Mostar Wary of Separatists

Walk the streets of Mostar and you'll find few people in favour of hardline separatists

Mostar Wary of Separatists

Walk the streets of Mostar and you'll find few people in favour of hardline separatists

The very first person I met in Capljina, a small Croat-populated town near Mostar, seemed to represent the feelings of a great majority of Croats living in western Herzegovina.

Davor, a member of the First Guard Brigade of the Croatian army, HVO, refused a 500 DM bribe offered by his former commanders to buy his loyalty and support Croat secession from the Federation army.

The secessionist plan, drawn up by the nationalist HDZ , led to the sacking of party leader Ante Jelavic by the High Representative and the recent international crackdown on the bank allegedly buying the support of people like Davor.

Davor told me he does not want their money, "coming from God knows where". And he says he couldn't care less who takes command of his unit, " The old authorities and the new ones are the same."

He looks tired and speaks of the HDZ and the moderate Alliance For Change government in the same resigned manner.

Entering West Mostar, the predominantly Croat side, my eye was caught by graffiti drawing a parallel between NATO troops and the Yugoslav Army - 'SFOR = JNA' - many believe the international forces deployed here only pretend to be neutral.

Such slogans seem out of place in a town which has in the last few years reverted to its slow rural pace. You'd be hard pushed to notice any trace of the violent protests which met the storming of the Hercegovacka Bank by SFOR troops in mid-April. West Mostar is a prosperous place: plenty of flash cars, and well-dressed shoppers shelling out on luxury goods in the crowded streets.

Yet there's a palpable sense of hostility towards the international community. And Western officials are clearly aware of it - several of them travel around the city with heavily-armed body-guards.

One high-ranking member of HDZ was furious at the international community's decision to storm the bank. He believed it had nothing to do with seizing proof of illicit transactions but rather to deal a severe blow to the general welfare of the region. SFOR took away the bank's computers which means that a lot of people won't receive their salaries in the next few weeks.

The official, who prefered not to be named, said he found it unacceptable that the HDZ, who garnered 92 per cent of the vote, is not in power. Neither does he think the international community is interested in engaging in serious dialogue with HDZ, citing the West's refusal to deal with their authorised representative Martin Raguz.

"We would like to talk and search for solutions, " said the official. "However, we want to negotiate as equals. People in the international community perhaps do not understand well enough that the aim of the HDZ is not to secede from Bosnia, or to create a third entity, but to pressure the international community into improving our rights. "

Significantly, he said he believed the HDZ would move gradually further and further to the left and in time re-enter government at both a federal and state level.

His remarks are certainly surprising and suggest that the HDZ may be beginning to soften its line on separatism. Whether this is linked to the international response to their plans or public disillusionment is unclear.

Jozo, a middle-aged journalist, said he didn't believe the HDZ had a chance of setting up a third entity in Bosnia. He believes the whole separatist enterprise has more to so with securing their own financial interests in the region than protecting the rights of the people they are supposed to be representing.

Jozo reckons many people are fed up with the HDZ but have little faith in Croat members of the Alliance For Change government.

"The HDZ is stuck in the past, but few trust the Croats in the Alliance - a political vacuum has been created and no one knows quite how to fill it."

A student friend of mine believes the HDZ has miscalculated the mood of the international community. " The HDZ does not understand that the US does not want new problems in the region," he said. " It's already got enough on its plate with Milosevic, Kosovo and perhaps Montenegro. How could Jelavic believe that he could get away with his actions?"

In this atmosphere, it seems only the extremists are prospering.

My friend told me about flyers he saw around Mostar University listing those Croats who had allegedly betrayed the Croat people's cause.

The list included economics lecturers and the Bosnian deputy minister for foreign trade Jadranko Prlic. "It will be impossible for Prlic to feel relaxed teaching here now," my friend said.

Like many Croats in western Herzegovina and Mostar, he sees no local party he feels he can rely on.

'I plan to leave Bosnia - you can't plan a future here," he said. " Everything is unstable and I do not want my child to grow up in such an environment."

Drazen Pehar is a regular IWPR contributor

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