A meeting of vice-presidents of the Croatian and Serbian governments, Vesna Pusić and Ivica Dačić held on Wednesday, has been successful also because there was a wish for it to be routine and easily diplomatically daily, almost uninteresting to the public.
Still it was significantly different from a series of meetings of senior representatives of both countries in the last ten, twenty or even more years. That is, the dialogue mode of the ruling politicians of the neighbouring countries, often gave the tone to the manner of resolving outstanding issues between countries throughout the region. They usually wanted them to be critical, if not historic.
The first working group of politicians of the two countries, formed by the late presidents Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman, after the meeting in Karađorđevo, on March 25, 1991, wanted to have such importance as well, final and decisive. Behind the quite formal determination of the group tasks that was allegedly supposed to look for possible agreements for the normalization of Croatian-Serbian relations was a completely different content.
Both main actors were convinced of the historic importance of such content. The division of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Completely in accordance with the doctrine of these two that the then disintegrating Yugoslavia was getting independent, not by following the borders of the Republic, but by national borders. Milošević’s plan on Greater Serbia had already been prepared. Tuđman spoke at the beginning of 1990, at one of the meetings of then nascent HDZ party, about the natural and historical borders and the associated engagement that must be dedicated to the formation of extended Croatian national state. Tuđman said to his negotiators that the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina was agreed with Milošević in principle, and that their task is to find the specific line of demarcation. The basic formula consisted of a line of Croatian Banovina, from Banja Luka to Mostar, where the west of the river Neretva is Croatia, and the east is the territory belongs to Serbia. He was convinced that the states would fulfil all the necessary requirements for a lasting peace and good cooperation with the help of such key for mutual division. Similarly, he loved to repeat, as Germany and France, which first had big wars and now cooperate developmentally and friendly.
At one of their meetings, Milošević brought a document, allegedly obtained by confidential and loyal secret services and handed it over to Tuđman. This document was, allegedly, the final confirmation of the importance of their agreement. It is hard to believe today, but it was some kind of gloss, ironic, even humorous text, published by the Sarajevo youth magazine “Vox” in October 1990. The aforementioned magazine, much like most of the contemporary youth magazines, which were able to escape censure and write about things not discussed in other places, was selling well and had a high circulation. The text, signed with the “Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, was entitled “The programme of immigration of Muslims from Turkey.” It described, in 20 points, a project of repatriation of at least a few million of Bosniaks expelled to Turkey, which would mean, with the new expected births, that the number would be ten million of new inhabitants of Bosnia who would flood first Krajina and then western Herzegovina in the coming years.
Both Tuđman and Milošević interpreted the gloss as a crucial document that requires historically even more important answer. It was a very clear sign that the bloody war was at the door.
Ten years later, after major democratic changes in Serbia and after Tuđman’s death, the states again searched for ways for dialogues on outstanding and unsolved problems.
The first days of July 2001, Salzburg hosted the traditional economic forum. However, the main attention was intended for the dialogue between the new Croatian President Stipe Mesić and Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Đinđić, behind the scenes. The vocabulary is completely new, said one of the visitors in Washington. And indeed it was. Mesić spoke that the countries are connected by the same European ambition, a wish for the citizens to live better and commitment to go beyond what happened. We must turn to today’s and tomorrow’s Europe, and the injustice and crimes that have been committed shall be individualized and those who committed them should be prosecuted. Đinđić added that this did not not mean that the past would be forgotten, but that it was not good that the countries were so dependent on the past, because this would make the future become history. They agreed that the countries needed a fresh start in their relations. They determined the agenda of such a beginning. It was primarily about the issues of missing and displaced persons during the wars, as well as on the priorities in their mutual economic cooperation.
Individual working groups were organized later, but without much result. Relations between two countries intensified again. On the first place, the question of borders appeared again. There was a conflict on one of the disputed border points, the Issland of Šarengrad on the Danube. At the end of August 2002, I followed the preparations for the visit of the then EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, in Belgrade and Podgorica. The subject was at the time very popular preparation of the constitutional charter of Serbia and Montenegro. Solana, whom I met I on a series of meetings when I accompanied Dr. Janez Drnovšek, asked about the new border complications with Croatia and feared bilateral dialogue complications.
Several new silent years passed, almost until March 2009, when Dr. Ivo Sanader, former president of the Croatian Government, visited Belgrade. It seemed to me it was even possible to make a step forward that day that. Serbian President, Boris Tadić, who substantially actually managed the visit, said that the countries had outstanding issues on which they did not have consent, such was the Croatian recognition of Kosovo and the Hague genocide lawsuits, however, they had to cooperate. Tadić’s opinion that the ideas on Serbia up to Karlovac, Karlobag and Virovitica were very dangerous, that they represented the past and the dreams of political extremists, and that the state of the Serbs living in Croatia is the Republic of Croatia, was also important. The presidents had very specific discussions on European integration and prepared a list of 26 outstanding issues between the two states for the first time. Among these issues, the most sensitive were those on the fate of missing persons and issues of the displaces and refugees, return of the property, war crimes trials, successions, the rights of minorities and cooperation in the process of European integration.
Sanader resigned only several months later. The rational political discussions started with Tadić were again overruled by misunderstandings, primarily because of Croatian recognition of Kosovo. New Prime Minister, Jadranka Kosor, said that Croatia would never ask Belgrade again for the permission about what was allowed and what was not, and the then President of the Serbian Government, now Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice President, Ivica Dačić, responded that the bilateral relations were frozen.
The then president of the Government of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, had an important role in promoting the political doctrine that it was necessary to solve bilateral problems at home, and not to expect sudden Brussels resolutions.
Tadić and the Croatian President Dr Ivo Josipović met in Opatija in March 2010. The meeting draw an attention, because Tadić did not participate in the inauguration of Josipović nor at the Conference on the Western Balkans organized by Pahor and Kosor on Brdo. The Opatija statement was diplomatic and media-resounding. We can summarize it in the thesis that they are ready to discuss all issues, regardless of how problematic they are and regardless of the series of completely opposite opinions on problems. Simply, there are more things that connect us and which are more significant than those that separate us, the presidents concluded in their speeches. A series of meetings followed, up to the acquittal of the general Ante Gotovina in Hague Tribunal.
The Prime Minister Zoran Milanović began a new round in January 2013. I read a program for the meetings which determined the objectives. The key objective was on how to determine the efficient mechanisms for the normalization of relations between the two countries after the latest periods of cooling in relations. The host, Dačić, called it ice period. The interlocutors re-actualized Sanader’s and Tadić’s agenda of 26 outstanding issues.
This is why the decision of the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, that he would take part in the inauguration of new Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, was so important.
He also announced then this Dačić’s visit to Zagreb as the sign of a new era.
Perhaps the era for which Vesna Pusić said several years ago that nothing is unobtainable for the two countries, therefore, rational and effective politics which would be of benefit to both countries as well.
However, a precondition for such politics is daily and the official precise diplomatic dialogues, such as the one in Zagreb.