Serbia sacks its Brussels ambassador

Duško Lopandić [Mission of Serbia to the EU]

Serbia has sacked its ambassador to the EU Duško Lopandić, the official explanation being that he has been unable to prevent an exhibition in the European Parliament honouring a controversial figure in Yugoslavia’s history.

Lopandić, a lawyer by training, a polyglot and a career diplomat in the Yugoslav and Serbian foreign services, was considered as a strong asset for his country at the time when it is expected to start accession negotiations. He started his term in June 2013.

However, two years later, the diplomat was abruptly sacked. The Belgrade press announced it today (22 June), saying that this was because of his failure to prevent an exhibition orhanised by Croatia, honouring Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, the Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to his death in 1960.

When the then Yugoslavia was invaded in 1941 by Nazi Germany, Cardinal Stepinac had close associations with the Ustaše (Croatian pro-Nazi) leaders. Despite the fact that Stepinac condemned the Nazi atrocities against Jews and Serbs and even helped Jews and other to escape from death, he is considered in Serbia as a war criminal. During communism in Tito’s Yugoslavia, he was sentenced to 16 years of jail.

Beatified by John Paul II in 1998, Stepinac is considered to be a martyr of communism and a historic leader of the Croatian Church.

The exhibition, sponsored by Croatian MEP Marijana Petir (EPP), was opened on 14 June. EURACTIV learned that Lopandić was reproached by his hierarchy of not having prevented the exhibition, which in fact he hardly could do, as Serbia is not a EU member state and his chances to influence on such events are slim.

A source told EURACTIV that Lopandić was reproached not having informed Belgrade about the preparations for the exhibition, and having put the foreign ministerIvica Dačić in the embarrassing situation of not being able to reply to criticism from the opposition in Parliament.

Another source said that Lopandić was a victim of Prime Minister’s Aleksandar Vučić rough attitude vis-à-vis his collaborators.

“Vučić sacked him because he can”, the Serbian source said.

On 15 June Serbia has filed a sharp protest over the exhibition to Parliament President Martin Schulz, the Serbian press writes.

Reportedly Lopandić will be replaced by Ana Hrustanović, the current Serbian ambassador to Rome.

“Ustaše” or Ustashe were members of the Croatian Revolutionary movement in the period 1929-1945 and are considered an ultra-nationalist and fascist formation.

A similar group in Serbia, during the same historic period, was the Chetniks (Četniks).

The fratricidal Yugoslav wars of the 1990s largely revived the historic antagonism between the Četniks and Ustaše.

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