Croatia’s EU referendum was overwhelming — more than two-thirds of voters favoured the young state’s accession to the European Union. This is an important moment.
For it shows that another part of Yugoslavia is intent on leaving its violent past behind and move into the European mainstream. Croatia and its newly-elected government still faces many problems
— corruption, judicial favouritism and xenophobia among them — but the journey to a milder and more moderate society can now continue.
When Croatia accedes to the EU, probably next year, it will be an example to those states in the Balkans, like Bosnia, Albania and Serbia, that wish to join the EU but not undertake the hard,
reformist work that’s required. No doubt politicians in these countries will claim, as they did when Slovenia joined the EU, that Croatia was always different; Catholic, protected by Germany and
physically closer to Europe.
But this criticism misses the mark. For when Croatia’s army drove thousands of Serbs from their homes in Operation Storm — a mission for which several people have been convicted in The Hague
— the country did not look very European. It looked decidedly Balkan. Since then, however, progressively cleaner governments have sought to change Croatia’s society with the help of allies
such as Britain. That work is now paying off and a similar effort can work for Serbia, Bosnia and Albania too.
For many Britons, Croatia’s choice may seem quixotic, especially at this time when the EU faces such challenges. But the referendum bears reflecting on. It shows that, particularly on Europe’s
periphery, the EU is still a harbour from a violent history.