March 21, 2009
The first time ever an ethnic Serb citizen of Croatia, Aleksandar Jevtic, has received Croatia’s highest award. The ethnic Serb citizen of Croatia has saved the lives of Croatian soldiers during the Croatia’s war of independence, which was in fact, a Serb-Croat war. In the run-up to a summit of the prime ministers of the formerly belligerent parties in the second and third war in the former Yugoslavia have made peaceful gestures.
The Friday Serbian-Croatian summit had been prepared with gestures from both sides. The Serbian prime minister also said that he will propose that both former belligerent parties drop charges against each other for genocide in the war. Not a sign of reconciliation, but at least to bury the divisive memories of the war.
In fact, the summit has achieved little. The relationship of the two dominant countries of the former Yugoslavia – who fought against each other in the Croatian war of independence, and also another war to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina – had been anything but progressive in the past decade. Both premieres had to face domestic charges that they are only paying lip service to their new-found common ally, the EU. Croatia wants to enter NATO next month and the EU within two years, and Serbia is pondering about the prospect of joining both organizations later. From the news it seems that Mr Sanader from the Croatian side and Mr Cvetkovic has enumerated a list of serious problems: missing solders and civilians on both sides, refugees whose homes and properties has been confiscated or ruined, an unresolved border dispute by the Danube.
Both prime ministers had something to loose in the summit, so it is not surprising that they achieved little. Mr Sanader has to resovle two, very minor border disputes as relics of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia if he wants to join EU and NATO, one with Slovenia, a country that is already part of both alliances and another with Serbia. Mr Cvetkovic, an uncharismatic newish leader, who is overshadowed by president Mr Tadic, is facing a strong nationalist opposition and has little immediate gains from making concessions.
It may be easier to drop genocide charges against each other. Such charges are overcharged with hatred and politics after a war between two countries. As a procedural step, it may be useful, because such crimes are persecuted by the Hague special tribunal and the two countries justice systems. However, the missing people, properties and and unresolved crimes must be accounted for which does not need the everyday involvement of prime ministers, but a steady and painful effort in each countries administration, military and academic circles. However, I think that the summit has been indeed important. Diplomacy between formerly belligerent enemies needs constant attendance, patience and empathy, and a lot of time. Summits between prime ministers can reinforce the willingness for pursuing everyday goals in everyday diplomacy.