Sofia view: a Serbo-Croat thaw in the freezing Balkans

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Despite the freeze that has taken hold of the Balkans, as well as much of Europe, there is a welcome new dose of warmth and good-naturedness in relations between the region’s leaders. The presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Boris Tadić and Ivo Josipović, are prime examples. On Friday the two issued a joint call for a deal allowing war crimes suspects to be prosecuted in either country, regardless of where the offence was committed. Though it is by no means certain at this stage whether and how the Bosnian tripartite presidency will acquiesce to such a multilateral agreement, the initiative is an important step forward. It also shows how far Serbo-Croat ties have come over the last few years. These days it is not extraordinary to see that Belgrade and Zagreb should engage in military cooperation.

If Serb and Croat democrats get on well that - for a change - is also good news for Bosnia, squeezed in the middle (parallels with the macabre pact between Tudjman and Milošević in the 1990s to partition their neighbour are certainly unwarranted). There is also a growing chance that Croatia may withdraw the genocide suit that it filed against Serbia at the International Court of Justice (that other venerable institution based at The Hague gaining mileage with Balkan governments: as per the 2010 advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence  and the recent ruling on Macedonia and Greece). Also do not forget that Josipović himself at the time headed the legal team that put together Croatia’s application, but now is seen, including by the US Embassy in Zagreb, as supporting the case's withdrawal. If this hurdle is cleared Croatia is much less likely to twist Serbia’s arms by linking its progress to the EU to concessions on bilateral issues. Slovenia did that to Croatia over the demarcation of the Gulf of Piran and, lest we forget, Italy did it to Slovenia in the 1990s because of the property rights of Italians who were forced to leave Yugoslavia after the Second World  War. Time to put an end to this domino effect perhaps?

How sustainable is the thaw in relations between Croatia and Serbia? Let’s see what outcome Serbia’s upcoming general elections bring. Things could deteriorate if the nationalist-populist Serbian Progressive Party headed by Tomislav Nikolić, which is likely to get the largest share of the votes, gets into a governing coalition. But if the recent rapprochement is implicitly ratified by Serbia’s right-wing not putting too sharp a brake on existing cooperation, then so much the better.

 

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