HDZ protesting election regulations
Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) President and BiH Presidency member Ante Jelavić got a scolding from OSCE Head of Mission to BiH Robert Barry this week for his continued insistence on a BiH Croat referendum.
"He [Barry] has emphasized that this initiative is not a legal, valid way to change the BiH constitution and he added that this referendum is nothing more than a means of propaganda for a political goal and will not have any legal effect," said OSCE spokesperson Luke Zahner on Wednesday.
Jelavić and his party have proposed the Croat referendum to, as they say, allow Croats to voice their opinions about BiH—a veiled way of saying they want their own Croat entity. The decision came in reaction to the OSCE's decision to change the rules governing elections to the Federation's House of Peoples before the 11 November elections.
Before the changes, delegates to the House of Peoples (the upper house in the Federation parliament) were elected by the Federation's the ten cantonal assemblies. Canton assembly members could vote only for candidates from their own ethnic group. For example, a Bosniak assembly member could only vote a Bosniak candidate into the House.
Some three weeks ago, the OSCE ruled that canton assembly members will now be able to vote for any candidate regardless of his or her ethnicity. The OSCE has also reserved 20 seats in the House for "others" who are neither Croat or Bosniak. The decision means Croat canton assembly members are not limited to electing solely Croat candidates and could, for example, vote for opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidates, or they could decide to vote for non-HDZ Croat party-candidates who are seen as more likely to compromise to get things done while in office than those from the hardline HDZ.
Local observers feel that, as a result, HDZ could see its dominance in Croat-majority areas slip away. The party is obviously nervous: one of their campaign posters states starkly, "Determination or extinction," as if BiH Croats will go the way of the dodo bird if they do not vote HDZ.
Then, last week, the party stated that it would organize an all-Croat conference in Novi Travnik (about 100 kilometers northwest of Sarajevo) on 28 October to decide what would be on the Croat referendum.
Technically, this is a violation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which stipulate that BiH Croats are in a Federation with Bosniaks and must work through those institutions instead of organizing separate ones. Croatian president Stipe Mesic made the point on Tuesday, when he told BH Press that Bosnian Croats need to work within Federation institutions if they want to make any changes.
"I am for all parties solving their problems through the institutional system," he said. "I think what is hidden is that those who want a referendum do not understand what is happening in BiH, that it is an internationally-recognized country that has its own institutions. Parties cannot take over institutions' roles. They can struggle for their own programs, they have goals, they have their own themes, but they cannot ... do work that is not party work."
Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Račan's government does not share Mešić's views. The Croatian government sent a letter both to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna and to Bosnia's High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, expressing concern that Bosnian Croats will be disenfranchised by the new election rules.
As of Friday, Robert Barry was headed to Zagreb for meetings with Croatian government officials to clear up any "misunderstandings" about the new rules. Barry will not be meeting with Mešić.
Meanwhile, Barry's message to Jelavić did not go unanswered. Jelavić said the party would complain to the United Nations and that Barry must not forget that Croats are one of three constitutive peoples in BiH.
"This decision does not just harm one party, as you usually interpret it, but rather it disturbs national equality before the law and the foundations on which the FBiH and BiH rest upon," he said.
But as much as the HDZ would like to say that they speak for all Bosnian Croats, two major Croat parties have distanced themselves from both the conference and the referendum. The New Croat Initiative (NHI), the second-largest Croat party in BiH, stated this week that it will not attend the conference, adding that it is against the referendum.
Similarly, the Croat Peasants' Party (HSS) will not send representatives to the conference. The HDZ and seven small Croat parties will be on their own.
And in other news...
- Last week's unrest in the Brčko District has calmed down. RS-TV reported on 20 October that 30 buildings were damaged, 20 people were arrested and two police officers hurt during the four days of high school student protests. The Serb Democratic Party (SDS) has maintained that it had no hand in the protests, in which Serb students protested having to share school buildings with Bosniak students in Brčko by creating chaos in the town.
- Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica visited BiH on 22 October. He attended Serb poet Jovan Dučić's burial in the RS town of Trebinje (along with 50,000 other people) and then came to Sarajevo to meet with government officials at the airport. BiH and FRY have not had diplomatic relations since 1992, and Koštunica's visit was hailed as "historic." He said he intends to establish diplomatic relations with BiH, but noted Sarajevo's outsanding suits in international courts against FRY as obstacles.
- High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch decided this week to set aside a plot of land in Potočari for a cemetery and memorial center for the victims of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The center should be built this spring, when the first 700 bodies of the victims will also be buried. More than 4000 bodies have been recovered in mass graves so far. About 3000 more are still unaccounted for. Bosnian Serb military forces took over the UN-designated "safe area" on 12 July 1995. The town's mostly-Muslim men were separated from the women and children in the suburb of Potocari and later executed. Petritsch warned Srebrenica officials (the town is now in the RS) not to obstruct the building of the memorial.
- BiH Presidency members Ante Jelavić and Halid Genjac and Civil Affairs and Communications Minister Tihomir Gligorić were the first to receive unified BiH passports on Wednesday. Before Wolfgang Petritsch recently imposed the travel documents law, BiH citizens had either "Federation of BiH" or "Republika Srpska" printed on the front of their passports. The new passports will be issued starting 30 October, and international officials said they hoped this would lessen BiH citizens' problem of "being at the end of the visa queue."
Beth Kampschror, 28 October 2000
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