NATO member says it will block Sweden, Finland candidacy

“We’re not asking Finland or Sweden to change their name to Ikea,” the Croatian president said

Finland and Sweden joining NATO is “very dangerous charlatanry” and amounts to provoking Russia, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said on Tuesday. Zagreb will refuse to ratify their membership until the US and EU pressure the neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina into guaranteeing ethnic Croats their basic voting rights, Milanovic added.

“As far as I’m concerned, they can get into NATO, they can poke the rabid bear in the eye with a pen,” Milanovic told reporters in Zagreb on Tuesday.

“However, until the electoral law issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina is resolved, until the Americans, the English, the Germans – if they can and want to – compel Sarajevo and Bakir Izetbegovic to update the electoral law in the next six months and grant Croats their elementary rights, the Sabor must not ratify anyone’s admission to NATO,” he added, referring to the Croatian parliament.

NATO cannot admit new members without the approval of current ones, Milanovic pointed out, adding that he sees Croatia’s role at this moment as “a historic silver bullet.”

“Let the US president or secretary of state hear this now. Let’s see what they can do for Croatia. I’ve had enough of them ignoring and neglecting a NATO and EU member, and sidelining Croatia,” Milanovic said, adding that if the US and its Western European allies want the two Scandinavian countries in NATO, “they will have to listen to Croatia.”

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Croatia’s biggest grievance is the current electoral system in the neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has an ethnic Croat community recognized as equal under the 1995 constitution that ended the civil war. Zagreb insists on updates to the electoral law so that Croats in Bosnia would be able to elect their own representatives, as opposed to the current practice of having them elected by the much larger community of Bosnian Muslims, also known as Bosniaks. 

In addition to Bosnia, Milanovic listed some of Zagreb’s other grievances: refusal by the EU to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen border crossing agreement, lack of recognition for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, and no progress in EU talks with Albania and North Macedonia – which even changed its name recently to overcome objections from Greece, to no avail.

“We’re not asking Finland or Sweden to change their name to Ikea, only to tell the Americans that these things need to be resolved,” Milanovic said.

Historically neutral Sweden and Finland have both made moves to join NATO in recent weeks, citing the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Croatia became a NATO member in 2009 and joined the EU in 2013, when Milanovic was prime minister. The Social Democrat politician has been president since October 2020. It is not clear, however, if his threat to veto NATO expansion will work out in practice, since the nationalist HDZ party has the parliamentary majority.

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