Serbia and Montenegro/Croatia

The Hardest Words

More than 12 years after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and a series of Balkan wars, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro have moved toward reconciliation as the countries’ respective presidents, Stipe Mesic and Svetozar Marovic, expressed remorse during a meeting in Belgrade on Sept. 10.

“As president of Serbia-Montenegro, I want to apologize for all the evils any citizen of Serbia-Montenegro has committed against any citizen of Croatia,” Marovic said during Mesic’s visit to Belgrade, the first by a Croatian president since the country became independent in 1991. In response, Mesic said: “In my name, I also apologize to all those who have suffered pain or harm at any time from citizens of Croatia who misused or acted against the law.”

Because Serbia and Croatia were key actors in the Balkan wars, their reconciliation may have a healing effect on the entire fragile region. “The mutual apology is a good sign that fresh pro-European winds have started to blow stronger in the Balkans, enabling the bitter word to be said,” the Serbian paper Politika said in an editorial (Sept. 12). Danas echoed these sentiments in a commentary the same day: “Nobody has dared so far to say the bitter and rare word, even though it can’t harm the nation politically or in any other sense. On the contrary, it says a lot about the conscience of the one who apologizes: that the time has come to move on, gain trust, and switch from the position of the condemned to one of equal interlocutor. For the sake of the present and future, and to ‘get in step’ with the world, we need that position so much.”

Croatian newspapers, too, saw the move as an important advance. “Croatia has waited for the apology from Belgrade for a long time. It came at a moment when cooperation with Serbia has increasingly been accepted as a normal state of affairs,” Jelena Lovric commented in Novi List (Sept. 11). “The majority in Croatia did not consider an apology from its side necessary, but Mesic, fortunately, was brave enough for such a courageous, necessary, and fair step.”
Lovric added: “By no means do mutual apologies indicate shared responsibility for events in the past war; rather they mean that both sides accept the indisputable fact that in the past there were events they should be ashamed of and regret.”

Bruno Lopandic wrote in Vjesnik (Sept. 12): “Although it will never have the force of [former German Chancellor] Willy Brandt’s kneeling in the former Warsaw ghetto, Marovic’s act is really important for the entire region.” Tomislav Klauski of Slobodna Dalmacija commented (Sept. 12): “In the relations of Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro there is no more a difficult burden of the past; the two countries can finally turn to the future.” The apology is but a first step toward normalization between former bitter enemies.