Vol. 1, No. 184, 22 December 1997
POLES, CZECHS TO REBUFF CRITICISM ON JOINING
NATO. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and Czech
Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy said in Warsaw on 21
December that both their countries and Hungary will respond
as one to any criticism of their plans to joint NATO, PAP
reported. They also said that they and the Hungarian foreign
minister will visit Washington on 9 February to press for
American ratification of their joining the Western alliance.
ROMANIA, HUNGARY SIGN MILITARY ACCORD.
Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc and his Hungarian
counterpart Gyorgy Keleti signed a military agreement on 20
December in Oradea. The accord provides for transporting
troops and military equipment across their two countries and
regulates the responsibilities of the armies in case of conflict
or natural disasters. The ministers also pledged to sign further
agreements on air defense and exchanging military archives
and to create a joint peacekeeping battalion in February 1998 .
The battalion will be composed of 100 soldiers from each side,
with alternating command. FS
CROATIAN LAWS LEAD TO INTERNATIONAL ROW OVER
by Patrick Moore
The Croatian constitution no longer names Slovenes and
Muslims as recognized ethnic minorities. The reason for the
change and its practical consequences for the two minorities is
unclear. What is certain, however, is that Zagreb's sudden
move has already provoked strong negative reactions in both
Ljubljana and Sarajevo.
On 3 November, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman
proposed a series of amendments to the constitution.
International media attention focused on an amendment to
prohibit Croatian participation in any future Balkan regional
grouping or new Yugoslavia, but he made other proposals as
One of those proposals was to drop references to any
specific ethnic minorities from the constitution, which dates
from December 1990. That text referred to "Serbs, Muslims,
Slovenes, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, and
others." Tudjman's proposal would have left references
minorities in general terms. But when the parliament passed
the amendments on December 12, it listed the minorities as:
"Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans,
Austrians, Ukrainians, and Ruthenes."
It remains unclear why the parliament decided to
change Tudjman's proposal and why it chose to list the
particular ethnic groups that it did. After all, official figures
show that Muslims and Slovenes are the second and third
largest minorities, after the Serbs. Croatia has some 23,000
Slovenes, while the numbers of Austrians or Germans number
in the hundreds.
It is also unclear as to what the practical consequences
of the changes might be in terms of the day- to-day life of
average Slovenes and Muslims. Croatian government officials
downplayed the significance of the list in the constitution and
stressed that the document and international agreements
signed by Croatia protect the rights of all ethnic groups in the
country, regardless of whether they are mentioned by name.
Zagreb even offered to sign a special treaty on minorities with
But the omission of their ethnic groups and the inclusion
of some relatively tiny communities has nonetheless aroused
Slovenian and Muslim suspicions about Croatian intentions.
Part of the reason for this is the constitutional heritage of
Tito's Yugoslavia, where the legal status of each ethnic
community was taken very seriously. Before the breakup of
that state in 1991, federal law clearly set down a pecking
order among the numerous ethnic communities,. They were
divided into three categories in order of political importance:
nations, nationalities, and ethnic groups. If a group was moved
from one of these three categories to another, it was an event
of major political significance.
Being used to this political tradition, the Slovenes and
Muslims could hardly be indifferent to the changes in the
Croatian constitution. The Slovenes were the first to register
their surprise and disapproval. On the day the Croatian
parliament approved the amendments, Slovenian Prime
Minister Janez Drnovsek was in Zagreb with a high-powered
delegation to sign a series of economic agreements. One of
them was designed to help pave the way for Croatia to join the
Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA), of which
Slovenia is already a member.
Slovenia has had much more success than Croatia in
becoming integrated in European structures and was prepared
to help Croatia join CEFTA, but now this is in doubt. On the day
that the Croats passed the constitutional amendments,
Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister Marjan Podobnik in
Ljubljana called the exclusion of the Slovenian minority
"unexpected and disturbing." Podobnik said that Zagreb's move
will prompt Ljubljana to reconsider its support for Croatian
membership in European bodies.
Upon returning home, Drnovsek echoed those
sentiments. Slovenian press commentators called the Croatian
move "Balkan," which in Slovenia is an epithet used against
the country's former fellow Yugoslav republics. And the
National Party's Zmago Jelincic suggested that Slovenia
downgrade the legal status of two of its border crossings with
Croatia so as to bar them to international traffic and thereby
hurt Croatia's tourist industry.
Should Slovenia take any concrete steps to show its
displeasure with the Croatian amendments, its actions would
further complicate a relationship that is already burdened by
a series of disputes stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia.
The points of contention involve bank deposits, property
rights, the Krsko nuclear power plant, and access to the sea.
In Sarajevo, surprise and bitterness were likewise the
universal reactions to the Croatian amendments. Alija
Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint presidency, said
that Croatia's move is at odds with the Dayton peace
agreement on Bosnia and with a host of European agreements
on minority rights that Croatia has signed.
A spokesman for the non-nationalist Social Democrats,
told RFE/RL that the Croatian move "was no accident." He
charged that it was an attempt by Croatian nationalists to
deny that the Muslims are a distinct people separate from the
Croats. He also claimed that the Croats' goal is to undermine
the Muslim-Croatian federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a
state of two equal partners.
Clearly, the Croatian amendments have already further
strained Zagreb's uneasy relations with Ljubljana and
Sarajevo. On 18 December, both the Slovenian and Bosnian
ambassadors stayed away from the official festivities in
Zagreb to honor the anniversary of the constitution.
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