Nearly thirty years after the end of the war, the unity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, divided between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, remains mistreated. To the traditional secessionist ambitions of the Serbo-Bosnian leader Milorad Dodik has been added in recent months to growing pressure from Croatian nationalists, supported by Zagreb, as the general elections approach.
This Sunday, October 2, some 3.3 million Bosnians must elect their representatives of the very complex institutional millefeuille of the state, and choose the three members of the presidency.
Dragan Covic, the president of the nationalist party HDZ BiH – close to the HDZ in power in neighboring Croatia – demands in particular a reform of the Bosnian electoral law to strengthen its ethnic character.
Under the current system, citizens of Republika Srpska (the country’s Serb-majority entity) elect the Serbian member of the presidency, while voters of the Federation (the other entity where mostly Croats and Bosnians live) vote for Croatian and Bosnian members, regardless of the voter’s ethnicity. In the last election, in 2018, Dragan Covic lost to the progressive Zeljko Komsic, and since then he accuses the latter of having won thanks to the votes of the Bosnians.
The strength of Croatia
Zagreb’s position is simple: only Croats should vote for the Croatian member of the presidency, thus hoping to consolidate the hold of the HDZ on the institutions. During his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic made no secret of his intentions: “Since the Bosnian political leaders have admitted that they do not want to reach an agreement with the Bosnian Croats on electoral reform, I invite the High Representative Christian Schmidt to use the powers of Bonn (from a conference in the former West German capital in 1997 to impose the new law, editor’s note) ». Earlier this week, Andrej Plenkovic even confessed « we have been discussing in depth and discreetly with the High Representative for months”.
However, strengthening the ethnic principle would go against the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights which, in 2009, found the Bosnian Constitution to be discriminatory, not allowing citizens other than Serbs, Croats and Bosnians to nominate candidates.
“Croatian nationalism needs a new goal to follow”
“Since the end of the war in 1995, Croatia has achieved all its foreign policy objectives (NATO, EU, soon euro and Schengen area). She has done a lot to get here and now she wants to capitalize. In other words, Croatian nationalism needs a new goal to pursue, and this is the fate of the Bosnian Croats to be defended,” says Adnan Cerimagic, an analyst at the European Stability Initiative..
Last spring, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic threatened to veto the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO if the Bosnian electoral law was not changed (Zagreb has since given its fire green). The Croatian-Bosnian leader Dragan Covic has even mentioned the creation of a third entity with a Croat majority in order to further deepen the ethnic partition of the country.
“It is possible to live together while keeping your own identity”
” Almost half Bosnian Croats today live in municipalities where they are a minority, so any discussion about changing internal borders is meaningless”, comments Adnan Cerimagic. According to the 2013 census, Croats make up around 15% of the Bosnian population, compared to 50% Bosniaks and 30% Serbs.
In the municipality of Vares, 50 km north of Sarajevo, Mayor Zdravko Marosevic was elected twice in a row by the Bosnian majority in the city, although he is a Croat and a member of HDZ BiH. “We are a small community, we all know each other. Vares shows that it is possible to live together while keeping your own identity., observes the mayor proudly. Does he also want the creation of a new entity for the Croats? “What we want is to join the European Union. The third entity is just a waved rag to mobilize the nationalists and win the elections”, responds Zdravko Marosevic.