The dark forces of General Hopp
Croatian newspaper readers have been amused and worried in equal proportion by the story of "General Hopp." The mysterious general has been sending threats to the authorities in the form of letters to the media on behalf of an organisation calling itself the Croatian People's Liberation Council (HNOV). He blames the "Yugo-communist six-member gang," as he calls the ruling coalition, for weakening the country and abandoning it to its enemies.
In particular, the HNOV has threatened Croatian Serb returnees, international diplomats and aid workers, calling them "foreign conquerors and observers on Croatian lands." The self-styled general has started to organise patriots into military units he says, "to defend the homeland" and claims that many of his supporters are to be found among the official army and police. The Interior Ministry says it is taking the threats seriously and is investigating who might be the author of the letters.
The bloodcurdling statements began in September with a call for a coup d'état and a warning that President Stipe Mesić and Prime Minister Ivica Račan were legitimate targets for assassination. This may all be fantasy, but the attention it has received is a clue to how nervous people are that beneath the atmosphere of reform and European spirit now pervading Croatia, there might be "dark forces" lurking.
In the real world, the debate continues about how willing the government should be to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Večernji list reported that the foreign ministry had received a letter from the Tribunal naming a further 100 former state officials as possible war crimes suspects, although the government later denied that any such list existed. But the issue remains a very sensitive one, which has divided the ruling coalition as well as the country.
President Mesić is reported in Republika to be willing to release hours of audio tapes of his predecessor Franjo Tuđman allegedly discussing the wartime activities of 50 members of the former ruling party, the HDZ.
The HDZ, unsurprisingly, is opposed to unconditional cooperation and said "the Croatian government was not aware of the crucial importance for national and state security..." But many ordinary citizens are unwilling to see Croatians appearing before the Tribunal until some high-level officials from Serbia are in the same position—something that may change with the forthcoming visit of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte to Belgrade.
To distract Croatians from dwelling on the murky past, there has been some good news about how the country's vital tourism and shipping industry could be revived. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that he was optimistic about negotiations on the future of the Prevlaka peninsular, which overlooks Dubrovnik and where delayed demilitarisation has left a cloud over further development of the holiday trade. Mr Annan was speaking on the occasion of the renewal of the six-month mandate of the observer force on the peninsular.
The change of regime in Belgrade opens up some new options; it is obviously in the interests of both governments to get their troops out and the beach towels in. But the continued row between Montenegro and Serbia over their future relationship (Prevlaka lies on Montenegrin territory and contains Yugoslavia's main port at Bar) is one unresolved dimension to a delicate set of negotiations.
Vjesnik also reported further investment on the coast; a new marina for 350 boats is planned for the Istrian resort of Novigrad, and Rijeka harbour is to get USD 34.5 million from South Korea, in the form of a loan for the renovation and modernisation of facilities there.
Old friends, oil friends
Proof that economic cooperation between the former enemies can be worked out comes with the signing of a deal between the Croatian oil monopoly INA and the Yugoslav Beopetrol for the export of 360,000 tonnes of oil products, and the refining of 40,000 tonnes of Yugoslavia's crude oil each month at the Sisak refinery.
Now if only they can keep hold of the money... Novi list reported that police will soon release the results of their investigation into how much of the USD 850 million raised in the sell-off of the telecom monopoly HT is still missing.
Other signs of financial reform are the ending of price controls on petrol, bread and milk, fertilisers and telephone charges—part of the agreement signed recently with the World Trade Organisation. Farmers were worried about the effect of deregulation of fertiliser prices, but if Croatia is serious about being considered as a candidate for EU membership, then that will be the least of their worries.
Making Croatian agriculture as efficient as the Dutch, for example, seems hard to imagine, and yet that is what accession will call for. Prime Minister Račan expressed his confidence that Croatia could meet the necessary standards, in his first major speech of the year. He claimed success in meeting foreign debt payments, but warned that a lot more needed to be done.
However, on the same day (Thursday 4 January) government official figures pointed to a further worry—the deficit between exports and imports amounted to USD 3.1 billion in 2000, hardly better than the year before. Exports are around half of imports. Croatian industry has a long way to go, too, before it is competitive.
Croatians still against elections
The electorate seems willing to take the chance on the reforms for now. The recent opinion polls, reported in all the papers, show half of those surveyed against any new elections. However, the number of those who would like a change has risen to almost 40 per cent, which is a warning to the future.
Marble ship capsizes
Finally, the news has been filled with the tragedy of a Croatian-registered ship carrying marble from Italy, which capsized off Ancona with the loss of three lives. The cargo shifted in heavy seas, and the ship heaved to one side, and then turned over. One crewmember managed to swim to an oilrig and then bravely set out on a port authority speedboat to search for his missing colleagues, but to no avail.
Dan Damon, 5 January 2001
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HINA news agency