After meeting the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic last week, the representatives of the Croatian national community in Serbia were “very satisfied” – according to accounts. At the meeting, the resolving of some concrete problems of the Croatian minority has been agreed. In the interview with IBNA, Tomislav Zigmanov, the president of the Democratic Alliance of Vojvodina Croats (DSHV), who led the Croatian community delegation at the meeting, suggests that there are reasons for optimism.
In your opinion, how long will resolving these concrete problems take?
“It depends on the complexity of each particular problem. Some of them are easy to solve; for instance, for the widening of the network of high schools with the use of the Croatian language all that is needed is the minister’s decision. The same goes for the opening of one Croatian speaking class in the Medical High School in Subotica. To engage proofreaders for Croatian language at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad the willingness of that faculty is what is necessary. We need the political will of the Serbian government to reopen the Croatian Home in Sremska Mitrovica; some model for it should be found and we propose the same one which has been applied for the reopening of the Serbian association ‘Privrednik’ in Zagreb.”
What are the priorities among all these agreed steps?
“The most important is the inclusion of the Croatian community’s representatives in decision making processes in accordance with the intergovernmental agreement on the protection of the right of Serbs in Croatia and Croats in Serbia. That document explicitly stipulates that the two sides are obliged to include the representatives of national minorities in decision making processes in all levels, in legislative and executive branches. It’s the principle of democracy. The threshold for this inclusion that has been applied in Serbia since 2005 is unfavourable for small and territorially dispersed minorities such as the Croatian. Such threshold satisfies big minorities – Hungarians, Bosniaqs, Albanians – in sense of their number or their territorial concentration. The other minorities did not enjoy this inclusion right. Our demand for such inclusion is not any kind of caprice; such solution is already applied regarding the minorities in neighboring countries, including Croatia, but also in Montenegro, Kosovo and Romania.”
Do you think that the Serbian government has the political will for it?
“Ever since 2005 the political has not existed. We think that this should be resolved; bilateral agreements must be implemented. The political participation of the national minorities in decision making processes is also required by Chapter 23 of the accession negotiation process between Serbia and the European Union. This means that all legal documents should be strictly implemented. I believe that president Vucic is aware of this problem. He had the opportunity to see how this inclusion principle is applied with the Serb minority in Croatia. In Croatia, the Serbian minority has three representatives in parliament, 12 deputy prefects, etc. In Serbia, there is not a single Croat in the executive branch in any level; there are just two councilors in Subotica, one in Sombor and one in Sremska Mitrovica.”
What is your impression of the recent visit of Vucic to Croatia? During the visit, the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said that the bilateral relation still cannot be called “friendly”.
“We see the visit as a positive step. It’s always better to talk, even if you don’t have friendly relations. The situation in which an EU member state and a country which aspires to become a member have no communication is unsustainable. And communication is necessary, because there are problems. For example, Serbia will not enter EU without resolving the border dispute with Croatia. A responsible and serious behavior means that you have to talk, regardless of ideological and other differences. At the same time, there is no need to talk about everything, including the military operation “Storm” and the Second World War atrocities. What should be discussed is the missing persons’ issue, the economic cooperation, minority rights.”
Do you think that the EU initiated the visit?
“I don’t have such information, but both Croatia and Serbia have received certain messages. It is expected that Croatia should play a more active role in the region. Three of its neighboring countries aspire to become EU members and, in that sense, Croatia has a special kind of responsibility. On the other hand, I assume that Serbia has received the message that it cannot be focused only on Kosovo; because Serbia also has problems with some other countries. The frozen conflicts are unsustainable.”
In Zagreb, there were some reactions during Vucic’s visit – that he has “humiliated” Croatia by delivering an already seen list of missing persons…
“I think that media interpretations of the visit in both countries were overloaded with sensationalism. Croatian top officials, including the president, the prime minister and the parliament speaker did not show any kind of negativity during the visit. Some groups held protests, but it’s their democratic right regardless of the motives. Some media have claimed that Vucic was not welcome… I was there and everything was calm. There were no incidents when the car with Vucic was passing through Zagreb. Passers-by acted just normally and nobody showed anything ugly. What some media have speculated cannot be interpreted as the position of the Croatian government.”
Serbian pro-government media are full of ustaše (Croatian military unit during Nazi occupation that committed atrocities against Serbs) narratives regarding Croatia. They make no difference between ustaše and the Croatian people. Did you have the opportunity to discuss this problem with the representatives of the Serbian government?
“No, because in the past five years we had not had a chance to talk with them – until last week. The last president whom we had met before was Tomislav Nikolic in 2013. Since then, we did not have the opportunity to talk even with some minister. That’s the biggest structural problem of the Croatian community in Serbia. Resolving some practical problems began after June 2016, in Tavankut, when Vucic and Grabar Kitarovic had their first meeting. But since then, there was no direct communication.”…/IBNA