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Balkan Report: May 2, 2000

2 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 32

CROATIA'S WATERGATE TAPE. The late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman appears poorly informed and petty in recently published transcripts of a taped conversation between him and his chief domestic affairs aide, Ivic Pasalic. The two men give the impression that they are concerned primarily with power and influence, treating the law as something to be manipulated for their own purposes. It remains to be seen what the political fallout of the revelations will be.

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 18 April that recordings of conversations between Tudjman, Pasalic, and some other aides indicate that they were involved in "robbery" in the sale of the mass-circulation daily "Vecernji list" in 1997. Deputy Prime Minister Zeljka Antunovic added that this was not the only privatization of a firm to be directed by the president's office.

Rijeka's "Novi List" called the scandal "Croatia's Watergate affair." The independent daily also speculated as to whether Pasalic, who also heads the Herzegovinian lobby, will wind up in jail once the case goes to court. He currently enjoys parliamentary immunity. Discussion in the media has centered on the possibility that Pasalic and one of Tudjman's sons actually controlled "Vecernji list."

Pasalic tried to dodge the charges or even deny that conversations about the newspaper had taken place. In the end, his final argument was that if any such tape exists, it is the private property of the Tudjman estate and not for public consumption. This did not sound very convincing.

Any doubts were put to rest by "Jutarnji list's" present to its readers in its Easter edition. The independent daily-- which has been having a field day in recent months reporting on Tudjman-era scandals--ran three pages of transcripts of the Tudjman-Pasalic discussion about "Vecernji list" and some additional topics. The talks included some other aides and officials of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), and took place on 27 December 1997 in Tudjman's offices.

Briefly, the thrust of the conversation is that Tudjman is determined to have control of the influential daily. He wants it to appear, however, that other individuals--far from the president's office and the HDZ leadership--are the owners.

He is poorly informed of facts and details, on which Pasalic painstakingly briefs him. Pasalic reassures his president that "I've made a big smoke screen around the whole thing, because we can't let it appear even from an airplane that [the privatization of the daily] has anything to do with us." Tudjman tells him that this is "fine, and our interest is to have [the paper] under our control." Pasalic agrees, adding "that for the benefit of the outside, there will also be an illusion of democratization, privatization, etcetera."

Like U.S. President Richard Nixon on the Watergate tapes, Tudjman appears as a man with a Manichaean view of politics. Public life is divided between "our people" and their opponents, whom in one case he refers to as an "enemy of the state." Tudjman is determined to go after his foes and hopes to get at the opposition press by questioning whether newspapers are legally registered. He is clearly disappointed when Pasalic patiently points out to him that newspapers do not have to be registered under Croatian law. A similar exchange takes place over the right of those opposed to Tudjman's policies to hold public meetings.

The conversation then switches to one between Tudjman, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, and some other aides about inviting foreign dignitaries to help mark the return of Eastern Slavonia to Zagreb's control. In the course of the discussion, Tudjman notes that the American way of making policy is that "all [individuals] get involved at once, then they all go away, but then at the same time each in his own way maintains some influence."

Turning to other matters, the president stresses that he wants the victims of mine clearing accidents to be honored, and the remaining Serbs in eastern Slavonia to feel welcome. He nonetheless appears poorly informed about the situation on the ground, asking: "How many Serbs have gone, only a few?"

There are lighter moments as well. When an aide suggests that Tudjman send U.S. diplomat and former Tudjman confidant Peter Galbraith a personal invitation to the Slavonian commemoration, Tudjman bristles at the thought. When Skare- Ozbolt mentions that the UN's representative in Bosnia, Jacques Klein, will come because he is anxious to get out of that country, Tudjman recalls that Klein did not want to go there in the first place. The Croatian president adds that he wants to meet with Klein, "because he's still involved in U.S. policy and can influence it in a sensible fashion, whereas--just between us--[the international community's chief representative in Bosnia Carlos] Westendorp [does not have influence in Washington because he is] a European and what's more a Catholic from Spain."

It remains to be seen what will come of these and other revelations. Pressures are certain to grow for Pasalic to be stripped of his parliamentary immunity. As to Tudjman and his legacy, it is hard to avoid the impression in reading the transcripts that this is a man whose thoughts and values are clearly rooted in an earlier era. Like Josip Broz Tito--whose style of rule Tudjman clearly imitated--it may be well said of Tudjman that his great weakness was not knowing when to take his hat and leave the task of governing to a younger generation. (Patrick Moore)

WILL ALBANIA'S DEMOCRATS RETURN TO POWER? Three years after mass riots and widespread anarchy toppled the Democratic Party (PD) government of President Sali Berisha, some analysts in Tirana suggest that the party may have realistic chances of winning in upcoming elections. That is far from certain, however. The next local elections will take place in fall of this year, while general elections are due by June 2001.

The Tirana-based analyst Armand Shkullaku argued in the weekly "Klan" of 23 April that "the Socialists have failed to fulfill their promises to the electorate. They have failed to prove the accusations they put forward against Berisha--that he is a thief and a killer--and they have shown a lack of ability to govern."

Shkullaku argues that only one year ago, most people would have ruled out the possibility of Berisha returning to government, but he adds: "Now you better think twice before you speak. In the last three years of the left-wing government, very few things have changed, people have forgotten many events of the past, and [the Socialists] have not kept many of their promises. For the PD of Sali Berisha, current Albanian political reality offers also significant opportunities, despite the huge problems the party has had so far."

The first factor playing into the hands of the PD is voter behavior, i.e. a tendency to turn against those politicians whom the voters feel have not kept their promises. Shkullaku argues: "We should not forget that the Albanians, who have generally been betrayed [by the politicians], have learned to vote against [rather than for a particular political option]."

Thus the main reason why people may vote for the PD can be found within the governing coalition. Over the past three years, the Socialist-led coalition has conducted four substantial government reshuffles. Two were under Prime Minister Fatos Nano, one saw the appointment of Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, and the last brought in current Prime Minister Ilir Meta.

These reshuffles took place even though the Socialist Party has the absolute majority in parliament and the coalition has over two thirds of the seats. Shkullaku points out that none of the subsequent governments has been able to completely clear itself allegations that its members are engaged in corruption and smuggling.

He also argues that the recent governments have lost credibility when they claim great success at international donors' conferences and by their participation in the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. In fact, it is clear that they have been unable to provide enough electricity in the winter, drinking water in the summer, or properly maintained roads. Many people are dissatisfied with the coalition's failure to solve these day-to-day problems and have lost their trust in its ability to govern.

Second, the Socialists have lost the moral high ground in competing with Berisha. A lack of transparency and the slow process of investigating the whereabouts of the money that people lost in fraudulent pyramid investment schemes in 1997--as well as the failure to indict some of the suspects-- have played into the hands of the Democrats.

One of Berisha's strongest moral arguments during recent opposition rallies is that the investigating authorities have not been able to prove the charges against him of participation in the pyramids. The Socialists in 1997 used these accusations in overthrowing his government.

The investigators have also not been able to substantiate charges of corruption against the previous PD administration or prove the Socialists' accusations against the PD government that the Democrats sought to use military force against rebel southern cities during the unrest. Courts have closed all cases regarding that charge for lack of evidence. Furthermore, a trial dealing with riots in the capital after the killing of PD legislator Azem Hajdari on 14 September 1998 did not result in sentences against prominent PD leaders. The Socialists earlier accused the Democrats of having attempted a coup d' etat.

Third, Berisha has been running an aggressive public relations campaign, which means holding rallies in all major cities throughout the country. Regardless of the number of people turning out, Berisha sends the message that he is back on the scene. The Socialists would need to match Berisha's campaign in order to reach the rural population, but they have shied away from public rallies, arguing that they do not need to give Berisha a dose of his own medicine. In any case, Shkullaku remains skeptical about what the Socialists will have to offer to the electorate: "The Socialists' difficulties in presenting themselves to the people show that the governing party will not have an easy time in facing its rival during the election campaign."

Berisha's campaign, however, appeals more to those unsatisfied with the current government than to those who are looking for specific alternative political options and better government.

While the Socialists have the problem of presenting results to the electorate, Berisha will have difficulties putting his words into action. The voters still remember his authoritarian way of governing during the first years of post-communism, and he has done little or nothing to change that image. His attempt at the start of the year to exclude the reformist wing around Genc Pollo from the PD shows that Berisha has not changed his style of leadership within the party.

In addition, the relationship between Berisha and the international community has deteriorated considerably since the mid 1990s. This is due to the lack of inner-party democracy within the PD and to the continuing refusal of the PD to negotiate compromises with the government under the umbrella of the OSCE. This was the case surrounding recent round-table negotiations about a new electoral code (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 April 2000).

Indeed, many voters may fear international isolation should Berisha return. They may thus turn their back not only on the PD--but also on the Socialists as well. Nonetheless, a recent poll suggests that no "third force" is capable of capitalizing on public disillusionment with the two parties. The result is likely to be a low voter turnout. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "When the killers are not found four years after the crime, you can draw two conclusions: either the police are incapable or they don't want to find the culprit." - Dobrivoje Radovanovic, director of Belgrade's institute for criminology and social research. Quoted by the "Financial Times" on 27 April.

"NATO generals are used to making threats. They do not hesitate to make threats with naked military force and blows from a distance. The intention is to create an impression that a foreign military intervention is needed, like in Kosovo." - Yugoslav Army Chief-of-Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic, in response to remarks by NATO's General Wesley Clark on Milosevic's threat to Montenegro. Quoted by Reuters on 26 April.