Croatia’s President Zoran Milanović highlighted the situation of the Catholic minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina during a visit to the Vatican on Monday.
The Holy See press office said on Nov. 15 that after meeting with Pope Francis, Milanović held discussions with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
“During the cordial discussions, the parties expressed their appreciation for the good existing bilateral relations, and the intention to further develop collaboration,” it said.
“In addition, several international and regional issues were discussed, including the situation of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed independence in 1992 amid the breakup of Yugoslavia, which was followed by the Bosnian War that claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.
The presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia reached an agreement to end Europe’s bloodiest conflict since the Second World War on Nov. 21, 1995, after negotiations at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton, Ohio.
Under the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina would remain a single sovereign state, consisting of the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat federation, with Sarajevo serving as the undivided capital city. The text resulted in the creation of a political apparatus described as “the world’s most complicated system of government.”
Catholics — most of whom are Croats — are a minority within the country, comprising 15% of the population, according to a 2013 census. Half of the population is Muslim and around 30% belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Medjugorje, a popular Catholic pilgrimage destination, is located in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12 miles east of the country’s border with Croatia.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement last November, the Catholic bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina said that the pact ended the Bosnian War but failed to create “a stable and just peace.”
Cardinal Vinko Puljić of Sarajevo said last year that up to 10,000 Catholics leave Bosnia and Herzegovina every year.
Reuters has described current turmoil in the southeastern European state, home to 3.3 million people, as the worst political crisis since the war.
Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest bilateral supporter, has threatened to cut financial aid to the country following calls for secession, especially in the Bosnian Serb entity known as Republika Srpska.
Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka told the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need earlier this month that Catholics faced discrimination “in all respects: politically, socially and also economically.”
“The Catholics often have problems when they have Croat names. It is also difficult for them to find work. There is one part of the country, West Herzegovina, where they can more or less live in peace. But the Catholics are leaving the country even there,” he said.
He added that Catholics acted “as a sort of ‘adhesive’” between the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslim Bosniaks.
“Should this adhesive disappear, then these two worlds — the Islamic and the Orthodox — will drift ever farther apart. This will give rise to even greater unrest,” he commented.