Alliance of Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina
19121 Wildwood Avenue
Lansing, Illinois 60438
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April 20, 2005
Honorable Elton Gallegly, Chairman
Subcommittee on Europe and Emerging Threats
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives - Washington, D.C.
Dear Mr. Gallegly,
On behalf of the Alliance of Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina* thank you for the hearing “Bosnia-Herzegovina: Unfinished Business” held
on April 6, 2005 under your chairmanship. We are pleased that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not entirely vanished from US foreign
Please permit me to make several points regarding the testimonies given at the hearing and a few of my own observations pertaining to the
“unfinished business” in the country that is dear to our members and friends.
Regional vs. Individual EU Integration
In his testimony, Mr. Ivan Vejvoda appears to be arguing for regional, rather than individual, integration into existing Euro-Atlantic
institutions. He portrays Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and Macedonia as “as communicating vessels” that should
not be disjoined. It is understandable that Mr. Vejvoda, as a former senior adviser to a Serbian government, should advocate a speedy
integration of Serbia and Montenegro into the EU, but the Committee hearing should not be used to argue explicitly or implicitly that
Croatia’s present candidacy for membership in the EU should be delayed until all other states “in the region” fulfill the EU’s admission
Mr. Vejvoda also argues Bosnian Serbs’ recognition that a crime was committed in Srebrenica has “historic significance.” But
the Serbs and Serbia have not fully acknowledged their role in provoking and sustaining the violence that accompanied the dissolution of
Yugoslavia, and the recent victory of Vojislav Seselj’s party suggests that many Serbs have not yet had a “historic” change of heart
regarding their national agenda. Recognition of the Srebrenica massacre and Serb cooperation with the ICTY is encouraging, but it is also
limited, and there are strong indications that Serbs in RS and in Serbia would like to preserve the Republika Srpska, regardless of the cost
to the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Return of Refugees
With regard to the return of refugees and displaced persons, Dr. Gerard Toal’s numbers are based on official Sarajevo calculations, and so they should be treated with caution. The reality seems to be less encouraging than these numbers suggest. For example, data collected by
the Catholic Church indicates that 2,680,000 refugees and displaced persons had left their homes, 59.6% of the total pre-war population and 600,000 more than indicated in the data used by Dr. Toal. UN observers and local officials also appear to have exaggerated the number of people who have returned to their homes. Their data is based on the assumption that all refugees and displaced persons who claimed their pre-war property have returned with their families. But many refugees and displaced persons have tried to protect their property by registering as returnees, even though they continue to live outside the country. Most of those who have returned are older people; the younger ones have been moving to foreign countries. According to Oslobodjenje, roughly one million Bosnian citizens have applied for foreign citizenship, and various surveys conclude that roughly 50 percent of those between 18 and 35 years of age would leave the country if they had the chance to do so. (See Bishops Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Commission “Justitia et pax”. Report on
the State of Human rights in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Year 2004.)
Data regarding the return of Catholics, who are overwhelmingly Croats by nationality, are discouraging. Before the war, there were some 850,000 Croats/Catholics on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina; in 2004, there were only 465,000. The return of Croats to
the Republika Srpska is resisted by all Serb-dominated institutions, including the Serbian Orthodox church. Consequently, of 220,000 Croats/Catholics who lived on the territory of the Republika Srpska prior to 1991, fewer than 12,000 remain today.
The international actors in the country are doing virtually nothing about this appalling situation; they are not even willing to recognize that this acute problem for the survival of Croats in the Republika Srpska exists. Although Dr. Toal praises the accomplishments
of the High Representative, in reality the HR has been a passive witness to the continuation of ethnic cleansing of Croatians by Serbs, but using “peaceful” means.
Constituent Peoples vs Citizens
Dr. Toal correctly underscored the apparent dichotomy between the rights of the “constituent peoples” and “citizens” in the Bosnian constitution, that is, national rights of the three peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) versus the rights of citizens as individuals. To some,
this dichotomy appears irreconcilable, and they argue for the disappearance of the three national constituencies as a necessary step to securing the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.
Many Bosniaks and other forces inside Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as influential groups and individuals outside the country, would like a unitary state. Even the name “Herzegovina” is seen
as an obstacle to creation of a unified “Bosnian” nation-state. Some well-known experts on the region in this country have even called for a resuscitation of the discredited Titoist concept of “brotherhood and unity!” But the imposition of a Bosnian national identity failed during the Habsburg period, just as efforts to impose an artificial feeling of
“brotherhood and unity” did under the Tito regime, with disastrous results for the inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina. These failed efforts at social engineering should caution us against experimenting with people as if they were lab animals or abstract constructs. The reality is that
there are three nationalities living in a Bosnian state, and only one sees it in its interest to impose a “Bosnian” nationality on everyone and organize Bosnia-Herzegovina as a “unitary” state. To force Croats and Serbs to trade their national identities for a Bosnian identity that is
associated with the Bosniak community, is as dangerous for the country’s future as the separatism supported by radical nationalists.
But there are forces in the country and outside who believe that disintegration is the only solution to the Bosnian riddle. Serbian and Croatian nationalists are usually lumped together as equally opposed to the existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but this is not the case.
There are fundamental differences between Croat and Serb national aspirations in Bosnia. Croatia is moving to consolidate democracy within its current borders and is in the process of joining the EU; it has no interest in supporting separatist forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
However, the ghost of a Greater Serbia is very much alive, and this should disturb all observers of the region. The Chetnik movement, an instrument of violent Serbian expansionism since the beginning of the last century, was recently
officially rehabilitated by the Serbian parliament. A “government in exile” has also been formed in Serbia by the former officials of the “Serbian Krajina” in Croatia to support the creation of a Serbian state there. About a week ago, newly drafted military recruits in the
Republika Srpska refused to swear allegiance to Bosnia; instead they insisted on pledging their allegiance to “their own Serb state.” Even
more ominously, the largest political party in Serbia openly champions a continued struggle for a Serb state that would include all of Bosnia-Herzegovina and two-thirds of Croatia. All major Serb political parties and institutions (in the RS and in Serbia) are
determined to protect the existence of the RS, regardless of the fact that the entity was created through aggression by the Yugoslav Army
and Serbian paramilitary forces and the brutal ethnic cleansing of its non-Serb inhabitants. For those who support the Republika Srpska, it is a crucial foothold for the future “unification of all the Serbs.”Although Croatian nationalism is often equated to Serbian nationalism by many in Bosnia and abroad, its nature and goals are quite distinct. There is no doubt that some Croatians would be happy to see Bosnia-Herzegovina disintegrate, but they are not the majority. In 1992, Croatians voted overwhelmingly for an independent Bosnian state, and throughout the war, neither the Croatian political establishment as a whole nor any significant Croatian institution, including the Catholic Church, in Croatia or in Bosnia-Herzegovina advocated the breakup of the country. Today, there is neither significant movement nor is there a major party among Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina that support its disintegration. Indeed, polls
suggest that a majority of people in the Republic of Croatia would reject annexation of any areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina, even by peaceful means. Those who worry that “Croat extreme nationalists” are a latent danger to the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina need not do so. Not even the most nationalist of Croatian parties, the Party
of Right, ever advocated the disintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Indeed, its militia, the HOS, fought alongside the Bosnian army and was recognized by Sarajevo’s government as a legitimate military unit defending the country. Those who view HDZ, the ruling party in Croatia and the leading party among Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a nationalist party ignore its continued efforts to take Croatia into the EU and its practical efforts to cooperate with
the government in Sarajevo. The HDZ is concerned to protect Croatia’s national interests, but it is not an extremist nor a chauvinist
organization. At present, there is neither clear consensus among Croat political parties nor Croat and Catholic institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina regarding possible constitutional changes in the post-Dayton period. However, a variety of recent publications clearly
attest that, regardless of their apparent disunity, Croats do stand for the existence of the country in its present-day borders, for the
dismantling of the RS and the Croat-Muslim Federation, which only reason for existence is as a counterweight to the RS, and for a constitution that would guarantee them both full national equality and individual rights. For its Croats, the crucial question is not whether
Bosnia-Herzegovina should exist; that is a given. The crucial question is what kind of state it will be. Unfortunately, the Croatian position is often misrepresented or misunderstood by those favoring a unitary state, and Bosnia’s Croats are presented as dangerous separatists. But those who do not support a unitary state are not Bosnia’s enemies. It is rather those who insist on a unitarist point of view, which has already twice been tried and failed disastrously, who are now compromising Bosnia’s future.
More on Nationalism and Individualism
The opponents of organizing Bosnia-Herzegovina as a “constituency of peoples” fall into three main groups. The first is primarily comprised of observers from abroad who are anxious to “de-construct” the national identities of Croats, Serbs, and Muslims, assuming that severing
them from their roots will make them “pure citizens” who will embrace and support individual freedoms, progress, and an imaginary “native Bosnian cosmopolitanism.” Their goal is to maximize individual happiness by guaranteeing human rights and removing the causes of ethnic
tension and strife, but by doing so they deprive people of their historic and national identities. They treat Bosnia-Herzegovina as a laboratory for an experiment of social engineering that, as noted above, has already failed on a larger scale, and there is no reason to assume
that a Bosnian identity would be any more successful than a Yugoslav identity. Ironically, the promoters of this approach are at the same time ardent advocates of pluralism and diversity, conditions they deny to the inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The second group of opponents appear to be guided by realism, practicality, and geopolitics. For them, the country’s complicated situation has to be simplified either by remaking it into a unitary state or by accepting the two existing entities, one of which is Serbian, the other a hybrid Bosniak-Croatian construct in which Croatians are a distinct minority, whose insistence on remaining who they are in their own homeland is often portrayed as unreasonable and even extreme.The third group are comprised largely of Bosniaks and seem to be inspired by their own nationalist beliefs. They employ a fashionable, politically correct terminology, but they are essentially arguing to a unitary state in which they would act as custodians of its
integrity. But Bosnia-Herzegovina is a multi-national country, and there are constitutional systems throughout Europe that can serve as models of how to resolve the issue of ethos and the citizen. Cosmopolitanism does not have a monopoly on individualism and citizenship, and multinational states have robust civil societies. Nationality and individualism, collective rights and individual rights should not be set at odds; they should be harmonized, as they have been in a number of European countries. What is needed in Bosnia-Herzegovina is not forced de-nationalization, but the acceptance of everyone and every community for what they are. We should be searching for a viable constitutional model in which the law will be equally and justly applied to all groups and individuals rather than condemning those who feel themselves to belong to a national group. The task is not as complicated as
many make it to be, if we are willing to approach it honestly, with an open mind and in a spirit of fairness.
Some see the Dayton accords as a straitjacket imposed at a time of a horrific crisis that could have, and should have, been stopped in 1991, at the onset of the aggressive Serbian occupation of much of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dayton stopped the killing, but by
dividing the country and imposing a plethora of contradictory constitutional provisions that created an abnormal and unsustainable situation. The Dayton straitjacket has to be untied and removed; crucial constitutional questions must be renegotiated in a rational and well-intentioned
manner if Bosnia-Herzegovina and its people are to have a semblance of normal life.
Unfortunately, many members of the international community and thousands of “experts” have built careers by turning Bosnia-Herzegovina into a laboratory in which they seek to construct a new for the sake of the people but without its three original peoples.
The officials who were entrusted by the international community to guide the post-war reconstruction of B&H have use their unchecked power arbitrarily and
selectively. They intervene at will in everything, including criminal indictments and court decisions. Instead of dealing with corruption and
cronyism in a timely and decisive manner, they manipulate them for political ends. They have squandered a tremendous amount of foreign
aid, because they are not held responsible for their actions. Their behavior recalls the behavior of Europeans who undertook to “civilize” the
rest of the world in the nineteenth century, and Bosnia seems more a protectorate than a true state.
The indigenous political elites stand somewhere between the unproclaimed protectorate and the people, especially in the
Federation. Although their government positions have been legitimized by several elections since 1995, they depend on the will of the High
Representative, rather than on the approval of those who elected them. They are coerced, exploited, and occasionally discarded by foreign
officials; they are a ruling class that lives not for the people, but of the people.
The first step toward normalization is to scrap the existing constitutional system and begin to build a new one built on firm
foundations, so that people can start looking to a better future. People are tired of being pushed around by the international bureaucrats and
local elites. They long for security, both for themselves and their property; they ask a chance to work and provide for themselves and their
families, to feel free in their homes and in their country, to be who they are and what they are. Common people need to be once more to be
able to hope.
Although the “case of Bosnia-Herzegovina” is being handed over to the Europeans, the US should be involved in bringing about a rational
and just solution to the challenges there. The US helped to end the war by negotiating the Dayton Agreement. Now, ten years after, it is the
time to make a few new and brave moves to revise the Agreement and help the three peoples in the country and all of its citizens find a
constitution that will insure freedom and security for all, make a viable state, and put it on the road into the EU in the not-too-distant future.
Dr. Ante Cuvalo, Professor of History
President, The Alliance of Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina
*The Alliance of Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded in 1994 by American Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina. From its
inception, the Alliance has been an active promoter of freedom, peace, and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina.