The EU urged for 'prudence' yesterday (6 October) as tensions grew between Croatia, an EU candidate expected to become the 28th member state, and its neigbour Serbia, which indicted Croatian nationals over war crimes in the fratricidal wars between 1991 and 1995. EurActiv Serbia contributed to this article.
The European Commission urged for 'prudence' and 'careful consideration' with regard to Croatia's push to pass a bill declaring null and void all Serbian legal documents citing Croatian nationals as suspects, indictees or convicts.
The bill, which was endorsed by a Croatian parliamentary committee on Tuesday, was drafted hastily after it became known that Serbia had issued indictments for war crimes against Croatian nationals, including prominent political personalities, such asVladimir Šeks, the former speaker of parliament and a prominent member of HDZ, the ruling main centre-right political party of Croatia.
Relations between Belgrade and Zagreb have been put to the test several times this year. The arrest of Croatian veteran Tihomir Purda in Bosnia in March 2011 under an arrest warrant issued by Serbia for war crimes ignited tensions.
Belgrade recently criticised Croatian PM Jadranka Kosor for her statement during the anniversary of Operation Storm (see background) because she praised generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Marka? [more] for their work in that operation. The two were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at first instance for the war crimes commited during that operation.
Belgrade also criticized Kosor for a visit to Kosovo – and statements she made there – in late August. The visit came in the midst of a crisis in Northern Kosovo, and Belgrade feared that she presented Croatia as Kosovo's best friend.
Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor was asked by reporters on Wednesday whether there would be any sanctions against Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjakovi? for his failure to promptly inform her and the government about the war crimes indictments issued by Serbian authorities against Croatian citizens.
Kosor said it was difficult to accept Bošnjakovi?'s explanation that the indictments were not so important, adding that the justice ministry should have notified her immediately, news agency HINA reported.
"Had I known about the indictments, I would have taken several steps. First and foremost, we would have notified the Croatian veterans named in the indictments so they knew what they might expect," Kosor said. She added that in such case procedures would have been initiated immediately to pass a law declaring the Serbian indictments null and void.
Kosor said that Croatia wanted to try all people accused of war crimes, but it could not agree to Serbia extending its jurisdiction to Croatia or allow further harassment of Croatian veterans, especially in a year when Croatia was celebrating 20 years of independence.
Kosor accused the country's President, Ivo Josipovi?, of knowing about the Serb indictments, but failing to inform the government.
Tensions betwen Kosor and Josipovi?, a social democrat, are growing in the wake of the December parliamentary elections.
President Josipovi? did not know about the Serbian indictments at the time they were issued, but requested information from relevant institutions after their existence was made public, his office said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The President of the Republic recommends the government and parliament not to pass this bill, but to immediately start work on concluding a serious international treaty that will prevent any abuse of war crimes prosecutions and ensure that no crime remains unpunished," the president's office said.
In spite of the developments, Serbia and Croatia continue to improve relations, and visits and meetings between their highest officials are quite common.
Recent tough rhetoric and colder relations with Serbia, including the newly proposed bill, are seen by some as a part of an electoral campaign by Kosor's HDZ. The conservative political party founded by Franjo Tudjman, the country's staunchly nationalist first president, pays special attention to the needs and status of veterans.
Croatia fought for its independence from the former Yugoslavia in a war which lasted from 1991 to 1995. Atrocities were committed by both sides during the fratricidal conflict.
Some of the questions that still burden bilateral relations, include the fate of the people who dissapeared during the war, the return of Serbian refugees who left Croatian during the war, war crimes, the division of the Former Yugoslavia's property, and mutual lawsuts for genocide.
Serbia filed a lawsuit for genocide against Croatia at the International Court of Justice on 4 January 2010, a move seen as retaliation to an earlier lawsuit lodged by Croatia. Serbs' claims of genocide refer to Operation Storm in 1995, while Croatia's accusations are instead linked to Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing.
In the immediate aftermath of the Croatian presidential elections, held on 10 January 2010, the newly-elected president, Ivo Josipovi?, foresaw a potential halt of the legal war between Croatia and Serbia at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague regarding genocide accusations.
In July 2010, Josipovi? paid his first official visit to Serbia. Together with Serbian President Boris Tadi?, he agreed that the two countries had no reason to "look back at the past".
For his part, Serbian President Boris Tadi?’s apologised in November 2010 for crimes committed at Vukovar, a Croatian town devastated during the country's war of independence in the early 1990s. The gesture was warmly welcomed by Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle.
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