4/2007 – The Mesic Case: in Croatia, embarrassment and diplomatic defenses

The Mesic Case: in Croatia, embarrassment and diplomatic defenses

The averted crisis between Italy and Croatia, caused by the inconsiderate, repeated declarations of Croatian president Mesic on the Exodus and the Foibe, can be officially considered over.As our readers will no doubt recall, on Februatry 10th, Italian president Napolitano recognized, during the commemoration ceremony at the Quirinale presidential palace, the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding those events, underlining, without mincing words, the responsibility of having denied, or ignored, the truth, due to ideological prejudice and political blindness, and having erased the truth for diplomatic calculations and international conveniences”.Two days later, Mesic accused Napolitano of racism, and historical and political revanscism. The Italian response was immediate and firm: Prime Minister Prodi, Foreign Minister D’Alema, and all the major government and opposition leaders, were quick to defend Napolitano. Even the European Commission, through spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, defined “the language used by Croatian president Mesic inappropriate” adding that “the Commission maintains that this confrontation is a demonstration of just how important European integration is”, and that “European integration, based on well-defined criteria of participation, will be judged by the merits of each individual Nation.”
And on February 17th, aware of the embarrassment he had caused himself on the international scene, Mesic issued a communiquè in which he admitted that “Napolitano’s words didn’t contain any controversial reference towards Croatia … nor did they contain any revanscist inspiration or historical revisionism.”

Embarrassment from inside Croatia:
The weekly news magazine “Globus” calls for Mesic’s resignation

Mesic’s comments highly embarrassed the Croatian government, which is deeply involved in the long and arduous process of bringing Croatia into the European Union. While the Croatian leader was trying to emphasize his country’s interest in communal ties and neighborly spirit, the Croatian and Slovenian press sharply criticised his attitude, and the tone he had used to express it.
In Croatia, a significant portion of the press seemed not to want to emphasize friction with Italy, relegating Mesic’s comments (but also the Italian responses) to their papers’ less visible pages. The Zagreb daily, “Jutarnji List”, published a comment by Zeljko Trkanjec, who in no uncertain terms accused Mesic of having been inopportune and unseemly. “The President’s words, “stated Trkanjec, “were very harsh, and unacceptable for use in communications between heads of state in Europe.” Regarding “historical matters,” the article continued, “it is best to depoliticize them and leave them to the historians, without taking advantage of them to try and reach a consensus on the political home front.”
But the loudest outcry was to be found in the weekly news magazine “Globus”: one of its leading commentators, Denis Kuljis, actually called for Mesic’s resignation.
 In his article, the journalist judged Napolitano’s comments on the Day of Remembrance as correct: “The post-war actions of Tito’s army in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia were none other than ethnic cleansing, carried out ruthlessly and with the intent of eliminating the local population from those areas. A small number of Italians was thrown into the foibe, others were executed by drowning, but the majority of them was sent into exile with a combination of repressive political measures and the inevitability of economic ruin. All of this took place under the auspices of the so-called revolutionary technique of expropriating the expropriator.”
 In describing the Trieste, Gorizia, and Zara regions, Kuljis reminded his readers that in 1910, and therefore before fascist demographic “engineering”and possible manipulation of statistics, 61% of the population spoke Italian as its native language, 25% spoke Slovenian, and only 13.5% Croatian. The journalist went on to say that a similar destiny was reserved, in the second post-war-period, for other non-Slavic populations, such as the Germans in Slovenia, Slavonia, and Vojvodina, and the Turks and Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo, forced to emigrate after mass killings and strong political and economic pressure. This was a project planned by Tito’s regime, and needs to be brought out int the open, according to Kuljis: “We are not guilty for what took place 60 years ago; we sympathize with the Italians.” Kuljis then revealed that Mesic’s top foreign policy advisor is Budimir Loncar, who had been director of the OZNA (Tito’s secret police) in part of Dalmatia.

Shock among the Italian communities in Croatia
Radin: “Italians in Croatia were upset by Mesic’s harsh tones”

Shock was the strongest emotion expressed by the Italian minority in Croatia upon hearing Mesic’s statements. Furio Radin, the Italian deputy at the Sabor, said that “a more serious approach needs to be used when discussing these matters, and Mesic should have used more balance when speaking on such a highly sensitive topic.” “When speaking about the Foibe, we need to use words and tones that are capable of depoliticizing the problem.” “I myself proposed the placement of a symbol on the Foiba of Vines. And I believe that now is the most suitable moment to do so, in order to bring an end to the controversies and anachronisms, and to give a visible sign of compassion.” “Also because no tragedy can justify another tragedy… In Istria, I feel a sense of alarm prevading both the Croatian majority and the Italian minority, as well as other ethnic minorities. We are close to the border here, and naturally we feel these disagreements strongly. In Zagreb, on the other hand, I sense a feeling of refusal, as people have reject parts of Napolitano’s speech on the foibe: I speak of bloodthirsty Slavic fury, which has reawakened old stereotypes. And there have been reactions of dissent for Mesic’s response as well.”
 Regarding the matter of lost or confiscated property (the “beni abbandonati”), Radin stated, “When I speak of lost or confiscated property, I reason from the premise that it is a matter of lack of respect of human rights. Six decades ago, the rights of the Exiles were violated both by the Yugoslav federation and by Italy, which used their property to pay part of its war debt. The Exiles should be given an apology for all that was done to them.”
 From the historical point of view, “every time we don’t take a step forward, we take a step backward.” This is the opinion of Italian historian Raoul Pupo, an expert on the problems of the eastern border in the 1900’s. “Regarding the Foibe,” he remarks, “several Italian presidents have addressed the problem, but Napolitano, with greater firmness and conviction, has managed to satisfy the survivors and relatives.” And regarding Mesic, Pupo comments that “his statements should be considered part of the current, particular, political climate, since we must consider that Croatian elections will be taking place in a few weeks’ time.”

(traduzione di Lorie Ballarin)

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