Dangerous Political Decisions

In the eve of the last Parliamentary elections, he made no wrong moves. Zoran Milanović knew how to win and become the new Prime Minister. He changed his decision on arbitrage as the model for resolving borber dispute with Slovenia, but truth be told, after his conversatioon with the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso. Then, he talked at the influential forum of heads of the leading European socialist and social-democratic parties in March 2010 in Athens. After meeting with Austria’s Prime Minister Werner Fayman and the then head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, he received implicit assurances of support. Similar to what happend at the meeting in Berlin, where he was received by Vice Chancellor Franz Mueftering and Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank Walter Steinmeier. He should be supported, reported the duo after the meeting, because of his readiness to lead Croatia to EU. Milanović knew that Germany is capable of changning the mind of those who defended the thesis that it is politically convenient to grant full membership in EU to both Croatia and Serbia or, at least, establish a dependency between the accession of one country with the opening of negotiation chapters with Belgrade. At the very end he had one last, truth be told, secret and unrevealed, but primarily very important meeting i.e. lunch with the key owner of Croatia – Ivica Todorić. The aim was not to ensure support from Todoric, because the meeting itself was sufficient, as it implied news that the new Prime Minister would consider the intentions of large capital when making state decisions.

As a challenger in the elections, Milanović made all necessary statements. About the significance of peaceful resolution of all open intercountry issues in the region, key goals, membership in EU and the decision regarding necessary arrangements with economic owners of the country.

He could have won for these reasons.

Now, the Croatian Prime Minister faces new elections.

It is most probable that restating the previous vows would ensure him new electorial victory. Primarily, confirming his consent with the political decision of the Western Balkan countries to resolve the most complex mutual questions on their own.

This was a key change from the war in the 90s. Their capability to talk to one another and reach decisions.

That’s why the visit of the leader of Montenegro, Milo Đukanovic by the end of June 2000 was so important. He arrived in Cavtat, one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Croatia, virtually on the boundary of Konavlje and Molunat Bay, which was occupied and devastated several years back during the aggression of the then Yugoslav Army. Đukanović met with the Croatian President Stipe
Mesić and offered his apologies for the atrosities and devastation caused. This was a pivotal event.

As it turned out later. A surprise visit of the Serbian President
Boris Tadić in Opatija. In January 2010, the new president of Croatia, Dr. Ivo Josipović invited the then President of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiju to his inauguration ceremony. This only aggravated Croatia’s relationship with Serbia. Unpleasant official statements flew between Zagreb and Belgrade. And then, two months later, they finally met. This was a complete turnover. The official statements were clear, wording was European and completely comprehensible. The goal of the two countries was to be part of the European family of peoples and to adopt necessary reforms and values. This, too, proved to be a pivotal moment. This sent a signal to European capitals and to Washington, too, that the countries from this region are capable of resolving their issues alone.

When it seemed to go without saying that there were sufficient mechanisms and political tools in place to preserve this key principle, the principle of mutual agreement on open issues, it happened. On 23rd September, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić wrote a letter to key European addresses. The cause for this letter was the refugee and migrant crises and the reason for it the problems in communication between Belgrade and Zagreb.

It was the first time since the time of war tha unsaid words appeared in the dialogue between the two capitals. The words of ultimatums and blackmail and possible unwanted consequences.
And the first closure of borders between the two countries. For the first time since the time of war. Only a few hours before the said letter, Serbian Minister for Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, said that this was a trade war which Croatia announced to Serbia and that consequently Serbia is forced to protect its economic and state interests. However, that was not all of it. He continued to assess that Belgrade is facing an ultimatum, that the countries had been in war, that Croatia suspended European Stabilisation and Association Agreement and that Croatia took unilateral measure against Serbia which disrupted regular traffic and flow of goods, capital and people. In his letter to European leaders, Vučić added that Croatia’s “aggressive and unacceptable moves dramatically harm” not only national and vital economic interests of Serbia but also regional stability,

Then, Milanović and Vučić had a talk. Truth be told, it was a telophone conversation but a conversation still. This was a sign that the situation can cool down and that Croatia will open its major international border crossing “Bajakovo-Batrovci” with Serbia and other countries of the region. Vučić postponed announced counter-measures. This was inspiring both in terms of policy and diplomacy because he wanted to wait for the crisis meeting to be held by the heads of European countries in Brussels on Wednesday night, what was called to discuss the issue of migrants. And to get a response to his letter. It was to be expected that after Wednesday meeting Milanović would make a public statement about opening Croatia’s borders with Serbia and letting all transit and other traffic flow between the Balkan countries and Europe.

However, this was not what happened. Early in the evening on Wednesday night, after the first statements of the Croatian Prime Minister and the meeting in Brussels, it was obvious that there will be no solution at hand. For this, Milanovic accused the “holy trinity”, as he phrased it “Belgrade’s regime, Budapest’s regime and the largest Croatian opposition party, of conspiring against him. And for this reason, the refugees are ushered towards Croatian instead of Hungarian borders.”

Almost at midnight between Wednesday and Thursay i.e. between 23rd and 24th September 2015, Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojša Stefanović announced counter-measures. He spoke of Croatia’s economic aggression which causes loss to economies of both countries. “We are very disatisfied”, he added, but we must protect our statehood”. Serbia temporarily prohibited the import of goods from Croatia. This resulted (I watched the footage from the Serbian-Croatian border) in the set back equal to being thrown back in time for decades. Croatia prohibited entrance to all passengers holding Serbian passports. Milanovic spoke from Brussels again. “This is rediculous, I intended to open the border tomorrow, but now I won’t”, he said. And annouced a response from the Croatian side.

Milanović has reached a decision. The countries are back where they started. And with the current state of affairs, in this region, in the Western Balkans, there are many things that are completely unpredictible and dangerous.