Serbia Must Return Archival Material to Croatia

By 28 March 2018

ZAGREB, March 28, 2018 - Based on the Agreement on Succession to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), Croatia is seeking the archival material from Serbia that has been found to belong to it, regardless of the period when it was created and that material, according to sources at the Croatian ministries of foreign affairs and culture, "was taken in several turns and without any grounds to the institutions in Belgrade" and Serbia is obliged to return it.

The succession agreement defines in detail the rights of successor-states to the SFRY, and Serbia is obliged to act in line with it since issues of succession and restitution concern respect for and compliance with the international treaties signed, the sources at the two ministries told Hina.

Restitution envisages the return of the original archival and film material made in Croatia that was taken in several turns and without any grounds to institutions in Belgrade. "That act of political repression was carried out extremely unprofessionally, compromising the integrity of Croatian archival funds. Succession envisages the restitution of archival units that were made through the work of joint federal institutions and that concern Croatia," a source at the Culture Ministry said.

The source explained that it was not true that, with regard to the period from 1941 to 1945, Croatia was seeking only film material from the archive of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). "Croatia is also seeking all documents that were made in that period on the territory of present-day Croatia and that concern the material of the zones of operation of the People's Liberation Army (NOV) and the Yugoslav Partisan Units (POJ) as well as of Chetnik divisions, and the archival material of the governments of Dalmatia in areas that were under Italian occupation, as well as other types of material," the ministry source said.

The Belgrade-based Večernje Novosti newspaper recently reported that "Croatia wants to get back documents from Serbia at any cost, on crimes committed by the Ustasha and the Independent State of Croatia during World War II," which, it said, consisted of "200 films made at the time of the NDH, and various documents, lists and archives classified in 340 boxes."

The Culture Ministry also dismissed the claim by Večernje Novosti that "by taking possession of those documents and films, (Croatia) wants to entrap the truth."

A large portion of the material Croatia is seeking is in the Military Archive and, considering the complexity of procedures for accessing it, is almost unavailable to Croatian experts. "Once the material is returned to Croatia, it will be stored in the Croatian State Archive and made available to the public without any restrictions. The claims that Croatia is seeking the material in order to conceal something make no sense and are ill-intentioned," the source said.

Hina's source at the Foreign Ministry said that Croatia would insist on Serbia implementing the agreements signed and that in that regard it expected Serbia, as an EU candidate country, to meet all its obligations concerning the process of restitution and succession as soon as possible.

The source recalled that this was explicitly confirmed in the European Council's conclusions of December 2015 and the EU Presidency's conclusions of 2016.

The source at the Culture Ministry, too, said that the issue of restitution and succession relates to the respect and implementation of the international agreements signed. "With regard to the return of Croatia's archival material from Belgrade, Croatia calls for compliance with Annex D to the Agreement on Succession that Croatia ratified in 2004 and that Serbia co-signed," the ministry said.

The succession agreement was concluded in Vienna on 29 June 2001 and entered into force on 2 June 2004 after it was ratified by the Croatian parliament. The Foreign Ministry notes that archivists and legal experts and the public at large immediately agreed that "the content of the agreement was correct and professional and, speaking in layman's terms, fair."

Among other things, Annex D determined that, with regard to archives that were relocated from the place of their origin, the country that currently possesses them shall return them as soon as possible to the republic they belong to or the place of their origin, in line with the internationally accepted principle of provenance.

Apart from that, the agreement foresees that a part of the former Yugoslavia's archives that is vital for the regular administration of the territory of one or more states should be handed over to those states.

This refers to the principle of functional pertinence which serves as the basis for the following two points according to which a part of the former Yugoslavia's state archive which represents a whole yet directly relates to the territory of one of more states, or originated there or constitutes international agreements that relate to an individual state, should be handed over to that state.

As regards the remaining state archives of the former Yugoslavia (i.e. the entire documentation in the former federal archives and federal bodies that were created until 30 June 1991), an international agreement shall determine, within a period of six months of the succession agreement entering into force, its fair mutual division or its being kept as a joint legacy of those states which shall have free and unimpeded access to that material.