Brian Gallagher
Jun 05, 04
by Brian Gallagher

The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 1017 - 04.06.04

Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina are in a difficult position. In particular, there is a serious concern over Croat refugee return. Cardinal Vinko Puljic is the head of the Roman Catholic church in BiH, and one of the most important figures in the country. He has many concerns over how Croats are being treated in BiH, especially by the international community.

Cardinal Puljic kindly gave me some time for an interview. I asked him about the situation of Croats in BiH. "The Croats were least in numbers (compared to Serbs/Muslims) before the war and after the war." The Cardinal pointed out that because the Serbs were awarded 49% of the country, and the Muslims have such a large majority in the Federation, Croats can't exercise their rights.

In particular, he is concerned that Croats have not done well in refugee returns. "Out of 220,000 returns to Republika Srpska - the Serb run part of BiH - only 12,000 were Croats. Nor have Croats received their fair share of funds from the international community." He considers the very identity of Croats to have come into question referring to OSCE education reforms that disadvantage Croats.

He also criticised how Croats are portrayed, not only by the Sarajevo/Republika Srpska press, but also by international organisations. "I am appalled by how the international community write about Croats in their reports. When I ask the authors why they write like this, they say that their 'boss told me to'." He continued, "I get the impression that Croats are seen as an obstacle for staying in BiH. Croats are in essence carriers of European culture. If we are
cleared out, only Eastern culture will remain." This is an important point the Cardinal makes; Croats can do much to secure the European future of BiH as a member of the European Union.

He referred to a "game of political interests" by the international community. Intrigued, I asked him to clarify.

"The Americans are for the Muslims vis a vis the 'Far East' (alluding to Iraq etc). The British and French support the Serbs - very obvious. The Germans and Austrians are supportive but a bit timid - they speak for all three peoples."

I then asked for the Cardinal's views on Paddy Ashdown, current High Representative of BiH. This was of particular interest to me, being a member of the political party Ashdown used to lead. "Ashdown promised more at the beginning, but we notice he calculates very much with the Muslims" he said.

He gave his views on Ashdown's solution to the governance of Mostar, which ensured no majority - in this case Croats - could control the city; in contrast to the rest of the country. "Ashdown reacts to the Muslims; His solution for Mostar was discriminatory. It's not applied to Banja Luka, Travnik or Sarajevo."

The Cardinal pointed out that there are many other such double standards. "I have tried to get a permit to build a church in Sarajevo. For eight years I have not received a proper permit. In Capanje, after the HR intervened a mosque got a permit in three days. In Dvar, OHR/SFOR intervened on behalf of the Serbs and in Stolac on behalf of Muslims/Serbs. No interventions
for Croats. Ashdown relativises when talking about Croats. He dismisses all criticisms."

The Cardinal has some serious concerns over Ashdown. "I am afraid that Ashdown is taking measures to assimilate the least number (Croats) into the majority. The Catholic Church is reacting strongly and protecting human rights". I was referred to the communiqué of the BiH bishops conference last September which went into the question of Croat human rights into some depth. He considers that "all the HR's who have come to BiH have an eye on their future

The issues Cardinal Puljic raises are important ones and western politicians and media would do well to speak to him rather than listen to various NGO's and international officials who all too often are reflecting someone's political agenda. It is very sad that NGO's cannot be relied upon to safeguard the basic human rights of Croats, with that task being carried out more or less by the Catholic Church. I would certainly advise anyone who is concerned over the issues raised here to contact their political representatives.

*The aforementioned Travnik Bishops conference press release is an important document worth reading, and can be seen at:

© Brian Gallagher

My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at

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