With elections just 25 days away, SDP-led People’s Coalition tries to widen its appeal.
SDP president Zoran Milanović held a meeting on Wednesday with Đuro Dečak, the president of the Coordination of Homeland War Associations. One of the main topics was Serbia’s law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia. The law has provoked protests from Croatian veterans since it could be used by Serbia to arbitrarily launch court proceedings against them, reports N1 on August 17, 2016.
After the meeting, Milanović said that this was the first time in ten years that he was invited to such a meeting and that he gladly accepted the invitation. “We have talked about the problems which burden the veterans, about what we did in four years and what we could do in the future. Of course, the key topic was Serbia’s universal jurisdiction law, which it could use to prosecute Croatian veterans for alleged crimes committed in former Yugoslavia. That is a serious problem that we will have to solve”, said Milanović.
Milanović thinks that the first step in solving the problem should be discussion with Serbia, but he did not exclude possibility of introducing stricter policies towards Serbia. He added that he was disappointed with the approach undertaken by the current government, with the main culprit being Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miro Kovač.
“I do not understand why there was no representative of Croatia, in particular the Foreign Minister, present when Serbia opened Chapter 23. They should have issued a warning that the chapter would at some point be blocked if we do not come to an agreement on the resolution of problems arising from this law. The way to do it is to sit down at the table and agree on jurisdictions, otherwise we will have to protect our national interests. We do not intend to blackmail anyone and we will not behave like Slovenia behaved towards us, but the problem of persecution of people is important and it will not be tolerated. I urge the authorities in Belgrade to abolish the law”, said Milanović.
Dečak said that his association had decided to invite leaders of at least two main political groups ahead of the elections, and that Milanović and his coalition partners were the first to accept the invitation.
“We have discussed issues in general terms, and universal jurisdiction was of course the main topic. The law is particular problem for our people who were imprisoned during the war in Serbian camps where they had to sign blank sheets of paper, and Serbia is now using these ‘confessions’. I am glad that Milanović said that he would confront this problem in any way necessary. It is as if Germany in 1945 initiated proceedings against those who defeated it. Serbia was definitely defeated during the war”, said Dečak and added that he was pleased with what he heard from Milanović and that “it would be a significant and positive step forward if Milanović’s statements were confirmed in reality”.
Milanović than “threatened” that Croatia could introduce a similar law. “We should not enter into conflict if it is not absolutely necessary, but if needed, we are ready to enter into conflict of opinions, jurisdictions and legislations. Imagine what would happen if Croatia were to introduce such a law. No one would be able to leave Serbia”, said the SDP president.
In both terms when SDP was in power (2000-2003; 2011-2015), veterans’ associations organized numerous initiatives and protests, claiming that the government did not protect national interests, was too lenient towards Serbia, and was introducing policies against Croatian veterans. Leaders of veterans’ associations are mostly close to various right-wing parties and it is difficult to expect that could change anytime soon, regardless of SDP’s attempts to try to mend relations with at least some of the veterans’ leaders. Đuro Dečak himself was for many years an MP for HDZ.