European Western Balkans

Blocking Montenegro’s EU accession over Jasenovac resolution by Croatia would be destructive

President of Montenegro Jakov Milatović and Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković; Photo: Presidency of Montenegro

A few days after receiving a positive IBAR, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted a Resolution on Genocide in Jasenovac, Dachau and Mauthausen camp systems. Although the resolution has shaken relations between Zagreb and Podgorica, EWB interlocutors doubt that Croatia will block Montenegro’s further progress towards the EU.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry immediately responded after the adoption of the resolution, stating that Croatia considers it unacceptable, inappropriate, and unnecessary. It is emphasised that the intention behind the resolution is not to build a culture of remembrance and reconciliation, but to instrumentalise the memory of the victims of Jasenovac for the short-term political goals of the initiators of this resolution.

On Monday, the special advisor to the Croatian Foreign Minister, Vanda Babić Galić, stated that Croatia will respond to Montenegro, but did not specify how, or whether Croatia will block Montenegro’s path to the European Union.

Florian Bieber, Coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and Professor at the University of Graz, says that it would be foolish for Croatia to block Montenegro because this resolution is obviously a bait to create tensions with Croatia.

“If Croatia would overreact, it is taking the bait. While I doubt that there is much support for such a resolution in the EU now (not because of the content so much as the timing), it would be destructive to block Montenegro now, when it is the only country with any realistic prospect of advancing towards the EU”, says Bieber

Senada Šelo Šabić, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Development and International Relations, explains that Croatia, as an EU member state, has all the mechanisms of any other member state to block Montenegro’s path to the EU.

“The current approach and enlargement methodology allow each member state to block any candidate country over any issue that the member state considers important”, she adds.

However, she says that she would be surprised if Croatia decided to take such a step.

“I don’t know what the government will do, but I think it would be a completely wrong move because Croatia advocates for EU enlargement, the policy of good neighbourly relations and strengthening pro-European and democratic forces in the neighbouring countries. In this sense, a Croatia blockade of Montenegro would actually be a message to those who do not believe in the European future of the region”, Šelo Šabić assess.

Resolution on Jasenovac response to the UN resolution on Srebrenica

A few hours after Prime Minister Milojko Spajić announced that Montenegro would support the UN resolution on the Srebrenica genocide in May, it was announced that a resolution on Jasenovac would be put on the parliamentary agenda.

The resolution was proposed by Andrija Mandić, the Assembly Speaker and leader of the New Serbian Democracy party. It was a condition set by the pro-Serbian party of the ruling coalition, which is seen as close to President Aleksandar Vučić, for further support of the Government in Parliament.

“Officially, it is about the commemoration next year, the 80th anniversiary. However, it clear has two other intentions that might be more important”, assess Florian Bieber.

First, he says, it is about ‘balancing’ the UN resolution on Srebrinca, suggesting that the crimes of the 1990s and those during World War Two have to be understood together.

“This is a dangerous conflation of historical events. The genocide during World War Two and that in the 1990s are both historical facts that should be acknowledged, but not seen as a ‘memory wars’”, Bieber says.

Secondly, according to Bieber, the timing of the resolution just after the positive IBAR for Montenegro seems to be intended to throw a deliberate spanner into the EU integration process by anti-EU forces in Montenegro.

“By deliberately provoking Croatia, it hopes to undermine Montenegrin’s EU progress”, he concludes.

Šelo Šabić agrees that the entire debate about the resolution on Jasenovac is primarily motivated by Montenegro’s support for the resolution on the Srebrenica in the UN Generally Assembly.

“I believe that Croatia understands that the entire debate about the resolution was primarily motivated by the UN resolution on the Srebrenica genocide. Croatia commemorates Jasenovac as a place of suffering and death, a concentration camp, and a place of killing. This is not something that Croatia officially disputed, although there are some right-wing voices, but that is not the official narrative”, says Šelo Šabić.

She adds that is not in the interest of Croatia, nor of the EU and pro-European and democratic forces in the region if the Resolution on Jasenovac blocks Montenegro.

Reactions of the EU and Croatia sparked a fear of a blockade

Immediately after the resolution was adopted in the Montenegrin parliament last Friday, there were sharp reactions from the Croatian leadership and messages that that country could, as a member of the EU, block Montenegro’s accession negotiations.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said that Croatia will take the measures it considers appropriate for such moves of “instrumentalization of the parliamentary majority” with the aim of disrupting relations with Zagreb and Podgorica.

“The resolution on Jasenovac… sends a deliberate policy of division within that country and is about the instrumentalization of “another country in the region”, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said”.

Montenegrin media reported last week the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, postponed his visit to Podgorica due to the adoption Resolution on Jasenovac. Instead of coming to Montenegro, Michel met with President Milatović in Brussels.

“President Michel has postponed his scheduled visit to Montenegro on July 2 and 3 to a later date to ensure successful discussions with key interlocutors in the country, which should not be overshadowed by the most recent developments,” the European Council responded to EWB.

According to Montenegrin media, the EU’s dissatisfaction with the adoption of the resolution is shown by the fact that the part about Montenegro was removed from the Declaration of the European Council

In the draft of the text, which was prepared on June 25, it was written that “the European Council welcomes the latest intergovernmental conference with Montenegro and highlights the progress that Montenegro has made in the accession process.”

The Croatian Jutarnji list reported that the deletion of the paragraph on Montenegro from the declaration, even though it was foreseen, and the cancellation of the visit of the President of the European Council Charles Michel Podgorica – two visible acts by which the EU sent a message that it will not go lightly over the adoption of the Resolution on Jasenovac, Mauthausen and Dachau.

In its reaction to the resolution, the European Commission stated that overcoming the difficult legacy of the past and promoting sincere reconciliation should be a joint effort.

“We are aware that the Parliament of Montenegro adopted the Resolution (on the genocide in Jasenovac, Mauthausen and Dachau) on June 28… We remind you that good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation are essential parts of the enlargement process,” EC Spokesperson Ana Pisonero told Vijesti.

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