Serbs should apologise and proper reconciliation could follow

In a recent Vjesnik newspaper article Milorad Pupovac, president of SDSS (independent Democratic Serb Party) representing a part of Serbian minority in Croatia said that his party may collaborate with the governing centre-left Kukuriku (Cock-a-doodle-doo) alliance even if the Kukuriku alliance had previously stated that collaboration with political parties allied with the previous HDZ government would not be an option.

Milorad Pupovac

In relation to a greater return of Serbian refugees to Croatia: “I just want to say that there is joint responsibility for what has not yet been achieved,” he said. “Each of us has their own responsibility and role in this”.

“I want to say that in our cities, in our streets, on our facades there are graffiti with messages of hatred,” he further said, “…when it’s not enough to say that someone is a thief, they say that someone is a Serb, a Chetnik…”

There are more problems, for example the process of reconstructing damaged houses, the problem of housing the former tenants, electricity … employment, language rights …there’s surely work to do,” he stated. 

The new Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic has announced that Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which was then made up of Serbia and Montenegro) for genocide in the International Court of Justice filed in July 1999, in relation to 1991-1995 war, should in some aspects be dropped. (The Republic of Serbia has in 2010 filed a cross-claim in the court).

Both claims contain the aspect of financial compensation.

The difference between Croatian and Serbian applications is that the Serbian one comes 11 years after Croatia’s and contains the seeking of damages from World War II as well, i.e. from alleged persecution of Serbs.

In that case, and given that Serbia has not yet to my knowledge acknowledged in earnest its role in the 1991-1995 aggressive war against Croatia, Croatia would do well not to withdraw aspects of its claim in the International court against Serbia.

Croatia should instead play the “Serbian game” and add claims for damages for persecution and murder of Croatians during the World War II and after it (Communist crimes perpetrated by the Serbians within the communist/partisan echelons).

On Pusic’s announcement Pupovac commented that it shouldn’t have come to that (the court). That Croatia and Serbia should come up with a different way of addressing the issues.

He says that cooperation is important in sanctioning war crimes, solving the problem of war-missing people, the return of national treasures.

“There would need to be a general restoration of trust in these matters and in the spirit of international respect for victims,” he said.

The return of Serbian refugees to Croatia has been a slow process and Croatia has been criticised for not doing enough on the housing and employment for Serbs front. There have been criticisms of alleged discrimination against Serbs in employment etc.  Indeed, this issue has in the past slowed down Croatia’s accession to EU negotiations.

The President of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, has also hinted on the possible withdrawal of lawsuits in the International Court of Justice but that purposefulness of the lawsuits still needs to be discussed – he maintained.

The war damage to Croatia was overwhelmingly enormous while the same cannot be said for Serbia (Croatians did not wage attacks on Serbian soil).

A small country like Croatia struggles severely (in anyone’s book) to repair and make-good the damage done to properties, utilities, roads … With unemployment alarmingly high and much of the industry lost/destroyed one wonders how, without some kind of compensation from the Serbian side, Croatia could fully accommodate the return of all Serbian refugees?

As Pupovac said, I too believe that there is a joint responsibility between Croatia and Serbia in the problem of refugees.

However, the Serbs seem to avoid their share of responsibility for damage caused to Croatia during 1991-1995; the fact that they’ve lumbered WWII into their claim against Croatia in the International Court of Justice seems to speak volumes to this fact very clearly.

As to the talk of ethnic hatred Pupovac refers to one wonders why Serbs have not really done much, if anything at all, in line of acknowledging the wrong they’ve done to Croatia in 1991-1995 and apologising for it.

The only apology I’ve come across is that of the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, in 2010 at the site of Vukovar massacres.

A crucial psychosocial factor that facilitates reconciliation between people is an actual, sincere, apology for specific wrongs.  Both Croatians and Serbians of Croatia are highly aware of their relationship as it stands today and this should be utilised in overcoming the anger against Serbs that still may exist in Croatia.

This anger is well justified: Serbs had started the aggression and caused initial damage. And now Croatia is expected to restore the damage perpetrated by Serbs and the damage perpetrated by Croatians.

One solution could be, for instance, that Serbs repair/compensate the damage they’ve done illegally to Croatians’ property and Croatians repair/compensate the damage they’ve done illegally to Serbs’ property.

Even mere common sense could tell Pupovac and the Serbs that reconciliation will be weak until objective acknowledgment surfaces on both sides with regards to responsibilities.

If one turns to the 2010 Serbian cross-claim against Croatia in the International Court of Justice, their airing of WWII woes instead of keeping to the point of Croatian claim – i.e. 1991-1995 war –  then it is plainly clear that Serbs have no intention acknowledging their provocative destruction  against Croatians in the 1990’s, let alone apologising.

Croatia would do well in maintaining its lawsuit against Serbia.

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A., M.A. Ps. (Syd)

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