News 09 Jan 15

Croatia Presidential Candidates Talk Tough on Serbia

Both candidates for the presidency took a tough stance on Serbia in a televised debate after an election campaign in which issues from the 1990s war were overshadowed by Croatia’s economic woes.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb

 

Ivo Josipovic, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Photos: Beta

Incumbent president Ivo Josipovic, who is supported by centre-left government parties, and his challenger Kolida Grabar Kitarovic, the candidate of the centre-right opposition Croatian Democratic Union, both had words of warning for EU hopeful Serbia during the debate on Nova TV on Thursday evening.

The debate saw sharp exchanges over the legacy of the 1991-95 war after an election campaign that was dominated by economic issues.

When asked if she would block Serbia’s EU accession talks if Belgrade fails to deal with its wartime past, Grabar Kitarovic responded that she “would condition Serbia with giving information about missing persons” from the 1990s conflict.

Many in Croatia believe that former Yugoslav People’s Army officials and intelligence agencies in Belgrade have information about where Croats killed during wartime are buried.

Grabar Kitarovic also said that she would insist that Serbia treats its Croat minority in the same way that Serbs are treated in Croatia.

“I advocate the rights of minorities in Croatia and I will ask the same from Serbia, which doesn’t respect them at the moment,” she said.

Josipovic said that he would not block Belgrade’s accession talks, but insisted that Serbia must go through the same process as Croatia did to join the EU.

“None of our neighbours can enter the EU if they do not take the same path that we did,” he said.

Both candidates have spoken in similar terms during the campaign about the foundation of independent Croatia, but during the debate, Grabar Kitarovic accused Josipovic of cooperating with the NGO Documenta, alleging that it was trying to prove that the conflict in Croatia was a civil war, not the result of aggression from Belgrade.

The issue of war veterans has remained a constant theme during the campaign because a group of disabled ex-servicemen from the 1990s war have been protesting non-stop for almost three months in front of the war veterans’ ministry, demanding the removal of minister Predrag Matic.

Until Thursday, both Josipovic and Grabar Kitarovic voiced support for the veterans.

But during the TV debate, Josipovic accused the Croatian Democratic Union of being one of the organisers of the protest, along with Josip Klemm, who runs a security company that employs war veterans and is alleged to be one of Grabar Kitarovic’s supporters.

“The main organiser is the man who employs veterans and keeps them on the minimum wage,” he alleged.

 

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