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Balkan Report: April 11, 2000


11 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 26

Quo Vadis, HDZ? Things are changing quickly in Croatian politics. Perhaps the big question is: where will the once-mighty Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) find itself once the dust settles.?

Most Croats welcomed the recent change of government and the end of an authoritarian political culture. After the coalition of six parties came to power in January, scandals and revelations about old intrigues involving the HDZ elite began to appear almost daily in the press.

The HDZ itself has begun to split, and it is unclear whether Franjo Tudjman's party will be in a position to play any kind of constructive opposition role in the near future. If open feuding between leading figures of the party goes on, the HDZ will be hard-pressed to create a new political strategy and a readily identifiable new image. In this case, there will be no clear political alternative to the governing coalition. Should Croatia lack a robust opposition, its transition to a truly Western-style democracy will be delayed. For that reason if for nothing else, a review of recent developments in the HDZ is in order.

Former Foreign Minister Mate Granic founded a new party, the Croatian Democratic Center (HDC), in March. Granic, formerly known as the leader of the so-called liberal wing in the HDZ, was looking for a fresh political start. He wanted to distance himself from the HDZ's right wing, which is led by Ivic Pasalic. Pasalic is of Herzegovinian origin and was Tudjman's most influential advisor in his final years.

Vladimir Seks and Branimir Glavas from Slavonia play key roles in the HDZ, too. In 1989 they founded the party together with Franjo Tudjman and act as its two top hardliners now. It is significant that even the right wing of the HDZ is not united anymore. Pasalic said in an interview with "Vecernji list" on 30 March that the political alliance between Glavas and Seks is in doubt. As for Pasalic and Seks, they have long been feuding in public.

But the birth of the HDC and the mistrust within the right wing of the HDZ are not the only problems for the party. There is also a faction that calls itself the "Club of the Founding Fathers." Pasalic mentioned that the existence of this faction is not in line with party regulations. He even fears that old-timers like Josip Manolic or Hrvoje Sarinic could take control of the fraction and try to destroy the party from within.

Each of these men was once very prominent in HDZ affairs. Josip Manolic left the party in 1994 together with Stipe Mesic, who is now president of the country and until recently a member of the People's Party (HNS). The main reasons for their departure were Tudjman's policies against the Muslims in Bosnia and his tendency to act as though the Croatian state were his personal property. Sarinic left the HDZ in 1998. He was opposed to the power of the hardliners, Zagreb's growing international isolationism, and the misuse of the secret service for political purposes.

Since Tudjman's death in December, a fight has come into the open between some of the hardliners--who are often dubbed the Herzegovinian lobby--on the one side, and the moderate "technocrats" on the other. The feud is being played out at present in a noisy press dispute over the so-called "white book" about INA, Croatia's biggest oil company.

The white book is really a pamphlet, the authors of which are unknown. It alleges the existence of a Russian-Jewish conspiracy against the Croatian oil sector. Davor Stern, who was once general director of INA and is of Jewish origin, belongs to the technocratic faction of the HDZ. He interprets the white book as an attempt by the HDZ's right wing to destroy the more moderate elements. In a recent interview for "Globus," Stern said that the goal of the white book is to show that not only the hardliners are prone to scandals and corruption.

This anti-Semitic imbroglio partly reflects the internal situation of the party. It shows that it will have difficulties rising above its past and developing a new and modern image. A party congress at the end of this month is expected to deal with such questions and decide on a new leadership. If the process of self-destruction goes on it seems unlikely that the HDZ will be able to deal with these key issues and mount an effective opposition to the coalition.

And the government has already shown itself to be in need of a serious opposition. The Istrian Democratic League (IDS), which belongs to the governing coalition, wants the government to support the troubled Istarska Banka, though the National Bank found "significant irregularities" in its activities. When Prime Minister Racan was still in opposition to Tudjman, he often criticized the HDZ for its "political meddling" in the banking sector. Now he has to prove to what extent he can stay true to his principles despite pressures from the IDS (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2000). And if he does not, then at least some of the parties in the coalition should call him and the IDS to account.

Pointing out governmental hypocrisy is also part of the role of a healthy opposition--in this case, the HDZ. President Mesic is another possible check on shady dealings by the government. He and Racan are currently locked in a dispute over how many of Tudjman's sweeping presidential powers should be transferred to the government or parliament. This discussion, too, clouds the political landscape. As parliamentary speaker and head of the Peasants' Party (HSS), Zlatko Tomcic, put it in a recent interview for "Globus": "These are not easy questions." (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer based in Munich. christian.buric@gmx.de)

Mesic Plans New Kind Of Presidential Council. President Mesic is about to set up his own advisory body (Predsjednicko vijece). As with so many other attributes of his presidency, he will handle this very differently from his predecessor.

Franjo Tudjman's council was a large, permanent body. Mesic intends to have a smaller core structure that will work with ad-hoc committees. One of the first will be headed by Professor Velimir Srica and will deal with long-term planning. It will also look at how Croatia can catch up with the revolution in information sciences in recent years. Two other topics on the agenda for some of the first committees are planning for entry into the EU and modernizing the military, "Jutarnji list" reported on 4 April. (Patrick Moore)

The Plum Trees Of Kukes. Hamburg's "Die Zeit" recently ran an article about a man from Kosova who took refuge with a family in Kukes, Albania, during the 1999 conflict. The relationship between the two men appears in the story as a metaphor for that between Kosovars and citizens of Albania.

In brief, although the two men speak more or less the same language, the Kosovar in particular became quickly aware of the differences in mentality and outlook between him and people in his host country, which he found chaotic and dirty. He noted that he had always carefully tended his fruit trees back in Kosova, whereas the Albanians of Kukes "celebrated" the fall of communism in 1991 by cutting down the plum trees that had provided their livelihood. Whenever the Kosovar now thinks of the differences in mentality, he sees in his mind's eye the rows of stumps of once bountiful fruit trees.

Last weekend in Budapest, a conference took place of Albanians from Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. For good measure, representatives of the Montenegrin government and Serbian opposition were also present.

It is not surprising that the members of the Serbian opposition and the Kosovar Albanians could not agree on a common platform for Kosova. Even before the recent conflict, the Albanians rarely found Serbian politicians of any stripe who were willing to address the Kosova question in a way that the Albanians considered even partially acceptable. The Albanians, for their part, disappointed the Serbs by boycotting Serbian elections and thereby denying votes to Milosevic's opponents.

What surprised some observers, however, was that many of the Albanians in Budapest would not endorse the Kosovars' demand for independence. A U.S. State Department spokesman told RFE/RL that, in any event, it is too early to deal with the complex issue of Kosova's political future (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 March 2000). He stressed that neither the Albanians nor the Serbs are in any sense ready to deal with such a question just now. The province's agenda should be topped by issues such as promoting tolerance, the rule of law, and economic development, the spokesman added.

Moreover, Albanian Socialist leader Fatos Nano reminded listeners at a press conference that the Albanian government wants nothing to do with any plans for a greater Albania. Indeed, he might have added that assertions that Albanians throughout the Balkans are dreaming of a huge Albanian state is the product of Milosevic's propaganda mill. As "Die Zeit" suggested, the plum orchards of Kukes provide a commentary on that. (Patrick Moore)

Is Washington Seeking Ties To Milosevic? The Sunday "Times" on 9 April wrote that "there is a lot of bargaining going on at the moment" between Washington and Belgrade. The Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic wants to overcome its isolation. The U.S. State Department hopes to restore diplomatic ties to Belgrade in order to be better informed about what is happening inside Serbia, the British weekly added.

The U.S. is also concerned about expanding links between Serbia and China (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 and 23 March 2000). Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic is reportedly particularly keen on promoting ties between Belgrade and Peking.

Russia and Greece acted as intermediaries in setting up contacts between the U.S. and Serbia, the newspaper noted. It appears that Washington and Belgrade are now ready to develop ties without the help of intermediaries. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "We remain committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect." -- U.S. KFOR Statement on 9 April.

"The SDP won because people of Bosnia are sick and tired of what they've had so far--sick and tired of nationalism." -- Bosnian Social Democratic leader Zlatko Lagumdzija, after his party made some inroads against the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action in the 8 April local and municipal elections.

"SDS sweeps all of Srpska." -- 10 April headline in Serbian diaspora daily "Vesti," on the performance of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in those same elections.

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