Serbia and Croatia Trade Retaliatory Diplomatic Measures
Serbia has banned Croatia’s Defense Minister, Damir Krsticevic, from entering the country in response to Croatia’s announcement last week that effectively barred Serbia’s Defense Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, from entering the country to attend a Serb-organized World War Two commemoration ceremony held in Croatia. This tit-for-tat move signals a new low-point in relations between the two former Yugoslav republics, who fought one another during the implosion of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
While the diplomatic relationship between Croatia and Serbia since the breakup of Yugoslavia has been far from amicable, with lingering resentment over historical events, ethnic tensions, and border disputes making full rapprochement exceptionally difficult, the most recent diplomatic row was triggered on Apr. 18, 2018, during a visit by a Croatian parliamentary delegation to the Serbian parliament in Belgrade.
As the Croatian delegation entered the Serbian parliament building, far-right ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party leader and convicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj pulled down the Croatian flag hanging in the building entrance and trampled it with a fellow party member before shouting a string of profanity-laced insults at the Croatian delegation. The Croatian delegation decided to cut the visit short and to return to Zagreb the same day.
Condemnations of Seselj came swiftly from all sides, albeit at varying levels of intensity. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic warned that the Croatian government would “respond to these types of actions decisively and appropriately to protect our national dignity, national symbols, and the honor of the Republic of Croatia” before urging Serbia to “harshly and unequivocally condemn this act committed by a member of the national parliament who once again reiterated his harsh and ruthless rhetoric and behavior towards Croatia.”
The strongest condemnation from Serbia came from parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic, who called the “expressed disrespect” of Seselj towards the Croatian delegation “impermissible” and “an insult to the Serbian people who are pride of their tradition of hospitality.” Gojkovic also appealed for relations between Serbia and Croatia to not be held hostage by “incidents and provocation like this, whether here in Belgrade or in Zagreb.”
The European Union (EU), via the European Commission, issued a condemnation of Seselj as well, stating that the incident “is actually disrespectful of a democratic institution representing citizens and all of those who work on good neighborly relations and regional cooperation.” Croatia is a full member of the EU, having joined in 2013, while Serbia is a candidate for accession to the EU — possibly by 2025.
The diplomatic row deepened on Apr. 21 when Croatia’s government banned Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin from attending the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Jasenovac concentration camp, which is held on Croatian soil. Croatia’s Foreign Ministry said Vulin’s repeated claims that “only the Serbian Army’s supreme commander, Aleksander Vucic, [...] can decide on his travel to Croatia and that this cannot be decided by Croatian ministers” compelled the Foreign Ministry to forward a protest note to the Serbian embassy and to declare that Vulin is “not welcome to Croatia.”
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic stated on Apr. 23 that he did not understand the Croatian government’s rationale and suggested that the Serbian government would “probably react with reciprocal measures.”
The Serbian government did just that on Apr. 26, stating that it had decided to ban Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic from entering the country “as a reciprocal move.” Serbia’s government went on to call “these actions of Croatia as going against the spirit of good neighbourly cooperation and respect for basic European values, which include freedom of movement.”