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Assessment for Croats in Bosnia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Croats in Bosnia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 14 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Bosnia Facts
Area:    51,129 sq. km.
Capital:    Sarajevo
Total Population:    3,366,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Croats in Bosnia have a low risk of rebellion, yet the possibility of protests remains high. The situation in Bosnia is improving, yet still quite volatile. Bosnia has a long history of ethnic tensions, and its unique structure creates challenges for its constituent minority groups. The 1995 Dayton Accords set up two entities combining to create one federal Bosnian government. The two entities, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina frequently clash over issues such as refugee return and war criminal prosecution. The Repulika Srpska (RS) is predominately Serb and in this region Croats and Bosniaks experience significant oppression. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federation) is predominately Croat and Muslim Bosniak. In this region, Serbs experience significant discrimination. However, since most Serbs live in the RS and most Muslims and Croats in the Federation, each minority group as a whole experiences low levels of discrimination. The federal structure has become more efficient in recent years, but the fundamental differences of the minority groups and ethnic tensions remain.

There are several reasons the risk of rebellion by Croats is low in Bosnia. Croats are represented in the Bosnian government and have their own president. In addition, there are far too many international observers in Bosnia to allow large scale rebellion to take place. The more likely scenario is a continuation of the protests that were seen from 1999-2003. Strong support for nationalistic Croat parties also ensures the continuation of protests for the foreseeable future.

Analytic Summary

When Yugoslavia was torn apart in 1992, turmoil and civil war resulted in almost all of the successor states. Bosnia was hit the hardest by this outbreak of violence and ethnic hatred. Within Bosnia, the three main ethnic groups, the Muslims, Serbs and Croats all have large populations. The Croats have the smallest population of the three at close to 22%. The Croats predominantly speak Croatian, which is considered to be its own language despite its similarity to Serbian (LANG = 1). The Croats are primarily Catholic Christian, compared to the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslims (BELIEF = 3). The Bosnian Croats are located predominantly near the Bosnia/Croatia border (GROUPCON = 3), but many have scattered across Bosnia and migrated to Croatia during the civil war and its aftermath (MIGRANT = 5). While it is not possible to identify a Bosnian Croat purely on the basis of their physical characteristics (RACE = 0), most people are aware of each other's ethnicity (COHESX9 = 3) because of the volatile nature of ethnic relations within Bosnia. Further complicating the situation in Bosnia is the fact that all three ethnic groups have been in the region for so long that each has a certain historical claim to the land (TRADITN = 1). Bosnian Croats were both the recipients and perpetrators of atrocities during the Bosnian civil war.

The former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia has been beset by civil war since its mainly Muslim population voted to secede from the Yugoslav Federation in March 1992. Ethnic Croats living in Bosnia favored secession from Yugoslavia, but they wanted to unite with Croatia rather than remain in a Muslim-dominated Bosnian state. A few months after the Muslim-Serb conflict erupted, fighting also broke out between Muslims and Croats. During their conflict with the Muslims, Croats formed a temporary anti-Muslim alliance with Bosnian Serbs. In early 1994, however, Bosnian Croats and Muslims formed an anti-Serb alliance.

The Dayton Peace Accord drew internal confederal boundaries along ethnic lines and carved up Bosnia into two parts, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic. The Dayton agreement guaranteed the existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single sovereign state, within which the Bosnian Serbs and Croats are allowed to have political links with their ethnic parties elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. Political confederation with either side is strictly forbidden. Presidential and parliamentary elections have consistently displayed an overwhelming support for the nationalist parties in Bosnia since the foundation of this government.

The building of multiethnic democratic institutions has been a problem for both halves of Bosnia, but is more serious in the Muslim-Croat federation. Both communities in this part of the country had been trying since the 1996 elections to cooperate on the implementation of a plan to build unified central institutions. While many political agreements on this question have been achieved, problems still remained as of 2003. While the Croats in Bosnia do not currently face any ecological or demographic disadvantages (DEMSTR00 = 0), what is described as "brain drain" has become an issue for Bosnian Croats. The Bosnian economy has still not recovered from the war, and as a result, many of the brightest and youngest Bosnian Croats are leaving Bosnia for Croatia and elsewhere. A requirement of the Camp David Peace Accord is that the Bosnian government be lead by a three-person presidency, which allows each ethnic group to elect one of its members to office. As a result, the Croats enjoy protection from discrimination by their president (POLDIS03 = 0). The Bosnian Croats also face no economic discrimination in the region where they are a majority (ECDIS03 = 0). In non-Croat majority areas, social discrimination against Croats does occur. The government engages in no formal oppression of Croats, but societal discrimination causes problems. While there is a high level of ethnic tension in the region, the Bosnian Croats appear to have avoided massive conflicts with either the Muslims or Serbs in recent years, except for several incidents in the late 1990s of extremist Bosnian Croats carrying out attacks on the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Bosnian Croats are represented by a variety of organizations. Many of the political parties are linked to parties found in Croatia, such as the Croatian Party of Rights and the Croatian Peasants Party. Organizations specific to Bosnian Croats include the Croatian Democratic Community and the Croatian Defense Council (HVO). The HVO is the armed militia of Croatians in Bosnia. While it is by nature a militant organization, it has not been involved in violence recently, and it also serves more conventional roles. The Bosnian Croats rely on the government of Croatia to provide ideological help, but the official Croatian government position is to support groups that want to remain in Bosnia. The Bosnian Croats are in no way in agreement as to what they want from the Bosnian government that they are also a part of. Only a small number advocate a complete break from Bosnia, allowing the area to join Croatia. Others have called for greater autonomy in the Croatian region. As a sign of the decreasing support for outright secession, the Croat wing of the Bosnian parliament has indefinitely postponed a formal call to join Croatia. Those who wish to remain in Bosnia have concerns regarding the protection of their property and land, as well as issues surrounding returning refugees. Many families moved into homes that were deserted, only to find now that the original owner has come back, and vice versa. This issue is actually of concern for all three Bosnian ethnic groups, as refugees of all groups have returned only to find new residents in their homes. The government has actually been criticized by all ethnic groups in Bosnia for not being able to protect the property of returning refugees. Although Bosnia has become more peaceful since the cease fire, ethnic tensions remain high, and Croats have called on the state to protect them from the Muslim and Serbian communities.



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