When Bosnia was Divided in Graz

Only a month had passed since the beginning of the war in Bosnia when the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić meet with new strong man in the Bosnian Croat HDZ Mate Boban for a secret meeting at the Graz airport on 6 May 1992. At this point, the HDZ was still formally a coalition partner to the Muslim SDA in the Bosnian government, but this alliance was quickly unraveling. It was thus that this meeting was officially “secret”, even though the Austrian media, including the state broadcaster ORF, and later the international press reported extensively from this event. The content of this meeting remained silent, as there was no official announcement and the Croat delegation left the five hour meeting without speaking to journalists. Karadžić however revealed to reporters and, as the Austrian daily “Die Presse“ notes on 7.5.1992,  that the talks focused on the “cantonization of Bosnia”. Already at the time, Austrian tabloids speculated, as it turns out rightly, whether the meeting had as its goal the partition of Bosnia.

Karadzic at the Graz Airport, 6 May 1992

The meeting in Graz between Boban and Karadžić follows an earlier, better known meeting between the Serbian and Croat preisdents, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tudjman, in March 1991 in Titos old hunting lodge where both had already agreed on the partition of Bosnia. How much Karadžić and Boban received the backing of the two republics also became obvious as Karadžić arrived with the plan of the Yugoslav government and Boban with a car of the Croatian authorities.

So what did Boban and Karadžić agree on in Graz? Despite speculation about the partition of Bosnia by media and frequent reference to the agreement during trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the content remains largely unknown. Neverthless, the Bosnian daily “Oslobodjenje“ proved to be well informed a few days after teh meeting, correctly identifying the content of the agreement. The agreement itself was later published by the Croatian politician Zdravko Tomić. Austrian journalists noticed that the Croat and Serb delegation focused on a large Bosnian map showing the demographic distribution. The Agreement indeed focused on drawing a line of division between Croat and Serb spheres of influence in Bosnia, effectively dividing the country without the third and largest community being represented at the table.

Croat and Serb representatives do not agree on all matters in Graz. While Karadžić considers the river Neretva the border between Serb and Croat territories in Herzegovina, the Croat delegation supports the border of the 1939 Croat banovina instead. In the North of Bosnia the two delegations agree on the division of territory along the strategically important Posavina corridor that connects the region around Banja Luka with Serbia. The Agreement concludes that „as a consequence of what has been agreed there is no reason for further armed conflicts between Serbs and Croats on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina “.

Kleine Zeitung, 7 May 1992

The Agreement does not in a single word mention the Muslim population (not to mention anybody else). This is particularly absurd when dividing Mostar, the scene of intense battles between Croat and Bosnian government forces just a year later. The agreement notes that Croats claim all of the city, while Serbs see the Neretva river once more as the line of division.

During his trial at the ICTY Karadžić noted the importance of the agreement as it largely put an end to the Serb-Croat conflict. Similarly the well respected Serbian journalist Miloš Vasić noted in 1993 that the Grazer Agreement constituted „perhaps the single most important document of the Bosnian war“, as it enabled the Bosnian Serb army to focus on Muslim targets and prepared the ground for the two side war against the Bosnian government in 1993.

The maps on which the nationalist leaders drew new borders have been rolled out before Graz: The European Community represented by Portugese diplomat José Cutileiro suggest the creation of ethnically defined cantons already in February 1992 at the insistence of nationalist politicians. The division of Bosnia also had been decided already in 1991. In Graz, however, new borders were drawn for the first time and one conflict, the Croat-Serb one in Bosnia, came to an end so that the overall war would continue much longer. The consequence of the agreement was the Croat-Muslim war within the war which only came to an end in 1994 with the Washington Agreement, a prerequisite for the Dayton Peace Agreement.

What remains of the Graz Agreement? With more than three years of war with and some 100,000 victims, the borders Boban and Karadžić drew in Graz were drawn and redrawn, some changed, others remained the same. The border between the Croat and Serb dominated regions of Herzegovina is similar to the 1939 Croat banovina, as Croat negotiators in Graz had hoped. The Posavina region has remained under control of the Serb Republic, even if it is divided by the District of Brčko. More important than the maps is the idea that Bosnia should be divided along ethnic lines. Despite (or because of) the Dayton Peace Agreement and extensive international support for refugee return, most of Bosnia remains divided into ethnically largely homogenous regions. The Graz agreement is thus a reminder 20 years after its conclusion of the failure of international mediation and ruthlessness of nationalist “leaders” to divided lands without any consideration of the people living there. While Mate Boban died in 1997 and Radovan Karadžić stands trial in The Hague, their ideas, maps and plans remain alive.

(thanks to Nidžara Ahmetašević and Iva Komšić  for researching the background materials).

%d bloggers like this: