Zagreb Radicals Incite Bosnia Rebellion

Extremists in Croatia are fanning the flames of rebellion in Bosnia in an effort to boost their flagging political fortunes

Zagreb Radicals Incite Bosnia Rebellion

Extremists in Croatia are fanning the flames of rebellion in Bosnia in an effort to boost their flagging political fortunes

Hardline Croatian nationalists are desperately hoping to avoid political extinction by fomenting trouble in Bosnia.

Until now the far-right Croatian Democratic Community, HDZ, has failed to damage the moderate government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan which took power in Croatia following the death of former president Franjo Tudjman.

Now the HDZ, unreconciled to its abrupt fall from power, could be wiped off the political map in the Croatian local elections scheduled for May 20. To avert this, analysts believe extremist elements within the party incited fellow Croats in Bosnia to stage their rebellion against the Sarajevo government.

Right-wing members of the HDZ, the Herzegovinian lobby, led by Ivic Pasalic, formerly an influential Tudjman adviser, are reported to have encouraged their sister party in Bosnia to press ahead with its plans to establish self-rule in Herzeg-Bosna, a predominantly Croat-populated region of the country.

The ultimate aim of HDZ extremists in Bosnia is to establish Herzeg-Bosnia, created during the Bosnian war and strongly supported by Tudjman, as an independent entity which could at some stage in the future unify with Croatia.

The hardliners were hoping SFOR troops would intervene to thwart the Croat rebellion and, in so doing, increase support for them in Croatia. They calculated a Western military crackdown would prompt those who sympathise with their ethnic kin in Bosnia to blame the authorities for not doing enough to defend their rights.

This has not happened to date. But the HDZ radicals have not given up yet, it seems. Firebrand HDZ right-winger Mirko Condic, who is believed to have been behind a number of anti-government demonstrations earlier this year, is thought to have organised a nationalist protest by war veterans outside a NATO base in Split earlier this week, in protest at international efforts to derail Bosnian Croat self-rule plans.

State radio reported that the demonstrators were venting their anger over the "bullying behaviour of international forces, which consider Bosnia its protectorate".

Western and local officials in Bosnia last Friday closed branches of the Mostar-based Herzegovacka Banka, which is suspected of financing efforts by the Bosnian Croats to set up illegal parallel institutions in Herzeg-Bosna.

Significantly, the bank is also believed to hold some 54 million German marks in secret accounts which they had intended to use for funding HDZ candidates in the Croatian local elections.

Because funding for the HDZ has all but dried up in Croatia, it is believed the party saw the Mostar bank as its main source of cash to contest the May 20 ballot. Loss of this money will severely handicap the HDZ campaign.

Other than the HDZ, few parties in Croatia are expressing any support for the Bosnian Croat extremists. Indeed, President Stipe Mesic openly supported the SFOR move against the Herzegovacka Bank. He and Racan also refused to support the Croat rebels who took over an army barracks in Busovaca this week.

If HDZ is beaten in the May elections, it could mark the end of a once powerful political force.

Support for the party has steadily declined over the years. And it suffered a major blow recently with the diaspora's exclusion from future election. Many Croats living outside of the country have voted for the HDZ in the past.

Defeat in the forthcoming ballot will cause major ructions within the HDZ. The party, which has long been made up of often conflicting interest groups, may well start breaking apart with its various factions setting up their own parties.

Should this happen the Herzegovinian lobby will appear increasingly isolated and powerless and its ability to support extremists in Bosnia will be markedly reduced. This will undoubtedly be a blow to Bosnian Croat self-rule plans and could force radical community leaders to curb their radicalism.

Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor

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