The reason for satisfaction was, at least at first glance, in only one word. Very soon, a related narration of a complicated story of naivety and deceit started, which could have been an interesting reading, but was not intended to be. They did not have many readers, but those few of them showed a profound affection and the ultimate admiration towards the author. Although we still do not know exactly who was the creator of this fateful word, Zoran Milanovic, the then Croatian Prime Minister, most probably fully rightfully, attributed political merits to himself.
In Zagreb’s restaurant Tač, where he usually ate, one late March day, a content laugh could be heard. It was a time between the end of late lunch and the beginning of an early dinner. I heard for the first time then, indirectly, to be honest, that the reason for the joy was the word – memorandum. Milanović, of course, knew exactly what he was talking about and why he smiled pleasantly. The use of the bureaucratic dull word, the memorandum, and that was his assessment and the reason the whole company at the table bowed to him, was hiding the final resolution of the agreement on arranging of relations between the two countries, Slovenia and Croatia, which, after a decade and more of long negotiations by top government officials, experts, ministers and presidents of various Croatian governments, was signed by Prime Minister Dr Ivica Račan and Dr Janez Drnovšek. The agreement was initialled, but Croatia never intended to acknowledge or ratify it in its parliament. Leading Croatian politicians only reiterated that it was a non-important document, that various, even some very suspicious individuals, negotiated on its content, that it was therefore necessary to reject it and start from scratch, a new round of negotiations that would lead to a new and just agreement.
Milanović, which is often forgotten, is a good lawyer. In April 1990, as one of the best students of the Zagreb Faculty of Law, together with his friend and later his, above all, influential advisor, Siniša Petrović, he participated in the competition of the most prestigious European law faculties. The subject of the meeting was a fictional imaginary dispute between two countries and how to prepare a winning response to the lawsuit. Milanović was excellent, also thanks to the teachers, Budislav Vukas and Davor Vidas, with whom he prepared for the competition. Much later, Milanović was already the president of the Croatian government, they were connected through the searching on how to cancel the agreement Drnovšek Račan.
On Monday, March 11, 2013, a significant meeting was held at the Mokrice Fortress. There were many state official, but also completely personal messages. First of all, on the importance of good neighbourly relations, mutual understanding, and the ease of finding of new solutions. Also on where Milanović’s grandmother and grandfather lived very close to the border, and so on. At the end of the meeting, both prime ministers, Milanović and Janez Janša, signed a memorandum of the two governments, with which the Croatian government committed to stop all proceedings against Slovenian banks until a comprehensive settlement of the dispute over the Ljubljanska banka was reached. That such a resolution, found in the negotiations on the succession of the former SFRY, would be acceptable for both countries, and that therefore all court disputes before the Zagreb court would be suspended.
The secret of the word memorandum was finally revealed in the first days of November 2013 even to those who only smiled at political naivety, in the interpretation of a happy company at the table, at the restaurant Tač and attributed them only to the delicacies of the owner, Ms. Miličević.
The judge of one of the Zagreb courts, Nikola Raguz, then publicly revealed the secret of the word memorandum. The judge Raguz decided that all court proceedings against Slovenia would continue, since the memorandum, signed by the prime ministers in Mokrice, was in fact an insignificant piece of paper, which did not have any legal or any other significance. Milanović added, since, of course, he was an excellent law student, that he already knew that when he had signed the memorandum, that it was not an interstate agreement and that the document was not published in the Croatian Official Gazette, and even less confirmed in the Croatian parliament. For the Croatian state and the judiciary, it was completely insignificant.
Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor, the latter president of the Croatian and president of the Slovenian government, signed an arbitration agreement with the US assistance and with the help of the European Commission. On the assistance of the third, international arbitration court, in solving and determining the interstate border. Soon after the signing, the first messages intended for the Croatian government for the need to find ways and leave the agreement could be heard. Now, for the first time since the break-up of Yugoslavia and Croatia’s negotiations with neighbouring countries on the border, it is not about bilateral agreements and the search for an agreement, but the international justice is involved in the process as well. Specifically, it will no longer be possible to repeat the established practice of renouncing of everything agreed and the message that everything should begin all over again, since in case of non-compliance with the judgment, Croatia will be in dispute with the international legal order.
I understood the last visit of the Slovenian Prime Minister Dr Miro Cerar on December 19 this year to Zagreb and talks with his Croatian colleague, Andrej Plenković, primarily in the mediation role. Slovenia has no border disputes with the Republic of Croatia. The International Arbitration Tribunal in The Hague ruled about the line of the border, above all, in the Piran Bay and on sort of solution to the Slovenian connection with the open sea. And Slovenia will implement this decision in a few days. Croatia is in dispute with the decision of the arbitral tribunal and the basic postulate of the European Union, respecting of the international legal order.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker simply knows that it is too dangerous to begin with the mediation mission of his deputy, Frans Timmermans, without a guarantee of success.
The principle of the Zagreb’s rejection of an international judgment began to spread dangerously across the Balkans.
Most recently, these days, with the signing of a special petition by the members of the Kosovo Parliament on the abolition of a special international court for crimes committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Rhetoric and arguments are similar. I listened to the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, who was interviewed a few days ago for Klan Kosova TV and said that the court was founded under international pressure and promised visa liberalization, faster membership in Interpol and the Council of Europe, but that nothing has yet been achieved and that it is therefore necessary for the international court to be simply abolished. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has recently postponed his visit to Zagreb and has reopened a sensitive topic on the number of dead, expelled or killed Serbs and the number of expelled, killed and killed Croats in Yugoslav wars.
Zagreb’s political message about the ease of rejection of an international legal order is extensively spreading across the Western Balkans.