maximum of three tiers of government, could remove distrust, political tensions, the existing inequality of peoples and citizens, and the fear of assimilation and disappearance. Those areas of our country which have traditionally formed separate economic and cultural wholes, and which experienced particular injustice through expulsion or resettlement of their population - such as, for example, the Bosnian Posavina - should be helped to create individual local self-governing units.

 

5. Any new form of state organisation must also guarantee equality within individual nations. The creation of three entities would discriminate in much of the country against all peoples, including within their national bodies, as is already the case now given that portions of all three national groups are discriminated against in individual parts of the country, and are forced to further exodus.

 

6. The Dayton Agreement has proved defective especially in assuring return of the population in line with Annex 7. All levels of government should therefore ensure equality of nations and citizens, because this is a condition for a sustainable return of the deported and resettled people without which the Agreement itself is unworkable.

 

7. Bosnia-Herzegovina must have a single economic system throughout its territory, and must connect with other states in the region and beyond, as demanded by our era of globalisation. Only in this way can it preserve and build its own economic prosperity.

 

8. The country must be organised so that it can stimulate the enhanced culture and education thath are important for the identity of each nation, and in forming associations with other nations in the contemporary pluralistic world. This is why it is necessary to remove now the shameful and uncivilised model of ‘two schools under the same roof’.

 

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, is indispensable for the realisation of this aim. They have our thanks, but we also expect greater solidarity on their part in order to complete what was started with their help.

 

President of the HNV BiH

Dr Luka Markešic

 

These texts have been translated from the independent Franciscan monthly

Svjetlo Rijeci, Sarajevo, March 2010.

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