The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
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Bosnia Herzegovina 2001: The International Community and the Bosnian Croats
HITS: 10891 | 24-05-2001, 21:37 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina to investigate the stand-off between the international community and the Bosnian Croats. This report reveals the ongoing problems with the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement five years on.
 Bosnia Herzegovina 2001: the international community versus the Bosnian Croats
On 6th April 2001 a well-planned international operation which included SFOR troops and masked security operatives closed down 6 branches of the Hercegovacka bank in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). The incident was just the latest in a series of assaults by the High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch and his office (OHR) on the Croat community in Bosnia and on the leading Croat political party, the HDZ. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group’s representatives visited Mostar, the capital of the Herzegovina region of Bosnia, soon after the bank raid. They talked to leading local politicians, journalists, administrators and the deputy high representative, Colin Munro. They also visited the pilgrimage town of Medjugorje whose local branch of the Hercegovacka bank had been raided on 6th April.

Dayton’s Diktat grows

The circumstances surrounding the setting up of state and federal institutions in Bosnia after the Dayton Peace Agreement, signed in 1995 have been well-explored.[1] At Dayton, Bosnia was divided into two entities: the Bosnian Serbs were granted the largest part of the cake, so to speak, with their own mini-state of Republika Srpska while Bosnian Muslims and Croats formed a separate federation of two ‘nations’. The two units were joined together in a fragile common state with its own parliament and president. However, both state and federal governments were ultimately responsible to a High Representative appointed by the international community. And, on top of this, as the Federation of Bosniaks and Croats had been set up in 1994 in Washington under the auspices of the US, the Americans were regarded as joint guardian of its effectiveness.
As David Chandler has shown, there were several interesting features in the Dayton Agreement. Firstly, the deep revulsion felt towards the ethnic cleansing that had defined the war in Bosnia forced those whose remit was to implement Dayton to devise an elaborate and labyrinthine system for the expression and protection of the three ethnic groups’ rights. Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats were each deemed to belong to a constituent nation in the Bosnian state and new mechanisms were set up to provide safety valves so that the interests of one group could not override those of the others. However, although the Dayton provisions were Byzantine in their complexity they were not all new. “One thing was nevertheless absolutely clear, where Bosnia Herzegovina was concerned, whether in olden times or in the days of united Yugoslavia or now, …. one belonged in each case and at any time to a “nation” and it was a “constituent factor” of the larger community. It would be a complete misunderstanding of the relations in Bosnia Herzegovina if well-meaning Western representatives wanted to operate here within the framework of “minority protection””[2].

The second ground-breaking feature of the Dayton Agreement was the international community’s intention to impose democracy from ‘above’. A whole host of bodies were appointed supposedly to oversee and assist the new state as it abandoned the culture of war and embraced democratic institutions. In this sense, Dayton was a laboratory and a chance for organizations like the OSCE not just to observe the development of civic society but also to help formulate it on the ground.

So, on the one hand Bosnia was to be ruled by international institutions while on the other it would elect its own representatives. Although international and local bodies were meant to interact and complement one another, it will come as no surprise that, in reality, this has led to repeated strains and regular impasses. Much worse, these objectives have often collided in a spectacular fashion. By whom and in what manner the international community wants Bosnia to be governed is often directly opposed to the desires expressed by local populations.

Consequently, although peace has come to Bosnia the country is further away from governing itself than ever.In the past five years the international community has increased rather than reduced its mandate. In his two years as High Representative, Carlos Westendorp imposed 45 laws. But between November 2000 and March 2001 Wolfgang Petritsch had already issued 38. [3] International administration which was originally designed to last a year was renewed indefinitely in 1997. In follow-up conferences held in Sintra (1997), Bonn (1997) and Luxembourg (1998), the High Representative’s powers were increased. Despite rumours that the new Bush administration was seeking to disengage militarily from Bosnia, SFOR troops (including the Americans) seem set to stay on indefinitely. Bosnia looks more and more like an international protectorate whose real independence is further away than ever.

Despite the commitment to protect each of the three Bosnian nationalities, the drive is now on to recast the country as a unitary state - something which may be desirable but which is in direct opposition to the Dayton formula. It is also somewhat strangely at variance with the policy presently recommended for Macedonia, where the governing coalition is being encouraged to improve rights for ethnic Albanians by changing the country’s constitution to state that the country is composed of two “nations” i.e. Macedonian Slavs and Albanians.

However, the intention to erode the three-nation structure in Bosnia has been proceeding for some time. The HR and the OSCE started to remove candidates and elected officials whom they viewed unfavourably at the time of the first post-war elections in 1996 and the practice has accelerated ever since. Some influential think-tanks, like the International Crisis Group (ICG) pour scorn on all the national parties accusing them of “obstruction” and openly discuss ways in which they might be excluded from the democratic process. The ICG’s respect for democracy obviously has its limits. “As in past elections,” they say, “the international community had already decided which parties and politicians had the potential to push implementation of Dayton”[4].

This is absolutely correct. The West pours money and logistical assistance into parties like the Bosnian Social Democrats, the Sloga Coalition of Milorad Dodik in Republika Srpska, and the recently constituted Croat National Initiative (HNI) which have next to no support. Since elections held in November 2000, the international community has managed to form governments at state and federation levels level made up of representatives of these parties. But this has been achieved, basically, by sleight of hand. It is also possible that the improved electoral performance of these parties is the result of fraud: the OSCE counts both ordinary and postal votes giving them a wide scope to massage the results.

However, despite the US State Department’s regular anticipation of success for non-nationalists and death for the nationalist parties, the three constituent nations refuse to abandon them. Muslim Bosniaks support the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Serbs support the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), and Croats vote for the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ). All these parties have been targeted by the HR at one time or another over the past five years and their representatives removed from office. The process of defamation is widespread, even if the HDZ comes off worse. The Muslim SDA has long suffered from an intense campaign vilifying it for corruption and economic crime.

Much worse, using what ultimately amounts to ‘hate-speech’, the West’s representatives target ordinary Bosnians as well as their political representatives.

On 24th February 2000 the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje quoted Jacques Klein, head of the UN mission in BiH, saying that “We have always known the HDZ consists of communists and fascists.” But the present US ambassador to Bosnia, Thomas Miller, is the most egregious example here. Interviewed on Bosnian TV on 7th April 2001 he said, “All you have to do is drive around Herzegovina, see the companies that these people own, the houses they live in, the cars they are driving, and ask yourself a simple question: where did it all come from? That’s what it’s about”. In fact, in BHHRG’s experience, mafia activities on the part of political parties do not lead to any visible improvement in the lives of their constituents; neighbouring, mafia-run Montenegro provides an excellent example of the problem.

In spite of this pressure, attempts to encourage people to vote for non-national parties have met, in the case of the Serbs and Muslims, with limited success. In the case of the Croats, they have met with no success at all. In fact the more pressure that is put on the Croats of Bosnia, the more they shelter under the wings of ‘their’ party for protection.

The Bosnian Croats and Croatia
Croats comprise the smallest of the three constituent nations in Bosnia with c. 17% of the total population. Their numbers are scattered over northern and central Bosnia but the greatest concentration is in the western Herzegovinan region of the country that backs onto the Dalmatian coast.

The town of Mostar, the capital of Herzegovina, where the river Neretva separates the Muslim from the Croat community, was the centre of heavy fighting between the two sides during the 1993-4 war. The, Bosnian Croat army, the HVO, gained a reputation for viciousness and the Croat community was almost uniquely blamed for crude nationalism and war profiteering, as well as for being heirs to the ruthless wartime Ustashe regime. Seven years after the fighting ceased, the city still bears the scars of war – on both sides of the river - giving credence to the unfashionable view that there were two sides to the conflict.

Mostar still bears the scars of the war seven years ago

The Croats of Herzegovina were also unpopular with the outside world for supporting the regime of Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb. Affluent Herzegovinans in the diaspora were reputed to have given generously to the new Croat state, whose minister of defence during the Bosnian War, Gojko Šušak, was a Herzegovinan Croat from Canada. Election rules in Croatia itself permitted (and still permit) Croats living abroad to vote in domestic polls and Tudjman’s HDZ party could always anticipate overwhelming support from the Croats in Herzegovina. The Croat state also provided much-needed funds and it was generally accepted that, if feasible, the Herzegovinans would like to join Croatia proper. Bosnian Serbs wanted the same solution – annexation to Serbia.

This state of affairs came abruptly to an end last year. President Tudjman had died the previous November and, in parliamentary elections held in January 2000, the HDZ lost power to a coalition of parties led by the former Communist SDP under its leader Ivica Racan. Presidential elections held in March returned Stipe Mesic– an ally turned enemy of Tudjman and the HDZ – to the presidency.

The new constellation of forces in Zagreb immediately set about distancing itself from the Bosnian Croats, removing both financial and moral support. Whereas the international community had criticized Tudjman for his involvement with the Herzegovinan Croats, it has consistently encouraged Racan and Mesic to take a close interest in Bosnia - but only as a single, multi-national state. They, also want to see the HDZ remain marginalized in Croatia itself, which can be achieved satisfactorily only if the party is destroyed in its Herzegovinan heartland. This is in marked contrast to the situation with the Bosnian Serbs, who in the post-Milosevic era are now permitted to associate more closely with Belgrade. The OHR has recently approved an accord on “special and parallel ties between Yugoslavia and Republika Srpska,” [5] something impossible to imagine happening - yet - between Zagreb and Herzegovina.

The Bosnian Croats

Swimming against this current of dissolving the national differences in BiH, the Croats, like all the national groups, are determined to hang on to their collective rights. They have various political grievances anyway, especially concerning the right of return of Croat refugees to Republika Srpska (barely a handful have returned so far) and the apparently disproportionately high number of Croats indicated by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. They feel that they have cooperated successfully with the OHR but as the smallest of the three constituent nations in BiH, they stand to lose out more as a group than the Muslims or the Serbs if the country develops towards a unitary state based on a single BiH citizenship.

Formerly head of HDZ and a member of the Bosnian presidency, Ante Jelavic was dimissed from both these posts by Petritsch

Ante Jelavic, head of the HDZ and member of Bosnian presidency until he was dismissed from both posts by Petritsch, was originally praised for his cooperation over things like refugee return. Deputy High Representative Colin Munro told BHHRG in Mostar on 24th April that Mr. Jelavic “had a point” when he said that Herzegovina had accepted vastly more returnees than the other entities. However relations started to deteriorate when the Croat parties, especially the HDZ, showed readiness to use their veto power in the House of Peoples of the Federation.

Within the Federation, the parliament has two chambers, the House of Representative and House of Peoples. The Federation House of Peoples is elected from members of cantonal assemblies. The purpose of the latter House is to equalise the representative of the numerically weaker Croats within the Muslim-Croat Federation and so it seems natural that veto power should have been used.

The differences between them came to a head in 2000 when the OSCE, under the leadership of the American Robert Barry, and on a suggestion by one his officials, Kåre Vollan, changed the rules for elections to the House of Peoples of the Federation. The details of this, as of the constitution of BiH as a whole, are of an almost unimaginable complexity and obscurity. Indeed, only the international community could have designed a system as impenetrable and obscure as the one which obtains in BiH.

Very few officials, even in the OSCE itself, fully understand these rules. Here is an extract from the memorandum laying out the new rules:

“For each canton, the population according to the 1991 census is divided by the number of seats allocated to the Canton according to Article 1203, first and second paragraph of the Rules and Regulations. The result is called the Canton quota of the Canton. The total population of each Constituent people is divided by the total number of seats of the same constituent people in the Federation. The resulting numbers are called People’s Quotient of the Constituent People. The total population of the Federation is divided by the total number of seats from all cantons (80). The result is called the Average Quotient. For each Constituent People the People’s Quotient is divided by the Average Quotient. The result is called the People’s Quota of the Constituent People. The Canton Quota is multiplied by the People’s Quota and the result is called the Combined Quota of the Canton and the Constituent People.”[6]

And so it goes on, for pages and pages. Despite this impenetrable complexity, the effect of the changes was to depart from the principle – key for the smallest group, the Croats – that Bosniaks voted for Bosniak candidates in the House of Peoples and Croats for Croat ones. This principle is laid down both in the constitution of Bosnia & Herzegovina and in the constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Article 8 of the Federation’s constitution (on the House of Peoples) stipulates that “Bosniac, Croat and Other from each Canton shall be elected by the respective legislators in that Canton’s legislature” (emphasis added). The same principles, namely that each constituent people elects its own representatives, is embodied in the constitution of the state of BiH.

On 11th October 2000, just one months before the general election, the OSCE under Kåre Vollan changed the rules and regulations. The key provision comes in Article 1212 of Subchapter B, “House of People of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The amended provision reads: “Each member delegate in the Cantonal Assembly shall cast one vote for a list.” This means that Bosniaks can vote for Croat candidates and vice-versa, whereas previously each constituent people voted only for its representative. The effect of this change is quite simply to allow Croat representatives to be elected from parties which do not command electoral support from Croat voters.

In other words, the very purpose of the House of Peoples – to represent the collective rights of each constituent nation – was destroyed by this measure. The House of Peoples thereby became simply another version of the House of Representatives, elected by the whole Federation. Changes in the rules to the way the cantons themselves were elected also meant, the Croats affirmed, that Croat politicians could be voted into high legislative office even if they had no real electoral support. That way, compliant politicians could be installed in power who would not wield the powers which the Constitution gave them.

The Croats, under the leadership of the HDZ, called this the “Deconstituization of the Croats in BiH”. In response, a “Croat National Congress” was convened in Novi Travnik on 28th October 2000. It adopted a Declaration which proclaimed the sovereignty of the Croat nation in BiH and especially of their right as Croats to elect Croats to the political institutions of BiH. When parliamentary elections were held across BiH the following month, the Croats also organised, independently, a “referendum” on this Congress which received over 90% support among Croats. At those elections, moreover, the victors in all parts of BiH were parties deemed by the international administrators of BiH to be “nationalists”.

In response to this, the international administrators of BiH and some foreign ambassadors, in particular Thomas Miller (US) and Graham Hand (UK) made it clear that they favoured political parties other than those which had won the elections. This caused the relations between the BiH Croat leaders and the international community to deteriorate yet further. Ante Jelavic, the Secretary General of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH), accused them of meddling in the internal affairs of the state to which they were accredited as diplomats. Jelavic accused Hand of “endangering the constitutional position of our country’s institutions”[7]. “They went beyond their mandate by expressing open support for the Social Democrats and by putting pressure on other parties,” he said. The multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) is indeed seen as a way of driving the Muslim, Serb and Croat parties out of power. The Serb member of the federal presidency, Živko Radišic, also objected, suggesting that the two ambassadors should have their credentials withdrawn. (BHHRG observers in April were able to confirm that US Ambassdor Miller does indeed enjoy a curious pre-eminence in the political life of BiH. His pronouncements are reported almost daily in the local press as if he were the man really running the country.)

On 2nd and 3rd February 2001, the Constitutional Court of BiH ruled on an appeal lodged with it by the HDZ BiH against the changes in the electoral law. The Court found, in the words of the High Representative himself, that “the Provisional Election Commission Rules and Regulations on the procedure for elections of the Federation House of Peoples, since they were laid down pursuant to the international mandate granted to the OSCE to this end, were not subject to review by the Court”.[8] In other words, the Court said it had no power to overturn a decision made by the OSCE. Yet, in his letter dated 7th March 2001 dismissing Mr. Jelavic, the High Representative concluded that he (Jelavic) “must have known perfectly well that all matters of concern to him are matters which may be redressed by normal constitutional means.”

In response to this, on 3rd March 2001, the Croatian National Congress decided finally to “activate” itself and proclaim Croat self-government in BiH. Quoting as the two sources of its legitimacy the results of the referendum held on 11th November 2000 and the allegedly unconstitutional nature of the changes to the electoral law which had been made by the OSCE, it proclaimed the intercantonal-intermunicipal council to be “the Croat self-government”.

The Decision laid down state-like organs, including an executive branch and an assembly, for areas covered by the Croat self-government. However, importantly, the decision adopted on 3rd March only refers to an “interim” and “provisional” status for the body. Mr. Jelavic, despite misleading newspaper reports to the contrary, has never advocated a third entity in Bosnia. He merely demands proper respect for the three-nation constitution and compliance with Dayton.

The reaction of the High Representative was swift. He dismissed from their elected posts and from their party positions four members of the Croatian Democratic Union: Mr. Ante Jelavic, the President of the HDZ BiH and member of the collegiate presidency of BiH; Mr. Marko Tokic, Vice-President of HDZ BiH; Mr. Ivo Andric Luzanski, also a Vice President of the HDZ BiH and Delegate to the House of Representatives of BiH; and Mr. Zdravko Batinic, another Vice-President of the HDZ BiH. Wolfgang Petritsch justified his dismissal of them by saying that they had taken up official positions in the “so-called Croat self-government” and that this constituted an “illegal or anti-Dayton activity”.

In addition to these drastic measures, which were followed by the appointment of place-men to the vacated posts, the High Representative gave an inflammatory interview criticizing the Bishop of Mostar to the Zagreb magazine, Globus, which was published on 9th March 2001. In it, Petritsch said, “I am appalled and shocked by the speech of the Bishop Ratko Peric and I cannot even start describing his enormous hatred and his support for convicted war criminals expressed in his speech.” As anyone who reads the Bishop’s speech can see for himself, this is a grotesque and utterly baseless charge, since neither hatred nor support for criminals can be discerned in the address.[9] The suspicion must be that Mr Petritsch would have quite liked to sack the Bishop as well. Indeed, in a letter written to the British magazine, The Spectator, the spokesman for the High Representative, the former Guardian journalist Christopher Bird, justified Mr. Petritsch’s attacks on the Bishop by saying “Bishop Peric is more a politician and less a priest.” Throughout history, authoritarian regimes have found “turbulent priests” uncomfortable for secular power and have often sought to remove them. The OHR is no different from other such regimes in this regard. But this was not to be the only instance of the High Representative and his officials using inappropriate language. In the media and in public, the HDZ politicians dismissed by the Office of the High Representative were widely described as “criminals” and “extremists”.

Guilty until proved innocent: the UN’s seizure of Hercegovacka Banka
The campaign against the Croats’ political representatives was soon to be accompanied by attacks on the community’s economic base. The Office of the High Representative moved, on 5th April 2001, to appoint a provisional administrator to one of the three main banks used by Croats in Herzegovina, the Hercegovacka Banka. Allegations had already been made by the international community that the HDZ was financing its activities from illegal accounts held in the bank, even though international auditors, including Deloitte Touche, had only recently given Hercogovacka a clean bill of health.

[1] See, in particular: David Chandler, Bosnia: Faking Democracy after Dayton, Pluto Press 1999,


[2] Yugoslavia: A History of its demise Viktor Meier, Routeledge 1999,


[3] “The End of Nationalist Regimes and the Future of the Bosnian State” Published by The European Stability Initiative, March 2001. Available at, this report is the only nearly objective analysis of the events described above by an international think-tank,


[4] See Bosnia’s November Elections:Dayton Stumbles ICG 18th December 2000,


[5] Tanjug, 6/6/2001,


[6] OSCE Inter-Office Memorandum dated 16th October, 2000,


[7] “U.S., British Ambassadors Accused of Interfering in Bosnian Politics” Agence France Presse Sarajevo, 7th February 2001,


[8] Decision of the High Representative, Nr. 93/01, Sarajevo, 7th March 2001,


[9] The speech is available on the web site of the Croatian National Congress at



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