Vol 2, No 10
13 March 2000
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Round-up for Croatia
News from Croatia since 26 February 2000
(the past two weeks are reviewed together)
The news that created biggest commotion in Croatia over the past two weeks arrived from The Hague, where the International Criminal Tribunal for the Crimes Committed in Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) sentenced Tihomir Blaškić, former commander of the Central Bosnian operational zone of the Croat Defence Council (HVO), to 45 years imprisonment. Blaškić was found guilty on all counts listed in the indictment except one. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and severe breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the Croat-Muslim war in central Bosnia between May 1992 and January 1994. The gravest crime was the massacre of more than one hundred Muslim civilians in the village of Ahmići. This indictment is also relevant because it confirmed for the first time Croatia's involvement in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Prime Minister Ivica Račan and his deputy Goran Granić reacted promptly to the sentence and described it as "very severe, perhaps even too severe." Račan thought that the sentence ought to be reviewed. Defence Minister Jozo Radoš stated that the sentence was exceptionally harsh. President of the Republic Stipe Mesić commented on the sentence by stating that the Parliament had never allowed the deployment of Croatian Army outside the country's borders and that the responsibility for that decision should thus be individual, and not collective. The High Representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina Wolfgang Petritsch stated that "the timing for this sentence was perhaps not perfect."
Reacting to the sentence, several thousand war veterans held a rally in front of the American Embassy in Zagreb. Their representatives protested against the Tribunal's decision and asked the Government to stop co-operating with the ICTY. Dozens of eggs and stones were thrown at the Embassy premises. In an interview in Večernji list, Prime Minister Račan called the demonstrators "right-wing supporters and members of the disintegrating Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)."
"A major breakthrough is expected in the review of Blaškić case, since we found very important documents a couple of days ago in the archives of the secret services that could shed a completely new light on the events in central Bosnia between 1992 and 1994," Prime Minister Ivica Račan announced three days after Blaškić's sentence was made public. He reassured the public that Croatia would continue co-operating with the Tribunal. "It is in Croatia's best interest, so that the entire Patriotic War is not cast in a bad light," Račan explained. He refused to reveal the contents of the documents that the Government had discovered, stating only that the previous Government did not want to make them available to Blaškić's defence.
The main opposition party, the HDZ, requested an extraordinary and urgent session of the Parliament in order to discuss Croatia's attitude towards the ICTY. After the sessions of several parliamentary committees, it was decided that the session of the Parliament would take place in three weeks, by which time, the Government has to prepare the platform for co-operation between Croatia and ICTY and submit it to the Parliament for debate.
Another aspect of relations between Croatia and the ICTY was discussed last week, namely the extradition of Mladen Naletilić-Tuta. The previous Government had made the decision on extradition, but extradition never took place because of Naletilić's health condition. During his visit to Berlin last Wednesday, Prime Minister Račan stated that he believed the trial against Naletilić would start in Zagreb. However, on the same day, the spokesperson of the ICTY, Jim Landale, announced that preparations were underway for Naletilić's transfer to The Hague. Upon his return to Zagreb, Račan finally stated that the ICTY had not accepted his suggestion.
Two of the leading politicians of the HDZ, Mate Granić (former Foreign Minister and the party's presidential candidate) and Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (former Deputy Chief of Staff of the President's Office and the most successful HDZ candidate at the parliamentary elections) decided to leave the HDZ and establish a new party called Croatian Democratic Centre (HDC). They stated it would attract many of the HDZ's members and politicians and that they would not return their parliamentary mandates to the HDZ. Explaining their motivation for this act, Granić said that "the HDZ became too claustrophobic, anti-European and anti-American." Another two well-known HDZ politicians, Zlatko Vitez and Stjepan Brolich, also announced they would join the HDC.
Commenting on the decision by Granić and Škare-Ožbolt to leave the HDZ and establish a new party, Acting President of the HDZ, Vladimir Šeks, stated, "the HDZ will do everything it can to make their (Granić's and Škare-Ožbolt's) lives unbearable."
One faction within the HDZ proposed that Andrija Hebrang (the former defence minister who resigned from all his duties in 1999 and who was also a close ally of the late President Tuđman), become the new president of that party. Hebrang refused.
Lieutenant-General Petar Stipetić was appointed as new Chief of Staff of the Croatian Army. At the same time, President Mesić promoted the former Chief of Staff, Vice-Admiral Davor Domazet, to the rank of Admiral.
President Stipe Mesić appointed his two new advisors: Igor Dekanić for internal affairs and Zdravko Jelenković for culture and education. Both new advisors are university professors. Dekanić was also active in the Croatian People's Party (HNS), the same party Mesić belonged to before becoming President.
The Government dismissed the Zagreb City Assembly. It explained its decision by the fact that 26 (out of 50) members of the Assembly had resigned from their positions. 24 of them were from the ruling coalition (which was in opposition in the City Assembly), and two from the HDZ. Josip Kregar was appointed as the Special Commissioner of the Government for the City of Zagreb. He will thus replace both the Assembly and City Council. The elections for the new Assembly have to be carried out within 60 days. The Presidency of the HDZ called this decision "undemocratic and illegal." Namely, two of their members who resigned from their duties changed their mind and stated that they were misled while signing their resignations.
The Presidency of the HDZ also decided to dismiss the party's Vice-President, Zlatko Canjuga, who was also President of the Zagreb City Assembly and of the Zagreb branch of the HDZ, for "failing to maintain a HDZ majority in the City Assembly."
Minister of Justice, Administration and Local Administration Stjepan Ivanišević asked the members of the State Judicial Council (DSV), the supreme judicial body in the country, to resign. He justified his action by referring to the allegation that the DSV was elected in an illegal way. President of the DSV Ante Potrebica responded to Minister Ivanišević by asking for his resignation instead.
The mandate of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Croatia will most probably be extended until the end of the year. In a statement to the press, following a meeting with OSCE Head of the Mission Bernard Poncet, Speaker of Parliament Zlatko Tomčić said he had "expressed a wish and a hope that an agreement on the extension of the Mission until the end of the year between the OSCE and Croatian Government could be reached." "We have assessed that the role of the OSCE Mission is useful in this phase of changes in the Republic of Croatia," he stressed.
President of the Republic Stipe Mesić appointed the five-member expert group that would develop a proposal for constitutional changes. The group consists of professors and experts on constitutional law and is led by Prof. Veljko Mratović.
Similarly, the Government established its own group for constitutional reform, consisting of members of all parties of the ruling coalition.
The chairman of the International Open Society Foundation, George Soros, visited Zagreb and met with President Mesić, Prime Minister Račan, numerous ministers and state officials as well as representatives of his foundation and other NGOs. Mr Soros described his two-day visit to Zagreb as very useful, expressing satisfaction with the operation of the Open Society in Croatia. "Building an open society depends largely on the success or failure of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe," Soros said, adding this was why the success of the Pact was currently his priority.
A joint military exercise of the Croatian Air Force and the US Navy was carried out last Wednesday, with the participation of Croatian MIGs and US F-14, F-18 and S-3 aircraft. This exercise symbolically marked the beginning of the process of mutual military co-ordination and activities, the Croatian Ministry of Defence announced.
Trade unions in public and state administration announced a one-day strike on 21 March, and public protest against the Government's intention to cut the wages of state employees by 5%. The trade unions claim that the Government had broken its election promise not to reduce salaries.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Tonino Picula and the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska (the Serb entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina) Milorad Dodik signed a declaration in Banja Luka calling on all refugees to return to their homes. Upon his return to Zagreb, Picula called this declaration "the turning point in relations between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina." This return is supposed to include 12,000 Croats to Republika Srpska and 1500 Serbs to Croatia, and should be carried out under the auspices and with support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
During his unannounced visit to Sarajevo and his meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović and other Bosnian officials, Croatian Minister of Defence Jozo Radoš agreed on special procedures for monitoring Croatia's financial aid to the Croat component of the Army of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the future, Croatia's assistance will be controlled by so-called Standing Committee for Military Monitoring (SCMM).
The Assessment Mission of the European Commission arrived for a five-day working visit in Croatia. The Mission, led by the Director in the Commission's Directorate General for External Affairs, Fabrizio Barbasso, will assess the situation and suggest further steps Croatia needs to undertake in preparation for concluding the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
The European Commission's Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten visited Zagreb on Thursday and met with President Mesić, Prime Minister Račan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Picula, Minister of European Integration Ivan Jakovčić and Archbishop of Zagreb Josip Bozanić. Patten announced that Croatia could start negotiations on the conclusion of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement by this summer. Patten and Picula signed the agreement on transformation of the Office of the Special Envoy of the European Commission in Zagreb to the rank of the EC Delegation to Croatia.
Saša Cvijetić, 11 March 2000
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