Đukanović apologises to Croatia
In the southern Dalmatian town of Cavtat last Saturday, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović extended an unprecedented apology to the Croatian nation for the "pain and damage" inflicted by Montenegrins serving with the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) during the war in Croatia.
Đukanović particularly singled out the cities of Konavle and Dubrovnik, which were beseiged in late 1991 by JNA forces that included a significant component of Montenegrin reservists.
"On my own behalf and on behalf of all the citizens of Montenegro, I want to apologize to all citizens of Croatia, particularly in Konavle and Dubrovnik, for all the pain and material damage inflicted by Montenegrins," Đukanović said.
"We have paid in the lives of our people, the severance of traditionally good ties between Croatia and Montenegro and our banishment from the international community," he added.
President Stipe Mesić welcomed his Montenegrin counterpart's comments, noting that Montenegro's role in the destruction of Dubrovnik had been a significant roadblock to normalization of relations between the two former Yugoslav republics.
"This is a small step for Europe, but a big step for Croatia and Montenegro toward European integration," Mesić said.
Đukanović's unprecedented act of contrition was broadly acclaimed in Croatia and Montenegro, as well as by the Serbian opposition.
In televised interviews, Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) caucus leader Đurda Adlesić and Liberal Party (LS) vice president Kramarić both welcomed the apology, saying the Montenegrin president's remarks had cleared the way for the complete normalization of relations.
Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) caucus leader Vladimir Seks was alone in dismissing the apology, noting that "[Đukanović] did not say that Montenegro was willing to compensate us for the damage and put to trial those who planned and committed war crimes."
Meanwhile, commentators in both Jutarnji list and Večernji list said that Đukanović's remarks were just shy of a "full apology," but added that it was a "vital step" toward the resolution of a handful of outstanding bilateral issues, including the Prevlaka peninsula, before the two countries deepen economic and political cooperation in the region and abroad.
In Montenegro, Zarko Rakčević, vice president of the Social Democatic Party (SDS), said the apology was a "positive and wise step," adding "I expect him to apologise as well to the citizens of Montenegro who were harassed because they opposed the pointless war with Croatia."
"This is the beginning of a new era in our relations with Croatia. All persons who committed war crimes during that period must be arrested and tried," Rakčević added.
Meanwhile, Predrag Simić, a top advisor to Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Drašković, said the apology was a "brave step" that acknowledged not only the need for improved relations between Montenegro and Croatia, but that also marked Đukanovićas a "politician who wants to send the past into history and create a new future for these two countries."
While in Croatia, Đukanović also discussed joint infrastructure projects, including the construction of an Adriatic-Ioanian highway linking Greece to northern Italy via the Adriatic coast, a project vital for the tourism industries in both nations.
Asked by Jutarnji list about discussions on the status of the Prevlaka peninsula, Mesić refused to comment, saying that neither presidents was interested in seeing Prevlaka "over-burden" relations. (Večernji list, Jutarnji list, HRT, Crna Gora Medija Klub)
Mesić in Slovenia
President Stipe Mesić was in Cerklje, near the Slovenia-Croatia border, for Slovene Statehood Day at the invitation of Slovene President Milan Kučan. There, he noted the "friendship and cooperation between our countries that has created an atmosphere in which it is possible to discuss unsettled issues," although little progress was forthcoming in talks between the two leaders.
On the issue of Slovene access to the open sea, for example, Kučan and others have frequently proposed a reciprocal agreement in which Croatia would grant Slovenia access to sea ports in return for a Slovene promise to engage in joint highway projects, a notion that Mesić rejected in Slovenia last weekend.
"I do not think it is a good idea to be discussing the binding of one issue to another. We can set deadlines for solving each of them, but we should not be linking issues together." (Večernji list, HRT)
Unemployment to jump, pensions too
Jutarnji list predicted this week that the official unemployment rate will reach 23 percent by the end of the year, after figures released Monday indicated that effective unemployment in April was 11.9 percent higher than in the same period last year. Overall, unemployment currently stands at 21.7 percent.
Meanwhile, Minister of Labor and Welfare Davorko Vidović announced last Friday that the average retirement pension will be raised from its present 37 percent of the average annual wage to 42 percent, with the increase coming over a ten year period. Pensioners' rights groups were lukewarm toward the announcement, saying a ten year period for an increase would ensure that many pensioners will be dead before they realize the full gain promised by Vidović.
Thursday, Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) leader Anto Đapić, still reeling from the fallout over his anti-Serb comments on Republic Day, said the government has proven itself incapable of dealing with the nation's unemployed. (Jutarnji list, HINA)
NATO Deputy Secretary General Klaus Peter Klaiber was on hand this week, as Minister of Defence Jozo Radoš opened a seminar on civil-military relations geared to enhance parliamentary oversight and control over the Croatian Army (HV).
Klaiber noted that "Inviting Croatia to be a part of PfP [Partnership for Peace] was a huge step toward Croatia's becoming a member of other organizations. I think once concrete progress has been made, it will only be a matter of time before Croatia should reasonably ask for NATO membership. We would welcome that."
Radoš said Klaiber's participation in this week's seminar was important because it would prove to NATO that the nation is interested in creating "effective democratic control" over military structures and would "also help build [domestic] confidence in the armed forces."
Meanwhile, a Jutarnji list exclusive this week revealed that criminal charges are allegedly pending against three high ranking Defence Ministry officials. Jutarnji claims that Vladimir Zagorec (former Deputy Minister of Defence and longtime head of RH Alan, the state military procurement firm), Ljubo Česić Rojs (an HDZ-affiliated parliamentary deputy representing the diaspora and former Deputy Quartermaster General) and Gen Matko Kakarigi (long responsible for military housing and office space) will soon face criminal charges of fraud and misuse of official offices.
The paper speculated that former ministers of defence, Andrija Hebrang and Pavao Miljavac, will now find it hard to "escape responsibility for the misdeeds of their former deputies and assistants." For his part, Hebrang said he welcomed this "latest step in the process," while Miljavac said the pending prosecutions were politically motivated. (Jutarnji List, Večernji list).
Obstruction of justice?
Minister of Veterans' Affairs Ivica Panćić this week accused Franjo Tuđman's former Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) government of having obstructed the exhumation of graves thought to contain the bodies of both Croatian and Serbian victims of war crimes in Croatia.
Panćić said that the deal had been struck under "a tacit agreement" with authorities in Serbia.
HDZ MP Ivica Koštović, who was Deputy Prime Minister in charge of operations in the Tuđman cabinet to locate wartime missing and dead, immediately denied the accusations at a Wednesday news conference.
"I must claim that this is the worst, most monstrous accusation from government authorities so far," Koštović said.
His comments were echoed by fellow HDZ deputy Jadranka Kosor, whom local commentators credited with "pointing out the obvious" when she said "We think that these statements are directly oriented toward discrediting the former HDZ government." Kosor also demanded that the government present evidence to back up Pančić's claims or offer a public apology.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 1 July 2000
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