by Ivan LOVRENOVIC
However, recent events reveal that those relations are far from even official civility, and that we may be witnessing a start of their serious and public deterioration.
What Cardinal knows: Traces of intolerance could be detected as early as this summer during the ceremonial opening of the reconstructed Stari Most [Old bridge] in Mostar, when reis ulema Ceric in his speech in Karadjoz-beg mosque opened a broadside on his colleagues from the Roman Catholic Church, without mentioning names. Now, on the other hand, while Ceric was busy preparing for his trip to Paris where he is to receive UNESCO's Peace Prize (awarded by the panel chaired by Henry Kissinger), Cardinal Puljic decided to make waves. In a series of appearances he drew attention to unequal treatment of Catholics and Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina, openly blaming the international community (and going so far as to denounce some of its elements as anti-Catholic), while at the same time accusing local factors of anti-Croat and anti-Catholic church actions.
He illustrated his charges with the notorious example of the construction of a new Roman Catholic church in Sarajevo, for which he hasn't been able to secure necessary permits for years now. He pardoned Croat politicians in power, because, as he said, "their survival in office and fates do not depend on the people who elected them but on political appointees from abroad who can fire them or file charges against them whenever they feel like it". Cardinal Puljic found a solution for ineffectiveness of Croat politicians in an obsolete and politically meaningless idea about the founding of the so-called All-Croat forum.
One cannot but wonder, and at this point that is a very serious question, whether Puljic is aware that his attitude only urges these notorious parasites and true or potential candidates for criminal charges to persist in their parasitic behavior and total irresponsibility, while it pushes the Croat national policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina into an increasingly deeper paralysis, while Croats face possibility of total marginalization or even total disappearance from whole parts and cities of Bosnia? One cannot tell what's worse - if he were aware or not.
For the first time Puljic emphatically stated that there was no cooperation between religious leaders, and he again stressed that dialog was the only way to reach the truth and establish common interests; also it is not difficult to decipher that the allusion that "it is far easier to discuss global problems" is addressed to Reis Ceric as the person who hasn't contributed to the development of such a dialog. On the other hand, Puljic's request to the Pope for assistance and intercession on behalf of Bosnian Croats to "global powerbrokers", and the demand that Croatia does not ignore its obligations with respect to Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina, prompted Safet Halilovic, minister in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Hercegovina, to offer his direct reply, unprecedented in the practice of our politicians so far.
Danger in cabinet: Perhaps this one, just like all our public spats, will simply peter out and will soon be forgotten. However, I believe that it should not be simply written off as a trivial election campaign scuffle. Too important issues were addressed, catastrophic state of inter-religious relations was revealed, and for the first time we had a direct polemic between a religious leader and a state official - all of it too important to be ignored.
The essence and depth of disagreement in connection with every conversation about endangerment on the national basis and unequal rights is very appropriately illustrated by Halilovic's replies to Puljic. Cardinal is wrong, says Halilovic, because Bosnia-Hercegovina is destabilized by requests for assistance from abroad, and such requests degrade those who make them, as thereby their status of a constituent nation is reduced to that of an ethnic minority, according to international law; on the other hand, there is no need for something like that as state institutions are strong enough to equally protect all nations and citizens.
From the lifeless formal-bureaucratic point of view these replies may at first glance seem correct. However, the reality of life in Bosnia-Hercegovina unmasks them as cynical and deeply flawed. First, for the sake of setting the record straight, Puljic's requests had nothing to do with international law, but went far below of what is implied by Halilovic. Then, can the statement about state institutions that are strong enough to equally protect all nations and citizens be interpreted as anything but cynicism (even if it is not deliberate, as that would imply that the minister is totally removed from reality)? The key issue in this country is: is there a single social ravage that institutions of this state haven't failed to protect us from? On the endless list (widespread unemployment, social endangerment, crime, cultural atrophy, general insecurity both in homes and on streets, existential hopelessness, status of citizens, pariahs, on international border crossings...), most definitely includes the feeling of endangerment and inequality on the national basis. Even if it does not have a basis in reality, that does not make it any less politically real and dangerous. The minister should know that we are marching away both from out own stability and Europe precisely because of such reasons. The Cardinal and his complaints have nothing to do with that.
Old rules for new age: Let's be specific for once: weak and obsolete political and national articulation, and characteristic provincial querulent tone of Cardinal's complaints, as well as his hopeless ideological backwardness may seem irritating, but that is simply the matter of his personal style and intellectual format, and should not be exploited for arrogant political assault on problems that motivated him. Why? Very simply, because of the system legalized in Bosnia-Hercegovina by the Dayton Agreement and other legal acts, which has by now become entrenched. I am referring to the system and set of neo-democratic customs that gave to religious communities and their leaders social significance and status, mutates mutandis, very similar to that they enjoyed during the Ottoman organization of millet and millet-basha [religious community and its leader].
Therefore, if government minister in such a situation should do anything, he should persistently fight for a different, truly democratic and secular system, in which state and national policy would be clearly separated from religious issues. And the system in which that would equally apply to all religious communities.
Of course, we can discuss endangerment of Croats using sophisms, such as those employed by Halilovic, that "all nations in Bosnia-Hercegovina have equal rights to be endangered". However, in the current situation in Bosnia-Hercegovina, in which relations between nations (ethnic groups) and religions are set up (thanks to "historical" achievement of all participants, including the HDZ and the Roman Catholic Church) as a disguised extension of wartime relations, based on the criteria of strength and advantage in numbers, on the idea of the "fundamental" [Bosniaks] and "newly arrived" [Serbs and Croats] nations, and at times even open desire for domination - therefore in such a situation, to arrogantly and frequently scornfully reject every discussion of this sort when it is initiated by the Croat side, as has been the custom in the Sarajevo media and political discourse for a while now, is most definitely not a sign of sincere and wise political stance, of the sort that is only truthful if one truly strives for the development of a joint state and its inclusion in Europe.