DAILY SURVEY 13.02.2018.
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ZAGREB, 12. February 2918 (Beta) - Relations between Croatia and Serbia can hardly be called friendly, but the two states have to talk about the future and open issues, the Croatian and Serbian presidents, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Aleksandar Vucic, said after a meeting in Zagreb, on Feb 12. They said at a joint press conference that they did not see eye to eye about many things from the wartime past, back in the 1990s, but had agreed at the meeting to suggest to their governments that in the next two years bilateral talks should continue on the controversial border along the Danube river, and if they fail to reach a consensus, an international court should be involved. The Croatian president said that "the burdensome past" was not the theme at the meeting. "It prevents us from calling the relationship a friendly one...but it is our duty, as elected representatives, to find common ground and a path to the future," Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said. "We had our differences, but some of our views have came closer, and some will in the coming months," the Croatian president said. She added that many issues burdening the bilateral relationship had been opened at the meeting, and that resolving them was a joint political and moral responsibility. Grabar-Kitarovic underlined that everything should be done for the problem of missing persons to be solved as soon as possible, adding that she had been encouraged by President Vucic's will and readiness to speak about this openly with representatives of Croatian associations, at a meeting next week. The talks also focused on the position of minorities, and the result is a decision to involve minority representatives in state committees, the Croatian president said, adding that Croatia insisted that Croats should have political representatives in the national and provincial assemblies. She reiterated that Croatia supported Serbia's accession to the EU. As for protests by Croatian war veterans and widows provoked by Vucic's visit, Grabar-Kitarovic said that it was a democratic right to protest, but that she did not support hate speech. "We must not allow individuals from the margins of the political spectrum to create politics," the Croatian president said, maintaining that most of Croatia's citizens supported Vucic's visit. President Vucic thanked his Croatian counterpart for, as he put it, her courage in inviting him to visit Croatia, adding that Serbia and Croatia would have to build a better relationship in the future. Vucic said he had come to Zagreb to discuss all open issues, which, he said, were many. "Whether the political systems in Serbia and Croatia want to or not, the two states will have to develop a better relationship," Vucic said. President Vucic said that the Serbian authorities will use the next 100 days to improve the atmosphere, and it will be the duty of all government officials not to offend not only Croatia, but any other state as well. The Serbian president said that he had shared information on three missing Craotian nationals, and that he had also brought with him birth, marriage and death records from Dvor na Uni, taken from Croatia during the war. He promised to meet with representatives of Croatia's missing persons associations next week, and to do everything possible to come closer to a solution to the matter. At a crowded press conference after the presidential meeting only four questions were allowed - two for Serbian media and two for Croatian journalists, and they were defined beforehand. The Pink TV and Studio B were the Serbian broadcasters permitted to ask questions. When asked about the extent of protests against his visit to Serbia, Vucic said he wasn't sure about it, but that he had seen the signs and read "something about an apology," and that some described him as a "Chetnik rookie." He also read the words, "Go home, punk!" The Serbian president said the protests didn't upset him, adding that Grabar-Kitarovic's welcome had been "a polite welcome." "I wasn't upset when people protested against me at home either," Vucic said, making clear that he wasn't "a Chetnik" at all, and that no one in his family ever had been. In response to a journalist's question about Bishop Alojzije Stepinac, the president said that Serbia and Croatia maintained different views about him, explaining that Stepinac was a painful subject for Serbia, as much as Jasenovac was, and that he'd rather not open it. As for the possibility that Croatia might block Serbia's EU accession over open border issues, Vucic said that his first intention was to develop bilateral relations for the sake of both states, not in order to open new chapters. He said he hoped there would be no such blockades, but that it was a question for Croatia. Vucic arrived on a visit to Croatia in the morning of Feb. 12. Two smaller rallies protesting his visit were held in central Zagreb. The first rally, held in the central square and organized by war veterans and widows, rallied some 200 people, while some 20 people attended a protest, organized by the far-right Autochthonous Croatian Party of Right. In the afternoon, the Serbian and Croatian presidents visited the Serbian Orthodox Church's Metropolitanate of Zagreb and Ljubljana, where they talked with Metropolitan Porfirije and young people. In the evening on Feb. 12, Vucic and Grаbаr Kitаrovic visited Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozаnic, who hailed "the courageous step" of the two presidents, in trying to improve bilateral relations between Croatia and Serbia. Vucic said that the Catholic Church in Croatia could help a great deal in bringing the two peoples and the two countries closer, adding that he hoped more attention would be paid in future, to things that connected the two countries, rather than to those that separated them, according to a statement from Vucic's office.


ZAGREB, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic wrote on his Twitter account on Feb. 12 that he and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had discussed open issues between the two countries, including war reparations. "I have discussed with the Serbian president all open issues between the two countries - the missing, the demarcation line, judicial cooperation, war reparations, the protection of minorities, succession and economic cooperation, the European context and relations in Southeastern Europe," Plenkovic wrote, along with a photo from the meeting with Vucic. Vucic also said that he and the Croatian prime minister had discussed all issues, including war reparations. Reporters used the moment when Vucic, accompanied by Plenkovic, was walking from the government building to the parliament building to ask him about war reparations. Vucic said that it was Plenkovic who had initiated the issue, but that he had a different stand, which he had presented to Plenkovic. Earlier on his Twitter account, Vucic wrote that the meeting with Plenkovic had focused on "issues of interest to both sides, minority rights and on how much has been done and how much could be done." On arriving at the Croatian government building, Vucic said that relations between the two countries and two peoples would be considerably improved and that "the Croatian government, along with everyone from Serbia, will make a full contribution to that important and positive process." In a meeting with Vucic, Plenkovic said it was necessary to restore talks on an agreement on reparations for all destroyed, damaged and missing property in the war in Croatia in the early '90s, according to a statement from the Croatian government, issued after the meeting. Plenkovic recalled that it was envisaged under Article 7 of the Agreement on normalization of relations from Aug. 23, 1996, the statement said. Agreement was also reached for an intergovernmental commission on the border, which stopped operating in 2011, to meet again in late March, according to the statement.


ZAGREB, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said at a Feb. 12 meeting with the Croatian assembly speaker, Gordan Jandrokovic, that the two states had had their share of unresolved issues in the past, which is why it was far more important to look to the future. The Serbian president suggested that any type of bilateral cooperation would reduce tensions, the Office of the Serbian President reported. "We will have more and more shared interests if we work together on the reconstruction of the Belgrade-Zagreb railway line, which can be exactly what it was some twenty years ago - the most important transportation route in the region," President Vucic said. Vucic also said that cooperation between the Serbian parliament and Croatia's Sabor was very important for Serbia, not only in terms of the EU integration, but in all other matters, as well. Vucic and Jandrokovic also discussed bilateral relations, the rights of Serbs in Croatia and the rights of Croats in Serbia, parliamentary cooperation, the situation in the region and strategically important migrations. The Serbian president said that the Serbian speaker, Maja Gojkovic, would invite her Croatian counterpart to visit Belgrade as soon as possible, an initiative Jandrokovic welcomed and accepted.


BELGRADE, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Feb. 12 that Serbia was extending its hand to Croatia, but it was not hearing a readiness for dialogue from the other side. "At this moment, there is no dialogue. I am not expecting particularly major results from President Aleksandar Vucic's visit to Zagreb, who, in spite of, what to me, was an unbelievable atmosphere in an EU member state, again extended his hand," Brnabic told reporters. She also said that Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin had only reacted to, she said, unbelievable statements by official Zagreb. "Serbia is eneavoring to be realistic and extending its hand to Croatia. No one has invested more in the Croat minority in Serbia than the Vucic government, but that seems to be unimportant," she said. Asked whether these statements had further inflamed ties with Zagreb, Vulin replied he did not know how he could have been responsible for something he had not initiated. "Serbia and President Vucic have in no way provoked the bad atmosphere in the relations with Zagreb. The Serbian government has not sparked any problem nor has it ever provoked any arguments. We have only commented on statements made by official Zagreb, sometimes possibly in a sharper manner," Vulin said.


ZAGREB, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Croatian and Serbian presidents, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Aleksandar Vucic, in Zagreb on Feb. 12 advocated stronger economic relations and cooperation and called on businesspeople to invest in the two countries. "The Croatian government and I wish to support the strengthening of economic relations between Croatia and Serbia," Grabar-Kitarovic said, addressing businesspeople at the Serbian-Croatian business forum at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. She called on Serbian businesspeople to "invest more in Croatia," expressing full support to investors from Serbia. She added that a better prospect for citizens of both countries would be created though the strengthening of economic cooperation. The Croatian president further said that there was much room to boost economic cooperation, particularly underlining the importance of the reconstruction of the Belgrade-Zagreb railway. Vucic thanked Grabar-Kitarovic on subsidies to Serbian businesspeople in Croatia, which he said, had not always been the case in the past. He also said Croatian businesspeople were welcome in Serbia. "I want to encourage Serbian businesspeople to go to Croatia, and as the president, I also believe that things are changing and I am convinced that Croatian policy will be more open," Vucic said, and encouraged Serbian businesspeople to apply for tenders in Croatia and fight for jobs.


ZAGREB, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - The reconstruction of the Belgrade-Zagreb railway was discussed by Serbian and Croatian infrastructure ministers, Zorana Mihajlovic and Oleg Butkovic, in Zagreb on Feb. 12. Mihajlovic, who accompanied President Aleksnadar Vucic on his visit to Zagreb, and Butkovic agreed to meet again in some ten days and sign a protocol of cooperation on the project, according to a news release from the Serbian ministry. Mihajlovic and Butkovic agreed to jointly seek funds from the EU for the reconstruction of the Belgrade-Zagreb railway. The 412-kilometer long stretch between Belgrade and Zagreb is a part of the Pan-European Corridor X. The works in Serbia should include the reconstruction of both tracks from Golubinci to Sid, that is, to the border with Croatia, and the modernization of the Ruma-Sid section. The works are worth EUR250 million.



BELGRADE, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said during a visit to Belgrade on Feb. 12 that no durable solution had been identified for Serbia's problem in "Kosovo", and that Belgrade and Pristina should reach a compromise that would take into account the needs of the Serbs in "Kosovo". "Nothing can work unilaterally," Strache said at a joint press conference, after a meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. The Austrian official said that his government recognized the independence of Kosovo as a new reality, but he said that it was also a fact that Serbia considers the territory to be part of Serbia, making a reference to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 in the context. Strache said that only 105 out of 193 U.N. member states recognized an independent Kosovo, and that it is very important that the two sides came to a joint solution. "As Austria's vice-chancellor I prefer not to interfere, but I do understand the Serbian side," he explained. Minister Dacic said that Serbia was grateful for Strache's point of view, and that no one should expect him to be more Serbian than a Serb.


BELGRADE, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said in Belgrade on Feb. 12 that the Serbian-Austrian friendship should further be deepened, adding that the Serbs living in Austria were an important element of Austrian society. Speaking at a joint news conference with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, Strache said that more than 260,000 people with largely Serb roots and holding Austrian citizenship lived in Austria. "The second largest group in Austria is the Serb Diaspora. The Serbs are not only a part of society, but also an important element of society," he said. Strache further said that he and Dacic had also discussed economic relations, stressing that Austrian companies had invested EUR2.3 billion in Serbia. "It is important for me to see the Serbian-Austrian friendship revived and deepened," he said. Strache also said that the meeting with Dacic had also touched on border protection, particularly in relation to the closing of the so-called Balkan route, noting that it was important that Austria "does not leave Serbia in the lurch."


BELGRADE, 12 February 2018 (Beta) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met on Feb. 12 with the Vice-Chancellor of Austria Heinz-Christian Strache to discuss bilateral relations and economic cooperation, the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation (RTS) reported. The two officials discussed Serbia's accession to the European Union and Austrian support in the process, specific opportunities to strengthen economic ties and regional security, the national broadcaster reported. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said at a meeting with Strache that she expected his country to continue to support Serbia's EU accession, while chairing the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018. Brnabic said that Serbia appreciated Austria's support to Serbia's integration into the Union, along with the view that the integration of the Western Balkans was one of Austria's foreign policy priorities, the Serbian government quoted the prime minister as saying. Strache said that Austria would continue to support the EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina, expecting constructive implementation of the Brussels agreement from both sides. Brnabic and Strache welcomed an initiative to set up cooperation between the Serbian National Public Administration Academy, which would be opened soon, and the Austrian Federal Public Administration Academy, in order to boost an exchange of opinions in the area of professional development, the government said in a press release.


BELGRADE, 12. February 2018 (Beta) - Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric met with the French ambassador to Serbia, Frederic Mondoloni, to brief him on the status of the Belgrade-Pristina talks. The Office quoted Djuric as saying that Belgrade had met nearly all the requirements as laid out during the talks, while almost five years after the agreement was signed, Pristina had yet to begin setting up the Community of Serbian Municipalities. Djuric insisted that the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija and the Serbian government were genuinely committed to stability in Kosovo and Metohija, and prepared to respond to any challenge in the dialogue. The Serbian official and the French ambassador agreed that there was a positive trend in bilateral relations, hoping that a great future lies ahead after the meeting between the French and Serbian presidents, Emmanuel Macron and Aleksandar Vucic.