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Trilateral Balkan Summit Held in Croatia
The presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina met for a trilateral summit in the Brijuni islands in Croatia on July 18, 2011. A joint statement released at the end of the meeting says the sides will uphold the process of peace-making and work towards finding a solution to the existing problems. It says further that mutual support both political and technical will be lent during the EU membership process and joint infra-structure projects will be developed for the welfare of the region. It was also agreed at the tri-partite summit that meetings of this kind should be repeated at least once a year.
The wars which tore apart the region in the 1990s after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia completely separated the paths of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. These different paths later started to cross one another both reluctantly and willingly. The why of the matter lay in the fact that these countries, all EU-aspirants, were obligated to proceed to regional cooperation. It was on July 15, 2002 that the presidents of the three countries met for the first time in Sarajevo after the war, which was qualified by many media organs as a historic summit. However, the heritage bequeathed from the war years always lurked behind as a serious barrier obstructing normalization of relations. Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be said to have been wary of a swift rapprochement for fear of being the target of withering criticism by the nationalist opposition.
The Presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina continued meeting on various occasions after their first meeting in 2002. What could be seen is that at least two of the mentioned presidents have met with short intervals in the last two years. For example, Serbian President Boris Tadic and Croatian President Ivo Josipovic met three times in the last 18 months. And Tadic met the members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency three times in the last four months. However, no solid steps have been taken at these meetings to translate what has been pledged into life. So, what happened was that the leaders, without bothering to assess if any progress was made as to the results of the previous meetings, came up with a redundant discourse, telling their peoples what they had already spoken of. The meeting in Brijuni was no different from the others in that respect.
It is apparent that the joint statement released at the end of the trilateral meeting in Brijuni contains nothing which we can say is new or exciting. The pledge of developing regional cooperation in the EU accession process is a matter being harped on for many years. The pledges to resolve the issues of immigrants and missing persons, border disputes, problems relating to property and many other thorny matters which emerged after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia are pretty old. Promoting regional development through joint infra-structure projects is also an old story but concrete steps in that regard are being taken too slowly.
An important subject on whom the sides reached agreement at the Brijuni meeting was about developing cooperation in security and the judiciary. There is an absolute need for judicial cooperation in order to review the international arrest warrants issued for the nationals of the three countries on controversial and disputable war crime charges.
The biggest challenge to the future of relations among Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina has to do with the problems in Bosnia. The favorable developments in Serbia and Croatia in the last 11 years toward democratization have not made an impact on the integration of the Bosnia and Herzegovina community. Great responsibilities fall upon both Serbia and Croatia for Bosnia and Herzegovina to turn into a functional state.
Aware of the fact that the developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina can have effects spreading to the entire region, Turkey has taken some steps in the last two years to make for rapprochement between Sarajevo and its neighbors and render Bosnia and Herzegovina more stable. The foundations of the Trilateral Balkan Summit which brought together the Presidents of Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were laid in this context. It was as if Croatia replaced role of Turkey at the trilateral summit in Brijuni. Croatia, having wrapped up its membership negotiations with the EU in June 2011, has started considering itself as an actor with a bigger role in the region and will undoubtedly launch more active initiatives from now on.