Elections as a form of discrimination against Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Elections as a form of discrimination against Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Croats have long been discriminated against not only at the level of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency, but also in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where parties with predominant Croat electoral support have not entered government.

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By Ivan Vukoja

Following the title of a widely read book by Mirjana Kasapović,[1] one can pertinently describe Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) as continuing to be “a divided society and an unstable state.” Nearly all relevant local and international political actors agree with this diagnosis. However, when it comes to the issue of the causes of such instability and division, as well as to the issue of how to amend this condition, views are divergent and deeply polarized.

Simplifying somewhat, some argue that the key causes of such instability lie in Serb and Croat ethno-nationalist policy. A solution, therefore, can be found in the dismissal or negation of the constitutional category of ‘constituent peoples’ and in the subsequent transformation of BiH into a state-citizenship based society and an one-national state with ‘a single voter, a single vote’ principle of election to state offices. In a similar vein, the Croat and Serb ethno-nationalists are accused of undermining the state of BiH or of separatism, which, according to this picture, is a key cause of instability in BiH. The second kind of response is given by those who prioritize ethno-nationalist interests over the interest of a common state of BiH. They view BiH as but a loose confederation and a temporary frame to be accepted under unique conditions and in a unique circumstance. They also tend to justify their own separatism as but a response to unitary and centralistic policy.

The third school of thought begins with the premise that politically-given identity-relations need to be respected as ethno-national identities are both historically-entrenched and recognized in constitutional-legal terms. This school emphasizes that stability of BiH can be promoted only on the foundation of full equality, constitution- and institution-wise, of the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs), considering of course the rights of those who do not view themselves as members of the constituent peoples. This school is also opposed to unitarianist or centralizing policy of the second group, which they view as an extended hand of the ‘Bosniak majoritarian’ nationalist politics. However, it is also opposed to separatism as a highly harmful policy both to their own ethno-national agenda and to the interests of the common state in which they aim to find their own place. Hence, in this view, BiH is considered as a multi-national state to which consociationalist and federalist constitutional principles ought to apply.

The first option is one that is mostly found in the Bosniak-pro-Bosnian political community; the second mostly in the Serb, and the third in the Croat community. Since the end of the war and the beginning of implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the international community was pushing by and large for the first option. Recently this trend seems to have started reversing, as attested by a Resolution of the European Parliament [2] from February 6 2014, which places the blame for instability equally on the unitarianist/centralist tendency and separatism. Furthermore the latest ICG report acknowledged both the existence and legitimacy of the three political communities, and consequently referred to a federal, three-entity based structure of BiH as a possible solution.[3]

In addition to the three mutually-dissonant political agendas, BiH is burdened further by flawed legal arrangements. For instance, the Election Law currently in force is unconstitutional, hence illegitimate and illegal. The preamble to the BiH Constitution which refers to Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks as constituent peoples, together with some other constitutional provisions, such as those on the Houses of Peoples, ethnic quota, ethnic parity, vital national interests, etc., that ensure an institutional back-up to the preamble, point necessarily to a single direction – an election law that enables the constituent peoples to elect their own political representatives and be thus represented in the bodies of the government. Unfortunately, the election law currently in force deviates significantly from such democratic principles.

The General elections 2014

The Election Law has previously made it possible for Željko Komšić to be elected twice as a Croat member of the BiH Presidency through predominantly Bosniak vote. Hence, over the last eight years we have the following condition in BiH Presidency: Croats do not have their own representative to the Presidency, Serbs have one representative, while Bosniaks have two. This is so despite the fact that the BiH Constitution refers to Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks as equal constituent peoples, and stipulates that the BiH Presidency is composed of a Croat, Serbian, and Bosniak member – three members for three constituent peoples.

Bosniak and pro-Bosnian commentators, plus a significant number of politicians, have attempted to justify such an obvious case of discrimination against Croats by drawing on an interpretation according to which “the Croat member of BiH Presidency” should mean a member who ‘originates from’ the Croat people, a people’s affiliate, but not their representative. According to such thinking, those who declare their ethnic affiliation as Bosniak can legitimately elect a Croat member of the Presidency – all it takes for this to happen is that the candidate (A) declared his or her own ethnic affiliation as Croat. The Croat voters can vote all for B, however, despite their perhaps unanimous support, B will not assume the office of the Croat member of BiH Presidency. Since the Election Law actually opens the space for such discrimination against Croats – and is founded tacitly on a non-democratic, absurd and totalitarian constitutional interpretation -the Election Law can be reasonably declared anti-constitutional, hence illegal and illegitimate.

The Election Law opens the space for such discrimination. However, in order to implement actual discriminatory practice, one needs actors willing to implement it. On the one hand, one needs voters who will make a decision to cast their vote in favour of a representative of a political community to which the voter is not affiliated. One also needs, on the other hand, those candidates who are willing to collude with such voters and assume office following the vote. In accordance with liberal-democratic principles, such practice by both the voter and the candidate ought to be qualified as undemocratic and illegitimate. From a moral point of view, such practice ought to also be qualified as immoral and corrupt.

Croats are discriminated against not only at the level of the BiH Presidency, but also at the level of the entity of BiH Federation, where political decisions are made that have a major impact on Croats as a people. It is through constitutional amendments imposed by international representatives and ‘protectors’ [4], and through consequent changes to the Election Law, that the Alliance for Change formed the BiH Federation Government in 2000, and then, following the 2010 elections, that so-called ‘Platforma’ parties (SDP BiH, SDA, HSP BiH, NS RZB) assumed the central government offices of the BiH Federation. The lack of Croat electoral legitimacy is a common denominator to both governments. The parties with predominant Croat electoral support have not entered the government, while parties with minor Croat electoral support, but ample Bosniak political representatives’ support, have entered.

Such abuse of electoral outcomes was founded also on a ‘reform’ of the House of Peoples of the BiH Federation which, under the Washington agreement, is composed of Bosniak and Croat 30 member clubs that made decisions by a simple majority [5]. The reforms added to the House both a Serb and a club of ‘Others’, while the number of representatives per clubs was reduced to 17, and a simple majority decision making by individual clubs was reduced to one-third threshold. As 6 of 17 delegates to the Croat club are actually elected in Cantons with a Bosniak majority, this has enabled Bosniaks to elect 6 “Croats of their own” and thereby gain supremacy within the Croat club. Additionally, Bosniaks are by electoral rules enabled to elect over two-thirds of the members of Bosniak, Serb and the club of ‘Others’ [6], which ultimately leads to full Bosniak control over the BiH Federation House of Peoples.

In the 2010 elections, Bosniak political decision-makers and their electorate miscalculated somewhat, which resulted in the election of 5 “Croats of their own.” Since they needed one-third of the Croat club to appoint the BiH Federation President and the BiH Federation Government, the High Representative, Valentin Inzko, stepped in and suspended the decision by the BiH CEC. Thereby Inzko actually declared that 5 is one third of 17 (the so-called ‘Inzko’s theorem’). In addition to the current condition which is marked by abrogated powers and a suspended CEC decision [7], and by an anti-constitutional Election Law, as well as by an illegitimate and illegal Government and President of the BiH Federation, and the fact that over the last eight years Croats do not have their own representative at the BiH Presidency, another disconcerting aspect is that not a single participant to the ‘Platforma’ coup-d’état has publicly conceded that a major error was committed, or that an immoral or illegitimate deed was done, nor have they committed to refrain from participating in further electoral and post-electoral engineering or another ‘Platform.’

In order to replay the script of the last general election, apart from the illegitimate Bosniak vote, one needs as well some nominally Croat parties that would be willing to supply another ‘Platforma’ government with some appearance of Croat legitimacy. The current Platforma member parties that are at least nominally Croat are unable to do that: HSP BiH disintegrated, while the leaders of NS RZB (Lijanovići) have been recently detained. The only party that may play such a role is the HDZ 1990, a party that is formally a member of the Croat National Assembly (HNS) of BiH, but refused to be a member of the HNS coalition at the forthcoming elections. HDZ 1990 joined instead ranks with a party that was formerly a member of the ‘Alliance for Change’, which is why a part of HDZ 1990 left the party and formed the Croat Republican Party. One of the indications that HDZ 1990 might be toying with the idea of the possibility of electoral engineering and of joining another ‘Platforma government’ is also in the fact that the party had a pre-election rally in Goražde, a town with six Croat inhabitants. Additionally, Martin Raguž, the President of HDZ 1990, and a candidate for the post of BiH Presidency member, presents himself in Komšić style as a candidate appealing to all the citizens who support his program. Šeherzada Delić, the head of the BiH ‘First Party,’ announced recently that 21,800 of the party’s members and supporters would vote for Martin Raguž. Instead of drawing on the rights of the constituent peoples to elect their own representatives or protecting the Croat electoral legitimacy, as his did in 2010, Martin Raguž FB-page today expresses thanks and appreciation to Šeherzada Delić’s support.

Concluding remarks

The cases of Komšić, the Alliance for Change and ‘Platforma’, demonstrate that – at the levels of the BiH Presidency, the Government and the Presidency of the BiH Federation, and the Federation House of Peoples – Croats are deprived of their rights and are subject to majoritarian imposition by some Bosniak political parties/elites and Bosniak voter population, including those who endow such elites/parties with electoral legitimacy and those who abuse their voter rights by supporting representatives of a political community to which they are not affiliated. Of course, the responsibility for such majoritarian imposition, and subsequent de-constituting, of BiH Croats also lies with representatives and institutions of the international community who approve of, and support, such majoritarian practice

However, the largest share of responsibility is on nominally Croat parties and Croat political representatives who supply such a majoritarian practice with some appearance of legitimacy. Speaking both in logical and practical terms, it is impossible for a party to be Croat without recognizing the Croat electoral legitimacy. Such a party is of Croat-orientation only because it recognizes such legitimacy; once it starts opposing it, the party ceases to be Croat-oriented. In the same vein, no representative can be a Croat representative at any level of government, or at any institution, without being backed by Croat electoral legitimacy. To those political representatives who lack such legitimacy, and who nevertheless accept to usurp the position to which they have no constitutional right, the designation ‘imposed representatives’ or quislings pertains [8].

Such potential quislings among BiH Croats are encouraged to get involved in such undemocratic and immoral practice by two factors. First, the power-positions bring some social, political, material and financial benefits. Second, they believe, or claim to believe, that it is impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the percentage of Croat vote, given to one party, is higher than the percentage of Serb, or ‘the Others” vote given to the same party. They tend to use the insufficiencies inherent in the Election Law as a cover to disguise their own illegitimacy within the political community they quasi-represent.

However, it is feasible to establish (within a statistically permissible range of deviation) which party or political candidate are backed by Croat electoral legitimacy, and which are not. This cannot be established by a mere counting of ballots, but by blending the net election results per locations with the census through some methods of probability calculus. Such post-election analyses will be conducted and published by the Institute of Social Political Research (IDPI), Mostar, in order to offer a clear answer to the question of which parties or candidates, and to what degree, are indeed backed by BiH Croat voter population, and which are not.

Ivan Vukoja is a member of the Institute of Social Political Research (IDPI) research team and editor of the journal ‘Status’ (Mostar).

The Institute of Social Political Research (IDPI) is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.This article was translated by Dražen Pehar.


1) Kasapović, M. (2005), Bosna i Hercegovina – podijeljeno društvo i nestabilna država (Bosnia-Herzegovina – a divided society and unstable state), Zagreb: Politička kultura

2) See http://www.en.idpi.ba/european-parliament-resolution-on-bosnia-and-herzegovina/ (accessed on October 12 2014)

3) On this report, see http://www.en.idpi.ba/icg/ (IDPI research team, Mostar, 28 July 2014) (accessed on October 12 2014)

4) For more on this, see Vukoja, Ivan (2013), “Primjeri ne-konstitutivnosti i ne-jednakopravnosti Hrvata u Federaciji BiH (The cases of non-constituent status and inequality of Croats in the BiH Federation)”, Status 16, pp. 92.-106

5) At that time the House of Peoples of the BiH Federation was a house to the representatives of the other peoples too; however, their number was determined by the number of representatives from cantonal legislations who did not declare their affiliation with Bosniaks or Croats, hence by the ratio to the Bosniak and Croat representation at those legislations, which was then applied to the total number of 60+X seats (Croat plus Bosniak representatives plus ‘others’) at the House of Peoples. This is also another indicator of the fact that the BiH Federation was originally outlined and implemented as a Bosniak-Croat entity.

6) In contrast to the clubs of constituent peoples that are composed of 17 members each, the club of the Others has 7 members.

7) This was a temporary suspension of the decision, but such a temporary status continued till today and will obviously continue into the post-2014 election period. Hence, the term ‘suspension’ (by Valentin Inzko) should really be taken as somewhat cynical.

8) Fore more on this, see Pehar, Dražen (2014), “Democracy, democratic representation, and constitutional logic of ethnic electoral units in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Institute for Social-Political Research (IDPI) Mostar.

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11 Responses

  1. Civil Democracy

    Unless you can prove that BIH Croat votes are not being counted than you have no claim of Croats being deprived any rights. As for the fact that a political party namely, HDZ moans and complains that it got outvoted well that just sounds like democracy. Thus your entire argument is a bunch of horse crap…

  2. Pingback : October 2014 Review - TransConflict

  3. Pingback : Bosnia-Herzegovina and the failed revolution of the SDP (2010-2014) - part 1 - TransConflict

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