Catholic Croats in Bosnia are feeling "written out of the script," according to IWPR's Marcus Tanner, writing in today's Independent. Says Tanner, "no one can dispute that the Catholic church faces extinction in much of the country, outside a triangle of land in the barren hills of Herzegovina on the Croatian border, where Bosnian Croats rule the roost."
The Catholic hierarchy waxes nostalgic about the Austro-Hungarian occupation (1878-1918), when Catholics were on top in Bosnia. Almost 25% of the population then, they are clinging on to 10% now. The predictable culprit is quickly identified: the Serbs. "The Serbs won’t let returnees go home," says Fr. Mato Zovkic, vicar of the Sarajevo archdiocese.
Hogwash. No one can really block refugee returns in today's Bosnia, where Viceroy Ashdown is lording it over the Serbs in particular with an iron fist. What Zovkic and Tanner do not mention is that Croats now control and inhabit areas in the west of Bosnia and in the Krajina region of Croatia, that were until recently almost entirely Serb, and have been thoroughly ethnically cleansed. If Croats aren't returning to their homes in Serb-controlled territory, it's because they've been given Serb properties in Croat-controlled territory.
In their misguided obsession with the Serbs, neither Tanner nor Zovkic, nor the Cardinal VInko Puljic in Sarajevo, so much as touch the main problem of Croats in Bosnia. Even Fra Marko Orsolic, the dissenting Franciscan who criticizes the Jesuit-dominated hierarchy for "a history of too-close ties to the forces of Croatian nationalism and their main party, the Croat Democratic Union [HDZ]," misses the point, even if by an inch.
The Bosnian Croats' main problem have never been the Serbs, but the Muslims. More specifically, the ideology of majoritarian rule over a centralized Bosnian state, adopted throughout the Muslim political spectrum. This ideology was championed by the late Alija Izetbegovic, who enjoyed the support of HDZ - but more importantly, the vast majority of Croats, regardless of party affiliation - for an illegal and unilateral declaration of independence that touched off the Bosnian War.
In 1992, the HDZ leadership in Zagreb (of which the Bosnian branch was a mere satellite) considered as their main enemy the Serbs (both those native to Croatia and in general) and supported Izetbegovic as the enemy of their enemy. But while regional ethnic autonomy or secession were taboo in Croatia, in Bosnia these ideas were in the Croats' best interest. Once the principle of ethnic democracy was established, only some form of ethnic federalization could prevent the tyranny of the central, Muslim-dominated government. This was the idea behind the Serb cantonization proposals, which the Croats initially backed. But between the historical grudges (Croats blamed Serbs for ending the Austro-Hungarian bonanza, Serbs blamed Croats for a brutal WW2 genocide, when Bosnia was part of the "independent" fascist Croatia) and the ongoing war in Croatia proper, the Croats of Bosnia sacrificed political prudence and joined forces with Izetbegovic's SDA.
Once they figured out they had been used - by early 1993 - they clashed with the Muslims. They were losing, slowly but steadily, when the United States bailed them out from the frying pan - and into the fire - with the 1994 Washington Agreement. This pact created a Muslim-Croat alliance against the Serbs, and established today's "Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina" (which, rumors still abound, used to be called "Federation of Bosniaks [Muslims] and Croats [Hrvata]," hence the same initials: FBiH). The 1995 Dayton Accords established the Federation as one of the Bosnian "entities." But subsequent erostion of the Dayton Constitution - always benefiting the Muslim centralizers - eliminated what few provisions the Croats had protecting their ethnic rights vis-a-vis the Muslim hypermajority.
Yes, hypermajority - when seen in the framework of the Federation, anyway. In 1991, Muslims had been 43% of the total population of Bosnia, a plurality with which Izetbegovic was unable to impose his centralist program even if he had the support of all of them. And he didn't - only the war allowed him to homogenize Muslim public opinion and establish near-total political control; one is tempted to say he knew this and pushed for war deliberately, but that is another topic for another time. The point is, Izetbegovic could not have pursued his belligerent majoritarian agenda without Croat support. Between the SDA and the HDZ members of parliament, Izetbegovic had a 60-percent supermajority that allowed him to claim legitimacy when he illegally pushed through an independence referendum.
Though the mujahedin who cut a bloody swath through Bosnia fighting for Izetbegovic would disagree, the religious aspect of the Bosnian conflict was perhaps the least important. The fundamental issue in Bosnia has been a clash of two political principles: centralism (exemplified by Izetbegovic's concept of "unified," Muslim-dominated Bosnia) and self-government, which was the basis of both Serb and Croat policies.
It is a tremendous irony that by seeking to harm the Serbs the Croats actually harmed themselves, by helping the centralizers at the expense of self-government. Now they complain about the fruits of their struggle, without realizing what exactly they had planted and when. And they still have the knee-jerk response to lash out at Serbs (though the Serbophobic Tanner may have something to do with it). I fully sympathize with their plight, but they should stop the gripe-fest and wake up to their own responsibility in the matter. Maybe then they can do something about it, instead of complaining to hacks employed by the Empire, which - let's remember - very much helped them get into the present mess.