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South Slavic: April 26, 2001

26 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 15


Part I (Part II will appear on 3 May)

Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss the status of the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our guests are Ilija Simic, speaker of the House of the Nations of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina and president of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS); and Bozo Ljubic, vice president of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mr. Ljubic, your party claims that Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina do not have the same rights as the other two constitutive nations -- the [Muslims] and the Serbs. What makes you think so?

Bozo Ljubic: There has been this inequality among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina since the introduction of the Dayton constitution. As you know, there are two entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while only one of them -- the Republika Srpska -- has the name of one of the constitutive peoples in its official name. According to all the important characteristics -- the constitution, the heraldry, the insignia, the system of education, and, unfortunately, the population -- there is only one people in that entity. That entity occupies almost 50 percent of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the other entity -- the other half of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- there are two other constitutive peoples that make up two-thirds of the entire population of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore, the [Muslims] and the Croats are in a similar situation, but the huge difference between the sizes of their respective populations prevents the Croats from enjoying their constitutional equality. This is therefore just an illusion of equal rights.

Furthermore, the rules established by the OSCE Mission and Ambassador Robert Berry for the previous election have additionally undermined the constitutional equality of the Croatian people. This is why now we have a situation here in which the Croats are not able to choose their representatives for the House of the Nations.

Ilija Simic: I believe that Mr. Ljubic is concerned with the fate and equality of the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but I am not so sure about his party and the top officials of his party. There are plenty of arguments for that, and I am going to give only a few of them.

As far as the Dayton Accords are concerned, the HDZ of Bosnia-Herzegovina [helped formulate] them and signed them, together with its sponsors in Croatia. This is when the Republika Srpska and the federation were established, and I agree with that part of Mr. Ljubic's argumentation.

However, the HDZ has not done anything to change the position of the Croats in the Republika Srpska. First, it is known that Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban held talks while they were in power. There was a well-known meeting in Graz, and it is also well known what they agreed upon there.

The second thing is that the HDZ has never taken part in the elections in the Republika Srpska, so it has no representatives in the parliament there. Therefore, they have not done anything for the Croats there. If the HDZ had really cared about the equal status of the Croats, they would have fought to improve their position, helped them return to the Republika Srpska, and participated in the governing bodies of that entity.

And finally, Berry's rules are problematic, especially because of the timing chosen to introduce them. The rules were introduced on the eve of the general election in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that had quite an impact on the electorate and the parties taking part in the election.

However, the HDZ has skillfully taken advantage of the situation to stir up the Croatian people. The HDZ made a mistake by creating illegal institutions, and that has backfired. As far as the unfavorable position of the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina is concerned, one can discuss it, but such a situation was mostly caused by the fact that Croatian population has significantly decreased in the past 10 years -- i.e. under the rule of the HDZ...

Bozo Ljubic: Let me remind Mr. Simic that during the war, the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina agreed to the creation of the entity of the Republika Srpska. There were no members of the HDZ in the presidency, since they had all left Sarajevo by then. That is one thing.

The other thing concerns the attitude of the HDZ regarding the electoral rules introduced by Robert Berry. The truth is that, in spite of those rules, the HDZ -- which won more then 90 percent of the votes of the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- could have had a majority in the House of Nations of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is how they could have decisively influenced the election of the president and the vice president of the federation, and they could have indirectly elected the government of the federation.

The fact that the HDZ did not do so shows that their primary goal is not to remain in power -- which we are often accused of -- but...[to ensure] the future of the Croatian people. Let me tell Mr. Simic something that he probably knows. There are 52 percent [Muslims] in the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina, while the House of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is 70 percent Muslim.

Mr. Simic, as a Croat you were elected speaker of the House of the Nations of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina only because the Office of the High Representative, the OSCE, and the U.S. administration wanted it. But 10 years from now, when there will be no more mandate of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, if there is no institutional protection for the Croats in the form of a House of the Nations, perhaps Mr. Simic, you will be elected as a citizen, but you certainly will not be elected as a representative of a constitutional people...since there will be no such a thing as a constitutional people. The government will be elected by the majority, and this is how the [new] constitution will be adopted.

This is why we are concerned about the future of the Croatian people. This is what we are interested in, and not in being in power. Trust me, most of us who were in power do not care about it.

Ilija Simic: Mr. Ljubic did not answer my question about why the HDZ still complies with the agreement made in Graz between Karadzic and Boban, and why it has never participated in elections in the Republika Srpska. Why the leaders of the HDZ have ignored the appeals, lamentations, cries of Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka and all the others who have been asking people to return to Banja Luka, Bosanska Posavina, and other regions [in the Republika Srpska].

Mr. Ljubic says that the HDZ enjoys 90 percent popularity among Croatian voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mr. Ljubic, it is unacceptable for a responsible man to say something like that. It is well known that less than 50 percent of the Croats took part in the last election. Most of them did vote for the HDZ -- of course, in the places where the HDZ was in power. It is well known -- and there are witnesses to this effect -- that the HDZ gave money to the voters, that the HDZ threatened them, etc. It is well known how the election was won.

I simply cannot believe that an adult man -- such as Mr. Ljubic, whom I deeply respect -- can support what is going on among the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina right now. The HDZ is acting just like Milosevic's Serbs used to -- claiming that there is no justice in the world and that everybody is against the Croats: the entire international community, the Republic of Croatia, and everybody in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bozo Ljubic: Mr. Simic, to accuse the HDZ over the expulsion of Croats from the Republika Srpska and from Banja Luka, as well as to accuse the HDZ of preventing their return, lets Milosevic and the army off the hook. It also exonerates the Serbian Democratic Party that blocked the Croats' return during the war and keeps doing so today....

I would also like to say something about the attitude of the governing Alliance for Changes [coalition], which includes Mr. Simic's party. If we look at the composition of the executive branch, it is easy to see that the stars of the parties that make up the Alliance for Changes have either taken top posts in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- like, for instance, Lagumdzija and Zubak -- or they have remained out of office, like Silajdzic. To the federal government, where the toughest work is to be done, they assigned either minor party officials or political outsiders.

What am I trying to say? I want to say that the Alliance does not show that it has confidence in its ability to do the really difficult jobs. So then, how can the majority of the Croatian people can believe in it?

And, there is something else. The House of the Nations of the Federation was not created according to the constitution and the law. Therefore, all the bodies that are subordinated to or approved by that House can be considered illegitimate and...illegal.

Ilija Simic: Come on, please! The HDZ proclaims illegitimate and illegal something that was created by a parliamentary majority that is not to their taste. As regards Mr. Ljubic's claim that the leaders of the Alliance have taken comfortable jobs for themselves in the administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina while letting junior people deal with the federation, it is not a matter of a major or minor league team. The Alliance thinks that the big and real battle to win is the one for the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina needs to be integrated and get back its identity as a state -- not to the detriment of the entities, but to the detriment of the tendency to transform the entities into real states.

However, since we are talking about the entities, Mr. Ljubic did not answer my question as to why the HDZ did not take part in the election in the Republika Srpska and why they not only failed to [help] people return to that entity, but why they also made them go to so-called Boban's and Susak's villages [for Bosnian refugees] in Croatia. What kind of a policy do you have if the Croats from Kakanj are forced to remain in Knin, if those from Jajce are forced to stay in Herzegovina, and none of them has a chance to get a job there?

And there is one more thing, Mr. Ljubic. You must be aware that Europe and the United States of America keep saying openly that the HDZ is doing things against the interests of the Croatian people. But I think that it is not the HDZ that is at fault, but rather the leadership of the party. This is the hard-line element that wanted the crisis and is now relishing the experience.

Bozo Ljubic: The essential issue is who are the legitimate representatives of the Croatian people in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I respect you, Mr. Simic, as a man and do not deny your right to work for the interests of the citizens and to defend Croatian interests in Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, we are talking about legitimacy and election rules here.

Thanks to the rules imposed by Robert Berry, you became a legislator with only 163 direct votes. There were probably some compensatory votes added to that figure. The candidates of the HDZ had more then 7,000 votes. I am sorry, but you as a legislator can speak only in the name of those who voted for you, not in the name of the Croatian people. You cannot claim to know who is doing things for or against the interests of the Croatian people in Bosnia-Herzegovina.