Their meetings were even more than frequent, considering they were neither lovers nor spouses, nor they shared any hidden passions, hobbies, or obligations. In fact, what connected them, and it is the case today as well, is that both Borut Pahor and Kolinda Grabar Kitarović were elected in democratic presidential elections in two neighbouring countries and that they thus assumed all duties that they were supposed to perform as presidents of states. One of those obligations was a task that was neither written, nor made official – creating adequate solutions for open issues between their states. And it was precisely that intention, such a subtle and delicate request, that proved to be unsuccessful in the previous relations between Slovenia and Croatia, they wished not only to reconfirm with a solution, but to turn into a principle supposed to be valid for all other states in the Western Balkans with unsolved bilateral issues.
Primarily the border related issues.
So, that would become a way for regional states, weary of wars and poverty, to create diplomatic tools and mutually settle long-lasting disputes.
Such a mechanism, originally named Brdo, to be renamed as Brdo-Brioni process, was important primarily to the Republic of Croatia, which had unsolved border disputes with all of its neighbouring states but Hungary. And seeking such a principle, with Croatia breaching or terminating, one way or the other, a number of reached agreements on borders, limited in advance, almost doomed to fail. With such a frequency of their meetings, there was only one problem regarding completion. That problem was that they would come to the point at which there would be no political passion or ambition for attempts aimed at seeking the solution.
And that is precisely what happened at their last meeting they hosted together on Saturday, June 3. At the Brdo castle, they welcomed, within the Brdo-Brioni process, the presidents of the states of the region. The truth is that the date was somehow unfortunately set on the day of the European Champions League final match, but the meeting was, therefore, more attractive bearing in mind the task set by the hosts. In the invitation that Mr Pahor and Mrs Grabar–Kitarović created and presented in Budva, town on the Adriatic Coast in Montenegro, they said the meeting would focus on regional stability and reconciliation. But they did not stop on this definition, general and expected at first sight. In the presentation of the invitation, they stated it was necessary to strengthen political dialogue and solve open issues among the states of the region. Because, there was only one opportunity left, otherwise, and that was the restoration of the dangerous and flammable statehood rhetoric.
The meeting at Brdo also identified two key misunderstandings which would not only determine political and inter-state relations in the Western Balkans, but would also be hardly understandable to the rest of Europe. Both misunderstandings would form internal European border in a completely specific way, among the states that would be obliged to participate and directly address those issues and the states that would only monitor the solving of those complex and historically-determined questions, because they are not recognised by their policy and diplomacy in such an obliging way that they would feel compelled to pronounce upon those.
The first question that was so precisely shaped as the possible start of a dispute was visible in the debate on the so called Tirana platform. Three Albanian parliamentary parties in Macedonia adopted a special document early this year, which represents a platform for their joint negotiation position for the forming of the new Macedonian Government. The joint negotiating positions were allegedly prepared in Albania with the political sponsorship of the Albanian PM, who is, incidentally, the writer of a moving biographical novel “Sacrifice”, Edi Rama.
The platform that is supposed to have a decisive impact on the formation of new Macedonian Government to be led by the social-democrat Zoran Zaev, allegedly sets several key requirements.
First of all that the Albanian language is also an official language in the Republic of Macedonia, then that an equal representation of Albanians in all state structures is provided, because they represent the constitutional nation in the Republic, and that the flag, the anthem and national symbols have to reflect the multi-ethnicity of the society and the ethnic equality. That platform is treated in totally different, but also opposed ways. If a part of diplomacies in the region denies the existence of such an obliging document prepared in the neighbouring state, then the other part proves that the platform is not only existent, but it also represents not only the framework for negotiations for forming of the new Macedonian Government, but a new program for the forming of Great Albania. The program of having all Albanians in one state is a plan that would half Macedonia with new borders, take a part of the territory of Greece, enter Montenegro to Podgorica and took Serbian territories almost to Niš. Precisely that dispute was seen during a part of the Saturday plenary debate at Brdo, in the debate between Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Gjorge Ivanov of Macedonia and Priština’s leader Hashim Thaci.
Another key question that will determine the situation in the Western Balkans are the relations between Serbia and Croatia and, consequently, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The overall agenda of the open issues prepared by the then presidents Boris Tadić and Ivo Josipović and that has to be solved is literally stopped. Maybe precisely because it includes so difficult issues such as the determining of the inter-state border on the Danube, return of the banished citizens, exchange of archives, returning the seized property and the right to information on the graves of the murdered.
Neither first nor second question is not a part of the direct political debates or determinations in the policy of the Republic of Slovenia.
And that is precisely where the complications in relations with the Republic of Croatia start. That is the starting point for denial of the signed and in both parliaments ratified arbitration agreement on the border with Slovenia. The assessment might be a bit politically harsh, but a new conflict with Slovenia would be in Croatia’s interest.
Primarily because all of its neighbouring states, with which it has not solved the border issues, very closely and attentively monitor the developments regarding the decision of the International Arbitration Court and it is not only because of the arbitration procedure and the very verdict, but also because they want to have an insight into how the official Zagreb will terminate the international contract.
And the interest is mutual.
If, by some logic, Zagreb managed to get rid of its international obligation, that would mean that other states of the region also can terminate precisely those effective international agreements which are against the interests of their respective governments. In the Balkans, that would certainly lead to new struggles that would not be only rhetoric or diplomatic. The second part of the interest is linked with the request that the international contracts need to be observed, primarily and above all the decision of the Arbitration Court on borders. Thus it would factually become a political model which could be used by Serbia, BiH and Montenegro in solving their border dispute with Croatia. Therefore, the contents of the Croatian denial of the Arbitration Court’s work and its decision is not in Slovenia but in the very process of the international arbitration. The problem is not in possible requests of other neighbouring states regarding the arbitrations for border disputes, but the problem becomes even bigger, having in mind all opened arbitration processes that Croatia leads over economic disputes with other states.
Just an example.
In late August 1998, Slovenia and Croatia signed in Mokrice castle the so called Mokrice document and arranged the international arbitration that was supposed to solve the problem regarding a part of the foreign currency deposits in old Ljubljanska banka. Zagreb claimed that Slovenia had to pay the complete amount, while Ljubljana claimed it was only a part of the question of succession following the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Yet, the things got complicated immediately after that. The next day already appeared a whole different interpretation of what was signed. It was stated that it was not an agreement on arbitration but only a consent to some non-obliging or accidental consultations of some experts. The proposal for the international arbitration was prepared, but Croatia did not want to take it into consideration. Fourteen years later on March 11, 2013. Signed in the Mokrice castle, also, was a new Memorandum between the Governments of Slovenia and Croatia. It was signed by PMs Zoran Milanović and Janez Janša. The document prepared in English stated that the Governments agreed to find a solution for the transferred foreign currency deposits of Ljubljanska banka within the framework of the Yugoslav Succession Agreement. That inter-state document was discarded and forgotten the next day.
Croatia has great problems with the recognition of its international obligations, primarily problems regarding the arbitration.
Pahor’s position, presented stated at Brdo the last Saturday, that if Slovenia and Croatia failed to implement the decision of the Arbitration Court within six months, they would neither have moral authority to lead the regional stability and reconciliation process, is seen by me as an announcement of the end. His additional explanation that the countreis could get back into the state which we had already seen, state of incidents and other problems and that they should, therefore, respect the decision of the Arbitration Court, only encountered a brief response by Mrs Grabar Kitarović, who stated that she had to respect the decisions of her Parliament which in July 2015 reached the decision for Croatia to abandon the arbitration process.
So, the observance of the reached arbitration agreement and the decision of the International Court is not the problem of Slovenia, but of the other signatory, the Republic of Croatia. It was not a bilateral problem of the two states. Namely, the decision of the International Arbitration Court could only be respected or rejected.
And that is precisely the question over which the border between two Europes is drawn. The one that respects the agreed rules and the one that does not.