The Slovenia Times

Interview: Dr Svjetlan Berković, Croatian ambassador



Slovenia and Croatia are good neighbours - trade partnerships are strong and result in two billion euro exchanges each year - with occasional mood swings. Disputes over borders have rumbled on for many years but cooperation continues unabated, often with little political or diplomatic involvement. Thirty Croatian companies have representatives in Slovenia, linked in to the Cro Club. Over a million Slovenes travelled to the Croatian seaside last year and thousands of Croats came to Slovenia to ski.

The most notorious drama in bilateral relations between Slovenia and Croatia has been the border dispute, which is now to be resolved in arbitration. Would you agree that the whole issue is more symbolic than practical?
The problem mostly derives from undefined situations at the breakup of Yugoslavia, including when it comes to the maritime border. This has taken on the dimensions of a bilateral problem but in my opinion it is not a huge one. Relations in 2009 did indeed drop to a very low point - a point totally unacceptable for two nations which have never in history experienced any kind of conflicts, but rather followed common ideas and goals. The arbitration deal has overcome this problem as both countries made the effort to improve relations. The dispute will be dealt according to the arbitration agreement. In any case the entire issue will become far less significant when Croatia enters the European Union and the Schengen border control system. The future however is in our common goals for the protection of the Adriatic Sea and the other things which bind us together. As we have seen, in neither country has this "problem" become an issue in the recent election campaigns.

Don't you fear that when the arbitration court makes a decision one side might be disappointed and the relationship may again deteriorate?
I expect that both sides will be satisfied and partly unhappy as well, what would mean we have reached a balanced solution, acceptable for both countries' futures. I should repeat that with Croatia's EU accession this problem becomes a secondary issue.

What are the expectations for Croatian EU accession?
It is important that Croatia enters a union based on democracy, free market principles, free movement and free communication, where the rule of law is respected along with minority rights. It ensures a high level of security. The Union was funded to preserve peace in Europe. It is important to us, because we are leaving behind a period of conflicts, a period when we were defending ourselves from aggression, and the post-war period that has followed. The EU might have certain problems at the moment, but at the same time there is no alternative.

What is the Croatian experience of being in NATO, two years after joining the pact?
NATO membership means security for us and demonstrates our commitment to peace in the member states. In all ways our experience has been positive. We don't consider it solely a military alliance, but political as well. Practically it means that with fewer resources we achieve better results, such as with the possibility of common air forces. Croatian participation is most notably reflected in peace missions all over crisis areas with NATO presence. Our military police is much appreciated. Nevertheless, many members of the Croatian army unfortunately have the experience of real war. If we had been a NATO member in 1991, that wouldn't have happened.

The Croatian Agrokor group attempted to purchase the Slovenian retailer Mercator, but failed due to resistance on the Slovenian side. Some have put these events in the context of bilateral relations. What is your view?
It's a business matter. Agrokor has offered the best bid, and if market freedom was respected, Mercator should have accepted it in its best interest. I should also say that Slovenian investments in Croatia are by far bigger than vice versa, and no one has ever questioned that. If foreign capital is healthy and properly invested, it can only bring economic progress. I do not see it as a political question, there is no reason to put such issues on the pedestal of national interest. When Atlantic Group from Croatia purchased Kolinska, nobody asked questions.

Tourism is not only a matter of bilateral exchange, but also a common opportunity. Might a joint appearance of both Slovenian and Croatian tourist boards in Far Eastern markets be the way to go?
This is a very good practice, too bad it didn't work out for the South Korean Expo as well, where Slovenia has given up on attendance for certain reasons. If a guest from Japan comes here, he is visiting Europe. If he comes to Slovenia he would naturally go see something in Croatia as well - and vice versa. Such joint ventures have turned out to be very efficient.


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