The Guest Blog

Guest post by Ivan Pepic, political blogger at Ve?ernji list and a member of the Institute for Social and Political Research (Mostar).

Jasmin Mujanovic’s article Russia’s Bosnia Gambit: Intrigue in the Balkans appeared on September 6th 2017 on the Foreign Affairs website. It contains numerous web links, probably supposed to serve as references that confirm his “hypotheses.” However, Mujanovic’s references are extremely biased, and his attempt to present the article as a snapshot is the basic motivation for this reaction.

I agree with the author that Russia is extremely active and is conducting its own policies in the Balkans. Furthermore, Russian policies are usually opposed to those of the EU, NATO and the U.S. which is confirmed by the recent political tensions in Macedonia, Montenegro and other countries in the region, including Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

Nevertheless, the recent Mujanovic’s article shows more of an activist than a scholar approach towards the solution of the current Gordian knot in BiH. Here are some false parts of the article:

1) Mujanovic writes that a “more alarming factor is the emerging link between Moscow and Dragan Covic, the Croat member of the country’s three-person presidency.” Nevertheless, the author leaves readers without any single reference that supports his central thesis. Mujanovic has not provided any confirmation that Covic’s relations with Russia are emerging closer than with any other country, especially the Western ones.

In fact, Mujanovic’s intention to imply that “Russia has suddenly stepped into, emerging as an ardent advocate of what the HDZ BiH refers to as ‘Croat self-determination’ – that is, Croat nationalism in Bosnia” has been recently denied by the Russian Ambassador to Croatia. He clearly stated that Russia “supports BiH with three Constituent Peoples and two Entities.”

2) The author claims that “Russia is seeking to ally with Dodik and Covic, the two biggest champions of ethnic fragmentation and dysfunction in Bosnia.” Once again, there are neither references nor objective sources that confirm his words. He fails to provide any reference to the Moscow’s sponsored alliance between the president of the Republika Srpska (Serb-dominated entity) Milorad Dodik and Covic, adding only that Covic is a “more nebulous figure.”

3) It is false that “the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) [is] an offshoot of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the current governing party in Zagreb.” In fact, as analyzed by the Democratization Policy Council and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, between 2003 and 2011 HDZ-led governments of Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor supported the unequivocal message to “BiH Croats that their capital is Sarajevo” which confirms Croatia’s support for the independence and unity of BiH.

4) The list of completely untrue accusations is continued by the statement that “Croatia’s ruling HDZ has never quite given up its irredentist claims on the Croat-majority regions of Bosnia.” Mujanovic intentionally ignores that both HDZ from Croatia and HDZ of BiH are strongly advocating full sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH. Indeed, in 1992 Croatia’s HDZ called BiH’s Croats to vote in favor at the referendum on March 1st 1992 on BiH’s independence and sovereignty. Moreover, during the 1992-1995 war period, Croatia accepted all peace and statebuilding agreements advanced by the international community (see Burg and Shoup, 1999). Finally, since Croatia’s accession to the EU in 2013, Croatian Members of the European Parliament every year propose and vote in favor of resolutions on the European Commission’s Progress Report on BiH which include EU’s commitment to BiH’s “territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity.”

5) Mujanovic’s hypothesis that “in the 1990s, Zagreb and Belgrade worked together to carve up their smaller neighbor” is supported by no undeniable pieces of evidence and proofs. Even worse, non-scientific approach is shown regarding “the ill-fated Graz Agreement of 1992” which is supposed to be the key evidence. This agreement is “documented” by the link to the Robert J. Donia’s book. However, Donia himself quotes Bosniak newspaper “Oslobo?enje” as source on the existence of a partition plan by Zagreb and Belgrade. In this case, Mujanovic is using circular argumentation, the source of which can non-surprisingly be finally found in one of the most powerful media vehicles of Bosniak anti-federalist and pro-centrist hegemony.

Indeed, a wide majority of both the Bosniak population and the political elite support the idea of the abolition of entities, as well as the vision of BiH as a unitary state composed only of municipalities and a central government that is illustrated within surveys conducted by the National Democratic Institute and Gearóid Ó Tuathail et al. For instance, in 2010, 78% of Bosniaks were in favor of the abolition of entities, whereas only 8% opted for the maintenance of the Dayton political and territorial system.

6) The article is also used for the promotion of his personal views. Mujanovic supports “a genuine reformist alliance” and “civic and left parties,” which usually are centripetalist euphemisms for political parties which promote the centralization of power, the elimination both of BiH’s entities and the rights of three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs). Many authors have written about the so-called “civic parties” and their centralization agenda against power-sharing. For instance, Thorsten Gromes writes that the Social Democratic Party of BiH, as the most prominent “civic party,” “hoped to cut the Entities’ power and to strengthen state-level,” while Ó Tuathail and Maksic define it as a “self-proclaimed multi-ethnic party.” Moreover, these civic parties’ agenda coincides with Bosniak-nationalist parties program, as it was the case on March 15th 2017 when Bosniak representatives voted unanimously in the House of Representatives of the Federation of BiH (Bosniak-Croat entity) in favor of the resolution against the work of the European Parliament which accused both centripetal and separatist tendencies.

Obviously, Mujanovic’s lamentation over “Bosnia’s constitutional regime, with its byzantine layers of ethnic quotas” confirms Sumantra Bose’s words: “the ‘multiethnic’ and apparently ‘civic’ vision of integration in post-war BiH is an attention-seeking device for some sectarian Bosniak political elements who want to appear ‘liberal’ to Westerners (…) and the preserve of either naive or motivated Westerners who do not, and perhaps do not wish to, understand the historical context and institutional antecedents of the present Bosnian state.”

7) It is not true that ethnic parties and politicians are anti-reformist, or that nationalist parties want BiH ‘disappear’. One of the crucial example that confirms ethnic organizations commitment to BiH’s future was the 2006 April package, an attempt to constitutionally reform BiH. If accepted, the ‘April package’ provided the transfer of many powers from entities to state level, the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly would have lost its veto and decision powers, BiH would have had one president, and not three. Guess who voted in favor and who against? Bosniak, Croat and Serb ethnic parties (including Milorad Dodik’s SNSD) voted in favor, whereas ‘civic’ SDP BiH, Silajdzic’s Party for BiH (which in 2000 campaigned with the slogan ‘Bosnia without entities’) and the ‘moderate’ HDZ 1990 were against. So, it is not true that ethnic parties automatically have been against state’s reforms. Now, the problem is deep, because for some ethnic parties is very difficult to cooperate with other parties, in particular after that the High Representative implemented illegal 2011 election’s results that excluded some ethnic parties from governments.

8) Mujanovic also makes elementary mistakes that prove difficulties in understanding the daily politics of BiH. Actually, the predecessor of the current BiH’s Presidency Serb representative Mladen Ivanic was not Nikola Spiric, as claimed by Mujanovic, but Nebojsa Radmanovic.

9) Mujanovic references two decisions of the BiH’s Constitutional Court against the Republika Srpska and in favor of the state level. However, he fails to mention that on June 6th 2017 the Constitutional Court confirmed its earlier decision in the case brought forward by Bozo Ljubic. The Court found that the election law in the Federation of BiH discriminates against Croats and minorities and ordered the parliament to amend it.

In 2000, the OSCE changed rules for the election of members of the Federation’s House of Peoples. These changes have been contrary to the still valid Dayton Constitution, because they undermined the peoples’ constituency as one of the fundamental principles of the constitution. In short, the 1995-1999 intra-ethnic principle has been replaced by the inter-ethnic voting that means “all vote for all.” Thus, being the majority in most cantonal assemblies from which House of Peoples’ delegates are nominated, Bosniak politicians have influenced the nomination and outvoted Croatian representatives in the House of Peoples. Since 2000, the inter-ethnic voting has had notable repercussions on the political life of Croats. For instance, in 2011 Croats were unable to nominate their legitimate representatives in the government and elect the president of the Federation of BiH, because 5 out of 17 delegates appertaining to the Croatian club of the House were nominated by Bosniak members in cantonal assemblies. This led to the political domination of the most numerous people (Bosniaks, 70%) over the less numerous (Croats, 22%) in the Federation of BiH. Consequently, inter-ethnic and centripetal principles are not going to lead towards a “civic” BiH. Instead, they are going to establish a Bosniak-dominated state.

For these reasons, the Court proclaimed the filling mechanism for the House of Peoples (Article 20.16.A) – upper chamber of the bicameral Parliament of the Federation of BiH – as unconstitutional. A few weeks later, Croatian members of the state’s parliament presented a proposal of a new electoral rule which does not discriminate against any constituent people, but it was rejected by Bosniak delegates. Bosniak representatives also tried to stop the court’s decision by invoking the destructive consequences upon the vital national interest of the Bosniak people in the state’s upper chamber. Their attempt was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

The Court invalidated discriminatory rules of filling the House of Peoples, which has been crucial, because it confirms that Mujanovic’s vision of a centripetal BiH is completely erroneous and it automatically discriminates against Croats as the smallest constituent people. Moreover, the Constitutional Court has shown the support for a political system based on power-sharing which, in Mujanovic’s opinion, seems to be equalized with separatism.

In conclusion, Mujanovic’s article is a tentative to create a nonexistent link between Croatian leaders in BiH and Russia. The reality is completely different. The Croatian political parties in BiH fully supports NATO and EU membership. As it was showed, Mujanovic’s article was more an ideological fight against power-sharing based on the equality of all constituent people in BiH than a “discovery” of the (nonexistent) link between Russia’s policy in BiH and Croat leadership.

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