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SUN, 01 APR 2001 13:38:57 GMT

Zagrebís Reaction to Mostarís Decision

AIM Zagreb, March 19, 2001

The decision, made in Mostar, to declare the Bosnian Croats' autonomy, in fact a bid by the Croatian Democratic Union to revive Herzeg-Bosnia, appears to have returned Croatia to the Franjo Tudjman era when Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the Zagreb authorities' most important issues. The tone, however, is this time substantially different.

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, as is customary with him, responded immediately, briefly and sharply: the decisions of the "Croat National Assembly" are a crime against the Croat people, they will lead to the ghettoization of Bosnia's Croats, all their problems should be resolved through state institutions.

The ruling six also distanced themselves from Mostar's project, which practically calls for the establishment of a third entity in Bosnia. Their view, however, was somewhat more diversified. Prime Minister Ivica Racan expressed his regrets and condemned the decision to proclaim "Croat autonomy." He added that all open issues should be resolved through dialogue and announced that Croatia had launched strong initiatives in that direction.

His fellow partisan and deputy speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Zdravko Tomac, showed much more understanding for his countrymen across the border in Bosnia. The ruling coalition sent him to Mostar as their envoy, and he was afterwards practically promoted to government expert on Bosnia-Herzegovina. In this respect, Tomac has good references: he has always spoken in favor of a unified Bosnia. In Mostar he backed the political platform announced there, and expressed great understanding for the dissatisfaction of the Croat National Assembly with the performance of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The Croats are right," says Tomac. "They want to be equal, and the Mostar platform clearly shows they have abandoned their old policy." He only distanced himself from the decision on autonomy, saying that it closes the door to dialogue and deviates from the Dayton agreement.

In numerous encounters with international community representatives upon returning from Mostar Tomac continued to explain that the Mostar decisions should not be condemned outright, asked that a difference be made between Ante Jelavic and the Croat people, and opposed the introduction of sanctions, adding that he believes that he should get credit for the fact that they were not imposed. He offers his services in explaining the problem of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the world, because, as he put it, "we know all about it.' Tomac is not the only one who sees nothing wrong or improper in giving lectures from Zagreb on what ought to be done in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Without missing a beat Prime Minister Racan on the one hand says that Bosnia's policies are no longer created in Zagreb and that Croatia will never again assume that role and on the other loudly supports the so-called Budisa Plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The plan to restructure Bosnia is based on a proposal put forth seven years ago by Ivo Komsic. According to the plan, the current division into the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska would be abolished, Bosnia-Herzegovina would be federalized and composed of a dozen or so cantons, which would have no rights to have special relations with neighboring states.

Racan backed the plan by stating that Croatia is in favor of this form of territorial organization that will ensure that every citizen and all three peoples will be equal throughout Bosnia. Speaking on a possible link between the Mostar decisions and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's almost simultaneous visit to Banjaluka, where a document on special relations between Belgrade and Republika Srpska was signed, the Croatian prime minister stressed that "every step that cements the current division into two entities does not contribute to the stabilization of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia has no intention of establishing any special relations with any part of Bosnia, but only with it as a whole," he said.

The ruling six should put their ideas down in writing and send them to the decision makers. The government should put together a plan for the resolution of the current crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a non-paper document, that is as a proposal to be debated. For that purpose the prime minister is intensely communicating with international community representatives, from Brussels to Sarajevo. They see this as a true diplomatic offensive. It is speculated that Croatia could initiate a new international conference, a sort of Dayton 2.

The Budisa plan (or the plan of the ruling six), however, is not that likely to succeed. Not because it is not good, but because it is not feasible at this point. It is possible that it contains elements which could overcome the shortcomings of the Dayton agreement, which has attained its purpose of ending the war, but failed to provide for a stable state. The Zagreb plan on restructuring Bosnia does not have a chance because the international community at this point -- with a crisis in Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia, and with Serbia not stabilized yet -- has no inclination to embark on a major redesigning of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the world is rather well-disposed towards the new authorities in Belgrade, and is ready for major concessions to Republika Srpska. It is speculated in Zagreb that Serbia could be compensated for losses in its south with gains in the west.

The plan on restructuring Bosnia may not have been envisaged as a platform for Dayton 2. Had it been done in a serious manner it wouldn't have reached the media before influential international addresses. Namely, it is widely known that such projects are initially arranged through secret diplomatic channels. In addition, had it been seriously thought out, it would not have been accompanied by claims that Croatia had never behaved like an aggressor in Herzegovina. To insist on Croatia's sinlessness not only contradicts the facts, which were also confirmed by certain sentences passed by the Hague tribunal. Such a position will discredit any other of Croatia's future initiative in Sarajevo. If Zagreb does not admit the Tudjman era's sin of aggression, how can it be trusted that it does not have another plan up its sleeve for some other occasion?

The plan for Bosnia might have been leaked to the public for internal use. To demonstrate, for example -- after Mostar and on the eve of a parliament session on the position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina -- the concern and devotion of the current authorities to this issue. The international high representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, recently warned that the extremists on both sides of the Bosnian-Croatian border had established links, and that there are attempts to destabilize Croatia from Mostar. The ruling six, it appears, have understood that the rightists are trying to corner them via the issue of Bosnia. The right wing of the Croatian Democratic Union is rushing en masse to Herzegovina to applaud Jelavic's decisions. The party later fully backed the Mostar decisions.

There is yet another major reason for the haste shown by the Croatian authorities over the new crisis sparked by the Mostar decisions. This is serious concern that the international community, by backing Kostunica, could slip into actually composing a small "Greater Serbia." This is what Zagreb is trying to prevent.

Jelena LOVRIC

(AIM)