Tensions Rise between Croatia and Serbia over the Stepinac Case

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia sent an official objection to the annulment of the 1946 conviction of Catholic archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, claiming the Court’s decision is an attempt to rehabilitate fascism and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).

Yesterday, July 27, Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovač responded to the Serbian objection, calling it a “cheap attempt to destabilize Croatia”. Kovač commented on the rhetoric of the objection, saying it’s reminiscent of “the Slobodan Milošević era and Serbian aggression.”

Miro Kovač - Croatian Foreign Minister (Image by HBS/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Miro Kovač – Croatian Foreign Minister (Image by HBS/CC BY-SA 2.0)

As we reported on July 22, the County Court in Zagreb annulled the conviction of the Catholic archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, who was found guilty in 1946 for treason and supporting the Nazi-puppet Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).

As expected, Serbia responded with anger and harsh criticism to the Court’s ruling.

The official objection to the Court’s decision by Serbia, handed to the Croatian Ambassador to Serbia Gordan Markotić, implies that the annulment of the 1946 verdict to Stepinac is an attempt the restore fascism and rehabilitation of the Ustasha NDH.

The Foreign Minister of the Croatian (fallen) government called on Belgrade to use “sensible and reasonable vocabulary”, arguing that its method of communication is counter-productive to the effort to engage in friendly neighbor ties between two countries. “They are interfering into internal matters of Croatia,” Miro Kovač added.

The tensions over Stepinac’s verdict are just the continuation of the severe crisis in bilateral relations between the two neighboring nations.

As we reported, Serbia was blocked to open Chapters 23 and 24 in its EU membership talks by Croatia. After Serbia was confirmed by the EU to open the mentioned Chapters, Croatia responded by forming a Monitoring Commission, tasked to observe Serbian progress on meeting its demands.

The forming of the commission sparked outrage in Serbia, and even harsh comments by the Serbian Foreign Minister who accused Croatia of “pathological hatred against Serbs”.

Commenting on the Monitoring Commission, Miro Kovač said, “We want for Serbia, to a perspective, to join thebEU, but that means it will have to meet all our criteria and demands regarding Chapter 23”.

Crisis in Serbia-Croatia ties is being intensified by one particular Croatian demand to Serbia related to Chapters 23 and 24 –the request to Serbia to repeal the Law of Universal Jurisdiction which grants Serbia jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed in Former Yugoslavia.

Serbia already announced that it will continue enforcing that law, arguing that more than 10 other EU member states have similar laws. However, Croatia pledged to block Serbia unless the law is repealed.

The tensions worsened yesterday when a group of protesters wearing Ustasha insignia disturbed the gathering of antifascists in Lika region, who celebrated the “People’s Rebellion Day”.

Dejan Scepanovic

Based in Bosnia and Herzegovina. BA in political science. Columnist.