The following article appeared in Liberal Democrat News, the party newspaper of the Liberal
Democrat Party in the United Kingdom, which Paddy Ashdown used to lead. The views are of
course my own, and not those of the paper or the party.
Paddy in the Balkans
Liberal Democrat News 26 April 2002 No.706
Brian Gallagher believes that Paddy Ashdown's political beliefs could have a marked influence
on bringing a lasting peace to the blighted region...
One of Paddy Ashdown's main problems when he becomes High Representative in
Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the Croat question. By dealing equitably with
Croat problems, Paddy can not only solve the Croat question but also go a
long way to ensuring a viable Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Since the onset of fighting in BH in 1992, the Croatian population in BH has
halved. Furthermore the Croats have set up their own Croat Constituent
Assembly, which has led to conflict with the current High Representative.
There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs. Ethnically
cleansed Croats have not been allowed back into the Serb controlled areas.
Also, in an attempt to dilute the influence of the Croatian Democratic Union
of BH (HDZBiH) the international community disgracefully changed electoral
rules prior to the 2000 elections.
The HDZBiH won some 80% of the Croat vote; the rule change not only cut them
out of government but also effectively disenfranchised the entire Croat
The Croats - one of the three constituent peoples of BH - now have no stake
in the country and are effectively second class citizens. Things have been
tense ever since, not improved by the obvious impunity the Serbs have in the country.
Paddy can solve the Croat question. The Croats have been portrayed -
deliberately - as wanting to secede from BH to join Croatia. Not so. The
Croats have only demanded fair treatment from within the country. And there is the key
for Paddy. If he makes it clear that the wishes of the Croat electorate will be
respected in the future he will create enormous good will.
Further, Paddy should implement his known ideas on devolution and pushing
power down to the lowest level. Currently much is centralised. Largely
Croat areas could be left to run their own schools and services, raise finances, and be able to use
their own language.
Croats in mixed areas would have a say, and furthermore the prospect of
being able to run their own affairs, or having a major hand in them, would
be a tremendous incentive for Croat refugees to return to currently Serb
controlled areas such as Posavina, previously cleansed of its historic Croat
Devolutionary policies could halt the collapsing Croat demographic. Needless
to say, such policies benefit the Serbs and Muslims as well.
Without an equal stake for each of its three people's, BH can never be stable. It
will remain a centralised international protectorate and its people will
never be able to run their own affairs.
By providing a democratic and just answer to the Croat question, the viability of BH could be
assured in the future. Hopefully Paddy will seize the opportunity by providing that answer.
Brian Gallagher is a former Vice-Chair of a local party and writes on
South East European affairs.
(c) Brian Gallagher