Balkan heads of state who have been at the forefront of reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of the civil war in the region were awarded the prestigious European Medal of Tolerance at a ceremony in the European Parliament.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and former Serbian president Boris Tadic were presented with the medal by EJC President Moshe Kantor in his role as Co-Chairman of the the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) on Tuesday, October 16.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic has occupied office since 2010, having previously presided over the democratisation of the former Communist party, to become the Social Democratic Party, over which he currently presides.
In April 2010, Josipovic met with the Bosnian Croat Catholic archbishop cardinal Vinko Puljic and the head of the Islamic Community reis Mustafa Ceric and the three made a joint visit at the sites of Ahmic massacre and Krizancevo selo killings and paid respect to the victims.
Former Serbian President Boris Tadic served almost two terms as president, ending in his resignation in April 2012. He has been a staunch supporter of Serbia’s accession talks to the EU. In 2004, he made an official apology on a trip to Bosnia-Herzigovina to all those who suffered as a result of crimes committed in the name of the Serbian people. He has since further spoken out against the breakup of Bosnia-Herzegovina, instead defending its territorial integrity.
The gathering was addressed by EU President Martin Schulz who said that both award recipients had faced great challenges in putting the past behind them in order “to focus on progress and on the future”.
“We need to unite our efforts to fight any manifestation of extreme nationalism, discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism throughout Europe,” Schulz said. “Still today, in parts of Europe, we see the demons of the past raise their ugly heads. This is warning to all of us. As Edmund Burke said ‘All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.’"
Praising both recipients for their efforts in “opening the way to building trust between Balkan nations”, former President of Poland and ECTR co-Chairman Aleksander Kwasniewski said that “reconciliation is a long, difficult and important process that will never be finished”, congratulating the EU on its recent Nobel Prize award, and highlighting the founding principle of the EU as centring on reconciliation.
“The EU vision and dream is at a crossroads,” cautioned Kantor. Whist praising the unity between eastern and western Europe in the wake of the lifting of the Iron Curtain, he warned of the inevitable rise of influence of far-right nationalist parties amid a climate of financial crisis in Europe and beyond.
Talking of the need for “rules, proposals, laws” to make tolerance mandatory across the EU, he introduced ECTR’s proposals for a general law of tolerance.