The Croatian president, Ivo Josipovic, and the former Serbian president, Boris Tadic, have warned of a worsening political situation in the region after receiving a European medal for tolerance.
Josipovic and Tadic were given the award for “promoting truth, tolerance and reconciliation“ between Croatia and Serbia by the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, ECTR, a Paris based NGO dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation in Europe.
The ceremony was held on Tuesday evening in Brussels at the European Parliament (EP) building and the EP speaker Martin Shulz gave the medal to the two politicians in the presence of ECTR leaders and members.
The ECTR membership includes prominent scientists, politicians, artists and activists. The NGO is co-chaired by the former Polish president Alexander Kwasniewsky, and the president of the European Jewish congress Moshe Kantor.
In his letter to Josipovic and Tadic, Kwasniewsky wrote that the two politicians had each expressed “public recognition and condolences for the suffering caused by the misdeeds committed by the citizens of your states“.
Expressing his “honour and pride“ at being given the award, President Josipovic said that he and Tadic “had the responsibility to offer our citizens the chance of replacing the burden of war and conflict with cooperation and partnership“.
But Josipovic also warned that there were “signs of stagnation in the region“.
“There are politicians who deny the crimes, even the worst one, the genocide in Srebrenica,“ said Josipovic, referring to recent statements by the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic, who recently reiterated his position that Srebrenica is not genocide in an interview for an Italian newspapers.
Josipovic appealed to his “colleagues from the EU and from the region to engage seriously and responsibly with the European future of southeast Europe“.
The former Serbian president, Boris Tadic, said that he and Josipovic “shared an understanding that was not typical for relations in the region“.
During his presidential mandate, Tadic said, he supported reconciliation, thus “enhancing his opponent's chances of winning the elections“.
Before the ceremony, Tadic told the Serbian media that the “latest statements by Serbian state officials,“ were dangerous to the interests of Serbian citizens“.
He appealed to Serbian officials to “stop making irresponsible statements“, the Serbian media reported.
“We have had a series of such statements during the past few months, starting with relativisation of crimes in Srebrenica and Vukovar, up to the last incomprehensible ones, which attempt to smear the greatest nations in Europe,“ said Tadic, referring to statements by Serbia’s President Nikolic and the Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic.
Commenting on the award, political analysts from both Serbia and Croatia agreed that Boris Tadic represented a non-nationalist Serbia while he served as the Serbian president.
Referencing Tadic's apology in Vukovar for the crimes there, and the resolution condemning the crimes in Srebrenica, which was passed by the Serbian parliament during his mandate, the president of the Helsinki Committee Serbia, Sonja Biserko, said that “Tadic managed to develop cordial personal relations with everybody in the region, especially with President Josipovic“.
“The EU recognised that as a step towards normalisation in the region. But the new authorities in Serbia have gone back on that little step and taken everything back to square one,“ Biserko said in an interview.
The Zagreb based political analyst, Zarko Puhovski, commented for Radio Free Europe that Tadic is regionally known as a “politician not burdened with Milosevic, chetniks and war, one who is capable of communicating with leading European politicians“.
“Those who came after him do not have any of that“, Puhovski said.
“They were elected by those who are tied to traditional, patriarchal, even nationalist opinions on one side, and on the other by those who advocate that renowned idea 'the worse, the better'“, Puhovski added, referring to a group of Serbian intellectuals who claimed before the elections that it would be better to elect Nikolic, because Tadic had failed to carry out necessary reforms.