2020 Bosnia and Herzegovina- Croatia: Relations in the shadow of recent history 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the seventh local elections since the signing of the Dayton peace agreement were held on 15 November 2020. The elections brought about tectonic changes on the political scene and are a prelude to the announced political changes at the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place on 2 October 2022. 

Political changes had also led to success in North Macedonia, with the arrival of Zoran Zaev (SDSM) to power. Zaev took his country to membership in NATO and it is expected that Macedonia will soon open the accession talks with the European Union. The Brussels Dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština is entering its final phase. In Montenegro, the recent parliamentary elections resulted in the fall of the 31-years long regime headed by Milo Đukanović (DPS), which was an introduction to groundbreaking political changes and stabilization of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

In the meantime, Joseph Biden (D) won the presidential elections in the US.  It is expected that his administration will propel political processes in the Western Balkans, which will make the region more prosperous and ensure lasting peace and long-term stability. In addition to the Dayton peace agreement, the new US administration will also focus on the Washington Agreement[2] in light of the continuous aggressive interfering by the Republic of Croatia, which is unsuccessfully attempting to block the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina through Dragan Čović, leader of the local HDZ BiH party, who acts in conjunction with Milorad Dodik (SNSD). Dragan Čović (HDZBiH) will be in the focus of the new US administration.  It is believed that he could share the faith of Mate Boban (HDZBiH), whom upon the suggestion of Vatican Franjo Tuđman had sacrificed for the purposes of the Washington Agreement and abolition of the so-called Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. The new US administration will revise the Washington Agreement to detect the problems and officials who obstruct it.

Mostar City – local elections with far-reaching consequences 

After twelve years local elections will take place in Mostar on 20 December 2020. In fact, the city of Mostar is the symbol and epitome of the brutal reality of Bosniak-Croat relations, as well as relations between the two countries- Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. It is a paradox that Mostar, a city that has no legal or legitimate local self-governance (mayor and city council) was a candidate for the European capital of culture for 2024 from the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)/European Economic Areas (EEA) countries, candidate or potential candidate countries. It is understandable that Mostar was not elected to be the 2024 European capital of culture, because in Mostar everything would have to be substantially different if it wants to convince Europe of its credibility. However, bluffing and a swindler mindset does not lead to success with decision-makers. Mostar should thoroughly reconsider and redefine its identities in every aspect – starting from legislative to institutional, interethnic, human, political, economic, cultural, and operational-functional. The democracy is defeated in Mostar.

Two years ago a Mostar female citizen sued her state of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because for more than a decade local elections had not been held in her native town as a result of what for the same period of time she had been deprived of her right to vote. 

Local elections in Mostar are taking place in the atmosphere created by the recent local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which resulted in tectonic changes on the political scene that, judging by everything, will also be felt at the local elections in Mostar. 

In light of the numerous irregularities and election fraud cases, the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina will most probably decide to repeat the elections in the city of Doboj and the Srebrenica municipality. In fact, these irregularities have alarmed the public and warned of the possibility that similar irregularities could occur also at the local elections in Mostar, where no less than 100,864 voters have been registered. A particular concern is a fact that the neighboring Republic of Croatia with its political leadership and the security – intelligence apparatus, is actively involved in the local elections in Mostar. At the local elections in Mostar, voting at diplomatic–consular offices of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be possible in 17 countries, 873 voters will be able to vote through mobile teams, and 3,985 voters will vote by mail. 

The main political rivals at the local elections in Mostar are the 2020 Coalition for Mostar (SDA, SBB, DF, SBIH, BPS – S. H.), headed by Zlatko Guzin, and the Croatian Democratic Union BiH (HDZ BiH), which is headed by Mario Kordić.  It is worth mentioning that the mayor of Mostar who made all the decisions and managed the city for the past 12 years is from the HDZ BiH. He is suspected of misappropriation and illegal use of around 400 million EUR of budget funds. Mostar has experienced significant stagnation over the past 12 years, despite the fact that it is one of the most beautiful European cities, which in addition to the reconstructed “Old Bridge” is also home to numerous other cultural-historical landmarks. 

Analysts believe that the upcoming local elections in Mostar will be a test for relations between Bosniaks and Croats, as well as relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia. It is of key importance to ensure a better future for Mostar as a multiethnic city fit for all its citizens, as otherwise, Mostar will be a city that cultivates the tradition of defeated ideologies from World War II, a city-oriented to the past and isolation- instead of a brighter future and the aspiration to become a modern European city, with all the attributes that adorn such cities. The turnout at the elections will decide the election winner. That is why the local elections in Mostar are a kind of a plebiscite on the future of Mostar, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Disputable role of Croatia as a participant at local elections in Mostar 

Historical memories that link the Republic of Croatia with Mostar tear open the painful wounds of the recent history. A particular concern is a fact that Croatia, as an EU and NATO member, actively participates at local elections in Mostar. 

Analysts warn of the intensity of the Republic of Croatia’s “capillary” involvement in the local elections in Mostar through the support that it openly and publicly extends to the HDZBiH. Visits by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia Andrej Plenković (HDZ), Croatian Deputy Minister and Minister of Veterans Affairs Tomo Medved (HDZ), numerous ministers from the Croatian government and other officials during the election campaign in Mostar, unambiguously and clearly indicate interference into internal political relations and the election process in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is a catalog of unresolved issues between the two states: unratified agreement on the borderline, the issue of the property of the state of BiH and BiH citizens in Croatia, activities of the Croatian security-intelligence community on the territory of BiH, and illegal interrogation of BiH citizens, disposal of radioactive waste at Trgovska Gora, etc. The relations between BiH and Croatia are additionally undermined by the tactless and incendiary statements[3] bordering on (pro)fascism by the President of the Republic of Croatia Zoran Milanović (SDP), who uses a colonial and humiliating discourse on BiH and its citizens. 

The final and binding judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have thoroughly established that the conflict on the territory of former Yugoslavia was an international armed conflict in which the Republic of Croatia was involved by means of a joint criminal enterprise (JCE). At the meetings on the work of the ICTY, which were organized in the United Nations in December 2017, Serge Brammertz, ICTY/MICT Chief Prosecutor, emphasized the significance of the joint criminal enterprise as a legal institute: “Thanks to this theory, we determined that the war in Bosnia was not a civil war, but that Belgrade, and also Zagreb, had a role in crimes in BiH, which was an international armed conflict.”

ICTY judgments clearly established the role of Croatia in the war in BiH 

ICTY continuously pronounced judgments confirming that there was an international armed conflict in BiH. Croatia militarily intervened in BiH through its control of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and the so-called Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia with the aim of the annexation of a part of the territory of BiH. The judgments in the first four trials before ICTY established that the Republic of Croatia had been involved in an international conflict/aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically, the judgments in the following four processes, Kordić and Čerkez (IT-95-14/2 [4]), Blaškić (IT- 95-14/1[5]), Aleksovski (IT- 95-14  [6]) and Naletilić and Martinović (IT-98-34[7], have established the role of the Republic of Croatia in the war in BiH. Twenty-two ICTY prosecutors were involved in the first instance and appeals proceedings, while Tuđman’s transcripts were not used in the first four cases.  The existence of a joint criminal enterprise was unambiguously established in the trial against the leaders of the para-state establishment of “Herzeg-Bosnia”- Jadranko Prlić[8] et al. 

All the sentences from the above cases were associated with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The HDZ is one of the few political parties which, as a legal person and a political party, had been pronounced guilty by the County Court in Zagreb, for the criminal offense by a responsible person, which was committed in the period from 24 March 2004 to 1 July 2009. The responsibility of the legal person of HDZ, as a political party, is derived from the guilt of responsible individuals in the legal person, specifically its former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (HDZ) and other indictees. Furthermore, the HDZ is increasingly becoming an open problem from the European People’s Party (EPP), of which it is a member.

In many reports before the UN and EU, Croatia is often defined as a country that uses, that is abuses, its full-fledged membership in the EU and NATO. The reports stipulate that Croatia violates all UN and EU conventions related to the application and protection of international humanitarian law, and most recently the humanitarian law with respect to migrants. Under the chairmanship of Zoran Milanović, in 2015 the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted a decision on suspension of cooperation with BiH in order to protect the military-political leadership of Croatia from criminal prosecution. Furthermore, many war criminals, suspected and/or sentenced in BiH, found refuge in Croatia. 

Frequent references to the establishment of the so-called “Third Croat Entity” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, once again put the focus on the role of HDZ Croatia and the then President of the Republic of Croatia Franjo Tuđman (HDZ). Resolution of the so-called Serb issue in Croatia in the way in which it was done eventually resulted in the abolition of the so-called Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. In such a way, through a broader agreement, which was accepted by Tuđman, the Croat issue in BiH with respect to the third entity was resolved at the cost of BiH Croats, because for the sake of the broader agreement majority of Serbs from Croatia had to leave their centuries-old homes for good.

Croatia instrumentalizes its membership in the EU for its specific nationalist aspirations in the region and particularly those with respect to BiH and Serbia. At the same time, it is trying to “create” its membership in NATO while ignoring the fact that NATO is a transnational organization for collective defense and security. Analysts believe that it is necessary to warn the leadership of the European Union and NATO of the abuses made so far and the announced abuses of membership in the EU and ignoring of the EU common foreign policy and relevant NATO policies for the purposes of implementation of some of its policies from the recent history, which had already been tried by the ICTY in The Hague. 

Croatian officials leave out the fact that more than 25,000 Bosniaks-Muslims had participated in the defense of Croatia of which 1,180 gave their lives fighting for Croatia and its survival. 

Analysts believe that the improvement of relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia will require a lot of political wisdom, political and diplomatic efforts. However, such efforts could become superfluous if there is no establishment and development of sincere friendship and trust between the two countries, which should be combined with the promotion of regional cooperation and acknowledgment of the recent past, and an orientation to a better joint future. The formal rhetorical support provided so far by the highest Croatian officials in the context of formal support of the membership of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the EU and NATO has been of no benefit to BiH. On the contrary, it has been detrimental to BiH because it undermines the relations within BiH. Furthermore, it will ultimately inflict damage to the Republic of Croatia as well because its political hypocrisy has been recognized and exposed in the broader international community. Croatia must adopt and learn the lessons from its recent past, which are recorded in the judgments of the ICTY.

Central Election Commission must prevent election fraud in Mostar 

A comprehensive and accurate electoral register is one of the key prerequisites for quality, free and fair elections. The Central Election Commission is responsible for the integrity of the electoral register in Mostar. It must take care to regularly delete the deceased from the electoral register, prevent illegal entries of new persons into the electoral register, control issuing of certificates for displaced persons and update the names of the streets. Specifically, a significant number of persons have asserted that someone had registered them outside the country[9]. This is a matter of abuse of the voting from abroad method. The suspicions of abuses are predominantly related to Croatia. The up-to-date data indicates that the highest growth in the number of voters by has been recorded in the municipalities with a significant percentage of Croat population and the municipalities in which the HDZBiH is in power. It was also noted that the highest increase in the number of new voters is registered in Croatia, which leaves room for founded suspicions of abuses that could be qualified as criminal offenses. 

The process of corruption and election fraud begins with electoral registers and electoral boards. Corrupted electoral registers result in corrupted election results, which as a result generate corruption in the society. Clear evidence of several hundred, and probably thousands, of abuses of personal data lead to a conclusion that the Central Election Commission, that is the city election commission in Mostar, must guarantee regularity of local elections in Mostar. The election process in Mostar is threatened. 

Analysts assess that the local elections in Mostar will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the city of Mostar, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Practice shows that in BiH elections are won in the election commission, which is an additional concern. That is why it is important now and in the future to protect this institution from pressures from politics and the possible manipulations with respect to the establishment of election results. 

Ljubljana/Brussels/Sarajevo/Washington, 16 December 2020                                

[1IFIMES – The International Institute for the Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
[2] The Washington agreement was signed between BiH Croats (represented by the Republic of Croatia) and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 March 1994 in Washington. The parties agreed to a ceasefire between the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RBiH Army). The internal organization of the territory with predominantly Bosniak and Croat population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was remodeled into the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, consisting of 10 cantons with equal rights and responsibilities.
[3] HRT: Interview, Zoran Milanović https://vijesti.hrt.hr/688499/milanovic-u-dnevniku-ljude-na-prvoj-crti-trebalo-bi-platiti-dvostruko
[4] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Dario Kordić and Mario Čerkez, IT-95-14/2, par. 108,109,137,142,145 (‘Kordić and Čerkez’) https://www.icty.org/x/cases/kordic_cerkez/tjug/en/kor-tj010226e.pdf
[5] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Tihomir Blaškić, IT-95-14-T, par. 94, 122,123,744 (‘Blaškić’) https://www.icty.org/x/cases/blaskic/acjug/en/bla-aj040729e.pdf
[6] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Zlatko Aleksovski, IT- 95-14,  https://www.icty.org/x/cases/aleksovski/acjug/en/ale-asj000324e.pdf
[7] ICTY, Prosecutor v.Naletilić and Martinović IT-98-34, https://www.icty.org/x/cases/naletilic_martinovic/acjug/en/nal-aj060503e.pdf
[8] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Jadranko Prlić et al., IT-04-74, par. 24 ,544,545,549,550,560,568 (‘Prlić et al.’)  https://www.icty.org/x/cases/prlic/acjug/en/171129-judgement-vol-1.pdf
[9] Source: Central Election Commission https://www.izbori.ba/Documents/Lokalni_izbori_2020/Mostar/RegistrovaniIzvanBiH_Mostar.pdf

Napomena o autorskim pravima: Dozvoljeno preuzimanje sadržaja isključivo uz navođenje linka prema stranici našeg portala sa koje je sadržaj preuzet. Stavovi izraženi u ovom tekstu autorovi su i ne odražavaju nužno uredničku politiku The Balkantimes Press.

Copyright Notice: It is allowed to download the content only by providing a link to the page of our portal from which the content was downloaded. The views expressed in this text are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Balkantimes Press.

Contact Us