Croatia retaliated against Serbia after Belgrade yesterday declared the First Secretary of the Croatian Embassy a persona non grata. They reciprocated by declaring the counsellor of the Serbian embassy in Zagreb in Croatia “persona non grata”. Belgrade has not yet announced the reasons for the expulsion of the Croatian diplomat, but the Serbian media claim that it is suspected espionage.
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs expressed its regret at Serbia’s decision to declare the First Secretary of the Croatian Embassy in Belgrade a “persona non grata”. This is Hrvoje Šnajder, who the Serbian Foreign Ministry said had greatly exceeded diplomatic norms. No details have been released, but Serbian media report that he is suspected of espionage and recruitment for cooperation with Croatian intelligence.
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs regrets Serbia’s decision to declare the First Secretary of the Croatian Embassy in Belgrade persona non grata. We are concerned that the expulsion of the Croatian diplomat puts additional pressure on the Croatian Embassy in Belgrade. This is happening at a moment of pre-election time in Serbia. Although we had predicted a straining of relations, we did not expect such a drastic move by Serbia on the expulsion decision, said Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman.
This, he said, has not been the practice so far, nor has it been the norm.
Especially when Croatia wants to improve good relations with all its neighbours, this action is really worrying, he added.
Decision of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs: Serbian Embassy Counsellor Petar Novakovic persona non grata
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs reacted swiftly to Belgrade’s move with a reciprocal measure.
In accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, we have decided to declare the Counsellor of the Serbian Embassy in Zagreb, Mr Petar Novaković, persona non grata in the territory of the Republic of Croatia. The note was handed over to the Serbian Ambassador ten minutes ago, the Minister confirmed.
We completely reject the basis for the expulsion of the accredited Croatian diplomat, and the decision by Serbia is a step towards the deterioration of mutual relations, but also towards the further destabilisation of the sensitive regional political and security situation at a time when stability in the Western Balkans is of great importance for the whole of Europe, the Minister added.
Asked by the press whether Croatia had retaliated more strongly against Serbia for the expulsion of a senior diplomat, Grlić Radman said that “this is a matter of choice”.
On media writing and espionage: As it suits who, the media did not expel the diplomat
The Minister explained that the reason for the expulsion of the Croatian diplomat was not explained to the Croatian Ambassador in Serbia.
Yesterday, when our Ambassador was invited to the Serbian Foreign Ministry to hand over a note, he asked for the reason – they did not explain it to him. He was told that there was no need to give a reason or to comment. That remained. We do not know the reason for this decision, which makes the action all the more worrying, he said.
He commented on Serbian media reports claiming that the reason for the expulsion was espionage.
In this case, the staff member was not declared undesirable by the media, but by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is our communication partner. They have not given any reasons that are relevant to us, and all the other speculation is – how it suits who, said Grlić Radman.
We have employees there who are doing their job. He is a diplomat of the rank of First Secretary and he was doing his job to improve good relations, he concluded.
Serbia denies reciprocity in expulsions and seeks evidence of Vienna Convention violation
The Serbian foreign ministry on Tuesday branded as “inaccurate” claims by the Croatian authorities that the expulsion of the Serbian diplomat was a reciprocal measure for the expulsion of the Croatian diplomatic representative from Belgrade, and demanded evidence from the Croatian side to justify its decision.
The press release states that Novakovic “did not at any time violate the provisions of the Vienna Convention, nor was he sent to Zagreb to carry out a consular, rather than a political, task”.
We ask the Croatian side to provide us with evidence within two months of taking office and to inform the public of the ways in which he may have violated the provisions of the Vienna Convention, the ministry said.
By contrast, the case of the Croatian diplomat Šnajder “involves acts of evidence which constitute a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention, of which the Croatian side has been informed”, the press release reads.
DSHV is concerned about new tensions in relations between Croatia and Serbia
The Democratic Union of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV) on Tuesday expressed concern about new tensions in relations between Croatia and Serbia following the expulsion of a Croatian diplomat from Serbia.
Without going into the substance of this event, we express our concern for the future development of relations between the two countries and for the relations between the two peoples, the DSHV said.
The party stresses that it will particularly monitor the consequences for the Croatian community in Serbia, which is entering a second electoral cycle.
We call on all parties to the conflict to act responsibly and on the media to contribute to calming tensions and reducing anti-Croatian content in public narratives through a rational approach and reporting, the press release concludes.
Campaigning is underway in Serbia for the republican and provincial elections on 17 December.
There were no other reactions from parties, public officials or NGOs in Vojvodina.
The left sees the case as pre-election propaganda
The parliamentary left attributed the expulsion of the First Secretary of the Croatian Embassy from Serbia for alleged spying and recruitment to the election campaign in that country, while the right demanded a tougher stance towards Serbia and the same response towards Serbian diplomats in Croatia.
On Tuesday, Siniša Hajdaš Dončić (SDP), chairman of the parliamentary committee on internal policy and national security, said he would not convene a committee meeting on the case, attributing it to the pre-election climate in Serbia. .
This is certainly a pre-election story in Serbia. Just as the British secret service MI6 was accused of being behind the farmers’ protest, Ferguson is seen as James Bond, he said, adding that this is the official position of the Serbian government. In Serbia, it is an election campaign, he is an employee of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and I think the state should react with the same or similar action, said Siniša Hajdaš Dončić (SDP), chairman of the Committee on Internal Policy and National Security.
Domagoj Hajduković (Social Democrats) also does not rule out that this is a pre-election move. This, he says, is underlined by the fact that the Serbian Foreign Ministry is very thin on the ground, as it does not talk in its press release about the alleged activities against Serbia by the First Secretary, for which he is receiving the harshest punishment in diplomatic circles by being declared an undesirable person.
Given the proximity of the elections in Serbia, Ivana Kekin (Možemo!) hopes that he is not being used for political purposes to aggravate relations for electoral points. In the current geopolitical situation, the last thing we need is any, even minimal, straining of relations in the Balkans. In this case, we would certainly condemn it, but let us wait and see what really happened, she said.
The right is pushing for a tougher stance on Serbia
Nikola Grmoja (Most) says he doesn’t know if the reason for the exclusion is a pre-election game, but he knows that Croatia needs to pursue a firm and well-thought-out policy towards Serbia and ensure that Serbia does not fulfil its obligations. Unfortunately, he points out, the commission that is supposed to monitor the fulfilment of the Chapter 23 criteria for Serbia’s accession to the EU does not even meet, and thus Plenković is making concessions to Serbia.
Stephen Bartulica (Domovinski pokret) finds the timing of this decision interesting, as it seems to him that Serbia has been desperately trying to divert attention from important problems for a long time. These days, as Croatia recalls the most difficult days in its recent history, it is no coincidence that Serbia is today announcing this decision. “Vucic and the Serbian authorities are still trying to play the victim and we will reject with indignation any attempt to relativise their role in the recent past,” he said. “Croatia cannot accept this decision without some harsher reaction and in diplomatic practice it is common for us to hit back with the same measure to expel a diplomat from Serbia and I would not be surprised if such a decision followed from our side as well”, he said.
Parliamentary commission will request a report
Croatia does not need to respond “harshly” to Serbia until the situation is cleared up, Siniša Hajdaš Dončić, chairman of the Committee on Internal Policy and National Security, said on the “U mreži” programme. He announced that the committee would request a report from the competent institutions in Croatia.
Serbia is already in election fever. I hope it has nothing to do with the preparations for the elections in Croatia, but – Mr Vucic can behave very strangely, he added. He said Croatia should not react “more forcefully” until the situation is cleared up. Croatia must react – but slowly, he said.
Marko Pavic (HDZ) said this was delaying the relationship between Croatia and Serbia. He reiterated that Zagreb rejects all accusations. We believe that this is a pre-election ploy by Serbia. We condemn this and reserve the right to respond in the same way.
Quite expectedly, Mr Markić of the SOA announced in a recent interview – this is all part of the pre-election folklore that happens very often in Serbia, said Vesna Vučemilović (Croatian sovereigntists)./Vijesti.hrt/