A Croatian parliamentary delegation on Wednesday cut short a visit to neighboring Serbia after a far-right leader convicted of war crimes reportedly stamped on the Croatian national flag and shouted insults.
The delegation said they decided to return home after the incident in the Serbian parliament involving Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. The visit was initially planned for two days.
“This is a line we cannot cross, because this is unacceptable,” Croatian parliamentary speaker Goran Jandrokovic said. “We are leaving Belgrade.”
The Radicals said in a statement that Seselj pulled the flag down at the parliament entrance and trampled on it together with another party member, before shouting at the Croatian delegation inside.
“We didn’t know what happened, but we could hear Seselj shouting at us,” Jandrokovic said upon his return to Zagreb.
A U.N. war crimes court last week sentenced Seselj to 10 years in prison for instigating crimes against ethnic Croats, partially overturning his earlier acquittal of atrocities during the Balkan conflict in the 1990s.
Seselj, a lawmaker in Serbia’s parliament, remains free because he had already spent nearly 12 years in court custody during his trial at the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Relations between Serbia and Croatia are still tense years after the 1992-95 Serb-Croat war erupted when Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia.
Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, an ally of Seselj during the war but who now says he wants Serbia to join the European Union and forge regional cooperation, said Seselj’s behavior was “inadmissible” and “sends a bad message.”
Croatia’s president described Seselj’s actions as “rampage of a convicted war criminal,” while the government in Zagreb called it “uncivilized and inadmissible.”
Liberal lawmakers in the Serbian parliament have demanded that authorities strip Seselj of his parliamentary seat because of the war crimes conviction, triggering threats and insults from the far-right Serbian leader.