Capital Zagreb
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 385
Mobile Codes 91,92,95,98,99
ccTLD .hr
Currency Kuna (1EUR = 7.26HRK)
Land Area 56,594 sq km
Population 4.5 million
Language Croatian
Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Developments in the Croatian Catholic Church under Pope Francis Editor’s note: the following article, which documents structural developments in the post-conflict Catholic Church in Croatia, compliments other 2014 pieces concerning Pope Francis’ visit to Albania, and his more recent trip to Turkey.

Visit’s dedicated Vatican coverage page

Buy The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and Beyond on Amazon Kindle

By Lana Pasic

Official relations between the Republic of Croatia and Holy Sea were established in January 1992, when the Catholic Church recognized Croatia’s independence. This decision of Pope John Paul II, one of the first such recognitions, was followed by a flurry of relations from European states. A year later, the Dioceses and Croatian Bishop Conference (HBK) were instituted. All of this activity was somewhat controversial at the time, considering the violent nature of Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, and the ultra-nationalist HDZ government of the time, and the Church’s checkered history during the WWII period, when Croatia’s fascist Ustase regime ruled.

This historical context has some significance still; as shall be seen, some of the policies Pope Francis is taking now seem to be in order to diminish the influence of Church figures that are or were close to the right-wing HDZ governments that dominated the political scene during the 1990s conflict period.

The Croatian Church: Organization and Policy Shifts

The Croatian Bishop’s Conference (HBK) was first led by Archbishop Josip Bozanić, who had close ties with the then-ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). In 2007 Marin Srakic was appointed to replace him at the post.

Since establishing relations with Croatia, the Catholic Church has had three heads- Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. John Paul II was the head of the Catholic Church when Croatia achieved independence. He visited it three times- in 1994, 1998 and in 2003, and gave his support to its international standing and European path. Neoconservatives within the church in Croatia very much supported Pope Benedict XVI. Both of them were well liked in the country, and there are even Croatian Facebook fan pages for the two Popes.

In recent years, however, there has been a move by the Catholic Church in Croatia to distance itself from the political regime. Since the appointment of Pope Francis, this depoliticization has also been supported by Holy See’s representatives in Zagreb. It is likely that this new policy, on the national level, has something to do with Pope Francis’ stated goal of developing ecumenical relations worldwide with other Christian churches. Thus a step back from Croatian nationalism in religion may also help the Vatican to improve relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Restructuring of the Catholic Church in Croatia

In 2008, dioceses in Croatia were restructured; the former Diocese of Djakovo, Bosnia et Srijem was split into two, with Djakovo gaining a status of Archdiocese.

The Diocese of Djakovo and Srijem previously were joined in 1773, and the separation now follows the border of the Republic of Croatia.

Croatian media and citizens at the time were curious as to why the restructuring was suddenly occurring, and what it might mean. However, the representatives of the Holy See in Belgrade announced that there was no political reason behind the split. The Catholic Church in Croatia has stated that the separation is for practical reasons only, with the purpose of strengthening the institution. They have also emphasized that the administrative borders of the Diocese of Srem should now be upheld.

Croatian Catholic Church Officials

This diocese separation took place when Marin Srakić, at the time Bishop of Djakovo (1997-2008), was appointed as the President of the Croatian Bishop Conference. He became the Archbishop of Djakovo, a position which he held until 2013, when he retired.

Srakić was controversial for his criticism of the government. He had a significant role in moving the Church away from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and diminished the influence of Cardinal Bozanić, a former head of the HBK. He was the first Croatian Archbishop to visit Jasenovac, a WWII concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of Srebs were killed, and he also criticised the policies of the Ustase’s Nazi-linked Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during WWII. However, at the same time he also supported Branimir Glavaš, a Croat general and a convicted war criminal.

Srakić’s successor, Đuro Hranić, was the Auxiliary Bishop for the area and was also the President of the Council for Religious Education. So far, it seems that he is continuing Srakić’s ideas, policies and relations with the state.

Conclusions: A Turn from Nationalism in Religion

The restructuring of the Catholic Church in Croatia has defined the territorial borders of the dioceses within the state, and has strengthened the institution; not only that, it also seems to have increased the influence of the Djakovo Diocese.

A gradual separation of the Church from the state seems to be motivated by both, internal forces within Croatia and also others within the Holy See itself. At the beginning of this year, an announcement was made that the Pope will retire four right-wing bishops in Croatia, all of which are nearing the age of 75- a normal time for retirement. But Pope Francis, it is believed, will not be replacing these bishops with similarly nationalistic clerics. It thus seems that the Catholic Church in Croatia is now also moving towards more sensible policies and the adoption of Pope Francis’ rhetoric regarding a moderate and depoliticized Church.

This reflects the changing of not only personalities, but national and ecclesiastical challenges. Croatia, now an EU and NATO member, is far from the days of war, when religious nationalism was marshalled against a perceived existential threat. Nowadays, the threats are different. For while Croatia is still among Europe’s most devout Catholic countries, mass attendance is falling, and the Church would like to address this issue as well as poverty, drug abuse, secularization and youth outreach.

The focus on these challenges, which is clearly visible in an examination of statements and programs from the Church and related NGOs and charities, would seem to indicate that the Vatican now regards Croatia as a country in ‘developed Europe,’ where the Church has similar problems, and no longer in the ‘developing Balkans.’


Croatia’s EU Accession and some Effects on Regional States

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Croatia is preparing to enter the EU in July 2013, but tensions exist; its neighbors will be both positively and negatively affected by this imminent event. At the same time, the EU is going through a difficult period of disunity and financial uncertainty, in which further Balkan EU enlargement seems to be less likely, despite recent optimism from leaders of incoming rotating president, Ireland.

The Euro-Storm

Europe is facing difficult times. Following the financial and economic crisis, many Member States adopted inconsistent strategies that led to, among other things, a subsequent European sovereign-debt crisis. Thus, the eurozone started shivering and the bail-out system suffered a certain backlash, though this system managed to keep all Euro countries together.

However, European citizens became frustrated at not understanding the EU’s twist and turns, while visibly being affected by austerity policies. This led to street protests, widespread lack of confidence and a certain rise of euroscepticism.

To overcome these challenges, the Union looked for solutions and moved forward proposing economic governance and reaching agreement on the fiscal compact (the Czech Republic and the UK opted out of the legally binding treaty, as they are doing more and more often). The EU is now trying to set-up a single supervisory mechanism for the banking sector, fighting to achieve a genuine economic and monetary union, while working on improving the democratic accountability and the legitimacy of this project. The future EU institutional architecture is also at stake with a view of possible future accessions.

The Nobel Peace Prize and the EU as a Global Player

It came as a surprise for both EU citizens and European decision-makers that the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2012 for its “contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” including reconciliation work undertaken in the Balkan countries.

Although high-level EU leaders expressed their commitment to further long-lasting peace, eurosceptics ridiculed the award of the Nobel Prize, arguing that the EU is not in its best shape and is facing serious troubles ahead, especially in the eurozone. Related to the economic and political crisis, Poland’s finance minister warned that this crisis could spark war within 10 years.

Several critics voiced their concerns regarding the EU strategy in the former Yugoslavia. “Rather than bring peace and harmony, the EU will cause insurgency and violence,” said Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party.

In addition to its not often so obvious political achievements, on a global scale, from an economic point of view, the EU is lagging behind as China, India and Brazil increase their power and influence. Moreover, in spite of the EU’s efforts to redress its economy, the US’ attention is shifting towards the Asia-Pacific region and more emerging countries, while Russia continues to keep its own agenda, mostly independently from the one promoted by the EU.

The EU’s Non-comprehensive Policy towards the Western Balkans

Under these circumstances, the Western Balkan countries’ European perspective seems rather blurry, in spite of the positive messages and incentives received from the European Commission (i.e. the Positive Agenda for Turkey, the High Level Accession Dialogue with Macedonia, trade incentives, visa facilitation etc.) and, sometimes, through positive assessments scattered in the reports of the European Parliament.

In the Council, things look slightly different as some vetoes have been already voiced. Merkel expressed her stand that the EU will accept Croatia but no one else; Greece continues to defend its position of veto against Macedonia, and Cyprus will not back down on its position against Turkey.

Restoring the European Union’s credibility and ensuring that the economy gets back on track remain the priorities. Even in this regard, problems continue to lie ahead, the first example being the failure to reach a Multi-Annual Financial Framework for the period 2014-2020 due to clashes of interests between Member States, which are growing more and more visible. Moreover, nationalism is on the rise and the actual free movement of people, envisaged from the very first treaties, is being affected by a trend of closing borders.

In this complex context, none of the remaining candidate and potential candidate countries is likely to join the EU soon. Besides the remaining challenges in complying with the Copenhagen criteria, the harsh standpoints of some Member States against some aspiring countries reinforce this hypothesis.

Croatia: the Western Balkans’ Frontrunner, and Next EU Member State

Out of all the Western Balkans countries, Croatia is the clear frontrunner, preparing for EU accession in mid-2013. Its membership bid was conditioned by the delivery of its indicted generals to the Hague, as has been the case for Serbia.

At the EU level, the general attitude towards this imminent accession is rather positive, as Croatia has successfully managed to deliver on EU conditionality, though concerns remain regarding the judicial reform, corruption, immigration potential and economic sustainability (competitiveness, employment and accessing EU funds).

Within the Western Balkans, the public attitude is uncertain, as besides EU membership’s potential benefits, neighbouring countries might suffer from disruptions to their economic, trade and political relations.

Difficulties for Croatia’s Neighbors

In view of Croatia’s accession, the most affected Balkan country will be Bosnia and Herzegovina. With two-thirds of its borders hugging Croatia, the business transactions, trade, agriculture production, employment options and diploma recognition will be altered as Croatia will only be able to accept goods and services complying with European standards.  This will have a definite impact on Bosnia’s agriculture, mainly based on exports in favour of Croatia.

Furthermore, the ethnic mixture of Bosnia and Herzegovina includes 48% Bosniaks, 37% Serbs and 14% Croats. In the Balkans, due to war and border changes, many citizens have dual passports or citizenship. In a rather delicate political framework, the reinforced role of the Croats might soon become visible in terms of economic and political influence as well as in citizen position abuse (i.e., Bosnian Croats might take advantage of their Croatian passport to try out the EU labour market opportunities).

Croatia will have to abandon the multilateral agreement on free regional trade due to its EU commitments. Therefore, regional trade with the rest of the non-EU Balkan countries will have to solely rely on the bilateral trade agreements between these countries and the EU. The Brussels community argues that this might provide an impetus for a speedier reform and harmonization process, beneficial for the remaining candidates and potential candidates. However, it will take time until the Western Balkans states will arrive at the required European standards.

Can Justice Harm Reconciliation?

Serbia recently started to voice its concerns regarding its relations with Croatia. During a European Policy summit (entitled Balkans progress: Battling to overcome the impact of the crisis) organised by the Friends of Europe on December 5,  2012 Prime Minister Ivica Dačić criticized the UN Hague Tribunal’s controversial decision to acquit Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač (both aged 57).

As mentioned in the Judgement Summary for Gotovina et al., issued in the Hague on April 15th, 2011, “The Chamber found that members of the Croatian military forces and the Special Police committed a number of murders charged as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač defended themselves by arguing that they did not deliberately attack civilians.

In 2011, these Croatian generals were sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively over the expulsion and killing of ethnic Serbs during an offensive aiming to retake Croatia’s Krajina region – a Serb-majority Dalmatian municipality – in 1995 during Operation Storm. At the time, it was believed that they were part of the Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE), whose purpose was to eliminate the Serb population in the region by undertaking unlawful attacks on Knin, Benkovac and Obrovac.

Gotovina was a commander in the Croatian National Guard (ZNG). Indicted in 2001 by the Hague Tribunal on a number of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges for crimes committed in 1995 (during and in the aftermath of Operation Storm), he was later on found guilty on eight of the nine counts of the indictment and sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment.

Markač too played an important role during the Croatian War of Independence, serving as Commander of Croatian Special Police during Operation Storm. After it he received the rank of Colonel General. Indicted by the ICTY for charges of operating the JCE enterprise and of crimes against humanity, he was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to 18 years in jail for war crimes (including murder, persecution and plunder).

Gotovina submitted his appeal on four grounds, and Markač eight, challenging the unlawfulness of the artillery attacks and the very existence of a Joint Criminal Enterprise. In order to support the claim that their attacks were not unlawful, they made use of the 200 metre standard of error for artillery projectiles.

In November 2012, with new data such as wind speed, air temperature, the concept of targets of opportunity (such as moving police or military vehicles) brought into the picture, the Appeals Chamber under Judge Meron ruled that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding that the artillery attacks on the four towns were unlawful, reversing also the Trial Chamber’s previous finding that a JCE conspiracy existed with the aim to remove the Serb civilians from Krajina. Furthermore, the Appeals Chamber found (.PDF) that the “departure of civilians concurrent with lawful artillery attacks cannot be qualified as deportation.”

Serbia is often regarded as the scapegoat or the “bad guy” of the 1990’s Balkan wars. Professor and political analyst Aleksandar Pavic stated for RT in November that all Serbs were “regarded as criminals and all the non-Serbs were pretty much innocent.”  He criticized the Tribunal’s rulings, explaining that the “non-Serbian sides of conflict of the 90’s got acquitted to low sentences, when Serbian political figures were always getting ‘maximum sentences.'”

The Balkan Wars still remain within living memory for many ex-Yugoslav citizens. Many atrocities were committed. Many aspects still hinder the bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia: the disappeared or displaced people, the division of property, and so on.

In 1999 Croatia filed a lawsuit for genocide against Serbia at the International Court of Justice. Confronted with the possibility of dropping charges in favor of advancements in bilateral relations, Croatia demanded that the issue of missing persons be solved. Official data published in July 2012 showed that Croatia has still 1,736 missing citizens following the 1991-1995 war.

On January 4, 2010, Serbia also filed a genocide lawsuit at the ICJ with emphasis on the aftermath of the Operation Storm when an estimated 20,000 Serbs fled their homes and some 150-600 (numbers differ between sources) were killed, sometimes in summary executions. Interestingly enough, the Serbian lawsuit also contains charges against Croatia for genocide against Serbs during WWII. Regarding the most recent wars, according to data from the Serbian Association for Families of Missing Persons on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia, Serbia is still looking for approximately 4,000 missing citizens (1,958 people missing in Croatia, 1,698 in Republic of Srpska and 526 in Kosovo and Metohija).

In spite of what seems to be an effort toward enhancing regional cooperation, many delicate problems related to wars remain in the ethnically-mixed Western Balkans. To tackle these challenges, a debate on the Hague war crimes tribunal before the United Nations, might be conveyed in April 2013.

Divisions Inside and Outside the Hague Tribunal

Apparently, the verdict in favor of the two Croatian generals, considered final, underlined the acute divisions inside the tribunal. The majority was barely reached, with a 3-2 final verdict. The two judges opposing the release of the generals were very critical of the final decision, one of them even calling it “simply grotesque” and contradictory to “any sense of justice” in comments for The Guardian.

The Serbian prime minister has underlined that the Tribunal’s ruling is not helping the reconciliation process in the Balkans. To his mind, the relations with Croatia are deteriorating due to these developments, and because of Croatia’s lack of interest for regional cooperation initiatives (e.g. facilitation of border crossings).

Although the Croats cheerfully celebrated this ruling, considering it just and predictable, as the generals were always considered national heroes and thus innocent, the appeal verdict outraged Serbia. On this occasion, President Tomislav Nikolić took a stand to condemn the verdict as “political” and with the potential to “open old wounds.”

Russia adopted a similar position and forcefully criticized this decision via U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin: “In its work, the ICTY demonstrates neither fairness nor effectiveness,” Churkin said for RT. “We are surprised at how blithely, even carelessly, a 3-to-2 vote quashed a unanimous verdict (in) a trial, one justified by many years of investigation.” “As a result, the question of who is guilty for hundreds killed and for the exile of over a quarter million of Serbs from their place of residence remains open,” he said. “Justice was not done.”

Serbia’s EU Talks

As had happened in Croatia with its top wartime generals, in order to make progress on EU accession talks, Serbia was obliged to deliver its own war crimes suspects to the ITCY. The long-deferred arrest of the top military general, former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladić in May 2011 was a major development in this regard. The last remaining war crimes fugitive, Croatian Serb wartime leader Goran Hadžić, was arrested two months later and also sent to the Hague to face war crimes charges.

The EU also insisted in the facilitation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, as cooperation between the two was the only key priority identified in the 2011  European Commission “Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011-2012.” Agreements were reached and subsequently, after an initial postponement, in March 2012, the European Council confirmed Serbia as a candidate country.

In December 2012 the Integrated Border Management Agreement laid its first fruits with the Serbia-Kosovo joint control of two border crossings (two other will follow until the end of 2013). EU pushed for the implementation of this agreement hoping it would ease tensions and enhance movement within the area.

Although Serbian politicians seem to be committed to the EU conditionality, the public does not support this endeavour to the same extent, expressing its deep attachment to Kosovo as a Serbian land and their reluctance to accept the current status quo.

In order to prove its good intentions, in mid-June 2012 Kosovo launched a ‘truth and reconciliation’ initiative with the aim to address wartime atrocities and achieve reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs. Bosnia and Herzegovina attempted to have a similar initiative, though it failed to materialize due to the lack of support from the dissenting political class.

In spite of Belgrade’s advancements in the dialogue with Pristina, during the foreign ministers’ meeting of 11 December 2012, the EU failed to provide a date for opening accession talks, demanding from Serbia more effort for the normalization of relations in daily life. Macedonia was given until spring to “promote good neighbourly relations and to reach a negotiated and mutually accepted solution to the name issue” with Greece.

Nationalism, the Perception Gap and Reconciliation Efforts

As has been seen, the legacies of the 1990s wars remain complex, controversial and divisive. In this context, what is the best way towards real reconciliation? How can justice be done?

The Council of Europe’s report (.PDF) on ‘Reconciliation and political dialogues between the countries of the Former Yugoslavia’ mentions the role of minority protection, the adoption of anti-discrimination laws, property restitution settlements, advances in the negotiations over territorial borders, the identification of individual responsibilities and prosecution of war crimes.

A special report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (Netherlands) draws attention to a very important aspect: perception. Each ethnic group sees itself as the victim and the other as evil. Even though Serbia bears the main responsibility for the atrocities in the 1990s wars, it argues, because of this perception wall, Bosnia, Croatia or Kosovo are not willing to accept any responsibility for their own war actions. In the Balkans, Serbia thus remains saddled with the image of the transgressor.

Beside the state-run or international-led initiatives for reconciliation, an important issue remains the overcoming of nationalist discourses. History teaching in schools, for example, plays an essential role in this sense. The public needs to be involved in the reconciliation wheel for the sake of the future and an EU perspective. Achieving this goal remains difficult as there are still very many living persons who recall – and disagree about – the wars’ dramas.

All the generals under ICTY trial are considered national heroes in their own countries. Some have been acquitted while others still face trials and detention. Clear, transparent rules should apply and any possible double standards should be avoided in order to provide the necessary conditions for a long lasting reconciliation. Rulings such as the latest pertaining to Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač might have an effect on the Serbo-Croatian relations, as the memories of the war are still painful.

Just a few weeks after the decision to free the Croatian generals, the former Kosovo Albanian commander Ramush Haradinaj was also acquitted. As a former guerrilla commander who later served as prime minister for a brief period, Haradinaj has been accused of crimes against humanity. These developments reopen the debate about the wars, and the nationalistic sentiment visibly present in the Western Balkans will not be of any help for ensuring their stability.

Future Implications

Hopes of an EU perspective also influence the relations within the region as, after Croatia, no other Western Balkan country has received from the EU a comprehensive timeline for accession. In this context, what will happen next? The remaining candidate and potential candidate countries can either prove to have as much patience as Turkey has, and continue down the reform path while enjoying EU incentives, or they can re-orientate their policies towards different forms of collaboration with other powers.  Russia and Turkey remain the chief alternative key players in this sense.

In the end, while the EU and its supporters have hailed Croatia’s impending membership as a sign that the union is getting closer – one country at a time – to the region’s total inclusion in the bloc, the reality is less certain. From the level of technical, economic and logistic effects (as discussed in the context of Croatia and Bosnia) to perceptions of favoritism (regarding ICTY verdicts), the Croatian membership will have knock-on effects for the rest of the region, not all of them positive.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle



Challenges Loom for Croatia’s New ‘Kukuriku’ Coalition Government

By Maja Šoštarić

On December 4, 2011, Croatian citizens opted for a decisive shift towards the left. The right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which had governed Croatia during the previous 17 out of 21 years since the country’s independence, obtained only 47 seats in Croatia’s 151-seat parliament (Sabor), as opposed to 80 seats (the 53% majority) gained by the Kukuriku left-wing coalition.

The word “Kukuriku” is an onomatopoeia that in Croatian denotes a rooster’s cry at dawn. Four political parties, led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), picked the quirky name in order to emphasize the necessity for a broad national awakening.

Despite the very convincing defeat of the opposing HDZ, the new government and its future prime minister, 45-year-old lawyer and former diplomat Zoran Milanović, have little time or reason to celebrate. Their victory, albeit convincing, has already been characterized by many in the media as Pyrrhic for two main reasons.

The first reason was the considerable weakness of the principal political rival, the HDZ and thus a very uneven political battle during the previous several months. The second reason is, unsurprisingly, the fact that they are inheriting a situation characterized by overall gloom provoked by the economic and financial bedlam that Croatia, like many other European countries, seems to be unable to escape from.

The Game that Was Too Easy To Win

With the elections approaching, the former HDZ government was aware that it had a very slim chance of winning the December 4 elections, as the previous months – even years – had pointed to dramatic developments within the HDZ itself.

The party foundations were shaken in July 2009, when the then-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly resigned and disappeared for a while from the Croatian political scene. He regarded his successor to be a close collaborator, Jadranka Kosor, who then found herself in the bizarre situation of having to justify her legitimacy on a daily basis, for she was not elected, but appointed.

In the meantime, Sanader was captured in Austria on charges of corruption and bribery, and has been held in custody in Croatia since December 2010. (Sanader was released on bail recently). He is currently standing trial for two separate affairs, with indictments expected in several additional cases.

After expelling Sanader from the party, Kosor attempted to draw a clear border between the former prime minister and the party’s legacy. However, the worst was yet to come: on the very eve of the elections, the HDZ, as a political party, was indicted for drawing money from public enterprises and pouring it into its own slush fund. The indictment is several hundred pages long and except for the HDZ as a legal person, as well as some of its members, it includes the former Prime Minister Sanader.

As a consequence, it is reasonable to ask: how could one possibly win elections as an indicted party with all the funds frozen, a party whose former president and country’s prime minister is held in custody for corruption? Only some really powerful miracles could overcome such a situation. And they did not happen, which brings us to a simple conclusion: that the opposition had to win this parliamentary election. Otherwise, something would have been very, very wrong.

Against that background, some Croatian political commentators observed that at the parliamentary election 2011, despite the vast (almost incredible) choice of 4,359 candidates, 40 parties, 23 coalitions and 28 independent lists, the voters paradoxically had no choice.

The Kukuriku coalition was perceived as the only serious opposition to the HDZ, whose reputation was considerably stained through a number of scandals mentioned above. Other parties participating at the election either had already undermined the confidence of their electorate in the previous years, or were simply too small, inexperienced or even anonymous.

The outcome was as predictable as the match result in a soccer game between, say, FC Barcelona vs Levante. Barcelona’s recent 5-0 victory is not at all to be admired; in fact, anything else would have been a shocking surprise.

Jobs, and All that Jazz

The second reason why the new government does not have much time for champagne is the overall economic situation in Croatia. The election campaign, the shortest in history since Croatia’s independence and lasting only 16 days, was dominated by the discourse on domestic issues, first and foremost the sluggish economy.

According to the Croatian official data, in 2009 Croatia’s economy contracted by a massive 6 %, followed by 1.2 % in 2010, while in 2011, growth is predicted to stand at a mere 0.5 %. Fighting unemployment that currently stands at 17.4% represents the biggest challenge for the new government.

The fact that on December 15, just a day after the new prime minister stepped on duty, over 900 workers of an important Croatian ironworks lost their jobs, is not helping matters either. The legacy of the previous government (notably the inherited foreign debt of 102%), as well as the global economic turmoil will certainly cause the new prime minister’s numerous sleepless nights.

Although crucial, economic matters are not the only burning issues that the new government needs to address promptly. Public administration is another thorn in Croatia’s side. Many reproach it its breadth and complex structure, but a much graver concern is its overall inefficiency. Croatia remains a largely bureaucratic society; as the governor of the Croatian National Bank has recently stated, in order to curb growth, the new government should not cut pensions or salaries, but rather the unnecessary costs of Croatia’s excessive number of ministries and agencies. Croatia’s current annual budget deficit is about 6 % of GDP.

Other issues at stake are continuing the structural reform of the judiciary, engaging in a comprehensive fight against corruption, resolving some outstanding issues regarding transitional justice, restoring the citizens’ faith in politics, organizing an arbitration process regarding the border dispute with Slovenia, as well as preparing the general public for a 22 January referendum on EU accession, as well as for the actual membership which, should the citizens vote ‘yes’, will kick off on July 1, 2013.

The EU on the Horizon…

On December 1, the European Parliament adopted the accession treaty of Croatia, drafted by the Austrian MEP and the EP’s Rapporteur on Croatia, Hannes Swoboda (S&D Group). Consequently, after more than six years of negotiations and the green light in the European Parliament, Croatia finally signed the EU accession treaty on December 9, 2011.

Ironically, just several days after the elections that she had lost, the outgoing Prime Minister Kosor signed the European Union accession treaty on Croatia’s behalf. But for the obvious reason, and despite the achievement of hers and all former Croatian governments’ principal foreign policy goal, she had little motivation to indulge in festivities.

December 9 was indeed a historic day for Croatia. Yet the job is not yet completed, as now the Croatian citizens will have their say: on 22 January 2012, they will vote in a referendum in favor or against joining the Union. Fresh surveys talk about some 52% of citizens being in favor of the EU accession of Croatia; given the current crisis that the EU is wrestling with, the Union is no longer perceived as an El Dorado where everything runs smoothly.

And the challenge for the new Croatian government bigger: citizens are waiting to hear some strong, concrete arguments in favor of the EU. German Chancellor Merkel could offer one. She noticed that the Croatian accession even under circumstances as complicated as the present ones, showed the EU had lost “none of its attractiveness.”

The new Croatian government will hold its first session on January 3, 2012. The media have not missed to remark the symbolism of the date: on January 3, 2000, the only non-HDZ government in the history of sovereign Croatia took the power.

That government lasted only for one mandate, troubled by the profound coalition divisions. The new government, led by Zoran Milanović, is in a unique, but also a bit invidious position. The very rare situation they find themselves in, also produces their strength: the principal political opponent is down on its knees, while the citizens have high hopes in what they believe might be their rescue.

However, therein lies the other edge of a double-edged sword: one who expects much is also easily disappointed. Will the new prime minister be able to live up to the citizens’ expectations? It remains to be seen – after January 3.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Croatia’s Controversial Bill Affects Serbia Relations, Poses a Challenge for EU Diplomacy

By Maja Šoštarić

Despite much criticism, on 21 October 2011 the Croatian Parliament passed a controversial and long-awaited Bill that has tested relations with Serbia, and the EU as well. A chill has thus descended over relations between Belgrade and Zagreb, which had seemed to be warming over the past year. Decision-makers in Brussels are now seeking a solution or at least an approach to help put cooperation between these neighbors, and former military adversaries back on track.

In full, the law is titled The Annulment of Certain Legal Acts of the Former Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav National Army and Serbia, but in the rest of this text will be referred to simply as “the Bill.” Prior to the adoption of the Bill, both Croatian and foreign media had written extensively about its possible negative implications. Moreover, the opposition and the president of Croatia did not approve of it. The EU seemed worried, while the Croatian government, already affected by a number of its own internal scandals and affairs, insisted that the Bill was something more than just a pre-election gimmick.

The Bill came as an immediate consequence of an almost 20-year-old indictment against 44 Croatian citizens. The controversial part, besides that it is 20 years old, is also that the indictment also contains the names of some high-level Croatian politicians. The indictment was delivered in September 2011, though it had been issued as early as 1992 by the Military Prosecution of the then-Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Serbia justified the indictment as compliant to its Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of Government Authorities in Prosecuting Perpetrators of War Crimes (most recently amended in 2009).

In response to this, the Croatian government swiftly claimed that the indictment was a direct attack on Croatia’s sovereignty. The Serbian law in question states, in Article 3, that Serbia’s state authorities have the jurisdiction to process war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia, regardless of the nationality of either perpetrators or victims.

Universal Jurisdiction and Its Controversies

Linking to that contested provision, numerous knowledgeable domestic and international lawyers started a debate on universal jurisdiction. The latter is a principle in public international law, whereby state A can claim criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by a citizen of state B outside the territory of state A, and without any direct or plausible relationship of the alleged perpetrator with state A.

States can claim such jurisdiction for either crimes committed on areas considered to be ‘no man’s land’ (such as maritime piracy), or for grave violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as genocide. The proponents of the principle of universal jurisdiction often claim that its purpose is to combat impunity worldwide.

The most prominent examples of cases where universal jurisdiction was claimed continue to regularly spark controversies in legal and political circles. The first example is that of Belgium, which indicted four Rwandans on charges of genocide in Rwanda in 1994; this indictment was made, however, in absentia and without any clear relation to Belgium.

The second well-known example is Augusto Pinochet’s trial in the United Kingdom, with the accused claiming immunity as a former head of state, but with the British House of Lords rejecting this on the grounds that some crimes, such as torture, cannot be protected by immunity.

Also, in 2003, several Iraqis sued George H.W. Bush, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney for the Baghdad bombing of 1991. All of these cases have been extensively debated in public. Later on, following fierce criticism, Belgium abolished its law on universal jurisdiction and introduced a new law on extraterritorial jurisdiction, whereby some connection to the actual territory of Belgium was re-established.

In this context, the Croatian government justified the adoption of its Bill by claiming that the Serbian provision containing elements of universal jurisdiction was controversial and highly uncommon. Nevertheless, is the Bill annulling Serbian indictments the right solution for Croatia at this time? And further, how might future relations with Serbia be affected by the adoption of the law? Finally, what does the EU – membership in which both countries aspire to gain – have to say about the Bill?

Croatian Relations with Serbia: On Ice

As soon as the contested Bill was adopted, Ivo Josipović, the President of Croatia and expert in international law, announced that he would submit a request to the Constitutional Court to reassess the constitutionality of the Bill. President Josipović argued that the Bill was a unilateral act that would be politically and legally harmful for all the parties involved.

With the passage of the Bill, Croatia will consider all Serbian indictments null and void; in response, Serbia will respond according to the principle of reciprocity. All Croatian indictments sent to Belgrade will be ignored, and many large-scale war criminals protected. On the other hand, the Bill will protect Croatian citizens only within the boundaries of Croatia, while those finding themselves outside the Croatian territory could become easier prey for any international warrants issued by Serbia.

The Croatian president added that the Bill would also harm the bilateral cooperation that has already resulted in a large number of trials conducted in Serbia. Josipović had previously suggested to abandon the idea of such a Bill and to embrace the possibility of upgrading the current cooperation mechanism to a bilateral (or multilateral) agreement instead. Some commentators contend that the binding nature of that agreement would lead to possible sanctions before the international courts for the parties found to be in breach of it.

It should not be forgotten that the debate around the Bill is happening in the larger context of mutual and contemporaneous lawsuits. The lawsuit of Croatia against Serbia for genocide, as well as the Serbian counter-suit are still pending before the ICJ. Croatia filed a lawsuit for genocide against Serbia in 1999, and Serbia responded with a counter-lawsuit in 2010. Serbia’s deadline to submit a response to the Croatian lawsuit was 4 November. It remains to be seen how the Croatian Bill will be perceived in this context by both Serbia and the ICJ.

Undisputedly, the Bill will contribute to deterioration in Croatian-Serbian relations, after a period that had seen considerable amelioration. Economically, the countries have strengthened the bilateral flow of investment in recent years, while on the political front Presidents Josipović and Tadić have held a series of meetings, eventually also contributing to the cooperation of the national judiciaries in war crimes processing. Finally, a military cooperation is currently also being envisaged.

Despite all of these apparently hopeful signs, the hectic pre-election atmosphere in both Croatia (elections being scheduled for December 2011) and Serbia (elections planned for April 2012), has now sparked tensions on both sides. Is there something the European Union can do?

The EU’s Position: Still Pondering

A further key element to factor in is the EU and its stance in this discussion. Recently, the Commission recommended granting Serbia EU candidate status depending on the resolution of its dispute with the Pristina government regarding Kosovo matters. For its part, Croatia got the green light for signing its own EU accession treaty in December 2011, and should become a full member on July 1, 2013. Some media in Croatia have written about the “pressure from Brussels” against adoption of the contested Bill.

However, Brussels currently seems not to have a position, at all. In its Croatia Progress Report for 2011, released just prior to the adoption of the Bill, the Commission dedicated a single sentence to its potential consequences: “However, draft legislation proposed by the government in September 2011, if adopted by parliament, would complicate further cooperation with Serbia in this area”.

Moreover, the EC dedicated another two sentences to the dispute in its Country Progress Report on Serbia 2011: “The activation by Serbia of indictments of war crimes issued by military courts, during the conflicts of the 1990s, against citizens of Croatia and of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has occasionally burdened relations with these countries. Serbia has initiated a review of these indictments.”

In actual fact, the EU only requested clarification from the Ministry of Justice of Croatia, and is studying the Bill and its potential consequences. The levels of euro-skepticism in Croatia are more or less stable, while reservations about EU membership in Serbia are mounting due to the tense situation in northern Kosovo.

Moreover, euro-skepticism in both countries is to some extent related to domestically-perceived injustices related to cooperation with the ICTY. Aware of this, the EU is hesitating to voice an opinion as regards bilateral disputes over transitional justice matters.

The EU, of course, would like to stabilize bilateral relations between the two countries in an admittedly trying and complex situation. There is not a lot of room to maneuver, but the EU could re-assert that when it comes to Balkan regional cooperation in war crimes matters, indictment manipulation and pre-election opportunism are always most unwelcome. Other initiatives may be made as well, though the current drama over the future of the Eurozone also means that European leaders will remain largely preoccupied with that much greater issue. However, they might also want to keep in mind that leaving thorny Balkan disputes on the back burner for too long can lead to dangerous and unwanted results.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

An Ex-YU Football League: Will It Ever Happen?

By Ante Raić editor’s note: Little Macedonia’s improbable run to a fourth-place finish in last month’s European basketball championships was just the latest event to focus world attention on the achievements of the ex-Yugoslav sports ‘zone.’ In this entertaining new article, Croatian correspondent Ante Raić draws attention to the legacy of other former Yugoslav teams in several different sports over the years, and their apparent return to competition in united leagues, and asks the question: will sports fans ever get to enjoy a united ex-Yu football league?


People from the former Yugoslav nations have not been living in the same country for the past 20 years. But since they remain neighbours, they are part of each other’s destiny. And in this part of the world, one of the most important things – if not the most important – is to be better than your neighbor.

There’s an old Balkan saying: I don’t mind that my cow dies, if two of my neighbour’s cows die. And let’s not forget that grass is alway greener on the other side.

Since the war has been over for 15 years, residents of the former Yugoslav now only have sport to prove that ‘we’ are better than ‘them.’ And football is the sport number one in the ex-Yugoslav countries. Indeed, when 12 years ago the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia & Montenegro) drew 2-2 with Croatia in Zagreb (and qualified for the European Championship, leaving the World Cup bronze medalist from 1998, France, to go home, it was a national catastrophe for Croatia.

The Big Four

On the other hand, Dinamo Zagreb’s 5-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers is considered to be one of the highlights of Dinamo’s entire history, which dates back to 1945. As well as Hajduk Split’s win in Belgrade over Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) in 1991, in the last true Yugoslav Cup Final, when Alen Bokšić scored the only goal and ensured the trophy would remain in Split forever- as the next year’s competition never started, of course. (And let’s not forget that Crvena Zvezda was European champion that year).

All of the above-mentioned clubs were part of the ‘Big 4’ of Yugoslavian football, winning most of the national championships and cups. In fact, in the period after WWII until 1991, the only other winners were Vojvodina Novi Sad and Sarajevo (twice), and Željezničar Sarajevo (once). That means that every year fans of these clubs had three big games at home. The stadiums were full, the quality of football was very good, and the Yugoslav league was one of the strongest in Europe. One of the reasons for this was the fact that players were not allowed to leave the country to play on foreign clubs until they turned 27.

War brought nothing good to the people of the ex-Yugoslavia. Along with the economy and quality of life, quality of sport was devastated. All of the ex-Yu national leagues in every ‘important’ sport (football, basketball, handball and water polo) grew weak. Players started to go abroad as teenagers, and spectators stopped attending the events because there was nothing worth seeing, and besides the stadiums and sport halls were not comfortable. And also, of course, because you could watch quality foreign leagues on cable TV from your cozy sofa.

I Love this Game!

Basketball was one of the most successfull sports in the former Yugoslavia. Bosna Sarajevo was European club champion in 1979, Cibona Zagreb in both 1985 and 1986, Jugoplastika Split three times in a row (1989-1991) and Partizan Belgrade in 1992. And mentioning all the Yugoslav national team medals from the Olympics, World and European Championships would be a lengthy task as well.

Something had to be done in order to bring audience back to the sports events. Basketball was the first sport which showed the others the way to go. On 3 July 2001, representatives of four basketball clubs – Bosna Sarajevo, Budućnost Podgorica, Olimpija Ljubljana and Cibona Zagreb – met in Ljubljana and agreed to form a basketball competition to fill the void left by the dissolution of the Yugoslav basketball league.

The name chosen for the competition was the Adriatic League, invoking the Adriatic Sea as a common thread for participant countries and avoiding the terms ‘Balkans’ or ‘Yugoslavia,’ that at the time carried a fairly undesirable public perception in Slovenia and an extremely negative one in Croatia.

Among the public, the Adriatic League was met with mixed reactions. Although many hailed it as an important step for the development of club basketball in the Balkan region, many others felt that it would bring no new quality and that it was not worth dismantling three existing domestic leagues to create it.

Further, there was a lot of negative reaction from political circles, especially in Croatia, where even TV panel discussions were broadcast on state television. A very vociferously-held opinion in the country saw the league’s formation as a covert political attempt to reinstate Yugoslavia.

Adriatic or Yugoslav?

The league organizers, for their part, did their best to appease the Croatian public with statements such as the one delivered by Radovan Lorbek (one of the founders) in Slobodna Dalmacija (a Split-based newspaper) in September 2001: ‘This is not a Yugoslav league, and it will never become a Yugoslav league. The Adriatic League has no clubs from Serbia and Macedonia, therefore the Adriatic League and a Yugoslav league are not the same thing.’

Ten years later, in a 2011 interview for the Serbian newspaper Press, one of the founders of the league, Roman Lisac explained that the behind-the-scenes strategy of the league during its nascent stages was actually quite different: ‘I’m convinced the league would’ve never been able to survive without Serbian clubs. Getting Red Star and Partizan to join the league was something that we worked on from day one. However, the situation ten years ago was not that simple. Too much antagonistic post-war politics was still all around us, and it made our task all the more difficult. Everything that smelled of old Yugoslavia caused a lot of resistance both in Croatia and in Serbia. I repeat, the idea of having both Red Star and Partizan in the league was there from the very beginning, but we avoided talking about it publicly because of politics.’

Let’s Swim Together, Let’s Go Hand in Hand

Althought not being a very popular sport internationally, water polo has very strong appeal in the Balkans, and was indeed the second sport which formed its own Adriatic League. As many as eight Croatian teams, three from Montenegro and one from Slovenia joined, increasing its perceived importance. Indeed, from this season, Italian club Pro Recco has joined the league.

Pro Recco is probably the richest water polo club in the world, and the main reason that they play this league is that they’re sick of getting surprised by clubs from Croatia (Jug Dubrovnik) and Montenegro (Primorac Kotor) in the Euro-league Final Four. And having Pro Recco in this league is proof that this league is very, very strong. (Israeli basketball champions Maccabi joined the ABA league this season, which also proves that the league is strong).

Partizan Belgrade also wanted to join from the 2011 season, and got the green light from Croats and Slovenes. However, water polo officials from Montenegro said no, because Partizan still owes money for the transfers of two players (Andrija Prlainović and Dušan Mandić) to Jadran Herceg Novi and Primorac Kotor. So, it now appears that are no political reasons for a delay, and that money is the only issue that can come up today.

Another regional sports league started a few weeks ago is the SEHA (South East Handball Association). This looks certain to be a top-level regional handball league, featuring teams from Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovakia. It seems to be another sign that the former Yugoslav countries see a common interest in cooperating with yet another sport.

Where the Grass is Green…

So, all that said, the biggest question of all in the ex-Yu countries remains- will we ever get a regional football league? The benefits of an ex-Yu league would be huge for all the participanting clubs. Money the clubs would get from media advertising and TV rights would help them to keep young and talented players. At present, the clubs are being forced to sell their best young prospects just to survive.

A regional football league would also means that spectators would get to see a much more fair game. Since the gambling industry is so widespread, there’s a lot of match fixing going on. Buying and selling games is not a new thing, but clubs used to do it only when it was about keeping a place in their own league, or securing the champion title. Now they’re doing it for the money. If the match is not important for any club, for example, if there’s only two or three rounds until the end of the season and both clubs have secured their places (i.e., they can neither drop to a lower league nor reach the European competition), then why wouldn’t they fix the result and fill the empty coffers of the club (and their private) accounts?

In 2003 NK Zadar and Marsonia from Slavonski Brod fixed their match. The agreement was that Marsonia will take the lead at the halftime, and that Zadar will win the game. Even if you’re not a football fan, you know that these kind of situations happen rather infrequently, and so the bookies offer a good deal of money if this happens. In this particular case, all the people that placed a 100-euro bet earned 2500 euros each.

After this infamous game, Stanleybet (a Great Britain based company that has opened more than 100 betting offices in Croatia) stopped taking spread-bets on Croatian league; now one can only bet on who will win. Why? Out of 82 won bets, around 50 were placed in Zadar, around 30 in Slavonski Brod, and the rest in Rijeka. Yes, you got it right- the referee was from Rijeka.

That said, with a regional football league, it would be much more interesting to the public, and any ‘strange’ results would be spotted much more easily. Match-fixing would possibly become easier to prove, since more people from more different countries would be involved.

Injury Time

Football is definitely sport number one, and not just in ex-Yu countries. Football has the biggest venues (the averege stadium capacity of the big clubs in this part of Europe is 30-40,000). And some of those fleshing out this capacity are hooligans. And not just any hooligans, but also nationalistic, right-wing extremists. And they’re always ready to make trouble.

On 12 October 2010, rioting Serbian football hooligans caused the Italy-Serbia match in Genoa to be abandoned in the sixth minute. The start of the match in Genoa had been delayed for 35 minutes as Serbian fans in the stands were already clashing with police and stewards before the game. Masked Serbian supporters were seen smashing a glass safety barrier and throwing flares and other objects onto the Marassi stadium’s pitch. There had also been chaotic scenes before kick-off, and suggestions Serbian goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković refused to play after being threatened by his own supporters. And that was just an away game, in ‘neutral’ Italy. There are suggestions that some politicians and criminals stand behing this chaos, but could one imagine what it would be like to have similar situations every week?

Every match between Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb in the Croatian national league or Cup becomes a top security challenge. The Croatian police are very well organized, and they know what they have to do. If the match is to be played in Split, they block the roads, stopping cars with Zagreb registration plates. They wait for the fans at gas stations, by highway exits, and on the other roads.

Away club fans are escorted to the stadium, and they have to remain on their places for 30-60 minutes after the game is over, at which point they are escorted back. Organized buses have police escort for a 100-kilometer range, until the fans are far enough away to be out of possible harm.

Extension of War by Differents Means

This type of security protocol would be the best-case scenario for any game between any Croatian and Serbian club. A game would require thousands of policemen, while victory would be counted not by the final score but by the absence of dead or wounded fans. This sort of realization has made many believe that creating such a league is simply not worth it.

The regular people, of course, would love it. Imagine this: a father takes his 10-year old son to the game. They’d buy popcorn and enjoy high-quality football, Dinamo-Crvena zvezda for example. In the real world, fathers are sick of having only one big game a year (and being scared of whether there will be hooligans rioting or not). This year Dinamo Zagreb finally (after 12 years) qualified for the UEFA Champions League, Real Madrid played at Maksimir Stadium, while Olympique Lyonnais and Ajax Amsterdam will too. However, during the regular season, the only ‘big’ game is Dinamo-Hajduk. In Serbia, things are the same- only the match between Partizan and Crvena Zvezda is considered to be akin to a derby.

Some critics of the idea of a regional football league say that it would not ensure higher quality football. Yet considering that such a league would bring together the best clubs from the ex Yu, an overall rise in quality seems likely (as has been the case with the other ex-Yu leagues). The only real problem are the nationalists. And there are a lot of them involved in football. The rising of national feelings happens whenever one’s national football team plays. And that’s one of the very few occasions.

By comparison, people who attend basketball, handball and water polo games in the former Yugoslav countries seem to be much civilised than the football fans. They don’t mix love for their teams and hate for the other nation. Most of them don’t, anyway.

But football is something quite different. The first Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, once said that ‘football is an extension of war by differents means.’ As far as the Balkans is concerned, he was absolutely right.

From Zagreb with Love: On the Bounded Rationality of Euroskepticism and Europhilia in Croatia

By Maja Šoštarić

When asked whether they trust European Union institutions, only 7% of Croats respond that they have a lot of confidence, while a meager 35% would admit that they trust the EU to some extent, reported the Gallup Balkan Monitor 2010. By the same token, as the Eurobarometer 74 reveals, only 9% of Croats would answer positively if asked whether they trust their own government. Moreover, only 9% have confidence in the national parliament, only one-fifth trust the judiciary, and a miserly 5% find the political parties in Croatia trustworthy.

Is something wrong with the Croats? After six strenuous years of negotiations, Croatia has just closed all the negotiation chapters with the EU and has been granted an actual accession date: July 1, 2013. Still, according to the media, except for the political elites, not many people in Croatia are really looking forward to this event, nor do they judge it historic. Europe seems to be watching this with some unease.

“One of Europe’s Stars”

Any Croatian citizen born before the mid-1980s certainly remembers a music video that was broadcast on Croatian national TV an infinite number of times in the early 1990s: a smiling man in a crimson suit playing the piano and singing a song called “Stop the War in Croatia.” It was a song in English, with subtitles in Croatian, displaying panoramas of Croatian landmarks, videos of politicians at summits as well as the picture of the Grand Palace and the EU gold-starred flag in Brussels, calling for the EU to act and put an end to atrocities in Croatia.

One of the strophes clearly summed up the commitment of a newborn European state: “we want to share the European dream. We want democracy and peace. Let Croatia be one of Europe’s stars. Europe, you can stop the war!” Even small children and people who spoke no word of English knew “Stop the War” by heart.  Tomislav Ivčić, the singer, died in a car accident afterwards. His song significantly marked the first years of Croatian independence, and the wish to join the twelve members of the then-European Community (as of 1992, the European Union) was rather salient in Croatia of the time.

Low Trust Plus Low Support Equals Three Questions

However, things developed quite differently in the 21st century. Following the death of the first president of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, his party (the right-wing HDZ) lost power in 2000. The opposition, led by the left-wing SDP, took over and governed until 2004. Until that time, domestic support for the future EU-membership of Croatia was outspoken and consistently strong: it never fell below 70%, according to the data presented in a paper by Professor Aleksandar Štulhofer, who nevertheless emphasizes that the support was paired with surprisingly low levels of trust in the EU institutions.

Yet after 2004, an opposite proportion between the inclination to join the EU and confidence in EU institutions became a clearly linear one: low trust was now accompanied by equally low support for joining the club. Was there any particular reason for that drop in support? Some observers noted that, while in the Eastern European countries the predominant reason for support of EU membership was doing away with their communist past, what mattered for the people in Croatia during the early 1990s was, rather, to distinguish themselves from the Balkans- a region historically associated with wars, bloodshed and riots.

Nevertheless, in the first decade of the 21st century, something changed dramatically. There are many reasons that scholars and observers offer in order to explain the shift, and some of them find that shift detrimental or even destructive. At the beginning of 2011, the EU Parliament expressed concern in its resolution due to the rising levels of euroskepticism in Croatia. Be it as it may, prior to voicing an individual attitude on whether EU membership is good or bad (on which, per definition, should not be discussed at this point, since the matter is inherent to every citizen separately), every person should in principle ask three basic questions.

These questions would be: is hesitancy to join the EU present in Croatia, and to what extent? Second, if it exists, what is the logic behind it? And finally, what can be done to spark off a sounder debate on the EU in Croatia?

The Existence of Euroskepticism in Croatia

Euroskepticism has become a rather common term in dictionaries. So has its antonym, europhilia, which stands for the concept of wholehearted enthusiasm for everything related to Europe. While euroskepticism in general denotes criticism of the EU, there are still nuanced differences between various standpoints that are often (by mistake) all categorized as euroskepticism. Within the member states, it can be distinguished between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ euroskepticism. ‘Soft’ euroskeptics are not against the existence of the EU, but rather critical of the way it functions. They do not support further integration either. On the other hand, ‘hard’ euroskeptics call the very existence of the EU itself into question.

Moreover, according to a 2005 journal paper by Flood and Usherwood entitled Positions, Dispositions, Transitions: A Model of Group Alignment on EU Integration, there are as many as six different groups of attitudes related to the EU: eurorejectionists, who are generally opposed to the EU; revisionists, demanding revision of EU policies and returning to the status before important EU treaties were signed; minimalists, who accept the EU but reject any form of further integration; gradualists, who see EU integration as a gradual and long-lasting process; reformists, who lobby for a constructive dialogue for reforms; and maximalists, who are the EU-friendliest group, supporting rapid further integration.

Skeptical, hence Irrational?

Observing the trends of skepticism in Croatia, Aleksandar Štulhofer notes that there are three types: rational, irrational and combined. Rational euroskepticism is based on cost-benefit analyses and takes into account material advantages and disadvantages of EU accession. On the contrary, irrational euroskepticism is designated as laying on the foundation of symbolical values and pure nationalism. As a synthesis of the two approaches, combined euroskepticism signifies an identification of EU institutions with national institutions and, given the low trust in the latter, a necessary and sufficient cause for skepticism.

Is an inclination or disinclination towards the EU really a matter of ratio, however? In a recently conducted survey, one of the most prominent Croatian NGOs, GONG, asked about 30 intellectuals, professionals, farmers, students, pensioners and activists, who had previously declared themselves to be critical of the EU, about their concrete reasons and arguments for such a position.

The survey project was sponsored by the EU office in Zagreb. What came out of the discussions is, in the first place, that these people disliked being dubbed ‘euroskeptics,’ because according to them this term in Croatia has come to denote a person who is “closed, conservative, xenophobic, ethnocentric and anti-democratic.” One can also add “provincial” to the list, as europhiles in Croatia sometimes brand their adversaries. The theory behind this is that euroskeptics do not perceive the benefits of the EU-integration, because they are simply not cosmopolitan enough to understand them.

Until Labels Do Us Part

There are plenty of such speculative and doubtful explanations that do not really contribute to a democratic debate. Neither does the conclusion that, because there is not one single explanation of it, euroskepticism in Croatia is automatically irrational. Sometimes this reasoning is also called ‘bounded rationality’, implying rationality under limited conditions. In other words, a person with limited access to information can draw conclusions as rational as their knowledge and their intellectual capabilities permit them to. This, too, is a rather unconstructive contribution to the debate around euroscepticism. One could argue just the other way round: europhiles too make their decisions under the condition of bounded rationality – as human beings all do, in the end.

And yet, if the referendum were today, Croatia would actually join the EU, unlike two years ago, at the peak of the global economic and financial crisis. According to the newest polls (end of July 2011) conducted by the Ipsos-Puls agency, 82% of Croatian citizens would vote at the referendum, with 60% voting in favor of the EU, 31% against and only 6% of those undecided.

The lowest level of support expressed was from those among the ages of 18-24, as well as among people who have only a high school education. Moreover, the lowest level of support is among the residents of the regions previously affected by the war: Lika, Banovina and Slavonia. The most supportive of the EU are persons between 55 and 64 years, followed by the young between 25 and 34. Also, those who have university education largely support joining the EU (63%).

So, to provide an answer to the question from the beginning: yes, critical sentiments towards the EU are indeed present in Croatia, as pretty much everywhere else (both in the present member states, such as the UK, Latvia, Hungary or Austria, as well as in candidate countries). Whether the term ‘euroskeptic’ is actually the correct one, however, would probably require a separate study. It is, however, sufficient to establish that a different standpoint on rationality does not automatically imply irrationality. Croatian euroskepticism can, due to a number of motivations linked to it and the lack of general information about the accession process, rather be referred to as a set of many dispersed, individual doubts that are difficult to address according to unique propaganda.

Behind Euroskepticism in Croatia

Which arguments are most often cited against joining the EU in Croatia? A simplified categorization would be the following: right-wing partisans fear the loss of national identity for which Croatia fought so much; the leftists quote the EU as a dangerous core of liberal capitalism; many citizens perceive the EU institutions as proxies for national institutions, which they distrust, while another large group of citizens will argue that the EU itself is in bad shape today, and that the vulnerable Croatian economy does not need additional shocks from the financially wobbly Union.

But simplified categorizations should be avoided as much as possible. A number of very concrete reservations against the EU were quoted in the GONG survey mentioned above. Participants complained of an information deficit in the Croatian media (for instance, the important EU treaties such as the Maastricht or Lisbon treaties have still not been officially translated into Croatian), insufficient media coverage as well as the absolute lack of debates on the relevant issues.

In the spirit of what is sometimes referred to as ‘ethnocentric euroskepticism,’ a portion of respondents fear the loss of national sovereignty, for which many Croats have lost their lives over the centuries. This is also publicly problematized in terms of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Maintaining good relations with the ICTY have always been part of EU membership conditionality, and, as of 1996, they have been part of constitutional law in Croatia. When former General Ante Gotovina was extradited to the Tribunal in 2005, this was quoted as the source of many a Croatian’s resentment against the EU. The verdict against generals Gotovina and Markač in April 2011 did not greatly affect the overall level of support for the EU, though.

Furthermore, concrete problems were identified in the areas of agriculture, fisheries (the fact that protected fishery zones are commonplace in the rest of the world, whereas Croatia had to give up its own zone during the blockade of some of the acquis chapters by Slovenia), the irrational use of land, a lack of administrative capacities, as well as the unpreparedness of small Croatian businesses to keep up with the EU competition.

Another point of concern was found in what the interlocutors have dubbed the ‘political darwinism’ of the EU (the survival of the fittest), the lack of trust in an honest referendum in Croatia, as well as distress over issues of health care reforms, ecology or religion (Croatia being a Catholic country, and Christianity no longer being explicitly recognized in the Lisbon treaty as Europe’s predominant religion). This is just a small portion of arguments mentioned by the survey participants.

Debunking the Myth

Against this background, we can point out some of the peculiarities and hallmarks of the EU-related discussion in Croatia.

First, the public is often served the data that has previously been measured against different benchmarks. As pointed out above, low levels of trust in the EU do not equal low support for actually joining the EU. In fact, these two are separate indicators. Additional questions such as “Do you find the membership of your country in the EU to be a good thing?” is a third possibility, whereby the list is far from exhausted. Croats are often portrayed as euroskeptics on the basis of their distrust in the EU-institutions which is, according to the Gallup Balkan Monitor 2010, equally low in other countries of the Balkans, such as Serbia, Bosnia or Kosovo. In the previous years, the level of EU support was higher in these countries than in Croatia, but the figures are constantly fluctuating. Be it as it may, the fact is that on the day of referendum there will be only two possibilities to choose from: ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’

Second, one of the reasons why euroskepticism is associated with backwardness by the political elites as well as by part of the media is the fact that the EU is cited as synonymous with Europe. Many Croats underline that they do not oppose Europe; in fact, they know that Croatia has been part of European civilization, culture and tradition for centuries. It is the EU they question, for some of the reasons argued above. Some Croatian political leaders use the phrase “we’re going to Europe,” which is a blatant contradiction in terms: it is neither on the map or in the history book of South America or Australia that one can find this little central-European, Mediterranean croissant-shaped country.

Third, a surprising fact is that the Croats support some forms of EU integration even more than the current member states. According to Eurobarometer 74, back in 2009, 67% of the Croats were supportive of the Eurozone (as opposed to 58% of EU citizens), 74% were in favor of the common foreign and security policy (65% of EU citizens), whereas 66% supported further EU-integration (contrary to only 43% of EU citizens). All this implies that the Croats are either not EU-realists, or that Croatia represents a model- EU member state.

Triggering the Debate

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it,” Molière once concluded. Every Croatian government up to the present moment has had this in mind. The challenge is a double one: to convince the EU and to convince the Croatian people. It seems that the government has shown a lot of bravado in doing the first: all negotiation chapters were finally closed in June 2011.  Whether they have achieved the second point will be made clear on the referendum day, this coming winter.

The sound debate prior to the referendum is primordial. As demonstrated above, labeling the opponents of Croatian EU-accession merely as euroskeptics would be erroneous. By the same token, approaching their concerns as ‘fighting euroskepticism’ is a false strategy. What Croatia needs, in the eve of the referendum, is a sound and extensive discussion. Everyone needs to be heard much more than simply persuaded.  Similarly, the media should serve as a source of information, and not of propaganda (the short videos that the national TV has been broadcasting are not sufficient as a source of information). It is not relevant for analysts to argue in favor or against- it is fully up to the voters to decide whether they want to see Croatia in the EU or not; however, generalizations, stereotypes and condescension are in no way helpful.

Too much focus on a certain goal often makes us take for granted the issues that are actually of utmost importance. That must not happen before the Croats decide to enter the EU: as many points as possible should be made clear. A small segment from a literary classic illustrates this vividly. In his fascinating, even flabbergasting novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera describes the following scene: the protagonist of one of his stories, Mirek, is nervously trying to escape the police.

While driving as fast as he can, looking in the rear-view mirror, he suddenly realizes that, when on the road, he has never in his life paid attention to the landscape. His single preoccupation had always been to get to a certain point – the rest, the path leading to that point, was irrelevant, just décor. And yet, quite the contrary is true: nothing on the road is irrelevant. Both Croatia and the EU should keep that in mind.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle

Terminating the Terminator

By Maja Cvetkovic Raic* in Zagreb

Editor’s note: on his first visit to Russia in 22 years, California governor and cinema icon Arnold Schwarzenegger has received a warm welcome from President Medvedev (and even a lighthearted offer to become Moscow’s mayor).

However, the legendary film franchise that Arnie started, The Terminator, got a frostier reception in Croatia, when leaders showed little interest in ideas to shoot parts of the series’ fourth installment in their country. Maja Cvetkovic Raic asks whether this is part of a larger trend at work in Croatia today- one that might be having harmful effects on foreign investment levels, social inclusiveness and the workings of public institutions.


It is hard to find a foreign company that has not encountered problems dealing with bureaucracy in Croatia. Slow and inefficient administration, resistance from local communities and various misunderstandings are sending investors to other countries. The most prominent problems faced by foreign companies include huge paperwork, insolvency and poorly structured institutions- precisely the institutions that should be encouraging investment, not driving it away.

Croatia vs. Hollywood’s Filmmakers

This seems to be what Croatia is doing with the film industry. Despite the global financial crisis, Hollywood is still investing in new pictures. Autumn is always an exciting period for the cinema, a time when new films are being prepared for December premieres. Some are blockbusters, and potentially candidates for the Academy Awards. The connection between Hollywood and Croatia? Some of these films were supposed to have been filmed here.

The producers of two quite different films – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Terminator 4: Terminator Salvation – have one thing in common. They were both unwelcome in Croatia, due to bureaucracy, the absence of the proper laws, and a lack of interest from high officials to receive them. Croatian officials did not have time to listen to their requests for filming, because they had more urgent EU issues to solve. And so the producers went to Slovenia, which was happy to adapt legislation and offer tax deductions for the filmmakers. Other neighboring countries, like Hungary, Czech Republic and Serbia have also not had any problem adapting to the needs of foreign investors from the film industry. In Croatia, however, it was not even possible for them to stay longer than ninety days.

According to Zagreb daily Jutarnji List, producers of The Chronicles of Narnia visited Croatia in early 2009; they intended to pay homage to the exquisitely beautiful Croatian coast, by filming all of their underwater scenes here. “However, nobody had time to receive a delegation from Hollywood,” noted the newspaper. “Prime Minister Ivo Sanader didn’t want to see them, [giving] the excuse that he ‘must dealt with some issues related to the European Union and [thus had] no time to socialize with them.’”

Alas, even though the film’s American producers then “knocked on several doors,” unfortunately they “all remained closed.” In the end, only the former president, Stipe Mesic, met with the Hollywood producers, but he could only give verbal support to the project, “because he had no other powers.”

Being pragmatic Americans, the newspaper concludes, the producers simply said: “if you don’t want it, somebody else does.” And so the shooting location for the film went to Slovenia.

In the case of Terminator 4, a film project that could have been even more lucrative for the country, Croatia said no “because of disorganized bureaucracy and a lack of law,” reported Jutarnji List. In the end, the US state of New Mexico was able to offer enough tax incentives and flexibility to get much of the project filmed there.

Yet even as Hollywood productions like The Terminator bypass Croatia, nearby countries have been keen to get in on the action. Hungary and Poland are leading destinations, as is the Czech Republic– the last, ironically a shooting location for the previous Narnia installment, Prince Caspian, and for mega-hits like Daniel Craig’s first role as James Bond in Casino Royale. Meanwhile, Serbia is benefiting from the likes of Johnny Depp, who will play the role of Pancho Villa in a new film directed by his friend, Emir Kusturica.

Diversity Enriches Societies… Elsewhere

Croatia has relatively few embassies in the entire world. Their working procedures combine something from both the old Yugoslav system and the new EU system. In practice, therefore, the combination does not work very well.

For some aspiring travelers, it is quite difficult to get even a tourist visa for Croatia. This is not because they are unwelcome, but rather because standard procedures and infrastructure do not exist. For example, there is no Croatian Embassy in the whole of west and east Africa. Certainly, there are not terribly many regular visitors from that part of the world to Croatia, though interest does exist.

One consequence is that no official wants to be responsible for those Africans who do want to come. Such foreigners have to fight for many years to make any progress at all. One example is that of a young woman from Nigeria wishing to move to Croatia. All documents issued by Croatian institutions are valid only in Croatia’s legal domain, and documents issued in Nigeria are valid only in Nigeria. They can be used in the international domain only if they are verified. Croatia and Nigeria do not have a bilateral agreement, so the documents need to go to a third country for fourfold legalization. Again, instead of dealing with these hassles, many foreigners are choosing neighboring countries as places for visiting or residence.

This might not be such a considerable issue if it were not for the fact that one of Croatia’s main income sources is tourism. A recent example of the ‘power’ of Croatian bureaucracy is the case of a 50-year-old gentleman from the Czech Republic, who has been visiting the Croatian coast ever since he was seven. However, this year’s visit will not be very fondly remembered.

As it happened, the Czech tourist arrived at his Croatian friend’s house on a Friday afternoon, when the cadastre was closed. Therefore, the Croatian host could not take proprietary and excerpt from the cadastre, and so could not sign in his Czech guest. The following week, when he tried to do so, the local authorities punished the tourist for the “serious violation” of not having been signed in as a guest within 48 hours of arriving in Croatia.

Investment Declines, But Do New Opportunities Lie Ahead?

A frustrated German investor complains that Croatian bureaucracy is worse than that which previously existed in Soviet-era East Germany. The problem is an unwillingness to open up to foreign capital, which was clearly explained by a comparison of investment made by journalist Ante Srzic for Tportal:

“…in the first nine months of 2009, the dominant investors were from the Netherlands, with 839.1 million euros, Austria with 501.9 million and Luxembourg with135.8 million euros. Among other large investors we have Slovenia with 95.6 million euros, 47.5 million euros from France, Denmark with 33.8 million euros, 27.6 million euros from the United Kingdom and then the United States, with 23.6 million Euros.

On the other hand, Sweden withdrew more funds from Croatia than it invested. The difference in the amount is 60 million euros. Hungary did the same, [recording a difference] of 26 million euros and Germany, with a 0.2 million euro difference.

Compared with 2008, this was a huge loss. The largest investors then, were the Austrians with 1,048 million euros, followed by the Hungarians with 952 million euros and the Dutch Antilles, with 851 million.”

The drop in foreign investment in 2009, compared with the year before, is more than obvious and considerable. The only visible solution could come from EU accession. Among Croatia’s EU negotiations chapters (.PDF), the chapter on Justice, Freedom and Security is still open, so changes are possible and inevitable. However, it will take more than a change in laws to wake up Croatia to the opportunities it is missing- it will take a change in mentalities as well.


*Maja Cvetkovic Raic’s main focus as a freelance journalist is cultural affairs and cultural policy in the Balkans. She works in the music industry in Croatia, managing the Menart record label, and organizes the annual Supetar Super film and music festival on the island of Brac. She graduated in Journalism and Political Science from the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb.

Croatia’s Judiciary Shortcomings

By Elisabeth Maragoula*

Croatia represents somewhat of the Western Balkans€šÃ„ô beau ideal, advancing without much trouble down the road towards European Union accession. It is by and large meeting the EU’s benchmarks and cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). However, the country still faces its biggest obstacle in reforming the domestic judiciary system, and in so doing assuring that war crimes are prosecuted fairly.

Earlier this month, the Croatian media focused on what could have been presented as a TV drama: “Live from The Hague,ÔøΩ? the epic trial of former top Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. The three, considered heroes in their home country, are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 1995 Operation Storm, which left at least 37 ethnic Serbs dead and forced some 200,000 to flee.

However, while the heroes of the “Homeland WarÔøΩ? have received great media interest in Croatia, much less attention has been paid to the 20 to 30 war crimes trials held annually in local county courts €šÃ„ì where Balkan justice is really put to the test.

So far, reforms have been sluggish. “There is slow progress,ÔøΩ? says Documenta Director Vesna Terselic, though “there are still outstanding issues.ÔøΩ? For example, says Terselic, there remains a need to intensify investigations, analyse the backlog of verdicts and cooperate regionally in the exchange of documentation.

Croatia’s current judiciary system is complex. Unlike Serbia, where a single court hears all the war criminal proceedings, Croatia has 21 county courts which are eligible to hear the trials, she explains. However, only 15 of them are active.

Today, there is more political will to finish these smaller cases than in the 1990’s or even a few years ago, but “courts could do more and there is always a clash [regarding] how much political will there is on intensifying investigations,ÔøΩ? Terselic maintains.

Further, several NGOs, the EU and US have all cited a practice of bias against Serbs by the Croatian judiciary. There are still “major concerns,ÔøΩ? says Omer Fisher, researcher at Amnesty International’s (AI) Balkans team. “Despite some steps to investigate and prosecute war crimes against Croatian Serbs, widespread impunity continued for crimes allegedly committed by Croatian army and police officers,ÔøΩ? AI’s 2007 Report said.

The European Commission reiterated this message in its 2007 Progress Report on Croatia. “A common standard of criminal accountability is not being applied irrespective of ethnicity. There remains widespread impunity for war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs.ÔøΩ?

Since 1991, “more than 98 percent of the charges involved persons associated with Yugoslav Army or Serb paramilitaries, while less than two percent involved members of the Croatian armed forces,ÔøΩ? the US Department of State cited a report by the chief state prosecutor as indicating in its 2007 Human Rights Report on Croatia. The US pointed out problems such as a case backlog, intimidation of witnesses and in-absentia group trials.

In its 2007 Report (.PDF), the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights noted that there has been little change from past policies. “The fact that the majority of war crime trials was conducted in absence of accused persons points to the policy which was used… in the early nineties.ÔøΩ?

Ivo Josipovic, International Criminal Law Professor at Zagreb University, believes the county courts can perform fair trials, but admitted that improvements could be made. Over the “last several years, the situation is better,ÔøΩ? he says, though it is “not always good enough.ÔøΩ? When the accused is not present, “the picture of what happens is not good enough.ÔøΩ?

Establishing the rule of law is a vital step on the path to joining the EU. Croatian authorities have shown goodwill in cooperating with the Hague, for example when they assisted in the capture of Gotovina in the Canary Islands in 2005; and in winning the trust of the ICTY, which in the same year transferred to the county courts the case of former Croatian generals Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, charged in the 1993 Medak Pocket operation.

“What we are doing is not only in order to meet EU membership criteria, but for our own sake as well. If judicial reform is something worthy in itself, and it is, then we have to implement it for our sake,ÔøΩ? Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader vowed earlier this month.

Croatia is slated to wrap up negotiations with the EU in 2009, and join in 2010. There has been progress in Croatia’s ability to prosecute war crimes on its own territory, but more attention needs to be paid to the system’s shortcomings, so that an impartial and just system is in place before then.


*Elisabeth Maragoula is the EU Affairs editor for New Europe newspaper in Athens, Greece. She has worked for Associated Press Television News and the Los Angeles Times in Rome, and speaks Italian and Greek. Elisabeth holds an MA in International Relations from Schiller International University in Paris, and a BA in Economics from UCLA in her native state of California. Her research and articles focus on a range of Balkan issues.// 10 ) { = “visible”; } if ( callCount msg.clientHeight ) { newHeight = msg.scrollHeight + delta; } delta = msg.offsetWidth – msg.clientWidth; delta = ( isNaN( delta )? 1 : delta + 1 ); if ( msg.scrollWidth > msg.clientWidth ) { newWidth = msg.scrollWidth + delta; } = “visible”; = “visible”; if ( newWidth > 0 || newHeight > 0 ) { var ssxyzzy = document.getElementById( “ssxyzzy” ); var cssAttribs = [‘#’ + + ‘{‘]; if ( newWidth > 0 ) cssAttribs.push( ‘width:’ + newWidth + ‘px;’ ); if ( newHeight > 0 ) cssAttribs.push( ‘ height:’ + newHeight + ‘px;’ ); cssAttribs.push( ‘}’ ); try { ssxyzzy.sheet.deleteRule( 0 ); ssxyzzy.sheet.insertRule( cssAttribs.join(“”), 0 ); } catch( e ){} } } function imgsDone( msg ) // for Firefox, we need to scan for images that haven’t set their width yet { var imgList = msg.getElementsByTagName( “IMG” ); var len = ((imgList == null)? 0 : imgList.length); for ( var i = 0; i

Slovenia Pledges Support for Croatia’s EU Bid, as Maritime Dispute Continues

The only former Yugoslav republic to have made it into the EU thus far, Slovenia, also became honorary president of the 27-nation bloc on January 1. The six-month rotating presidency offers a good opportunity for countries, especially the smaller ones, to make their voices heard and to gain prominence in the area of foreign affairs. Slovenia, which will be succeeded by perennial European powerhouse France in June, is however overseeing things at a time which most would find exquisitely undesirable: that is, the moment when Kosovo’s Albanian majority are threatening to declare independence from Serbia, and when Greece is threatening to veto Macedonia’s NATO accession hopes at the alliance’s April summit in Bucharest.

Along with trying to navigate these rather weighty and tortuous issues, little Slovenia has longstanding interests closer to home that it would like to see rectified, which have recently resulted in some acrimonious rhetoric between Slovenian and Croatian politicians. However, while the tone of diplomatic communication has been strained over the past few weeks, a more positive note was struck today following a meeting in Munich between Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gordan Jandrokovic and his Slovene counterpart Dimitrij Rupel.

According to on Saturday, the meeting was characterized as having been “very positive and constructive.” The major theme to emerge was Slovenia’s stated support for Croatia’s EU membership. “Slovenia wants Croatia to become a member of the European Union and to remove all obstacles and difficulties as soon as possible,” Rupel attested. For Croatia, which is also looking to join NATO in April, the support of Slovenia will be very helpful towards the realization of its membership hopes in both institutions.

Easier said than done, however. There are major lingering issues between the two neighbors and former Yugoslav sister republics, which include an unresolved sea border dispute, and a controversial Croatian declaration of a protected ecological fishery zone. “Among the several disputes, the unresolved sea border and, in particular, jurisdiction over the Piran Bay, remains the largest outstanding feud,” reports Anes Alic of ISN Security Watch.

“The area in question is less than 20 square kilometers in size. Under a draft agreement in 2001, Slovenia was to receive 80 percent of the Piran Bay. The deal was never ratified, and now Croatia is pressing for 50 percent of the bay,” adds Alic. “The two countries are also locked in disputes over the mutually owned Krsko Nuclear Power Plant, Croatian citizens’ foreign currency deposits in the defunct LB bank and several other border crossings.”

Croatia‘s plan for a restricted fishery zone, something which has raised the ire of Slovene and Italian fishermen, is a point of national pride among Croats and was officially voted in 2003. Croatia has accused its Adriatic neighbors of illegal poaching that depleted fish stocks, and has also pointed out the frequency of maritime accidents, including fuel spills, that it says have negatively impacted the country.

However, the EU and especially Italy and Slovenia are opposed to Zagreb’s unilateral decision. On December 10, 2007, Brussels “reminded” Croatia to respect an agreement it signed in 2004 to not make such a declaration “until a joint solution in the spirit of the EU is found.” Slovenian diplomats stated in December that any intransigence from Zagreb could result in their country blocking EU negotiations with Croatia, especially in the area of “five or six segments that are related to borders,” said Foreign Minister Rupel.

On Saturday, reported that Croatian President Stjepan Mesic believes that the border disagreement should be solved by The Hague International Court of Justice, and that Croatia would accept any decision made by the court. Croatian diplomats are concerned that Slovenia’s temporary power as EU president will give it an extra advantage on the issue in the coming months. “The situation is intensified now that Slovenia presides [over] the European Union, and this is not a good thing,” President Mesic said. However, he added that the disagreement is a “bilateral matter which can be solved.”

On February 7, in an official visit to Zagreb, the chief of the European Parliament’s Foreign Policy Commission, Joan Mircea Pasku, met with Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and affirmed the EP’s offer to assist in resolving the border disputes. Interestingly enough, the Croatian navy’s planned fleet upgrades regarding new patrol boats is apparently motivated by the country’s zeal to monitor any Slovene or Italian incursions into the contested fishery zone- and not by any NATO candidate reforms.

Croatia Builds on Tourism Success with New Ryanair Routes, Increased Visits

Croatia, the only former Yugoslav state so far to have made a major industry out of tourism, won another victory with recent announcements of new air routes to Pula on the northwestern coast. This, coupled with demonstrated increases in visits this summer, indicate that the Adriatic state is continuing to inspire the confidence of the European tourism industry.

On August 9, leading European budget airline Ryanair, based in Ireland, announced a Dublin-Pula route among 12 new routes from Dublin. The announcement came two weeks after the company announced a Stansted (London)-Pula route.

The route, which will begin on February 8, 2007, will operate three times a week. Ryanair predicts it can attract over 40,000 passengers during 2007 for the Pula-London route, constituting “a massive boost to tourism” for the region.

Although prices fluctuate constantly, current price inquiries for a Dublin-Pula ticket on the website return base results from 9.99 euros to 49.99 euros. Travelers are advised to check early and often to get the best price, as free or next to free sales are not uncommon from this extraordinary air carrier.

Ryanair, which has memorably mocked the slowness and expense of everyone from the British railways to competing airlines, has moved from strength to strength over the last few years. For the first three months of its financial year (ending June 30) it achieved record net profits of 115.7 million euros. Passenger numbers increased (by 25 percent, to 10.7 million) while revenues jumped a staggering 40 percent, to almost 567 million euros.

However, second quarter earnings are going to be hit by the British “terrorist plot” hysteria beginning August 10, which paralyzed all airlines operating in and out of the country. Outspoken Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary won praise for his principled stance against the British Airports Authority, lambasting its restrictions on carry-on baggage and accusing it of failing to provide enough workers to process passengers in order to fulfill the sudden and strict new security measures handed down by the “panic merchants” in Whitehall- which according to O’Leary are “insane.”

Ryanair and other leading budget airlines might have to deal with up to 10-12 million extra bags a year unless the British government comes to its senses. The company is now threatening to sue in light of its losses after being forced to cancel hundreds of flights. To keep the mood light, the airline is now running a 99-pence-per-ticket “Let’s Beat Terrorism- Keep Britain Flying!” campaign with an animated Churchill on its website.

Given its experience in public relations dating back to lobbying propaganda during the wars of the 1990’s, it’s no surprise that Zagreb learned quickly to draw in tourists. Of course, the thousands of islands that dot the jagged Adriatic coast don’t hurt, either. CNN commercials advertise Croatia as “the Mediterranean as it once was.”

Unlike most of its Balkan neighbors, Croatia keeps detailed statistics of tourist inflows and revenues generated from tourism. The latest numbers from the Croatian National Tourist Board (HTZ), covering July 2006, indicate a 2 percent rise over July 2005 in visitors to the Adriatic coast (a total of 2,505,840 tourists). In a sign that Croatia is successfully expanding the limits of the traditional July-August high season, year-on-year June returns registered a 10 percent increase.

According to the HTZ, “most of the registered foreign tourists arrived from Slovenia followed by Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.” With the entry of Ryanair into the market, however, that is bound to change. The red-hot Adriatic property market too, which has seen wealthy Northern Europeans scarf up villas along the sea for attractive prices (though still much higher than in other Balkan states), is going to help sustain budget air flights, even during the off-season.

Indeed, in discussing the new Stansted-Pula route on July 26, a Ryanair spokeswoman stated that “a large percentage of these [40,000 new] passengers will be high spending British tourists.”

Pula itself is a 3,000-year-old city located on the southeastern end of the Istrian Peninsula and boasts the world’s sixth-largest Roman amphitheater. During the summer, musical, theatrical, dance and other performances are held almost daily. Distinctive architecture includes temples, churches, archways and castles from Roman to Austro-Hungarian times, numerous churches and even an aquarium set in a 118-year-old fortress.

Pula is also located not far from Trieste, Italy to the north (which has long been a part of the Ryanair network) and close to Rijeka, from where begins the long Dalmatian coast famous for its islands and beaches.

For more information on Pula and other destinations in Croatia, see the official websites of Pula and of the Croatian National Tourist Board.