Unfinished business in the Balkans

Unfinished business in the Balkans

Harsh words between the Prime Ministers of Serbia and Croatia could threaten the largest summit between China and 16 leaders from central and Eastern Europe.

The undiplomatic words exchanged between Serbia and Croatia in November follows a similar exchange between Serbia and Albania just weeks earlier. The Cold War rhetoric could eclipse the December 16-17 China- CEE/SEE summit in Belgrade, and introduce a new Cold War between Balkans countries, writes Professor Dr Blerim Reka.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic cancelled his participation in the China- CEE/SEE summit after the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague released the convicted Serbian war criminal Vojislav Seselj. Croatia’s parliament adopted a resolution against Serbia on November 27, 2014, followed by a European Parliament resolution with the same message the next day.

Serbia is an EU candidate-country waiting to start accession negotiations in 2015. But Serbia’s European future is questionable, after this European Parliament resolution and after European Commission warnings about Serbia not implementing EU common foreign and security policy, energy policy and for ignoring sanctions against Russia.

Serbia continues to have unresolved bilateral problems with almost all its neighbours including Hungary over the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina; with Albania over the human rights of Albanians in the Presevo Valley; with Macedonia over its borders in the Prohor Pcinjski, and its failure to recognise the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church; with Kosovo, by refusing to recognise its independence; and with Croatia, over its borders and the 1991 war. There is also a dispute with Bosnia and Herzegovina over the leadership of Republika Srpska.

Vojislav Seselj, indicted for war crimes, used his release to make political speeches against Croatia. He and Serbia’s president and prime minister had belonged to the same Serbian Radical Party running the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991-1995.

Croatia’s government and parliament reacted to the war propaganda by holding Serbia’s government responsible for tolerating it and then to distance themselves from it.

But far from doing that, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic accused Croatia and the European Parliament of trying to destroy Serbia’s international image.

Such an undiplomatic exchange between Belgrade and Zagreb has introduced a new Cold War and further escalated difficulties in bilateral relations following war in the 1990s.

This slanging match between the two countries could lead to a return in war vocabulary. The Balkans peace is fragile and the international community still has unfinished business to deal with here.

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