April 21, 2018

Diplomatic Scandal Between Serbia and Croatia. The tension continues

Serhiy Polyovyk

European media, in particular the Austrian Die Presse, citing Reuters, reported on Thursday, April 19, about a diplomatic scandal that aroused during Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic's two-days official visit to Belgrade.

Serbian ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj made an act of vandalism against the Croatian flag planted at the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade. According to reports, V. Seselj trod on the Croatian state flag and then tried to tear it. On the sidelines of the Serbian Parliament, among his supporters, he insulted the Croatian delegation. After that the official visit was canceled, the Croatian delegation returned to Zagreb.

The Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, G. Jandrokovic, made a statement at the press conference after his return, in which he condemned the vandalism act against Croatia's national symbol, which led to the cancellation of the visit to Belgrade.

Croatian government officials, in particular, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President of the state Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, supported the cancellation of the Croatian delegation's visit to Belgrade and pointed out that returning to Zagreb was an adequate response to the provocation. Prime Minister A. Plenkovic also expressed hope that the leadership of Serbia would condemn V. Seselj's actions.

In turn, the Croatian President expressed hope that the progress achieved between the two countries in recent months, would not suffer. K. Grabar-Kitarovic welcomed the reaction of Serbian high officials who condemned the actions of the provocateur. In particular, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Speaker of the Serbian Parliament Maja Gojkovic joined the criticism of V. Seselj's provocation.

Speakers of the Croatian and Serbian Parliaments Gordan Jandrokovic and Maja Gojkovic, Belgrade, April 18, 2018
Speakers of the Croatian and Serbian Parliaments Gordan Jandrokovic and Maja Gojkovic, Belgrade, April 18, 2018

The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a note to Serbia's Ambassador to Croatia, Mira Nikolic, in which it expressed a sharp protest and inadmissibility of “an uncivilized and unacceptable attack on the part of a convicted war criminal”. The note also expresses the demand for immediate measures to be taken by the Serbian leadership. It is noted, in particular, that V. Seselj, due to insufficient sanctions and reaction to his previous attacks, “is obviously encouraged” to further conduct radical actions. The note stresses, in particular, that the leader of the Serbian Radical Party in the past did throw the Croatian state flag into the fire. According to reports, the Serbian Ambassador refused to accept the note, so it was sent to the Serbian Embassy.

 

This regional and allegedly local conflict between representatives of the neighboring states of the Balkan region suggests some obvious observations and alarming conclusions.

Firstly, the manifestations of vandalism in the Serbian Parliament on the part of the leader of the parliamentary right-wing party, V. Seselj, could not have been accidental and unexpected for the Serbian leadership, in particular, the Speaker of the Parliament. The Serbian protocol and inter-parliamentary relations services of both states should have forecasted such developments. Ignoring the possibility of V. Seselj's provocation may show an insufficient level of preparation for a state visit or a reluctance to prepare it properly.

Secondly, the case in Belgrade shows the hidden conflict between the two countries, which may at any time turn into official protests and torpedo the achieved intergovernmental agreements.

Leader of the Serbian Radical Party ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj
Leader of the Serbian Radical Party ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj

Obviously, further normalization of relations between Serbia and Croatia does not suit the European revisionists and inspirators of the Balkan tension headed by Russia. Clear is the role of Serbian provocateurs, such as V. Seselj, capable of creating new tensions at the interstate level at the right time. Such provocations fit into Russia's intentions to torpedo the unity of the EU and lead to its discreditation from the inside, namely, using the Balkan hidden conflicts.

Thirdly, the use of the “Ukrainian scenario” in the Balkans, namely, the incitement of the proclamation of certain unrecognized republics with Russia's support in order to destabilize the situation in the region and demonstrate that things in Europe can't be sorted out without Moscow's interference.

 

Some weakening of the attention of the United States and the EU to the once-explosive region, in the wake of the escalation of events in other “hot” regions, has provoked manifestations of provocations controlled by those interested in instability on the interstate level between Serbia and Croatia. We should not rule out similar provocations in Montenegro, Kosovo and other regions of Southern Europe with potential tensions and Russia's constant influence.

Such provocations fit into Russia's intentions to torpedo the unity of the EU, using the Balkan hidden conflicts
Such provocations fit into Russia's intentions to torpedo
the unity of the EU, using the Balkan hidden conflicts

Taking into consideration the above-said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine should define and strongly articulate the position of Ukraine in the interstate dialogue with the countries of the region, with the EU and NATO, in order to prevent our country's unwanted potential geopolitical, image and economic losses.

In particular, China's initiative “The Belt and Road” provides for the creation of geopolitical conditions for the promotion of Chinese goods, people and finance to the EU, including through Southern Europe. That is, through Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and the Balkan countries. It is worthwhile to envisage participation of Ukrainian companies and Ukraine's scientific potential in infrastructure projects on the European continent, in particular, in those spheres where Ukraine is today competitive. In particular, in the construction of railways, bridges, tunnels, freight transportation by its own aviation, etc. Negotiations on participation in such projects will be complicated as they involve great financial investments. But we should negotiate on such intentions and declare our readiness and desire.

The settlement of local conflicts in the region, like the recent one between Serbia and Croatia, is beyond the competence and capabilities of our state. It is clear who stands behind such conflicts and what they are aiming at. The task of our state in this case is to take and demonstrate a constructive position in supporting the unity of the system of collective security on the continent, stability of the EU and our willingness to support it, if necessary. After all, Ukraine has an experience and a positive international image as a result of Ukrainian military units' participation in peacekeeping missions in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

It is advisable to join in the efforts of the international community, in particular, at the level of the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic missions of Ukraine in the EU and Southern Europe to prevent centrifugal tendencies in relations between the countries of the region. The geopolitical vector in the interests of Ukraine lies also on the Balkan direction, which, unfortunately, we so far has been underestimated.

 

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