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February 21, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 126
Serbs and Croats

Brotherhood And Unity Part Two

The normalization of relations between Belgrade and Zagreb, although overshadowed by NATO's threats to the Serbs in Bosnia, is in full swing. The two regimes are to open their offices later this month, Yugoslav deputy prime minister Zeljko Simic visited Zagreb, Veljko Knezevic was chosen to represent Serbia and Zvonimir Markovic was appointed the Croatian envoy in Belgrade. Since no talks are possible without mutual interests, the moment is ripe to crystallize the interests and put aside what had been happening in the past three years. "It seems that the Serbs and Croats are finding more and more mutual interests in Bosnia,'' said Zdravko Tomac, a member of the Croatian state committee for the normalization of Croatian-Serbian relations. These interests have made the two nations in Bosnia join their forces and fight against the third. But together with their parent states, they are exposed to international pressures. Yugoslavia is suffering under a severe international trade embargo and sanctions are looming over Croatia (the presidential statements of the UN Security Council and the EU). Should NATO decide to launch air strike on Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo, the same scenario will probably be used in Mostar. The regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb regard the division of Bosnia as a big job which will eventually determine their own future. Necessary reconsideration were made during the process, including President Tudjman's new commitment to a ``peaceful solution of the conflict, not through air strikes'' and the shifting of some Serbian politicians close to President Milosevic (Karadzic, for instance) from vociferous advocates of anti-Croat sanctions to the ``sanctions solve nothing'' approach.

The historical normalization's is unfolding smoothly in Bosnia, but complications arise when it comes to the essence of the process. The Serb state within Croatian borders is a breaking point for which neither of the two sides has an adequate solution. Tomac said that "if Serbia continues to insist on retaining a part of Croatia's territory, the war will drag on.'' "Croatia cannot survive without reintegrating the occupied areas and Serbia cannot survive with a continuing was and economic sanctions,'' he added. Belgrade probably has a similar viewat least when the latter is concerned. While Zagreb insists on regaining control over Krajina and is not very willing to respect the actual situation, official Belgrade sticks to its conceptthe "unification of all Serbs worldwide.'' Both regimes fear that the public at home could interpret the talks as their backtracking from the loudly proclaimed national interests. Tudjman and his administration have already been accused of accepting too many compromises and supporting the Serbian president. (Novi List, Rijeka, writes about the ``normalization of relations with fascism'') while circles in Belgrade believe the talks are an attempt to "sell Krajina.''

The negotiators, well aware of this fact, are wrapping their statements in diplomatic phrases, repeating that concrete matters were discussed. "We should first resolve the issues within our reach,'' Zeljko Simic said in Zagreb ``and then move to those of vital interest for both sides.'' Some of the ``concrete matters,'' revealed after the talks, are technical details of the opening of offices in Belgrade and Zagreb, a joint commission for missing persons...

The impression that one side is trying to deceive the other is rather strong. Croatia is, despite everything, in a much better diplomatic positions and, if everything goes as planned, it might gain much more that Serbia. Its readiness to cooperate helps a lot: Croatia gives up its military power and puts off the achievement of some of its main objectives. What it gets are things that it could not get before, neither by force (like in the Maslenica operation) nor through diplomatic efforts. As for its vital interests, the Vance plan, if implemented consistently, objectively works for Croatia.

The process of normalization is giving to Serbia a chance for a gradual and ``dignified'' retreat. According to Tomac, Serbia has achieved most of its goals after the breakup of Yugoslavia, including the annexation of Vojvodina, Kosovo, Montenegro and ``half of Bosnia.'' Together with the ``protection of the Serb national rights'' in Croatia, this could be a firm foundation for normalized relations, or as Tomac puts it ``Serbia can function without Vukovar and Knin'' but cannot afford to remain isolated for much longer. The question is whether official Belgrade can survive such a solution or is it just trying to buy time. A future Krajina, as a part of a federation and confederation with Croatia, doesn't seem to be quite an acceptable solution for any of the two sides.

People of Krajina have done their best to justify Croatia's skepticism. Their newly-elected President Mile Martic said the talks with Croatia could be held only ``on the equal basis and between the representatives of the two states.'' Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic has nothing against direct talks with Knin, but is not ready to legalize the status of Krajina. Martic went on to condition the reopening of the highway on the cancellation of UN resolution 820 which is exactly what Croatian diplomats regard as their biggest success. Krajina also demands full control of traffic on the highway section on its territory and the Krajina prime minister announced the introduction of the new Yugoslav dinar also in Krajina. Belgrade's role in all this is not clear: it's true that Martic is Milosevic's favorite who is to carry out the Serbian president's will in the self-proclaimed state. Milan Babic, the first authentic warlord of the former Yugoslavia, is rather persistent and, more important, out of control. In a coalition with the Radicals, he now controls Krajina's Parliament and might become the prime minister. His victory in the first round of elections was the result of popular fear of being sold out. Martic was elected in the ``second chance'' round, thanks to his solemnly sworn commitment to all-Serb unification.

GRAND ENVOY: Judging by public reactions in Croatia to the appointment of Veljko Knezevic, the whole affair is only a storm in a glass of water. Knezevic is better known in Zagreb than in Belgrade. Born in a village near Knin, philosopher by vocation, he was the editor inchief of the TV Zagreb until the first multiparty elections in Croatia in 1990. He is currently the vice-president of the Yugoslav branch of the League of Communists-Movement for Yugoslavia, and was never employed in the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry.

"Knezevic is a thorn in the side of an average Croat,'' said Vecernji List. Gordana Grbic, once the news editor of TV Zagreb, said that at the time of his resignation, Knezevic was more concerned with his own business affairs ``on the side,'' than with the fate of television and the employees.

It is not very likely that Serbia and Croatia will achieve all their war objectives. Talks and first signs of normalized relations are the best way to convince the public at home that "devil is not so black as it may seem.'' Compromises are unavoidable, and it is important to wrap them in fancy paper. In this context, a Croatian-Serbian summit has been announced with Tudjman visiting Belgrade and Milosevic coming to Zagreb.

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