18 September 2003, Volume 5, Number 30
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.
RFE/RL: Who made President Stipe Mesic's visit possible and when? Have they been working together for a long time (see "RFE/RL/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 15 September 2003)?
Mate Granic: Things began with the signing of the normalization agreement in 1996. I was the one who signed the agreement in Belgrade, while many opposition leaders considered it premature.
I think that history has already proved that I was right, since the agreement opened the door for many other issues to be resolved. For example...some 10 important agreements were also signed, including the agreement on border area traffic, which contributed so much to the normalization and peaceful reintegration of the Danube region, as well as to easing tensions on both sides.
Citizens of both Croatia and Serbia benefit from those agreements. In 1998, we adopted a refugee return plan and agreed on some other important issues, like the search for missing people. This is when serious cooperation began.
RFE/RL: But Belgrade and Zagreb are proceeding much more cautiously than are Podgorica and Zagreb.
Granic: I agree with you that Zagreb and Podgorica are moving forward and making no bones about it. But it is Croatia's interest that the same thing happens with Serbia, too.
We should launch more initiatives, have more mutual contacts, and make more efforts to solve open questions and move toward the future. Once again, I would support Serbia and Montenegro's integration into all international institutions, including the EU and NATO.
RFE/RL: Politicians usually take dozens or hundreds of businessmen with them on major visits in order to boost economic relations. The situation with Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia developed, however, in the opposite way, namely that businessmen began to make the first contacts soon after the fall of [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic. Croatian companies have begun buying firms in Serbia. Cooperation has long proceeded apace in culture and with the NGOs. Why did it take the politicians so long to get moving?
Zivorad Kovacevic: To be honest, relations between our two countries are not completely normal yet.
There is a very important point to note about this region, the so-called western Balkans: for the first time in their history, these countries have an identical strategic goal, namely to join the European integration process. This will necessarily result in internal changes as well.
However, there is a third dimension, namely regional and bilateral cooperation. On this score, the governments are not ready to move as quickly as the NGOs or people involved in business or culture. But if we want to be part of Europe, we have to begin in our own region....
Another reason for the slow political progress is the fact that the two governments are very weak. The Croatian government is facing elections, while the government of Serbia as well as the government of the joint state lack political stability....
RFE/RL: To what extent are the two governments' hands tied by their respective nationalists?
Kovacevic: There may have been personnel changes since [late Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman's and Milosevic's times, but the views and outlooks of those in power remain similar. As long as the hate speech continues -- partly encouraged by some media as well as by nationalist political circles -- the two governments will be prisoners of old ways of thinking, especially at election time.
RFE/RL: Isn't it absurd that Milosevic and Tudjman worked together better than have the post-Milosevic and post-Tudjman democratically elected governments? It is clear now that in 1991 they partitioned Bosnia at their meeting in Karadjordjevo, and that they had contacts all during the [1991-95] war. A hotline to Belgrade was discovered in President Tudjman's office after the opposition came to power.
Kovacevic: One might say that it is both absurd and not absurd. The two were working energetically on the same project and needed each other to succeed.
The new governments are also working on the same project. This is a more complex, and of course nobler one, but they are not yet fully aware of the fact that they need each other. They do not yet understand that their respective paths to Brussels go via Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Pristina, Tirana, Skopje, etc.
RFE/RL: Mr. Granic, you were a foreign minister for a very long time, almost a decade. You know very well how things work in diplomacy. Was such a visit of a Croatian head of state to Serbia not possible before?
Granic: I sharply criticized [the current foreign minister, Tonino] Picula, for waiting 15 or 16 months before holding his first bilateral meeting [with his Belgrade counterpart]. I am not talking about meetings along the sidelines at international conferences, which did take place, but about a real bilateral meeting of the two foreign ministers.
It took them 15 or 16 months to organize that meeting, and the prime ministers have not met yet. In other words, Croatian foreign policy and diplomacy are moving too slowly.
As far as the president is concerned, it is never too late for a bilateral visit. But before there is a reason for him to go, the ground must be prepared by the government or Foreign Ministry. It is they who have been dragging their heels.