Reunifying Mostar: Opportunities For Progress
Reunifying Mostar: Opportunities For Progress
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 90 / Europe & Central Asia

Reunifying Mostar: Opportunities For Progress

Reunification of Mostar is key to the reintegration of separatist Herzegovinian Bosnian Croats into Bosnia.

Executive Summary

Reunification of Mostar is key to the reintegration of separatist Herzegovinian Bosnian Croats into Bosnia. After years of fruitless post-Dayton efforts to wean the Bosnian Croats from Zagreb and reorient them toward a constructive role in Bosnia, the international community at long last has the capability to achieve this goal. The success of the democratic forces in Croatia in the January-February elections there has brought reliable partners to power with whom the international community can work in Bosnia. Policy initiatives in Herzegovina will not require new resources and, if achieved, can lead to a reduction in the international profile in Bosnia. Failure to act on these opportunities will cripple the Bosnian peace effort and weaken the new government in Croatia.  These issues present serious policy challenges.

Past failures of policy need not divert the international community from the opportunities at hand. Today's Mostar remains almost completely divided. Croats and Bosniaks still live in different parts of the city; refugees are unable to return to their pre-war homes; residents pay taxes to parallel ethnic governments that administer separate infrastructures, public services, schools, healthcare and police. The illegal parallel structures of Croat-controlled Herzeg-Bosna are alive and functioning.

It was not meant to be this way.  Following the March 1994 Washington Agreement, which established a Federation of Bosniaks and Croats, top officials from the two sides met in Geneva to decide the future of Mostar, a city divided in half by the Bosniak-Croat conflict. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in Geneva gave the European Union broad powers to administer Mostar over an interim period, and establish a multiethnic, unified city administration.

Since Geneva, the international community has spent hundred of millions of dollars (the European Union alone about 200 million euros) in Mostar. So too, the international community invested significant political capital and effort in Mostar, negotiating more than thirty major agreements between the two sides (see Appendix). In these agreements, the international community repeatedly brokered deals on the same issues: return of refugees and displaced persons, unification of police, unification of city and canton budgets, unification of city and canton institutions. These negotiations proved to be futile and frustrating attempts to reinvent the wheel.

The reasons for failure are simple. Every major agreement made to date has been broken unilaterally by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community failed in Mostar precisely because it chose to rely on the good will of the HDZ -- the party responsible for the ethnic cleansing of west Mostar -- to respect agreements for reunification. The HDZ has disregarded all agreements, worked against the national interests of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and followed a clear policy of ethnic division, while maintaining the illegal Croat third entity (Herzeg-Bosna). Poorly targeted international assistance, lack of international co-ordination, and suspect foreign investment by western companies have cemented the ethnic divide.

Rather than face up to the real causes of the ongoing conflict -- HDZ obstructionism and separatism -- the international community found it less burdensome to treat both sides as equally at fault, following the course of least resistance. This policy has failed, discrediting international community efforts in the eyes of many local politicians and international observers. The international community, meanwhile, hoped that a post-Tudjman government in Croatia would make the problem of the hard-line Herzegovinian HDZ disappear.

It is hardly surprising that the HDZ in Bosnia is reluctant to co-operate with the new government in Zagreb. In fact, HDZ politicians in western Herzegovina and Mostar appear to be following increasingly hard-line and uncompromising positions.   The HDZ sweep of the 8 April municipal elections in Croat-majority municipalities positions the hard-liners to continue their obstructionism for the next four years.

The policy stakes remain high. Mostar is more than simply reunifying a city. It is also symptomatic of the larger Bosniak/Croat conflict in the Federation, which centres on the issue of Herzeg-Bosna. As long as this illegal third entity remains, Mostar will remain divided, the Federation will not function, the Dayton Peace Agreement will remain stalled, and pressure will mount for an international draw down that would vindicate the hard-liners.

The international community has a window of opportunity to move ahead with the reintegration of Mostar, thereby helping both Bosnian and Croatian democracy and its own self-interest in linking withdrawal from Bosnia to completion of the international mission. This will require determined action to resolve the problem of continued parallel institutions within the Federation. Such an approach should be co-ordinated with the Croatian government, and concentrate on weakening the financial basis of the separate Herzeg-Bosna institutions. SFOR must play a far more active support role to make this work.

After focusing on conflict and immediate post-war tensions in Bosnia for four exhausting years from 1992-1996, policymakers have generally been relieved that Bosnian issues have faded from the headlines. This has not prepared them for the policy opportunity they now confront there. The Balkans are not known for producing such opportunities with any frequency. It is tempting fate to expect this window to remain open indefinitely.

Sarajevo/Washington/Brussels,19 April 2000

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



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For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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