Vol 2, No 13
3 April 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 27 March 2000
The week passed in the light of two big issues: the political consequences of the financial collapse of Istarska banka and speculations over the conflict between President Stipe Mesić and Prime Minister Ivica Račan.
Many strong words have been exchanged following last week's decision of the Croatian National Bank (HNB) to initiate bankruptcy procedures against the main Istrian bank. The president of the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS - one of the parties of the ruling coalition), Ivan Jakovčić (who is also minister of European integration), threatened to leave the government, while Damir Kajin, president of the Istrian County Assembly, stated that the "new Government is no better than the previous one." However, the strongest political statement was made by Jakovčić, when he threatened that if the bank's problems are not resolved fast, Istria would seek greater political autonomy within Croatia.
Prime Minister Račan strongly attacked these statements and asked Jakovčić to officially apologise to the government, which he subsequently did, withdrawing most of his statements and distancing himself from the statements made by Kajin. A special government session was called, at which it was agreed that ministers would not be entitled to make statements about issues which had not been previously discussed at the government's sessions.
The IDS decided not to leave the government, while the Istrian County Assembly lay charges against Marko Škreb, the governor of the HNB. Prime Minister Račan also stated that the ruling coalition would raise the question of Škreb's dismissal at the next session of Parliament.
The latent conflict between the government and the President culminated on Wednesday, when Mesić reacted to proposals for the reduction of his powers. In a TV interview, he stated that he would call for a constitutional referendum on this issue. Mesić argued that presidential competencies should be reduced, but that the President should not be fully disempowered.
The conflict arose on account of some seemingly irrelevant issues: the question of the official residency of the three leading political personalities (President Mesić, Prime Minister Račan and Speaker of Parliament Zlatko Tomčić) and state protocol. However, some newspapers are speculating that the main point of disagreement between the government and the President concerns the future control of the secret services. The government believes that it should be the only one in control of the secret services, while the President believes that he and Parliament should be jointly in charge.
In order to discuss these and other issues, Mesić, Račan and Speaker of Parliament Zlatko Tomčić met for lunch on Thursday. "If our relations have not been ideal so far, they are now," Mesić said after the lunch. "There is no conflict between us, and I do not know who invented it," Račan added.
In a press conference on Friday, Mesić stated that he "does not want to concentrate on conflicts but on performing the duty he was elected to do by the people." He used this opportunity to refuse Jakovčić's demands for greater autonomy of Istria.
Ivo Škrabalo from the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) was elected as the new chairman of the Council of Croatian Radio and Television (HRT). Mirko Galić, the new general director of HRT, proposed that the Council dismiss the current Editor-in-Chief of Croatian Television, Obrad Kosovac, but the proposal was not supported by a majority of Council members for procedural reasons. Galić then threatened to resign, but it was agreed that the new session, at which Kosovac's fate will be decided, will take place soon.
A delegation made up of representatives from the Austrian Ministry of Finance and a group of Austrian businessmen visited Croatia and met with President Mesić. The delegation was led by the Austrian Minister of Finance, Karl-Heinz Grasser (from Jörg Haider's extreme right-wing Freedom Party). They discussed several financial arrangements between Austria and Croatia.
The Zagreb branch of the Croatian People's Party (HNS) will run alone in the municipal elections and not with other parties of the Group of Four, if the other parties of the ruling coalition persist in excluding one HNS candidate from the electoral rosters. "We do not understand why the Group of Four is being pushed to run together, if the SDP and the HSLS are running alone anyway," said Krešimir Franjić, chairman of the party's Zagreb branch. "All the other parties are under SDP's umbrella," claimed Franjić.
The Croatian Democratic Centre (DC) will hold its founding congress on 2 April, Mate Granić announced, introducing at the same time new prominent political and academic personalities who have decided to join the DC.
The EU Troika (CFSP Co-ordinator Javier Solana, Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and the French Foreign Minister's envoy, Hugues Pernet) visited Zagreb and held talks with President Mesić, Prime Minister Račan and Parliament Speaker Zlatko Tomčić. They discussed the start of negotiations on the signing of the Stabilisation and Accession Agreement between Croatia and the EU.
Former member of Parliament and representative of the Serb national minority Veselin Pejnović joined the Liberal Party (LS).
Agricultural workers at the Belje complex blocked the road between Osijek and Beli Manastir on Monday, in protest over the fact that they have not received their salaries since October of last year.
Some 500 members of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) gathered last weekend and established the Club of Founders of the HDZ "Dr Franjo Tuđman." They elected Đuro Perica as their president. They stated that their main motivation was to return the party to its original values, and protect it from the rifts that have been taking place recently.
Minister of Justice Stjepan Ivanišević announced that the government sent documents to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) pertaining to the 50 most severe crimes committed after the operations "Flash" and "Storm" in 1995.
The majority of projects that Croatia submitted for financing at the donor's conference of the Stability Pact in Brussels were accepted, Foreign Minister Tonino Picula announced. The most important projects concern the return of 16,500 refugees to Croatia (which will cost USD 55.6 million) and the construction of a highway between Zagreb and the Croatian-Hungarian border.
Saša Cvijetić, 31 March 2000
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