There is no reason for the tensions that have emerged between Bosnia and Croatia over the construction of the Peljesac Bridge, former member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, told N1 in an interview on Thursday.
The issue of Croatia building a bridge across Bosnian waters so it can connect two parts of its territory has been at the forefront of the relations between the two countries throguhout the past week.
The bridge is intended to link the Croatian mainland and the Peljesac Peninsula, bypassing a 15 kilometre-long strip around the city of Neum that represents Bosnia and Herzegovina’s only coast on the Adriatic Sea. It would cut travel time between the Dubrovnik area and the rest of the country by circumventing Bosnian customs and border controls around Neum.
Predominantly Bosniak political parties are against the construction because they believe it might prevent large vessels from entering Bosnia's Bay of Neum, threatening the country's access to open sea. They also claim that the border between the two countries in the bay remains undefined.
The current Chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Bosniak member Bakir Izetbegovic, said he might resort to filing a lawsuit against Croatia with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, and that Croatia has ignored all pleas coming from Bosnia requesting the project to be halted.
In order to provide an official stance of Bosnia regarding the issue, the three Presidency members, each of whom represents one of the ethnic majorities living in the country – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – need to reach a consensus.
One such consensus was reached in 2007, when Radmanovic was the Serb member of the presidency.
He said that back then there was also an initiative to sue Croatia, “but our consensus was to request a dialogue so that we could find a solution together.”
Radmanovic said that he does not support submitting lawsuits against neighbouring countries.
“Bosnia, especially individuals from Bosnia, do not have the right to prevent Croatia from connecting two of its own parts with a bridge. I think that now they (Croatia) are not breaching any rules,” he told N1.
Croatia is building the bridge a certain height, and that height was among the details included in the 2007 document the Presidency members agreed to, Radmanovic said, adding that it would not prevent any large vessels from reaching Bosnia’s bay area.
“This is happening for no reason,” he said. “Two parts of the European Union are connecting. Back then was the time to mount pressure for any serious talks,” he said.
But Bosniak politicians are insisting that the borders between the two countries remain unresolved, and this is also one of the conditions included in the 2007 document, they argue.
Radmanovic said that it is not only the maritime borders between Croatia and Bosnia that remain unresolved, but also those on land, and that an agreement between former Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, and Bosnia’s first President following the country’s breakup from Yugoslavia, Alija Izetbegovic, was never ratified.
“This is something that must be talked about, the maritime border is a border segment more than 1,000 kilometres long,” he said, but added that there is no true will for discussing the issue.
“There are only those who raise the issue now ahead of the election because it goes in their favour,” Radmanovic said, referring to the October general election in Bosnia.
“Bosniak Presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic just now began speaking of this. For two years we heard nothing serious regarding the topic, and two years ago the EU said they would secure the finances (for the construction of the bridge),” he said.
“Sarajevo has always had objections to the bridge being built. How do they (Bosniak representatives) think this will turn out?” he said.
Currently, Izetbegovic and the Croat member of the Presidency, Dragan Covic, have completely opposite views regarding the bridge.
Covic said Izetbegovic is only raising the issue for election purposes and advocated for the bridge to be built as soon as possible. Izetbegovic, on the other hand, accused Covic of working for the interests of Croatia instead of for those of Bosnia.
The third, Serb member, Mladen Ivanic, did not express a clear stance on the issue.
Radmanovic, who is also a Serb representative in Parliament but from a party which is in fierce opposition to the one of Ivanic, said that the Serb Presidency member “runs away from making any decisions on important issues.”
“We have noticed this within the past four years, it is clear they can’t come to an agreement,” Radmanovic concluded.