Mutual Expulsion of Diplomats Between Croatia and Serbia: A Threat to Regional Stability?
In an action that has strained the relationship between the two Balkan neighbours, on November 21, Zagreb expelled the Serbian diplomat Petar Novaković. This comes as a reciprocal response to Serbia’s earlier expulsion of the Croatian diplomat Hrvoje Šnajder. The unexpected expulsion of Šnajder was announced by Serbia without providing specific reasons.
Belgrade declared Croatian diplomat Hrvoje Šnajder, who serves as the First Secretary of the Croatian embassy in Serbia, persona non grata. Serbia’s Foreign Ministry stated that during his professional tenure in Serbia, Šnajder significantly deviated from the framework of diplomatic norms and violated the Vienna Convention. However, it did not provide any details regarding the alleged violation committed by the Croatian diplomat.
The reasons behind Serbia’s initial expulsion of the Croatian diplomat remain unclear. However, media aligned with the populist Serbian Government reported that Šnajder was accused of engaging in “spying activities” and “recruiting” individuals for Croatian secret services.
The Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs rejected the grounds for Šnajder’s expulsion. As a reciprocal action, Zagreb expelled a Serbian diplomat. Zagreb decided that Petar Novaković, the adviser of the Embassy of Serbia in Croatia, should be declared persona non grata in Croatia.
Zagreb criticised Serbia’s action, stating that it would weaken bilateral relations between the two countries. Additionally, Croatian officials emphasised the potential for further destabilisation in sensitive regional political and security contexts, underscoring the critical importance of stability in Southeast Europe for the entire continent.
Zagreb also claimed that this action is connected to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for December 17. It asserted that the expulsion adds additional pressure on the staff of the Croatian embassy in Belgrade, a situation that becomes particularly evident during the pre-election period in Serbia.
The expulsion occurred following a phase in which relations between the two countries had experienced some improvement. This positive shift took place after the initiative of leaders representing Serbs in Croatia and Croats in Serbia, Milorad Pupovac and Tomislav Zigmanov, who worked towards building bridges between officials of the two nations. As a result of their efforts, high-level meetings between the Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabic, as well as with the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, took place. Nevertheless, this incident could trigger a setback in the relations.
The relationship between Serbia and Croatia is tarnished by their wartime animosity and the unresolved matter of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict. Additionally, the two nations have not yet settled a non-war-related border dispute. They disagree on whether the border between them follows the course down the middle of the Danube river or along its banks.