22 December 2010

Better Late Than...

Two months and a half after the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina an entity level government for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the entity which the Anglophone press calls the "Muslim-Croat Federation") is on the verge of being formed. It is to consist of the two main Bosnian Muslim parties (SDP and SDA) and two miniscule Croat parties. It is to bypass the two main Croat parties (HDZ BiH and an offshoot HDZ 1990) which together captured ninety percent of the Croat vote. This means that Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina are going to be practically without a say in the entity government - the two small Croat parties are nowhere strong enough to serve as anything but satellites to the Muslim coalition.

A Federation government that does not include a party that could represent a large portion of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina would be unusual and alarming. There is a practical issue at hand, Croats and Muslims are both forced to provide the budget for the state, but it is going to be Muslim parties alone that spend it. There is also an important symbolic issue here. The Croats are in the legalistic terms of the region a "constituent people" of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the three state-bearing peoples, a sovereign nationality in its own country. Regardless of this status on paper they are now unable to effect even a small amount influence on the government, at its most influential, entity, level.

The Muslim parties demonstrating they are able and willing to cut the Croats out of power is another in a series of reasons the Croats feel that in the current setup of Bosnia and Herzegovina the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina functions as a Muslim entity instead of an entity for both Muslims and Croats. Naturally demands for an entity of their own have arisen from the Croats. The logic is simple, if the Muslims are going to continue to refuse to take into account the Croat view of things, but instead disregard them and seek to drown them out, then they must separate and secure for themselves a third, Croatian entity within the confines of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the course of the 1990s war in Bosnia and Herzegovina the Croats, had defied the Sarajevo government by setting up a de facto independent republic. When they under Zagreb's prodding (itself pressured by Washington) acquiesced to join the Bosnian Muslims in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina they brought into it over 40% of its territory. Albeit one could have been excused to think differently even a short while ago, it is now clear they are not going to stand idly to be reduced to a disenfranchised minority in their ancestral homes.

The Croat politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina have finally voiced the demands of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a strong, principled and clear-cut manner. They have moved on from vague calls for equality and "federalisation" that could mean just about anything. The contrast from their mannerism of just six months ago, when it was marked by pronounced timidity, is such that it is difficult to explain it fully. A multitude of factors - the expectations of their voters and the danger of them loosing faith, the bullheaded behaviour of the Muslim parties, the example of Serb politicians, the seeming lessening in strength of the Office of the High Representative, the nearing of talks on constitutional reforms (pushed for by outside meddlers) - could serve to explain it in part, but the reason in full will perhaps only ever be known to them.

Whichever the motivation, the Croat political establishment in Bosnia and Herzegovina is so far holding firm, refusing invitations to join the government to merely make up the numbers - without reassurances that any of the reforms from their election programme will be put into place. They have refused to attend what should have been the inaugurating session of the new parliament, thus preventing it from being constituted. They had in their no-show the support of the Serb parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina which also purposely failed to attend. Instead the functionaries of the four main Croat and Serb (SNSD and SDS) parties gathered for a joint meeting in Mostar, where they stated their intention to continue to block the constituting of the new parliament on the republic level, until an agreement on a government that would include a party that can claim to speak for a significant portion of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is reached.

The support of the Serb parties is logical and was to be expected. An eventual third, Croatian entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina or just the demands for it will relieve a portion of the pressure against the Republic of Srpska, the Serb entity in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What has been more unanticipated is the semblance of support the Croats have received from official Zagreb. The Croatian president Ivo Josipović has positively surprised the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina by taking note of their position and stating it is a concern of his. It is merely verbal and symbolic support from a political figure of no real power, but even as such it is quite a bit more than the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina have come to expect from official Zagreb in recent years.

It is difficult to foresee if the Croat parties will have any success in securing greater levels of autonomy for Bosnian and Herzegovian Croats. The Muslim parties have the backing of the "international community" and do not feel the need to compromise on anything. On the contrary, they categorically refuse to hear out their opponents, expecting the announced talks on constitutional refor to bring about a decisive step towards greater, not lesser, centralization. What is easy to foresee however is that an outcome, that would not appease the Croats would be detrimental to any semblance of viability and long term stability of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian Muslims and the West can possibly combine to centralise Bosnia and Herzegovina now, but this dooms the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina to suffer an unhappy fate later on.

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