Update No: 157 -
Third time lucky; a
forgiving Croatian president
"We have to improve our relations. That
was one of the most important objectives
of my presidential programme," said
President Ivo Josipovic during a visit to
European Union headquarters in Brussels.
Ultimately willing to turn the page even
on the genocide cases sitting at the
International Court of Justice, provided
certain conditions are met, Josipovic says
bilateral problems must be settled "once
and for all."
President Josipovic, who was sworn in May
as his country's third president, said
"Croatian and Serbian politicians must
work much more proactively" towards
reconciliation, because "the current
generation owes it to the next not to
bequeath its problems" from the past.
The social democrat is a renowned expert
in the field of international criminal law
and a classical music composer in his
He was one of the authors of Croatia's
complaint of genocide and "ethnic
cleansing" against Serbia for its role in
the 1991-95 war, which followed Croatia's
declaration of independence from the
former Yugoslavia. About 20,000 people
died in the war.
The International Criminal Tribunal, the
highest UN court, ruled in 2008 that it
will hear that case, but Serbia filed a
counter-complaint on January 4 this year,
citing genocide against ethnic Serbs.
According to the UN, more than 200,000
ethnic Serbs fled Croatia in 1995, when
the Croatian army launched a military
operation to retake territory occupied by
rebel Serbs, who were backed by the
hard-line regime of late Serbian president
Some 40,000 people went missing during the
wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia
in the 1990s, according to the
International Commission on Missing
Josipovic does not rule out the
possibility of both countries withdrawing
their cases. "That will depend on efforts
to resolve all the other problems linked
to the war, the fate of those who
disappeared, (confiscated) property and
war criminals," he said.
The toughest to come
Arguably the touchiest issue remains
cooperation by Belgrade with the
International Criminal Tribunal for the
Former Yugoslavia. "Serbia has altered its
policy and has started to cooperate,"
Josipovic said. "But they have still not
handed over two key accused," said the
president, referring to Ratko Mladic, the
Bosnian Serb military leader, and Goran
Hadjic, the Croatian Serb leader.
Mladic is accused of being behind the
44-month siege of Sarajevo that left
10,000 people dead and the July 1995
massacre of around 8,000 Muslim men and
boys in Srebrenica. He is the UN court's
most wanted fugitive and has been on the
run since being indicted in 1995. His
arrest is a key condition for Serbia's
progress towards EU membership.
Hadzic, 51, is wanted for the murder of
hundreds of people and the deportation of
tens of thousands of Croat and non-Serb
civilians during the Croatian war.
New strains emerged when Croatia
recognised Kosovo's declaration of
independence from Serbia. Serbia's
president, Boris Tadic, boycotted
Josipovic's inauguration on February 18
because Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu,
was in attendance.
Into the EU?
Nevertheless, Josipovic does not see
"animosity" emanating from Belgrade. The
two countries have a common goal:
accession to the European Union (EU) and
through it access to the world's biggest
Serbia may barely have reached the
waiting-room door, but Croatia is almost
there. "Negotiations can realistically end
by the close of this year," said Josipovic,
who envisages a 2012 entry based on
efforts to eliminate corruption in the
public sector and modernise its judiciary.
"It's in Croatia's interests that all the
countries of the (Balkans) region enter
the EU... as soon as possible," he