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Analysis: Croatia's President Goes Online With RFE/RL

In an online interview --> with users of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service website on 20 September, Croatian President Stipe Mesic dismissed the argument that possible independence for Kosova will lead to fragmentation of Croatia or other states in the region. Mesic argued that the Croatian authorities will "accept any legal and legitimate decision" on Kosova's final status, adding that his advice to other Balkan countries is to accept European standards and look toward the future rather than the past.

Asked who was the greater man, the late Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito or Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Mesic replied that it is impossible to compare the two because they lived in different times and under different circumstances. Many Croats do, in fact, compare Tito and Tudjman because both were from Croatia, had a military background, were tough rulers, and engaged in their respective personality cults.

Mesic declined to take a stand as to who was at fault regarding the tensions in the 1990s between Tudjman and Bosnia-Herzegovina's President Alija Izetbegovic. Mesic argued that this is a matter for historians to decide since neither Tudjman nor Izetbegovic is alive and hence able to answer for himself.

Mesic's own relationship with Tudjman varied from close to stormy, and Mesic was one of several prominent moderate Croats who did not hide his disapproval of the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia. Many observers held Tudjman responsible for that conflict, since he seemed bent on partitioning Bosnia with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and establishing a greater Croatia.
Mesic said he believes that the future of the former Yugoslav republics is to join the European Union, which some of them will do sooner, others later.

Asked whether he, as the last president of the second or communist-era Yugoslavia, feels some responsibility for the demise of that state, Mesic replied that it was clear to him when he arrived in Belgrade in 1991 to try to take up the rotating chair of the eight-member Yugoslav presidency that federal Yugoslav institutions had ceased to function. The solution, he felt, was to reach a new political agreement. The presidency consisted of representatives of the six republics -- Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia -- plus the Serbian autonomous provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina, which enjoyed a legal status close to that of the republics under the 1974 constitution.

But, Mesic argued, Milosevic did not want such a compromise. Instead, Milosevic sought to break up Yugoslavia and create a greater Serbia, Mesic continued. In the course of carrying out his plan, Milosevic indulged in genocide and other war crimes, and for that he is now answering before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Mesic said.

In fact, Milosevic never gave Mesic the opportunity to lead the country to a compromise solution because the Serbian leader and his three allies on the presidency prevented the Croat from taking over the rotating chair.

Mesic was supported by the representatives of Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, all of which were to declare their independence in the following months when it became clear that Milosevic was interested in controlling the federation and would destroy it if he could not dominate it.

Turning to the past and future of a Yugoslav state, Mesic said that three states existed in the 20th century under the name Yugoslavia and all of them failed. He was referring to the interwar monarchy, Tito's communist creation that arose in the wake of World War II, and Milosevic's short-lived rump state that consisted only of Serbia and Montenegro. Mesic said he believes that the future of the former Yugoslav republics is to join the European Union, which some of them will do sooner, others later.