Normalization Signals in Croatia-Serbia Relations

Similar Posts

This post is also available in: Türkçe Русский

Constructive statements by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic about the relations between the two countries, who attended a reception held in Zagreb on the occasion of the Orthodox Christmas,[1] brought up the possibility of melting the ice between the parties.

As it is known, the problems waiting to be solved between Serbia and Croatia emerged with the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In this context, the tragic events experienced after the dissolution of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991-1992, which consists of six republics, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia,[2] continue to shape the relations of the states that gained independence with each other. Croatia and Serbia are also in this category.

After Croatia’s declaration of independence in 1991, the intense conflicts that took place after the ethnic Serb minority in the country uprising with the help of Serbia and which caused tens of thousands of people to be negatively affected, form the basis of the tense relations between the parties. There are momentous disputes between the two countries, especially the Serbs in Croatia and the Croats in Serbia, due to minorities and the demarcation of the border line.

Within the scope of the solution of the aforementioned problems, Prime Minister of the time Alexander Vucic, the current President of Serbia, and the former President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, signed a six-point declaration in 2016.[3] Despite this, there have been various tensions between the parties after 2016. The most well-known example of this is the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, as the Croatian authorities learned about Vucic’s planned visit to the Jasenovac concentration camp through unofficial channels in 2022.[4]

On the other hand, the developments experienced at the beginning of 2023 are positive in terms of bilateral relations. In this context, following the reception held in Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic came together as guests of the Great Prel event in Backa to determine what should be done to develop and improve relations between Serbia and Croatia.[5]

Two recent developments show that concrete steps have been taken to improve relations on the Zagreb-Belgrade line. The first of these developments is the appointment of Tomislav Zigmanov, an ethnic Croat as Serbian Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue in 2022. The second development is the signing of the Declaration on the Cooperation of Serbs in Croatia and Croats in Serbia by Zigmanov, as representatives of Croatian and Serbian minorities, and Milorad Pupovac, President of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS).[6] While condemning the anti-minority sentiments of the declaration signed on January 5, 2023; it is very important that it contains statements that encourage the two countries to solve unresolved problems. Therefore, the said step contributed to the elimination of a critical problem that increased the tension in the relations between the parties.

It can be said that all these moves prioritizing the normalization of the Zagreb-Belgrade line are related to the change in Serbia’s regional policy. Because Belgrade’s dispute with Pristina, the mediation of the European Union (EU) and Serbia’s decision to develop relations with the states with which it has problems in the region in the context of EU integration point to a new foreign policy paradigm. It can be said that this situation is also reflected in relations with Croatia, which is also an EU member.

On the other hand, the differences of opinion between Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic, which sometimes affect the country’s foreign policy, are likely to be reflected in the attitude towards Serbia. However, in the meetings held in 2023, both leaders utter that they need to find a way for cooperation.[7] The situation in question reveals the awareness of the ways to be covered in Croatia-Serbia relations.

As a result, a positive atmosphere has emerged in the Zagreb-Belgrade relations. In particular, the steps taken by the parties in January 2023 revealed that there is a serious will to ensure normalization in relations. However, as senior state officials have stated, there are differences of opinion stemming from the historical background of both countries. This can make the normalization process fragile.

[1] “Orthodox Christmas Warms Once Chilly Croatia-Serbia Ties”, Balkan Insight,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[2] “The Conflicts”, IRMCT,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[3] “Declaration on Serbia-Croatia relations signed”, European Western Balkans,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[4] “Diplomatic Spat Erupts Between Balkan Rivals Serbia, Croatia”, VOA News,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[5] “Шефовите на дипломатиите на Хрватска и Србија ветија меѓусебна соработка за да се надминат проблемите од минатото”, Sloboden Pecat,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[6] “Leaders of Croat and Serb Minorities: Cooperation Has No Alternative”, N1 info,, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2023).

[7] “Шефовите на дипломатиите…”, op.cit.

Ankara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü