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A Few Things Not To Say If You're Serbia's President-Elect (Updated)

"There are dreams a man cannot fulfill," says Serbian President-elect Tomislav Nikolic.

"There are dreams a man cannot fulfill," says Serbian President-elect Tomislav Nikolic.

It's an inauspicious way to begin a presidency, by anyone's measure.

Even before his inauguration as Serbia's new president on May 31, Tomislav Nikolic has already offended the government in neighboring Croatia and raised a few red flags in Georgia.

In an interview with German journalist Michael Martens in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Nikolic said that a "Greater Serbia" was his "unrealized dream" and called the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar a "Serbian town" and said Croats had no reason to go back there.

"There are dreams a man cannot fulfill. Croatia is an internationally recognized state. Croatian borders are on the Danube and there will be no changes of the borders. The same applies to Bosnia and Herzegovina. My dreams, from the time when Yugoslavia collapsed and decisions were made about who would live where, unfortunately were not realized. And, as things stand, they will never be realized."

Responded Croatian President Ivo Josipovic: "If Mr. Nikolic's statement means a return to the ideas of the '90s, I can say in the name of all Croatian citizens that those ideas will not be realized."

Josipovic said cooperation between the two states would be possible only if Nikolic "changes his attitude."

Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic called Nikolic's statements "shocking and absolutely unacceptable."

"If Croatia and Serbia want to do good for their citizens, they have to be able to cooperate," Pusic said. "But for that, willingness from both sides is necessary."

Croatia's war veterans minister, Predrag Matic, a Vukovar war veteran and former prisoner of war himself, took a different tack.

"I agree with Nikolic that there are some dreams that will never come true," he said. "I also dreamt about Claudia Schiffer, but I realized that those dreams would not come to pass."

For his part, Nikolic denied making the comments at all. A statement issued by his office and quoted by the Serbian news agency Tanjug called the reports a "treacherous lie. The policy of Tomislav Nikolic will be to build peace and stability in the region."

German journalist Martens, however, reportedly provided an audio recording of the interview.

As if that all weren't enough, Nikolic ruffled feathers in Georgia with his comments to Voice of Russia on May 26 that raised that possibility that Belgrade might join Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and a couple of Pacific island countries in recognizing the independence of Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nikolic dismissed any similarities between Kosovo and the two breakaway states, saying that "Kosovo should be under the control of Belgrade, while the two separatist states deserve independence."

Nikolic's comments came during a visit to Moscow, during which President Vladimir Putin promised to release $800 million in loans to Serbia for infrastructure projects.

The comments sparked a muted response from Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze, who cited the Georgian and Serbian people’s "close relations" while saying:

"Georgia, like Serbians, have chosen a European way, both seeking EU membership. It’s clear to everyone that the EU clearly recognizes Georgia’s territorial integrity and Georgia’s borders within international law frames. Accordingly, it is in Serbia’s national interest to follow international standards."

Nikolic has said that Serbia will not give up its claim to Kosovo for the sake of EU membership.

UPDATE: In an interview with Montenegrin television on May 29, Nikolic got himself into more hot water when he said: "I recognize Montenegro's existence forever, but I do not recognize the difference between Serbs and Montenegrins."

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