The Balkans in Zagreb

Marinko Culic

FRI, 04 AUG 2000

Zagreb, July 21, 2000 - Several days ago, the European Union decided to open the process for admitting Croatia into this association, which is a precondition for its joining European integrations. It is estimated that negotiations could start sometime this autumn, whereby Croatia would catch up on Macedonia, with which European Union has been negotiating its integration for some time now.

However, in the case of Croatia a special, accelerated process would be applied, which is explained by two facts: first that it is more economically advanced in relation to other countries of the region; and second by the date of a very important political gathering scheduled for this autumn in the Croatian capital. Namely, as it was said in Brussels at the initiation of this process, the intention is to start these negotiations before the summit of the West Balkan countries to be held in Zagreb in November.

This summit is also called Chirac's Summit, after the French President, launched an idea on this gathering this spring, which was soon accepted by other Union members and now, preparations are underway for Croatia, as its host, to welcome its beginning with an adequate status within EU.

In other words, it could be said that it has been honoured in advance for hosting the summit of West Balkan countries, for which special credit should go to the Croatian President Stipe Mesic. Namely, the decision on Croatia's joining the European Union was brought immediately after his visit to Brussels and the Croatian head of state was a particularly active advocate of Chirac's initiative the moment it came into being. That is why the Zagreb summit could be called Chirac-Mesic summit, because if the French President is deserving for coming up with the idea, the Croatian carried the burden of its realisation which, as it turned out later, was more demanding and uncertain. This was well demonstrated these days on the example of Slovenia, whose President Kucan at one of his numerous meetings with Mesic supported Chirac's idea, but Alojz Peterle, the new chief of diplomacy, stated after that that Slovenia was still considering what stand it should take vis--vis Zagreb summit. Mesic has every reason to be angry with the Slovenians who, with the election of the new right-wing Government, have frozen all "international" arrangements in the region.

But, in Zagreb where the same left-centre Government is still in power, the reactions were not much more favourable. Prime Minister Racan never referred to Chirac's initiative in his public speeches, as if he has never heard of it, and mentioned it for the first time a fortnight ago in an answer to a direct question of "Globus" reporter. But, on that occasion also he reiterated the stated position of the Croatian state officials. "Stipe Mesic already spoke about it, as did Foreign Minister Tonino Picula. In other words, I completely agree with Mesic and Picula that the meeting proposed by Chirac could give good results, especially if attended by representatives of other countries. But, I would like to hear what does that idea specifically imply. Furthermore, it is clear that Milosevic's Serbia cannot participate in this meeting".

What needs to be more specific remained unclear until few days ago when Racan, together with Drazen Budisa, held a press conference on measures undertaken to resolve disagreement between the two major coalition partners in the Government: Racan's Social-Democrats and Budisa's Social-Liberals. On that occasion, two of them presented their latest stand on Chirac's summit, stating that it would be logical to have as many countries from former Yugoslavia as possible participating in the meeting. This clearly points to the fear - which Budisa openly admitted the moment he heard about Chirac's initiative - that the Zagreb meeting could turn into a sort of modified reintegration of the former state, or, at least, be interpreted as such by the Croatian public.

True, at the mentioned conference Racan said that the fact that representatives of all member countries of the European Union would attend the Zagreb meeting was not a sufficient guarantee that this would not be the case. Besides, "the Croatian authorities are not afraid of going back", because "they will always know how to protect the Croatian national interests". In other words, Chirac's summit was supported, but Croatia reserved the right to be not only its technical organiser, but also to influence its shaping with the primary aim of ridding it of Balkan elements and turning it into a meeting of Central and South-East European countries applicants for membership in EU.

It is evident that by this move, both Racan's Government and he personally, have taken a step backward in relation to the expectations of their European partners. After the victory at elections, Racan made several triumphant tours around Europe, where he was welcomed as a herald of new Croatia, which has rid itself of its xenophobic stress, which is really true in Racan's case, ever since his party's last year's joining the Socialist International, which can be taken as a border line from which SDP has gradually stopped being a nationalistic party.

However, as of late, foreign diplomats have also observed that this national awakening of the Croatian Social-Democrats has been hampered by their main partners in the Government, Budisa's Liberals.

Allegedly, these circles have already suggested to Racan to get rid of that burden if he doesn't want to ruin his excellent rating in the world. However, Racan is refusing to do that, probably for fear that people at home, perhaps Budisa in the first place, would immediately accuse him of "re-bolshevising" Croatia.

In any case, Budisa remains in the game as a sort of Racan's unappointed advisor for the forthcoming summit in Zagreb, which has already produced certain consequences. Now, Stipe Mesic too must take care to advance his pro-Chirac ideas in a somewhat softer form, which is why he also supported the idea on the participation of neighbouring countries of former Yugoslavia in the Zagreb gathering. However, he did not have in mind the greatest possible number of these countries, but, in addition to the already nominated Albania, restricted himself to three - Slovenia, Hungary and Romania.

Evidently, Mesic has opted for a tactic of balancing between a silent opposition at home and offensive pro-European stand, which gives Croatia, as it is frequently rumoured, the prospective role of some kind of a front runner in the region. However, there are certain traps in that leading role both for Croatia, as well as for Mesic personally, which became evident in the newly launched initiative on encircling Yugoslavia with the network of TV and radio stations, which should contribute to the truthful information of people in FRY. It was not explained whether these stations would be only re-broadcasting programmes of independent Yugoslav stations, which are either prevented from or have difficulty in broadcasting their programmes, or that it would concern some purpose-specific stations which would be founded and financed by Western countries, which greatly resembles certain patterns used during cold war.

There were opinions that Zagreb should not enter into such arrangements, because any interference in the internal affairs of Yugoslavia could, in longer-term, spoil the already estranged relations between the two countries. However, Mesic supported the idea, and only in an interview in which he was warned of the consequences, did he express a certain reservation, saying that media campaigns of this sort could only have a limited effect.

Original article