Bosnia On Brink of Major Crisis

Bosnian Croat plans to separate from the rest of Bosnia could plunge the country into its biggest political crisis since the signing of the Dayton accords

Bosnia On Brink of Major Crisis

Bosnian Croat plans to separate from the rest of Bosnia could plunge the country into its biggest political crisis since the signing of the Dayton accords

Should the Bosnian Croat National Council, a body effectively ruled by Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ and its head Ante Jelavic, decide to separate majority Croat areas from the rest of Bosnia this weekend, as they have threatened to do, what is the international community's reaction likely to be?

The very first thing one should take into account is the fact that the HDZ and Jelavic exercise a high degree of authority over southwestern as well as central, predominantly Croat inhabited, areas of the country.

Secondly, the HDZ and Jelavic who is also a member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, will demand an annulment of the recent general elections - - largely overseen by the OSCE and other international agencies - which brought about victory for the Alliance for Change, AFC, coalition, comprising several non-nationalist parties.

Thirdly, in the event of Jelavic and his party opting to set up 'parallel' Croat institutions, the AFC will find it hard to administer parts of the Federation predominantly inhabited by HDZ supporters.

To all this one should add that though the HDZ in Croatia is in opposition, many members of the party still occupy important positions in the security forces.

Jelavic and the HDZ have been threatening to establish a separate Bosnian entity for some time, so why have they decided to act now?

The assessment is that Jelavic knows that the Dayton peace accord is ambiguous as its key provisions allow for several different interpretations. So, for instance, attempts by the international community to promote more unified political structures in Bosnia will be opposed by those who subscribe to the pro-nationalist reading of the treaty.

The second issue working in the HDZ's favour is that Washington is still drawing up its policy on Bosnia. Since it's likely to have a much wider scope this time - taking in other Balkan countries - it may be some time before it is finalised. Jelavic is simply taking advantage of this fact.

But with or without the new US Bosnia policy, the international community could opt for any of the three options.

The first option is to sack Jelavic, declare the HDZ illegal, and impose AFC, or even international, rule in southwestern Herzegovina - a move which would inevitably be opposed by local people.

This should include dismantling many of the parallel Bosnian Croat institutions. This option is costly, non-democratic and not too promising, as it could turn both Jelavic and his party into martyrs.

The second option would be to leave the things as they are and effectively pretend as if nothing has happened. This, however, would deprive the new AFC authorities of much of their power, legitimacy and influence. It would also lead people to question the purpose of the international community's involvement in Bosnia.

The third option would involve the international community opening a new round of negotiations with the HDZ on the possible restructuring of a number of both Federation and state institutions, so as to include HDZ representatives.

This would of course depend on the AFC's willingness to cooperate with the HDZ, which is very unlikely.

It's the least practical option as both the international community and the HDZ have gone too far, the former with its desire to push for a non-nationalist coalition at both entity and state level and the latter with its determination to remain the guarantor and protector of Croat national interest in Bosnia, whatever that means.

So far the international community has not made any choice. It has only appealed to Jelavic and the HDZ to think again and pointed to the costs any irrational action would inflict on both the party and its supporters.

So it seems all possibilities open to the West are hard and imperfect.

Although the new US administration has yet to decide its new Bosnia policy, the threatened HDZ action will force it to quickly make up its mind. But it will still face difficult choices. The new US president may have to choose between supporting the Bosnia created at Dayton, perhaps even intervening militarily to do so, or simply letting the country fall apart.

It is therefore safe to say that Bosnia is facing a major political crisis, possibly the biggest since the signing of the Dayton accord five years ago.

Drazan Pehar is an IWPR contributor

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