Effigy of Serbian president causes new rift in relations with Croatia

Effigy of Serbian president causes new rift in relations with Croatia
Effigies of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the carnival at Kastel Stari. / Visit Kaštela visit Facebook
By bne IntelliNews February 18, 2024

Tensions between Croatia and Serbia rose following an event at a carnival in the village of Kastel Stari, near Split, where an effigy representing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was burned.

The incident occurred during the 211th International Carnival Parade on February 13, an annual event where participants symbolically burn effigies representing figures blamed for perceived misfortunes. 

While some years the figures represented Croatian politicians, this year, the effigies included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vučić, portrayed as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza riding donkeys.

The incident sparked outrage in Serbia, with extensive coverage in local media. 

Reacting to the incident, Serbia's foreign ministry issued a strongly worded note condemning the burning of Vucic's effigy. Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s head of diplomacy, denounced the act as "unacceptable" and contradictory to efforts aimed at normalising relations and enhancing cooperation between the two nations.

“Burning a doll with the image of the President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic is an absolutely unacceptable act, which is in complete contradiction to the jointly expressed commitment to the full normalisation of relations and the improvement of comprehensive cooperation between our countries,” the note said, according to a foreign ministry statement. 

“This scandalous act of spreading hatred sends a message that in no way contributes to the strengthening of good-neighbourly relations, peace and stability in the region, and directly and seriously damages the relations between the two countries.”

Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman commented on the issue at a press conference on February 15, saying that burning an effigy is a local tradition and the response from Vucic was the problem. 

"It's part of the custom, people rejoice and have fun. When a doll is burned, life continues, it's a new day. It seems to me that I was also burned, in Trilj or Sinj," he said, adding that he did not get angry because of that," he said, according to a foreign ministry statement. 

"He [Vucic] said a lot of things that are not right. First of all, good neighborly relations are achieved through dialogue and cooperation. I think Serbia has a lot of reasons to get a little more involved," Grlic Radman added.

Croatia's tradition of carnival celebrations, including the burning of effigies and political satire, has deep historical roots. However, tensions between the two countries, stemming from the 1990s war and unresolved border disputes along the Danube River, continue to simmer. Issues regarding minority rights, affecting both Croats in Serbia and Serbs in Croatia, further compound the strained relationship.

The incident at the carnival adds to a series of recent diplomatic flare-ups between Croatia and Serbia. Last November, the expulsion of Croatian diplomat Hrvoje Snajder by Serbia, on allegations of espionage, triggered reciprocal action from Croatia, expelling Petr Novakovic, an adviser to the Serbian embassy in Zagreb.