Friday, 8 April 2022

Milanović: Bosnia Can Be Civic Only Upon Joining EU, Croats Will Not Be Minority

ZAGREB, 8 April (2022) - Bosnia and Herzegovina can be a civic state only after joining the EU, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said in Mostar, BiH on Friday, adding that Croats in BiH will never become a minority.

"We want the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina in the European Union. Only then can it become a civic state. Until then it is regulated by (the) Dayton (peace agreement) and it was created in the blood of Croatian soldiers," he said at a ceremony marking 30 years of the establishment of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).

Milanović said such statements from him were not seen as friendly in BiH. "I have no prejudices either against the Serbs, who were the aggressors, or against the Bosniaks."

The HVO, the Croatian Army and the Army of BiH were allies in the liberation of BiH, he said, wondering what happened for the Croatian side to be considered an enemy today.

Milanović called on present-day Bosniak political leaders to return the decoration which former Croatian president Franjo Tuđman bestowed on former BiH president Alija Izetbegović if they considered the HVO and Croatia criminal.

The role of the HVO was "fatefully significant" for the survival of BiH, he said, adding that Croats in BiH will preserve the role and status they have under the Dayton agreement. "As the least numerous people in BiH, Croats don't want to be a minority today. Croatianhood can't be eradicated from BiH."

Milanović criticised the outvoting of Croats in elections and said this was not done with representatives of national minorities in Croatia.

Croatian War Veterans Minister Tomo Medved, who attended the ceremony as Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's envoy, said Croatian volunteers from BiH and the HVO played an important role in the liberation of Croatia and a crucial role in BiH's survival.

"There would have been no free and independent BiH had the HVO not been established at the start of the war," he said, adding that the Croatian government will continue to support Coats in BiH in the exercise of their political rights via changes to the election law and in defusing tensions and restoring the alliance between Croats and Bosniaks.

The fight for Croats in BiH continues by insisting on achieving equality, said Dragan Čović, president of the Croatian National Assembly, an umbrella organisation of Croat political parties in BiH. He called for the support of all Croatian institutions.

Before the ceremony, wreaths were laid for the HVO defenders killed in the war in BiH, including by Milanović and Medved.

 For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

New President of BiH Electoral Commission Selected, Says October Election Definite

ZAGREB, 30 March 2022 - Suad Arnautović was selected as the new president of Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Central Electoral Commission (SIP) on Wednesday, and said SIP is preparing for elections to be held in October despite the fact that an agreement on changing the election law has not been reached yet. 

Arnautović succeeds Željko Bakalar and was selected with the support of six SIP members as part of the regular rotation for that position. SIP comprises two Croats, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and one member from an ethnic minority.

Leading Bosniak and Croat political parties have not yet agreed on amendments to the election law which should incorporate rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and BiH's Constitutional Court, which have determined that the current law is discriminatory. Arnautović confirmed that SIP is preparing for the autumn elections because that is an obligation based on valid legislative provisions.

"We have been appointed to implement the election law...and it precisely regulates deadlines and one of our first obligations is to call elections this year," Arnautović said.

The current election law in BiH foresees general elections on the first Sunday in October every four years.

SIP is obliged to call the elections no later than 150 days prior to their holding, which means that that has to be done by 4 May.

Croat political parties gathered around the Croatian National Council have not denied the possibility of boycotting the elections if an agreement on amendments to the election law is not reached. Although there is still time for that, any agreement reached would have to be supported in the parliament with relevant amendments to the law and the Constitution too.

SIP is also faced with another problem. The Council of Ministers has not yet adopted any decision regarding financing the election because the 2022 state budget has not yet been adopted.

Representatives of the international community in BiH, including the EU, USA and OSCE as well as the Office of the High Representative, strongly support the October elections and have called on the authorities to ensure the necessary funds while appealing to Croat parties to consider whether boycotting the elections would be worthwhile because in that case, they would lose any chance of participating in government.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Bosniak Leader Tells EU Officials SDA Willing to Continue Talks on Election Reform

ZAGREB, 27 March 2022 - Bosniak SDA party leader Bakir Izetbegović said in a letter to EU and Croatian leaders on Sunday he was ready to continue talks on changes to Bosnia's election law, but stressed that he would not accept solutions leading to further ethnic divisions, singling out the HDZ BiH as an advocate of such ideas.

In a letter to EU leaders whose content was reported to local media by Bosnia and Herzegovina's ruling Bosniak party, Izetbegović said that "the HDZ's tough positions, excessive insistence on the principle of ethnicity and refusal to seriously discuss defining the powers of the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the BiH Federation entity" had prevented an agreement during negotiations mediated by EU and US officials.

The last round of negotiations ended inconclusively a week ago and HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović and Izetbegović have since traded a number of serious accusations over the failure of the talks.

After that, Čović sent a letter to EU officials informing them of the positions of parties gathered in the Croatian National Assembly (HNS), an umbrella political organisation of BiH Croat parties, their point being that they insist on consistent respect for the constitutional rights of BiH's constituent peoples, including Croats, which includes the right to legitimate representation in all levels of government.

This prompted Izetbegović to write to European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as Croatian President Zoran Milanović and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

In his letter, Izetbegović particularly condemns the possible launching of the process of territorial reorganisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the boycott Croat parties could opt for if the coming election is organised in line with the existing election law.

Izetbegović says that any attempt to unilaterally change the country's territorial structure would be in direct violation of the Dayton Agreement and jeopardise peace and stability, and that he sees it as the restoration of Herceg-Bosna, the Bosnian Croat statelet established during the country's 1992-1995 war.

As for the possible boycott of the elections, Izetbegović says that it is a democratic way to demonstrate one's dissatisfaction, to which everyone is entitled, but notes that it does not mean the right to obstruct and block elections because that is against the country's constitution.

The SDA leader also resolutely dismisses the HDZ's claims that the SDA wants to establish a unitary state, noting that by using such accusations Čović and his associates are actually looking for an alibi for a policy that would lead to a complete division of the country along ethnic lines, which, he says, they have been doing in cooperation with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.

"I want to emphasis that during the last round of talks, significant progress has been made that can be the basis for the continuation of talks. The SDA will always accept negotiations that will lead to stabilisation and solutions that are in line with European standards and EU recommendations," reads Izetbegović's letter to EU officials and EU member-countries' leaders.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Čović: Demand to Abolish House of Peoples Powers Violates Dayton Agreement

ZAGREB, 23 March 2022 - The leader of the Bosnian Croat HDZ BiH party, Dragan Čović, has described the demand by the leading Bosniak SDA party to abolish the powers of the upper house of parliament of the Bosniak-Croat Federation entity, as an attempt at toppling the Dayton peace agreement.

Čović wrote a letter to EU officials Ursula von der Leyen, Josep Borrell and Charles Michel, Croatia's President Zoran Milanović, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, as well as to Western diplomats to inform them about the HDZ-SDA talks that ended inconclusively on Sunday.

He said that the talks failed because the SDA made the electoral reform conditional on abolishing the legislative role of the House of Peoples, adding that such moves would lead to the Federation entity becoming a Bosniak statelet.

"As a representative of the policies pursued by the Croatian people, I underline that abolishing the legislative powers of the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, reducing it to the role of protector of vital national interests and equating it with the Chamber of Peoples in Republika Srpska is a gross violation of the Washington and Dayton agreements and a serious threat to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina", Čović wrote. 

The House of Peoples of the Federation Parliament is ethnic-based and allows each of the three constituent peoples to participate in decision making and adoption of laws, and to choose executive bodies. On the other hand, in Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croats and Bosniaks cannot influence decisions taken by the majority Serb authorities, because the upper house of the Serb entity parliament has been completely disempowered. By redefining the upper house of the Bosniak-Croat entity parliament, Bosniaks who have four times the number of representative might exert full dominance over the Croats.

Čović said that this demand was a dangerous act of hostility aimed at reducing the Croats as a constituent people to the status of a national minority. He recalled the conclusions of a recent extraordinary meeting of the Croatian National Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina which announced that the Croats would call for the territorial reorganisation of the country if their disenfranchisement continued.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Croat Deputies in BiH Call for Urgent Investigation into Threats Against Officials

ZAGREB, 23 March 2022 - The Croat parliamentary group in the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the BiH Federation entity on Wednesday harshly condemned death threats sent to HDZ BiH officials Dragan Čović and Ivo Tadić, calling for an urgent investigation and punishment of those responsible.

The death threats against Čović and Tadić, who is at the helm of the HDZ branch in Zenica-Doboj Canton and is also the whip for the Croat parliamentary group in the House of Peoples of the BiH Federation Parliament, were published on Tuesday in a Facebook post.

The Croat caucus underscored that the police and judicial bodies need to treat this as a very serious case because Tadić was exposed to similar threats in 2011, when an explosive device was planted in his car.

The HDZ BiH believes the threats are due to the failed negotiations on election reform. After the last round of negotiations failed, Čović and the leader of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Bakir Izetbegović, exchanged some sharp accusations, blaming each other for the blockade and obstruction of the reform.

Čović told reporters on Tuesday that he had been exposed to threats for years, adding that he would not be intimidated.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Grlić Radman: BiH's EU, NATO Membership, Equality of Croats in Croatia's Interest

ZAGREB, 17 March 2022 - Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlić Radman said on Thursday that Bosnia and Herzegovina's Euro-Atlantic integration is in the national interest of Croatia and that it cannot be achieved without the equality of Croats in that country.

"On the international scene, Croatia is the biggest and sincere advocate of Euro-Atlantic associations. That is our clear national interest. That won't be possible without resolving the legitimate and legal demands of Croats" in BiH,  Grlić Radman said at a conference in Neum in an online message in reference to reforms in BiH. 

The fifth conference "Untying the knots - BiH on the path to EU and NATO membership" was organised by Mostar University, the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in BiH and Croatian universities, with the participation of scientists, politicians and foreign diplomats.

Grlić Radman explained that the Croatian side in BiH has been the most constructive about reaching an agreement on amendments to the election law, providing proposals of how that can be done.

Negotiations on election reforms are continuing in Sarajevo today with the mediation of the USA and EU.

Grlić Radman said that BiH "hasn't resolved the problem of the political disenfranchisement of Croats or stability and institutional functioning in BiH."

According to Grlić Radman, the reason for that is two dominant conflicting politics in BiH, separatism and unitarism.

"It is difficult to say which is more detrimental to the Croat people. Both politics directly demolish the historical and constitutional foundations of BiH as a joint state of three equally constituent peoples and citizens. Without respect of those principles, the knot in BiH will not be untied for it to be a functional and stable country on the path to the EU and NATO," added Grlić Radman.

The president of the Croatian National Assembly of BiH, Dragan Čović, said that BiH has to preserve its multi-national nature and that local politicians have to see the Ukraine crisis as an opportunity.

US Ambassador to BiH Michael Murphy called on political leaders in BiH to reach a compromise so the country can come closer to the European Union.

A new geopolitical moment has emerged in the European Union and the Western Balkans. It's up to leaders to use this opportunity. BiH leaders have the opportunity to move faster to the EU based on compromise and reconciliation, said Murphy.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Friday, 18 February 2022

Plenković: It Would Be Better if BiH Polls Were Postponed Than Held Under Present Law

ZAGREB, 18 Feb 2022 - It would be better if elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were postponed than held under the present election law because nothing good will come of it and the country will continue to function poorly, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Friday. 

"Parliamentary elections should not be held in October this year as scheduled without changing the election law," Plenković said.

Croatia's position on the matter is contrary to the document prepared by the European External Action Service for a discussion on Bosnia and Herzegovina due to be held at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday.

The document says that negotiations should continue in order to reach an agreement on the constitutional and electoral reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that elections should be held as scheduled regardless of the outcome of the talks.

"The Croatian position is very clear - it's better to give more time for negotiations and postpone the elections if necessary than carry on under the present system because that would be bad for Bosnia and Herzegovina and disastrous for the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina," the prime minister said.

"If the present system remains in place, we know in advance what will happen. We do not want electoral engineering to happen again," he added.

Plenković called on the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak parties to focus constructively on the electoral reform so that the Croats would get guarantees that they would be able to choose their representatives in the state presidency and upper house of parliament. He said that Croatia, as a friend and ally, would do all in its power to improve mutual relations and help Bosnia and Herzegovina on its EU path.

Plenković said that an agreement on the electoral and constitutional reform would be beneficial for the functioning of the country, its territorial integrity, mutual respect, and for everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina to feel good.

Explaining why some of the representatives of the international community, including the EU, had different views about Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia's, he cited the lack of understanding of the complexity of the internal structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the need to simplify it, which he said would not lead to anything good.

Plenković said that those who did not know the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina well enough were focusing on three points, the first being a cease-fire agreement that later became the Dayton peace agreement, which became the country's constitution. The second point is the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić-Finci case and other cases which called for an end to discrimination against three percent of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who are not members of any of the three constituent peoples, as 97 percent of citizens identify themselves as Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats. The third point is present efforts to simplify the whole situation.

"When someone who is not from Bosnia and Herzegovina or neighboring countries comes and wants to see how the country is functioning, they see a structure they have not seen anywhere else. They realize that there is one state, two entities, 10 cantons in one of the entities, houses of peoples, and so on. And then the logic of simplification comes in, but in that simplification, you cannot sideline the rights of one of the constituent peoples who voted for Bosnia and Herzegovina's independence in 1992," Plenković said.

He said that the Venice Commission had favorably assessed the Croat proposal to amend the constitution, under which in elections for the state presidency one representative of the Croats and other ethnic groups and one representative of the Bosniaks and other ethnic groups would be elected from the Bosniak-Croat Federation entity and one representative of the Serbs and other ethnic groups from the Serb entity of Republika Srpska.

"That would resolve everything. The constituent peoples would be retained, the others would be included and no one would be discriminated against, and everyone would be allowed to stand as a candidate," Plenković said.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

President Zoran Milanović and Izetbegović Discuss Relationship Between Croatia and Bosnia

ZAGREB, 29 Sept, 2021 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović spoke with the leader of the Democratic Action Party (SDA) of Bosnia andHerzegovina, Bakir Izetbegović, on Tuesday about the relationship between the Bosniaks and Croats, the President's Office said in a press release.

They discussed the relationship between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably the relationship between the Bosniaks and Croats and the need to improve it in accordance with the Dayton agreement, the press release said.

Izetbegović also serves as Chairman of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman Says Bosniak Minority Precious to Croatia

ZAGREB, 29 Sept, 2021 - The Bosniak minority is "a precious value" to Croatia, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said in Zagreb on Tuesday at an event marking the 28th Day of Bosniaks in Croatia and wished the community to successfully preserve its identity.

In a multiethnic nation, it is good when everyone feels comfortable and respects each other, the minister said. The Bosniak minority is well-integrated, it is a "precious value" to Croatia, he said.

Following statements by previous speakers that "loyalty" was not an expression that reflected the emotional attitude of Bosniaks because "they love Croatia", he recalled their contribution to the Homeland War.

About 25,000 Bosniaks took part in the Homeland War, and 1,187 laid down their lives for Croatia.

Grlić Radman also talked about Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose territorial integrity Zagreb strongly supports.

"No one has it in their interest for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be a stable and functioning state as much as the Republic of Croatia," he said.

He said that Croatia had achieved its goals of integration with NATO and the European Union and that it wanted the same path for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He also commented on the dissatisfaction with the violation of equality and constituency of Bosnian Croats.

"Reforms from 2000 onwards and changes to the election law mainly through interventions by the High Representative have enabled Bosniaks to outvote Croats, who don't have a legitimate representative in the three-member presidency. We should strive for changes in the election law that will enable equality and constituency and eliminate any forms of discrimination," he said.

He expressed hope that leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina would find a solution, and the new High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt would first and foremost talk and listen, and not impose solutions.

Grlić Radman wished the Bosniaks in Croatia to be successful in preserving their cultural Bosniak identity.

The Day of Bosniaks is observed in memory of the first meeting of the Bosniak Assembly, held on 27 and 27 September 1993, at which Muslims changed their name to Bosniaks and the name Bosnian language was advocated.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Milanović Says is Also President of BiH Citizens With Croatian Citizenship

ZAGREB, 22 Sept, 2021 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović said in New York on Tuesday that he was also the president of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Croatian nationality who have Croatian citizenship, and this statement was questioned on Wednesday by some media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Oslobođenje daily newspaper or BiH's N1 broadcaster reported today that Milanović had said he was "the president of Croats in BiH".

They left out part of the statement in which Milanović said that Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like Croats in New York, had Croatian citizenship and the right to vote in the election and that it was "a formal and legal fact that he is also their president".

He stressed that this was with "full respect for the countries" in which they live.

The statement was made in response to a reporter's question asking him to comment on the situation when Željko Komšić, the current chairman of the BiH tripartite Presidency who sits in the presidency as the Croat member, came to the UN General Assembly.

"Komšić came here as one of the Presidency members, I don't know... on whose behalf he's speaking, even if he was the representative of Croats because... I said I was the president of Croatia, the president of Croatian citizens, Croats and, in a way, of those Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina," as stipulated by the Constitution, said Milanović.

He added that he had often raised the issue of the voting right of Croatian citizens outside Croatia, in a bid to reduce it to a reasonable level, and his argument for that had been also not to undermine the neighbouring country where the polling stations for Croatian elections were also set up.

Earlier, Milanović also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

I have been telling Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan all this time that there is absolutely no one in Croatia who would talk about secession, which is something we can hear from some other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that isn't smart, it isn't necessary, Milanović said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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