By Igor Jovanovic and Drazen Remikovic
While politicians leading Serbia and Croatia may be at odds after the Hague tribunal’s acquittal of Croatian General Ante Gotovina last month, citizens such as 51-year-old Zrinka Kutlesic in Zagreb are taking a more moderate view.
“I am glad that our generals are released but I do not give it such great importance. Life goes on,” Kutlesic told SETimes. “Tomorrow I will certainly say hi to my Serb neighbour. No politician or general can make me hate or fight with my neighbours.”
The up-and-down relationship between the two countries seems to have taken another dip with the November 16th ruling that released Gotovina and Mladen Markac, who had been sentenced to 24 years and 18 years, respectively, for their roles in a 1995 offensive to retake Croatia’s Krajina region.
Judges had ruled that the men were part of a criminal conspiracy, led by former Croatia President Franjo Tudjman, to expel Serbs from the region. Their convictions were overturned in a 3-2 decision by the appeals court, which ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove that the conspiracy existed.
Croatia President Ivo Josipovic said he believed Gotovina was a hero and that he could imagine the general as his adviser. That statement raised the ire of Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic, who angered Croatia earlier this year by referring to Vukovar as “a Serbian city.”
“All that talk of him being angry because I said something about Vukovar is a lie,” Nikolic said. “He has been waiting for this ruling. Now he wants us to talk — me as the president of a people who committed crimes and him as the president of a people who has not been convicted of anything.”
The Serbian ambassador to Berlin, Ognjen Pribicevic, said that Serbian-Croatian relations have constantly been going up and down over the past 15 years and that they may be fully sorted out only with Serbia’s accession to the EU, which Croatia will join in mid-2013.
Croatian analysts said that the cooling of relations between the two countries was to be expected after the acquittal of the Croatian general.
“However, that kind of relations must be changed in the future because of the Serb and Croat citizens. Citizens deserve better treatment and they don’t need the tensions. They need people who will work on reconciliation,” Davorka Budimir, political analyst and vice-president of the Croatian Political Science Association, told SETimes.
Predrag Simic, professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences, told SETimes that relations between Serbia and Croatia are also important for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“However, after their significant enhancement during Boris Tadic’s term as Serbian president, now those relations are at a very low level and it will be very difficult to restore them to a higher level. It will take time,” Simic said.