25 years of separatism

The current shape of the bilateral relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia were outlined in Dayton in 1995, when Croatia as one of signatories of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Agreement) which is often interpreted as ‘guarantor’i.e.responsibility for maintaining inter-ethnic peace, political and social stability of BIH, providing the assistance to ethnic Croats in BIH, participating in the Peace Implementation Council and guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BIH in its entirety”. In the BiH’s Constitution, contained in the same peace agreement, Croats in BiH make up one of the three constituent peoples. Interpretation of role of Croatia by Dayton Agreement has become so entrenched that it is actually rarely questioned, and led by the Croatian Democratic Union in both countries turned the ‘interest of the Croatian people’ into a euphemism for disintegration. Its ‘90ties roots lays in legacy of conflict between the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, supported by Croatia,  that lasted from 18 October 1992 to 23 February 1994. It is often referred to as a "war within a war". Misinterpretation, denying and importing ‘truth’ about role and purpose of Croatia in past war is part of (official) politics. Agenda coming ‘in the name of Croats in BiH’ relies almost entirely on the victimology/victorious narrative, with a populist aspiration to preserve the 'nation' endangered by majoritarianism in the Federation BiH. Although a constituent people, the whole concept of the position of Croats in BiH is based on the concept of 'vulnerability', demanding certain special rules and rights, with a hidden agenda of ethnic separation. Often, this is a reason for the conditioning and blocking of many necessary processes for the functioning of the state of BiH. As Dragan Čović, President of HDZ BIH, said very recently: "Without us, when we are so united, no level of government can be formed. I am grateful for the strong and consistent support of the government of Croatia, the HDZ and President Plenković."

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) marks its 25th anniversary. This peace treaty stopped the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), creating a sort of compromise over the tense war positions in this country. Annex 4 of the DPA is the Constitution of BiH, a constitutional act sui generis - imposed (instead of derived from the sovereignty of the people), the result of international negotiations and constitutional discontinuity. Understanding the DPA's goals aimed at "ending the tragic conflict in the region", the consequences that the constitutional order based on the constituency of the people has left on BiH are a serious threat to the civil state. Trapped in the constitutively and understanding of the conflict as ‘frozen’ with the DPA, separatist instead of unifying tensions not only exist in these 25 years, but also intensify.

Christian Schwarz Schilling, a former top international official in BiH, stated that 1995 Dayton Agreement cemented the path for nationalist and secessionist forces[1] in BiH which are trying to break up the state.  This is in particular articulated in advocating a ‘third entity’, additional ethnic voting and disenfranchisement of the whole category of non-constituent people (so-called Others) in already ethnically separated entities. Croatia’s politics in and towards BiH[2] are very vocal about DPA legacies in so called ‘Croatian territories’ in BiH,  referring to Herceg-Bosna which existed between 1992 and 1996 and has been classified as a “criminal enterprise” by the International Criminal Tribunal of the former-Yugoslavia. It almost regular openly glorifies war crimes committed in BiH, proclaiming it (Herceg-Bosna) as the foundation of the survival of Croats in BiH. The decorations of the Special Police of Herceg-Bosna[3] for their role in the liberation of Croatia happened in 2020 during the mandate of the new President of Croatia.

Croatian politics towards BiH, in close support to Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ and HDZ BiH) repeatedly advocate for changing BiH’s Electoral Law in securing ethnic voting – in their words, exclusive right for Croats in BiH to vote and elect Croat’s member of presidency. This lasts from Kolinda Grabar Kitarović time but remained with new President of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, who even went so far as to call Željko Komšić “a parasite to the detriment of Croat people in Bosnia”.  Addressing the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Plenković also dedicated part of his speech to BiH, in the manner of previous policies - "Full equality of Croats, as one of the constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their welfare, remains our highest priority. Especially their legitimate representation in bodies, through an appropriate electoral law that impedes any electoral engineering ". DPA anniversary seems to be used for another promotion of misleading narrative of Croats being underrepresented in BiH.

A Serb from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Bosniak or a Croat from the Republika Srpska do not have the right to vote in the sense that they cannot be elected members of the Presidency of BiH. The possibility to be elected to the same position is formally disabled for members of national minorities and the ethnically unidentified in BiH. Organizational constitutional solutions according to which the expression of the Serbian national interest is linked to the Republika Srpska, and the Croat and Bosniak interest to the Federation of BiH, open space for the territorialization of national interests. In the middle of it: where are the Others? The entire political architecture of BiH is based on the principle of exclusive ethnic representation[4] of the three constituent peoples, to the detriment of the rights of individuals.

Policies of international and EU influence 'from outside' on the processes that are already stretched between the countries in the region, struggle with EU integration[5] and restrained international community in BiH, cause permanent damage to the integral BiH. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights Sejdić-Finci[6] on discrimination in the electoral process contained in the BiH Constitution is only sporadically mentioned. With Croatia's accession to the European Union, this position is further legitimized. In February 2014, the European Parliament replaced the former insistence on ending discrimination against "others" with Covic's theses on "centralist policies" that block a solution based on "principles of federalism and legitimate representation" - which are not in the ECHR ruling.

By manipulating the constitutivity and marginal interpretations of the minority and the constitutive, the interests of one ethnic group are placed above any civic demand for a functioning state. Has anyone wondered where the Others are in the model proposed by the HDZ for the FBiH (or the disguised request for a creation of third entity)?

Recently, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković hosted member of BiH’s Presidency, Milorad Dodik. This provoked many reactions, considering Dodik’s politics that pushes for the secession of its Serb entity, Republika Srpska. The Bosnian Serb leader said he “never went to Zagreb as Bosnia's Presidency member but as Serb representative” and that he did not need to explain that in Zagreb. Meeting with SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic and HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović, a week later, has raised dust again: this time over the election of a Croat member of the BiH presidency. The holding of these meetings remains obscured by their motives and purpose. During the meetings, Plenković underscored that it is essential to enable all the three constituent peoples to exercise their equal rights and enjoy their legitimate representativeness in the country's institutions. In terms of understanding this discourse through already seen politics, will this mean that we are heading to fully ethnically predominated entities instead on multi-ethnic functional state? Is it too much to advocate for a civil state, with respect for all ethnic, national, minority strata of which BiH is consisted?

In marking the 25th anniversary of the DPA and the BiH Constitution, we must seriously question what we are actually celebrating. Discrimination based in the Constitution against non-constituent citizens, challenges to the statehood of BiH, impossibility of reform, lack of political will to build a unified state. The war-torn parts of the country linked by an international agreement, expecting to reconnect into the state - are still in their original positions. Leading the process where it belongs, in parliament, has never really begun. Yet there are ubiquitous narratives about war, populist demands for identity, distorted ethnic discourses of vulnerability, and de facto blockades of the state. No less important we should question is: what should we strive for? The implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights presupposes the constitutional establishment of (political) equality of all citizens and requires a revision of the Constitution which contains instruments of separation of powers among the three constituent peoples in a fragile post-conflict state. The revision of the Constitution, the vision of the state should therefore initiate social cohesion, advocate the equality of the citizens in their political and human rights, instead of supporting and separatist aspirations. This is the hard way and swimming against nationalist currents; but if give it up, we will close this country in ethnic entities, exclude all other democratic principles and lock in the little potential for development that was compromised signed 25 years ago.