Minister Mrkic’s interview for "Politika"
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Ivan MrkicOf Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic's visit to Serbia we expect, first and foremost, to reaffirm what had already been discussed in the meetings that I had with Minister Vesna Pusic. In those meetings we agreed to develop what we share in common and not to be burdened by issues related to the past (which we naturally don't overlook because that is simply not possible) and not to be blocked by them to such an extent that we are unable to talk about the present and the future, says Mr. Ivan Mrkic, Head of Serbian diplomacy explaining in his interview with "Politika" how today's Belgrade meeting of Serbian and Croatian Prime Ministers was arranged.

As pointed out by him, aside from a couple of telephone conversations with his Croatian colleague Pusic, he met with her on several occasions, the first time in New York and the last time in Dublin. These were all one-on-one meetings, but there were also enlarged meetings of the two delegations.

– We have chosen non-controversial issues that can teach us how to have a good cooperation and that can prove by their results that Croatia and Serbia are capable of developing more normal relations and of cooperating, stresses Minister Mrkic.

And can you tell us which issues will be discussed in the Dacic-Milanovic meeting?

One such issue is European integration. At this stage we are going to agree with them in detail how they can be of greater assistance to us because they have already been through what is now ahead of us. With my colleague Vesna I have also agreed to recommend to the European Union our joint projects on cross-border or trans-border cooperation. We are hopeful that if projects like these were to be adopted, such cooperation would bring benefits in everyday life.

And what can you tell us about the demarcation with Croatia?

True, there is no demarcation between the two countries, although we are working on it. If we have not defined our borders with them at every point, it doesn't mean that our mutual relations are very bad, indeed. Some things take time, and they are not so hotly disputed. Things are not like that. We differ in our approach, but both sides shall make an effort to overcome these differences. This is what we have already agreed upon. And the two Prime Ministers are going to talk about all these matters. They will, of course, also broach the issues from the past like the missing persons...

Will the property of Serbs in Croatia also be on their agenda?

Of course, it'll be on because we have various objections in that respect. But, naturally, we are going to hold discussions and if we have a sufficiently solid footing, then we will surely agree on a summit meeting or a meeting of the two Heads of State, as well.

Who initiated your meetings with Minister Pusic? Croatian analysts say that this visit comes at a time which is more to Serbia's advantage.

I feel that the sequence of steps taken in this context is completely of no relevance. Both sides were desirous of arranging such a meeting. Each time I met with Minister Pusic I mentioned that my Prime Minister was ready for the meeting, that he had no problem meeting Prime Minister Milanovic, and that the two of us, Vesna and myself, were to create something that could simply serve as a basis for the meeting at that level. And then Vesna and I did success in creating this basis. I cannot say now who initiated it, Croatian or our side. It was a joint initiative. That would be most truthful to say.

Was it difficult to organize this meeting? There was actually talk of likelihood of it not taking place before the spring, and then, all of a sudden, there was news that Milanovic would visit, after all?

Not, at all. Like there were, previously, no problems for Minister Pusic and I to meet, we only agreed on the exact time, 11.00 AM or 11.30 AM, whichever was more convenient to both PMs, or things like that. As a matter of fact, there were no tough ''political'' discussions.

It is true, as claimed by some analysts, that Brussels played a key role in organizing this meeting?

Frankly, Brussels could not have played a key role. There is absolutely no way that Brussels can have a say on how we shall behave in our relations with the neighbours. In principle, Brussels always favours that we develop regional cooperation and good-neighbourly relations. But Brussels doesn't shape the sequence of steps to be taken for us. Every time I go to Brussels and meet with some EU high-ranking officials, they enquire, almost with no exception, about the quality of our cooperation in the region. The truth is that they wish us to have a good cooperation, and that they encourage us to do so on each occasion. That is the truth of the matter, but they do not make arrangements for our neighbourly relations. That is untrue.

It is stated that Mr. Milanovic will only meet Prime Minister Ivica Dacic. Why hasn't his meeting with Serbian President Nikolic been arranged, either?

Frankly speaking, since there is a relationship that is not helped by the media, either, Vesna and I agreed to arrange things that are normal and sound, and then when there is an outcome, a step forward in any sense can be made. But let's go one step at a time...

So, no explicit requests have been made to avoid a meeting with President Nikolic?

No. My agreement with Vesna Pusic was, pure and simple, this: Let's the two of us first meet from time to time, organize some groups, if possible (which we did regarding European integration and cross-border projects), and once we achieve something in these areas, then we will suggest that the two PMs meet up. And this is the phase we are in now. If the PMs made another step forward, only then will we go to the highest level. This means that it is not true that President Nikolic refused to meet Prime Minister Milanovic, nor is it true that Mr. Milanovic said: "I won't go to see Nikolic", but that we are respecting the agreement we have reached that everything is done with a reason and that formal occasions are not more important to us than the work at hand.

Now that you are talking about a very positive experience, what is the reason for relations between the two countries to be like "in an ice age", as Prime Minister Dacic put it?

I believe that the Prime Minister rather had in mind an atmosphere created in the media and in public. They could not be like in an ice age because I met with Vesna and was in contact with her on several occasions over a period of less than six months. What the Prime Minister actually had in mind were the impressions created in public that the atmosphere was bad and that some ugly stuff, such as the so-called Hague Tribunal judgments, had been put in the foreground. Normally, the judgments had outraged us, but we know that they had been handed down in The Hague and not in Zagreb. Otherwise, our inter-state contacts have been continuous and uninterrupted.
Tags: Ivan Mrkic