The leaders of the main Bosniak and Bosnian Croat parties in the country met on Wednesday and discussed a number of “hot topics,” ranging from forming the country’s government after the 2018 General Election, ideas about the creation of a third semi-autonomous entity for Croats and Bosnia’s NATO path.
The leader of the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH), Dragan Covic, said that he and the leader of the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), Bakir Izetbegovic, had an “unusually honest” conversation and that they found that there are certain “unnecessary misunderstandings” between them.
He said they spoke about recent statements by some Bosnian Croat politicians who said that, due to the current situation in the country, they are considering the idea of reviving Herzeg-Bosna.
Herzeg-Bosna was established in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991. Its armed forces, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), were first allied with Bosniak armed forces. But HVO and Bosnia's Army turned against each other after the parastate declared itself a republic on August 28, 1993, and changed its name into the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna, with Mostar being its capital.
The parastate had the ambition to become part of neighbouring Croatia.
The Croat-Bosniak conflict ended in 1994 with an agreement brokered in Washington, D.C. which prescribed the creation of a Bosniak-Croat Federation entity (FBiH) out of territories controlled by Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats. Herzeg-Bosna was abolished two years later.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently composed of two semi-autonomous entities – the Serb-majority Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation (FBiH), mostly shared between Bosniaks and Croats.
Reviving the parastate would imply the establishment of a third semi-autonomous entity in Bosnia, only for Bosnian Croats.
Izetbegovic said he is “satisfied” with what Covic told him.
“The HDZ responded that they do not intend to create any third entity and that only bad policies by Bosniaks could make them go down that path,” he said.
Another issue discussed was Bosnia’s path towards NATO membership – a sensitive topic in the country.
Bosnian Serb politicians tend to follow Serbia’s policies on such matters while Bosnian Croats follow Croatia’s stance.
Serbia has declared military neutrality while Croatia is a member.
That creates splits in Bosnia where Bosniaks press for membership, Serbs are against it, and Bosnia’s Croats have started avoiding the subject – as Covic’s party has joined an alliance with the party of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).
Covic said that, when it comes to his party and Bosnian Croat parties in general, Bosnia’s relationship towards NATO is a “vital priority.”
“And questioning it in any way is not fair, we know how much we worked on it,” he said.
“But when we have friends who don’t see it as their priority, then we will not mention it,” he added, referring to Dodik.
The two leaders agreed that Bosnia should form a government – in Bosnia called the Council of Ministers – as swiftly as possible and they said at the press conference that they discussed the distribution of positions in the body.
The Council of Ministers has not been formed for more than six months after the election, mostly because the Bosniak member of the tripartite Presidency from the SDA said he refuses to greenlight the proposed prime minister because the candidate is opposed to the country's path towards NATO membership.
Bosnia has previously pursued NATO membership but in recent years Serb politicians have changed their mind and the next candidate for the prime minister comes from Dodik’s party which vigorously rejects membership in the alliance.
Covic said that another thing he and Izetbegovic touched upon in the meeting is “distrust.”
“For example, when I don’t attend a Bajram (Eid) celebration in Sarajevo or someone from the SDA doesn’t come to the Mostar Fair, it turns out to be some kind of message. Current times expect us to be together on joint manifestations,” he said, referring to the opening ceremony for the Mostar Fair of Economy which top SDA officials did not attend.