Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic cut short talks on Serbian entry into the European Union on Monday, demonstratively leaving Brussels in protest after Croatia blocked the opening of a scheduled chapter of negotiations. Vucic arrived in Brussels for a meeting with EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini on Monday, and had intended to take part in the Serbia-EU Intergovernmental Conference on accession negotiations Tuesday. But Croatia formally blocked the opening of the chapter in the EU accession rulebook regarding culture and education policy. After being told by Mogherini that the negotiations were still blocked, Vucic left the EU capital on Monday night.
"Serbia has been patient all along and tried not to react, but now we'll talk differently," Serbian media quoted the prime minister as saying. Vucic stressed that he had "had enough" of Croatia's behavior, adding that he didn't want "to behave like some of his colleagues from the region, and wants to take into account Serbia's interests." Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov © Sputnik/ Anton Denisov Russian Foreign Ministry Surprised by Alleged Hostility of Croatian President Croatia, which together with Slovenia is one of two former Yugoslav republics to have joined the EU, is blocking opening the new chapter due to a dispute regarding the translation of school textbooks for students studying in the Croatian language. Serbia has begun translating existing textbooks into Croatian, but Zagreb is demanding that Belgrade create special textbooks intended specifically for members of the Croatian minority in Serbia.
"There are things Serbia must implement along its EU path," Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier said, adding that the "full protection of national minorities is one of those matters." At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Belgrade on Monday, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic slammed Croatia for its "unprincipled position", telling reporters that "if Croatia is the one to decide about whether Serbia will enter the EU, then my interest just dropped somehow." Dacic added that the EU would do better to "pay a lot more attention to what is happening in Croatia," referring to continued difficulties the country faces in integrating and accounting for the interests of its Serbian minority. The Serbian foreign minister also warned that Croatia could one day use the weapons it receives from other NATO countries against Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia, or even against Serbia itself.
"When Croatia gets donations [of weapons] from NATO…who do they think Croatia would use those [rocket] launchers against? Rome, Budapest or Vienna? No, they are for Serbia," Dacic said. A group of mostly older Croatians, wearing Second World War Ustasha regime uniforms, parade in the Croatian Adriatic resort of Zadar, carrying a portrait of the late Ustasha leader, Ante Pavelic (R), 07 December 2004 © AFP 2016/ STRINGER Croatian Serbs in Uproar After War Veterans Unveil Memorial to Fascism The foreign minister stressed that Serbia has no plans of joining the Western alliance against Russia. "Serbia never was nor will be an anti-Russian country like some other countries have become. We will not join sanctions or any measures against Russia. And as you know, we have no plans to join NATO…as we conduct the policy of military neutrality."
For his part, Russia's foreign minister said that Brussels has been intensifying pressures on Belgrade to abandon its Russia-neutral policy. For instance, Lavrov noted that the EU has demanded that Serbia close the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Nis. In the Serbian Prime Minister's absence, the Serbia-EU Intergovernmental Conference is expected to instruct Serbia to pay "special attention" with respect of minority rights, "including in the field of education, use of minority languages, access to the media and religious services in minority languages." EU Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimovic will sit in for the absent Serbian delegation.
Horror Story of Balkan Arms Bazaar Earlier this year, Zagreb had delayed the opening of Serbian-EU talks on another chapter of entry negotiations, involving the judiciary, amid concerns that Serbian courts might try Croatian nationals on war crimes charges. Serbia and Croatia fought a brutal civil war in the mid-1990s following the breakup of Yugoslavia. Prime Minsiter Vucic has maintained that he would try to prepare his country for EU accession by 2020.