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News 31 Oct 16

Croatia PM Tries to Calm Tensions on Bosnia Visit

Croatia's new Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, paid his first official foreign visit to neighbouring Bosnia hoping to calm political tensions over the status of Croats in the country.

Srecko Latal
Croatial PM Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA Denis Ceric

Croatia's centre-right Prime Minister concluded a two-day visit on Friday and Saturday to Bosnia aimed to calming tensions over the status of Bosnian Croats, many of whom are demanding greater autonomy or the creation of a third entity.

Plenkovic came first to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo - something that Bosniak [Muslim] leaders insist on and are sensitive about.

He then visited other Croat-inhabited places in the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation entity, such as Kiseljak, Mostar and and the Catholic shrine town of Medjugorje.

Tensions have long been present in Bosnia over the status of Croats and their relationship with Bosniaks and Serbs, which has also impacted on the external relationship between Bosnia and Croatia.

Relations between the two countries dipped over the past year, with Bosniaks accusing Croatian politicians of encouraging nationalism among Bosnian Croats.

However, the political situation in Croatia changed after Plenkovic - considered a moderate and pro-EU politician - replaced the more hardline Tomislav Karamarko as head of the HDZ in July.

After the HDZ formed a new Croatian government with Plenkovic as Prime Minister on October 19, in his first statements, Plenkovic said improving relations with Bosnia would be a priority. He strengthened his point by choosing Bosnia for his first official foreign visit.

Bosnian and Croatian media portrayed Plenovic's two-day visit differently, reflecting the divergent and often conflicting views on the relations among Bosniaks and Croats as well as between the two countries.

"All changes of the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina are a matter for parties and institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Sunday's report from Patria news agency, considered close to the main Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, read, referring to the visit.

The report published on Sunday by Croatia's state news agency, HINA, struck a different note.

"Plenkovic in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Promised assistance to the Croats, supported the stability of the country, visited Medjugordje and reflected on the reform of the taxation system," it read.

Sarajevo-based political analyst Adnan Huskic told the media it was too early to talk about a re-set in relations between Bosnia and Croatia.

"The [new] Croatian government is trying to soften the radical positions [of the previous government] which represented exclusively the positions of Bosnia's HDZ," he said.

"Even this symbolic step is important, but it is too early to talk about the direction in which Croatian foreign policy will go," he added.

Meanwhile, Dragan Covic, head of the main Croat party in Bosnia, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ,  announced recently that his party will up the struggle to better the status of Croats in Bosnia, which many see as a codeword for a new push for the creation of an autonomous Croat entity.

Moreover, Covic's announcement was reinforced by a statement of the Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, who earlier this month said she backed a new solution to resolve the status of Croats in Bosnia.

Croatian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told BIRN that Kitarovic's statement should be viewed from the perspective of Croatia's internal political battles.

The same source said that such political quarrels in Croatia always had a capacity to destabilize the political situation in Bosnia as well.

Either way, Kitarovic's statement added fuel to existing tensions, prompting the Croatian ambassador to Bosnia, Ivan Del Vechio, to state last Thursday, just before Plenkovic's visit, that Zagreb still believed the solution to Bosnian Croat issues would be found through Bosnia's existing institutions.

Whether Plenkovic will succeed in walking this thin line between Bosniak and Bosnian Croat positions, and find a compromise solution, remains to be seen.

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