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Balkan Report: May 23, 2000

23 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 38

Radical Right On The March In Croatia. The right in Croatia has been on the defensive ever since late President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) defeat in the parliamentary and presidential elections at the start of the year. Now a series of right-wing incidents has shocked the country and shown that the radical right is still a threat that the new authorities must take seriously.

Over the last few weeks, several veterans' organizations have held large anti-government demonstrations. On 10 May, some 5,000 veterans gathered in Split to protest the government's policy of cooperation with the Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Veterans believe that the country�s center-left government is using the ICTY as a weapon against the right. They also believe that the government is intentionally minimizing the contribution that the veterans made during the country�s war for independence. Veterans' and Invalids' of the Patriotic War (HVIDRA) President Marinko Liovic has publicly threatened that his veterans will sabotage the upcoming tourist season by blocking roads, border crossings, and airports.

Ethnic tensions are also on the rise between local Croats and returning refugees in territories once occupied by rebel Serbs. Last Saturday local Croats in the isolated village town of Veljun prevented a group of Croatian Serbs from commemorating a World War II era massacre by fascist Ustasha forces. In a shockingly grotesque display, one local woman (who claimed that her son was killed in the recent war) urinated on a monument on which local Serbs planned to lay wreaths to the victims of the World War II massacre. On 17 May, five noncommissioned officers broke up the monument with their hands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 May 2000). Finally, there have also been reports that local Croats and Serbs have again begun to arm themselves in Kordun, which saw heavy fighting during the last war.

Many observers believe thaw these incidents are being organized by the right wing of the HDZ. Groups like Liovic's HVIDRA are closely tied to the former ruling party, and many Croats regard them as nothing more than the HDZ's satellites. They believe the HDZ wants to use these incidents to create a state of chaos in the country in the hope that this will unleash a political crisis that will lead to the fall of the current government--and the return of the HDZ to national prominence.

There are indications that these hard-liners are being helped by renegades from the intelligence community who are still loyal to the HDZ's right wing. Last week police told the independent weekly magazine "Nacional" that they suspect that operatives from military intelligence and leaders of the Split chapter of HVIDRA organized the May 3 riot by soccer fans during a championship game in Split, which left 100 people injured and resulted in the arrest of another 100 fans. The stadium�s surveillance tapes reveal that several men brandishing mobile telephones directed the rioting crowds in Split's soccer stadium. Police later identified them as former operatives of military intelligence.

The HDZ and its right-wing allies are ready to use any available excuse to increase tensions in the country. They are also looking to portray themselves as defenders of the national interest against a renewed Serb threat. They claim that Serb returnees are receiving more funding from the State than Croatian veterans and victims of war, that Serb war criminals have received amnesty from the government, and that ethnic Croatian refugees from Bosnia will be forced to leave Croatia.

Opinion polls show that most Croats reject this right-wing offensive. According to a recent poll in the daily "Jutarnji list," nearly 90 percent of the country's citizens disapprove of Liovic's inflammatory rhetoric. The country is finally beginning to come out of years of international isolation, and most people do not want to see a few zealots like Liovic scare off the tourists and foreign investors that the ailing economy desperately needs.

Many veterans' groups have also spoken out against Liovic's radical comments. The leader of the Rijeka chapter of HVIDRA has threatened that his veterans will use force to unblock roads and border crossings if Liovic goes through with his threats. Minister of Veterans' Affairs Ivica Pancic (who himself is a veteran and a displaced person from Vukovar) claims that Liovic and other radical veterans' leaders are motivated by their own selfish interests. Some members of HVIDRA have accused Liovic of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization. Pancic believes that Liovic and others like him are trying to stir up controversy and violence in order to detract attention from their own shady financial dealings.

Nevertheless, the government should not underestimate the right-wing threat. The government's investigations into the major corruption scandals that occurred under the HDZ regime and the new authorities' willingness to extradite suspected Croat war criminals to the ICTY is making some people nervous. They may be able to find support among groups such as: influential army generals who fear prosecution by the ICTY; Croatian immigrants from Bosnia who will be forced to return the houses they have occupied to returning Serb refugees; and members of other interest groups (like veterans and war victims) who face the loss of their privileges. The right-wing protests may also attract the support of the most needy and underprivileged citizens. These people are looking for a scapegoat to blame for their problems and radical right groups may convince them that returning Serb refugees are the main source of their misery.

The authorities in Zagreb must respond resolutely to this threat from the radical right. The state prosecutor should carry out financial investigations into the financial dealings of people like Liovic. The government should open a dialogue with more moderate veterans' leaders in order to convince them that the authorities have no intention of using the ICTY as a political tool or of degrading the legacy of the country's war for independence.

At the same time the government cannot allow these right-wing protests to affect its policies. They must continue to cooperate with the ICTY and to give their unconditional support to the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia. These new policies are the main reason why the West has finally allowed Croatia to enter the Partnership for Peace Program, which is undoubtedly the biggest success of the government's first 100 days in office.

The West is finally beginning to welcome Croatia into the democratic family of states. It would be a tragedy if the authorities allowed a handful of radical right-wing zealots and criminals to destabilize the country for their own selfish ends and sabotage the government's efforts towards Western integration. (Andrej Krickovic)

Will Mesic Disenfranchise The Herzegovinians? Croatian President Stipe Mesic wants to take the right to elect Sabor deputies away from Croats living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His proposal leaves open more questions than it answers.

"Jutarnji list" on 13 May reported from Paris that Mesic told reporters that he wants to abolish the right of ethnic Croats from Bosnia-Herzegovina to elect members of the Croatian parliament. He gave two reasons. First, he said that Croats (along with Muslims and Serbs) are "constituent peoples" of Bosnia-Herzegovina and hence enjoy full equality there (some would take strong issue with this view). Second, he argued that the Croats in the neighboring republic are not temporarily absent from Croatia and hence not entitled to vote as members of the diaspora.

He probably chose France as the venue for his remarks because of the international community's repeated criticism that Croatia undermines the independence and integrity of Bosnia by allowing that republic's citizens to vote in Croatian elections. But not that Mesic or others in the government need any encouragement to end those voting rights. Tudjman gave the Herzegovinians the vote not just out of nationalist zeal, but in the knowledge that they would loyally elect a solid bloc of HDZ deputies. The current six-party coalition would be all too happy to disenfranchise this nationalistic group, whom many Croats regard as too influential in Croatian politics and too heavily subsidized by the Croatian taxpayer. Mesic and others in the government have, in fact, said many times before that the Herzegovinians can expect a downgrading of their status.

It is not clear, however, if Mesic (and the government) intend to end completely the many privileges that the Croats of the neighboring republic enjoy. For example, will they lose their claim to Croatian citizenship and passports? For many, Croatian travel documents are a great blessing because they often require no visa from some countries that do demand extra paperwork of Bosnian passport-holders.

Second, if the Herzegovinians lose their vote because they are not temporarily living outside Croatia, what about those long-established residents and citizens of countries like Australia, the U.S., Canada, or Germany to whom Tudjman gave citizenship and the vote? They, too, are by and large safe votes for the HDZ and hence politically expendable as far as the new government is concerned. But many also donated their skills and savings to Croatia in its hour of need and play an important role in political and economic relations between their native and adopted countries.

Third, will the Herzegovinians take the disenfranchisement lying down? Several of their leaders have said that they will fight any attempt to deny them their political rights or material benefits by moving en masse to Croatia. Will these plucky people make good on this threat? (Patrick Moore)

Albania's Meta Sacks High-Ranking Road Official. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta sacked Skender Hasa, a high ranking official in the Transport Ministry, on 16 May, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Hasa was in charge of the national road network's maintenance and reconstruction. Meta charged Hasa with "a lack of ability and discipline."

The sacking followed a surprise inspection by Meta of several roads, "Koha Jone" reported. Meta called the General Director of Roads Spartak Gjini at 6 a.m. on 16 May and asked him to join him immediately on an inspection tour of the ongoing road reconstruction at parts of the East-West Corridor 8, linking the port of Durres with Macedonia.

"Albanian Daily News" noted that Hasa, a former Socialist mayor of the southern city of Tepelena, is a close friend of influential Socialist Party Chairman and former Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Nano has repeatedly tried to intervene in the policies of Pandeli Majko, who was his successor and Meta's predecessor. Observers noted that since his appointment last year, Meta has tried to emancipate himself from Nano's attempts at influencing government policies. Moreover, after Hasa's sacking Meta warned that he will "take harsh measures against all government officials who do not do their work."

On 19 May, Transportation Minister Ingrid Shuli resigned over the road issue and amid charges of corruption within the ministry. Meta named Sokol Nako (30) as new minister the following day. (Fabian Schmidt)

Havel Slams Dienstbier. Someone once observed that there are often few people as frustrated as citizens of small countries who seek major careers in international organizations. Some of this frustration has been evident in the ubiquitous criticisms by UN special envoy for human rights in former Yugoslavia and former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier of just about every aspect of the international community's policies in the Balkans. Moreover, many ethnic Albanians in particular regard many of his statements as tinged with a pro-Serb bias.

Czech President Vaclav Havel told CTK on 18 May that he finds unwarranted the criticisms by the special envoy. "If Jiri Dienstbier says that nothing has been done [in the Balkans] since the war, he has offended the great work of those who help, step by step, build [local] public service, stabilize the situation, create the infrastructure, and support the coexistence of individual ethnic groups." Havel added that Dienstbier cannot know the situation in the Balkans well, as he visits the area only for a few days each year, but always gives dozens of interviews about it. "There is a number of people in our country who know the situation much better, have a better insight, visit the area more frequently, provide help there, and all of them speak differently from him [Dienstbier]," Havel said.

Dienstbier rejected the accusations. "I have the impression that President Havel let himself be influenced with one talk or talks with people whose views on the whole matter are very one-sided," Dienstbier said. He stressed that he visited the region 10 times in the past two years and is in daily contact with UN human rights workers in the Balkans and with many international organizations. On the contrary, Dienstbier charged, it was Havel who had proved with his statement that he himself does not understand Balkan issues. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Something very bizarre happened in Croatian politics. A man, [Stipe Mesic--ed.] who was getting less than or only 1 percent [in the polls] just two months before the elections, went on to win them. Perhaps that says something about us, his opponents in that race." -- Social Liberal leader and defeated presidential candidate Drazen Budisa, in "Slobodna Dalmacija" on 17 May.

"These events [of the Belgrade crackdown] follow months of mounting pressure from the Milosevic regime. We've seen all this before, and we've seen it elsewhere--thuggery dressed up in quasi-legal garb." -- EU Commissioner Chris Patten, on 19 May.

"We will have to defend ourselves. We don't have any other choice, and our defense can only be our numbers. I have to be frank here--the citizens couldn't defend themselves with arms. Instead, they have to count on the fact that if millions of people come out to the streets, if the regime sees that many people [are] opposed to it, we hope that the army--primarily soldiers and non-commissioned officers, not the corrupt military leadership--and people in the police forces will realize that they have to shoot at practically the entire nation." -- Serbian Social Democratic leader Zarko Korac to RFE/RL on 18 May.

"I am again calling on the authorities to abandon the policy of persecution and brutal intimidation of journalists and political opponents, which can lead only to the further isolation of Serbia and open a new bloody chapter in the history of the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Stop before it's too late.... Only the opening up of this country and the lifting of sanctions as a gift to all in Yugoslavia who are working for democracy...can help ease tension and establish conditions for the respect of human rights." -- Jiri Dienstbier on Milosevic's media crackdown. Quoted by CTK on 18 May.