The Croatian Project to Partition Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1990-1994

Article excerpt

Croatian efforts to partition Bosnia-Hercegovina have resulted in disaster, both for Croatia's state interests and for the Bosnian Croat community. The war of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) against the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercogovina (ARBiH) cost Croatia up to $3 million per day, wrecked Croatia's international standing, provoked threats of sanctions from European Community countries and even air-strikes from the USA, brought the domestic popularity of President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) to its lowest point ever, and eventually resulted in a split in the HDZ itself. The war was a military and civilian disaster: the HVO was driven by the ARBiH from the towns of Travnik, Kakanj, Jablanica, Konjic, Gornji Vakuf, Fojuica, Bugojno and Vares and was brought to the verge of total defeat; 7,000 or more Croats may have been killed; and more than 200,000 Croats of Central Bosnia turned into refugees or holed up in the isolated enclaves of Zepce, Kiseljak and the Lasva valley. The Croatian defeat in this war may even have staved off the still worse disaster that many opponents of Tudjman's Bosnian policy had feared: the destruction of the Bosnian Army, the full dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercogovina and the creation of a Great Serbia stretching to the river Kupa and incorporating one-third of Croatia.

Irrational policies require rational explanations. Determinants for Croatian policy in Bosnia can be sought on at least four levels. At the first is the national ideology of Bosnian, and more particularly Hercegovinian Croats, whose leaders sought some measure of autonomy from the Bosnian government in Sarajevo, ranging from regional decentralization to full sovereignty for a Bosnian-Croat state. At the second is the ideology of Tudjman and other statesmen in the Republic of Croatia, who had planned on a possible partition of Bosnia since 1990 and before. The third level is that of Bosniangovernment policy in the context of Serbian aggression against Croatia and Bosnia in 1991-92, which alienated Croat opinion both in Bosnia and in Zagreb. At the fourth is the international context; Western diplomacy catalyzed both Bosnian-Croat irredentism and Zagreb's partitionism. An analysis of the Croatian project to partition Bosnia cannot be limited to one of cut-and-dried expansionist blueprints, divorced from the unfolding events of the military and diplomatic war over Bosnia.

I. NATIONALIST IDEOLOGY VS. NATIONALIST OPPORTUNISM

Croatian policy in Bosnia was governed by the ebb and flow of the events of 1991-1993, above all because, unlike its Serbian counterpart, the Croatian project to partition Bosnia had little ideological basis to pre-determine the form of its implementation. It was viewed by its proponents as a possible, not as a necessary option, to be realized if events required and demanded. Croatian national ideologues traditionally viewed the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a Croatian land and Bosnia's Muslims as "Croats of the Islamic faith." Tudjman himself subscribed to this tradition. In a work published in 1980, and which earned him trouble with the Communist Yugoslav authorities, Tudjman wrote that Bosnia-Hercegovina "should obviously have been included in the composition of the Croatian federal unit." He complained that "BiH was proclaimed a separate federal republic -- within borders dating from the period of the Turkish occupation and conquest of the largest part of Croatian land -- despite the fact that for most of its history Bosnia and Hercegovina was linked with Croatia, with which it forms in the fullest sense an indivisible whole, geographically and in terms of economics and communications." Tudjman wrote of the natural wholeness of Croatia and Bosnia in terms which precluded the partition of the latter: "Since Bosnia and Hercegovina comprises the central portion of that whole, separating southern (Dalmatian) from northern (Pannonian) Croatia, its detachment to form a separate federal republic makes the territorial and geographic shape of Croatia formed in this way entirely unnatural, in terms of economics and communications. …