Diplomatic tensions escalated on Sunday between Balkan rivals Serbia and Croatia after Croatia refused to allow a private visit by Serbia’s populist president to the site of a World War II concentration camp where thousands of Serbs were attacked by pro-Nazi officials in Croatia. were killed.
Croatian officials said they learned of a planned visit to the Jasenovac camp by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic through “informal channels”. Foreign Minister Gordon Grilic Redman told reporters that the fact that the Croatian government was not formally informed of the visit was “unacceptable”.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to emphasize that the timing, nature and schedule of any travel plans by foreign officials should be a matter of official communication and agreement by both parties,” Grilick Redman said. “It was not a trip to the seashore. The president of a country is a protected person.”
Croatia’s decision sparked outrage in neighboring Serbia, where officials described it as “reprehensible”. Serbia’s staunch Interior Minister Aleksandr Vulin said that from now on all Croatian officials would have to declare any transit or travel to Serbia and would be placed under a “special regime of control”. He did not elaborate.
“It was an anti-European and anti-civilization decision and a brutal violation of freedom of movement,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told pro-government Pink Television. “I don’t know what our relationship will look like in the future… It’s sending a frightening message.”
Relations between Serbia and Croatia have remained tense since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the 1991–95 war in Croatia, when its Serb minority, supported by Serbia, rebelled against Croatia’s independence. More than 10,000 people were killed in the war.
Although both countries have pledged to work to resolve remaining problems from the conflict – such as finding people still missing – an occasional diplomatic dispute has plagued post-war efforts. Serbia’s populist authorities have insisted that Croatia’s government had not done enough to acknowledge its World War II past, while Zagreb criticized Serbia for using the issue for internal politics and its war in the 1990s. accused of refusing to deal with the role.
“We see it as a provocation,” said Grelik Redmayne. “This kind of visit is not honest, it is not about honoring the victims” of the Jasnovac camp, where thousands of Croatian Serbs, Jews and Roma people were brutalized during World War II by pro-Nazi officials. were killed in the execution.
Vucic, a former ultranationalist who supported the Serb insurgency in Croatia in the 1990s, has scheduled a news conference for Monday. He responded to a photo of the Jasnovac memorial in an Instagram post on Sunday.
“You (Croatia) just do your thing! The Serbian people will live and never forget!” Vucic said.