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Mostar: Europe's Failure

Safet Orucevic

The Memorandum of Understanding signed on 10 June 1994 in Brussels, which brought the European Union and Hans Koschnik to Mostar, offered a basis for the city's unification. However, given that a unified Mostar could become a prototype for a united Bosnia- Herzegovina, those who wish to see Bosnia dissolved have pursued a policy of persistent obstruction of the Memorandum provisions.

The Croat political leadership's basic strategy in the first months of EU rule in Mostar was to convince the Europeans that co-existence in Mostar was impossible, that a unified Mostar was a European utopia, and that the Federation was an American electoral trick. Three days after Koschnik's inauguration, local Croat extremists prepared him a brutal welcome. Malik Alajbegovic, a totally disabled old man who lived in west Mostar, was cruelly murdered and his daughter-in-law Marija expelled to the east part of the city. He was the eleventh Bosniak killed in west Mostar after the signing of the Washington Agreement. The message was simple: 'You have come to unite Mostar, but there are people in this city ready to do everything to stop you.' The policy which the political leadership in west Mostar followed at this time was the one which Tadeusz Mazowiecki described in his 1994 report as 'soft ethnic cleansing'. 'The method of soft ethnic cleansing', wrote Mazowiecki, 'is based on continuous harassment of the Bosniaks in west Mostar, ranging from psychological pressure to attacks and expulsions.' His conclusion was that 'the aim of this is to force the Bosniaks in the part of the city under Croat control to choose to move from west to east Mostar.'

In the first two months of the EU Administration, more than two hundred Bosniaks who had remained in west Mostar asked the permission of the east Mostar authorities for permanent resettlement in east Mostar. Koschnik and his Administration at first did nothing. The symptoms of the sickness of which the EU Administration would suffer for much of its mandate were already visible: sluggishness and indecision. Only on 21 October 1994, when Koschnik met face to face with Mrs Samija Sehovic, who a few days before had been expelled from west Mostar, did his Administration issue a decree banning the eviction of people from their apartments. In this way, rather than beginning the process of returning those who had been expelled back to their homes, it reduced its actions to responding to moves made by those who ruled west Mostar. With the above decree, Koschnik in fact admitted the EU Administration's impotence. Instead of demanding an effective and strict action by the local Croat police and courts in such cases, he signalled to the local Croat politicians that, irrespective of their behaviour, they could count on continued cooperation with the Administration and get economic aid, which - by conferring economic success and overlooking political obstruction - served to strengthen their hold on power.

As mayor of east Mostar I found myself in a very difficult situation, which continues to this day. I used to get dozens of letters daily from non-Croats living in the western part of the city, asking me to allow their transfer to the east part. If I permitted it, I would de facto be participating in 'soft ethnic cleansing' and the city's partition, thus helping the process of a three-way division of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the break-up of the Federation. If I did not permit people to move, I would effectively be co-responsible for every case of harassment or murder that might occur in west Mostar. I nevertheless decided not to allow resettlement from west to east Mostar: had I done otherwise, within two months Koschnik would have been left with two ethnically pure ghettoes. All I had as the basis for my action was Koschnik's ban on evictions. In reality, no decision taken by the Administrator during his mandate was ever implemented, starting with this decree and ending with the Agreement in Rome, where concessions were made to the Croat side both by Bosnian diplomacy and by the international community.

Obstruction from the shadows

'I have a strong impression', wrote Sir Martin Garrod, chief of staff of the EU Administration in November 1994, ' that at my meetings I do not see people who really decide, which is especially true of negotiations dealing with the police. In these four months, I never met on the Croat side a single person who said he was responsible for policing in west Mostar, a man who could issue an order. It is possible that such a person exists on the Croat side but, although I asked about him many times, I still do not know who he is. It is clear, however, that there are certain people on the Croat side who decide policy but not in line with what has been agreed, i.e. not in line with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by both sides.'

In the mid autumn of 1994, the EU Administration underwent a deep crisis. The Croat side would not agree to form a joint police force, while all negotiations regarding free movement were literally sabotaged by the west Mostar political leaders. In discussing the budget for 1995, the Administration suddenly spoke up. Klaus Metscher, Koschnik's deputy, publicly stated that it was unrealistic to expect the EU to invest money in projects that were meant for Mostar as a whole (hospitals, schools, infrastructure, the police) as long as the obstruction from the Croat side continued. However, the Administration had already shown itself willing to invest in projects which carried the danger of final partition. The EU Administration for Mostar held a weapon that was stronger than all others: money. However, every weapon can also be mishandled. The Administration, in order to create an appearance of progress - partly for the sake of international public opinion and partly for the sake of its own prestige within Mostar - took the risk and started to finance projects. It also started to buy, at high cost, small concessions from the local Croat leadership. One could say that the Administration had a concept of investing not so much in a united city as in the status quo - and, if I am not mistaken, in its own survival in Mostar. With the big capital it had at its disposal, the EU Administration should have played the role of a kind of ice-breaker in the frozen sea of divided Bosnia-Herzegovina - but it did not do so. The assassination attempt against Koschnik in September 1994 clearly demonstrated the stance of the Croat shadow authorities. The perpetrators were named and caught, but in a display of open cynicism surrendered to the military court in Split (Croatia). A few months later they were released and reappeared in west Mostar. This incident was so humiliating to the EU that it simply brushed it under the carpet.

Koschnik was the central focus of European policy, but he often seemed to be left in the lurch, at the mercy of the extremists in west Mostar, condemned to pronounce small steps great and important, in order to divert attention from the city's unification to the reconstruction that was the less important part of the EU mission. The reconstruction in Mostar could not fail. The real question, however, was whether to rebuild one or two Mostars. The shadow of the invisible wall covered not just the city, but also the EU. On the east side lived people who wished to live in a single city: they wished to pull the wall down. On the other side of the wall, however, there were those who did not wish vacate other people's houses and apartments and who insisted that it was impossible to live together with those whose flats they had taken. If the wall came down, it would clearly make such such people very insecure.

In September 1994 Mijo Brajkovic (mayor of west Mostar) and I signed agreements regarding the removal of barricades from the city streets, free access to the EU office, and a joint police presence at that office. It turned out, however, that Brajkovic did not have the authority to sign some of these agreements, and that he certainly did not have permission to implement them. The policy in west Mostar was made by shadowy men, fronted by others authorized only to draw out interminably negotiations over every smallest move. This strategy drove members of the European Administration crazy: they were often confused and depressed. I believe that to this very day they are not clear who it is who makes decisions in the west part of Mostar.

The problem with the formation of joint police forces fully revealed the concept behind the policy of obstruction. Koschnik had about a hundred European policemen, but apart from serving as sources of information they could not be used for anything else. Formation of a joint police force was not just a minor detail of the Memorandum of Understanding, but one of the most important conditions for unification of the city. It would have created an instrument for eliminating the duality of power. Once it happened, power would to a large extent move into the hands of the Administration, which would thereby acquire effective control of the city. The joint police force would also eliminate the division of the city on the ethnic principle, begin the process of erasing the results of ethnic cleansing and allow full freedom of movement throughout the city and the security of each citizen. Only a joint police could succeed in bringing down the invisible wall. This is why obstruction on this issue was the most intensive. Each time that a representative of the Croat side reached an agreement with the Bosniak side, he would be replaced by a new man who would annul everything that had been achieved. Each step forward caused three steps back.

I found myself in a strange situation. I told Koschnik: 'Well, if we cannot move forward, let us at least stop moving backwards.' At the start of 1995, the French ambassador to Bosnia- Herzegovina, Henri Jacquolin, told me that the European Union had sent a formal protest to the President of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation Kresimir Zubak and the mayor of west Mostar Mijo Brajkovic, because of their failure to sign a document regarding the already agreed procedures forming a joint police force. This was only one of a string of pressures on the leadership of west Mostar, none of which ever achieved anything. The crisis centred on the unification of Mostar was growing, and a series of meetings followed in Brussels, Zagreb, Washington, Madrid. They made no difference. Each meeting ended by voicing full support for Koschnik, but the most important measure was regularly missing: sanctions against the obstructive side.

Is joint life possible in Mostar?

If you ask opponents of the city's unification why it has so far proved impossible, their answer will be: 'After what has happened, it is not possible to live together.' Even some of the EU representatives advocate this view. In fact the question itself is a wrong one. The real question is: 'Is it possible for people who have committed crimes, thrown people out of their homes, conducted ethnic cleansing, and sent people to concentration camps, to go on living in Mostar?' The absurd began to happen the moment that the supporters of ethnic partition discovered that they could use the sluggishness of the EU Administration to legalize the situation created by ethnic cleansing.

There remains the question of what would have happened if the EU had decided to impose sanctions on the uncooperative side in Mostar. The Administration, at times, came close to doing that, but never had the courage to take the risk and pursue matters to the end. Administration officials often stated that the EU had not come to Mostar as a colonial power to impose a solution. This is what French ambassador Georges-Marie Chenu told me in the spring of 1995: 'Europe will not impose any solution, because we are not colonialists nor is the relationship here a colonial one. You must reach an agreement with your partners. We are here to help you with advice. With the investments we are creating a climate of peace, thus enabling you to think about a long-term political solution.'

This attitude towards Mostar equalized those for whom half of Mostar was a spoil of war with those who simply sought the right to return to their homes. The investment in peace had the result that freedom of movement from one part of the city to the other would, for a whole year, remain frozen at 250 people per day. Those seeking ethnic partition understood these messages as encouragement to persevere. They rightly understood that all that was necessary was to be determined. The creators of concentration camps, the destroyers of Mostar, thus far at least, have emerged as victors.

Following the February 1996 attack on Koschnik and the subsequent Rome Agreement, Karadzic appeared on Pale television to express his 'admiration' for, as he put it, 'the Croats in Mostar' for their success in reducing the size of Koschnik's district, which in his view was due to their perseverance. He went on to say that the Serbs too should have persevered in regard to Sarajevo. Reflecting upon the situation in Mostar, Karadzic made fun of the international community. Why did it not react? Why did it have different criteria for Mostar and Sarajevo? Why were sanctions not applied equally? These are questions that many have asked.

'The Serbs have Banja Luka, the Muslims have Sarajevo, so the Croats should have Mostar'

This is what Mijo Brajkovic thinks. The logic of selecting Mostar as the Croat capital in Bosnia-Herzegovina neglects, or rather considers unimportant, the fact that in Mostar before the war Croats were in a minority, while Bosniaks were in a relative majority; and that the city in any case belongs to all its three peoples - Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs - equally. By trying to promote Mostar as a Croat capital city, they tell other peoples that they are unwanted and have less right than they do to Mostar. Karadzic also used to say: 'Sarajevo will either be Serb or it will cease to exist.' Mostar is Croat, of course, but not any more than it is Bosniak. Each ethnic group living in Mostar must have its full rights guaranteed, but not at the expense of the others. No one should be treated as unwanted, or less valued, in part of the city that has been declared 'Croat' simply on the basis of ethnic cleansing.

Whether EU authority can be restored in Mostar is a question which only the Union itself and its Administration can answer. It is impossible to separate the issue of Mostar from what is happening in the rest of the Federation: it is the test of that entire creation's viability. Brajkovic said at the beginning of February that he follows orders from Zagreb. This is no news. Local Croat functionaries, despite the projected Federation, have constantly been talking quite openly at meetings with European diplomats about a three-way partition of Bosnia. On the occasion of a visit by a West European Union delegation, headed by Portuguese diplomat Moraes Cabral, Brajkovic said openly that 'the Serbs have Banja Luka, the Muslims have Sarajevo, so Mostar should go to the Croats.' This statement has nothing in common with the agreement on the Federation, but expresses the determination of local Croat functionaries to erect in Mostar a barrier to its implementation.

Until the agreement in Dayton, freedom of movement was the most difficult problem. The excuse of the local Croat authorities was that it was impossible after the conflicts that took had taken place in 1993. In June 1995 I put forward a four-point proposal which, if accepted, could have begun to establish it. The shape of two cities was already visible in everyday life under EU protection, which had permitted the creation of ethnic transport for the city, with city buses operating only within ethnic zones. The same was true for public utilities. My first point was that the west Mostar leadership had accepted Mazowiecki's proposal for freedom of movement for up to five hundred people, who under a simplified procedure could cross from one part of the city to the other. I asked the EU Administration to form a department that would guarantee and supervise the return of Mostar citizens to their homes. I insisted that the agreement signed on 7 September 1994, which dealt with the removal of all check-points, should be implemented. Finally I asked for new check-points to be created, to oversee a decentralized circulation between the two parts of the city. None of this was accepted by the leadership in west Mostar.

The position of the local (and not only local) HDZ functionaries was clear: not to allow any advance in Mostar until their demand for an ethnic partition of the city was met. The moment that the illusion of a unified city was accepted in Rome, so too was an illusory version of freedom of movement. Today people visit their homes and apartments with fear, knowing they cannot return to them. The return of the expelled was not positively defined in Rome, except for the central zone. Freedom of movement without the implementation of other freedoms and rights is only a cynical gesture.

A united or a partitioned city?

Often I could not but feel that the EU was satisfied with its presence in Mostar, convinced that little more could be accomplished than a cooling of guns by the use of money. My impression was that the Mostar paralysis was what some EU countries wanted. There was an impression of almost masochistic pleasure exhibited by the diplomats of certain European countries, as they listened to me say that there was no advance in Mostar; that despite the EU presence people could not be buried in accordance with their religion; that not a single family had managed to return to their home. If you ask a person in east Mostar what they most associate the EU with, they will say THW (Technische Hilfswerk: Technical Aid), which distributes building materials for the reconstruction of damaged and destroyed homes. After two years of its presence, the EU still has thousands of people in east Mostar living in fabricated sheds and cellars, while there are several thousand flats standing empty in west Mostar to which their owners cannot return. The city, partitioned by war and ethnic cleansing into two ethnic zones, was being rebuilt and the scars of the past war were being removed from the streets and facades; but the situation created by the war remained unchanged. A foreign journal has compared the east part of Mostar with Hiroshima and the west part with Las Vegas. After Koschnik left, I got an Administration report regarding reconstruction: the Administration had invested 60% of its budget in Hiroshima and 40% in Las Vegas. In this way east Mostar, which looks like the site of a major archaeological excavation, has become the source of an immense capital and material gain for those who destroyed it. In this way EU funds have been invested in the obstruction of the process it is supposedly promoting.

The future of Mostar remains an open question. The Rome Agreement is in crisis, as are all the agreements signed in the past about the city and the Federation. Clearly. if Mostar is to be reunited, it is necessary first to remove from political life the proponents of an ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This article is from Bosnia Report