11 September 2003, Volume
CROATIA'S PRESIDENT GOES TO BELGRADE.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Srdjan Kusovac with Mate Granic -- former Croatian foreign minister, current president of the Democratic Center party (DC), and member of parliament -- and Zivorad Kovacevic, the last ambassador of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in Washington and current president of the European Movement in Serbia. Kovacevic is also a member of the Igman Initiative, an NGO that brings together moderate politicians from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia.
On 10 September, Croatian President Stjepan Mesic will go to Serbia and Montenegro on the first official visit of a Croatian president to Belgrade since the disintegration of former Yugoslavia.
What do you think about the first official visit by a Croatian president to Belgrade? What does the visit mean for the two countries and the region?
It has a great importance being the very first official visit, which should have taken place long ago. It has been three years since the democratic changes in Serbia, and six months before that the same thing happened in Croatia, so one should have logically expected annual visits every year since 2000....
Therefore, one may say that the relations between the two countries are improving, but there is still a long way to go.
It would have been more appropriate if the president of Serbia and Montenegro had first visited Croatia -- in view of the war, all the related events, and Milosevic's responsibility for the war in Croatia. However, personally I support the dialogue and talks....
Mr. Kovacevic, Mr. Granic...thinks that it would have been better from a Croatian point of view had the
president of Serbia and Montenegro first gone to Zagreb. Do you share his opinion?
....President Mesic is often the one to take the initiative, and maybe this was his own idea, which I would find important. I do not know whether it would have been better or more important the other way around.
I think that we have no more problem of personalities, which was the case with [Yugoslav] President [Vojislav] Kostunica. The new president of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, also takes the initiative and shows an interest and a willingness to cooperate. Furthermore, he is from Montenegro, which has already established relations with Croatia.
It won't get us anywhere to talk about what should have happened earlier, but I assume that there will be a return visit soon.
How will this visit be seen elsewhere?
Such visits are part and parcel of politicians' jobs in countries with developed and stable relations. For instance, the presidents of France and Germany have paid countless visits to each other, and those meetings have always been strong stimuli for further strengthening mutual relations. Those visits have also helped promote integration within the European Union, and previously within the European Community.
In this particular case, it is more than a routine visit, since it is hopefully the beginning of a new practice. By comparison, the heads of states and governments of the Nordic countries regularly meet several times a year. [Among the successor states to former Yugoslavia,] we have had only one summit so far: the so-called Dayton circle summit, which included Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 July 2002). But it happened only once....
What do you think should top the agenda of the first official visit of a Croatian head of state to Serbia and Montenegro?
I think that open questions should be addressed first, meaning delineating the border. This does not mean that President Mesic should participate in talks about the border -- that is the job of the two national commissions and ministries of foreign affairs -- but he should be the one to launch the negotiations.
The process of refugee returns needs to be addressed as well, and in the right spirit. After that, all the other issues that are actually consequences of the disintegration of the former state should be resolved....
You have mentioned the border on the Danube. That remains an open issue because Serbia still controls a few pockets of Croatian territory on the left, eastern side of the river. Sarengradska Island still remains the biggest problem. However, President Mesic announced last week in an interview for Croatian Radio that he will discuss the Danube border issue in principle only.
Well, that is normal. It would not be good if our president discussed the issue in detail. That is the government's job. In other words...it is president's job simply to provide the impetus for reaching a solution.
How can we judge whether the visit is a success?
I would consider it a success if the Croatian side and Belgrade unambiguously define their respective strategic interests and outline how they hope to promote them. Belgrade should make clear whether NATO, as well as the EU, is important to it.
I do not expect any concrete results from this visit regarding the unresolved issues, but the visit can provide an impetus leading to their resolution.
I think that it will not prove to be in vain. First, there has already been a success of sorts in that the Prevlaka agreement came about without any prodding from abroad.
There has been another big success regarding visas. Yugoslavia, or Serbia and Montenegro, first made a unilateral move by virtually abolishing visa requirements. Croatia could not remain silent and did the same thing, although temporarily. But once it opened its borders, it can hardly go back and close them again, regardless of the fact that the current regimen is supposed to last only until the end of the year.
That represents big progress. I expect other issues to be discussed, too, such as the agreements waiting to be ratified, the problem of the refugees, setting up the free trade zone that should already be under way, promoting mutual investments, etc.
Mr. Granic, do you think that the joint statement after the meeting might include a sentence in which the one state expresses its support for the other state's efforts to join the European Union and NATO?
I think that it is absolutely in the interest of Croatia that Serbia joins both the EU and NATO. Regional stability is in Croatia's interest, without open questions, threats, and heavy military spending. Therefore, since those are the interests of Croatia, why should Croatia not express its support?