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Balkan Report: November 2, 1999

2 November 1999, Volume 3, Number 44

Clouds Over Croatia. The NGO Transparency International has just published a survey on corruption around the world. Out of 99 places, position 74 is held by Croatia, putting it behind such bastions of good government and better business practices as Romania, Belarus, and Ghana. The consolation for Croats who consider their country part of the Western world is that the few countries trailing Croatia include former Yugoslav and Soviet republics, as well as Indonesia, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

The transparency survey is just one indication of the discrepancy between reality and the official ideology of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The ruling party teaches that Croatia is a modern, democratic country that belongs to Central Europe and has nothing to do with the Balkans. The HDZ's stated aims--which the opposition also seeks--are prosperity and integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

But it has been precisely the HDZ that has been the main obstacle to achieving these goals. The party is widely regarded as top-heavy with former communists who have re-tooled themselves as nationalists, beginning with President Franjo Tudjman himself. These individuals control political power and many key businesses, just as they did in communist times. They and their friends were the chief beneficiaries of an imperfect privatization and are a good part of the reason why Croatia received place 74 in the survey. And this at a time when most Croats must struggle to make ends meets, especially pensioners, war invalids, people with large families, and the 20 percent of the population that is officially unemployed.

It is this discrepancy between the HDZ's ideological message that they have taken the country from "victory to prosperity" and the cold reality experienced by most Croats that is responsible for the growth of support for the opposition in the polls in recent years. Indeed, it is most striking that, after Serbian rebels were defeated in 1995 and people increasingly turned their attention from national to social issues, the Social Democrats emerged from obscurity to become the strongest single opposition party.

The fractious Croatian opposition remains, however, Tudjman's greatest political asset. (This is one of many parallels that can be drawn between Tudjman and his Yugoslav counterpart, Slobodan Milosevic.) Six of the mainstream opposition parties have finally tried to sink their differences and put together a coalition that can defeat the HDZ and open the way to greater democracy and transparency. But these parties have a history of fighting each other as much as the HDZ, and Tudjman certainly knows how to play them and their frequently egoistic leaders off against each other.

Should the coalition stick together and defeat the HDZ in the 22 December parliamentary vote, that does not necessarily mean that stability will come to Croatia. That country's post-communist development has often been compared to that of Slovakia, and the analogy might once again prove true. No sooner had the present heterogeneous governing coalition in Bratislava defeated Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar than its component parties and politicians began fighting among themselves. Meanwhile, Meciar is planning his comeback.

And the 22 December election has already generated controversy of its own even before it has taken place. The opposition and the Roman Catholic Church have criticized the government's choice of that date as an attempt to capitalize on the "Christmas atmosphere" that will presumably lead voters to be complacent about the party that has run Croatia for nearly 10 years.

The election, moreover, will apparently take place under a controversial new electoral law that has come in for strong criticism, both from the opposition as well as from the Western countries whose institutions Tudjman wants to join. Objections center on the lack of equal access to the electronic media, particularly to public television (HTV), from which most Croats get their news.

Other points of contention include representation in parliament. The law reduces the number of assured seats for the Serbian minority from three to one. The law also maintains the right to vote for the Croatian diaspora, which will have a number of seats in the parliament corresponding to the number of Croats abroad who actually cast their vote. In practice, this means that the ethnic Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina will elect a solid bloc of HDZ deputies, who in turn will support the "Herzegovinian lobby" that controls much of the government and HDZ in Croatia proper.

None of this sits well with the U.S. or EU. Western diplomats and political leaders have frequently admonished official Zagreb that it must meet certain democratic standards if it wants to be considered for membership in the EU or NATO. So far, Croatia has not even qualified for NATO's Partnership for Peace. That is the fault of Croatia's politicians, not of its resourceful military, whose ranks include top officers who served in NATO armies.

Some political leaders, such as Foreign Minister Mate Granic, seem to understand that Croatia must meet Western standards if it wants to join Western institutions. But Tudjman and the "Herzegovinian lobby" continue to produce policies and legislation like the new electoral law, which they know will meet with disapproval in Western capitals.

Another example is that the Zagreb leaders also balk at participating in the EU's Stability Pact for the Balkans, which they suspect is a trap to snare Croatia in some future resurrected Yugoslav state. Slovenia shares similar suspicions of "Southeast European" projects hatched in Brussels or Washington. But Western leaders have managed to convince Ljubljana that it should take a "noblesse oblige" attitude and seek to help its poorer neighbors. Official Zagreb, however, has not yet comprehended this message.

As the December election date approaches, a number of other questions loom large, in addition to the ones about the cohesion of the opposition and the government's responsiveness to foreign pressure. First, if the opposition wins more votes than the HDZ, will Tudjman accept the results and call on the opposition to form a government? So far, he has refused to say explicitly that he would do so. Meanwhile, the opposition has centered much of its political fire on this problem, perhaps to the detriment of paying attention to other issues.

Second, if the HDZ fares poorly, might the impact of a defeat cause it to finally split up into ideologically coherent components? The HDZ is East-Central Europe's last surviving mass movement founded in the 1980s to overthrow communism. Poland's Solidarity, Czechoslovakia's Civic Forum, and comparable organizations elsewhere have split on ideological lines, but the HDZ remains.

And if the HDZ breaks up, might that not trigger a general realignment of the political spectrum? Some of its factions and politicians are scarcely distinguishable ideologically from some elements in the opposition. But egos and ambitions kept the opposition apart in the past and could well prevent a comprehensive reorganization of the political landscape in the future.

Meanwhile, it seems that Tudjman's old suggestion that the HDZ should become a cohesive Christian Democratic party has gone by the wayside. As has been pointed out, the party perhaps contains too few Christians or democrats for such a transformation to take place. (Patrick Moore)

Serbia's 'Forgotten Resisters.' In a 27 October press release, Amnesty International called attention to the fate of thousands of young men who refused to serve in Milosevic's forces in Kosova. Many of the men are imprisoned in Yugoslavia or facing an uncertain legal status in other countries. A spokesman for the NGO noted: "The stories told by those we interviewed reveal a pattern of consistent neglect by the international community of a group of men clearly in need of urgent attention and guarantees of protection. Without exception, these men spoke of a disturbing lack of information available to them concerning their status as conscientious objectors to military service." (Patrick Moore)

The Serbian Opposition And The EU. Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service recently brought together two Serbian opposition leaders in his weekly program Radio Most (Bridge). Goran Svilanovic of the Citizens' Alliance of Serbia (GSS) did not attend the Luxembourg meeting with EU foreign ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 October 1999). Mile Isakov of the Reform Democratic Party of Vojvodina (RDSV) did.

Both men agreed that the last-minute decision of the majority of the opposition leaders not to go to Luxembourg does not mean that they have a negative attitude towards the EU and its role vis-a-vis the Serbian opposition. Isakov stressed nonetheless that Luxembourg would have been an excellent opportunity for those who want Europe to "open its doors" to a future democratic Serbia to get to know Western leaders. Those who stayed behind at Belgrade airport included many inexperienced people new to the world of politics, Isakov noted. But he did not exclude the possibility of "sabotage" by persons actually doing the work of the regime in encouraging the majority of those invited to Luxembourg not to go.

Svilanovic was reluctant to consider the idea of deliberate sabotage. But, in any event, he argued that those who stayed behind did not do so because they oppose cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. On the contrary, he added, any new democratic government in Serbia will have to give special attention to working closely with The Hague.

Isakov, for his part, denied press reports that, by not going to Luxembourg, the majority of opposition leaders effectively destroyed the possibility that the EU will drop sanctions against Serbia. The Vojvodina leader argued that many EU ministers still remain receptive to calls for lifting sanctions, particularly where heating oil and fuel for agricultural purposes are concerned. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "If the UN military and civilian authorities are not able to provide security for all citizens, then they should publicly admit this. It is clear to everyone in the world that the problem in Kosovo...has always been ethnic Albanian terrorism and separatism." -- Ivica Dacic, spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, on the attack by ethnic Albanians on a convoy of Serbian displaced persons in Peja on 27 October. Quoted by Reuters.

"To attack refugees on their way out is not only stupid, it's a very inhuman approach. In the future we'll control those refugee convoys even more and I will not tolerate any kinds of violence like this. We'll look for the guys responsible and try to get them." -- KFOR commander, General Klaus Reinhardt.