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At an historic event hosted and organized by Harvard University’s Kokkalis Program on Southeastern and East-Central Europe, Serbian President Tadić and Croatian President Mesić shared their insights on the evolving political and economic dynamics in their region, the future status of Kosovo, the improving relations between their two nations, and the major challenges that still face the region. Speaking to a standing room only audience of nearly 800 attendees, this event marked the first time in Harvard’s nearly 400 year history that two sitting presidents made a public visit and joint lecture at the University.
Tadić, born in Sarajevo in 1958, has served as Serbian president since June 2004. A lifelong political activist, Tadić was convicted for his opposition activities while studying psychology in Belgrade under communist rule. He has been a member of the Democratic Party since 1990 and served as minister of telecommunications and minister of defense. Mesić, born in Orahovica, Slavonia in 1934, has been the president of the Republic of Croatia since 2000. He previously held the posts of prime minister of Croatia, president of Yugoslavia, and president of the Croatian parliament.
Speaking through an interpreter, President Mesić opened his remarks by noting, “the fact that I stand here with you today with the president of Serbia, Boris Tadić, suggests that the situation in our region is fundamentally changing.” Mesić also shared his vision of full normalization of relations between Croatia and Serbia that would be shared by all citizens of the two countries. He also addressed the years of war in the former Yugoslavia that led to the formation of the two nations, discussed the obstacles to normalization that followed, and the sincere efforts made by both nations to overcome them.
Noting that the “the Belgrade-Zagreb relationship is the key to regional cooperation,” Tadić urged the region to work toward a new beginning for Southeastern Europe which ends divisiveness in favor of a common Euro-Atlantic future marked by nations which are “fully democratic, fully free, fully secure, and fully prosperous.” Discussing the post-war reconciliation process in Serbia, Tadić noted that it is has been difficult for Serbia to come to terms with Slobodan Milosevic’s legacy. He stated his strong belief that Serbia must mourn all victims of ethnic cleansing, noting that Radko Mladic’s extradition to The Hague is Serbia’s a moral and legal obligation “to the region and the world…but most of all to ourselves.”
Replying to a question on Kosovo’s future, Mesić stated that the international community should facilitate a just, non-violent solution through negotiation that satisfies the many interests which have a stake in its future. He also noted that institutions in Kosovo are functioning, and that it was his belief that “it would be best for the Serbs to participate in the work of the institutions in Kosovo and in this way to help to resolve their status.” In response to the same question, President Tadić indicated that he believes a compromise solution on Kosovo can be achieved. He also noted that although “many people in the international community are thinking that independence for Kosovo is a sustainable solution, I’m not sure,” and went on to raise questions about the precedents and consequences that Kosovo’s independence could have on regional stability.
Photo by Jon Chase