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Croatia: Parliamentarian Says Country Is 'Waking Up'

In an interview with RFE/RL's Alexandra Poolos, a prominent Croatian sociologist and a future member of parliament says with presidential vote (Jan. 24) and parliamentary elections earlier this month, Croatia is "waking up" from 10 years of hibernation.

Zagreb, 26 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A long-time political activist in Croatia, Vesna Pusic, took part in forming the multiparty coalition that ousted the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in parliamentary elections early this month.

As a member of the centrist People's Party (HNS), she is now poised to play an important role in the new government.

Pusic tells RFE/RL that Croatian society was interrupted in the early 1990s after the country declared independence and autocrat Franjo Tudjman began his 10-year rule. She says with the parliamentary vote and Monday's presidential election, the country is returning to the optimism it felt in 1989:

"I ... have the feeling that my life was interrupted in 1990, 1989-90, and there was this 'in between time' when weird things were happening. And now I have this feeling that we are continuing where we stopped in 1989. I think a lot of people have this feeling that in a way, yes, we lost these years, but at the same [time we] didn't. All kinds of things -- unpleasant, in some cases horrible things -- happened, a lot of corruption and all kinds of [other] things. But at the same time, I have a feeling the enthusiasm and the will to succeed we had in 1989 has not been completely lost, that it was somehow dormant. A lot of us have the feeling that we were hibernating for years."

In the 10 years Tudjman ruled Croatia, the former Yugoslav republic experienced secession by its Serb minority and four years of armed conflict. That devastation, coupled with Tudjman's often xenophobic rule, left Croatia isolated.

Monday's presidential vote marked a symbolic end to the Tudjman era. The top two places were taken by pro-reform, Western-oriented politicians who will now face each other in a run-off in February.

Pusic says for all the disappointment, she is amazed at how quickly Croatians have left the Tudjman era behind them. She says even after 10 years in power, Tudjman was unable to put down roots:

"When you think today [the Tudjman] government -- which was very real even a month ago and certainly two months ago -- seems like ... a total paper tiger. [It] seems like it was an incredibly long time ago. The amazing thing is that nobody even remembers Tudjman anymore. It's very difficult. Now this man who had such enormous power, who was revered publicly by officials, is hardly ever mentioned."

Pusic says it is not accurate to view Croatia's transition from Communism as a total failure. She says in some countries, notably in southeastern Europe, the transition from Communism to democracy is marked by two phases: first, the move from totalitarianism to an authoritarian government, and second, from autocracy to liberal democracy.

She says Croatia's second transition happened on January 3, when the six-party opposition bloc first defeated the HDZ in parliamentary elections.

"We are now in the process of the second transition. Why is [this transition] not going to be the same? Well, first of all, one of the most obvious guarantees is the fact that you don't have one party in power. You have a coalition government, a coalition majority. In many ways, it brings about the most lacking and at the same time one of the most important things in Croatian politics and that's accountability of the government. It's only a promise, but it's actually something that's inevitable or unavoidable under the circumstances because you simply have these six parties."

Pusic says Croatia can overcome its bad image as a wayward state that does not adhere to international norms. Already she says there is support in Europe and the West for Croatia to become an example for other Balkan countries, namely Serbia:

"Hopefully, Croatia can become a more stabilizing influence and positive example and force in the region, [and also] as a source of political know-how. In many ways we've reached a new stage in the transition process in Eastern Europe. In the first stage, it was more 'let's see what's similar in all the transition countries.' And we are now in a stage in which we are looking for usable knowledge in different countries that then can be implemented in others. And in that sense I think Croatia is in the process of developing some usable knowledge."

Pusic says the new government must take definitive action on issues like cooperating with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague and allowing the return of Serb refugees to Croatia. The government must also show a new economic direction and cut government spending.

She says that with plans underway to limit the powers of the president and to increase the strength of parliament, the government has already turned its back on its authoritarian past. Now, she says, all that is needed is time and the support of the international community.