Serbia hopes row with Croatia over after tit-for-tat ministerial bans

Zagreb also angry over behaviour of Serb war criminal and deputy Vojislav Seselj

Vojislav Seselj: his conviction earlier this month for war crimes in the 1990s should by Serbian law see him expelled from parliament. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

Vojislav Seselj: his conviction earlier this month for war crimes in the 1990s should by Serbian law see him expelled from parliament. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

 

Serbia says it hopes relations with neighbouring Croatia will not sour further after they declared each other’s defence ministers persona non grata, and a Serbian deputy and war criminal insulted Croatian officials visiting Belgrade.

Serbia banned Zagreb’s defence chief Damir Krsticevic from entering the country in a tit-for-tat response to Croatia’s decision to bar his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vulin from its territory.

Croatia’s government accused Mr Vulin of an “inappropriate and unacceptable attempt to deny [its] sovereignty” when he said it was up to the Serbian president, not Zagreb, to decide whether he attended a commemoration last Sunday near the site of the 1940s Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.

Belgrade slapped a reciprocal entry ban on Mr Krsticevic on Thursday, and said, “Croatia’s moves are contrary to the spirit of neighbourly co-operation and respect for basic European values that includes freedom of movement.”

“We don’t want our relations with Croatia to head in that direction,” Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic said on Friday, adding that he saw “no reason whatsoever” for the row to worsen.

‘Dignity’

He warned, however, that Belgrade was “ready to react reciprocally to every move. We have to react to protect our country’s dignity.”

Like many Serbian and Croatian critics of the right-wing government in Zagreb, Mr Vulin accuses it of stoking nationalism and glossing over the crimes of the Ustashe movement that ran Croatia as a Nazi puppet state from 1941 to 1945, and murdered about 100,000 Jews, Serbs, Roma and political opponents at Jasenovac.

Mr Vulin, who is notorious for his bellicose rhetoric towards Serbia’s Balkan neighbours, claims he was barred from Croatia because of his criticism of its government’s attitude towards the country’s wartime history.

Hurled insults

Many in Croatia see his comments as a bid by Belgrade to distract from the behaviour of Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, who last week reportedly tried to rip up the Croatian flag and hurled insults at officials visiting from Zagreb.

The delegation left Belgrade early in response, and Croatia called for action to be taken against Mr Seselj, whose conviction earlier this month for 1990s war crimes should by Serbian law see him expelled from parliament.

Frozen

According to Croatian media, some members of the country’s government want its ambassador to be recalled from Belgrade and for it to block Serbia’s membership talks with the European Union.

The Vecernji List newspaper quoted an unnamed government official as saying talks should be frozen until Belgrade “stops advancing a ‘Greater Serbia’ policy towards Croatia and ejects convicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj from its parliament”.

A United Nations appeal court convicted Mr Seselj of “instigating persecution, deportation and other inhumane acts” against ethnic Croats in Serbia during a 1991-95 war; having spent 11 years in pre-trial detention, he will not be jailed.