Two Decades of Diplomatic Relations between Serbia and Croatia – State of Relations and Open Issues

November 25th 2016., Belgrade, Serbia

igmanska_inicijativa1_2016On November 25th 2016, in Belgrade, Igman Initiative held its annual 26th session on the topic Two Decades of Diplomatic Relations between Serbia and Croatia – State of Relations and Open Issues. The session gathered some 80 representatives of competent government bodies, academia, and civil sector from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, and was organized with support from the Foundation for Open Society from Belgrade, Regional Cooperation Council and European Fund for Balkans.

The aim was to open a dialogue among key stakeholders about the open issues between the two countries and contribute to improvement of relations, not only between Serbia and Croatia, but also between all countries signatories to the Dayton Agreement. The session was significant as it took place in the midst of deterioration of relations between Serbia and Croatia.

Aleksandar Popov, Igman Initiative Co-president for Serbia, pointed out that today, 20 years after the conclusion of the war, Serbia and Croatia still face numerous remaining issues, and that Igman Initiative’s mission remains unchanged, which is further improvement of cooperation and good neighborly relations in the region.

Zoran Pusic, Igman Initiative Co-president for Croatia, pointed out that the tensions in the region are the result of a deadlock in the prosecution of war crimes, mistrust prevailing among citizens, as well as the elite’s unwillingness to compromise.

Jadranka Jelincic, Director of the Foundation for Open Society, stated that the relations among the two countries are further complicated by the issues of universal jurisdiction, missing persons, and of borders. As a particularly sensitive and complex issue Ms. Jelincic highlighted the issue of minorities, which is additionally weighted by the process of EU integration. She concluded with the notion that the relations between Serbia and Croatia remain the basis of stability in the region.

igmanska_inicijativa2_2016Pavle Jankovic, Head of Regional Initiatives Department at the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasized that the framework for improvement of relations is embodied in the Subotica Declaration, signed in 2016 by Serbian Prime minister Aleksandar Vucic and Croatian President Grabar Kitarovic. The significance of this document is reflected in its six points committed to finding solutions to the key issues both countries have encountered. He also stressed that, as of 2013 and Croatia’s EU membership, the relations between two countries has acquired a new European dimension.

Goran Svilanovic, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council, expressed his concerns that the relations are not at the level at which they should be. He reminded of important steps taken while he was the Serbian Minister for Foreign Affairs, such as abolishment of visa regime towards Croatian citizens, which resulted in abolishment of visa regime towards Serbian citizens on the part of Croatia. He expressed hopes that Croatia will remain a strong partner and good neighbor, supporting Serbia on its way towards the EU.

Budimir Loncar, former Yugoslav diplomat, presented a short historical review of the issues that led to the dissolution of SFRY and bloody conflicts in the nineties. He highlighted that establishing diplomatic relations denotes a new beginning not only for the two countries but for the two nations as well.

Tomislav Jakic, Counselor to the former Croatian President, stressed that inconsistencies in relations is a consequence of different interests and unwillingness of political elite to find solutions to the key common issues. He also stated that it is necessary to include young people in the process of reconciliation as they represent a stable foundation for further development.

Jelica Minic, President of the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia, reminded of the importance of existing regional frameworks and initiatives for resolving current issues between these countries. Of all Western Balkan countries, Croatia is the only country that succeeded in its intent to become a EU member state. Its path towards the EU was long and complex, which is why Croatia should be a significant partner to Serbia on its own path.

igmanska_inicijativa3_2016Milorad Pupovac, MP in the Croatian Parliament and the representative of Serbian national minority, stated that the relations between Serbia and Croatia today are in the phase of a halted decline. According to Pupovac, the time has come for political elite to address the issues that hamper the progress of relations between the two countries. He stated that the stagnation in relations has come into effect in 2012 with Croatia’s entry to the EU and the transition of government in Serbia. He warned of negative rhetoric coming from Belgrade as well as Croatia’s objections to the EU opening talks with Serbia on Chapters 23 and 24. The issue of minorities was crucial for Croatia’s entry to the EU, and now it is Serbia’s turn.

Tomislav Zigmanov, MP in the Serbian National Assembly and the president of the Democratic Alliance of Croats in Vojvodina, pointed to the nonsense of political happenings in Serbia, indicating that certain rights and status of the members of Croatian community have been devaluated and reduced in the process of the EU integration. He warned that Croatian community has been targeted as hostile, unconstructive and subversive, and it has been instrumentalized for the blocking of negotiation Chapter 23 on the part of Croatia. He highlighted that it is in the interest of the members of Croatian national minority in Serbia, who are also the citizens of Serbia, for the process of the EU integrations to be concluded successfully.

Dimitrije Boarov, Economic Analyst from Serbia, stressed that Serbia and Croatia are the two most significant economic partners in the region, and that the economic cooperation can be excluded from everyday politicization and banalization of relations between these two countries. He warned that the irrationality of nationalism is ahead of good economic cooperation the two countries enjoy. He also stated that Serbia is economically in subordinate position in relation to Croatia, due to the fact that Serbia , of all countries of the Western Balkans, had poor showing in the transition process.

Branko Lukovac, Igman Initiative Co-president for Montenegro, forewarned that the relations between the two countries can be weakened by the nationalist forces on the rise, and that mutual relations can have a negative effect on Bosnia and Herzegovina. He highlighted that Montenegro is not spared from political happenings in Serbia and Croatia. On a positive note, cooperation between Serbia and Croatia in the area of minority rights is satisfactory, due to which minority groups in neighboring countries enjoy equal protection of their rights and dissatisfaction is almost nonexistent.

Vehid Sehic, Igman Initiative Co-president for B&H, stressed that negative aspects of relations between Serbia and Croatia certainly have negative impact on Bosnia. He reminded that sovereignty of Bosnia is being neglected, and that there is an enormous interference in the internal affairs of Bosnia. He also stated that one of the biggest issues is unwillingness of political elite to face the past, and that those responsible for the most serious crimes committed during the war in B&H should be adequately punished.