From the traditional Orthodox Christmas reception organised by the Serb National Council (SNV), which was attended by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the First Vice-President of the Serbian Government Ivica Dačić, messages of peace and tolerance were sent along with the announcement of the “thawing” of relations between Croatia and Serbia.
BY: Goran Borković / Novosti
PHOTO: Hina / Admir BULJUBAŠIĆ i Lana SLIVAR DOMINIĆ
Messages of peace and tolerance, with an emphasis on the necessity of “thawing” the relations between Croatia and Serbia, were sent from this year’s annual and traditional Orthodox Christmas reception organised by the Serb National Council, held on Friday in the packed Crystal Hall of the Westin Hotel.
The arrival of a high-ranking delegation of the Serbian Government led by the first Vice-President Ivica Dačić received special attention. Mr. Dačić met with his Croatian colleague Gordan Grlić Radman in a closed meeting immediately following the official reception, which, as several speakers pointed out, could be the beginning of a sort of a “thawing” process with regards to relations between Zagreb and Belgrade, that have been stagnant for a long time.
In addition to this, a meeting was announced between the newly appointed Serbian Minister for Human Rights, elected from the Croatian minority in Serbia, Tomislav Žigmanov, and Anja Šimpraga, the Deputy Prime Minister of Croatian, elected from the Serbian minority.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković found a euro coin with the image of Nikola Tesla hidden in the “Česnica,” a ceremonial round loaf of bread traditionally prepared for Orthodox Christmas dinner.
Plenković: Cooperation with Minorities Even to One’s Own Detriment
Wishing a Merry Christmas to Orthodox believers with the traditional greeting of “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”, Prime Minister Plenković emphasised that he was glad that he had the opportunity to attend SNV’s reception this year once again.
– The atmosphere is good, exactly as it should be in a moment like this one. I am glad that we have cooperated in the past years, and from the first day I wanted all the national minorities that are represented in the Parliament to be our partners in the ruling coalition. By doing all that, we succeed in building equality and a tolerant atmosphere in Croatian society, filling all the gaps that exist in mutual relations, correcting various injustices, making civilizational strides, and, above all, making a generational contribution to reconciliation as one of our fundamental values – said Plenković and recalled the war destruction when Croatia was, as he said, the victim of the Milošević regime.
He reminded everyone gathered of the families of the dead, the missing, and of all the soldiers and veterans.
– That legacy is difficult and burdens the relations between Croatia and Serbia, and that is a fact. These relationships must, first and foremost, all be based on truth and on real steps towards apology and reconciliation. It is important that we understand these facts and not ignore what is between us. All governments, including ours, must deal with this. We will do everything to find the missing people and to prosecute war crimes, for which there is no statute of limitation, but we will also do everything in our power to build bridges of cooperation. That is what I am doing personally. Sometimes even at the expense of popularity in my own electorate. I do that consciously and deliberately. Regardless of the fact that this is a small part of the damage, it is a huge step forward for the overall atmosphere in Croatian society. We are succeeding in this, despite all the difficult circumstances – said Plenković.
He also used the opportunity to thank the representatives of the SNV for their support, loyalty, and sincere partnership that has been going on for seven years straight. He called the cooperation solid and based on trust.
– We made a big step forward. I must admit that I was almost ashamed when I realised the reality and when, in 2016, I became fully aware of problems that I did not know were in such a low stage of development, such as electrification, water supply, and traffic connections. By working together, we have made great strides forward: this is what HEP, our electric power company, Hrvatske vode, our water supply company, and road operators are doing right now, and we will continue to make such strides concerning these issues so that in the 21st century, every home in Croatia – regardless of whether it is inhabited by Croats, Serbs, or someone else – will have to have what is considered elementary in a country that is among the 15 that are at the same time members of the NATO, the EU, the Schengen Regime, and the Eurozone – and that is access to water, electricity, and communal infrastructure that it deserves. We will do that, as well as make a great effort to speed up the reconstruction process after the earthquake, which is also our obligation and for which we have received funds – said Plenković, who was greeted with applause, adding that cooperation with Serbian and other minorities in Croatia will continue to be improved upon through concrete projects and political dialogue.
He expressed satisfaction with the fact that the Croatian minority in Serbia got a new lease on life, not only through the institutional representation of Žigmanov in the Serbian Government, but also more widely, which opens up new opportunities for articulating one’s own interests, protecting one’s identity, as well as influencing the portfolio that was assigned.
Prime Minister Plenković welcomed the cooperation agreement between the Serb National Council (SNV) and the Democratic Alliance of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV), calling it a true message of what national minorities can and should do to influence the advancement of relations between the two countries. He announced the imminent completion of the Croatian House in Subotica as a gathering place for the Croatian minority.
Dačić: We Do Not Think Alike, but Let Us Find Common Interest
In his speech, Dačić, who received a warm welcome, emphasised the common values of peace, tolerance, and solidarity that bind the Croatian and Serbian peoples.
– Much is expected from today’s reception, because such an atmosphere was created that expectations were raised high. The best relations between Serbia and Croatia are primarily in the interest of our two nations, but of the entire region as well. In addition to our concern for Serbs in Croatia, my presence here is a strong message about the need to talk and redefine relations between Belgrade and Zagreb. We do not think the same on many issues, but we have to talk and make agreements. That is why we are here today, at the suggestion of President Aleksandar Vučić, who tasked my new colleague, Minister Žigmanov, to, together with Milorad Pupovac – along with the signing of their Cooperation Agreement – find adequate reasons for reviving constructive dialogue. This dialogue on an equal basis with mutual respect is the only way to solve all open issues that unfortunately continue to burden us – said Dačić.
He emphasised that Serbia is aware that some of those questions were serious and difficult and that they could not be resolved in a short period of time, no matter how much we all wanted their resolution to be speeded up.
– We recognize the need to improve upon our relations, but this is only possible through the normalisation of the general political narrative and the improvement of political dialogue without any hidden agendas – Dačić emphasised.
He also congratulated Croatia on its full integration into the European Union, stressing that the individual progress of neighbours should be treated as our common success. Dačić advocated that the state leaders of both countries should continuously and consistently condemn hate speech and ethnically motivated attacks, which would contribute to strengthening trust. He said that Serbia was actively working to strengthen the position of Croats in Serbia, as evidenced by the fact that Žigmanov became a minister. He reminded everyone gathered that the Serbian Government bought the birthplace of Count Josip Jelačić, which is also a step forward in bettering the relations between the two countries.
– These may be only small steps, but they are positive examples that we should emulate in the coming period. We need a constructive solution on both sides, sometimes even with the implementation of positive discrimination. I would like to express my great gratitude to the representatives of the Serbs in Croatia for preserving their national identity. Serbia remains highly interested and focused on providing all types of support in realising the full capacity of the rights guaranteed by the EU. I am sure that Croatia will show its constructiveness and that we will work together for a better future – stressed Dačić, recalling Josif Runjanin, the composer of the Croatian anthem and the Serbian song “Rado ide Srbin u vojnike” (“The Serb Enlists Gladly in the Army”), who was born in Loznica, lived in Vinkovci, and died in Novi Sad.
– Why was such a thing possible? Because at that time we had other enemies. Later, we became our own worst enemies, in other words, we became enemies to each other. And the results of the Census tell us that we may soon not need each other as enemies, because we are biologically disappearing. That is why, instead of competing in hatred, I want us to compete in building peace and good relations. We have to find a common interest, even when we do not think alike. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are usually spent in the company of the ones dearest to us. I do not believe that we are so dear to each other, but we are where we are, it is what it is, and we have to live together, and, if that is the case, then I guess it is our turn to live in peace – said Dačić, wishing everyone happy holidays. Along with Žigmanov, Dačić was accompanied to Zagreb by Serbian Minister for EU Integration Tanja Miščević.
Pupovac: Silence the Voices of Hatred and Improve Cooperation
In his speech, SNV’s President Milorad Pupovac recalled the first Christmas gatherings that began three decades ago in Zagreb’s Prosvjeta.
– We could not have known what these occasions would grow into, what they would reach, and where they would end up. We knew only instinctively and consciously that the anti-war, peaceful spirit and idea must be in everything that we do and the reason why we gather – said Pupovac, pointing out that at the time they had not been aware of what kind of and how much of the burden of the Croatian-Serbian history would fall on all of us.
– We only knew that we should carry this burden in such a way that we preserve our dignity as well as the dignity of others and vice versa. We knew that we should protect the dignity of Serbs in Croatia as well as the dignity of Croats and the other way around – Pupovac said and emphasised that it had been difficult to predict that 30 years later representatives of Serbs from Croatia and Croats from Serbia would build a golden bridge between the two countries and the two peoples.
– We did not know, but we are doing it as if we had always known or as if the best of our ancestors had been whispering to us how and why we should do it.
– True, we are doing this after all the bridges destroyed in the first war in Europe after the Second World War have already been rebuilt, but the same is not true for a stable bridge of political peace and political cooperation between Croatia and Serbia. We accept this job under these circumstances and under the threat of another, even more dangerous war in Europe with the full awareness that peace needs to be consolidated in this part of Europe. This means that we need to overcome old divisions and avoid new ones – emphasised the president of SNV.
According to Pupovac, in such a context, it is especially important to silence all hate speech as well as the acts of insulting the suffering of the other:
– Every salute “For Homeland – ready!” (“Za dom spremni!”), every celebration of war criminals as national heroes, every chant “Kill, kill the Serb” in Croatian stadiums and every chant “Kill, kill the Croat so that ‘Šiptar’ is left without a brother” in stadiums around Serbia. Silencing such voices of hatred is primarily the task of those of us who speak from political and church pulpits – he said.
Pupovac advocated for the development of the practice of recognition and tolerance of differences, which is also visible on the euro banknotes on which the name of the currency is written in three European scripts – the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic. The same Cyrillic script whose creators are the protectors of Europe, the Slavic brothers of St. Cyril and Methodius, and which should not be prevented from equal use anywhere in Europe, let alone be stigmatized. He reminded that the head of one of the euro coins was the head of the great Nikola Tesla.
– With full awareness of the importance of the open questions between Croatia and Serbia that still await their answers, such as the issues of missing persons, war crimes, and commemorative practices, I would like to emphasise here the importance of open borders with our neighbours. On this occasion, especially the border between Croatia and Serbia. I emphasise this because the Schengen Regime, which also came into effect on the first day of this year, and the dialogue regime between Croatia and Serbia, which we would like to start establishing from this day onwards, would coexist in the best possible way – as openly as possible and also permanently open, so that all open issues could be resolved. So that the borders of Europe are expanded and strengthened in what is needed, but in no way in what is not needed – he said.
Pupovac also reminded of the fate of our fellow citizens from Banija, who are still waiting for the reconstruction of their houses and a dignified life, to whose needs we need to commit and dedicate ourselves completely and absolutely, as well as of those who, due to social and economic inequality, do not have the prerequisites for a dignified life, and those who, through no fault of their own, are dying and suffering in today’s world, especially in Ukraine.
– Peace awaits us as a difficult and by no means easy task, which is as sacred and great as the task of those who laid down their lives for the idea of freedom and equality – concluded Pupovac, especially highlighting the example of the linguist Sava Mrkalj – to whom this year’s edition of SNV’s calendar is dedicated – a genius who in language managed to find a way for both peoples to speak their own language and was one of the first to define the prerequisites for the codification of literacy.
Vojnić: The Top of the Iceberg Began Melting Today
Jasna Vojnić, the president of the Croat National Council (HNV) in Serbia, said that both communities – the Croatian one in Serbia and the Serbian one in Croatia – must make an equal part in their respective governments and an adequate part in the budget, as well as the percentage of employees, but that they should also be a link between the two countries. She said that it was time for Croats in Serbia to get their own school centre and be represented at all levels of government.
– It makes us happy because we now know what it is like to have a minister in the government of our own country. The top of the iceberg began melting today. But there is still an entire ridge ahead of us. We believe that resolving the issue of missing persons would restore peace to our families and that condemning hate speech of all of us would bring security to all of our homes – said Vojnić, asserting that it would not be easy, but that together we could drive the process to its end, which Christmas could help with – she said.
Deputy Mayor of Zagreb Luka Korlaet praised the cooperation with Serbian organisations in the capital of Croatia, pointing out that the City Administration is trying to make Zagreb even more open. He said that the design and construction of three important monuments was nearing completion: the one to the victims of the Holocaust, the victims in Dotrščina, and the monument to the Zec family in Sljeme, which would be completed later in the year.
The Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Porfirije reminded us of the transience of life on Earth, as well as the need for a constant fight against evil, which should be especially emphasised at Christmas when God comes to reveal the truth and the meaning of existence, because it is only through Him that we become good towards others.
– God found a way to us, once and for all, regardless of our egoism and selfishness. With this, He showed us that there is a way to reach other people, despite the boundaries that people make. Life should be oriented towards good, so that evil would immediately be marginalized. I am glad that we have gathered here, and that the composition of our assembly is the way it is. Regardless of our differences, we are all called to be God’s people and citizens of the heavenly kingdom – the Patriarch wished everyone peace and well-being, concluding with, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”
The SNV also presented their annual awards at the reception. The First General Secretary of the SNV, Jovan Vejnović, and activist Dragica Skorupan received the “Nikola Tesla” Award for the improvement of Serbian institutions. The “Svetozar Pribičević” Award for improving Croatian-Serbian relations went to the Novosti Weekly columnist, Marinko Čulić. The “Diana Budisavljević” Recognition for humanity and justice went to Nevenka Končar and Radovan Jović, and the “Dr. Gojko Nikoliš” Recognition for anti-fascism to Ognjen Kraus.