Croatia's Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivan Del Vechio, is going to be summoned to Zagreb for consultations after he attended the controversial celebration of the Republika Srpska Day in Banja Luka, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Thursday.
The holiday, celebrated by Bosnia's semi-autonomous Serb entity, was declared unconstitutional by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Constitutional Court. Wednesday's celebration was also marked by the the posthumous awarding of the Serb entity's decoration to a former Yugoslav Army officer, Slavko Lisica, who had been sentenced in absentia in Croatia in 1998 to 15 years in prison for war crimes during Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence.
In 1998, a court in the coastal city of Sibenik found Lisica guilty of ordering the shelling of Sibenik in September 1991. In the shelling perpetrated by units under Lisica's control, a woman was killed and the city's landmarks, including centuries-old churches and monuments in the city centre, were damaged.
Lisica was initially a high-ranking officer of the Yugoslav Army when the war broke out, serving in the Knin-based 9th Corps commanded by Ratko Mladic, and later was a general in the Republika Srpska army during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He retired in 1994.
After the war, Lisica never served his sentence and died in Belgrade in 2013. His posthumous decoration awarded on Wednesday was handed to his son Nenad.
On Thursday, Croatia's Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Tomo Medved, and Defence Minister, Damir Krsticevic, both slammed ambassador Del Vechio for attending the celebration in Banja Luka despite the fact that Bosnia's Constitutional Court found the Serb entity's holiday as discriminatory against ethnic Croats and Bosniaks in a 2015 ruling.
Attending such a ceremony constituted “inappropriate conduct, particularly considering the fact that a war criminal, convicted in Croatia of grave war crimes, was decorated on that occasion,” Medved told reporters in Zagreb on Thursday, with Minister Krsticevic saying that attending such an event was a “disgrace”.
Del Vechio had joined Croatia's diplomatic corps in the early 2000s and previously served as ambassador to Israel and Poland before being appointed ambassador to Bosnia in October 2013.
Later on Thursday, Croatia's Foreign Ministry said it has not been informed of the decision of Ambassador Ivan Del Vechio to attend the Banja Luka celebration, and confirmed that he would be recalled to Zagreb “for consultations”.
“The ministry condemns in the strongest terms the decoration of former JNA officer, Slavko Lisica, who was convicted in Croatia for war crimes committed in the area of Sibenik in 1991,” the Croatian ministry says, adding that it will thoroughly investigate why Del Vehcio went to the Banja Luka celebrations on 9 January of his own accord.
Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric decided to recall the diplomat at the request of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
The parade and celebrations in Banja Luka were ignored by a vast majority of foreign diplomats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the exception of the ambassadors of Russia and Croatia. Also in attendance were Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin, as well as top dignitaries of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic of the HDZ BiH party, the sister party of Croatia's ruling Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic.
The central event included a parade involving 1,500 personnel, mostly armed police officers. Some of them wore uniforms resembling those worn by Serb troops in World War I. The parade also included firefighters, civil protection staff, war veterans, students, and local branches of the controversial Russian motorcycle club Night Wolves widely believed to be close to Russia's leader Vladimir Putin.
No symbols of Bosnia and Herzegovina were on display during the parade or at other commemorative events. On the other hand, numerous flags of the Republika Srpska entity and Serbia were flown, and only the anthems of Republika Srpska and Serbia were played.
The Serb entity government marks January 9 in memory of a decision made on that day in 1992 by some of the Serb deputies in the then Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina which was at the time still part of Yugoslavia, to establish “a republic of the Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The decision was a prelude to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that started a few months later and was marked by mass expulsions of non-Serb population from the territory which today constitutes Republika Srpska.
Earlier on Thursday, leader of the Bosniak ethnic minority Party of Democratic Action in Croatia (SDAH), Armin Hodzic, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Plenkovic condemning the attendance of Del Vechio and HDZ BiH leader Dragan Covic at the Wednesday ceremony, hosted by Serb nationalist hardliners Milorad Dodik and Zeljka Cvijanovic.
In his letter, Hodzic said that January 9 marked the beginning of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats during the Bosnian War, and added that Dodik – who is currently serving as a Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency – regularly glorifies convicted Serb war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
He called on Prime Minister and Zagreb government to recall ambassador Del Vechio and “stop pampering” HDZ BiH leader Dragan Covic, in order to “protect Croatia's reputation domestically and internationally.”