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Balkan Report: July 18, 2000

18 July 2000, Volume 4, Number 53

What Kind Of Opposition Party Is Croatia's New DC? Mate Granic, Croatia's former foreign minister, founded a new party after he lost the presidential election at the beginning of this year. The party, in which the more moderate elements of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) united in March, is called the Democratic Center (DC). Its platform is in many ways close to that of the current government, which may open interesting possibilities for its future.

Even before the death of President Franjo Tudjman in December 1999, it became clear that the HDZ had lost its once all-encompassing authority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 November 1999). Granic and the HDZ had no chance to win either the elections for parliament or the presidential election. The patriotic movement of 1989, which mobilized Croats against Slobodan Milosevic's centralism, had itself became an autocratic--and some would say corrupt--force (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2000). Croatia's allies regarded the HDZ as nationalistic and not democratic. So long as it was in power, the path to Europe and NATO was closed. And so it remained until Ivica Racan became prime minister and Stipe Mesic was elected president in early 2000.

On 2 July, Granic came to Munich to discuss his ideas and his new party before a large audience. In his efforts to launch the DC and revive his own career, he sought to win followers among the Croats working and living in Germany. (The Croatian diaspora is generally interested in politics and generous with its contributions. Tudjman started the HDZ in the late 1980s by lining up support from the diaspora.)

Granic distanced himself from his former party and talked frankly about cases of corruption in the ranks of the HDZ. (It nonetheless seemed strange to this writer that the former foreign minister criticized the system he had been a part of.) By way of explanation, Granic said that the HDZ was not a party but rather a mass movement combining very different interests. Because of isolationist elements in it, he was not able to create a policy that was more orientated toward Europe. Granic argued that he had not left the HDZ because of the electoral debacle but because the HDZ was unable to implement reforms from within.

But he was not altogether negative toward his former party. He stressed that it is unfair to say that all members of that party were criminals. This notion--which in Granic's words is very popular in the Croatian media at the moment--has nothing to do with reality. The HDZ helped build the new, independent state, as Granic pointed out. The party was in power when the Croatian army drove the Serbian forces out of the country in 1995. Those and subsequent Croatian military operations against the Serbs in 1995 prepared the way for the Dayton peace agreement. The Croatian victory, in fact, changed the military landscape of the whole region. The HDZ, Granic stressed, was also responsible for the peaceful reintegration of eastern Slavonia starting in 1998.

Although in opposition to the current government, Granic talked about what he called the remarkable moves Mesic and Racan have made toward European integration. There is no doubt that becoming a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program in May was the greatest success for the six ruling political parties in the governing coalition.

Turning to domestic politics, Granic pointed out that Racan has not been able to cut the unemployment rate yet. Granic also said that he can not agree with the kind of investigation the new government is conducting against some Croatian officers who hold the status of war invalids. In too many cases, the new government has accused officers of being criminals seeking access to pensions and privileges to which they are not legally entitled, Granic argued. In his view, a lot of the officers deserve the privileges once given to them.

The issue of war crimes proved more delicate, and some of the people in the Munich diaspora audience could not agree with Granic when he talked about that subject. He stressed that Croats should not engage in "irresponsible populism" (as the former regime did), and that Croatian soldiers guilty of war crimes must be sent to the Hague. Croatia has an obligation towards the UN and its tribunal, and there is no way around it, he added.

In this respect, the DC has the same position as the government. In the weekly "Nacional" of 31 May, Granic mentioned another interesting reason for the punishment of war crimes: Croatia has to show that it able to capture all war criminals who fought under the Croatian flag. Then, as part of a general catharsis, it would be morally in a position to demand a search for individuals who killed Croatian civilians, especially on the territory of the Muslim-Croat federation. Granic wrote in "Nacional" about 14 well-documented cases of mass killings of Croatian civilians on federation territory.

Concerning the issue of the intelligence services, the DC wants transparency and professional, civilian control. This remains an important topic in Croatia because of the misuse of the secret services for political purposes during the reign of President Tudjman. After Mesic and Racan decided to "transform" the Croatian Intelligence Service (HIS) in May, policemen occupied the HIS offices to prevent the old staff from tampering with important documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). Granic commented on these events in "Nacional." He wrote that the reorganization of the whole intelligence system is very important and that professionalism should be the key. Appointments should not be made because of political or personal connections, he stressed.

Granic's DC thus does not differ very much from the views of the government on a number of key points. This may be the reason why the DC will be a "constructive opposition," as Granic put it in Munich. It is significant that even President Mesic described DC as a factor that can help strengthen the ruling coalition (see "Globus," 23 June 2000).

In fact, some analysts already see the DC as part of a future government without Racan's former communists. If Racan's government collapses because of Croatia's economic problems and tensions mount between the parties of the coalition, President Mesic and his People's Party (HNS) will likely decide the makeup of a new governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 July 2000). Granic's party could then become an interesting possibility for them. The DC has meanwhile won the local election in the town of Samobor. This was a big success for the party, keeping in mind that it was founded only a few months ago.

The bickering within the governing coalition has meanwhile been growing by the week. If a new center-right coalition emerges from a reconfiguration of power, the DC might not stay in the opposition for too long. (Christian Buric)

Former Gostivar Mayor Reinvents Himself. Rufi Osmani returned to the political scene in early July, "Koha Ditore" reported on 9 July. He spent 18 months in prison for flying the Albanian flag from the town hall of Gostivar in western Macedonia in 1997 and 1998, in violation of Macedonia's law on the display of national symbols, and for "inciting national hatred." Osmani has meanwhile lost no time in reinventing his political career.

The former mayor of the mainly ethnic Albanian town apparently hopes to reach out to a young and dissatisfied electorate by developing a profile as a charismatic and outspoken leader. By using highly polemical language, Osmani is trying to distinguish himself from the two main established ethnic Albanian parties. They are the Albanian Democratic Party (PDSH)--which is in the government coalition--and the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), which was part of the former, Social Democratic-led government that lost the 1998 elections.

Osmani--who was a PDSH member in the past--addressed a rally of angry ethnic Albanian underground-university students from Tetovo in Gostivar on 4 July. The students protested against the planned transformation of their underground university into a private institution. This is provided for by an agreement reached under the mediation of the OSCE's High Commissioner on National Minorities Max Van der Stoel (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 28 April 2000). The students demand instead that the Tetovo University become a full-fledged state university.

In his speech, Osmani used harsh words against the leaders of the PDSH, who have accepted the compromise. Osmani told the students: "I wish that Machiavelli and the Albanian Goebbels would show up to explain to you how it came to pass that these loud-talking patriots [the PDSH leaders] defend the project of Van der Stoel, together with the criminal leader of the Macedonian opposition, [former Prime Minister Branko] Crvenkovski." He did not elaborate on whom he meant by "Machiavelli and the Albanian Goebbels," however.

Osmani's reference to Crvenkovski as a "criminal" alludes to a police action during the time of his government. On 9 July 1997, a massive police force took down the Albanian flag from the Gostivar town hall. During a confrontation with ethnic Albanian protesters, police fired anti-aircraft machine guns into the air to disperse the crowd, killing two people who were far from the scene (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 1997). Police arrested Osmani the same day, and a court later sentenced him to 13 years in prison for inciting national hatred.

He broke with the PDSH when that party joined the new coalition with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO/DPMNE) in November 1998. He also refused to meet its leader, Arben Xhaferi, who wanted to visit him in prison. One month later, Osmani was released during an amnesty declared by the new coalition.

After his release, he initially declared that he would retire from politics and return to his family, business, and university work. He currently teaches economics at the underground university in Tetovo. With his recent return to politics, however, Osmani is apparently trying to capitalize on his role as a former political prisoner and, in essence, martyr.

He stressed: "Never will we forget the crimes that [Crvenkovski] committed; we have no right to be silent and forget." Referring to the political leaders of the PDSH, he said: "When the bloodshed was going on�they were hiding in the basements of Gostivar�. They should know that the file on Gostivar will be opened some day, because this is a legacy that we cannot forget."

He also accused the PDSH leadership of changing policies towards the political leadership in Albania out of opportunism: "What do these people think? That we do not remember them filling the squares all over Macedonia as spokesmen of [former Albanian President and current opposition leader Sali] Berisha, and singing Albanian nationalist songs? Now they are under the protection of [Albanian Socialist Party leader Fatos] Nano and spreading [his] nationalist propaganda. They think that they deserve to be led by a smuggler [Nano]. I hope the leaders of the PDSH will receive diplomas from the Van der Stoel institution, because we face the dilemma that these people have never been educated to become intellectuals."

In recent interviews, Osmani also discussed the possibility of founding a new ethnic Albanian political party, hoping to get votes from those who are disappointed with the PPD and PDSH. Both parties had to make compromises on numerous issues during their respective stints in government.

"Koha Ditore" noted that Osmani "has chosen a political strategy of pointing the finger at the failures of those Albanians who are participating in the government." The daily added: "He knows that the battlefield for the struggle against his own [former] party people will not be local elections but the next parliamentary elections. And for sure he will wait patiently for the right moment to challenge the PDSH and eventually to win. He will do so by appealing to those dissatisfied within the ranks of the party itself, just as the PDSH did to oust the PPD" before it.

Whatever Osmani's plans for his future career are, so far he has neither offered a forward-looking political program--addressing the more complex economic and social problems of Macedonia--nor shown much willingness to compromise with the ethnic Macedonians (who outnumber the ethnic Albanians by almost three-to-one). While his base of support is likely to be young voters, it is questionable whether he will manage to gather much support from the older and more conservative elements in the electorate. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "My consolation, in a way, is that I have been attacked by both sides for being too close to the other. This is the only proof of being honest here." - Bernard Kouchner, the UN's chief civilian administrator in Kosova. He was marking his first year in office in remarks to Reuters on 14 July.

"My most valuable service would be to demonstrate to people that a change in politics is both desirable and possible." - Slovenian Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk, quoted in Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 13 July.

As soon as one lets in a bit of foreign investment, "it's all over the place, like rabbits." - President Slobodan Milosevic to U.S. visitors at some point in the past, quoted by Reuters on 14 July. He made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with investments.