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25 Apr, 2009 05:45

Calls for further fragmentation of Balkan states continue

The state of Bosnia-Herzegovina was formed over a decade ago as a result of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

But after a bloody civil war that tore the region apart, the peace is still far from being perfect.

Some groups never accepted the ethnic melting pot of Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats that is modern Bosnia.

One such group is centered in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar, inhabited mostly by Croatians, nationalists of whom are demanding their own autonomy, and where a future state is being planned.

For more than a year, Croats from Mostar have been calling themselves an alternative government to the one that exists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and their calls for independence are getting louder day by day.

“We do not have any kind of federal unit to protect our rights here in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We do not even have media in our own language. The only way that we can protect ourselves is through a Croatian federal unit,” insists Croatian member of federal parliament, Petar Milic.

The calls for independence were set into motion by the Dayton Peace Accord that in 1995 brought three bloody years of war to an end.

Under the deal, two entities were set up: a Bosniak-Croat federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Bosnian Serb Republic.

Croatian nationalists are now demanding their own autonomy.

The president of the alternative government of the Croatian republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Leo Plockinic, says that the main reason for all the problems now is that Bosniak Muslims are a majority.

“We do not have any legal representatives at state levels of power in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reason is we do not have a legal framework, or any kind of opportunity to establish equality with the other two peoples,” Plockinic says.

The former commander of the Croatian defence council, Zoran Zolko, who spent the war years fighting in the southern city of Mostar, was wounded three times.

He says whereas once he fought for independence from Serbia alongside Muslims, today he’s fighting for independence from his former allies.

“At the beginning of the war, we were fighting for the liberation of all the people in Bosnia-Herzogovina. The Muslims had our support, there were many of them who were fighting in the Croatian defence council, but in the end, we were betrayed by them. Many ran away. I don’t believe we can live together. In principle, maybe, but in my soul – I don’t believe it,” Zolko says.

The city of Mostar showcases these ethnic divisions more clearly than anywhere else in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It is the country’s fifth largest city, and political control here is equally shared between Croats and Bosniaks, but tensions are high – and the city is divided.

Through the middle of the city runs the Neretva river which separates the predominantly Croatian side of the city to the west, from the Muslim side to the east.

Relations between both sides are so bad that when Croats cross the bridge, they come with a police escort.

A tour guide in the Muslim part of the city, Kenan Divljak, says no one here supports Croatian calls for independence and Mostar, like the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, needs to remain part of the country.

“Mostar is a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mostar cannot be an independent country. It is impossible, because the town has just 320,000 inhabitants. The infrastructure was destroyed,” reasons Divljak.

Mostar is a reminder of how unstable the Bosnian federation really is, nearly 15 years after the Dayton deal was signed.

So far, Croatian calls for independence have been overshadowed by events elsewhere in the Balkans, but should they one day win, their success could potentially have disastrous ripple effects throughout the region.