AN INTERVIEW WITH CARDINAL PULJIC
Jun 05, 04
AN INTERVIEW WITH CARDINAL
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
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at