Croatian officials reacted with a mix of shock and irony to the statements by the new Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic that Vukovar is "a Serbian town" and that a "greater Serbia" was his "unrealised dream".
In an interview with German daily “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, FAZ, which was done before the second round of the presidential elections in Serbia, Nikolic said that a "greater Serbia was his unrealised dream" and that "Vukovar was a Serbian town in which Croats should not return".
"If Mr Nikolic's statement means a return to the ideas of the nineties, I can say in the name of all Croatian citizens that those ideas will not be realised," said the Croatian President, Ivo Josipovic.
Reminding that Croatia "knew how to defend its sovereignty", Josipovic added that "it will know how to defend it today".
The cooperation between Serbia and Croatia "would be possible under the condition that Nikolic changes his attitude," Josipovic said.
Croatian Foreign minister Vesna Pusic said that Nikolic's statements are "shocking and absolutely unacceptable for Croatia".
"If Croatia and Serbia want to do good for their citizens, they have to be able to cooperate. But for that, willingness from both sides is necessary," Pusic said.
Croatia's war veteran minister Predrag Matic, who fought in Vukovar and then spent nine months in three prisons in Serbia, took a more ironic attitude.
"I agree with Nikolic that there are some dreams which will never come true. I also dreamt about Claudia Schiffer, but I realised that those dreams would not come to pass, " said Matic.
The mayor of Vukovar, Zeljko Sabo, is also a war veteran who fought in Vukovar and was a prisoner in Serbia for nine months.
"Vukovar is a multiethnic city, with 32 percent of Serb population. It is a peaceful and tolerant city and we will do everything to let it stay that way", Sabo said when asked to comment Nikolic's statement that Vukovar is a "Serbian town".
The newly elected president of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko, said that that the HDZ “will have an answer to every such statement from Nikolic".
"He will have to wash himself thoroughly from his Chetnik past if he wants to prove his European credentials," Karamarko said.
Nikolic's party, the Serbian Progressive party, SNS, denied on Friday that Nikolic ever said that "Vukovar is a Serbian town and that Croats should not return there".
Tomislav Nikolic wants "the best possible relations with neighbouring countries", an SNS official, Marko Djuric, said on Sunday.
Michael Martens, the FAZ journalist who interviewed Nikolic, confirmed for the Croatian television, HRT, the authenticity of Nikolic's statements.
"Audio recording of the interview exists, if there are any doubts," said Martens, adding that Nikolic said there was no need to authorise the interview.
In the interview with FAZ, Nikolic said that "greater Serbia" was his "unrealised dream".
"There are dreams a man can not fulfil. Croatia is an internationally recognised state, Croatian borders are on the Danube and there will be no changes of the borders. The same applies to Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
“My dreams, from the time when Yugoslavia collapsed and decisions were made about who would live where, unfortunately were not realised. And, as things stand, they will never be realised," said Nikolic.
Asked by the journalist to comment why there are more Serbs than Croats living in Vukovar today, Nikolic answered that is because "Vukovar was a Serbian town", and therefore "Croats should not return there".