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Increasing Tension on the Sarajevo-Zagreb Line

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Recently, it has been seen that the relations on the Sarajevo-Zagreb line have been quite tense. Especially due to the general elections held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 2, 2022, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic’s rhetoric targeting Sarajevo has raised the tension between the parties to the peak point.

On 13 September 2022, at the Brdo-Brijuni Summit in Slovenia, where the leaders of the Western Balkans met, allegations that the President of Croatia denied the Srebrenica Genocide led to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.[1]

On the anniversary of Jajce’s recapture from the Serbs, Milanovic said, “They don’t respect us in Bosnia and Herzegovina although the Croatian boot forced Radovan Kradzic to sit at the table.” Moreover, he stated that Bosnia owed its freedom to the Croats and that Zagreb did not get enough in return, given its contributions to the war. The President of Croatia, also stated that the Croats in Bosnia are not a minority, but have been reduced to minority status.[2]

Following the controversy over Srebrenica and Milanovic’s rhetoric targeting Bosnia’s political structure, tensions between the two countries have increased. Milanovic called for changes to the electoral law in Bosnia and Herzegovina and demanded that Croats elect their own representatives.

Officially, Zagreb does not recognize the current member of the Tripartite Presidential Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Croatian people’s level, Zeljko Komsic, because they believe that he was elected by the votes of Bosniaks, and not by Croats.[3] In other words, Croatian politicians are not happy with Komsic. This situation leads to conflicts between the two countries.

In order to better understand the problem between Sarajevo and Zagreb, it is useful to take a look at the political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina consist of two entities, one of which is the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other is the “Republika Srpska”, as well as three constituent peoples, Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs, and the Brcko Region, which has a separate administration.[4]

The main goal of Croatia is to make it possible for Croats in Bosnia to elect their own representatives. For this reason, the President of Croatia has made statements that went too far for changes in the electoral law of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, Milanovic said on April 26, 2022, that Zagreb should block Finland and Sweden’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) until changes are made to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s electoral law before the general elections take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[5] In short, the Croatian president has pursued a policy of threatening to block Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO, demanding that third actors put pressure on Sarajevo.

On 28 September 2022, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic admitted that they were involved in negotiations with the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt on amendments to the electoral law. As can be seen, Zagreb has made various attempts to change the electoral law.  Therefore, Schmidt’s decision to amend Bosnia and Herzegovina’s electoral law after the elections held on October 2, 2022 can be interpreted as the successful conclusion of Croatia’s initiatives.

Schmidt stated that the development would not affect the elections on 2 October 2022 and that the decision was taken to improve the functionality of the institutions. In this context, the number of delegates in the Assembly of Peoples of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has increased. Thus, Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks, the constituent peoples, will be represented by 23 delegates instead of 18 delegates.

In this context, it can be suggested that Croatia has made significant gains in the electoral law. Because on 3 October 2022, the Croatian Foreign Minister stated that the decision to adopt an electoral law was a success of the Croatian Government, but that Komsic’s election to the Croatian membership of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina remained a “stain” on relations between the parties.[6]

Although the Croatian Foreign Minister considers Schmidt’s decision a success, Zagreb is uncomfortable with Komsic’s presence. Therefore, it is foreseeable that Croatia may make other demands in the future.  Moreover, it can be stated that Croatia is a member of organizations such as the European Union (EU) and NATO, and therefore uses its presence in these organizations to make a decision on amending the electoral law.

On October 4, 2022, Croatian President Milanovic said that he would support autonomy for Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina if they decide. In addition, Milanovic stated that the amendments made by Schmidt to the electoral law were late and insufficient.[7]

Furthermore, it can be said that the tension between the two countries will reflect negatively on Bosnia’s EU membership process. Because on October 12, 2022, Oliver Varhelyi, the member of the EU Commission responsible for enlargement, announced that they had expressed an opinion on granting Bosnia and Herzegovina the status of a “candidate country.”[8] However, on October 13, 2022, Croatian President Milanovic stated that Bosnia and Herzegovina did not fulfill the conditions of a “candidate country,” because it violated the necessary conditions.[9] In fact, with this statement, Milanovic implied that Sarajevo violated the rights of Croats living in the country.

Consequently, it is possible that Croatia will bring similar conditions to Bosnia and Herzegovina, just as Bulgaria stipulated to North Macedonia in the EU membership process and Greece to Skopje in the NATO membership process. For this reason, if Croatia does not get what it wants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is possible that Sarajevo’s EU membership process will remain protracted.


[1] “Croatia’s Milanovic Allegedly Denied Srebrenica Genocide at Brdo-Brijuni Summit”, N1english, https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/croatias-milanovic-allegedly-denied-srebrenica-genocide-at-brdo-brijuni-summit/, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).

[2] “Croatian President: They Don’t Respect Us in Bih, Even Though the Croatian Boot Forced Karadzic to Sit Down at the Table”, Sarajevo Times, https://sarajevotimes.com/croatian-president-they-dont-respect-us-in-bih-even-though-the-croatian-boot-forced-karadzic-to-sit-down-at-the-table/, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).

[3] “Croatian President: I Will Support The Self-Government of Croats in Bih”, Sarajevo Times, https://sarajevotimes.com/croatian-president-i-will-support-the-self-government-of-croats-in-bih/, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).

[4] “Bosna-Hersek’in Siyasi Görünümü”, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, https://www.mfa.gov.tr/bosna-hersek-siyasi-gorunumu.tr.mfa, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).

[5] Hamza Karcic, “Understanding Croatia’s Anti-Bosnia Agenda”, TRT World, https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/understanding-croatia-s-anti-bosnia-agenda-56843, Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).

[6] “Schmidt’s Decision a Success of Croatian Government”, Republic of Croatia Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, https://mvep.gov.hr/press-22794/schmidt-s-decision-a-success-of-croatian-government/248755, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[7] “Croatian President: I Will Support the Self-Government of Croats in Bih”, Sarajevo Times, https://sarajevotimes.com/croatian-president-i-will-support-the-self-government-of-croats-in-bih/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[8] “European Commission Recommends Granting Bosnia Candidate Status”, RFERL, https://www.rferl.org/a/bosnia-eu-commission-candidate-recommendation/32079596.html, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

[9] “Croatian President: Bih Cannot Fulfill The Conditions For The Status of a Candidate of EU”, Sarajevo Times, https://sarajevotimes.com/croatian-president-bih-cannot-fulfill-the-conditions-for-the-status-of-a-candidate-of-eu/, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2022).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.