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News 16 Dec 15

Croats Vanishing From Bosnia, Bishop Says

Twenty years after the end of the war, Catholic leaders say the Croatian community in Bosnia and Herzegovina is disappearing fast as a result of large-scale emigration.

Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Sarajevo
The Catholic Cathedral of Jesus' Heart in Sarajevo | Photo: Flickr

Croats have been migrating en masse from Bosnia since the end of the 1992-5 war, which poses a threat to their continued existence as a national community, Catholic Church leaders say.

"Even if it is still difficult to be sure about the exact figures, we can affirm that no more than 420,000 Croats live today in Bosnia," Pero Sudar, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna, which includes the capital city, Sarajevo, told BIRN on Tuesday.

In 1991, some 760,000 Bosnians declared themselves as Croats in the last official census conducted in the country.

"We estimate that 11,800 Croats left Bosnia for good in 2014. This process has been going on for years and is becoming even more problematic since Croatia entered the EU," Sudar told BIRN.

Bosnian Croats have Croatian passports, which entitles them to live and work in the European Union. In a country where the unemployment rate exceeds 40 per cent, according to the World Bank, this is a major incentive to emigrate.

Even though Bosnia has not held an official census for years, the Catholic Church collects its own statistics from the registries of new births, marriages and funerals.

“In the past 20 years, Bosnia has lost more than 45 per cent of its Croat population; in Republika Srpska, the number has decreased by 90 per cent,” Franjo Komarica, the archbishop of Banja Luka and current President of the Bishop's conference of Bosnia, said on Monday while presenting the conclusions of the Church's Commission, “Justitia et Pax” ["Justice and Peace"], marking the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreements.

“Justitia et Pax” was founded after the war to conduct research on the topics of peace and justice in Bosnia, with a focus on the living conditions of its citizens and their human rights.

Bosnian Croat parties have long used the fall in numbers of Croats to demand the creation of a third entity in Bosnia alongside the majority-Serb Republika Srpska and the mainly Bosniak [Muslim] Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Bosnian Croats are as minority in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is obviously a situation that impedes equality between the three constitutive peoples of the country”, Bozo Ljubic, secretary of the Croat National Council, told BIRN on Tuesday.

According to Ljubic, “increasing the territorial and cultural autonomy of Bosnian Croats, together with economic reforms, will be crucial in stopping their massive emigration and could also send a message to those living abroad that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state that takes care of their needs, convincing some of them to come back,” he added.

Critics of this Bosnian Croat rhetoric have accused the Croat parties of ignoring the plight of ethnic Croats in the Republika Srpska and of focusing too much on the Federation entity.

“The President of the HDZBiH [the main Croat party in Bosnia] and Croat member of the Presidency, Dragan Covic, has a strong political connection with Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska,” Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor of the magazine Buka in Banja Luka, told BIRN.

“Covic keeps on repeating that the Croats are discriminated against in Bosnia and Herzegovina but never says anything about those living in Republika Srpska, which is really contradictory,” Trifunovic added.

The issue of the expulsion of Bosnian Croats from the RS during the war in the 1990s is often marginalized “to protect the pact between the two leaders – a pact based on the idea of opposing together the centralising power of Sarajevo,” he continued.

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