CROATIA: ‘Chocolategate’ threatens fragile relations with neighbours

Just before Christmas, the Croatian embassy in Slovenia sent employees of the Slovenian foreign ministry chocolate boxes to celebrate the upcoming holiday. However, the foreign ministry quickly returned the gifts in a bag with the words ‘I Feel Slovenia’, complaining that a map on the top of the boxes showed Piran Bay as being part of Croatia. The bay is the subject of a territorial dispute between the countries, both former Yugoslav republics, and has been an issue since 1991. Croatia withdrew from international arbitration on the issue in 2015, after a leaked tape revealed that a Slovenian judge on the tribunal had discussed how to influence the outcome with an employee of the Slovenian foreign ministry.

In the former Yugoslavia, small gestures can often be a provocation for a major incident, as Croatia experienced just weeks before the spat with Slovenia. Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović came under fire from her compatriots when, on 6 December, she handed out a package of chocolates, including the well-known Serbian ‘Mony’ bar, to children during the 25 year anniversary commemoration of the Serbian siege of Dubrovnik.

The gesture spiralled into a major incident when one parent noticed the ‘Mony’ bar and complained online. That prompted a public statement by Kitarović expressing her ‘disappointment’ that the sweets were Serbian, promising to send all the children Croatian-made chocolate in compensation, and ordering an investigation to find out who was responsible for the choice of chocolate. The Croatian media roundly mocked her response for being exaggerated, while two former presidents said her apology fuelled nationalist sentiments.

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