The opinion of this journalist is a total opposite of that of Mr. Klein and his domestic servants: not only that he never experienced Herceg-Bosna, whether as a republic or a community, as "a stone around the neck" but he always saw it as a bulwark (of the Dalmatian part of south Croatia). Similarly he was never satisfied with the harsh reductionist formula about Bosnia-Hercegovina as "another state"; for him it has always been "another (and also) Croatian state". The significance of Herceg-Bosna becomes clear when you climb to the top of Marjan, where during sunny days it is possible to see on one side the island of Vis, and thereby southern Croatian border (ignoring the [tiny and] distant island of Palagruza) and on the other side the peaks of the Kamenica mountain as a northern southern Croatian border, and all of that with a naked eye. It is comforting that Croats also live on the other side [of that border]. So far.
In Stolac, our first contact is our correspondent and high school principal Ivo Raguz. He encounter him hard at work near a concrete mixer. His wife serves us with smoke-dried ham, cheese and wine, all of which could carry the distinction "Croatian quality".
Immediately, we ask him if he exaggerated when in his report on the Westendorp's replacement of the mayor and his namesake Raguz he asked himself and his readers: "Is this the contemporary version of the Bleiburg tragedy?"
"If I did exaggerate, I didn't too much," insists Raguz. "As if we are witnessing a planned action whose goal is to remove most important Croatian leaders, to destroy the leadership of this people, and instill a feeling of insecurity in it. The Muslims have taken over both media and diplomacy, I even sometimes discover in federal delegations under a title of a fictive "Vanja" ["Croat" name] a Mubera [Muslim name]. Al that our federal partners (!) say, international administrators of Bosnia accept like parrots. As if that old Communist formula about "holy trinity" is being brought back. If the Serbs are at fault because of Brcko, Muslims about Sarajevo, then the Croats also must be blamed for something. Thus, it was our turn, although 84 Muslim families, out of planned 100, had returned and although Stolac is one of most accessible cities in Bosnia, both for Muslims and Serbs..."
We covered all the local and wider political and geopolitical factors on Raguz's balcony which provides a nice view of Stolac Polje: it is easy to force Croats to move from Bosnia to Croatia; they are still not moving in big numbers, but the aforementioned factors, above all angry Englishmen, have been instilling the feeling of insecurity among the locals. Muslims don't care about the local pilot project "100 families", they only care about Stolac and then, further, sea coast access and Neum [town on 10 miles long Bosnian Adriatic sea coast]. We've heard that Croat politicians in Sarajevo and Bosnia are mostly trying not to "make waves" (this Serb verb from the age of brotherhood and unity was deliberately used). What about the motherland, Croatia? What does it look like from Stolac?
"The motherland has been quiet," says Raguz, giving us a significant look. He begins to recite lines from a Kranjcic's poem:
"I have a homeland.
It's hills and valleys are in my heart;
Where shall I place this paradise,
I ask the world
and suffer my pain."
"What is going on?" I ask an angry looking citizen of Stolac. "I was here last year and the atmosphere was totally different..."
"Last year we still thought that this would become Croatia, that's what it is," he replies. In that atmosphere, unhealed Stolac ruins seem even more depressing. Numerous and too numerous SFOR vehicles are passing by. At the table next to ours two policemen with American insignia eat sea shells! Even that, somewhat surreal scene cannot warm up our souls. Following Raguz's advice, we stop by at Mobby Dick restaurant, owned by Pero Prkacin; usually it is possible to find someone in the restaurant who is willing to discuss local and not so local topics. We encounter only a waitress and a number of men seated at one table.
"We are truck drivers and do not care about politics," they say apologizing and rejecting our questions at the same time.
We cruise around the town and suddenly find ourselves on the road towards famous Stolac "multicultural market", and the Republic of Srpska.
We stop in front of a two men police patrol. Our collocutor is definitely a Croat, but does not want to tell us his name. He discretely points out that his colleague is a Bosniak-Muslim.
"The life is hard here," he says. "It all boils down to pure survival. Certain individuals, based on various political games, have gotten rich. An old story."
"Are the Croats going to survive here?" I ask him directly and, perhaps, inconsiderately. "I don't know, but I am optimistic," he responds, discretely checking whether his Muslim colleague can hear us. "Only poor people stay here, and those who send them only [sirgazde?]. If the illegal enrichment of certain individuals goes on, that won't be good." We thank him and go on, unsure whether his "class" topic was really the most important one or whether he didn't want to touch the "ethnic" one because of his colleague. These are the joys of life.
What about their own politicians?
"Our politicians are a huge enigma," they say. "We can't figure it out: either they are extremely intelligent, but we don't understand their actions, or they are absolute fools. There is no third possibility." We move to another café. The owner of this one is called Srecko, but he doesn't want to reveal his surname, nor the name of his café. He was disabled in the Patriotic war, wounded in the fighting against the Muslims. His father is a Serb, mother a Croat. He considers himself a Croat.
"This stuff that Westendorp is doing to us, it's killing us," says Srecko. He adds a suitable swear word in front of Westendorp's name and wants us to print it as "f......".
"Have we caused trouble? We haven't, so it's useless to protest. We, Croats, the better we are, the more they get on our back. The people are helpless. Who should we trust? Our only hope is Croatia. How many of us do they intend to send to the Hague? .... Well, no matter how many they send to the Hague, we'll always make more!"
"Are the Croats emigrating from here?" I ask him.
"Croatian people are not moving from here!" he responds decisively.
"Is that true or simply the way you'd like it to be?"
"Both! We have emigrated from here too much. I have three aunts, and seven cousins in Sidney, Australia, one uncle lives in Canada, an aunt, uncle and two cousins are in Paris, one uncle in Frankfurt..." Boro Brajkovic, known as Kuso, joins our conversation; he is the first citizen of Stolac who is willing to give us his name. It turns out that he is not really from Stolac, but more from Capljina, Croatian Defenders Street, number so and so. "Imagine, they fire a man just like that!" says Boro, offering to buy us a drink. "We do everything to please them and they treat us as if we were all war criminals!"
Boro owns a mobile grill, probably located at the "contact point" with the Republic of Srpska. He adds that the business hasn't been going well. No more Montenegrins, he says.
We don't get the last remark. Boro says that he can hardly make ends meet, the only secure income is his disability pension of 173 kunas a month. He hardly makes enough to pay for the basics.
"Don't tell them how much you get!" interjects a man from the neighboring table. "Did you know that some pensioners here get as much as DM 100 per month?!" We didn't, but now we do.
"That's always been a Croat village! But now, it's the way it is. That's why we are starting from scratch here. In the village of Bobanovo Selo." Descending towards the Neretva river, whose waters are shimmering in the warm February sun, we wonder: how did that village get its name? Was it named after our Boban of Herceg-Bosna. Our people, let them be...