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(E) Paddy in the Balkans
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  04/27/2002 | Politics | Unrated
(E) Paddy in the Balkans

 

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 
vote. 

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 
population. 

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

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