HDZ conspiracy leaked
The big story of the week came from the newspaper Republika, which apparently obtained documents from a police investigation into a ten-year conspiracy to control the country's media. The leaked information suggested that senior members of the former ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), had signed a series of secret agreements with managers and owners of press and broadcasting to accept funding from wealthy businessmen, in order to monopolise the country's press, TV and radio.
The President's office was suspected of having leaked the story in an attempt to try to break continued control of media by HDZ sympathisers, endangering attempts at reform. But the President's spokeswoman immediately denied that suggestion. The Prime Minister, Ivica Račan, asked the press to deal sensitively with the story, since it threatened: "to create a frenzied market" in media companies.
An alternative, rumoured explanation for the leak—security services still sympathetic to the former regime were attempting to undermine a police investigation that threatened some big names. One of those implicated, Ninoslav Pavić, was arrested on Monday, but released due to lack of evidence on Wednesday. He declared he would sue the interior minister and the judge who ordered his detention.
Another leak was causing President Stipe Mesić problems—the weekly Globus and daily Slobodna Dalmacija have been printing extracts from his 1998 testimony to the War Crime Tribunal in The Hague. ICTY spokeswoman Florence Hartmann warned that the evidence had been given in confidence and was classified, and its publication might damage future investigations into the attempt to set up an ethnically pure Hercegovina statelet in the early 1990s.
The latest revelations may have damaged the president's popularity with the public—although a new poll published in Večernji list shows him still the most admired politician, the number of those willing to give any opinion has fallen sharply.
The news most teenage boys have been waiting for emerged this week. The length of compulsory military service is to be reduced to just six months, and the number of recruits is to be cut as well.
This is not just a peace dividend brought about by reduced tension in the region and the recent visit of the Yugoslav president to Zagreb; it is also a sign that the cost of maintaining the military budget so beloved by the former president, with his fondness for ceremonial and colourful uniforms, is no longer a spending priority for the new government.
Tourists centre on former battlefield
Vjesnik reported that the Prevlaka peninsular, which a few years ago was the scene of fierce battles and exchanges of artillery fire between Croatia and Montenegro, is to be developed as a tourist centre. Stjepan Butijer, head of the project to revitalise the area's economy, explained his plans for a new era of co-operation with the former enemy.
It is hoped that the hundreds of thousands of Western tourists who once arrived there looking for good, cheap wine and usually perfect weather will soon be persuaded to try the rugged coastline again, and that the thousands of workers needed to serve them will put behind them the bitter memories.
Croatian hero dies
One of Croatia's independence heroes, Vlado Gotovac, died from suspected liver cancer at the age of 70. His essays and speeches calling for freedom and democracy in the former Yugoslavia landed him in jail in the 1970s, in Tito's crackdown on Croatian demands for greater cultural and political autonomy.
It is thought it was in prison that he developed an infectious liver disease that finally brought him down. He became a journalist on his release, and then in the early 1990s formed the Social Liberal party, the first non-Communist party in Croatia since the Second World War.
He was an active opponent of Franjo Tuđman's authoritarian style, and often spoke out in the Sabor, or parliament, to which he was elected in 1995. In 1993, he called on Tuđman to resign and take responsibility for atrocities in Central Bosnia, when Croats used force to drive out Muslim villagers. The Sabor held a minute's silence in memory of Gotovac.
One of the other big stories of the week was the revelation that over 18,000 illegal immigrants had been arrested in Croatia in the past ten months. Most of them were on their way to the borders with Slovenia to try to cross to the West. The Interior Ministry estimated that illegal crossings into Slovenia had more than doubled in the past year.
One major source is thought to be Iranians arriving in Bosnia. Twenty of them drowned in August while trying to float across the Sava River; and of more than 12,000 who arrived at Sarajevo airport, only around 1000 have officially left the country. The others are suspected of crossing illegally. So on Thursday, the Bosnian government agreed under UN pressure to impose new visa regulations, ending travel as-of-right for Iranian citizens.
Dan Damon, 9 December 2000
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HINA news agency