How Will Border Scandal with Slovenia Affect Other Croatia’s Border Disputes?

Total Croatia News

Croatia has more than one border dispute. How could the others be affected by ‘Pirangate’?

At one point, towards the end of the last decade, you could get the impression that, after so much pain and countless diplomatic bickering, finally a magic wand had been found that will resolve border disputes that Croatia has with all its neighbours except Hungary. Not just the dispute over the Bay of Piran, but also the Croatian border disputes with Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, writes Denis Romac in Novi List.

That magic wand was arbitration. After Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor signed the arbitration agreement between Croatia and Slovenia in Stockholm in 2009, the region was gripped by arbitration euphoria. Immediately after that diplomatic “success”, Slovenian Prime Minister and his then Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor launched a regional diplomatic initiative Brdo Process, gathering all the post-Yugoslav republics and Albania, offering them the Croatian-Slovenian border arbitration agreement as a kind of model for resolving bilateral issues in the region.

The arbitration agreement, even while it was celebrated as magnificent political and legal tool to resolve border disputes, was far from perfect. The agreement was, in fact, the result of political blackmail, because Slovenia had openly abused its EU membership to achieve a solution for the border problem on its own terms. The arbitration agreement ultimately failed because of the incredible “Balkanism” of Slovenian arbitrators, who were caught cheating, which is probably the result of psychosis and incredible pressure that was created in Slovenia over the issue, which has been declared an issue of utmost national interest and of vital importance.

The scandal that destroyed arbitration with Slovenia will eliminate arbitration as a model to solve border disputes with other neighbouring countries. If arbitration with Slovenia succeeded, the situation would probably be radically different and the political elites in Croatia and other neighbouring countries would easily accept this model as a desirable tool to untangle border issues.

It is interesting, however, that the Croatian side even before the collapse of arbitration with Slovenia indicated that it did not accept arbitration as a way of resolving outstanding border issues with its neighbours. Croatian ambassador to Montenegro in May rejected international arbitration as a model for resolving the border dispute because of its high costs. He instead mentioned the International Court of Justice as an appropriate institution to resolve the dispute.

As far as the border issue with Serbia is concerned, the Serbian Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Given the fact that we still believe that the two sides can bilaterally come to a mutually acceptable solution, we think that it is too early to talk about the arbitration agreement.” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić recently complained that Croatia cannot resolve its border disputes with different countries using different principles. “A country which is in political and legal conflicts over the boundaries with at least five other countries cannot have five different principles. Choose one, so that we know what you think”, said Vučić.

Given the failure of Croatia and Slovenia, which are members of the EU and NATO, the resolution of the border dispute with Serbia is even more uncertain, and it is likely that arbitration with Serbia is not probable. The arbitration has proven to be an unreliable and unpredictable tool, especially if we know that there is a UN tribunal to resolve such disputes – the International Court of Justice in The Hague. However, in parallel with Serbia’s accession to the EU, it is likely that the pressure will grow in Croatia that border dispute with Serbia needs to be resolved before the possible entry of that country into the EU, which will inevitably lead to politicization and political exploitation of these disputes by political elites in both countries.


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