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HDZ Obstructs Bosnian Assemblies

Bosnian Croat nationalists are set to clash with the international community over their boycott of Bosnian institutions
By Amra Kebo

The refusal of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, to participate in cantonal, federal and state institutions in Bosnia has paralyzed almost half of them.


These days the political situation more and more resembles the chaos and anarchy that followed the first post-war elections in Bosnia.


"It is a disgrace that the state and the federation do not have governments three months after the elections," said Oleg Milisic, a spokesman for the Office of the High Representative.


Last Thursday, a high-level European Union delegation had to postpone its visit to Bosnia because of the chaos.


The HDZ boycott is yet another slap in the face of the international community which seemingly remains reluctant to confront Bosnian Croat obstructionism. But a showdown now seems inevitable.


The HDZ boycott follows its illegal referendum on a separate Bosnian Croat entity, which coincided with general elections on November 11.


The plebiscite raised ethnic tensions across the country, bolstering support for the HDZ and the other two nationalist parties, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, SDA, and the Serb Democratic Party, SDS.


Nonetheless, all three parties jointly received less than 50 per cent of the overall vote, for the first time since 1991.


International organizations responded unconvincingly to this first serious HDZ challenge, removing two of the party's top candidates for cantonal elections. Given the scale of their offence, many believed the HDZ had got off lightly.


A year and a half ago, the then High Representative Carlos Westendorp sacked Republika Srpska president Nikola Poplasen for much lesser violations of the Dayton peace accords.


The HDZ has obstructed the implementation of the November 11 election results and, in reality, has become the biggest opponent of, and threat to, the peace process.


The SDA and the SDS have been careful not to upset international officials in the aftermath of the elections, although there are signs that some of their officials are becoming less co-operative of late -clearly encouraged by the West's attitude to HDZ intransigence.


To date, the HDZ has paralyzed the work of two cantonal assemblies where it won absolute majorities. This has, in turn, held up the formation of federal and state parliaments.


The HDZ is demanding that their candidate Martin Raguz be appointed the new state premier before they agree to co-operate.


Bosnia's tripartite presidency, which is controlled by the three nationalist parties, has accepted Raguz's candidacy, but last week the lower house of the state assembly - where the opposition block the Alliance for Change has a slim but firm majority - voted against Raguz.


Following this humiliating defeat, the chairman of the HDZ and the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, Ante Jelavic, insisted the HDZ will not support any other candidate - which means, in effect, that they're prepared to continue their boycott of joint institutions until their rivals give in to their demands.


The international community's response to this latest HDZ challenge has again been disappointing. The OSCE, in charge of organizing the Bosnian elections, has written to all the cantons affected by the HDZ boycott, giving them seven days to establish assemblies and elect their candidates for the federal parliament.


Those who don't comply will be reported for violations of election rules and regulations and may face disciplinary action.


In the meantime, the Alliance for Change has proposed Bozidar Matic, a prominent economist, businessman and intellectual from the leading opposition Social Democratic Party, as their candidate for state premier.


His candidature has the support of almost half the deputies in the lower house of the state parliament. If he's appointed, Bosnia will have a moderate central government for the first time since 1991.


Should this happen, it will undoubtedly provoke the HDZ and the other nationalist parties into tightening their boycott of joint institutions.


Although western agencies are keen not to step too hard on HDZ toes, it seems that they will soon have to do so. A clash between the two now appears inevitable - which might push HDZ hard-liners to renew their efforts to establish a separate Bosnian Croat entity.


Amra Kebo is a regular IWPR contributor


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