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South Slavic: November 7, 2002

7 November 2002, Volume 4, Number 36


Part I.

A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg with Davor Gjenero, political analyst from Zagreb, and Nenad Zakosek, professor of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

RFE/RL: Mr. Gjenero, The Hague-based war crimes tribunal raised charges against General Janko Bobetko in late September. Does the political atmosphere in Croatia now remind you of the Tudjman era, especially the period after Operation Storm, [when Serbian forces were driven out of Croatia in August 1995] (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September, and 15 and 30 October 2002)?

Davor Gjenero: Yes, to a certain extent.... For several days [after the charges were announced in September], nobody dared say openly that Croatia has international and political shed light on the crimes committed by the Croatian side.

It took President [Stipe] Mesic's wise remarks [on 25 September] to change the atmosphere in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 September 2002). Differentiation in public opinion appeared only after Mesic warned that if Croatia wants to be a normal democratic state, it has to fulfill its international duties, and that for its own sake it has to disassociate itself from war crimes.

Nenad Zakosek: I must say that after the first reactions to the charges and after the government's decision to challenge The Hague tribunal's decision, my first thought was: "Oh, God, the '90s are back."

But once different opinions began to be expressed in the media -- such as those of many critical intellectuals, lawyers, and public figures (including myself) -- a complex picture emerged, which could not have possibly happened during the '90s.

Gjenero: I agree with Professor Zakosek that [a variety of opinions emerged].... However, the fact remains that many people realized that the political game was too dangerous for them to risk their own talking about the necessity of cooperating with The Hague tribunal, since that would ultimately play into the hands of the rightist radicals and deepen the crisis. This, I think, might explain the fact that some of the media and people who usually speak out remained silent.

RFE/RL: How do you explain the fact that all the institutions of the government -- except for President Mesic --as well as all the political parties, both in the opposition and in power, decided to stand behind General Bobetko?

Zakosek: I am not so sure that you understand the situation here. What does "stand behind General Bobetko" mean?

...After President Mesic spoke out, the situation became more complex. The public started to take sides, for or against Bobetko.

This is when you had a spectrum of reactions ranging from the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) and [Ivica] Pasalic's group demanding Mesic's impeachment and calling his speech scandalous, to [Drazen] Budisa and his Croatian Democratic Liberal Party, who also consider it a scandal but have different suggestions about how to respond to it, to the Croatian People's Party and Social Democratic Party, which explicitly said -- although it might seem insincere because they failed to do it earlier -- that there is no substantial difference between their positions and that of the president.

That is one thing. The other thing is that many commentators -- let me just mention Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, who wrote a very important text about it -- quoted from the charges, explaining what crimes were involved and how many civilians were killed (see

RFE/RL: After President Mesic's speech, the gloves came off. I read the other day that some veterans' associations even consider him guilty of high treason. The president of the state is therefore accused of high treason just for saying that Croatia should fulfill its international obligations. And as far as I know, nobody reacted [by defending him].

Zakosek: You are right about that.... This is what political reality in Croatia is all about.

People turned on Mesic several times before, while he was just doing his duty.

RFE/RL: But as far as I know, he was never accused of high treason before.

Zakosek: Well, I am not so sure about that. I think that [Vladimir] Seks used a similar term before. Maybe not high treason, but Mesic certainly was tarred with that brush by the HDZ before....

In any event, the rightist parties' general attitude toward the present government -- not just Mesic -- is that they are traitors. All the protest marches and demonstrations we witnessed in the past few years had the same slogan -- the government of traitors must go.

Gjenero: [The rightists do not like any form of cooperation with The Hague]....

But unlike Professor Zakosek, I am not so convinced that the leading party of the ruling coalition, the Social Democratic Party, has so unambiguously taken the side of President Mesic. It seems more like a tactical move to me.

As far as Prime Minister [Ivica] Racan is concerned, he and his closest associate [Deputy Prime Minister] Goran Granic keep trying to undermine President Mesic. They send an implicit message to the public that The Hague tribunal's increased pressure on Croatia to meet its obligations would not have been brought to bear if there had not been this chasm within the power structure allegedly caused by President Mesic's speech.

RFE/RL: So you think that Prime Minister Racan is playing a double game?

Gjenero: I think that Prime Minister Racan is clearly responsible for all the failures of this administration.

If the government had been serious about putting the past behind it, it should have carried out a serious lustration process right after 3 January 2000 [when it came to power]....

That never happened, there was not even a hint of it, and any transition that took place was thanks to the death of the tyrant by natural causes. [In fact, the old structures by and large remain.]

The Bobetko case has brought this out, as is shown by the fact that some 60 percent of the citizens criticize President Mesic....

Tudjman still lives through the most prominent figures of his antidemocratic regime who have regained a dominant role in public affairs -- simply because Mr. Racan has failed to consolidate democracy.

Zakosek: We cannot call for lustration. Such revolutionary methods would take us nowhere; we would end up in chaos.

The point is something else. I can see two important problems in dealing with our past. First, Croatia has to deal with the consequences of the communist regime, and then with the consequences of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the way the Croatian state was created. This means addressing violations of human rights and other crimes committed during that process.

At the same time, Croatia has to avoid the temptation to question the legitimacy of the two processes: the fall of communism and creation of the independent Croatian state.

I have always claimed that the new government, as well as intellectuals and other important elements in society, failed to formulate a clear alternative position to the attitude of the HDZ government and Franjo Tudjman. They claimed that the Croats committed no crimes [during the 1991-95 war], and if they had, they were legitimate and nobody is allowed to reexamine them....

This is where not only the government but also the media, as well as the intellectuals failed after 3 January 2000, since they did not challenge these ideas outright. Now, since Mr. Gjenero is talking about a restoration, I would find it very dangerous if -- amid the present emotional confusion and nationalist agitation -- the ruling coalition fell apart and a rightist government came to power again. That would really be a restoration.