AIM: start

FRI, 20 APR 2001 23:58:51 GMT

Croatia Silently Watches Jelavic's Self-Government Plans

AIM Zagreb, April 10, 2001

Five years after violent demonstrations against the then international administrator, Hans Koscnick, Mostar is again in turmoil. The reasons that back then brought various veterans associations and crowds onto the streets - the forming of a municipal government in Mostar have been long removed or simply forgotten. This time around, however, the disputed issues pertain to the organization of the whole of the Muslim-Croat Federation. In addition, the Bosniak side is now conspicuously absent from the dispute, and the confrontation involves only international representatives and Jelavic and his partisan cronies.

This arrangement makes the clash only fiercer -- there are now no Bosniak representatives wasting the energy of international representatives. This could indicate that Jelavic has been deliberately led into a trap; his recklessness makes everything the more reminiscent of a political drama in three acts that is now nearing its end. The international community's responses can be reconstructed from the three moves that Jelavic and his team made prior to that.

After they established "Croatian self-government," Jelavic & co. were fired from their post in the party and administration. When civilians instructed by the party began entering Croatian Defense Council barracks and destroying various documents (financial as well), SFOR raided the financial headquarters of the "government" -- Hercegovacka Banka -- and took control of it. The press has announced the imminent arrest of Ante Jelavic, who, as they allege, is charged with organizing riots. A new, even stronger challenge to SFOR from his party cannot be ruled out.

In short, Jelavic has done everything to provoke international representatives to take action, and this is why they have apparently done very little in the way of seeking justification for their actions. SFOR justified its raid of Hercegovacka Banka as a move meant to protect savings accounts held by ordinary people, because it is believed that international banking experts will discover financial scams committed by Jelavic and his people. According to US ambassador to Bosnia Thomas Miller, however, the results of this problem are known in advance, because he said Jelavic and the others are common thieves and there is nothing more to say on the matter.

Miller did not even attempt to explain why "the thieves" did not simply pocket about DM50 million which, according to him, was set aside for financing the Croatian Defense Council, an organized that had allegedly disbanded itself. But how can Miller and other international officials be criticized after Jelavic's statement that "Croatian associations that emerged after the War for the Fatherland spontaneously took over most Croatian barracks in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will not allow those whom the Croat people did not elect in the November 2000 vote to enter?" Just how "spontaneous" the forcible entries at the barracks were is confirmed by a statement by the commander of the Fourth Guard Brigade of the Croatian Defense Council in Orasje, Goran Martic, who said that "civilians and members of the disabled veterans associations demanded that we the documents out of the barracks and destroy some of them."

Martic refused to carry out this "order" because he believed the documents could reveal certain "criminal" activities, of which the people who had gathered there "spontaneously" could not have know unless they were informed by someone involved. It is obvious that the march on the barracks was all but spontaneous, which is confirmed by restrained reactions in Croatia proper, where almost no one hastened to express solidarity with Jelavic and his government.

The notorious Split Headquarters for the Safeguard of the Dignity of the War for the Fatherland, however, jumped to the rescue and immediately after Hercegovacka Banka was blocked, said it would block SFOR bases in Divulje, Ploce and elsewhere. This organization has discredited itself so much by demanding that the Croatian government do things that simply could not be done, such as to summarily pardon all war crimes, and that other rightist organizations obediently recognize its leading position, so that it cannot offer much help to the Mostar advocates of "Croatian self-government." Djapic's Croatian Party of the Right, for instance, condemned the SFOR action in Mostar as "anti-civilizational," but made no mention of blocking SFOR bases.

The Croatian Democratic Union, which is the true center of all rightist forces in Croatia and without whose support no mass action by rightist parties and associations can be imagined because it is the only force having the necessary infrastructure, responded even more coldly. This time, the party silently ignored not only the announced blockade of SFOR bases in Croatia, but even everything else that was taking place in Mostar. The party is currently riven by strong internal disputes initiated by circles close to its current president, Ivo Sanader. Sanader appears intent on changing the image of the party, reshaping it from a radical rightist, populist organization, into one closer to what moderate rightist parties, such as the German CDU, or the Bavarian CSU, looks like.

Thus it turned out that the political interests of Herzegovinians were protected the most by the hated "anti-Herzegovinian," Stjepan Mesic. The Croatian president condemned the riots in Mostar, and stressed that such methods were unacceptable regardless of "possible mistakes" made by the international community. He did not say what those mistakes might be. It seems that he meant mistakes in Bosnia-Herzegovina's global structure as promoted by the international community, which Croatia's top officials beginning to assail openly.

True, Mesic is the most moderate among the leaders of the most influential parties in the six-party ruling coalition but Racan, Budisa and Tomac openly favor a revision of the Dayton agreement. Mesic is more cautious, and believes the agreement should first be implemented, and that only then should changes be placed on the agenda. This approach, however, could be only a matter of character, that is, of Mesic's belief that the international community would more easily accepts changes if asked gently and more courteously.

This is to say that more frequent and more open demands that the Dayton agreement be revised should be expected from Croatia in the future. They will focus on issues where they can expect considerable support: the abolition of Bosnia-Herzegovina's asymmetric organization in which the Serbs are gallantly exempt from what is obstinately forced upon the Croats -- a federal union with the Bosniaks. The international community is also aware that the current organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina is but a legalization of its division. This is why its representatives in the Bosnian Constitutional Court voted for -- in many respects a historic -- decision on proclaiming all of the three peoples in Bosnia as constituent.

The inviolability of Dayton, however, is still insisted on, maybe because retaining status quo requires less effort and money than any, even the smallest, change. It is clear that the Dayton agreement can no longer be considered Scripture. Even if it was, it should be recalled that Scripture, unlike the Dayton accords, was not created in several days. That book was written and re-written over a thousand years.

Marinko Culic