Croatia’s then President PhD Ivo Sanader literally underestimated his newly-elected Slovenian counterpart, Borut Pahor. Actually, he even looked forward to Pahor’s arrival. All the information that his assistants, people whom he could trust and secret services had collected for him unanimously asserted that his counterpart was a self-satisfied partner who didn’t match him. Sanader was convinced that he would be able to conduct the long-prepared operation “Slovenian border” without problems, primarily without Pahor’s unnecessary questions. In 2008, Sanader was not only untouchable Croatian ruler, but also a favourite guest in the most prestigious European capitals. He had all that an influential statesman needed to have. He was a great connoisseur of world literature, spoke most of European languages, always wore suits made by the best Italian tailors, he knew opera and its history and loved to eat At the same time, he was the one who discontinued the political heritage of PhD Franjo Tuđman, the one who made a deal with the Chief Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal Carla del Ponte, who had the courage to extradite the Croatian generals indicted of war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to congratulate Orthodox Christmas to Croatian Serbs and to promote Croatia’s full membership in the European Union. And, on occasion of important European meetings he would always warn, in a true diplomatic manner, about the neighbouring state of Slovenia, which wanted to take advantage of its EU membership for the territorial blackmailing of his country. And he would always propose the solution for that, as he would say – unpleasant problem. The solution was to completely separate Croatia’s accession negotiations and, as his assistants woud say, petty and almost unimportant border dispute with Croatia. They listended to him when his assistants unnecessarily added that Croatia carried most of the burden of the war caused by Slobodan Milošević’s expansionist policy, while Slovenia fought an agreed war with Milošević.
That was Sanader’s political program.
He revealed it for the first time in late June 2006. He said in the Croatian Parliament that his country had secret arguments, its trumps, with which it would surprise Slovenia. Of course we would not reveal them, he stated, we would keep them for international arbitration on the sea border. Even though, as he added, after 15 years of unsuccessful talks with Slovenia, there were not many reasons for optimism that the neighbouring state would accept our call for arbitration. At the same time, he refused the discussion on other open border issues, because Croatia found those issues solved, including that of the border with Serbia on the Danube.
Sanader assessed that Slovenia was a small and not so important European country that would be forced by the big ones to support Croatia’s accession talks. That was precisely why the Croatian Government decided, based on the decision of Sanader’s influence and the assessment that the Slovenian Prime Minnister, to whom they most often referred be nome de guerra of Barbie, would not be capable of following the planned operation, to systemically enter adapted facts in the documents of European accession talks. He consistently drew the border line through the middle of the Piran Bay on all maps, whether those were related with the accession negotiations, chapters pertaining to infrastructure, regional policy or taxes and environment protection.
And there was only one goal – to prejudice the solving of the border issue.
The plan was more recognisable at that point.
Croatia wanted to finalise the accession negotiations and to demonstrate immediately after full EU membership, through European documents and maps, that the border issue is solved. That was important for Croatian authorities as they wanted to use it as a model for solving the far more complex and dangerous border disputes with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.
And then came the unexpected answer. First official meeting between Pahor and Sanader occurred in late February 2009 in Mokrice castle. The meeting passed in an ice cold atmosphere. Sanader reiterated that the border dispute is exclusively a bilateral one, adding he was not interested in new initiative of the European Commisioner Oli Rehn, that was supposed to simultaneously solve both the question of Croatia’s European accession negotiations and the border disputes with Slovenia. Pahor stated that Rehn’s initiative was a step in the right direction and that Croatia’s EU accession negotiations could not continue without solving the border-related issues. He reminded of the overall history of bilateral talks on open borders, financial and energy issues and agreements whose signing was immediately followed, as by a rule, by Croatian authorities’ decisions to annul and give up the agreed.
That was precisely why Slovenia sought a solution in the Commissioner’s proposal. Rehn prepared the last version on June 15, 2009. What followed were the consultations on legal formulations with US and European experts. Most talks focused on the topics how to apply the ex aequo et bono principle into the agreement on arbitration. Namely, that was he principle on which Janša, who was the Prime Minister during the Bled talks with Sanader, insisted. The key advice was probably the one that came from the Holy See, because it was the Vatican that judged and reached the final decision in the dispute between Argentina and Chile (the so called Beagle Bay) and established the principle of justness, so that the judges, apart from observing the international law, also had to follow the principle of justness and seek fair and just solutions.
Somehow, at that time, in 2009, Pahor made a secret contact with Croatia’s newly-elected Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. That relationship was based on the announcement by Kosor that the unblocking of talks with Slovenia would be one of three pillars of the work of the new government. That meant, as she explained later, that the states needed to seek the support of a third party for issues they could not solve among themselves.
If is forgotten today that the agreement on arbitration includes, apart from the mandate for determining contacts of the territorial sea with the open sea and determining earth border, also a request for not making unilateral actions with which the Croatian side prejudiced the border. The last thing was hard to handle.
In late July 2009, Pahor and Kosor meet in Trakošćan castle. The distrust among the states was big. Immediately after the meeting it was necessary to find a way how to annull, in full political secrecy, all mentioned border prejudicing, contained in a number of Croatia’s accession documents. The mandate for the preparation of text by the President and the Prime Minister was given to four negotiators, Davor Ivo Štir, who was consultant in Kosor’s cabinet at the time, and, until recently, Croatia’s Foreign Minister, Davor Božinović, my ambassador colleague and current Minister of Interior, Marko Makovec, foreign political consultant and political friend of Borut Pahor and excellent political expert, Ambassador and current State Secretary Iztok Mirošič. Together they prepared a letter that the Croatian PM sent to the Presiding official of the European Union, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. In a letter that expressed the will of the State of Croatia, Kosor obliged to accept that all documents and maps that prejudiced the border and which Croatia had submitted to Brussels during the accession talks had no legal effect before any court, forum or arbitration. Thus Kosor fully annulled Sanader’s operation, with which he tried to bypass Slovenia and draw the border literally as per his own liking.
They learned very quickly in Zagreb about the letter, or at least its preparation. It was too important to remain hidden for a long time.
In the first days of September 2009, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and President Stipe Mesić met in secrecy. The very letter was probably the topic discussed at the meeting, but Mesić did not know much, because Kosor did not inform him about her meetings with Pahor.
That was why a new meeting took place. Very unexpectedly, Sanader called his former most loyal assistant, who was then the Prime Minister and wanted the political emancipation, for a lunch at Baltazar restaurant in Zagreb. On that occasion, he practically accused her of treason. It was precisely that lunch at which they started to seek the way how to prevent the arbitration agreement.
At the lunch at Baltazar, even before the arbitration agreement was concluded, ways for its termination were sought. For the prevention of reaching the decision that was reached yesterday.
Today we know what is the Court’s decision, it is final and obliging.
President and Prime Minister of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović and Andrej Plenković discard it, but it factually exists. Croatian politics will encounter it again very soon, precisely because of the facts and international legal acts. Not later than on the occasion of talks on Croatia joining the Schengen area and determining the Schengen border with Slovenia.
It is now established.