Three former top international officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a letter to foreign ministers of the European Union, urging them to ask Croatia to cease interfering with Bosnia's internal affairs by sending a "clear message” at the December session of EU's Foreign Affairs Council (FAC).
“As former High Representatives to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are deeply concerned by Croatia’s continued meddling in the political affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said the letter that the three former envoys of the international community sent to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and foreign ministers of all 28 EU member countries.
The international community’s High Representative in Bosnia is in charge of overseeing the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, a peace treaty that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war and established the complicated power-sharing administration structure in the country. The High Representative is the final authority to interpret Bosnia’s Constitution, as defined in Annex 4 of the Dayton treaty.
Paddy Ashdown (2002-06), Christian Schwarz-Schilling (2006-07), and Carl Bildt (1996-97) expressed concern over the stance some of Croatia’s officials demonstrated in response to the October election of the left-leaning Zeljko Komsic as the ethnic Croat member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Komsic’s win was strongly objected by his losing rival, the Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic, and his nationalist Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH). They claimed that Komsic’s win, although in line with Bosnia’s law, was illegitimate, and that he was elected owing mostly to the votes of the other major ethnic group, the Bosniaks.
The Croat and Bosniak members of the country’s tripartite Presidency are both elected by voters in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), one of Bosnia’s two sub-national entities splitting the country in half along ethnic lines.
To ensure that each people in Bosnia elect their own legitimate representatives, they said, it was necessary to implement a Bosnian court’s 2016 decision in the so-called Ljubic Case which deemed some provision in the current election law discriminatory and ordered lawmakers to amend the law. In spite of the ruling, the law was never amended to this day.
The view was echoed by neighbouring Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, both long-time members of HDZ, which is currently in power in Croatia, and which is HDZ BiH’s sister party.
However, the way HDZ BiH and HDZ officials in Croatia interpret the issue is wrong, the three former High Representatives said in their letter. The 2016 Constitutional Court’s decision in the Ljubic Case, concerning Bosnia’s election law, they said, does not refer to the election of members of the country’s Presidency, but was specific to the FBiH entity.
“The misinformed narrative about the Ljubic Case is being used as an argument against the legitimately elected Croat member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency, Zeljko Komsic… HDZ officials from Croatia, together with Dragan Covic, the leader of HDZ BIH, claim that the election of Komsic was illegitimate and unconstitutional. Yet neither the Constitution nor Bosnia’s election law say that presidency members must be elected by members of their own ethnic group,” they said.
The three former envoys said that Dragan Covic himself had been elected to the Presidency as a Croat member under the current election rules twice previously, holding the post in 2002-05 and 2014-18.
“Therefore, it is of utmost importance that at the December meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council a clear message is sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political parties, and to those interfering from outside the country,” they said.
They added that any election law reform should aim to make Bosnia more cohesive and functional, rather than contribute to dividing it further along ethnic lines. They also said that formation of a functioning post-election government is the country’s top priority, that Bosnia’s borders cannot be changed, and, finally, that Croatia should not interfere in the internal affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We also urge the European Commission to publish its opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership application as soon as possible. The Commission’s opinion should stress the importance of the rights of all citizens as individuals, prompting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politicians to work on advancing these rights to advance the EU accession process,” they said.