by Zorica STANIVUKOVIC
The former concluded that the Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs talked to journalists about issues he hadn't addressed with the local diplomats, while the latter concluded that they not only hadn't heard statements such as those made by Svilanovic, but also did not expect them. When the guest from Yugoslavia announced in front of the Christmas tree in the hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that he wanted "to share an emotion", no one expected that that emotion could be "an apology for the war". Goran Svilanovic went a step further. Expressing "sincere regret because of the suffering to which the citizens of the Republic of Croatia, Croats and Serbs alike, as well a the citizens of FR Yugoslavia, were exposed over the last few years," he demonstrated that his was a universal human emotion that goes beyond national differences, state borders and political rhetoric.
He blamed politicians, who manipulated fear of their supporters, for the ethnically motivated crimes, but also added that people from both countries are today big victims of the most recent war. He reminded the hosts that all 100,000 refugees from Croatia, who are currently in Yugoslavia, could not be war criminals, but are simply people who with every new day are trying to collect remains of their destroyed life with increasingly less success. Ignoring protocol, Goran Svilanovic in the end invited Picula to visit Sarajevo together and talk there with their colleague Zlatko Lagumdzija about Srebrenica and other killing fields that ended the lives of numerous citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina, irrespectively of their ethnicity and religious affiliation.
The formal result of numerous meetings is the signing of the treaty about avoidance of double taxation of profit and property, as well as a protocol about cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of FR Yugoslavia. Informally, both sides found a new "unresolved issue" that could in the long-term slow down the new détente between Croatia and Yugoslavia. Since because of external pressure Croatia had to give up numerous ultimatum-like demands she put to the Yugoslav authorities, Croatia this time stopped with the issue of tenancy rights of ethnic Serbs from Croatia who had to leave the country during the war. It is not a secret that these, approximately 50,000, formerly "Serb apartments" are a nightmare for Ivica Racan and his government.
First, because these apartments are now mostly occupied by Croats from other parts of the former Yugoslavia, as well as by local policemen, soldiers, officers and members of Croat paramilitary organizations who frequently moved in by evicting the former tenants by force. The other reason is the still strong fear of the authorities in Croatia of the return of a significant number of Serbs, who were denied citizenship rights by Tudman's regime, to Croatia. The message of the western circles that only that can be the true test of the democratic nature of "post-Tudman Croatia" means little to Racan's government compared with their fear of the Croat reaction to the return of Serbs to their pre-war homes. One of their fears is a possibility that a return of a large number of Serbs to Croatia could lead to revenge by the Croat extremists and the fall of the government in Zagreb. Another is the fear of an economic meltdown that Prime Minister Ivica Racan emphasized as the chief argument in his talks with Goran Svilanovic.
The guest from Belgrade briefly demonstrated last Friday in Zagreb what that future could be. Goran Svilanovic reminded his hosts that his government is also facing pressure, because Yugoslavia also has people who are convinced that the recent war irretrievably destroyed all opportunities for cooperation between individuals and nations. Going beyond his role as a diplomat, Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs in Croatia actually used his own example to demonstrate what meetings of civilized individuals who do not keep their "good upbringing" only for "special" political purposes or privileged interlocutors [from the West] should be like. Or, as Goran Svilanovic personally reminded in Zagreb: "Only life with others is a victory of the idea of peace, and we were pushed to the war by the illusion that there can be no life with others."
Minister Tonino Picula responded that he was aware that his political duty is to work on the "renewal of connections and relations between people", President Stjepan Mesic said that each country should punish its own war criminals, and Prime Minister Ivica Racan immediately pulled out a piece of paper that said that 1,580 Serbs have been indicted for war crimes in Croatia. As could have been heard many times in the past, negotiations will go on...
I would like to share with you an emotion. I would like to share my sincere regret because of suffering to which citizens of the Republic of Croatia, both Croats and Serbs, as well as citizens of FR Yugoslavia, were exposed over the last few years... Place-names from the recent Croat history, such as Vukovar, will remain seared in the hearts of all Croats. It is a job for historians to explain why what happened did happen, but the politicians need to take the step that leads towards reconciliation.
I want to also give you an explanation, in hope that you show some understanding for Serbs from Croatia and from other parts of the former Yugoslavia. Fear is something that makes people commit the worst crimes, and their memory of Jasenovac and other killing fields was perhaps something that made them less humane than was necessary and sometimes prompted them to commit crimes...