Balkan Leaders Unite in IOP First

Unnamed photo
Amy M. Sutherland

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic shakes hand with Joseph McCarthy of the Kennedy School yesterday as President Boris Tadic of Serbia looks on. The two leaders discussed the ongoing process of normalizing relations between So

The presidents of two Eastern European nations urged integration with the rest of Europe at the Institute of Politics last Friday, the first time two heads of state have ever shared a stage at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum.

In their remarks, President Stjepan Mesic of Croatia and President Boris Tadic of Serbia focused on the normalization process currently underway in the region, which is still struggling to recover from the wars and ethnic cleansing of the previous decade.

“If your hatred were to be transformed into electrical energy, it would be enough to light an entire city,” Tadic said of past strife, quoting Nikola Tesla, whom Tadic called “the man Serbia and Croatia celebrate together.”

Tadic argued that giving independence to Kosovo—a region in Serbia that underwent ethnic cleansing under the Slobodan Miloševic regime—is not a viable idea and is detrimental to democratic consolidation in the region.

Mesic, in a lengthy speech about the history of Kosovo, insisted that a solution must be found diplomatically. Tadic then thanked Mesic for his “long” historical analysis, arousing laughter among the audience.

Tadic said that political autonomy in Kosovo might set a dangerous precedent for other independence-seeking regions such as Chechnya and South Ossetia.

Both presidents emphasized the need for entry into the European Union (EU). Croatia is currently under consideration for membership, but Serbia must resolve its internal political fractures before the EU will consider the country for membership.

Mesic said that Croatia, too, faces obstacles on its way to acceptance into the EU. The country, which has shifted from an autocratic, semi-presidential political system to a parliamentary democracy, is combatting age-old xenophobia and isolationism. Mesic said that his government is conducting war trials and continues to battle an “embarrassing” past.

But there is reason to be hopeful, said the event’s moderator, Joesph McCarthy, senior associate dean of the Kennedy School of Government.

“The capitals of Serbia and Croatia are connected by a new highway—a symbolic highway to the future,” he said.

Ana I. Mendy ’09, the Forum Committee chair at the Institute of Politics, said the presidents “didn’t say a whole lot.”

“They were very nice to each other, even though they interpret and view history differently,” she said. “They were very civil to each other and friendly.”