Blaž Nikola Kraljević (16 September 1947 – 9 August 1992) was a Bosnian Croat paramilitary leader who commanded the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) during the Bosnian War. An immigrant to Australia, Kraljević joined the Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood (HRB) upon his arrival there in 1967. During his return to Yugoslavia in January 1992 he was appointed by Dobroslav Paraga, leader of the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), as leader of the HOS in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During the Bosnian War he advocated a Croat–Bosniak alliance, a view that ran counter to those of the Croatian government led by Croatian president Franjo Tuđman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party. He denounced attempts by Mate Boban, president of the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, and Radovan Karadžić, president of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska, to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina and was appointed by Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović as a member of Staff of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), shortly before his assassination by Croatian Defence Council (HVO) soldiers under the command of Mladen Naletilić.
Blaž Kraljević was born on 16 September 1947 in the village of Lisice in the municipality of Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1967, at the age of 19, he migrated to Australia where he was recruited by Srećko Rover into the Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood (HRB), a pro-Ustaše group established in the mid-1950s. Kraljević remained in Australia until 1990 when he returned to Yugoslavia to help fight for Croatian independence.
In 1990 and 1991, Serbs in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina had proclaimed a number of "Serbian Autonomous Regions" with the intent of later unifying them to create a Greater Serbia. Serbs used the well equipped Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) in defending these territories. As early as September-October 1990, the JNA had begun arming Bosnian Serbs and organizing them into militias. By March 1991, the JNA had distributed an estimated 51,900 firearms to Serb paramilitaries and 23,298 firearms to Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The Croatian government began arming Croats in the Herzegovina region in 1991 and in the start of 1992, expecting that the Serbs would spread the war into Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also helped arm the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) community. From July 1991 to January 1992, the JNA and Serb paramilitaries used Bosnian territory to wage attacks on Croatia.
On 25 March 1991, Franjo Tuđman met with Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in Karađorđevo, reportedly to discuss partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June, the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) was formed in Croatia by the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP). In November, the autonomous Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia (HZ-HB) was established, it claimed it had no secessionary goal and that it would serve a "legal basis for local self-administration". It vowed to respect the Bosnian government under the condition that Bosnia and Herzegovina was independent of "the former and every kind of future Yugoslavia." In December, Tuđman, in a conversation with Bosnian Croat leaders, said that "from the perspective of sovereignty, Bosnia-Herzegovina has no prospects" and recommended that Croatian policy "support for the sovereignty [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] until such time as it no longer suits Croatia." That same month HOS was disbanded by the Croatian government.
On 3 January 1992, Dobroslav Paraga, leader of the HSP, appointed Kraljević as leader of the HOS in Bosnia and Herzegovina and established its main headquarters in Ljubuški. It "supported Bosnian territorial integrity much more consistently and sincerely than the HVO" which supported a partition of its territory. It was more accepting of Bosniaks in its ranks than the HVO and consisted of 5,000 volunteers that included Bosnian Croats, Bosniaks, and foreign volunteers.
He played an influential role and advocated a Croat–Bosniak alliance for a united Bosnia and Herzegovina. His views ran counter to those of the Croatian government and he was seen by Tuđman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) as an obstacle to their plans for a Croat–Bosniak War. Media in Croatia, closely associated with Croatian defense minister Gojko Šušak, claimed that HOS was in fact "MOS", the "Muslim Defence Force", and that the Bosniaks were prepared, through HOS, to backstab the Croats. Upon entrance in the war, Kraljević had declared that:
In April 1992, the siege of Sarajevo began, by which time the Bosnian Serb-formed Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) controlled 70% of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 8 April, Bosnian Croats were organized into the Croatian Defence Council (HVO). A sizable number of Bosniaks also joined.
On 15 April 1992, the multi-ethnic Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) was formed, with slightly over two-thirds of troops consisting of Bosniaks and almost one-third of Croats and Serbs. In the winter Bosniaks began leaving the HVO and joining the ARBiH which also began receiving supplies from Croatia. In May, HVO Major General Ante Roso declared that the only "legal military force" in HZ-HB was the HVO and that "all orders from the TO [Territorial Defense] command [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] are invalid, and are to be considered illegal on this territory".
On 9 May 1992, Boban, Josip Manolić, Tuđman's aide and previously the Croatian Prime Minister, and Radovan Karadžić, president of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska, secretly met in Graz and formed an agreement on the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Graz agreement. Kraljević denounced the agreement stating "we implore all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially Croats and Bosniaks, not to take into account any statements or agreements between Mate Boban and Radovan Karadžić. Neither speaks in the name of Croats and Bosniaks. They do not represent what the Croats and Bosniaks want. ... HOS and the TO are defending, and will defend, Bosnia and Herzegovina." Kraljević commented on the internal divisions of Croats and closed stating "We will get rid of the people with a dark past and suspicious present. [...] We will send them home but need to keep an eye on them as our destiny is at stake. We have a chance, but just this one."
Since the outset of the Bosnian War, HOS and HVO competed for power and influence. HOS played an important role in the liberation of Mostar, Čapljina, Neum and Stolac. By the end of July 1992, within one day about 700 HVO members joined the ranks of HOS in Čapljina. Similar crossings occurred in Tomislavgrad, Livno and Mostar. In the summer of 1992, the HVO started to purge its Bosniak members. At the same time armed incidents started to occur among Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina between the HVO and the HOS. The HOS was loyal to the Bosnian government and accepted subordination to the Staff of the ARBiH of which Kraljević was appointed a member. On 9 August, Kraljević and eight of his staff were assassinated by HVO soldiers under the command of Mladen Naletilić, who supported a split between Croats and Bosniaks, after Kraljević's HOS attacked the VRS near Trebinje. According to Manolić the order to kill Kraljević was given by Šušak and approved by Tuđman. Božidar Vučurević, the war-time mayor of Trebinje, stated he safeguarded records showing it was a "task" to be carried out by SDS and HDZ figures. The HOS's advance into eastern Herzegovina and occupation of Trebinje angered Boban who had affirmed to Karadžić that Croat forces were uninterested in the region.
The Kruševo General Staff of HVO claimed that two vehicles with HOS members refused to stop at a police checkpoint and that HOS members first opened fire, killing HVO lieutenant Živko Bodulić. Kraljević's body and those of the eight other HOS soldiers were rushed to Split for autopsies before an investigation began and the investigating judge from Mostar only came to the scene a day later. After his death, Croatian media claimed Kraljević was an agent of the UDBA, Yugoslav secret police, who had returned from Australia to harm the interests of Bosnian Croats. Bosnian officials suspected that Tuđman's government was involved. The HOS was disbanded, leaving the HVO as the only Croat force. The HOS was absorbed by the HVO and the ARBiH at the beginning of the Croat-Bosniak War.
In 1996, at the insistence of Šušak, Tuđman posthumously awarded Kraljević the Order of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan.