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Balkan Report: May 5, 2000

5 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 33

A Haider For Croatia? The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has a new chairman to replace the late President Franjo Tudjman. It seems unlikely, however, that Ivo Sanader can provide the party with the necessary energy and vision to reverse its decline and fragmentation. The price for this failure could be high.

Some 2,000 delegates to the congress of the HDZ chose former Deputy Foreign Minister Sanader as new party leader in Zagreb on 30 April. His rivals were Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, who is a fellow member of the HDZ establishment, and Branimir Glavas, who represents the party's far right.

Referring to the HDZ's having slipped to at least fifth place in recent opinion polls, Sanader told supporters: "The Croatian public seems to have forgotten everything the HDZ has done for this country.... But we shall return to power much sooner than a lot of people are expecting," Reuters reported.

It is difficult to see how he expects to do this. Recent opinion polls show the governing two-party coalition parties--the Social Democrats and Social Liberals--as far and away the most popular parties. Riding the coattails of President Stipe Mesic, the People's Party has risen from near obscurity to a healthy 10 percent and third place in the ratings. It is followed by the Democratic Center, which is a new party led by former Foreign Minister Mate Granic and other members of the former moderate wing of the HDZ.

Sanader leads a party that has gone in a short time from being the most powerful force in Croatian politics to one that takes no better than fifth place in the polls. From his statements it seems that Sanader hopes to reverse his party's decline through the weaknesses of its opponents. He is counting on the present coalition government to collapse soon either as a result of its inability to deliver on its promises or because of in-fighting. In short, Sanader's approach seems to be to wait for the present government to implode and then pick up the pieces. It would not be the first time in post-communist Europe that such a reversal of fortunes has taken place. And it was precisely the weaknesses and divisions among what are now the governing parties that helped the HDZ to stay in power for 10 years in the first place.

But there is something else, and that is the Glavas factor. Glavas is well-known for his hard-line views, and many Serbs and moderate Croats regard him as a war criminal for some of his activities in the 1991 war. Unlike Sanader and Mintas-Hodak, he does not have his power base in the central apparatus but rather in eastern Slavonia. Following the HDZ's electoral defeats in January and February, Glavas called for the central establishment to take responsibility for the debacle, step down, and let proven vote-getters from the regions take over.

His call went unheeded, and the central establishment remains in charge. At the party congress, however, Glavas stressed another message, which may prove to be his most successful appeal in the long run: Glavas charged that the party has failed to confront the scandals and corruption charges that cost it the recent elections in the first place.

This accusation is obviously related to his campaign against the central establishment, since its members and their cronies are primarily the ones involved in the scandals that break on an almost daily basis. Glavas's appeal is similar to that of the Austrian Freedom Party's Joerg Haider dating from the mid-1980s, campaigning not only on right-wing themes but also against the corruption of "the established parties."

So far, Glavas poses little political threat outside his geographical and far-right power bases. But unless he himself is proven to have been involved in a major case of corruption or is indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, he may have a growing Haider-like appeal to voters dissatisfied with the current government and with the old HDZ establishment.

And judging by the continuing revelations of Tudjman-era scandals, that establishment's problems seem to go from bad to worse. Ivic Pasalic, whom many regard as Tudjman's chosen successor, took himself out of the running for any party offices, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 29 April. Pasalic has been at the center of several scandals and may lose his parliamentary immunity as a result (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2000).

Furthermore, the weekly "Nacional" reports that police have already begun confiscating property that the HDZ acquired illegally. Police have also zeroed in on a $1.5 million fund that Tudjman raised among Croatian emigres to help fund the 1991-1995 military effort. But instead of using it for state purposes, Tudjman turned the money into a slush fund for the HDZ.

Sanader thus seems to be taking a big risk in thinking that he and the establishment can weather the storm of the corruption charges and return to power once the voters have tired of the in-fighting between Mesic and Racan. In the meantime, Glavas and perhaps other people like him will offer an alternative to the voters to "throw the rascals out." Many Croats laugh at Glavas now as a regional hot-head with no chance of a future in serious national politics. Not so long ago, many people laughed at Joerg Haider, too. (Patrick Moore)

Ganic Out As Bosnian Federal President? Alija Izetbegovic, who is Bosnia's foremost Muslim political leader and president of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), told "Dnevni avaz" of 2 May that Ejup Ganic cannot remain federation president. Izetbegovic's statement comes in the wake of Ganic's failure to win a confidence vote at the recent meeting of the party's steering committee. Izetbegovic added that the parliament may have to sack Ganic if he does not go of his own volition. (Patrick Moore)

U.S., Macedonian Troops In Joint Exercise. Some 140 U.S. and 105 Macedonian engineers began a two-month field exercise on 1 May dubbed Cornerstone 2002-2003. They will repair two medical clinics and conduct the engineering work for two new elementary schools in the former Yugoslav republic, AP reported. Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev said in Skopje of the exercise, which is being conducted in the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program: "This is an important contribution to building democracy and a [civil] society." (Patrick Moore)

Part Of Albanian Gold Reserves Disappeared - In 1997. Some three years after anarchy swept Albania, the prime minister's office has discovered that gold coins worth $2.8 million were stolen during the unrest from state reserves kept in the town of Krraba. The government has reported the theft to international institutions, AP reported on 30 April. It is not clear why it took the authorities three years to discover that the gold is missing. (Patrick Moore)

Too Late For 1 April. The Milosevic-run Belgrade daily "Borba" said on 27 April that Osama bin Laden has moved his base of operations to Kosova. "Notorious Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden...has found a new refuge in the Balkans, in Kosovo, the nest of European terrorism, after years of hiding in Afghanistan..... [His trained group of nearly 500 Arab mujahedeen] is only a quarter of the planned number of extremists whose task it is to launch a new wave of violence in southern Serbia in the area of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja," the daily wrote.

An unidentified U.S. government spokesman told Reuters that the claim is baseless and the bin Laden is still in Afghanistan. Your editor would add that the "Borba's" charge reads like a classic piece of none-too-subtle disinformation from Milosevic's propaganda kitchens. The problem is that many people in Serbia will likely fall for the story. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "I hope that all citizens of Montenegro will have the wisdom and strength to rise above all divisions... that have cost Montenegro dearly throughout its history." - President Milo Djukanovic in his Orthodox Easter message on 30 April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 April 2000). "The passions that still reside [in Kosova] are still pretty high, and they are likely to remain high for some time to come. You are helping... people to see the benefits of engaging in peaceful opposed to the kind of hatreds that mean digging more graves." - U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen to 500 U.S. peacekeepers at Camp Bondsteel, Kosova, on 1 May. Quoted by AP.

"It's true that we haven't been able to protect every single piece of property and every individual. We wish we could do better." - outgoing NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark. Quoted by Reuters in Kosova on 1 May.

"I hope the high American official realized that we Serbs are no wild nation." - Oliver Ivanovic, who is the Serbian leader in northern Mitrovica, after meeting with Clark there, quoted by AP on 1 May.