Serbia will ask the European Union to respond to Croatia's behaviour which is unfair, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has said, and other Serbian officials on Saturday, too, responded to Croatian officials' statements on the case of war crimes indictee Vojislav Seselj.
"Due to the latest outburst by Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Bozo Petrov, who has criticised our government for not transferring to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indictee Vojislav Seselj and announced that there would be obstacles to Serbia's integration with European institutions, Belgrade will most likely send an official protest note to Zagreb," the Vecernje Novosti daily said on Saturday, noting that this plan was confirmed by Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.
Dacic has said that Zagreb's interference in Serbia's internal matters is inappropriate.
"This is not the first time Croatia is acting unfairly and trying to stop our integration with the EU. It would be better if they first solved problems encountered by the Serbs in Croatia and complied with EU standards. Bilateral issues should be dealt with by individual countries and I expect that to continue to be the position of the EU," Dacic told Vecernje Novosti.
Serbian Deputy PM and head of the National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic, said that Croatian politicians had been "flexing their patriotic muscles" in relations with Serbia for months.
"We have not been giving them any reason to do so and if they continue this way, they will bring our relations to the lowest possible level, which is neither in their interest, nor in ours nor the region's or the EU's," Ljajic told Vecernje Novosti.
Minister of the Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic said that Serbia was willing to cooperate with all neighbours but that it had to react and protect national interests when conditions were being set and its citizens were being humiliated.
We will act the same way as we did in last year's "customs war", when "Croatia made an economic attack on our country, and we won with the help of the EU," Stefanovic said, confident that Serbia would achieve what was necessary to open talks on the policy areas 23 and 24 regarding justice and fundamental rights.
Stefanovic, a vice-president of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, said that Croatia was expected to respect rights defined in those policy areas, primarily the rights of its Serb ethnic minority.
Minister of EU Integration Jadranka Joksimovic said that Serbia was already having problems in the process of its integration with the EU because of Zagreb's positions.
"We are waiting only for Croatia's approval of the EU's negotiating position for the policy chapter 23. Zagreb can slow down Serbia's integration with the EU but that would not be a good message," she said.
The Belgrade media reported that the Croatian foreign ministry had stated that to open the policy chapter 23 in its EU entry talks, Serbia had to respect minority rights, cooperate with the Hague war crimes tribunal and reform its judiciary, including the abolishing of jurisdiction for the prosecution of war crimes committed in the area of the former Yugoslavia.
Croatian Deputy PM Bozo Petrov has criticised the Serbian authorities for not having transferred Seselj to The Hague to attend his sentencing hearing, writing on his Facebook account that Serbian authorities were acting "as if this were a trial for a minor traffic offence."
Croatian First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko has reacted as well, saying that Croatia will respond if Seselj is allowed to decide whether to attend his sentencing hearing.
Seselj, leader of the Serb Radical Party, indicted for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, said on Thursday that he was not interested in his sentencing hearing, to be held on March 31, and did not want to follow it from Belgrade via video link either. He also announced that he would appeal, regardless of the verdict.
The Hague tribunal decided earlier to deliver a verdict in the Seselj case in his absence, and the trial chamber in charge of his trial offered him the possibility to follow the hearing via video link from Belgrade, of which he is to inform the tribunal by March 22.
Croatian PM Tihomir Oreskovic said in Brussels on Friday that he expected Serbia "to make the right decision" in the Seselj case. Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) member of the European Parliament Andrej Plenkovic and former Parliament Speaker Vladimir Seks have said that the Hague tribunal's treatment of Seselj was wrong.