ASHDOWN'S TITOIST SOLUTION FOR MOSTAR
VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
For those interested, On Friday Slobodna Dalmacija's
BiH edition covered my article on Ashdown's Mostar
decision. Link below to the article in Croatian , and
below that the original English version.
by Brian Gallagher
The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 1002 - 13.02.04
Paddy Ashdown's solution to unify Mostar is unfair to
the Croats. Indeed, it appears to owe much to Tito
style politics - that of disadvantaging the Croats
politically whilst making them pay for the
'privilege'. Ashdown has missed the opportunity of
helping to answer the Croat question in
Bosnia-Herzegovina and providing greater protection
for citizens of all three groups. It means that the
issue will have to be revisited again in the future.
The city of Mostar has been divided into a Croat West
and Bosniak (Muslim) East since the war - although a
number of Bosniaks do live in the West side. Under the
Dayton Accords, High Representative Ashdown had
responsibility for re-unifying the city of Mostar -
and quite rightly he made clear his determination to
do this. First the local politicians had the chance to
present a solution to the problem.
The Croats, who now have a majority in Mostar were for
the unification of the city, whilst the Bosniaks were
against. This is a reversal of the position of only a
few years ago - no doubt due to demographic changes in
favour of the Croats. The two sides could not agree on
the reunification of Mostar.
At the state level in BiH, all three nationalities are
equal and have an effective veto - a vital safeguard
for all three groups. At city level however, where the
demographics vary all over the country, the majority
rules. The Bosniaks are in the majority in Sarajevo
and the Serbs in Banja Luka. They therefore run their
Not unreasonably, the Croats considered that the same
should apply to Mostar. It would then be the only
significant town that they would control - although
their majority is not overwhelming.
Ashdown's solution is effectively that neither
Bosniaks nor Croats will be able to dominate. This may
sound laudable, but unfortunately it means that Croats
are discriminated against. Where Serbs and Bosniaks
have a majority in any BiH town or city they control
it, but this principle is denied to the Croats. In the
only significant city where they have a majority they
have to share power. What's more, because the Croats
are more economically active they will effectively be
paying most for the running of the city.
This is blatantly unfair. It is very much a solution
reminiscent of Tito's Yugoslavia. The Croats were
politically disadvantaged - the Serbs ran the show -
but were expected to pay a disproportionately large
share of the bill for the country. Does Ashdown want
to be remembered as a poor man's Tito?
The decision will mean further problems developing
between Croats and Bosniaks in the future. The Croats
will demand proper representation, and this will
become harder to deny them as time goes on. It will
also lead to resentment elsewhere. Already, Croats in
Zenica - where the Bosniaks rule - are demanding the
Mostar solution be applied there.
I have personally supported Ashdown thus far in BiH.
He was right to recognise the results of the general
elections, he was right to save the Croat run firm
Aluminij. But here he has made a mistake. Ashdown has
justified his decision by saying he is simply applying
the state level vetoes the three national groups enjoy
to Mostar. This is disingenuous as it does not apply
to any other town or city. It is inconsistent to have
one system in Mostar and a different one for the rest
of the country.
Had Ashdown used his extensive powers to apply his
solution across BiH, it would have been different.
Giving all three groups equal status in towns and
cities has much to commend it; it would prevent one
group dominating others and would certainly act as a
motor for refugee return. Sarajevo could become a
multi-ethnic city again, rather than being effectively
a Bosniak one. However, he did not.
What Ashdown should have done was to allow the Croats
to control Mostar via their majority but with
essential proviso's such as ensuring some Bosniaks -
and indeed Serbs - having a place in the governance of
the city. I am sure the Croats would have agreed to
such an arrangement - especially as it would protect
them should the demographics change against them. What
is more, Ashdown could have used such an example to
pressure other towns and cities to follow suit. This
would have given tremendous protection and security to
all three groups. Sadly, Ashdown did not take this
Consequently, the Croat Question in BiH has simply
become that much larger.
© Brian Gallagher
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at
This article was subsequently reported in the BiH
edition of Slobodna Dalmacija
The media round up on the website of the Office of the
High Representative also covered the piece.