AIM: start

WED, 24 OCT 2001 01:31:36 GMT

Ten Commandments for Yugoslavia

AIM Zagreb, October 8, 2001

One of last week's most important pieces of news was that Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told the Nacional weekly that relations between Croatia and Yugoslavia will remain frozen at their current low level because political and psychological conditions for any major improvement do not exist.

According to Picula, the Serbian side is to blame for this, because it was unwilling to establish "better and quality ties," prompting him to inform the Nacional of a whole host of demands Belgrade would have to meet in order for the stalemate to end. This sounded as if normalization would follow as soon as the other side fulfilled the ten commandments, which is exactly how many requirements Zagreb has prepared for Belgrade.

The other major news report came in several days later. It said that a representative of the Bavarian government, Walter Schon, and Croatian Deputy Foreign Minister Vesna Cvjetkovic Kurelec held the 25th session of the Standing Bavarian-Croatian Commission in Dubrovnik. The session was exceptionally fruitful and resulted in the signing of a protocol on cooperation on as many as 90 projects, mostly in the sectors of economy, welfare, health care, justice, etc.

When compared, the two reports show that Croatia is cooperating much more productively with a German province several hundred kilometers away than with a rather large regional country with which it shares a border. This unusual fact has caused many to ask: what Croatian foreign policy today is all about, and what, if any, are its objectives.

In his interview, of course, Picula did his best to leave an impression that these goals are clear and that Croatia is keeping a steady course in pursuing them. He announced that the country will almost certainly join the CEFT by the end of the year, openly adding that this means its foreign policy priorities do not lie in cooperation with its eastern neighbor, but in cooperation with central European countries. But it was not at all clear why joining the CEFT would exclude cooperation with the countries in the region.

Slovenia, which according to Picula is lobbying in favor of Croatia's CEFT membership, does not have this either-or approach. To the contrary: recently, it opened a magnificent embassy in Belgrade which, according to Nacional, will employ 44 diplomats. Most of them, according to the Zagreb weekly, will be tasked with improving economic cooperation between Slovenia and Serbia, although it is already at a rather enviable level. Showing a pessimism awkward for a diplomat, however, Picula said Croatia cannot compete with Slovenia.

Over the past decade Slovenia's economy has not been nearly as devastated as Croatia's, and there is, furthermore, the negative legacy of the near and, as Picula added, even "more distant past," hindering better ties between Belgrade and Zagreb. It is obvious that the ten conditions listed by the Croatian foreign minister was the result of an attempt to show how strong and impressive the differences actually are. Although the Croatian Foreign Ministry partly rejected what the Nacional article said, the conditions should be repeated here if, for no other purpose, then to reveal what Belgrade has unofficially been asked to do.

Further normalization is impossible as long as the "war criminal" Momcilo Perisic is a member of the Yugoslav government, says Picula's first condition. The others are as follows: Serbia is avoiding to resolve the Prevlaka issue; Belgrade is refusing to extradite to The Hague Vukovar war crimes suspects; Serbia is unwilling to determine the fate of 1,500 missing Croats; works of art and other valuable objects stolen from Croatia have not been returned; the question of Croatian property in Yugoslavia has not been resolved; for quite some time the two countries are without ambassadors in Belgrade and Zagreb; Serbia hasn't defined relations with its neighbors; Serbia's final borders are not yet known; Serbia's relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is, Republika Srpska are not yet clear.

The fact that the Croatian Foreign Ministry had to react after this article came as no surprise. Its author probably wrote about issues that were not meant to be talked about, because the ten conditions were a mixture of all sorts of things. There are, of course, certain well-made points, but they should not be considered a hindrance to further normalization. But others include questions that could be resolved only through normalization (such as property issues, or punishing war crimes). The worst example was the one hinging further cooperation on the appointment of ambassadors, because their vacated offices was the result precisely of lack of cooperation on Croatia's part: Croatia had refused to appoint an ambassador to replace Zvonimir Markovic at the time Milosevic was still in power.

In general, Croatia's attitude towards cooperation with its closest neighbors -- mostly with Yugoslavia, but Bosnia-Herzegovina isn't much better off either -- is based on the rule that it is better to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond. Or in other words, it prefers to spend years awaiting to be admitted into the European Union than to cooperate with its first neighbors, which could start immediately. In this sense there is practically no difference between the Tudjman foreign policy and the one pursued by the Racan government, except in negligible details. (Tudjman, for instance, used to look down on central European countries, wanting to immediately join the elite group of the most powerful.)

The attitude towards Slovenia is specific, but not essentially different. As much as it was considered the most western of the former Yugoslav states, and not only in terms of geography at that, in the 1900s Slovenia was not exactly Croatia's favorite neighbor. True, there was some cooperation in getting out of the former Yugoslavia, but there were many mutual disappointments in the process. This is why Slovenia exhibited more or less the same attitude Croatia has towards its other neighbors from the former common country.

Only recently did Ivica Racan attempt to overcome this and resolve with Janez Drnovsek all outstanding issues in a single go. But his partners from the Croatian five-member ruling coalition were unanimously against, seeing this as an opportunity to score at least one point with the part of electorate that considers them as being not sufficiently concerned with Croatian national interests. It is most likely there will be no agreement and that international arbitration will be sought.

Racan's attempt to present Slovenia as Croatia's closest fellow traveler on the path towards the West has fallen through and Croatia's foreign policy continues to resemble a steamer gearing up for a long voyage, neither interested nor capable of managing shorter ones.

Marinko Culic