Bosniaks Split Over HDZ Threat

Bosniaks are divided over the threat posed by HDZ self-rule plans

Bosniaks Split Over HDZ Threat

Bosniaks are divided over the threat posed by HDZ self-rule plans

Thursday, 5 April, 2001

Bosniaks have mixed feelings about efforts by Bosnian Croat extremists to break away from the Federation.

Early last month, Ante Jelavic, the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, was sacked from the Bosnian tripartite presidency by the High Representative, after calling for the formation of a Croat mini-state. Jelavic was also barred from holding any elected office.

The HDZ plan is to form a separate entity from two predominantly Croat cantons, with Mostar as its capital.

Bosniaks - Bosnian Muslims - in Sarajevo regard the HDZ action as almost farcical, with little impact on Bosnia's fate. But their ethnic kin in Mostar, who live uneasily alongside Croats, are deeply alarmed. They think a mini-state could spell the end of Bosnia.

The recent election of moderate governments at federal and local level has calmed Sarajevans' fears. They also generally trust the international community to guarantee Bosnia's survival.

Mostar's Bosniaks, however, live in fear that Franjo Tudjman's dream of a Croatian state could soon be revived. They also harbour a deep distrust of the international community, in particular the High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch.

Such fears date from the war. Mostar was destroyed by Croats, and the international community failed to prevent it. In the eyes of the city's Bosniaks, the biggest threat to the state remains the HDZ, which, they believe, is supported by "European Catholic allies" France and Germany.

Sarajevans, whose city was destroyed by the Bosnian Serb Army, see more of a danger in the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, of Radovan Karadzic and its "European Orthodox allies" Russia and Greece.

The peace achieved after the Dayton accords has done little to allay these fears.

That said, Sarajevans don't give as much weight to the mini-state threat as Bosniaks in Mostar. They think it would be too economically isolated to survive more than a few months.

But Jelavic's plan is more than rhetoric, warn Mostar's Bosniaks. Before the mini-state proposal became public, they say, the HDZ had created a credible financial framework, and gathered enough funds to survive seven months of political and economic isolation.

Businesses in eastern Mostar, the mostly Bosniak half of the city, pay their taxes through a local bank, widely thought to be in the hands of Jelavic and the source of his "self-rule" funds.

Sarajevo and Mostar also differ over ways of diffusing the HDZ threat. Bosniaks in the capital believe a little compromise and Petritsch's intervention will solve the crisis. Hence their rhetoric has been muted.

Mostar, though, wants to meet the HDZ coup with a counter-coup, before it's too late, although it's not yet clear what the latter would entail.

Croats aren't the only ones seemingly determined to loosen their ties to the Bosnian state. Republika Srpska, RS, is turning more and more to Yugoslavia, economically, culturally and politically.

Many in RS perceive Sarajevo as the enemy, bent on dividing the Serbian nation. Evidence of this ranges from demonstrations against multi-ethnic education to unambiguous TV scheduling.

One example of the latter is that when Bosnian and Yugoslav national football team matches coincide, RS Radio and TV always broadcasts the latter, leaving little doubt who Banja Luka prefers.

The recent establishment of special relations between Banjaluka and Belgrade has also stoked up pro-Yugoslav passions.

Little wonder then that Bosniaks are looking and feeling like increasingly lonely champions of a united Bosnia.

For now, though, they are still optimistic. Both Washington and Zagreb backed the sacking of Jelavic. And if Bosnia could not be divided by people like Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, goes the theory, then their less powerful successors are very unlikely to succeed.

Ozren Kebo is an IWPR contributor

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