Croatia and Serbia will look to the future, officials say

10/03/2014

Despite lawsuits in the International Court of Justice, the two countries will continue co-operating and helping each other implement EU standards.

By Ivana Jovanovic and Selena Petrovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Zagreb -- 10/03/14

photo

Croatia Deputy Prime Minister Vesna Pusic (left) and her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic met in Belgrade on February 24th. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Although the hearings on the mutual genocide lawsuits filed by Serbia and Croatia opened last week at The International Court of Justice, officials and analysts said the past should not encumber present and future relations between the countries.

The deputy prime ministers of Serbia and Croatia, Aleksandar Vucic and Vesna Pusic, said during a meeting on February 24th that there are numerous fields in which the countries can co-operate, like EU principle implementation, education and the economy.

Croatia filed its charges of genocide against Serbia on July 2nd 1999, demanding financial compensation, punishment for all war criminals, information about missing persons and return of stolen cultural heritage.

Serbia filed a countersuit on January 4th 2010, accusing Croatia of genocide and ethnic cleansing that affected 230,000 Serbs during Operation Storm.

Public hearings on both lawsuits began on March 3rd.

Vucic said the majority of citizens and officials in Croatia think Serbia was an aggressor toward their country in the 1990s, while people in Serbia think Croatia conducted ethnic cleansing in Krajina.

"Let us not poison our relations because we see past events in different ways," Vucic said.

He said the court in The Hague will decide the cases, and officials in Serbia and Croatia need to focus on the future.

Pusic said the outcomes of the lawsuits will be a part of resolving the past.

"The worst thing would be for that to have repercussions on today's politics," she said.

"It is good that both countries see the future in the same way: as peaceful and stable, a future in which issues are addressed openly," Vucic said.

Croatia has been assisting Serbia with its EU integration by handing over the country's acquis communautaire to officials in Belgrade.

Sandro Knezovic, a research fellow at the Zagreb-based Institute for Development and International Relations, said Croatia has a strategic interest in stabilisation of Southeast Europe.

"The country serves an advocate for the further enlargement of the EU in this part of Europe," Knezovic told SETimes. "Co-operation in the region is very important and this is a political reality."

Lidija Cehulic-Vukadinovic, an associate professor at the Zagreb-based Faculty of Political Science, said Croatia could assist Serbia and the rest of the region by making the case in Brussels that integration of the Western Balkans does not represent a great burden for the EU.

"Croatia has to use these arguments to form an alliance of countries inside the EU that does not want the enlargement process to end," Cehulic-Vukadinovic told SETimes.

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Predrag Simic, the president of the Forum for International Relations within the European Movement in Serbia, said Croatia's experience with EU accession is important.

"Croatia's experience as the youngest EU member, and the closest to us, is very significant for Serbia. If we look at Serbian negotiations, we'll see a huge similarity," Simic told SETimes.

"Serbia can learn not only from Croatia's success, but also from mistakes the country has made on its path to the EU. For example, obstructing negotiations for internal political reasons has not brought us anything good, it only delayed the process, and in the end we had to do our homework. Also, there is no need to rush. It is better to enter the EU prepared, than to rush only for political elites to be able to proclaim victory and say they have brought the country into the Union, and later realise the country is not able to function inside the EU," Cehulic-Vukadinovic said.

What impact do you expect from the outcome of the Croatia and Serbia genocide lawsuits in The Hague? Add your opinion below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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