Croatian President Ivo Josipovic delivered an unprecedented apology in Sarajevo on Tuesday for Zagreb’s devastating policies in the 1990s, and urged Bosnian and regional leaders to put the past behind them.
Josipovic apologised for Croatia's wartime policies, which he said have contributed to Bosnia's current ethnic fragmentation and political deadlock.
“(The creators of) the 1990s policies…. based on the idea that division is the solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina, have sown an evil seed here, but also in their own countries,” Josipovic said in his address to Bosnian lawmakers on Tuesday.
The newly elected Croatian president said that the misguided nations and individuals had “reaped the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands and the expulsion of millions of people, destroyed economies and families.”
“I am deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia has contributed to that with its policies in the 1990s. .. that the then Croatian policy has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today,” he added.
However, Josipovic urged Bosnian and regional leaders to put the past behind and work towards a shared, prosperous future in the European Union.
“A new time has come, a time which calls for a new policy… all of us – Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs and Europeans alike – must find strength to overcome suspicions and fears,” Josipovic said, adding that “chauvinist and extremist policies” must never again be allowed to triumph.
“Let me use this most distinguished podium… to call the representatives of all political parties [in Bosnia], the European Union, the United States and the international community in general, and our neighbour Serbia in particular… to bring our heads and hands together for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said.
As former Yugoslavia started falling apart in the 1990s, the then Serbian and Croatian leaders supported the secessionist aspirations of Bosnia’s Serb and Croat peoples with the idea to carve up their neighbour’s territory and share it between them.
As a result, the multiethnic Bosnia found itself engulfed in one of the most brutal conflicts in Europe since World War II, in which 100,000 people were killed and some 2 million forced out of their homes.
Relations between Zagreb and Sarajevo have been gradually improving since the death in 1999 of independent Croatia's first president, Franjo Tudjman. Despite the fact that there are still open issues between Sarajevo and Zagreb, Croatia is now widely perceived in Bosnia as a friendly country.
Other Croatian leaders have apologised to Bosnia for Zagreb's role in the Bosnian war, but Josipovic's speech today was truly unprecedented for a number of reasons, including the extent of responsibility he attributed to wartime Croatia.
On the second day of his first official visit to Bosnia after being elected president in January, Josipovic will make another highly symbolic move when he visits the village of Ahmici.
More than 100 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians – mostly women, children and old men - were brutally killed in the central Bosnian village on April 16, 1993 by Zagreb-backed Bosnian Croat forces.
Josipovic will be the first Croatian official to pay tribute to Bosniak victims of the Ahmici massacre.
“The past must not be forgotten, but we cannot live in it… in order to leave the old crimes in the past criminals must face justice and victims must be shown respect,” Josipovic told Bosnian lawmakers.
Josipovic will be accompanied during the visit to Ahmici by the leaders of Bosnia's Catholic Church and Islamic Community, Cardinal Vinko Puljic and Mufti Mustafa Ceric, respectively, as well as by a number of Bosnian political leaders.
After Ahmici, they are expected to pay a joint visit to the nearby village of Krizancevo Selo, where Bosniak troops killed scores of Bosnian Croat civilians in December 1993.
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