Behind the scenes at the division of Bosnia

Croatian President Stipe Mesic makes an official visit to Greece tomorrow, returning Greek President Costas Stephanopoulos’s visit to Zagreb. A personality who has emerged since the war, Mesic is seen by the international diplomatic community as a moderate, a liberal and a Europhile, who doesn’t hesitate to oppose extreme views in a country where war has predictably fueled nationalism. In an interview with Kathimerini, Mesic spoke of his compatriots’ distrust of Greeks, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina at a secret meeting between Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman on the eve of war, and, of course, bilateral relations between Greece and Croatia. What is the purpose of your visit to Athens? Are there any areas in which the two countries can sign agreements and what are they? The purpose of my official return visit to Athens is, first of all, to confirm our good bilateral relations and contribute to their further development. Our relations are long-lasting and well-known but they need renewal and new incentives. For example, there is a need to establish ferry links between Greek and Croatian ports, not only to serve tourism but also for economic reasons. One of the significant projects in terms of connecting our two countries is the construction of the Adriatic-Ionian highway, to physically join the west and southeast of Europe, facilitating a faster and easier flow of people, goods and capital. I would like to mention that Croatia applied for European Union membership in February this year in Athens itself and during your presidency of the EU full support was given to the association of all countries of Southeastern Europe in Euro-integration processes. In spite of that, public opinion in your country sees Greece as a friend and ally of your enemy, the Serbs. How much do you think this distrust will affect the course of Greek-Croatian relations? Times change. During the aggression against Croatia, public opinion in our country was perhaps more sensitive on certain issues, meaning the political relations of other countries toward Croatia were viewed with a bit less objectivity. Besides, the Greek public got most of its information from Serbia, which made it hard to learn the real truth about Serbian aggression against Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, the war is behind us and Croatia is developing her relations both with neighboring countries and with countries in the wider region. I consider that we should not trouble ourselves now or in the future with something that was a cause of a possible negative perception in the past. One of the obstacles to Croatia’s accession to the European Union seems to be its cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal and, in particular, its unwillingness to hand over General Gotovina to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. What is your position on this? Croatia fully collaborates with the court in The Hague. Croatia has delivered all specific documents requested by the court. All those who were either called as witnesses or as suspects responded to a call. An indicted general turned himself in, has since conducted his defense, and is out on bail. The other one has passed away, while only General Gotovina is in hiding and is not accessible to the Croatian authorities. Therefore, Croatia can’t be held responsible for non-cooperation, because there is only one problem, Gotovina, and he, as I said before, is not accessible to the Croatian authorities. Recently, your compatriot Ante Markovic, the last prime minister of united Yugoslavia, while giving evidence at the trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, revealed that the Serbian leader and Franjo Tudjman had decided to carve up Bosnia-Herzegovina at a secret meeting at Karadjordjevo in Vojvodina in March 1992. What do you know about that? I said everything I know about this meeting when I testified against Slobodan Milosevic in the court in The Hague. Specifically, that I was supposed to be at this meeting along with Borislav Jovic, the representative of Serbia in the presidency of Yugoslavia, and above all, I initiated the meeting trusting that problems could be solved within that framework. Private meeting Both Milosevic and Tudjman agreed that such a meeting should be held but after some time Tudjman informed me that he would talk to Milosevic in private. Naturally, I can’t tell you what they spoke about but after Karadjordjevo, Tudjman told us that Milosevic had offered Croatia the borders as they were in the year 1938, i.e. the borders of so-called Turkish Croatia: Bihac, Cazin and Kladusa. Unfortunately, events revealed the subject of that conversation later when Republika Srpska and Herceg Bosna were established in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ‘Yugoslavia could not remain as it was because the unifying factors had disappeared’ History records you as the last president of the Yugoslav Federation. In your opinion, was its breakup inevitable, and is it true that as soon as you returned to Zagreb after the historic meeting of the Yugoslav presidency that you told Franjo Tudjman, «Mr President, I carried out your orders; Yugoslavia no longer exists»? Yugoslavia could not remain as it was because the unifying factors had disappeared: Tito, the Yugoslav National Army (YNA) and the Communist Party. Tito died, the YNA stepped over to Milosevic’s side, and the party disintegrated. Milosevic wanted to create, on the ruins of Yugoslavia, an ethnically pure Greater Serbia through war and genocide. Unfortunately, the international community did not realize in time what his plans were, and he was only stopped after having committed many crimes. As for my statement, I had not been to Belgrade since September 1991. I said: «I was fighting for the interests of Croatia; there is no Yugoslavia any longer. I think that I have succeeded in this.» I went to the presidency of Yugoslavia as a representative of Croatia, to defend the interests of Croatia in federal institutions. The moment the assembly disintegrated due to Milosevic and the Slovenian member stepped down from the presidency, federal institutions stopped being lawful and legitimate bodies, and therefore Yugoslavia ceased to exist.