18 April 2002, Volume
NEW GOVERNMENTS KEEP THE OLD REGIMES' PEOPLE.
A recent program of RFE/RL Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Zagorka Golubovic, a sociologist from Belgrade and member of the Serbian government's commission in charge of investigating financial fraud, and Lino Veljak, a philosopher from Zagreb.
One gets the impression that the new government in Serbia is ready to strike a deal with those whom [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's regime had allowed to become extremely rich -- rather then confiscate their illegally acquired property. Do you share that view, Mrs. Golubovic?
I cannot say that the government is ready to strike a deal with them, but some examples might serve to suggest that the government is indeed quite kindly disposed towards firms and people who had acquired enormous wealth in a dubious way during Slobodan Milosevic's rule.
For example, there is the case of Komercijalna banka AD, which had to pay only 300,000 German marks in capital gains tax. Its basic capital was assessed at several billions and acquired thanks to the privileges from and firm links to the former leadership. Something similar happened with TV Pink.
However, talking about the tax law on capital gains..., I fear it will allow illegally acquired properties to acquire legal status, and the owners will, in fact, be amnestied.
It looks like the new government -- just like the Catholic Church used to do -- is actually selling indulgences, so that every sinner, according to his wealth, is actually given a chance to be granted absolution. Mrs. Golubovic, do you find this comparison appropriate?
Every comparison is relative. Anyway, the question is whether money can buy everything and why this government did not start settling accounts with the pillars of the former regime right after 5 October 2000.
Let me make three points about that. First, the government's claim that it is simply adhering to the law is absurd since the top judges used to be part of the regime.
Second, documents regarding illegal activities have been destroyed. One should not forget that Milosevic's head of the state security service, Rade Markovic, remained in office several months after 5 October, so he was in a position to do whatever he wanted.
Third, some members of the DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) were themselves involved in this illegal acquisition of wealth. I cannot say which of these three points is the most important, but I think that each of them plays a role.
This is why one should not be surprised that the mafia bosses are becoming increasingly arrogant and have started to dictate some state polices. What might happen is that they could actually play a key role in the privatization process and buy up enterprises, since they are the ones with capital....
The opposition in Croatia ousted [late President Franjo] Tudjman's regime with the slogan: they robbed us, so let's topple them. However, since the opposition came to power, the wealth of Croatia's tycoons has actually remained intact. Mr. Veljak, how do you explain that?
It turned out that the new government's settling of accounts with the so-called tycoons was very superficial. One might even call it a token operation. Only a few people ended up in jail -- the famous Miroslav Kutle is one of them. Nevertheless, the cases against them are moving too slowly and the outcomes seem very uncertain....
The biggest problem remains the fact that their private property, which had obviously been illegally acquired, is not being called into question. No measures were taken to change that. In fact, the situation is quite similar to the one in Serbia. I mean that part of the new government structure and those who had acquired financial power during the previous regime have been working together.
Much suggests that, besides the legally constituted authorities, there is a so-called para-structure uniting the gray zones of political, financial, and military power. This arrangement was planned even while the old regime was still in office.
The is especially true of the judiciary. For instance, the president of the judges' association, Vladimir Gredelj, has been suspected of committing serious financial fraud, but he carries on both as the president of the association and as the president of the County Court in Bjelovar.
Democratic public opinion in Croatia was stunned after the recent verdict in the case against "Feral Tribune" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 21 March 2002). And trials of some other media are in progress. Some individuals with obvious criminal backgrounds were awarded huge amounts in libel damages stemming from the texts published in "Feral" and other newspapers. All this shows that the para-structure is functioning and that those who acquired their financial power in the 1990s, as well as the war profiteers, enjoy the protection of part of the legal system.
The new governments in Serbia and Croatia have eagerly accepted all those favorites of the former regimes who expressed their willingness to serve. Today those people are better off than the ones who really fought against the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes, and who have maintained a critical attitude toward the new government. Mr. Veljak, isn't the "Feral Tribune" case the best example?
Absolutely.... From the point of view of those in power, it is more desirable to have on their side a middle- or lower-ranking official who faithfully served all the previous regimes, including the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), than the one who sought to maintain his honor. The [compromised] official is ready to serve the new government, since that means that the issue of his responsibility [for the past] will not be raised.
The government in Serbia also seems to be eager to accept the favorites of the former regime. Mrs. Golubovic, isn't the example of the TV Pink and its owner Zeljko Mitrovic indicative?
Absolutely. The representatives of the government often take part in Pink's TV shows, allegedly because it has the highest ratings. They seem oblivious to the message that their very presence on those programs is sending to the public.
Governments dislike critics; they prefer those who are loyal and can be influenced. In seeking to fill offices, the government has passed over strong-willed people who resolutely opposed the Milosevic regime in favor of those who remained silent or even were active collaborators.
Mr. Veljak, are there examples like TV Pink in Croatia?
Well, one could find some similar cases. Some state television journalists who were among the most vitriolic supporters of the former regime still have important responsibilities. Their positions have remained sacrosanct, even when they have criticized [the government's policy on the arrest of indicted war criminals].
It is interesting though that the program that alleged that Tudjman had organized concentration camps in Herzegovina was not aired.
There is a strong ideological continuity from the days of the HDZ regime.... It goes under the label of the "fight against revanchism," meaning that revanchism is any and all attempts to hold responsible [for war crimes] all those who actually are responsible. But without holding them responsible, there is no chance for a genuine democratization in Croatia.