Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 106 / Europe & Central Asia

Turning Strife to Advantage

The current attempts by the leadership of the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) of Bosnia and Herzegovina to secede from the legal and constitutional structures of the state are the most serious challenge yet to the post-war order established by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.

Executive Summary

The current attempts by the leadership of the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) of Bosnia and Herzegovina[fn]The party began as an offshoot of the HDZ party in Croatia.  Unless indicated to the contrary, the term HDZ in this report refers to the Bosnia and Hercegovina party.Hide Footnote  to secede from the legal and constitutional structures of the state are the most serious challenge yet to the post-war order established by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.

These actions are themselves a response to recent international measures that weakened the HDZ position. The international community’s High Representative (OHR) in Sarajevo has taken steps, in line with his mandate to drive forward the implementation of Dayton, that cut into the HDZ’ financial and political muscle. The November 2000 elections, which for the first time gave a non-nationalist coalition a plurality in the Federation and at the state level, have made it more difficult for the HDZ to influence policy-making in Sarajevo.  At the same time, the government of Croatia has ended key elements of its support to Croat extremists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

These developments in turn have caused the support by the Croat community to begin to peel away from the HDZ.  Exploiting a controversial decision by the OSCE mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina shortly before the November 2000 election (its so-called House of Peoples decision), the HDZ hopes to halt the erosion of its power. 

The HDZ expected the OHR to react by removing several high-ranking HDZ officials, in particular the party’s president, Ante Jelavic, from their public and political positions.  This was duly and appropriately done on 7 March. The OHR should, however, deny Jelavic the satisfaction of banning the HDZ. While the party’s hostility to the spirit and much of the substance of the Dayton Accords, as well as its links to criminal activity, could justify such a radical step, it would serve to entrench support for the secessionist cause.

The HDZ now relies upon the international community’s long-standing inclination to evade sustained confrontation with any of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s extreme nationalist parties.  The party expects – and needs – the international community to shrink before the double challenge of, on the one hand, compelling the HDZ to clean up its act while, on the other hand, showing full respect for the legitimate concerns of the Croat community.

If the international community reverts to form and backs down from a long-term struggle, as the HDZ expects, the extremists will maintain their grip on the Croat community and continue to block the development of a stable, democratic state.  This in turn would have consequences beyond the Croat community.  It would alienate citizens who are already disillusioned by the glacial speed of reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it would signal to the other entity, the virtually mono-ethnic Republika Srpska (RS), that it can continue to defy efforts to make Dayton work and retain hope of eventually splitting away.

The international community should rise to this challenge.  It has a rare and crucial opportunity to strike a strong blow for Dayton implementation.  The removal of Jelavic and his associates should represent only the first move in a much longer game of outflanking the secessionists.

A three-fold strategy is required.  Administratively, the OHR needs to carry out consistently and consequentially a series of technical measures that, while avoiding the creation of more martyrs, strike at the ability of the party and its key supporters to finance their activities and otherwise maintain political power.  Politically, OHR should reach out to start a dialogue that engages the Croats in a discussion of their community’s legitimate interests  -- interests that until now neither the HDZ nor the international community have addressed satisfactorily.  Diplomatically, the international community should work in Zagreb to ensure that Croatia continues to distance itself from the secessionists.

ICG presents a blueprint for such a strategy in this report.  It is designed to provide genuine rewards for individuals and institutions co-operating with the Dayton Accords while applying low-key but legitimate and effective sanctions on those who defy the development of a democratic, stable Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It offers a way to engage the constructive elements among the Croats while dividing them from the secessionists, thus giving new impetus to the flagging efforts to build a viable state.

Sarajevo/Brussels 15 March 2001

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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