Croatian Ambassador Zlatko Kramaric/ "Serbia Must Forget Myths"

‘The arrival of the US Secretary, M. Pompeo in Croatia is a very important political event. It is a strong and clear message that the US policy places Croatia on the new world political map - Croatia is still considered as a sincere ally and a partner, who has patiently proved that Croatian citizens deserve to have a visa-free regime,” said Zagreb’s top envoy to Tirana Zlatko Kramaric

By Genc Mlloja

Senior Diplomatic Editor

“Like the rest of the world Croatia has been facing the COVID- 19 pandemic in the last 9 months! This is completely new experience in which many forms of normal life are restricted, and above all freedom of movement,” the Croatian Ambassador to Albania, Zlatko Kramaric has told Albanian Daily News in a conversation which dwelt on its economic and social impact on Croatia, its people and their general mood in face of such a situation of ongoing uncertainty. Touching upon the expected visit of the US Secretary M. Pompeo to Croatia the Ambassador said it is “a confirmation of a clear friendship and strategic partnership between one world authority and one EU member state!”

In a comment on the Agreement signed in Washington lately in the frame of Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, the Croatian Ambassador was of the opinion that when the witness to that Agreement is the American president himself then it is certainly something that adds special weight. “It seems to me that the Agreement in Washington is a part of a broader geopolitical picture, where generally acceptable political solutions will be reached through certain economic measures and some peculiarities and nuances will no longer be taken into account. American politics is tired of the old diseases of the Balkan countries, all suffering from “burdens of the past.” According to Mr. Kramaric, of course Brussels is involved in this dialogue, and there are different interests of individual EU countries as for example the approach of Germany which is somewhat different from the American one. “The time will show how important this Agreement in Washington will be for the future relations between the countries of the Western Balkans.”

Asked about the current political situation in Albania, Ambassador Kramaric believed that Albanian politicians are holding everything in their hands. “I believe that Albanian politicians are aware of this situation and that they know how to use it for the benefit of their citizens.”

As far as post electoral Montenegro is concerned the Ambassador said election results must be respected, but, according to him, there might be a curse in the victory. “If there is no harsh revenge on the defeated, a continuous pro-European perspective, proper relationship to national minorities (Croatian, Albanian, Bosniak ones), NATO membership, independent policy making in all segments, then the neighboring countries can be at peace. Any other behavior could provoke a new crisis. Parliamentary winners must be clearly identified by the Montenegrin state,” said the Croatian Ambassador, Zlatko Kramaric in the following interview:

Albanian Daily News: Mr. Ambassador, almost 9 months have elapsed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. So what can you say on the experience of Croatia in coping with the virus and its economic and social impact on the country, and secondly, how are the people reacting to the preventive measures, the general mood?

Ambassador Zlatko Kramaric: Like the rest of the world Croatia is facing the COVID- 19pandemic in the last 9 months! This is a completely new experience in which many forms of normal life are restricted, and above all freedom of movement. The on-line way of life has prevailed and it has become very painful because citizens feel insecure and afraid of what was and is coming. Furthermore, the state of emergency, as a consequence of the COVID- 19, has directly influenced the economic power of the country and the relations within the society. No matter how much the National Headquarters tries to put its decisions in a reasonable framework, they are still perceived by the public as par excellence political decisions of the ruling coalition. It primarily refers to the segment of citizens’ security for their recommendations are exclusively in the function of protecting them and their jobs. As a result, irrational moments occur at work, when the rational attitude towards the real problem is replaced by emotions, passion, different ideological beliefs ... Every decision made by the Headquarters is commented within opposing political paradigms, so it is not unusual that the Croatian public opinion faces a false dilemma: which one is more important at this point - freedom or security? We are afraid that this time of uncertainty will last too long and finally cause a whole range of pathological conditions in the society. It is, by no means, a good solution to this situation.

-In the meantime the issue of migrants continues to be a thorny issue in the EU. Which is the current position of Croatia on the issue as the government has recently decided to take in a certain number of displaced persons following a fire in the Moria refugee camp in Greece, while some members of the block are categorically against receiving any?

-The migrant crisis starts its comeback and it is one of the greatest European narratives. In addition, it shows all the differences among EU member states. Furthermore, it is not realistic to expect that Germany, France, etc. will have the same opinion about this topic as, for example, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary. But, if we take into consideration their point of view, all of them are right.

Unfortunately, the COVID - 19 pandemic, that we are all faced with, confirms over and over again the thought of the great American writer, E. Hemingway – „ … send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee“. Only great international solidarity can solve such or similar crises. It is our duty and obligation to act within our economic possibilities, different traditions, cultural habits. Croatia will host a certain number of people. Although it is not a large number, it is a symbolic message sent by our citizens that we all have empathy for the suffering of these innocent people, civilians, women, children, the elderly, and that we are ready to take an active part in all  joint activities of the EU member states.

- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to pay a visit to Croatia next week and one of the topics to be discussed is the waiving visas for Croatians. Besides that topic which are some of the items part of the agenda of the visit?  Let me mention that earlier Mr. Pompeo visited Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovenia warning them “against the growing influence of China and Russia”. Is this expected to be a point in discussion in Croatia?

-The arrival of the US Secretary M. Pompeo in Croatia is a very important political event. It is a strong and clear message that the US policy places Croatia on the new world political map - Croatia is still considered as a sincere ally and a partner, who has patiently proved that Croatian citizens deserve to have a visa-free regime. Furthermore, the Republic of Croatia is a member of the NATO Alliance and, as such, it is clearly politically and militarily aligned. In other words, there should be a balance in the cooperation with China and Russia. Despite the fact that the modern world market is free, the capital entering must be justified and controlled. If there is a conscious imbalance, then there are certain political consequences. I think that the US Secretary made a point about this banal fact during his previous tour.

I am not familiar with the whole agenda of his visit to Croatia (after the presidential and parliamentary elections in Croatia, the rapid formation of the Government and just before the presidential elections in America), but this visit is a confirmation of a clear friendship and strategic partnership between one world authority and one EU member state!

-As a follow up Mr. Ambassador how do you assess the energetic involvement of the US in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue, and in your view how much efficient could the two strands of the dialogue, supposedly the economic dialogue led by Washington and the political by Brussels, be? And secondly, given the agreement reached in Washington  do you believe that Serbia can go against the interests of Russia?

-There is no doubt that when the Agreement is signed in Washington, and the witness to that Agreement is the American president himself, D. Trump, then it is certainly something that adds special weight. This is exactly the way I experience all this. It is more than obvious that at the end of his term, President Trump needed this (re) turn to the Western Balkans, because everything here is the law of interconnected vessels - if Kosovo, then Republika Srpska, as well. It seems to me that the Agreement in Washington is a part of a broader geopolitical picture, where generally acceptable political solutions will be reached through certain economic measures and some peculiarities and nuances will no longer be taken into account. American politics is tired of the old diseases of the Balkan countries, all suffering from “burdens of the past”.

Of course, there is Brussels, there is the EU, there are different interests of individual EU countries, there is also Germany, whose approach is somewhat different from the American one; the time will show how important this Agreement in Washington will be for the future relations between the countries of the Western Balkans. The mini-Schengen project has been given the green light in Washington, but many things are still unclear.

-Some Bosnian leaders and politicians in Croatia expressed concern and alarm over a meeting held in Zagreb on Thursday between Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and Milorad Dodik, Serbian member of the Bosnian state presidency. What would you say on such a development? Which is the position of Croatia towards efforts for a unilateral revision of the Dayton Agreement?

-Bosnia is still Achilles heel, the quadrature of the circle of all previous Croatian policies. No matter what we do, it turns out that there are always those who have objections to certain decisions in Croatian politics. As always the ‘others’ are to be blamed for everything! On the one hand, these political decisions of the 'others' are problematic, but, on the other hand, these fierce critics do not have an adequate answer as to what should be the right solution to the Bosnian politics.

I, personally, have nothing against the civic concept of Bosnia, but those who advocate that concept should answer what in fact is the real content of that concept. Is it a unitary Bosnia or is it something else? Does this concept follow the previous BiH political tradition (for example, the war one from 1943 established in Mrkonjic Grad), which is, as a rule, national and not civic one? Furthermore, how to 'push' this famous civic concept into the Bosnian constitution / Dayton agreement, when this Constitution / Agreement was written from a different political perspective? In addition, its proponents should explain how they intend to protect the collective rights of individual nations (that are constitutive) on the entire BiH territory. Finally, I have the impression that M. Dodik's visit is a part of broader international political activities, which should result in achieving peace and stability in the Western Balkans.

Namely, none of the Agreements, neither the one in Dayton, nor Kumanovo Agreement, nor Ohrid Agreement brought a definitive solution to the conflict. Although they stopped the war operations at some point, they did not bring a permanent solution. Some attempts are being made to remedy these difficulties by meetings in Washington and by a surprise the visit of M. Dodik to Zagreb (it should not be forgotten that in the period from 1992 to 1995 over 150,000 Croats left the territory of the Republika Srpska).  Little is said about this exodus. Some of these people did not take part in any military operations, especially not in the conquest.

-Mr. Ambassador let me touch upon a sensitive issue on the process of reconciliation with the Serbs and the Serb minority in Croatia. How has this been received by the public in Croatia and do you think that will help the improvement of the co-existence of Serb minority in Croatia and the atmosphere of the bilateral ties between Croatia and Serbia?

- We in Croatia are aware of the importance of a sincere policy of reconciliation, because this policy cannot be reduced to large gestures of so-called high politics, where the representatives of either the minority community or the majority express reverence for the victims of the war in the 1990s. The policy of reconciliation must be much more than that, the constant formation of life values for every citizen, the insistence on dealing with all the episodes of the recent past, especially those dialogues that relate to the behavior of one’s own community. Believe me; I know what I'm saying, because I was the war mayor of the city of Osijek. It is the largest urban entity that was exposed to the aggression of the Yugoslav / Serbian army for over a year, with the help of some local Serbs! However, in all my public appearances I always insisted on the fact that there was no collective guilt, that every crime had a name and a surname, and that the most important thing was not to respond to other people's madness and hysteria with one's own hysteria, one's own madness. I am proud to say that that policy yielded results - there was almost no retaliation against members of the Serb community. As a result, the international community of NDI recognized my efforts, so in 1997 I received the prestigious A. Harriman Award, for promoting liberal-democratic values in difficult times of war. It is important to say that the members of the minority community should face their own guilt, the kind that K. Jaspers describes in its metaphysical aspect. In some challenging times, some members of that community did not behave with integrity towards their Croatian homeland. Instead of a political struggle for their goals, they consciously chose military rebellion, terror, robbery, genocide.

Finally, the Serbian community in Croatia must once and for all get rid of the tutelage of Belgrade, Serbia. It is exactly this vassal relationship that makes them an object of politics, not a sovereign political subject. It would be good for Belgrade to face its own mistakes made in the 1990s, to conclude once and for all that imperial policies, the myth of territory and Great Serbia were a lifetime ago and that they are ultimately the most harmful to the Serbian people as a whole. It is a long and demanding process, but if Serbia wants to be a member of the EU, then it must go through that catharsis. This is a condition of all conditions!

-The Croatian president paid recently a two-day official visit to Germany and one of the topics discussed was the strengthening and functioning of the European Union in the present circumstances of the coronavirus crisis. Germany, which has the current presidency of the EU, praised the successful presidency of Croatia in the first half of this year. What can you say on the state of the Union as among others Brexit is in its final stage? 

-I do believe that the EU has a future and that Brexit is only a momentary lapse in judgement made by the citizens of England. The Euro idea is not the idea of the past, but it should be given a new dimension by the European leaders. There should be adequate answers to new political and other challenges. The 80s and 90s of the 20th century in Croatia were marked by our sincere but also naive desire to be a part of the modern world, part of the European community. This is the way we tried to solve most of our problems at that time. Neither we nor other Europeans have the right to give up this vision. Therefore, I do believe that such “events”,  the outbreak of COVID- 19 pandemic, will simply force the smartest people in Europe to come up with common solutions for all European citizens. We are all in the same boat and we all share the same fate. Let us not forget the importance of the UN, the organization that, even after 75 years of operation, has still the same main goal. In that context, I would like to quote our Prime Minister: “The world is a large global village and only by joint efforts of all its member states, it will be possible to overcome all current world threats, military, biochemical, or financial…”

-Mr. Ambassador, how would you assess the political situation in Albania in face of ongoing tensions between the two major adverse political forces on electoral-related issues, a deadlocked judicial system, high rates of corruption and rising trend of people leaving the country among others? And Albania is waiting to start the first intergovernmental negotiations with the EU?  

-Albanian politicians are holding everything in their hands. It all depends on them. Albania is one of a very few countries, where there are all political strategies, ruling and opposition ones, pro-European or pro-NATO. It is, by all means, a big political capital, additionally supported by strong public support, NGOs, etc. Over 90% of citizens believe that the EU is the right solution for the progress of the Albanian society and that blank loan must be used in the best possible way. I believe that Albanian politicians are aware of this situation and that they know how to use it for the benefit of their citizens.

- Mr. Ambassador the recent general elections in Montenegro removed from power Mr. Milo Djukanovic after a three- decade rule. According to your opinion, which is the expected course of the foreign policy of that country ruled by a pro Serb and pro Russian coalition?

-Election results must be respected. They are a political will of the majority of citizens in a country. We respect the will of the Montenegro citizens although we have certain objections to the behavior of some non-political actors (Serbian Orthodox Church, foreign countries, secret services ...) during the election process. It will soon become clear that the election winners will face a whole range of problems from the treatment of the defeated policy options to the presentation of their own political strategies. Furthermore, they will have to take responsibility for their actions. Victory can be a curse, but if there is no harsh revenge on the defeated, a continuous pro-European perspective, proper relationship to national minorities (Croatian, Albanian, Bosniak ones), NATO membership, independent policy making in all segments, then the neighboring countries can be at peace. Any other behavior could provoke a new crisis. Parliamentary winners must be clearly identified by the Montenegrin state.  /ADN