Against all expectations, there are not two, but three countries that could enter the EU in 2007. Along with Bulgaria and Romania, Croatia now holds a card to ‘fast-track’ membership. Last April the European Commission gave the green light to opening negotiations when it expressed a favourable, unconditional view that was ratified during the Brussels summit of 17th and 18th June. It’s now time to face up to the various challenges.
Croatia, a patchwork of many different influences, is a country with a rich and varied history. The Greeks, Romans and even the Venetians have all coveted its islands and, since the end of the war, European tourists have been coming in their droves to wander the streets of ancient Raguse and beautiful Dubrovnik, described as “heaven on earth” by George Bernard Shaw.
With the torments of war firmly in the past, Croatia, a sovereign state since 1991, hopes to re-establish links with the European Continent. The death of Franco Tudjmann in 1999 allowed Croatia to make the definitive move towards the future under the presidency of Stipe Mesic, a former Communist who has turned towards social democracy, and under the centre-left government of Ivica Racan. Since then, democratic shifts have handed power to the nationalists of the Democratic Union (HDZ) under the government of Ivo Sanadar. Rather than bringing the question of EU membership back into play, Sanadar has concentrated his efforts on The International Criminal Court for former Yugoslavia (ICC), sending eight suspects to the Hague. This stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, Racan, who didn’t send any.
However, this is more the result of signing the stabilisation and association agreement in October 2001 and of conforming to European criteria. Negotiations being officially opened came as a great relief to those Croats who feared that their actions would be wrongly interpreted by the ICC. General Gotovina has been on the run since 2001, when he was accused of the massacre of 150 Serbo-Croats by the ICC, a matter that could have proved problematic for opening negotiations with the European Union. But, in April 2004 Carla del Ponte affirmed that “Croatia is co-operating fully with the ICC. Croatia must continue to do this and also take the necessary measures so that the accused can be apprehended and handed over”.
The Enlargement DG has also written a positive report, stating that Croatia has met the political criteria and can be considered as a functional market economy. The report highlights the fact that there have been no major problems concerning the respect of basic rights, but that Croatia needs to make further efforts in the areas of the rights of minorities, the return of refugees and the reform of the legal system, as well as the fight against corruption.
The rights of minorities and the return of property
Certain problems remain, particularly concerning the right of minorities and the right of Serbo-Croats to return. Even though the Racan government passed a law for minorities guaranteeing them better representation in Parliament, it’s still not a reality. As well as this, the French newsmagazine, l’Express reports that a type of apartheid is still to be found in Zagreb, where school pupils still call each other “Czechies” or “Serbos”. In primary school, children are separated according to their ethnicity – Croats or Serbs. These ethnic tensions were also mentioned in a report by Amnesty International in May last year, which highlighted “the lack of desire on the part of the authorities to quickly and fully investigate violent attacks by stateless people on citizens that have returned to Croatia and on members of ethnic minorities”. Finally, there is the problem of returning property. Only one third of the 300,000 Serbian population has returned but they are still experiencing difficulties in having their property returned, having their houses rebuilt and in getting their identity papers validated.
By committing itself to a 2007 target, Croatia is setting its sights high. In order to avoid disappointing its people when a report on the accession date comes out, Croatian politicians now have to concentrate on coming to terms with the past and understanding the regional issues at stake in the Balkans, and to focus on continuing along the route to European integration.