Diplomatic Quarrels Surge As Refugee Influx Into Croatia Grows Unbearably

Dumped in "nowhere in the dark of night" by Serbia near Croatian border at Strosinci Marko Drobnjakovic / Keystone

Dumped in “nowhere in
the dark of night” by Serbia
near Croatian border at Strosinci
Marko Drobnjakovic / Keystone

According to Wall Street Journal (which is also the figure given by Croatian HRT TV news) 67,000 refugees and illegal migrants have come into Croatia over the past 10 days. Confusion, rather ugly and unnecessary recriminations and diplomatic spats between Serbia, Croatia and Hungary gripped the nations throughout the past week and Croatian authorities struggled to keep up with the massive influx, constant flow of refugees crossing from Serbia.

Croatia at first welcomed the migrants, thinking they would transit through to Slovenia, Austria and then Germany. But Slovenia refused to let the people pass, leaving Croatia responsible for tens of thousands of people. The government in Zagreb then accused Serbia of shunting the refugees into its territory and closed the border pass near Tovarnik which led to a standstill for the cargo trucks crossing into and out of Serbia. Hungary had shut itself from Serbia by building a high fence.

Most refugees reaching Croatia from Serbia were and are given temporary shelter in a recently built refugee reception centre in the village of Opatovac near the Serbian border, not far from Tovarnik. Then they are usually taken on buses and trains to three border crossings with Hungary.

Strosinci Croatia Saturday 26 September 2015

Strosinci Croatia
Saturday 26 September 2015

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said earlier this week his government would continue erecting fences on its borders with fellow European Union member states Romania and Croatia that are outside Europe’s document-free Schengen travel zone; they have already completed the fence between Hungary and Serbia, which in fact triggered the massive influx into Croatia.

Leaflet given to refugees while in Serbia. At a border crossing near Bapska, Croatia, volunteers distributed fliers telling refugees they were in Serbia and would get passage to Austria. Photo: Max J. Rosenthal

Leaflet given to refugees
while in Serbia.
At a border crossing near Bapska, Croatia,
volunteers distributed fliers
telling refugees they were in Serbia
and would get passage to Austria.
Photo: Max J. Rosenthal

Relations between Croatia and Serbia heated up to almost the 1990 level when Croatia announced it would secede from communist Yugoslavia and Serbia started “sharpening its knives to attack Croatia” in the event that Croatian people actually seceded from Yugoslavia. However, after an emergency meeting Friday (25 September 2015) night, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told Croatian state TV that Serbia will “absolutely” lift its embargo on Croatian goods. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he lifted the blockade, reopened the border crossings at Bajakovo and Tovarnik, but that he may reinstate the blockade again if Serbia keeps on busing migrants to the Croatian border instead of sending at least some of them up north to the border with Hungary. Croatian government believes that Serbia has reached a secret deal with Hungary over refugees and is deliberately sending them towards Croatia after Hungary sealed its borders in mid-September. And I personally wouldn’t put such a dirty trick past Serbia, either!

A child jumps over a ditch as people wait in order to clear a police line after entering Croatia from Serbia in Strosinci, Croatia, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. Conciliation replaced confrontation among European nations which have clashed over their response to a wave of migration, but confusion faced many asylum-seekers streaming into Croatia on Saturday in hopes of chasing a new future in Western Europe. Photo: MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC — AP Photo

A child jumps over a ditch
as people wait in order to
clear a police line after entering Croatia
from Serbia in Strosinci, Croatia,
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.
Conciliation replaced confrontation among
European nations which have clashed
over their response to a wave of migration,
but confusion faced many asylum-seekers
streaming into Croatia on Saturday
in hopes of chasing a new future
in Western Europe.

Cooperation replaced confrontation Saturday among European nations as thousands of asylum-seekers streamed into Croatia in hopes of creating a new future in Western Europe. At least 10,000 arrived on Friday alone, and Croatian authorities struggled to keep up with the influx of those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Sent here from Belgrade, Serbia migrants found themselves not knowing where they were in the wilderness near Strosinci, Croatia Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Sent here from Belgrade, Serbia
migrants found themselves
not knowing where they were
in the wilderness near Strosinci, Croatia
Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

At one tiny border crossing point, Croatian police said thousands were abandoned at a remote crossing after Serb authorities bused them to a point near the village of Strosinci and left.
Unclear where they were, the migrants tried to cross into Croatia, but got lost in the nearby cornfields. Croatian police found them, and called in buses to take the travelers to the nearby transit camp at Opatovac, but individual families were separated in the chaos.

This new crossing at Erdut through the village of Strosinci into Croatia from Serbia has emerged during the night between Friday 25 September and Saturday 26th. Serbia’s buses filled with refugees were driven to the nearby stretch of forests, fields throughout the night and refugees dumped there in the dark of the night to find their way across the fields and forests into Croatia. The refugees slept in the cold fields and were evacuated by Croatian authorities as it was feared that the heavy rainfall that occurred in the night might have dislodged the landmines in the forest still there from the war, left by Serbs, posing a real threat to refugees’ lives.

Escorted by Croatian police from forests and fields into Strosinci, Croatis Saturday 26 September 2015

Escorted by Croatian police
from forests and fields
into Strosinci, Croatis
Saturday 26 September 2015

In unusually blunt but perhaps necessarily decisive language, Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had during the week criticised on Croatian Nova TV Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and just fell short of accusing Merkel of causing “chaos” in Europe.
Mrs Merkel called them, and now she’s pulled the handbrake by saying Germany cannot absorb all these economic migrants,” Grabar-Kitarovic told Croatian television.  “She makes out as if she wasn’t aware that pulling the handbrake when so many cars were on the road would cause chaos. This needs to be resolved now.”
As one would expect there were those who supported this commentary and opinion regarding Merkel’s actions in this refugee crisis expressed by Croatia’s president Grabar-Kitarovic and, of course, there were those who criticised Grabar-Kitarovic, saying she had insulted the German Chancellor. Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was the first in Croatia to characterise President Grabar-Kitarovic’s assessment of Merkel’s actions as insulting to Merkel. But one wouldn’t expect much better from a Prime Minister who is struggling to keep afloat amid the shockingly damaging performance to the Croatian economy by his government in this per-elections period.

Angela Merkel and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

Angela Merkel and
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

The fact is that while Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Macedonia were splitting at the seams, paralysed in attempts to cope with the unbearably large numbers of refugees trying to reach the richer EU countries such as Germany, Sweden, Netherlands…Angela Markel kept encouraging the refugees on to take the perilous journey by saying they are all welcome in Germany! Indeed Merkel’s “calls” to the refugee had caused Hungary’s Victor Orban to express harsh words against Merkel and Germany this last week as well as before. Extraordinary scenes played out at an emergency European Union (EU) summit in Belgium on 23 September after the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, criticised Germany’s “invitation” to migrants and warned the crisis had only just began.

Viktor Orban

Viktor Orban

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban then accused Germany of “moral imperialism”. French president Francois Hollande responded by telling Orban he should “respect European values” or leave while Slovakia reaffirmed its commitment to defy forced migration quotas.



The European Council president Donald Tusk in a thinly veiled attack on the German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “It is likely that more refugees will flow towards Europe. Especially as almost all of them feel invited to Europe,” referring to Merkel’s promise to offer asylum to any Syrian this August, no matter how many safe countries they pass through, and regardless of whether or not they come from a dangerous region.

Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk

The most urgent question we should ask ourselves tonight is how to regain control of our external borders… Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to even speak about common migration policy. What is at stake is also the future of Schengen, the sense of order in Europe and the common European spirit.”
After “inviting” tens of millions of people into Europe last month, Germany was quickly overwhelmed, closed its boarder and on 22 September forced through a policy to resettle the migrants in other EU member states against their will. Viktor Orban directed his anger at Angela Merkel. “The most important thing is that there should be no moral imperialism … Hungary should have the right to control the impact of a mass migration. The Hungarian people don’t want this,” he said.
Orban followed with an unexpected threat, that unless other EU nations started controlling their borders, Hungary would set up a corridor “through which the refugees or migrants can go to Austria or Germany.”
France’s François Hollande told Mr Orban that if he did not like it, his country should leave the EU: “States that don’t respect European values should ask if they belong within the EU,” he said.
The Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico repeated his promise to break EU law and refuse to bow to the German “diktat,” by turning away the 800 migrants who will be sent to his nation. “Slovakia is not going to respect mandatory quotas,” he said.

Refugees entering Strosinci, Croatia, Satrurday 26 September 2015

Refugees entering Strosinci,
Croatia, Saturday 26 September 2015

While In New York, at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit since Friday 25 September the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told Croatian TV news that the Croatian decisions regarding any border closures would be made in collaboration with the EU, that Croatia must show solidarity and not enter into quarrels with the neighbours (as Prime Minister Milanovic has with Serbia and Hungary) and instead of closing border crossings she sought stricter controls at the border.
We need to keep the official border crossings open and close the corn fields, forests, farm fields where the refugees and migrants cross illegally,” Grabar-Kitarovic said to HRT TV news Saturday 26 September from New York. “So, everything we do needs to be done with cooperation and agreement with the EU and in compliance with that which has already been agreed upon – to protect the external borders, primarily between Turkey and Greece, and I would also continue insisting that Croatia receives assistance in controlling the border between Serbia and Croatia.”


Miro Cerar

Miro Cerar

Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar said at the UN summit that his country “together with other European countries has intensified the activities in resolving the current migration crisis in Europe. The main principles of our action are based on humanity and solidarity but also security. We should pool our efforts in combating illegal migration and suppressing the trafficking of migrants and human beings.”
Let’s trust the coming weeks will bring more visible cooperation on the global level, steered by the UN, to help solve this EU refugee and illegal migrant crisis or at least bring some order in the movement of refugees, otherwise increased unrest on the streets of affected EU countries, calling for greater input by the people in decisions made, will be the likely scenario. Perhaps that is exactly what is needed as more and more we are faced with the politicians making decisions that seriously affect people’s lives without reference to the people. This crisis has the potential of triggering changes to the EU map, to UN’s global role and to reinvigorate the long-forgotten grass root role in the “Western” democratic processes and decisions generally. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia’s Brush With Looming Security Crisis In Europe

Globsec 2015

As the refugees and illegal migrants surge continues in Europe, debate is growing in the European Union about the lack of unified immigration policies and funding for migrant rescue operations. Some EU member states are calling for each state to accept a quota of illegal migrants, share the burden as it were. European foreign and defence ministers agreed in Brussels on May 18 to use naval forces to intercept and disrupt ships used by smugglers/ first phase of a military operation against people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Croatia has already committed one 50-crew ship towards the efforts of saving lives of illegal migrants/refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

While the world marked the World Refugee Day on Saturday 20 June, two security and terrorism related important gatherings occurred in Bratislava, Slovakia, this weekend, starting Friday 19 June and they are the global security forum GLOBSEC 2015 and summit of Visegrad Four/ Visegrad 4 leaders.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic attended and was a panelist at the GLOBSEC forum – a platform for high-profile politicians, diplomats, business leaders, academics and think tank experts to share their opinions and perspectives regarding international peace and security. This year the discussed topics at various panels, plenary sessions and presentations included the situation in Ukraine and the crisis stemming from ISIS. Hence, European leaders tackled security challenges ranging from a resurgent Russia to global terrorism.
As to the summit of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four – Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, the attendees reached a joint position of rejection against the refugee quotas urged by the European Union as response to floods of illegal immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East inundate countries of EU especially Italy, Greece, Hungary… on a daily basis.

Boats filled with illegal migrants and refugees cross the Mediterranean on daily basis from Africa and the Middle East

Boats filled with illegal migrants
and refugees cross the
Mediterranean on daily basis
from Africa and the Middle East

Just by watching daily news coverage it’s evident that the problem has reached catastrophic proportions and to any observing eye the influx resembles an aggressive invasion in which it is almost impossible to check for and isolate or sort out any possible terrorist cells, genuine refugees and illegal migrants.

Robert Fico Photo: SITA-felvetel

Robert Fico
Photo: SITA-felvetel

“We reject the mandatory quotas because we believe that what the European Union proposes is contrary to the principle of voluntariness represented by the European Council”, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said. He added: they specifically focused on the grave extent to which Hungary is affected by the problem of illegal migration, and they agreed that everyone must take this special situation into consideration.
In 1991, the founders of the present-day Visegrad cooperation were aiming for the revival of this north-south corridor. Initially, they focused on clearing out the debris of the Communist dictatorships and consolidating the economies of the members. Later, when all four joined NATO and then the European Union, the scale of activity widened to include cooperation in international and security policies and the operation of the Schengen border control system.

Illegal migrants rounded up by people smugglers in Libya to cross into Europe Photo by AP

Illegal migrants rounded up
by people smugglers in Libya
to cross into Europe
Photo by AP

A system of quotas will not solve the problem of illegal migration into the EU, said the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to Croatian press, expressing her stand on the matter ahead of her attendance at the global security forum GLOBSEC 2015 in Bratislava, and that it was essential to act upon the real causes of that problem.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Photo: Sutra.ba

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Photo: Sutra.ba

Quotas are not the solution for the questions relating to refugees,” she said. “They can be a short-term solution but a solution must be all-encompassing…We need to be very careful about the message we are sending with that quota system. If we send the message to illegal migrants that they will eventually be able to remain in Europe, then we will perpetuate the problem and it will become worse and stronger… Within both the EU and UN we need to engage in solving the fundamental problems of why illegal migrants are coming, and that means the solving of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, but also battle against poverty and other reasons because of which people from North Africa and the Middle East are arriving as well as solving the problem of people smugglers.”




Francois Hollande Photo: Getty Images

Francois Hollande
Photo: Getty Images

French President Francois Hollande said on Friday he thought commitments by individual EU member states offered a better way of resettling African and Middle Eastern migrants rather than the imposition of national quotas by Brussels.
We need to address the reasons that have led to and that have caused the migration,” Hollande told a news conference after meeting the leaders of the Visegrad Group.
I do not think (quotas) make any sense for migration. I do not think it is the right method,” he said, commenting on proposals from the executive European Commission on how to deal with the large numbers of migrants arriving in Europe.





David Cameron Photo: Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

David Cameron
Photo: Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

In the case of terrorism, they say that the rise of ISIL shows the dangers of getting involved so we should turn our backs on the Middle East. In the case of migrants being tricked and trafficked, they say this is something that should be managed rather than solved, so we should carry on allowing them to attempt this perilous crossing. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And I am very clear about the principles that need to be applied,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the GLOBSEC 2015 conference.
There are those who criticise the emergence of “closed Europe” vis-à-vis the floods of people illegally approaching and crossing sovereign borders of countries; without a doubt there are those, including the UN Refugee Agency, who will criticise Hungary’s recent announcement to build a 174 kilometre long/ 4 meter high fence along the border with Serbia to stop tens of thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa crossing its borders annually and illegally via Serbia, which is not an EU member state. A question then pops into mind: should that fence be extended down along the border between Croatia and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina? Desperate refugees and illegal migrants will soon find an alternative route into EU if the Hungarian fence is built. How far does a country go in trying to stop the floods of illegal entries? Croatia is one country with relatively recently experienced desperation with refugees. During early 1990’s Serb aggression and ethnic cleansing had created floods of refugees and displaced people – over one million (in a country of 4.5 million!). Among these were Croatia’s own refugees and refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina; all non-Serb and mainly Croat and Muslim. A life lived in such conditions is indeed a life lived in crisis-mode! This crisis arises from the unknown and the insecure future and no human being is built to endure it for long without major unrest erupting.

Asylum seekers in Croatia joining in marking World Refugee Day 2015 Photo: Screenshot Croatian Red Cross website

Asylum seekers in Croatia
joining in marking World Refugee Day 2015
Photo: Screenshot Croatian Red Cross website


Handling the problem in today’s Europe by allocating quotas to each country is not the way forward as a matter of policy because it does support the impression of accommodating illegal migrants on an ongoing basis. However, the illegal migrants and refugees awaiting refugee status processing must be fed, clothed – roof over their head, placed. That certainly is no easy task with diminishing and crumbling economies and “foreign aid purse”. Are the more affluent societies willing to shed worldly comforts and share with those less fortunate? Or are these floods and intensive movements of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East actually causing fears (real and pathological) of threats (if not attacks) to Christianity and Western values, the addressing of which may go beyond human compassion and empathy with the seemingly destitute? Certainly strong leadership is required in the EU on these matters and it’s great to see the Croatian president taking part in that leadership. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Ethnicity Must Not Determine Allegiance

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag Photo:pixgood.com

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag

An ethnic minority is in dictionary terms referred to as a group of people of a particular race or nationality living in a country or area where most people are from a different race or nationality.
Allegiance to one’s country to the benefit of that country is called patriotism and it is a positive force that, despite globalisation, still guides our sense of belonging, our immediate “family” for which we look out for in our daily lives. Borders after all, define countries and define allegiance.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, in its chapter on Historical Foundations, explicitly defines who the ethnic minorities are within Croatia’s sovereign borders: “Setting forth from these historical facts and the universally accepted principles governing the contemporary world and the inalienable and indivisible, non-transferable and perpetual right of the Croatian nation to self-determination and state sovereignty, including the inviolable right to secession and association as the fundamental conditions for peace and stability of the international order, the Republic of Croatia is hereby established as the nation state of the Croatian nation and the state of the members of its national minorities: Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Rusyns, Bosniaks, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Russians, Bulgarians, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Turks, Vlachs, Albanians and others who are its citizens and who are guaranteed equality with citizens of Croatian nationality and the exercise of their national rights in compliance with the democratic norms of the United Nations and the countries of the free world.”
According to the last census (2011) the population of Croatia is comprised of 7.7% people who identify as belonging to the ethnic minorities (Albanians 17,513 /0.41%, Austrians 297/0.01%, Bosniaks/Muslims 31,479/0.73%, Bulgarians 350/0.01%, Montenegrins 4,517/0.11%, Czechs 9,641/0.22%, Hungarians 14,048/0.33%, Macedonians 4,138/0.10%, Germans 2,965 /0.07%, Polish 672/0.02%, Roma 16,975/0.40%, Romanians 435/0.01%, Russians 1,279/0.03%, Rusyns 1,936/0.05%, Slovaks 4,753/0.11%, Slovenians 10,517/0,25%, Serbs 186,633/4.36%, Italians 17,807/0.42%, Turks 367/0.01%, Ukrainians 1,878 /0.04%), Vlachs 29 (0.00) and Jews 509/0.01%.
With the population growth hovering over 0% or -0.4% (2013) the size of ethnic minorities would not be expected to have increased since 2011, however, resettlement of displaced persons from 1990’s war (Croats and Serbs) may show slight variations to representations either way.
Today, the issue of minority rights in multiethnic societies has grown to be one of the most sensitive issues challenging almost every country. In particular, the challenge from the quest of different ethnic or cultural groups for political relevance is the most noticeable one in all countries where ethnic minorities live. Unlike most countries though, the accommodation of political relevance of specific ethnic minorities in Croatia is reflected in the specified seats for individual or combined ethnic minorities in the Parliament. One can safely say that in Croatia the mechanisms for ensuring that interests of ethnic minorities in creating and passing of mainstream legislation are well represented.

The outcry by Croatian Serbs last week when the President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic addressed the citizens in her victory speech as “Dear Croatians” and when she said in an interview to Bosnia and Herzegovina TV “The way I see it, Croats are also people of Christian Orthodox religion and people of Serb ethnic background. They are Croats in the sense that they are Croatian citizens,” has once again demonstrated the fact that many Serbs in Croatia do not consider Croatia as their country. It demonstrates the fact that some ethnic minorities in Croatia want to stay separated from the mainstream and therefore continue injecting social unrest in a country that needs unity towards one common goal: a prosperous Croatia. In fact Croatian Serbs, or one of their leaders Milorad Pupovac took offence at being considered as a Croatian in Grabar-Kitarovic speeches, even though he is a Croatian citizen and a member of Parliament representing a part of Croatian Serbian population!
“Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” is an old idiom that perhaps finds its practical use for abuse here in Croatia. What else could it be with such a reaction to Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s statement that to her all citizens of Croatia are Croatians. Indeed, while the more loud ethnic minorities in the developed countries advocate for political relevance with view to protecting their ethnic minority rights in mainstream legislation Croatian Serbs seem still set on being separated from Croatia; the same mentality ruled in early 1990’s when they attacked Croatian independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia. The dream of Greater Serbia one would create by stealing land from sovereign national territory of other people is evidently still strong in Croatian Serbs and can only be neutralised by insisting on unity for and allegiance to Croatia while enjoying citizens’ rights that come with ethnic/cultural definitions and heritage.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is not the first president-elect or the first leader of a country to refer to all citizens of the country by the name of the country, but, she is perhaps one of the first to “cop the flak” because of it and that is because of unpatriotic, pro-communist, elements that arise from ethnic minorities who did not and do not want an independent and unified Croatia.
France is considered a country where the existence ethnic minorities is substantial and yet President François Hollande in his inauguration speech 15 May 2012 emphasised: “…I send the French people a message of confidence”!
Likewise, President Barrack Obama addressed the people of the U.S. in his second term inauguration speech 2 January 2013. “…My fellow Americans…”!
I could go on and on with similar examples and I know: any ethnic conflict in Croatia is caused by those who want to reap the benefits of being Croatian citizens but want no part in the responsibility to create and live a unity towards the benefit of Croatia. While such regretful state of affairs exists Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is completely justified in insisting on treating all Croatian citizens as equal Croatians! That is the job a president must do and must insist upon the respect and allegiance of all to the one flag!
And to go back to the Croatian Constitution, people should be declaring their Croatian patriotism regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. Indeed given that the Constitution of independent Croatia arose after a 94% vote to secede from communist Yugoslavia the people of Croatia have a responsibility to practice allegiance to Croatia. The diversity of their ethnic backgrounds should not get in the way of being Croatians. The ethnic diversity of Croatia’s population, no matter how low nationally or relatively high in some areas is nothing new, but it is an important aspect of post-Yugoslavia nation building and the President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic demonstrates that she is well aware of the fact and ready and able to tackle it in a way other presidents since Franjo Tudjman have ignored. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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