Friday, 11 January 2019

Croatian Ambassador Erred by Attending Bosnian Serb Celebration, Says Minister

ZAGREB, January 11, 2019 - The Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Ministry had not been informed of the decision by the Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina to attend the celebration of Republika Srpska Day, Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić told HRT broadcaster on Thursday, adding that Ambassador Del Vechio "had made a wrong call."

Croatia has never taken part in the celebration of that day and this is how it should have been this time as well," Pejčinović Burić said.

Ambassador Del Vechio understood that this was a visit by the chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency, the minister said.

Pejčinović Burić dismissed speculation that Del Vechio traveled to Banja Luka following instructions from Zagreb.

Croatia's policy regarding the Republika Srpska has not changed and his presence at the celebration "is a big surprise;" notably in light of the fact that during his term as ambassador he had never attended this ceremony, the minister said. "He should not have been there on that day," Pejčinović Burić said.

The ambassador has been recalled for consultations to Zagreb, the minister said adding that a decision regarding further steps would be made. She added that the ambassadors' term had ended anyway.

HDZ BiH president Dragan Čović's decision to attend the ceremony was "an autonomous decision of the president of the largest Bosnian Croat political party and we in Croatia have absolutely no influence on it or have any intention to decide on the matter," Pejčinović Burić said commenting on the Čović's decision to attend the ceremony in Banja Luka.

The said ceremony in Banja Luka was marking January 9, which the authorities of the Republic of Srpska observe in memory of the establishment of "a republic of the Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina," which has since been proclaimed as unconstitutional.

At the ceremony attended by both Čović and Del Vechio, the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serb entity, Željka Cvijanović, posthumously awarded decorations to Slavko Lisica, a Yugoslav People's Army officer who was convicted of war crimes in Croatia.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Politics section.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia Recalled over Controversial Event

ZAGREB, January 10, 2019 - Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivan Del Vechio, is going to be summoned for consultations to Zagreb after his attendance at the controversial celebration of the "RS entity day" in Banja Luka, although that holiday in the Serb entity was declared unconstitutional by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Constitutional Court.

Wednesday's celebration was also marked by the posthumous awarding of decoration to ex-JNA officer, Slavko Lisica, who was sentenced to 15 years for war crimes in the Croatian city of Šibenik. In 1998, the local county court found Lisica guilty of shelling that Adriatic city in September 1992. In the shelling launched by JNA units under Lisica's control, a woman was killed and the city's landmarks, including centuries-old churches and monuments in the city centre, were damaged.

War Veterans' Affairs Minister Tomo Medved and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević on Thursday strongly criticised Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Del Vechio for attending Wednesday's celebration of Republika Srpska Day in Banja Luka.

Attending such a ceremony "is inappropriate conduct, particularly considering the fact that a war criminal, convicted in Croatia of grave war crimes, was decorated on that occasion," Medved told the press before a government's meeting in Zagreb.

Minister Krstičević said that attending such an event was a disgrace.

Medved said that it was up to the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry to decide on possible measures against the ambassador. "As far as I know, the foreign ministry did not know that Del Vechio was attending that event, and it is now gathering all the necessary information about the case," Medved said.

Medved, however, would not comment on the presence of the local Bosnian Croat leader, Dragan Čović of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnian and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) at the Banja Luka event. "Being a representative of the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Čović makes his decisions on his own and I do not want to comment on that," said Medved.

The Bosnian Serb authorities on Wednesday organised Republika Srpska Day celebrations despite a 2015 Constitutional Court ruling that declared the entity's holiday to be contrary to the Constitution and discriminatory against the other two constituent peoples in the country.

The parade and celebrations in Banja Luka were ignored by a vast majority of foreign diplomats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the exception of the ambassadors of Russia and Croatia. Also in attendance were Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin as well as top dignitaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The central event included a parade involving 1,500 participants, mostly armed police officers. Some of them wore uniforms resembling those worn by Serb troops in World War I. The parade also included firefighters, civil protection staff, war veterans, student and local branches of the controversial Russian motorcycle club "Night Wolves" that is perceived to be close to Vladimir Putin. The club's leader Alexander Zaldostanov has been banned from entering Bosnia and Herzegovina and declared a threat to national security.

No symbols of Bosnia and Herzegovina were displayed during the parade or at other commemorative events. On the other hand, numerous flags of the RS entity and Serbia were flown and only the anthems and Republika Srpska and Serbia were played.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Politics section.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Bosnian Croat Leader Attends Event for Controversial Bosnian Serb Holiday

ZAGREB, January 9, 2019 - The authorities of the Bosnian Serb entity on Wednesday organised commemorative events marking "the Republic Day", despite a 2015 ruling of the country's Constitutional Court that declared the entity's holiday to be contrary to the Constitution and discriminatory against the Croats and the Bosniaks.

Today's parade and celebrations in the northwestern city of Banja Luka, the biggest city in the Republic of Srpska (RS), were ignored by foreign diplomats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the exception of Russia's Ambassador. In attendance were also Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Defence Minister Aleksandar Vuilin as well as the top dignitaries of the Serb Orthodox Church, and the local Bosnian Croat leader, Dragan Čović of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnian and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) was also among the guests.

Serbian Prime Minister Brnabić said in her speech that Serbs must stay united regardless of which state they lived in. "We will honour any decision made by consensus of all the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina but we are going to give special care for the citizens of the RS, which is completely natural," the Serbian prime minister said at the ceremony, adding that care for the RS entity did not mean hatred towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The entity's president Željka Cvijanović said that this entity was the expression of "the aspirations for freedom and peace", and said the local authorities would be committed to the defence of the entity's survival.

One of the commemorative events was a parade with 1,500 participants, mainly armed police officers. Some of them wore attire resembling uniforms worn by Serb troops in World War I.

The Banja Luka parade also included firefighters, civil protection staff, war veterans, student and local branches of the controversial Russian motorcycle club "Night Wolves" that is perceived to be close to Vladimir Putin. The club's leader Alexander Zaldostanov has been banned from entering Bosnia and Herzegovina and proclaimed a threat to national security.

No symbols of Bosnia and Herzegovina were displayed during the parade or at other commemorative events. On the other hand, numerous flags of the RS entity and Serbia were hoisted and only the official song of the entity and Serbia's anthem were played.

More news on the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Diaspora section.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Croatian Bosniak MP Supports Declaration on Bosnia

ZAGREB, December 28, 2018 - Croatian Bosniak MP Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj on Friday dismissed criticisms by some Bosniak ethnic minority organisations of her endorsement of the parliamentary Declaration on the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying the Declaration does not constitute meddling in BiH's domestic policy and sovereignty.

The basic point and objective of the Declaration is to point to the unequal position of the Croats as one of the three constituent peoples in BiH, as shown in the failure to honour the BiH Constitutional Court's decision on election legislation, Lekaj Prljaskaj said in a press release. She represents the Albanian, Bosniak, Montenegrin, Macedonian and Slovenian ethnic minorities in the Croatian parliament.

Several Bosniak associations in Croatia have called on all Bosniak organisations in the country to boycott Lekaj Prljaskaj, disgruntled with how she represents Bosniaks in Croatia and her endorsement of the Declaration, which they consider direct interference in BiH's domestic affairs.

Lekaj Prljaskaj said that because of her endorsement, she was "exposed to political lynching on social media and to various forms of discrimination" by representatives of the Bosniak minority. She added, however, that she saw her support of Croats outside Croatia as an obligation as an MP and under the Constitution, which says that Croatia takes care of Croats abroad.

"Respecting the Constitution is not meddling in the domestic policy and sovereignty of the neighbour and friend BiH," she said, adding that she expected "the same criteria in the assessment of other countries' relations with BiH, for example Turkey which, based on someone's oral will, proclaims itself guardian of the Bosniak people and all of BiH."

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the status of Croats in Bosnia, which has been in the focus of the media lately, can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Zagreb Joins “Justice for David” Protests in Banja Luka

ZAGREB, December 28, 2018 - Thousands of members and sympathisers of the "Justice for David" group rallied in downtown Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina again on Thursday, despite a police ban, to demand the truth about the death of 21-year-old David Dragičević. A support event for the protests in Banja Luka was held in Zagreb.

The gathering was again led by David's father Davor. After police ordered them to move away or they would disperse them by force, he told the officers they could ban protesters from standing on a city square but not from taking a protest walk, which they proceeded to do, carrying lit candles and pictures of David, shouting "Justice" and "Murderers".

Davor Dragičević announced another big rally for Sunday a 6 p.m., saying he would then state a list of demands that would have to be met by January 9. "From then on, nothing will be the same," he said.

He criticised Bosnian Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik, who earlier today blamed the escalating violence in Banja Luka on the local prosecutor's office and defended Interior Minister Dragan Lukač for sending police against the protesters on Tuesday. Dodik said the judiciary was to blame for the fact that David Dragičević's death has not been cleared up.

David Dragičević was found dead in the mouth of a tributary of the Vrbas River that runs through Banja Luka in March, a few days after he went missing in the night between March 17 and 18.

His father has initiated anti-government protests, insisting on a thorough investigation into his son's suspicious death. The investigation has been lasting for nine months. A protest held in Banja Luka on Tuesday resulted in police brutality and numerous arrests.

About 150 Zagreb residents rallied in a downtown square today in a show of support to the "Heart for David" initiative and the parents of the murdered youth as well as to show disapproval of police brutality in Banja Luka this week. They lit heart-shaped candles and demanded justice for David Dragičević and all murdered children.

Gordana Pasanac, one of the participants, said that by supporting the protests in Banja Luka, they "want to prevent the same from happening in Croatia too." She said the violence must end and that "the state must finally be on citizens' side, so that we are all equal under the law, so that not only the children of socially acceptable families are protected."

More news on the human rights issues in Croatia can be found in our Politics section.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Croatian Politics 2018: A Year in Review

Years pass, but some things never change in Croatian politics. The year which is about to end has again been full of drama and scandals, and just occasional good news. Remarkably, many of the same issues which you will read about here have featured prominently in our reviews for 2016 and 2017 as well, which just shows that most problems in Croatia are just swept under the rug and never solved. What follows is Croatian Politics 2018, a review of events which will be remembered from the past year, as reported by TCN.

The year began with tensions in the Bay of Piran, part of the Adriatic Sea which Croatia and Slovenia both claim. In late 2017, Slovenia decided to implement the decision by arbitration tribunal which awarded Slovenia most of the bay. However, Croatia has refused to accept the decision, saying that the arbitration process was compromised by Slovenian government representatives who were in collusion with a supposedly independent arbitrator. The tensions raged for a few weeks, with MEPs proposing military solutions and war veterans talking about organising a rather provocative regatta. Eventually, reason prevailed, and the tensions died down. However, the issue is still unresolved, despite assurances to the opposite, with Croatia calling for negotiations and Slovenia insisting on the implementation of the arbitration decision. You are sure to read about this dispute in our 2019 review as well, particularly given Slovenia’s decision to file a lawsuit against Croatia.

Relations with Serbia are always in the focus of interest, and this year was no exception. In January, the government was surprised to hear that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had invited Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to visit Croatia officially. After a short argument over who is really leading Croatia’s foreign policy, Vučić arrived in Zagreb. While the visit mostly went well, the relations between the two countries deteriorated steadily throughout the year and the debate about whether Vučić should have been invited at all continued. Another turn for the worse took place in April when a Croatian parliamentary delegation’s visit to Belgrade was cut short after an incident in the Serbian parliament caused by a notorious Serbian MP and war criminal Vojislav Šešelj. Tension rose again in August when the anniversary of Operation Storm is traditionally celebrated, marking Croatia’s liberation of previously occupied territories in 1995. Serbian President Vučić gave a series of provocative statements, including comparing Croatia to Hitler.

As for the economy, January brought the first worrying signs about the future of Croatian shipyards, a low number of new orders, and about the government’s apparent unwillingness to continue to cover shipyards’ losses. Later in the year, the crisis in the Uljanik shipyard in Pula and its 3. Maj branch in Rijeka would feature prominently in our reporting. Workers spent months striking due to unpaid wages. As the year ends, the situation is still dire and “strategic partners” which the government hopes to find are nowhere to be seen.

“Reforms” is one of the most popular words of Croatian politicians. Every year in January we can hear officials saying that the year ahead is “the year of reforms” which will make Croatia much more prosperous. Needless to say, these promises are never fulfilled, and 2018 did not disappoint. The issue served the president well since she was able to attack the government for lack of reform efforts whenever it suited her.

Ideological debates and historical revisionism attempts continued in 2018 as well. In February, the government-appointed historical commission published its recommendations on issues related to the authoritarian regimes from Croatia’s past, but the conclusions did not satisfy anyone, except for the prime minister, who likes to pretend that the recommendations have solved the problem.

The year which is about to end has again brought us the problem of censorship, questions about media freedoms, warnings about the rise of the far right, separate commemorations held in Jasenovac, the parliament refusing to sponsor anti-fascism events, people destroying flower beds because they reminded them of communism, historical revisionism on the public television, assaults on journalists, satirists receiving death threats, “suspect” politicians being assaulted, photos of Tito slipping from under Croatia’s coat of arms, former prime ministers being sentenced for corruption, and media regulators receiving death threats.

The Catholic Church is undoubtedly part of the political life in Croatia, so it is no wonder that rumours about changes coming to its leadership draw considerable attention. While nothing has been confirmed, it is expected that the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, could be replaced in the new year. In the meantime, the church has continued to receive vast amounts of money from the state budget, meddle in politics, as well as advise the government on the new abortion law, 

The demographic crisis continued, with high emigration and low birth rates bringing down the number of inhabitants. The president and the government argued about who and what was to blame. The president even presented her measures to solve the problem, which were soon forgotten, and demanded a special session of the government, which never took place. Proposals were presented on how to convince people not to move, as many sectors faced a lack of workers, while many schools started closing down. The extent of the crisis was such that even Serbian President Vučić became "worried." The only “good news” came at the end of the year when reports claimed that the emigration wave was calming down because everybody who wanted and could have left already did.

One of the issues we write regularly in these annual reviews is the construction of Pelješac Bridge, which will connect the Dubrovnik area with the rest of Croatia without the need for travellers to pass through a short stretch of Bosnian territory. After many years of delays, the project has finally moved into the implementation phase. Early in the year, a decision was made to award the tender for the construction to a Chinese consortium, despite protests made by Bosnia and Herzegovina that the bridge could not be constructed before the border between the two countries in the area is defined. The decision to award the contract to a Chinese bidder also brought about a marked change in relations between Croatia and China, which were later further improved by high-level meetings and visits.

Another perennial issue is the future of INA, Croatia’s national oil company, which is owned jointly by the Croatian government and MOL, Hungarian national oil company. In 2016, the prime minister announced that Croatia would buy back MOL’s share of INA. Two years later, nothing has changed. Earlier this year, the government selected financial advisors for the buyback, but the contract with them was never signed. One of the main issues is the future of the INA refinery in Sisak. While in January the relevant minister said he was optimistic about the refinery’s future, by the end of the year he apparently changed his opinion. Another issue is Croatia’s arrest warrant for MOL’s CEO, which Hungary does not want to implement.

Another year has passed, and the supposedly “strategic” project of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has again gone nowhere. Multi-year delays have continued. The government announced two tenders trying to find out who would be interested in using the terminal once it is built (if that ever happens), but the results were dismal. Just two government-owned companies applied, presumably after receiving a nudge from officials to send their applications and help the government avoid a total disaster. While the project receives verbal support from foreign governments, no one seems to be interested in sending binding offers to use its capacity.

One piece of good business news was the apparently successful conclusion to the worst part of the crisis in Agrokor, one of Croatia’s largest and most important companies. The agreement between creditors was concluded, thanks mostly to Russian banks, although not without an accompanying scandal about high fees paid to consultants, some of whom actually took part in the secretive process of writing the special law which the government adopted to save the company from collapse. The scandal took out Deputy Prime Minister Martina Dalić and government-appointed commissioner Ante Ramljak, who had to resign under pressure. E-mails were published which showed that the prime minister knew more about the dealings than he initially admitted, but he managed to escape more or less unharmed. Agrokor’s former owner Ivica Todorić, who fled earlier to London to avoid arrest, was extradited to Croatia late in the year, after multiple delays and court proceedings. Even Tony Blair’s wife could not help him. He has since been released on bail and is currently awaiting possible indictment. The legal proceedings are expected to last for many years.

Good economic news brought us the first upgrade in Croatia’s credit rating since 2004. Unemployment numbers were also down, although more due to mass emigration than to economic revival. Good tourism results, especially in the pre-season and post-season, helped Croatia achieve planned economic growth for 2018 (still among the lowest in the EU). Slightly more moderate growth is expected in 2019, with the lack of reforms being the main culprit. The budget recorded another good year, with spending and revenues being more or less balanced, while the public debt has continued to decline. The year ended with another round of tax cuts and pension reform. Croatia has also announced plans that it will adopt the euro as its currency. The process is expected to last many years.

The ratification of the convention on preventing violence against women, the so-called Istanbul Convention, somewhat unexpectedly turned into a crisis for the government in April when a large group of HDZ MPs decided to vote against the proposal, despite prime minister’s insistence that it should be ratified. While the convention was easily adopted thanks to opposition support, it turned into another attempt by HDZ’s right wing to weaken or possibly topple Plenković as party leader and prime minister. Just like several other similar attempts, it did not succeed.

A national security issue which has drawn a lot of media attention throughout the year is the acquisition of military fighter jets. The decision was first delayed for years, then it was supposed to be made in 2017, but again delayed first to early 2018, and then beyond. After much lobbying, the government finally decided to buy 12 F-16s from Israel. The questions about the deal persisted, with many asking why Croatia was “rejuvenating” its air force with ancient aircraft. By the end of the year, the contract for the deal has not yet been signed, amid disputes between the United States and Israel about what equipment Israel can legally sell to Croatia. Grand plans about “strategic cooperation” with Israel also appear to be on hold. Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has invested a great deal of personal effort in the deal, but the acquisition is still in question, and its final fate is yet to be determined.

As expected, the political circus took a break in June due to the World Cup in Russia. While the break was initially expected to last just a couple of weeks, until the Croatian national team is eliminated in the first phase of the competition as usual, its spectacular success extended the political break to a full month and more. Of course, leading politicians did not miss this opportunity to travel to Russia and have their picture taken with footballers and fans. Needless to say, even this occasion, which was supposed to unite the country, brought divisions, primarily due to an appearance by a controversial singer at the homecoming ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Istanbul Convention ratification prompted one of this year’s two referendum initiatives to be launched. The other effort involved proposed changes to the election laws, which would substantially reduce the rights of national minorities to elect their MPs. The government was against the referendums, while the president seemed to be of a different opinion. While both initiatives claimed they had gathered enough signatures for the referendums to be held, the government checked the signatures and conveniently found enough irregularities to lower the number of accepted signatures below the required threshold. This was just one of several attempts to pressure the government from the right.

One of the rare reforms which have begun, at least nominally, is the reform of Croatia’s education system, the so-called “curricular reform.” The issue has caused conflicts between coalition partners, with HNS repeatedly threatening to leave the government if their proposals are not accepted. Their threats were not taken seriously by anyone since it is clear that early parliamentary elections would probably bring about an end for the party.

A scandal broke in September whose consequences are still unclear at this time. A ministerial driver was arrested under suspicion that he had informed a suspect about a police investigation against him. Interestingly, the driver is a close friend of Milijan Brkić, HDZ deputy president and Prime Minister Plenković’s chief intraparty nemesis. While Brkić has denied having any role in the scandal or leaking the information about the investigation, he has been conspicuously absent from public affairs in recent months. Other scandals involving Brkić have also resurfaced, prompting allegations that his opponents were trying to eliminate him politically. On the other hand, some potentially embarrassing documents about him suddenly disappeared. The scandal has even reached the president’s office, with the national security advisor resigning in December under still unclear circumstances.

Relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the connected issue of the status of Croats in the neighbouring country, were at the forefront of Croatia’s foreign policy efforts in 2018. With October elections looming, the year began with Bosnian Croats warning that the election law was unfair and that it could lead to a Croat representative in the Bosnian presidency being elected by more numerous Bosniaks. That is precisely what happened, with candidate Željko Komšić winning the post, although he apparently did not have the support of the majority of Bosnian Croats. This prompted Croatia’s government to launch a campaign within the EU to pressure Bosnia into changing its election law, which then brought accusations about meddling in internal affairs of the neighbouring country.

One of the potentially most explosive events of this year was a war veterans’ protest held in Vukovar in October. The veterans complained about the lack of prosecution of persons suspected of committing war crimes against Croats in the Vukovar area in 1991, which was a problem which they discussed earlier in the year as well. However, many believed that the protest was actually just a guise for a right-wing attempt to bring down the government led by moderate Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and replace him as HDZ president with a more extremist candidate. Plenković and his team appeared at first worried that the attempt might succeed, but with time they managed to limit its consequences. Once held, the protest passed without incident and has been more or less forgotten, except when occasional arrests in the area do happen, which then draw condemnation from local Serbs who say the police is arresting then just to satisfy the Croat war veterans. In the meantime, tensions in the town continue.

Throughout the year, rumours about impending ruling coalition reshuffle and/or early parliamentary elections continued. However, unlike in 2017, which brought about a change in the ruling coalition composition, with MOST being replaced by HNS, this year the government was more or less stable. One potential candidate for another reshuffle was Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, whose parliamentary group somehow manages to “convince” previously opposition MPs to switch parties and cross to his side. Numerous legal proceedings against him have not made him any less desirable patron. The substantial Zagreb city budget which he controls probably has something to do with it. In two years, he has managed to increase the number of his MPs from 1 to 12, with additional expansion of his parliamentary group expected early in the new year. The fact that people did not vote for his party did not discourage him at all. There are rumours that Bandić will use the increase in the number of his MPs, who are crucial for the parliamentary majority, to demand several ministerial posts in the new year.

As for the opposition, turmoil in SDP continued, with several attempts being made to topple the party president and “the leader of the opposition” Davor Bernardić. Fortunately for SDP opponents, these attempts have been unsuccessful, so Bernardić remains in his seat while his party’s popularity continues to plummet, with the latest polls showing it dropping to the third position, behind HDZ and Živi Zid. An increasing number of SDP MPs are leaving the party, with some of them joining the government ranks.

The migrant crisis continued, particularly on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the police employing ever harsher measures to control the borders and NGOs publishing increasingly critical reports about the alleged police violence and irregularities. The police have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, despite video evidence to the contrary.

The migration issue also brought us another controversy, this time with the signing of the Global Compact for Migration in December. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who this year marked three years in office, initially supported the agreement, but then suddenly changed her mind, announcing she would not travel to Marrakesh where the UN conference was held. The government immediately said that Croatia would support the declaration nevertheless, which caused protests from right-wing circles. In the end, the non-binding resolution was supported by Croatia, but no-one really expects it will be implemented.

The final few days of the year brought us another major scandal, whose consequences will become clear in the following months. The president decided to dismiss her domestic policy adviser Mate Radeljić, who many believed had influenced the president to take a more critical position towards the government. After he was dismissed, Radeljić said he was threatened by a Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) official not to try to damage the president politically after being dismissed. He was allegedly told that the agency was ready to run into him with a car if necessary. The president’s office and the SOA issued statements saying they had acted legally, but interestingly they did not outright deny all of Radeljić’s claims. It is expected that Radeljić’s dismissal will result in better relations between the president on the one side and the government and HDZ leadership on the other, just in time for the presidential elections next year.

Another exciting political year is ahead of us. It will include at least two elections (for European Parliament in May, and for president probably in December), and there is always a possibility the early parliamentary elections might take place. Stay with TCN for all the latest political and business news.


Saturday, 22 December 2018

HDZ BiH Should Be Expelled from European People’s Party, Official Says

ZAGREB, December 22, 2018 - A former High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schwartz-Schilling, has suggested that the European People's Party (EPP) should expel the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) over what he described as its nationalist and destructive actions.

In a letter sent in late November to Manfred Weber, the chair of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Schwarz-Schilling says that it is time to consider expelling the HDZ BiH from the EPP because the party pursues a policy very similar to the policy of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Milorad Dodik, which was ousted from the Socialist International (SI) over nationalist activities in 2012, based on a report by the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Previously, the Party of European Socialists (PES) refused to admit the SNSD.

European and democratic values should be defended within the EPP, otherwise destructive tendencies, based on ideas of ethno-national domination will prevail and eventually become a threat to the entire Europe, said the German politician whom the Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Ministry recently accused of being himself responsible for the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina not being equal to the Serb and Bosniak peoples.

As in an open letter he recently sent with former High Representatives Carl Bildt and Paddy Ashdown to the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Schwarz-Schilling claims that the HDZ BiH is "falsely depicting", with the support of Croatia, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the status of its Croat community.

More news on the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as on the latest in the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and connected issues, can be found in our Diaspora section.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Bosnia Recalls Diplomats, Including Ambassador to Croatia

ZAGREB, December 19, 2018 - The Bosnian Presidency decided on Tuesday to recall the country's diplomatic representatives in 21 countries, including Renata Paskalj, the Ambassador to Croatia, as well as in the UN, the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The recalled ambassadors were appointed over the past four years by the Presidency's former Croat and Serb members, Dragan Čović and Mladen Ivanić respectively.

Before being appointed Bosnian ambassador to Croatia, Paskalj was Čović's chief of staff and had no diplomatic experience.

The Presidency's chairman and Serb member, Milorad Dodik, had announced the replacement of all Serb diplomats, saying they had not consulted enough with the Bosnian Serb entity authorities.

The Presidency's Croat member, Željko Komšić, had announced he would examine the work of the Croat diplomats appointed by Čović and decide who would be replaced.

Only the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is authorised to appoint ambassadors and consuls general. The unwritten rule is that its Croat, Serb and Bosniak members decide on the appointment of diplomats from their own peoples.

The Bosnian Croat HDZ BiH party said Komšić's decision to replace all Croat ambassadors was political revanchism and the continuation of his attempt to disempower Bosnian Croats. The party considers Komšić's election as the Croat member of the state Presidency "unlawful and illegitimate."

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Croatia Adopts Declaration on Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats' Status

ZAGREB, December 14, 2018 - The Croatian parliament on Friday adopted, with 81 votes for to 11 against and four abstentions, a declaration on Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats’ status, which calls for amending the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the election legislation for the purpose of enabling the Croats, the least numerous constituent people, to be equal to the other two peoples in that country.

The six-point document underscores that for the successful functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels, it is crucial that all its constituent peoples and citizens are equal and that they have full confidence and trust in their country's future.

The declaration warns about attempts to marginalise the Croats. In this context, it is underscored that for the third time, the Croat representative in the tripartite presidency has been elected thanks to ballots cast by Bosniaks, and that this is contrary to the spirit of the Dayton peace accords.

The document warns that such a scenario is possible even if all the eligible Croat voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina cast their ballot for just one candidate, which does not mean that he or she will win the seat of the Croat representative in the presidency.

The declaration also underlines several times that Croatia supports the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and recalls that Zagreb backs and assists Bosnia and Herzegovina's European Union membership bid.

It calls for efforts to be taken to "consensually amend the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its election legislation so as to ensure the harmonisation of relations between its three constituent peoples and equality of all its citizens."

The document calls for ensuring simplification, transparency, manageability and cost-efficiency of the internal organisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Institutions in Croatia are called to continue advocating and supporting fast changes that will ensure the equality of all the three constituent peoples and citizens of the neighbouring country, and they are urged to intensify assistance to institutions of strategic importance for the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The document, which was put to a vote by the parliamentary committee for Croats living outside Croatia, was supported by lawmakers from the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and some members of the parliamentary group of the Work and Solidarity Party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, as well as representatives of the Independents for Croatia party and a few other MPs.

Those who abstained from voting were independent MPs Marko Vučetić, Tomislav Žagar, Vlaho Orepić and Mario Habek.

Those who were against the document were lawmakers from the largest opposition party – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) while deputies from another two opposition parties – the MOST and the Živi Zid – did not attend the vote.

During the debate before the vote, SDP parliamentarian Joško Klisović said that the purpose of the declaration should not be only to point to the status of the local Croats but also to determine what Croatia can do to help them to improve their situation. He also noted that it was not the Croatian parliament's duty to discuss the constitution and election law of a neighbouring country.

MOST leader Božo Petrov accused the ruling HDZ of hypocritically offering insincere help to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On the other hand, HDZ bench whip Branko Bačić called on MPs to overcome their narrow partisan interests and support the declaration.

More news on the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Diaspora section.

Friday, 14 December 2018

“EU Understands Problem with Bosnian Election Laws,” Says Croatian Prime Minister

ZAGREB, December 14, 2018 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday that after his statements about Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), European Union member states' leaders realised that there was a problem with the Bosnian election laws and that it should be resolved.

Plenković spoke about BiH and the issue of its election law at two European Council meetings, in October and a summit taking place yesterday and today. "There is now big understanding for this topic among my colleagues," he told Croatian reporters covering his stay in Brussels, adding that "people understand there is a problem and that it should be resolved."

Plenković said he would continue to insist on this matter, "in all of BiH's best intentions." "It's very important that what we do, we do in a principled manner. It's nothing personal against any party. We are trying to shed light on a topic which deserves it."

A few days ago, former international community high representatives to BiH Carl Bildt, Paddy Ashdown and Christian Schwarz-Schilling sent a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and member states' foreign ministers, accusing Croatia of meddling in BiH's internal affairs and saying that Croatian officials contesting the election of Željko Komšić as the BiH Presidency's Croat member is unacceptable.

Plenković said no one mentioned the letter at the European Council summit.

Commenting a debate in the Croatian parliament on a declaration on the status of Croats in BiH and BiH's European journey, he said, "Let's shed these unnecessary chains and prejudices that one country can't discuss in its representative body the most important foreign policy topic."

He said the government and parliament "have the right to articulate our political stance." "What some actors think, including those in the ruling HDZ, is less important. It's important to win the broadest consensus possible for a clear political declaration," he said. The latest draft of the declaration contains a balanced and clear message and "I think a good stance has been reached," he added.

Plenković said that in Dayton, US, where the peace agreement on BiH was concluded in 1995, the current political engineering was the farthest thing on anyone's mind. "There was good will then to establish peace for coexistence, reconciliation, to move on, and not to have this situation in which one nation, Croats, feel cheated. It's a question of principle... Pretending that nothing happened, sweeping this topic under the rug... that's not normal. There's no way it will happen. At one point we must say: People, wait. That's not good."

Plenković said he told his counterparts at the European Council summit that he was speaking as BiH's biggest advocate, "that nobody pushed more for BiH's progress towards the EU, and we will continue to do so."

"We are signalling that we have a problem which can be solved quite simply, so that consensus can be reached on changing the election law," he added.

More news about Croatia’s policies towards Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Politics section.

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