Bosnia Celebrates Croatian Results

News of the opposition victory in Croatia has raised hopes of better relations between the two countries - and of a victory for opposition parties in Bosnia.

Bosnia Celebrates Croatian Results

News of the opposition victory in Croatia has raised hopes of better relations between the two countries - and of a victory for opposition parties in Bosnia.

Tuesday, 11 January, 2000

A cheerful group of Sarajevo teenagers stand on the street corner discussing politics. In a country still recovering from a brutal war and where politics and politicians have earned themselves a bad name, such a sight is little short of incredible. The main topic of conversation was the stunning opposition electoral victory in neighbouring Croatia.

The overthrow of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) after ten years in office was the first time a ruling party was voted out of office anywhere in the former Yugoslavia.

News of the results was emblazoned across the front pages of all Bosnian newspapers. "The Croatian Democratic Union got what they deserved. They suffered a catastrophic defeat," said analyst Mirko Sagolj in his editorial, "Deserved Defeat," on the front page of Sarajevo's main daily paper Oslobodjenje. Inside details of the results, reactions and comments filled over five pages.

Bosnian Serb and Muslim officials rushed to send public letters and telegrams of congratulations and support to the Croatian winners. "The victory of the opposition parties in Croatia creates an opportunity for lasting peace in this region," said Slavko Mitrovic, a senior member of the Party of Independent Social Democrats in Republika Srpska (RS). Biljana Plavsic, former RS president and leader of the Serbian National Union, said the HDZ defeat represented "the first precondition for the disappearance of extreme forces" in Croatian politics.

Alija Izetbegovic, member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency and top Muslim official, was among the first Bosnian politicians to send a congratulatory telegram to the victorious Croatian opposition parties. Only a month ago, he came close to causing a diplomatic incident when he delayed for two days sending a message of condolence to the Croatian people following the death of Croatian president and HDZ leader Franjo Tudjman. He admitted publicly that relations between him and Tudjman were never cordial.

Opposition leaders also hailed the result - and sought to bring home the lesson of change. Bosnian Croat opposition leader Kresimir Zubak said the victory of moderate parties in Croatia would immediately improve the relations between the two countries. "I hope that Bosnian citizens will, like Croatian citizens, realise that the current leadership [in Bosnia] is incapable," Zubak added.

Zlatko Lagumdzija, president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was especially cheerful in his epistolary congratulations to Social Democratic Party of Croatia, which won the majority of parliamentary seats. "You have done your part, now it is our turn," Lagumdzija said.

It is little surprise that Bosnians should take pleasure in the results. Late President Franjo Tudjman and fellow hard-liners in the HDZ never accepted Bosnia as an independent state and repeatedly supported the country's division. They supported Bosnian Croat extremists, supplying money, weapons and even Croatian regular army units to fight on the side of Bosnian Croats during the war - including the bitter Muslim-Croat war in 1993-94. In the years since the fighting, the Croatian HDZ was almost the only financier of the Bosnian Croats, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Bosnian Croat institutions, army and police.

Continued support for Bosnian Croat separatists produced an atmosphere of constant tension between the Tudjman government and Bosnian Muslims. Relations between the two countries remained frosty despite considerable shared economic and strategic interests. Several minor border disputes remain unresolved, while an agreement on special economic and cultural relations has been on hold for over a year. All of these outstanding issues could be resolved shortly after the moderates take control in Croatia.

Only the Bosnian HDZ bemoaned the Croatian result. In a terse statement, the party said it was surprised by the extent of the defeat of its sister party in Croatia.

"We expected much better results for the HDZ in these elections," said party spokesman Zoran Tomic, making no effort to hide his disappointment. Tomic added that the new leadership in Croatia should not change provisions in the Croatian constitution that provide special treatment of Bosnian Croats.

Whatever the fate of this particular issue, the new Croatian leadership has already stressed that its Bosnia policy will be overhauled. Ivica Racan, the leader of the victorious Croatian SDP party and prime minister elect, has promised that Croatian "double-standards" towards its neighbour will change and its relations with Bosnia will become "transparent and clear."

Janez Kovac is a journalist working in Sarajevo.

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