The governments and citizens of Croatia and Serbia are committed to improving their countries' relations.
By Ivana Jovanovic and Selena Petrovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Zagreb -- 11/10/13
Signs in Vojvodina, Serbia, are also written in Croatian and Hungarian in order to accommodate the minority communities. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
The new Croatian-Serbian Friendship Association founded by a group of citizens in Rijeka, Croatia, has the goal of improving relations between Croatia and Serbia, as well as the status of the Croatian minority in Serbia and the Serbian minority in Croatia.
Federation President Nikola Ivanis said the organisation, which opened last month, plans to foster better relations by "improving co-operation between businesses, sport associations, tourist communities and scientific institutions."
"We have organised a visit by 32 people from Istria and coastal Croatia to Guca in West Serbia, and we are expecting tourist operators from south Serbia to visit the Rijeka Carnival in 2014," Ivanis told SETimes.
He said the status of the Croatian minority in Serbia and Serbian minority in Croatia is advancing, but there is a lot of space for improvement, which requires "stronger will by executive authorities in both countries."
Slaven Bacic, the president of Croatian national council in Serbia, told SETimes that relations between two states are better, not only in comparison to 1990, but also compared to the last 10 years.
"The conflict end and normalisation of relations changed the visions about minorities. But there is a lot of space for improvement. We are contributing by our co-operation with representatives of the Serbian minority in Croatia," Bacic said.
He added that huge shifts in the lives of the Croatian minority were made after the end of the Milosevic regime, especially in Vojvodina, Serbia, where 58,000 Croats live.
"This is the 12th year of education in the Croatian language; we have 40 Croatian associations and a legally elected body for minority government. A few years ago the Institute for the Vojvodina Croats culture was established. But resistance in numerous government segments is still present and we have to deal with them on a daily basis," Bacic said.
According to Sandro Knezovic, a research fellow at Zagreb-based Institute for Development and International Relations, although "there are certain criticisms related to the status of Croats in Vojvodina, they are definitely going to be addressed during discussions between Serbia and the European Union. This will be one of the more significant issues on the table [in the accession negotiations]. In this context, the improvement of their status and returning to the thesis that minorities must not be barriers, but the bridge between neighboring countries, is to be expected."
"Minority rights were a significant issue during Croatia's accession negotiations, and all communities in Croatia, the Serbian minority included, currently enjoy the highest level of minority rights protection," he told SETimes.
Davor Paukovic, an assistant professor at Dubrovnik University and associate at the Political Science Research Centre in Zagreb, said that facing the past is crucial to good relations between the two countries.
Instead of relying on participants remaining from the era of the dissolution of Yugoslavia to do that, he said, the focus should be on new generations.
"The media, historiography, education system and the political elite, all play the most important part," he said, adding that the second stage would be solving bilateral issues, such as mutual genocide lawsuits at the International Court of Justice.
Knezovic agreed, saying, "Over time a generation shift occurs. We hope that new generations will have a pragmatic approach toward politics, maybe even better than the one the present generations has," he said.
What can be done to improve minority rights in Serbia and Croatia? Tell us your thoughts below.