Politics of integration and minority protection in Croatia and the attitude
towards her own ethnic communities in the region: similarities and
differences. What makes it a political topic for liberals?
True position of the Serb minority community in Croatia:
As consequence of the war, a considerable part of the territory of Croatia was economically and
demographically devastated. Implementing etho-engineering operations, as attempted by the
autoritarian government during or after the war, ended up as fiasco. People of Croatian national
affiliation, brought there from other places, primarily from Bosnia and Herzegovina, or even
from Kosovo, were moved into the space where ethnic Serbs had, till then, consitituted a
considerable part of the population, often a majority. They came to those places without any
social experience of living in such an environment and without preconditions for sustainable
living. For years now they have been feeling cheated, betrayed and abandoned by the
government, while no one has mentioned the grandiose „national operation“ any more. Those
people are often misused as a tool to maintain „ethnic purity“. They themselves even,
occasionally, participated in the continuous persecution of those members of the Serb
community who by then had not left their tradional habitat. Or, they actively obstructed the
process of return at its - cautious - beginnings.
Most of those war-torn neighbourhoods witnessed a sort of „coming to senses“. The
immigrated ethnic Croat population have grasped it that they had been misused and left on
their own, while Serb returnees have understood that their current neighbours had come there
because of rough times and that all of them together shared more or less the same difficulties.
A non-neglect difference has been in that few remaining jobs had been already occupied when
Serb returnees came back, maintaining the social exclusion of the Serb community as still
considerable. Due to economic crisis, the margins - needed to have overcome the problem any
soon - have disappeared.
For those reasons, the return is not „sustainable“ in its current forms. Returnees were mainly
people who had already run out of their own economically active age, while young people
mainly postponed the return, considering the lack of employment opportunities. The „ethnic
engineering“ of the autoritarian regime didn`t prove as sustainable either, even though
colonists were promised – and some of them given – government-created jobs. They too are
now looking for opportunities to move away from the region, where after almost a third of
Croatia is on the way of losing most of its young and productive population. Motorway
construction couldn`t remove the consequences of the wasteland. Roads just pass, through or
close by, connecting the „active“ Croatian riviera with north-western Croatia where a „normal
life“ goes on. Croatia cannot possibly function as a normal state without a normal life going on
in the areas between Sisak and Karlovac on one end and Zadar and Split on the other.
Crisis policies in Croatia should be, therefore, focused on the devastated areas more than on
the other ones. It is unacceptable to just blame either social transfers allocated to those areas
or small municipalities` administrations which allegedly spend too much while existing merely
for their own sake. When it comes to reforming the system of local self governance, one is to
take into account the specific economic and geographical characteristics of those areas, as well
as their multi-ethnic population. For cultural, as well as for political or economic reasons, it is
essential for Croatia to have the Serb community functioning as a true minority community,
which means not just being integrated by specific national, cultural, political or religious values,
but being permeated both by the desire to keep up those values and by an impuls to have
survived on this land. For that, the state must secure preconditions both through the structures
of local self government and through the education system, as well as through development
policies. It isn`t just that already acquired minority rigths shouldn`t be jeopardized because of
the crisis. It is that the crisis has to be a motivation to enhance the development of those areas,
hence it is that budget transfers should be bigger than the today`s.
Even though no politician dares to say loud what many people on the margins rumour - that the
costs of minority policies have been unnecessary in times of crises - politicians, regrettably, fail
to mention the issue of sustainable development either. And to secure the latter, one needs
policies of minority protection. It was only one of the candidates for President of the Republic
who hinted that she was aware of the importance of minority policies. In the Parliament, this is
almost non-existant, as if protection of minorities was indeed something which one might
consider in „golden ages“ only.
Why is this an important issue for liberals:
- To implement the principle of equitable, sustainable development
- To implement the principle of decentralization of the political decision-making and of
the deconcentration of the government
- So as to protect the citizens` individual rights
- In order to secure the right of each and every citizen to equal starting conditions and
to share the benefits of social development
- To protect permanent - hence vulnerable - minorities
- For the sake of political integration of all citizens.
On the long run, this is a pool of voters, whom no other political parties address, except the
ethnic minority based ones.
The situation of Croats in BiH:
Croat polity in BiH is convinced that Bosniaks were the ones who - through misuse of the
majority vote – elected the Croat member of the state Presidency. In homogenous societies
majority vote gives good results. Application of the multi-round majority vote in societies that
are not a priori segmented secures for the marginalization of the radical political options and for
strengthening of the political center. However, attempts to apply the first-past-the-post rule in
pluralist societies, wherein for instance ethnic divisions precede any political differentiation,
lead to the rise of - legally deprivileged - „permanent minorities“, as well as to the rise of
In pluralist societies, only consocial organization of a sort might be effective, in that each and
every ethnic community enjoyed a legitimate right to select its own political elite, while there
was a responsibility of both the voters and the elected to establish such a relationship to leaders
of other ethnic communities that sharing responsibility for the development of entire society
was ensured. In such a system, on the longer term, an elected elite which is incapable of
reaching a consensus or compromise with the elites from other communities is bound to lose
trust within its own electorate. However, if the majority rule is introduced, enabling the bigger
community to arbiter on who would be the political representatives of a smaller one,
radicalization occurs, whereby the electorate increasingly tend to reward the unwillingness of
„their own“ elites to concur and compromise. Exactly that was the prevailing effect of the
election of Željko Komšid as a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Being both
a member of the Croat community and a social democrat politician, Komšid has got a legitimate
right to compete, same as other social democratic politicians have got the legitimate right to
support his candidacy. It is only the political culture of the electorate that can prevent from
misusing the majoritarian position of one ethnicity vis-a-vis another, i.e. prevent voting that
leads to arbitration by members of a bigger ethnicity on the political choices of the members of
a smaller ethnicity, while both ethnicities are granted the status of constituent nationalities.
Many dedicated proponents of a sustainable and united Bosnia and Herzegovina see her value
in being a sort of „buffer state“ in between the „traditional rivals“ Croatia and Serbia. Even
though such rivalry had marked the 20th century only, and even though those two neighbouring
countries seemingly had managed to come to their senses regarding their borders, their
interests and the mutuality of the latter, the myth of a traditional rivalry and of the need for a
„buffer zone“ has still been politically alive. There, the proponents of the „intermediate state“
have got different „levels of expectation“. One group awards that status just to the „Bosniak
sector“ in BiH, believing that it would be possible for Croatia and Serbia to „take away“ pieces of
BiH (each one of them „her own one“). Others award the status of the „buffer state“ to a united
– in such assumptions often called „functional“, which most often means centralized, or even
unitary – BiH.
Rejection of the concept of centralization is a focal point of coalescing between Serb and Croat
advocates of their respective nationalist projects. But, also, rejecting centralism in BiH poses a
link between - sometimes not quite clearly defined - policy concepts regarding the
rearrangement of BiH, which exist in Zagreb and Belgrade. Following the „Europeanization“ of
both countries, whereof their common fear of centrifugal tendencies in BiH grew, Croatia and
Serbia rejected the concept of „joining the motherland“ by would-be seceded BiH`s entities.
Likewise, there is a second element, common to both Belgrade and Zagreb: rejecting unitary or
centralized organization of BiH. The devil is usually in the details, and that is exacly where some
space remains for differentiation between Croatia`s and Serbia`s policies regarding BiH. In spite
of the fact that political ambitions of the leaders of the Croat ethnic community in BiH do not
stretch beyond the area of western Herzegovina, i.e. that they want just a different common
arrangement between Croats and Bosniaks who live in the Federation of BiH, the emerging
dominant concept in Croatia advocates redesigning of BiH, so as to become a highly
decentralized country whose federal units should not reflect the current ethnic balance i.e.
results of the war, but have to be established according to economic, geographical and historical
gravitation principles. Contrary to this, it seems that Belgrade prefers a concept according to
which it goes without saying that „Serb federal entity“, in its current format, should remain
intact. Sensible politics could possibly try to broker a compromise between these two concepts.
Some policy papers of the kind have already been there during the last presidential election
campaign in Croatia.
Why is this topic important for liberals?
- Liberal democrats bear no political responsibility for bringing Croats in BiH into grave
- No solution for the issue of BiH could be found without re-affirmation of liberal values
- The principle of protection of the individual and collective rights has been the key to
institutional resolution of the inter-ethnic relations in BiH
- Liberal solutions always are: progressive, rational, aiming at common good, and leading
to a „win-win“ result
- Liberals simply have to offer their own solutions, because other ideologies don`t have
any solutions at hand.
This is a potential pool of voters, but only following a defeat of nationalism.