A leading U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to the European Union is calling on the EU to encourage Croatia and Serbia to take responsibility for their roles in the Holocaust before granting them EU membership.
"Now is the time for the European Union to exact the maximum amount of leverage," said Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former U.S. under secretary of state, who served as the Clinton administration's special representative on Holocaust-era issues. "Once they're in, the leverage is lost."
Eizenstat, who gave a wide-ranging interview to Haaretz while attending the President's Conference in Jerusalem yesterday, noted that Croatia's president, Ivo Josipovic, was also in attendance. He said Josipovic must go beyond his apology, issued last February, for his country's role in the crimes committed against the Jews during the Second World War. He called on him to commence with a restitution program and the formation of an independent commission of international scholars to examine the country's wartime past.
"Neither one of those is being done right now with respect to Croatia," said Eizenstat, who has negotiated agreements with Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France and other European countries with regard to restitution of property, compensation for slavery, recovery of looted art and bank accounts, and payment of insurance policies for Holocaust victims.
According to the Yad Vashem's website, 30,000 of Croatia's Jews died during the Holocaust - 80 percent of the country's Jewish population.
Croatia is expected to gain EU membership next year.
Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009 and may be granted entry as early as 2014. Yad Vashem estimates that 14,500 Jews were exterminated in Serbia during the Holocaust.
"This is a time to say, 'Look, if you're going to get into a democratic organization with rules of law, you have to demonstrate that the rule of law applies to you as well, and that you're going to find ways to deal with your past,'" said Eizenstat, America's ambassador to the EU from 1993-1996, who accused the EU of not holding Central and Eastern European countries accountable.
"It's never been on the EU's agenda," said the 69-year-old diplomat, a native of Atlanta, Georgia. "They need to take the lead, and they simply haven't."
Haaretz attempted to reach the Croatian delegation attending the Jerusalem Conference but did not receive a response before press time.
Meanwhile, Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury, called the EU's current financial crisis "a tremendous crisis of confidence" that threatens to send "much the developed world into a real tailspin with real political implications." He said "time was running out" for the EU to present a credible plan, and warned that if it fails to present one later this month at its summit "to convince the markets that they understand the imperfections of the euro zone they have created, then we're all in trouble."