Change in Yugoslavia was the story of the week in Croatia. From the time the election writ was dropped in Belgrade until the "uprising" there on 5 October, Croatia's leaders and media alike seemed relatively unprepared for a post-Milošević Yugoslavia. Vojislav Koštunica's weekend inauguration and the European Union's Monday move to ease sanctions on the Belgrade regime forced them to retool a decade-old foreign policy as the nation was left stunned by the EU's "double standard" in the Balkans.
The first sign that Prime Minister Ivica Račan's coalition government had accepted Vojislav Koštunica may be a force with whom to be reckoned came on Sunday, when Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said the new President must clearly indicate that his policies represent a break with those of his predecessor. All was then relatively quiet until Tuesday evening when, in the wake of the EU's move to unilaterally ease sanctions, the Prime Minister dispatched Deputy Foreign Minister Joško Paro to Belgrade to meet Koštunica.
Paro returned to Zagreb in time to factor into former Foreign Minister and current Democratic Party (DC) President Mate Granić's attempt to make political hay out of Carl Bildt's proposal for a loose Balkan association of "former Yugoslavia Plus Albania Minus Slovenia." Although politicians' first instincts were clearly to laugh-off both Granić and Bildt, a Financial Times report claimed the EU may indeed back Bildt's call for all Southeastern European (SEE) nations to approach EU integration as a group.
In the story's wake, several columnists tried to put the best possible face on change in FRY by emphasizing the oil pipeline and new market opportunities with which the JANAF pipeline and Croatian exporters would, respectively, be presented. However many citizens may eventually be won over by such arguments, cries of "double standard" won the week, as some in Račan's ruling Group of Six openly questioned the wisdom of his decision to send Paro to Belgrade—and what, exactly, the EU thought it was doing by unconditionally dropping sanctions. See this week's article "Hitting the Fan" for a full discussion.
The emerging dispute between PM Račan and President Stipe Mesić over the government's proposed constitutional amendments reverberated in the ongoing foreign policy debate and spread into matters of economy.
Mesić, said to feel betrayed by the Group of Six's move to curb his office's power far beyond the extent to which he had agreed, summoned the Prime Minister to a Tuesday meeting at the Presidential Palace on Pantovčak. In a heated dispute that subsequently spilled over into the dailies' headlines, the President underscored his displeasure at not having been consulted on Paro's mission to Belgrade (despite the President's substantial responsibilities in foreign policy matters) and warned Račan to come up with a coherent economic policy—or else.
By week's end, the President was denying that he had established his own group of experts to devise an alternative economic development policy, but was clearly displeased when he told a Thursday press conference that he was hopeful he and the government would reach a compromise on the presidency's constitutional responsibilities before the amendments hit the Sabor later this fall.
And in other news...
- The Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Dinko Sakić, former commander of the Second World War Jasenovac concentration camp, confirming his sentence of 20 years in prison for crimes against civilians. Sakić's defense attorney promptly announced he would launch another appeal.
- In the first visit by an Austrian Chancellor since the declaration of independence, Wolfgang Schüssel lauded Croatia's democratic progress and underscored that FRY President Vojislav Koštunica's dismissal of cooperation with the ICTY was unacceptable. In what some media outlets claimed was a tit-for-tat response, the government quietly announced it was dropping its long-standing objections to the sale of Večernji List to Austria's Styria. The Večernji List house publishes the nation's top selling daily paper by the same name.
- In a bid to curb rising retail prices, the Račan government cut import taxes on most fruit and vegetables. The move affected products that domestic producers either no longer have in stock or failed to produce in sufficient quantities as a result of the summer drought. Farmer's union representatives immediately went on the offensive, denying the existence of shortages and claiming the administration had pandered to the demands of major importers.
- Although September's inflation rate rose to 1.2 percent, the National Bank (HNB)'s Ljubinko Jankov warned against calculating the annual total inflation rate on the basis of a one-off figure, and spokesmen in both Ministries of Finance and of the Economy said the administration is certain the average figure for 2000 will be in the predicted 5 to 6 percent range.
- The Zadar County State Attorney's Office has pressed charges of aiding and abetting fugitive war criminals against Josip Nekić and Željko Stipić, former officials with the Office for the Protection of Constitutional Order (SZUP). In May, Nekić was reportedly instructed to investigate whether suspects in the Ahmići massacre were in the Zadar area. Although Nekić's operatives confirmed the suspects were indeed in the region, he chose to omit their findings from his report. Stipić is charged with having enabled suspect Vlado Ćosić to obtain false identification in 1998.
- Members of the Croatian national soccer team, led by team manager Miroslav Ćiro Blažević signed a controversial public petition initiated by the Headquarters for the Protection of the Dignity of the Homeland War (SODDR). Sports psychologists interviewed in the nation's dailies and on state television said they doubted the players had read the proclamation and were likely unaware they had signed a document demanding that the Račan government not lead Croatia into a new Balkan confederation. The flap caused by the signing nearly overshadowed the Croatia-Scotland World Cup qualifying match—until the Scottish arrived in town. The media shared the nation's fascination with the boisterous, well-behaved Scots—and with Scotsmen eager to prove they were "true Scots" under their kilts. The teams played to a 1-1 draw.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 14 October 2000
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