Croatian Police Sails into Piran Bay

On March 24, 2019, a police boat of the Republic of Croatia entered the Slovenian sea and sailed almost up to the Piran cape, without neither a permit nor the needed diplomatic announcement and approval. Then it turned around and returned it home. A few hours later, they repeated the invasion of the Slovenian sea; in order to remove even the slightest doubt that this act was a mistake or an error.

Such cases are unknown in modern Europe. However, Croatian diplomacy has mastered them due to many years of experience. Since 1990, the unwavering conviction of the authorities in Zagreb is that the Adriatic Sea of the former Yugoslavia can only be Croatian and therefore the other maritime countries, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro merely enjoy the freedom of navigation. All individual attempts to regulate border issues with neighboring countries were prevented, even by resorting to internal subversive threats. The first Croatian president who did not allow objections to his decisions, Dr Franjo Tudjman, was effectively stopped in his tracks. At the end of July 1999, when he signed the agreement on the state border between the republics of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he could not put the issue on the agenda of the parliament. They simply did not let him. A similar attempt by the Croatian Prime Minister, Dr Ivo Sanader, was prevented as well. On his request, on 24 March 2005 in Šibenik, the International Diplomatic Commission of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, decided that the signed agreement on the border, with the accompanying maps and documents, could be put on the agenda of the Croatian Parliament and confirmed. Shortly thereafter, he withdrew his request due to threats. On July 7, 2012, the new president of the Croatian government, Zoran Milanović, made the same request. He announced the parliamentary ratification of the signed agreement on the state border again after meetings held in Dubrovnik. Milanović also had to withdraw his proposal and remain silent. Just like his predecessor, Prime Minister Dr Ivica Račan, who after almost a decade of long negotiations between officials, experts, ministers and prime ministers, initialed the Treaty on the Common State Border between the Republics of Slovenia and Croatia on July 20, 2001. A year later, in September 2002, after a period of pressures, belittling and threats of political removal, the Slovenian Prime Minster, Dr Janez Drnovšek, was informed in writing that the Republic of Croatia deviates from all that was agreed. On August 25, 2002, Račan consulted with academic Vladimir Ibler and professor Budislav Vukas on the content of the letter. The two came to the meeting bringing two requests and two proposals. The requests were first for Račan to immediately terminate the initialed border agreement with Slovenia and second, to inform Dr Janez Drnovšek about this with a special letter. Račan was also offered two proposals. The first was to calm the neighborhood tensions; to offer Slovenia the start of new negotiations on the temporary regime of navigation in the Piran Bay and the status of a welcome guest. The second proposal was intended for the international public, namely a proposal from Račan to Drnovšek for the beginning of a new round of negotiations, the ad hoc international arbitration in fact, which should determine the border at sea. The officials in Zagreb were hiding this second proposal from the domestic public, while trying to prove that Slovenia forced them into the agreement on arbitration or the Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor agreement.
On September 13, 2005, Croatian Ambassador to Russia, Božo Kovačević, met with Slovenian Ambassador Andrej Benedejčič in Moscow and wrote a note on the meeting to the authorities in Zagreb. Kovačić’s assessment was that the Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Žužul had already proposed to Slovenia the decision on the international arbitration. Furthermore, he noted that a similar proposal was repeated by Prime Minister Sanader and that the proposal also has the support of academics Ibler and Davorin Rudolf, as well as professors Vukas and Davor Vidas. The ambassador’s message was relatively accurate. He overlooked only two things. The first was that the Croatian authorities had a proposal on arbitration ready by the summer of 2002, well ahead of Žužul’s ministerial mandate in 2004 or 2005. The second overlooked fact is substantially more important. Immediately after the initialed Drnovšek-Račan agreement, confirmed by the Slovenian government and the Committee on Foreign Policy of the Slovenian Parliament, Račan was accused of betraying national interests. In the first days of September 2001, the representatives of the parties of the Croatian Parliament convened a consultation, led by former Foreign Minister, Dr Mate Granić. His preliminary assessment was that such an agreement had never been adopted in diplomatic practice. Granić recalled the position of the academic Rudolf that Račan gave Slovenia a number of square miles of sea, subsoil and sea bottom and with this, as Ibler went on stating, all of the Slovenian desires were fulfilled. However, the key and crucial point of the debate was the appearance of the former Croatian ambassador in Slovenia, Dr Ivica Maštruk. He proposed a long-term freezing of the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute as a way out of the Drnovšek-Račan agreement. Waiting a long wait for the time when it will be acceptable to international law, which they estimated at around 50 years. Therefore, they argued, the border issue at sea cannot be resolved and the border line should stay as it is, with its military, coastal and police patrol, which will be maintained by the Republic of Croatia. In particular, this was intended for the temporary maritime boundary line with the Republic of Montenegro. It is only within the political idea of the long-term freezing of the conflict that the message of Croatia’s arbitration proposals by Ambassador Kovačević can be understood. Indeed, the proposals existed and had political support, however only as long as they remained in line with a principled debate and the acquisition of new time. Nobody really intended to start binding international agreements at all or the release of an issue to the International Arbitration Tribunal. When the carefully protected information about the conclusion of the arbitration agreement with Slovenia began to leak, Rudolf criticized Jadranka Kosor for this very thing; that she does not understand the policy of the long wait and that she will be the immediate culprit for a lost dispute at the International Arbitration Tribunal.

The Croatian police boat on Sunday, March 24, without authorization and without permission, sailed into the Slovenian sea twice. Only to show that they can calmly navigate the Piran Bay. Foreign Minister Dr Miro Cerar described the Croatian police intrusion as a provocation and he announced a diplomatic note.

On 6 January 1998, a special vehicle of the intelligence service of the Slovenian Ministry of Defense, when the Minister was Tit Turnšek, crossed the border between Slovenia and Croatia near Zavrč. The Croatian police arrested both military intelligence officers and took them to a hearing in Varaždin. The military vehicle was seized and examined, all the equipment and tasks performed were carefully analyzed. The vehicle was returned three years later. The diplomatic notes sent to Slovenia were merely an addendum.


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