Policy Of The Republic Of Croatia Towards Bosnia And Herzegovina 1992-1995 (Part I) – Analysis

History is full of manipulations, half-truths and mythical claims. The most popular of them are, for example, the claim that United Kingdom alone fought against Nazi Germany in 1940 (in reality it had a huge colonial empire), the opinion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute while sources say otherwise, Vikings wore horns on their helmets (archaeological evidence does not confirm this). Manipulations are claims that the policy of the Republic of Croatia towards the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 was “wrong”, “aggressive”, “ambivalent”, “hypocritical”. As expected, such claims are accepted by Bosnian nationalists and various circles opposed to Croatia.

Unfortunately, during the 1990s, certain Croatian politicians, for the purpose of political struggle, attacked President Franjo Tuđman and his policy towards Bosnia. Among the most important are the founders of Crotian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Tuđman’s close collaborators until the spring of 1994 – Stipe Mesić and Josip Manolić. Their statements become the basis for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indictments and the consequent convictions of Croatian generals and politicians from BIH.

Unfounded accusations of Mesić and Manolić

For example, Mesić stated in his testimony before the ICTY where he was a prosecution witness in the Tihomir Blaškić case in April 1997: “After Karađorđevo, Tuđman changed. He believed that it would be possible to divide Bosnia and he did everything he could to divide Bosnia. Tuđman and I practically parted ways after that… Tuđman and Milošević believed that moving the population could change and divide Bosnia. That is why Milošević formed Republic of Srpska, and Tuđman formed Herzeg-Bosnia.

In this regard, Tuđman and Milošević agreed. Since the beginning of the formation of states in the former Yugoslavia, they met 48 times… Tuđman wanted to encircle the territory in Bosnia that he later wanted for Croatia. At the meetings in the Presidential Palace in Zagreb, where I was present, and where Dario Kordić was the loudest, Tuđman said ‘what we hold with our weapons will be ours’. Tuđman said this on several occasions. I understood that it would be part of the Croatian state, but that was not explicitly stated.”

In April 1994, Manolić stated in an interview with Globus newspapers: “The main idea of Croatian state policy was the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The annexation of Herzegovina to Croatia was indeed the guiding idea of Croatian state policy in the past two years… Now, therefore, there is no longer any reason not to name Dr. Tuđman because of this policy and not to openly say that he, on the Croatian side, is most responsible for Croat-Muslim war.”

Politically motivated falsification of history

Such statements by Josip Manolić and Stipe Mesić were motivated by their political defeat against Tuđman. Firstly, they lost the internal party struggle because they were not elected to the leadership of the party at the 2nd HDZ General Assembly in October 1993. They were defeated by the “Herzegovinian lobby” headed by Gojko Šušak.

Secondly, Manolić as president of the County Chamber of the Croatian Parliament and Mesić as president of the House of Representatives of Croatian Parliament in early 1994 failed to create a parliamentary crisis and overthrow Tuđman. Manolić and Mesić refused the president’s offer to be a legal faction within the HDZ and were expelled from the party. At the end of April 1994, they founded the Croatian Independent Democrats (HND).

In the second half of the 1990s, they positioned themselves as Tuđman’s main political opponents, and in the 2000s they joined the then-popular revenge project of de-Tuđmanization, which wanted to dismantle the political legacy of the first Croatian president. The project included the falsification of history: a selective and inaccurate portrayal of Croatia’s relationship with BIH in the first half of the 1990s.

Manolić and Mesić supported Tuđman’s policy towards BIH in real time

Although Manolić claimed that he opposed “Tuđman’s Bosnian policy” and that his policy of cooperation between Croats and Muslims won with the signing of the Washington Agreement, sources show a completely different picture. Transcripts of Manolić’s conversations with Tuđman and other politicians and statesmen show that Manolić supported Tuđman’s policy towards BIH “not only from the beginning of the 1990s but also in January and February 1994.”

Moreover, the transcripts show that Manolić was the only high-ranking Croatian official who literally advocated the division of BIH. This is evident in the transcript of the session of the Croatian Council of Defense and National Security (VONS), which was held in the Presidential Palace on May 11, 1993. “Now look, the German will come, and these will come, the one who will ask us the question, what is your relationship with the central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina? I think it would be good… Gentlemen, Bosnia cannot be maintained as it is now, the only solution is to divide it, so let it remain a small Bosnia with Muslims. I think it will go in that direction.”

There is no evidence to confirm that Manolić opposed Herzeg-Bosnia either in the format of a community or a republic. In an interview with the weekly Danas on October 12, 1993, when asked by a journalist about the possible abolition of HR Herceg-Bosnia, he answered: “Whether it would be an abolition or not, what is important for us is that the national interests of all ethnic communities living on to the territory of the state… Whether it will be in the form of a republic or some other type of autonomy is something that needs to be agreed upon, something that needs to be resolved by agreement.”

On another occasion, Manolić said: “Franjo, your policy (according to BIH) is correct.” Mesić may not have privately supported Tuđman’s policy towards Bosnia, but he de facto implemented it as president of the Croatian Parliament until May 1994, since it is the highest political body of the Republic of Croatia. Both he and Manolić left Tuđman only a month after the signing of the Washington Agreement, which ended hostilities between Croats and Muslims. If their motive was a disagreement over BIH, they would have left their high positions in 1992, and in 1993 at the latest.

Myth about the division of Bosnia between Tuđman and Milošević

Bosniak, various liberal and sensationalist media in the former Yugoslavia like to simplify things and call the wars in the area of the former Yugoslavia agreed upon. According to this logic, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was “agreed on” as well as the “partition of Bosnia” under the direction of Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević at the meetings in Karađorđevo and Tikveš in the spring of 1991. Of course, this is nonsense since the main cause of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia is Great Serbian politics.

During 1990 and in the first half of 1991, the leadership of Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) considered two options as a solution to the Yugoslav crisis: 1) a centralized Yugoslavia with headquarters in Belgrade dominated by the most numerous Serbian people; 2) occupation of Serbian territories up to the western border of Greater Serbia on the line Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag. Since the JNA already took away the weapons of the Croatian Territorial Defense (TO) in mid-May 1990 and disarmed Croatia, the Croatian leadership had no choice but to negotiate in order to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Some mentioned as many as 48, 42 or 11 meetings between Tuđman and Milošević during the war, although in reality only two bilateral meetings took place: in Karađorđevo (March 25, 1991) and Tikveš (April 15, 1991). Other meetings took place on the sidelines of international conferences about Yugoslav crisis. There is a dogmatic belief among the Bosniak public that the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina was agreed upon at those meetings, although there is no material evidence for this. Some analysts claimed that there were text, video and audio records of the division of BiH, which were pure lies because they were never published.

Realistically speaking, there is no evidence that the BIH issue was even discussed at those meetings. Croatian News Agency (HINA) reported that the conclusion of the first meeting was “to determine the time for the solution of the existing Yugoslav problems for a maximum of two months, which will be jointly proposed at the upcoming meeting of the presidents of the republics”. The reason for the meeting in Tikveš is “the continuation of the discussions started on the relations between the two republics and to consider the results of the work of the joint group of experts”. Some claimed that the experts were working on the partition of Bosnia, but for example the Serbian member of the expert group Kosta Mihailović stated: “No one at the meetings of the expert teams ever mentioned any agreement between Tuđman and Milošević”.

At the same time, there were numerous bilateral meetings between Tuđman and Alija Izetbegović and the conversations between Izetbegović and Milošević in Geneva and elsewhere. Proponents of the myth about the division of Bosnia in Karađorđevo do not explain why war broke out in Croatia in the second half of 1991 and why the Karadžić-Filipović agreement was signed in August 1991 that Bosnia would remain in the truncated Yugoslavia, which Izetbegović subsequently rejected. Also, they can’t explain why the Croats in Bosnia and Croatia, after the open outbreak of war in Bosnia, sided with the Muslims to defend that country instead of joining the aggression of Serbian forces.

The participation of BIH in the Great Serbian aggression against Croatia in 1991

Large parts of BIH were involved in the war in Croatia in 1991. Two thirds of the JNA forces that attacked the Republic of Croatia in 1991 came from BIH, and one third from the area of Vojvodina. The forces of rebel Serbs from Croatia invaded the territory of Bosnia – the area of Bosansko Grahovo in June 1991 and forced a sincere reaction from Alija Izetbegović that “at this moment we are not able to cope with increasingly fierce internal and external aggression”, i.e. that BIH can’t oppose external aggression.

After the declaration of independence of the Republic of Croatia on June 25, 1991, the mobilization of the JNA and part of the TO began in BIH and the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Serbian areas of Bosnia at the beginning of the summer, 17 military formations were mobilized as a whole, and five in part. Since the Presidency of the SFRY did not order mobilization, the Presidency of the SR BIH at the beginning of July requested that the mobilization be abandoned, but this was not done. In mid-August 1991, the 329th Brigade of the Banja Luka Corps crossed the river Sava near Bosanska Gradiška and entered Croatian territory, established a bridgehead and threatened the Zagreb-Belgrade highway. Then, at the latest, the Great Serbian aggression from Bosnia on Croatia began. At the end of August, the Knin Corps destroyed the Croatian village of Unište in the municipality of B. Grahovo. In the second half of September, the JNA attacked the Republic of Croatia from BIH on the following routes: Banja Luka-Virovitica, Bihać-Karlovac, Mostar-Split, Trebinje-Dubrovnik.

On October 1 began an attack by the JNA and Serbian volunteers on Dubrovnik, Slano, Ston and Ravno – Croatian village in eastern Herzegovina. The JNA then spread propaganda that Ravno was not in BIH. Members of the Titograd Corps of the JNA pelted the village with grenades from howitzers and mortars. In addition to completely destroyed villages, 24 people were killed, and 34 died of “natural” causes. 11 people were wounded, and 18 of them were imprisoned for two months. In terms of cruelty, the massacre at Kijevo Dol stands out, when 7 people over 60 years old were killed and slaughtered. At the beginning of October, the JNA controlled most of the dominant heights on the southern and eastern side of Mostar – Hum, Gubavica and Fortica. They controlled a big part of the Mostar basin, including the airport and Helidrome and the Dubrava plateau.

In those days, after the territory of his republic was attacked and occupied, on October 6, Izetbegović “famously” declared: “This is not our war.” Since this statement was made after the destruction of Croatian villages in eastern Herzegovina, it can be interpreted that the essence of the statement “this is not our Muslim war, but a Serbo-Croatian war.” A significant number of Muslim generals in the JNA fought in the war in Croatia in 1991, which will contribute to their wholehearted acceptance of the conflict with the HVO forces in 1993. Until the Sarajevo Armistice on January 2, 1992. BIH was the base for attacks by the JNA and Serbian rebels on Croatia. The most engaged forces in the war in the Croatia were the Banja Luka Corps, the 472nd Motorized Brigade from Trebinje and the TO units from Bosnian Krajina and Eastern Herzegovina.

The legality of the establishment of Herzeg-Bosnia

In the circumstances of the non-functioning of the Bosnian government and Great Serbian aggression against Croatia, the Croatian community of Herzeg-Bosnia (HZ HB) was founded on November 18, 1991 in Grude (the day of the fall of Vukovar). It was a necessary tool of defense at a time when Croatia and the southern parts of Bosnia were in mortal danger. In the decision on the establishment of HZ Herceg-Bosnia, it is clearly emphasized that it respects the sovereignty and integrity of BiH, if it will be independent and not part of Yugoslavia.

In addition, the draft convention of the Peace Conference on the former Yugoslavia (FYC), which began work in The Hague on September 7, 1991 under the chairmanship of Lord Peter Carrington, established general principles for negotiations on Yugoslavia. Among them are defined the rights of the constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Croats, Serbs and Muslims) to “self-governance, to the extent possible”, with a legislative body, an administrative structure and a judiciary. After that, elected Croatian representatives established Herzeg-Bosnia.

In addition to these adopted principles, according to the then valid Constitution of the SR BIH, the constituent peoples had the right to self-determination, which would also mean the right to form political and social units within the SR BIH. Herzeg-Bosnia was within those constitutional and legal frameworks. Muslim politicians were offered a third of power in HZ HB and 50% of power in the city of Mostar, which they mostly refused.

Contribution of Bosnian Croats and Croatia to the acquisition of independence of BiH

President Tuđman said at the 56th closed session of the Government of the Republic of Croatia (November 25, 1991) that “in accordance with the policy that Croatia is building, it cannot be changing borders”, so that “Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina must secure their interests within that country as long as it exists”. At the same time, he noted that “we must be aware of the fact that the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina is completely in the hands of the Serbian government, that it is armed and in the service of Greater Serbian politics”, and that “Muslims lead their own policy, which is actually, as far as leadership is concerned, on the line of maintaining Yugoslavia”.

The transcript of the meeting between President Tuđman and the co-chairmen of the Peace Conference on the Former Yugoslavia (PFC), David Owen and Cyrus Vance on January 20, 1992, confirms that the Croatian president calls for cooperation between Croats and Muslims and that he is reserved by the idea of some Croats that some border municipalities in BiH should be annexed to Croatia, advising them to organize a referendum on the independence of BiH.

The participation of Bosnian Croats in the referendum on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina on February 29 and March 1, 1992 was decisive for its international recognition and independence. They did this on the order of the official Zagreb. The Serbs boycotted the referendum, but if the Croats had decided to vote against independence, so could the Serbs, so BIH would have remained in the truncated Yugoslavia. It is interesting that the Croatian representatives decided to support the referendum even though the referendum question was imposed by the Muslim party SDA: “Are you for a sovereign and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Muslims, Serbs, Croats and members of other nations who live in it?”

HDZ BIH proposed a different referendum question (the Livno question) which emphasized the cantonal organization of the state: “Are you for a sovereign and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, a state union of the constituent and sovereign peoples of Croatia, Muslim and Serbia in their national territories (cantons)?” Croatian question was not accepted, the international community accepted it in its proposals on the federal-confederate organization of BIH.

Croatia’s political support for independent Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Republic of Croatia was among the first to recognize the independence of Bosnia on April 7, 1992, the same day as the USA. On the other hand, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as the Serbian leadership in Bosnia, did not do this until the Dayton Agreement, that is, the Republika Srpska was considered part of Yugoslavia. Croatia was the first country to send its ambassador to BIH, Zdravko Sančević, in September

  1. Despite his private views on the unsustainability of Bosnia as an independent state before it was recognized, the official policy led by President Tuđman of supporting the referendum on the independence of Bosnia and furthermore, was in favor of BIH. The main determinants of Croatian policy towards BIH in the 1990s were: 1) respect for its independence, 2) rejection of changing borders by force, 3) organization of BIH as an equal community of three constituent peoples with constituent units (cantons, provinces, republics) – rejection of unitary organization which would be to the detriment of the least numerous Croatian people.

President Tuđman’s views on BIH from 1992 to 1995 were never in conflict with the views of the international community, which he did not want to oppose. Tuđman accepted and gave orders to Croatian representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina to accept all peace plans: Carrington-Cutileiro, Vance-Owen, Owen-Stoltenberg plan, Washington and Dayton agreements. The government and the presidency of BIH held meetings in Croatia, which was unthinkable to happen in Serbia and Montenegro. At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, 10 Bosnian national team members were preparing in Croatia at the expense of the Croatian state budget. In the summer of 1993, the Republic of Croatia issued visas to the BiH basketball team that participated in the Mediterranean Games in France.

Croatian aid to refugees from BIH

In total, one million refugees entered Croatia from Bosnia. In March 1992, there were 16,579 refugees from Bosnia in Croatia, and just one month later, with the outbreak of war, 193,415 of them. On April 21, the Government of the Republic of Croatia requested international assistance for housing Bosnian refugees. Already in December 1992, there were 402,768 refugees from Bosnia, mostly Muslims (65-70%), and during the entire war that number was never less than 193,000. In February 1993, Croatia cared for 253,705 refugees from occupied Croatian areas (pink zones and UNPA areas), 31,449 refugees from Serbia (Croats from Vojvodina and Kosovo) and 366,971 refugees from BiH.

In total, the Republic of Croatia took care of 652,125 exiles at that time. In the summer of 1993, the number of Bosnian refugees decreased somewhat, but continued to grow due to the outbreak of the Croat-Muslim war. In December 1993, there were 282,728 refugees from Bosnia in Croatia. 33,000 Croats and 3,000 Muslims came from central Bosnia. For the majority of Bosnian refugees, Croatia was a transit country for third countries (Germany, Sweden, USA, Canada), and the average length of stay in Croatia was three months. From 1992 to 1996, 450,000 refugees (300,000 Muslims and 150,000 Croats) left the Croatia for third countries. Approximately 10% of refugees were not registered so the actual numbers were higher.

According to international conventions, refugees had the right to housing, humanitarian aid, complete health care, education, socio-psychological and financial aid. The Republic of Croatia provided Muslim children with free education on a special Bosnian program. During the Muslim-Croat war in the school year 1993/94 about 32,000 Muslim children from BiH were educated in Croatian schools, and 2,800 of them were included in preschool institutions. Refugees were mostly housed in tourist complexes on the Adriatic, which automatically made it impossible to accept tourists and make money from tourism. From 1992 to 1995, at least 10,623 wounded civilians and soldiers of “dominantly Muslim nationality” were treated in Croatia.

The numbers are even higher. More than 32,000 wounded and sick people from BIH were treated in the hospital in Split, of which 40% were Muslims. Wholehearted aid to refugees from Croatia and Bosnia at the beginning of 1993 generated a deficit of 62,5 million dollars in Croatian healthcare and 26 million dollars in the Ministry of Education. Special settlements for exiles were built with the help of foreign donations.

On June 15, 1992, the Bosnian government thanked Croatian government for accepting the refugees, but the Muslim leaders mostly refused to do it. Moreover, they accused Croatia of making money from the international humanitarian aid. According to the report of the Office for Refugees and Exiles of the Croatian government, 70% of the refugees from BiH were Muslims, which means that the expenses of Croatia for the Muslim refugees from BiH were approximately two million dollars per day. Although the Croatian government requested foreign aid, its share never exceeded 30% in relation to expenditures from the Croatian state budget. The most bizarre thing is that some Muslim refugees on the Adriatic celebrated the victories of the BiH Army over the HVO.

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