Monday, 11 March 2019

Croat Minority in Serbia Dissatisfied with Minority Status

ZAGREB, March 11, 2019 - Progress has been made only in four out of total 25 recommendations given in order to improve the status of the Croat minority in Serbia, which is why the delegation of the Croat community is going to convey dissatisfaction at a two-day meeting of the mixed Croatian-Serbian committee which will start in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Out of all the recommendations defined in the minutes of the seventh meeting of that committee, progress has been made in only four recommendations referring to education, according to the document the Croat representatives prepared for the meeting that will be held in Zagreb and Pakrac.

No progress at all has been made in nine recommendations, and ten recommendations are being implemented to some extent, reads the document.

The Croat community is dissatisfied with a lack of progress in key areas such as representation and proportional employment of ethnic Croats in state agencies and bodies of local authority in Serbia.

The main task of the Committee that will hold its 8th meeting in Zagreb and Pakrac is the improvement of the status and protection of the rights of respective minorities in Croatia and Serbia.

The previous meeting was held in early 2018 in Serbia.

More news about Croats in Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Belgrade Tourism Fair: Is Serbia a Croatian Wine and Tourist Market, or Not?

February 26, 2019 - Croatia's strange tourism relationship with the Belgrade Tourism Fair, the region's largest, continues. Wine but not tourism?

I first came across the Belgrade Tourism Fair last year.

Having launched Total Slovenia News a couple of months before and with Total Montenegro News about to go live, the prospect of finding every significant tourism business and organisation in one room for four days was too hard to resist, and I headed to the Serbian capital with great anticipation. 

I could not have found a better scenario. Montenegro had the largest stand of all, all the main Slovenian tourism regions and spas were represented, and there were even the options of preliminary meetings with other countries in the region, in case we ever managed to expand further. 

There was just one thing missing. 

Croatia. 

The Belgrade Tourism Fair is the largest in the region, now in its 41st year, but last year there was not a single tourist board there. Well, officially at least... 

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My initial conclusion is that Croatia had decided not to exhibit in Serbia due to the regional conflict back in the 1990s, but then I was surprised to learn that Croatia had been the partner country of the Belgrade Tourism Fair as recently as 2011. The Secretary of State for Tourism at the time stated:

At the 33rd Belgrade Tourism Fair, Croatia will be especially presented as a tourist destination. The State Secretary of the Croatian Ministry of Tourism, Ivo Mujo, stated that Croatia's arrival [presentation] in Belgrade, after accepting the invitation to become a partner country of the Belgrade Fair this year, was a new dimension of cooperation.

"Serbian guests are important to us in Croatia, but this isn't a one-way process, because more and more Croatian tourists are going to Serbia. He stressed that he believes that this year's presentation of Croatia in Belgrade will bring Croatia and Serbia closer in the tourist(ic) sense."

And just seven years later, no official Croatian tourism presence whatsoever. I asked the organisers why, and they checked the list of exhibitors and said they were surprised that there were no Croatian tourism boards there. Rumours of a Croatian boycott of the fair after President Vucic's visit to Zagreb were on everyone's lips, but officially the Croatian National Tourist Board said that their interests were elsewhere:

From 2010 to 2017 the Croatian National Tourist Board (CNTB) organized a continued promotional presence of the Croatian tourism offering at the Belgrade tourism fair. While in 2011, we were also the partner country of the fair for that year. However, despite multiple successful years of intensive promotion at the fair, the interest of partners interested in utilizing the CNTB fair facilities/booth, namely tourist boards, agencies, tourism-related companies, etc. wishing to present their offering at the fair has waned over the past few years, decreasing year-in, year-out. Even though there was not enough interest to have a formal presence at the fair this past year, we would like to point out that aside from a presence at fairs, the CNTB also promotes the destination through various marketing activities in Serbia. For example, in May 2017 an online brand campaign was executed on the Serbian market, which included promotional advertising of our key product categories: sun and sea, food and wine and nautical. The campaign was promoted through a range of online portals and over 6 million ad views were achieved.

Serbia represents a neighbouring market that has a strong knowledge of Croatia as a destination as well as Croatia's tourism offering. It is also a market where most visitors arrive through individually organized trips and when looking at the number of overnights in 2017, ranks as the 18th market (with 973 thousand overnights). We still plan a continued presence on the market through other promotional campaigns and activities.

I asked the current Secretary of State for Tourism about the lack of official Croatian tourist board presence, and I received this reply:

Croatia is a very popular tourist destination in Serbia, and tourists from Serbia are our traditional guests. Last year in Croatia, guests from Serbia had 153 thousand arrivals and 973 thousand overnight stays, representing an increase of 11 per cent compared to 2016. Similarly, Serbia is a very popular destination for our people, especially when it comes to shorter or city break visits.  In this respect, we believe that positive trends in the growth of tourist traffic and accompanying promotional activities on both sides will continue in the coming years.

Reason enough to make a little effort to attract some more tourists, especially in a traditional market so close to home, where the potential was to get a tourist not for a one time visit from China, but for life. 

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Apparently not. 

Walking around the fair, I was struck by the conversations of young people walking around, looking for their next holiday. Greece shone. So did Turkey, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Egypt. There was also plenty of more exotic destinations which attracted plenty of interest. I noted that the boys from Palestine were back after a successful Belgrade Tourism Fair in 2018. 

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And somewhere, almost as an afterthought, the entire official Croatian representation - the Tourist Board of Zagreb (at least this fair actually existed and they didn't pay 29,000 euro for nothing) and the Tourist Board of Losinj. 

That was it. 

A little more research showed that there were a small number of other tourist boards there in a different capacity, including this presentation of Eastern Croatia

But at an influential fair on Croatia's doorstep, where Croatia was notable by its absence. 

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Even our old friends, the Kings of Accidental Tourism from Hvar were not to be seen. Last year was 150 years of organised tourism in Europe, which was celebrated with great style paying tribute to the special Hvar-Belgrade bond at a party that was never supposed to make the Croatian media. But in year 151, that love seems to have waned. 

Unofficially, I can confirm that the Hvar love of Belgrade is real. I bump into more people from Hvar each time I visit the Serb capital than I do walking the streets of Jelsa. 

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So why the lack of Croatian interest in the Belgrade fair? The simple explanation from one section of our enlightened readership is that Croatia doesn't want any Serbs to visit. 

It is an argument that one can understand from recent history, perhaps, not a great economic argument, but understandable. But then you go to the wine section of the Belgrade Tourism Fair, and seemingly the biggest stand belongs to... Croatia. 

Ably supported by the Croatian Chamber of Economy. 

The Croatian Chamber of Economy at the Belgrade Tourism Fair where Croatia had all but totally boycotted the main tourism section once again, but was out in force promoting wine. None of the numerous Croatian exhibitors could understand the lack of official Croatian tourism presence at such an important fair on Croatia's doorstep. One which had the potential to woo the next generation and get them hooked on holidays in Croatia for the next 30 years. 

But the Kings of Accidental Tourism obviously have a plan. 

Palestine 2019, anyone?  

Monday, 25 February 2019

Eastern Croatia Presented at Belgrade Tourism Fair

The Belgrade Tourism Fair is one of the largest in the region, and this year it was held from 21 to 24 February. It was an ideal opportunity to present the tourist offer of Slavonia and Baranja. Visitors were introduced to the European Amazon bicycle route, the Osijek and Subotica Art Nouveau tourist route, the Green Pathways of the Danube and Drava rivers, and the Central Danube Tour – the Central Danube Tourist Destination.

The European Amazon bicycle route stretches from the Alps to the Pannonian plain along the most extensive natural river system in Central Europe. It covers Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia and nearly one million hectares of highly-valuable natural and cultural landscapes and more than 1,000 kilometres of cycling trails.

The Art Nouveau tourist tour of Osijek and Subotica links these two Central European towns of similar size and common historical heritage. Art Nouveau, as a new architecture style, appeared in Osijek in parallel with its emergence in Vienna. Apart from the construction of Art Nouveau housing and industrial buildings, Osijek proudly boasts the tradition of Art Nouveau physical planning as well, since it started with the policy of planned street and park construction in the early 20th century. The most impressive examples of the Art Nouveau in Osijek are the European Avenue, with a unique series of Art Nouveau houses with front-yards, the Postal Palace, the Sakuntala Park, the Urania cinema, and the Art Nouveau fountain.

The Green Pathways of Danube and Drava combine cycling, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and horseback riding, and stretch from Belišće, on the river Drava, for 54 kilometres to Erdut, where the river joins the Danube. On this route, the visitors can learn about the cultural heritage of this region and visit, for example, the Erdut Tower, the sacral heritage (the sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation in Aljmaš and the sanctuary of St. Anna in Bistrinci), the industrial heritage of the town of Belišće, and of course the natural heritage, the flora and fauna of the Danube and the Drava rivers.

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The Central Danube tourist destination stretches from Baranja in Croatia to Kovilj-Petrovaradin marshes in Serbia. This destination integrates multi-ethnic heritage, natural and cultural resources and landmarks into a single package visible in the local, regional and international markets. The common package of tourism products and services was presented through thematic cross-border routes. This destination offers tourists a mix of Danube natural wealth and the Pannonian way of living. Its contents include mystical Pannonian legends, the cultures which have left traces about their existence from prehistoric times to the present day, the picturesque nature with the varied animal and plant species, the scents and tastes of gastronomy which bases its uniqueness on the mix of peoples and has given birth to the wealth of dishes rarely seen elsewhere.

The wine offer of this area is represented by Baranja, Erdut, Ilok and Sremski Karlovci. Baranja and Erdut are rural wine destinations, while Ilok and Sremski Karlovac are urban destinations steeped in history. The rich history of this region is best presented by the Museum of the Vučedol Culture. The Kopački Rit Nature Park, located on the left bank of the Danube, has its counterpart in the special nature reserve of Gornje Podunavlje situated on the right side of the Danube, and a bit farther away is the special nature reserve Kovilj-Petrovaradin marshes.

The Belje wines, which are produced in Baranja, cover the largest area of vineyards in Croatia (650 hectares), while Zmajevac is widely known for its “surduks”, “gators” and events such as the Wine Marathon. The Erdut wine area is particularly well-known for its great Danube meander, the largest wooden wine barrel in the world still in use, and the Bike&Wine event. Ilok is famous for its medieval town core, the country estate of Principovac, and the Ilok Grape Harvest event.

In addition to the destinations and topical tours from the eastern part of Croatia, visitors of the Belgrade Tourism Fair were also very much interested in similar routes from the wider Pannonian area, such as the Vojvodina Wine Paths, and the Trail of Cheese and Honey, located in the Žabalj municipality in Vojvodina.

More news about Croatian tourism can be found in the Travel section.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Police IT System Fails, Long Lines at Croatian Border Crossings

The IT system of Croatia’s Interior Ministry has failed, which has caused long lines at Croatian border crossings. Personal documents and passports also cannot be issued at police offices around the country, reports Index.hr on February 22, 2019.

The police did not initially confirm the information.

According to the Bosnian media, the system for checking biometric documents at the majority of border crossings between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia has failed. Therefore, the traffic is currently suspended, and long columns of vehicles are being formed at the border crossings.

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The system failed at about 10 am this morning, and the columns of vehicles at border crossings have been getting longer ever since.

“Due to the failure of the border inspection system of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia today at 10.30 am, the traffic of persons and vehicles through international border crossings is stopped or significantly slowed down at different intervals," Sanela Dujković, the spokesperson of the Bosnian border police, said for Klix.ba.

“Due to technical difficulties, longer waiting times are possible at most border crossings,” said the Croatian Auto Club (HAK).

At 1.40 pm, the Interior Ministry finally issued a statement about the latest events.

“The Ministry of Interior Affairs of the Republic of Croatia informs the citizens that during the day the operation of a part of the Ministry’s IT system has been interrupted, which is why certain assignments are being conducted slower than usual. The Ministry's expert services are working diligently to restore the system to being fully functional. We ask the citizens, who have found themselves at the border crossings and in the Ministry’s administrative affairs offices, for understanding and patience,” they said.

The website of the Croatian Auto Club has live cams with video from some of the border crossings.

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Translated from Index.hr.

More news about the Ministry of Interior can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Croatia and Serbia Far from Agreement on Border

ZAGREB, February 21, 2019 - A year after Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić met in Zagreb and agreed that the two countries should try to reach an agreement on the border in the next two years, there is still no agreement between Croatia and Serbia on the matter, with their positions being the farthest with regard to the border on the Danube River.

In February 2018 the two presidents agreed that Croatia and Serbia would try to reach an agreement on the border in the next two years and that if they did not succeed, they would address an international tribunal.

The Serbian president said at the time that Zagreb and Belgrade had opposed positions on the border.

According to officials in Belgrade, even though there has been some progress with regard to the land border, Croatia and Serbia are still miles from an agreement on the border on the Danube River.

A State Secretary at the Serbian Foreign Ministry, Nemanja Stevanović, said in a recent interview with the Serbian news agency Tanjug that the biggest obstacle to the agreement were two river islands on the Danube - the Šarengrad and Vukovar islands - and that Zagreb insisted on a solution that was contrary to international law.

In a comment for Hina, the Croatian Foreign Ministry dismissed the claim about the violation of international law, reiterating that the border of Croatia as a Yugoslav republic had become its state border with its declaration of independence.

"The positions and demands of the Republic of Croatia are firmly founded in and are in line with international law," the Croatian Foreign Ministry said, adding that Croatia wanted a future bilateral border agreement to incorporate "the 1991 border of the former republic which on the day Croatia declared independence became an international border between Croatia and Serbia."

In other words, Croatia wants the basis for an agreement to be the cadastre. "This was also confirmed in the position of the Badinter commission," it added. It noted that the border between the two republics had never been on the Danube.

"The border between the two former republics, in line with both Croatia and Serbia's legislation, was defined precisely and it was not on the Danube but rather stretched, both in Srijem and in Baranja, along the outer borders of municipalities of both republics that were also the outer borders of those municipalities' cadastres in 1991," the Croatian ministry said.

It also stressed that in the continuation of negotiations it expected "Serbia to abide by its general position, made public on a number of occasions, on the need to respect the borders between the former republics as one of the main principles of international law, and to apply them in defining its position for the entire border with Croatia because at present it accepts that principle for only one part of the border, in the area of Srijem."

Stevanović nonetheless notes that at a meeting of the inter-state commission for borders in 2018 certain progress was made with regard to the land border.

The Croatian side underlines that the border commission held a meeting in June 2018 in Zagreb at its invitation and that a meeting of an expert working group was held at the end of 2018. "We now expect an invitation from the Serbian side to a new meeting, and we hope it will be held soon," the Croatian Foreign Ministry said.

More news about the relations between Croatia and Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

President Rejects Allegations She Changed Speeches to Appease Vučić

ZAGREB, February 17, 2019 - The Office of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović on Saturday denied the claim by her former domestic policy adviser Mate Radeljić that she had promised to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic that she would not use the terms "Greater Serbia aggression" and "the Srebrenica genocide" in her public speeches.

"There is no need to again answer questions about which there is no doubt whatsoever. What happened in the 1990s was aggression on Croatia in the name of Greater Serbia policy, and an international tribunal has qualified the crimes committed in Srebrenica as genocide and no one with good intentions questions that," spokeswoman for the President's Office Ivana Crnić said.

Radeljić told the RTL commercial television channel that the Croatian president had promised to her Serbian counterpart that she would not use the terms "Greater Serbian aggression" and "the Srebrenica genocide".

RTL asked Radeljić who the president was referring to when she said at a press conference earlier on Saturday that she was wrong about the "For the Homeland Ready" salute because one of her advisers had told her that it was a historical Croatian greeting. "It turns out that the president was some sort of a puppet of her advisers. I don't know who she was referring to and it would have been nice if she had said who she meant," Radeljić said.

Radeljić then wondered if any of her advisers told her after Vučić's visit to Croatia last year to give an instruction that the two terms should not be used in any of her public speeches.

"She personally told me after Aleksandar Vučić's visit that she did not want the term Greater Serbia aggression or the Srebrenica genocide to be used in public speeches because she had promised that to Aleksandar Vučić. Let her deny this now and blame it on her advisers," Radeljić said.

Radeljić claimed that Grabar-Kitarović had not used the two terms in any of her speeches after the Serbian president's visit. However, some media have found that this is not true and that the Croatian president used the term "Greater Serbia aggression".

More news on the relations between Croatia and Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Serbian President Wants Croats to Ride in His New Military Helicopters

ZAGREB, February 16, 2019 - Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said on Friday that Croats would be the first ones he would "take for a ride" in new Mi-35 military helicopters to be delivered to Serbia by Russia, an ironic comment on what he considers to be Croatia's hostile attitude towards Serbia and himself.

This year Russia is expected to deliver Mi-35 attack helicopters to Serbia, which some media outlets in Croatia have called Vučić's devil's chariots.

"You should see how beautiful the helicopters are... I will take you, Croats, first for a ride," he told Croatian reporters covering an international security conference in Munich.

Commenting on Croatian media's alleged dislike of him, Vučić said, "You love campaigning against Serbia and me personally."

"You can't wait for me to be toppled, but that won't happen," he said in an allusion to Croatian Radio and Television reports about anti-government protests in Belgrade which Serbian officials have described as unprofessional and a call for violence.

He reiterated that a recent attack on players of Belgrade's Red Star water polo team in the Croatian coastal city of Split was "horrible", insisting that something like that could never have happened to Croatian athletes in Serbia.

Summing up the results of his meeting with his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in Zagreb a year ago, he said that Belgrade had fulfilled 23 of 26 demands by the Croat community in Serbia.

"I would like to be able to say the same for the Serb community in Croatia, but I'm afraid that that's not the case," he said.

That Croats and Serbs can indeed cooperate well is evidenced by the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vucic said, referring to cooperation between Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Čović.

"Serbs and Croats will have to cooperate in order to survive," he concluded.

More news on relations between Croatia and Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Fourth Attacker on Serbian Water Polo Players Arrested

ZAGREB, February 14, 2019 - Police in Split on Wednesday confirmed to HINA that they had arrested a 22 year-old suspected of being connected to an attack that occurred last Saturday against Serbian water polo players.

The police said that a criminal investigation would show whether the man was indeed connected to the verbal and physical attack against the three players of Belgrade's Red Star Water Polo Club. Unofficial sources, however, said that the man is suspected of the same crimes as three other suspects that have already been apprehended.

The incident is being treated as acts of robbery, grievous bodily harm and hate crime.

This past Saturday, the three Serbian players, who came to a cafe at Split's waterfront promenade, were physically attacked with metal bars and knives by five perpetrators. Two of the players managed to get to their hotel while the third jumped into the sea and sustained light injuries.

They had arrived in Split for a match scheduled for Saturday night, however, the match was cancelled because of the incident.

The police quickly arrested three of the perpetrators. Two were remanded in one-month investigative custody on Monday evening, while the third of them was released pending completion of the investigation.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

No War Reparation Discussions with Serbia

ZAGREB, February 14, 2019 - After a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Nela Kuburović on Wednesday, Croatian Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković reiterated that he was not "that satisfied," with the cooperation between the two ministries over the past year and that war reparation was not discussed.

Bošnjaković reiterated that at a meeting with the then Serbian justice minister last year, they had defined certain objectives and that at today's meeting they "evaluated where they were at and what to do next."

"I cannot say that I am overly satisfied with the way things have functioned over the past year, but then we have formed two commissions. One was tasked with defining an international agreement regarding processing war crimes and the other was to work on exchanging information about persons against whom criminal proceedings were being conducted or have been convicted. The commissions did work and we can't say they didn't, but they haven't made any recommendations," Bošnjaković said.

He underlined the wish to intensify meetings between the task forces and that by summer they come up with their recommendations. He explained that an international agreement will define how to regulate war crimes prosecution, adding that it would be above the Law on Jurisdiction that Serbia adopted.

He added that Serbia delivered a list of about 70 names of people in Croatia that Serbia has indicted but that they did not have the full list due to technical problems regarding data collection. Croatia however has sent Serbia a list of 1,300 names.

Asked whether the ministries' delegations discussed war reparation, Bošnjaković said that this was not discussed as that "isn't in the remit of the Justice Ministry but other ministries."

During her visit to Croatia, Minister Kuburović also met with representatives of ethnic Serb minority organisations.

More news about relations between Croatia and Serbia can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Attackers on Serbian Water Polo Players Reported for Hate Crimes

ZAGREB, February 11, 2019 - Two men, aged 25 and 23, who this past weekend were involved in an attack on three Serbian water polo players in Split, have been taken into custody and charged with two hate-motivated crimes – attempted infliction of grievous bodily harm and robbery.

The three Serbian players are members of Belgrade's Red Star Water Polo Club who had arrived in Split for a game against the local side Mornar BS, which was scheduled for 8.30pm on Saturday. The match was cancelled because of the incident.

The police said on Monday that their investigation into the incident revealed that the two men, acting in collusion, came to a cafe at Split's waterfront promenade around 1.30pm on Saturday and physically attacked three Serbian athletes sitting on the cafe's terrace.

The motive for the attack, police say, was that one of the Serbian players wore his club jerseys. Demanding that he take them off, the youths started kicking and hitting the Serbian players with clubs.

"The perpetrators called the player names and threatened him, and after he fled and jumped into the sea, they continued to demand, threatening him with a knife, to hand over his jerseys, which he eventually did. The 29-year-old player sustained light injuries in the incident," the police said.

The police spoke to a number of witnesses to the incident and searched the suspects' flats, finding the Serbian water polo player's jerseys with one of the two arrested assailants.

More news on the relations between Serbia and Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

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