Usually, business fairs around the world gather entrepreneurs so that they can exchange experiences and sign possible co-operation contracts or look into third markets. However, the 2018 Mostar Fair is more than that; it became the event of political controversies not only in BiH but across the whole region.
Controversy No 1: The Fair opens its doors on April 10. A day when the Nazi marionette “Independent State of Croatia” was established, back in 1941. Under the Ustasha (Ustaše) movement hundreds of thousands of non-Croat citizens were killed in concentration camps or in their villages. Most of the victims were Serbs. But the Croatian member of the BiH Presidency and the Fair’s host, Dragan Čović did not seem to bother much as he called the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, to do the honours, as the president of the state (Serbia); let us not forget that Serbia is a “partner state” at this event. Moreover, the motto of the Fair is “Are we ready?” which resembles the Ustasha slogan “For Poglavnik and homeland ready” (Za Poglavnika i dom spremni)! Poglavnik means “founder” and referred to the Movement’s founder, Ante Pavelić.
Obviously, Vučić did not consider this a provocation and opened the 2018 Mostar Fair suggesting that there is no border that could prevent business people from co-operating.
“These 60 companies from Serbia at the Fair, a trade exchange (between BiH and Serbia) that is of nearly two -billion- euro worth and the fact that last year BiH was a partner country at the Agriculture Fair in Novi Sad (Serbia) showcase that we are becoming smarter and better neighbours with a common interest,” Vučić said.
In fact, in an attempt to avoid the political controversy regarding the April 10 opening, Vučić arrived in Mostar a day before the official ceremony. He held several meetings, visited the Serb Orthodox Church construction site in Mostar and met with Dragan Čović who offered him the “Laundresses on Neretva” painting as a present. At the back of the painting he had written: “To my friend Aleksandar Vučić”.
Either a friend or not, Vučić left Mostar and the Fair soon after the opening ceremony, thus avoiding the unpleasant media questions about the date and relevant memories about the Independent State of Croatia.
Controversy No 2: Čović was the only member of the BiH Presidency who attended the ceremony. The Serb member of the Presidency, Mladen Ivanić said that he would not come to Mostar due to “earlier agreed obligations”. This sentence in BiH often corresponds to a very kind and tactful “no, thank you” approach.
Rumours wanted the Bosniak member of BiH Presidency, Bakir Izetbegović, not having been invited to the ceremony. If so, Čović had a very strong reason. Izetbegović’s behaviour during the last two meetings with Vučić, in Belgrade and Mostar, almost caused a diplomatic incident. In December 2017, during the BiH Presidency’s official visit to Belgrade, Izetbegović interrupted Čović while he was making his statement to explain that BiH will independently decide about all open questions of its foreign policy, and that it will not follow Belgrade’s example. He acted alike also during the BiH-Serbia-Croatia tripartite summit in Mostar, in March 2018. Apparently, in both cases, his target was Vučić. So, this time, Čović did not want to risk giving Izetbegović another chance for more diplomatic gaffes.
Controversy No 3: For yet another time Vučić visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, but did not go to Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the Republika Srpska entity and the country’s second-largest city. In fact, in the past, he used to visit Banja Luka on rare occasions only. Still, in the past several years, the Serbian president has never caught even a glimpse of the city. Quite interestingly, the Republika Srpska president, Milorad Dodik, had several meetings with Vučić but only in Belgrade.
Nevertheless, both Dodik and Vučić keep emphasising that, in the last years, the relations between Republika Srpska and Serbia are at their best. The question is: how good is the between them relation?
Controversies about the Mostar Fair 2018 should not undermine its importance. After all, it is a great chance for business people to get together and talk business. Last but not least, the opening ceremony was a great opportunity for bilateral if not trilateral or quadrilateral meetings of regional leaders since both the Croatian PM, Andrej Plenković, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borissov attended the ceremony as representatives of the EU…. / IBNA