Ivo Komsic, The Survived Country. Dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Who, When, Where

Ivo Komsic, The Survived Country. Dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Who, When, Where

Prikaz knjige: Ivo Komšić, The Survived Country. Dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Who, When, Where. Sarajevo, Zagreb: Synopsis, 2013.

Piše: Nicolas Moll

Südosteuropa. Journal of Politics and Society, 64 (2016), br. 3, str. 419-434.


Many international actors who were involved in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between 1992 and 1995 have later published books with their view on the events and their own involvement. Among the most famous are certainly Richard Holbrooke’s memoirs To End a War (first published in 1998), related mainly to the Dayton peace negotiations in 1995. Many persons from BiH—politicians, soldiers, and ‘ordinary people’—have also published testimonies about the war, but unfortunately, with a few exceptions, they have not been translated into English and are therefore not accessible to a wider public outside of BiH. It is therefore very welcome that Ivo Komsic’s book The Survived Country, originally published in Zagreb in 2006, has recently been translated and published in an English edition. This is even more welcome as Komsic’s book is no memoir written after 1995, but his original diary which he wrote mainly during the war, and which therefore provides a direct and non-retrospective insight into the war time realities, as Komsic experienced them. Many original documents related to Komsic’s political activities during the war, which have not been published elsewhere, have been included in a documentation appendix (437-542), which gives the book an additional value as a historical source.

Born in 1948 in the small town of Kiseljak in central Bosnia, Komšić became an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Sarajevo in the 1980s. He was not actively involved in party politics before the war, except a brief and limited commitment in the renovated communist party in 1990, and also not when the war broke out, as he mainly stayed in his hometown Kiseljak. As a Bosnian Croat supporting BiH as an independent, united and multiethnic state, he was very critical towards the dominating Bosnian Croat party, the HDZ BiH (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, Croat Democratic Union) and its increasingly nationalist agenda. As a result, in 1993, he created a new political party, the HSS BiH (Hrvatska seljačka stranka, Croat Peasant Party), in order to build an alternative to the HDZ BiH which claimed to represent exclusively the Bosnian Croat interests. Komšić became the first president of this new party. In the same year, he became a member of the BiH presidency, where he remained until 1996; in this function, he participated in diverse political activities and international negotiations: he was particularly involved in the negotiations leading to the Washington Agreement in March 1994, which ended the Bosniak-Croat ‘war in the war’ and which created the Federation of BiH. He was also present at the Dayton negotiations in 1995. After the war, he returned to university while continuing with some political activities, before being elected mayor of Sarajevo in 2013.

Reading Komšić’s book is instructive on different levels: first, through this diary, which covers the years 1988 to 1990, a part of 1991 and then mainly the period from May 1992 to November 1995, the reader can follow the trajectory of an intellectual who was more in the situation of an observer before and at the outbreak of the war and who progressively acquired the role of an actor trying to influence the way of things. The diary illustrates how Komšić experienced the rise of nationalism and how the war affected his life. He is very open about his doubts and fears and his changing moods between hope and despair. It also shows the commitment and will of a nonnationalist actor in BiH to create political alternatives during the war and at the same time the big difficulties and very limited possibilities to do so.

Secondly, the book provides a lot of material to better understand the place of the Croat community in BiH, and the complexity of their inner relations, tensions and struggles, which often have remained rather neglected in other books, in comparison to the Bosnian Serbs or the Bosnian Muslims. The negative role of Croatia’s President Franjo Tuđman towards a united BiH is frequently mentioned by Komšić who strongly opposed the separatist politics of ‘Herceg Bosna’, supported by Tuđman. Already in January 1992, Komšić was one of the authors of a public letter to Tuđman which harshly criticized him for his statements about the division of BiH (published in the documentation part of the book, 444-445). In general, Komšić provides a vivid panorama of the Croat community in BiH, for example the different attitudes of the Bosnian Croat army in different parts of BiH; the tensions between and within the friars and the official Catholic Church, and the central role of Zagreb. The diary is very instructive about the conflicts between the supporters of ‘Herceg-Bosna’ on the one hand, and the HSS and the ‘Assembly of Croats in BiH’, established in 1994, on the other, as the latter sought to influence Tuđman in order to make him change his politics towards BiH. The very fragile position of the Croats in central and northern Bosnia during the war is observed very clearly; Komšić advocated to take their interests into consideration, against the supporters of ‘Herceg-Bosna’ who focused exclusively on the territory of the western Herzegovina. For any scholar who wants to work on the inner-Croat relations during the war, Komšić’s book constitutes an indispensable source.

Thirdly, the book provides interesting perceptions also of other crucial parts of war-related politics and diplomacy, and in relation to this of the attitudes of leading Bosniak politicians and especially of Alija Izetbegović, of the Serb and Bosnian Serb leadership, and also of the ‘mediators’ from the international community. As Komšić participated in various international negotiations, his diary furnishes many insights on the difficult course of these negotiations and the tactics and attitudes of the involved actors. This is especially the case concerning the negotiations for the Dayton Peace Agreement—which Komšić advocated not to sign — and the Washington negotiations in 1994 where he played a significant role. These negotiations are much less known than the Dayton Agreement, but represented a crucial step towards and a precondition to end the war. Komšić had also insights in other negotiations where he was not directly involved, for example the secret agreement between Izetbegović and Momčilo Krajišnik of September 1993, which is not often talked about. In this document Izetbegović allowed the Bosnian Serbs to hold a referendum to decide on their secession from BiH and annexation to Serbia; also this text can be found in the documentation part (460-462).

All in all, Komsic book constitutes an important source which provides the reader with additional perspectives and insights about the war in BiH. The only criticism is of editorial nature: Except for the documentation part, where many of the documents are accompanied by comments from the author, the diary itself is presented as ‘raw material’, without explanatory notes. For readers not too familiar with BiH, this makes the diary not an easy read, as many different persons, organisations, places and events appear in the text which are not necessarily known to the reader. It would therefore have been useful to add explanatory footnotes within the text, or at least, in the index of names, the functions pertaining to the mentioned individuals. Also, a map of BiH showing specifically the towns and regions which are mentioned would have been useful for a better orientation.

Share this post