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Ratko Mladic – war criminal

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The suicide on 29 November 2017 of former Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak after he failed to get his conviction for war crimes overturned has slightly overshadowed the conviction last week of Ratko Mladic, former general of the Bosnian Serb army, for war crimes and the life sentenced imposed on him, writes Geoff Ryan. Mladic’s conviction was just about the last act of the Hague based International  Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) before it winds up next week.

With the jailing of Mladic most of those responsible for war crimes committed by Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and by Croat forces in Bosnia Herzegovina are either dead or in jail. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, his Croatian counterpart Franjo Tudjman, leader of the Serb Autonomous Republic of Krajina (ARK) Milan Babic and Mate Boban,  his Croat counterpart in Herceg-Bosna  (the attempt by Croat forces to carve out parts of Bosnia), Serb paramilitary leader Arkan) have died while former leader of the Bosnian Serbs  Radovan Karadzic, Milan Martic who replaced Milan Babic as leader of the ARK when Babic fell  out with Milosevic and now Mladic are in prison as a result of decisions by the tribunal.

The one major player who has escaped prison is Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party whose paramilitary Cetniks were guilty of many murders in Croatia and Bosnia. Bizarrely Seselj was found not guilty of all charges in 2016.

Of course many minor players remain at large and unlikely to ever face any criminal charges. Current Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic is a former member of Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party but his pro-western leanings will almost certainly mean he is fairly safe from anyone enquiring too closely into his role in Serbian wars of aggression. Or of his allowing both Karadzic and Mladic to openly move about Serbia and Republika SrpskaRepublika Srpska is the part of Bosnia carved out by Mladic and Karadzic, with the acquiescence of western governments.  Milorad Dudik, current leader of Republika Srpska, is probably also safe despite his close ties to Karadzic and Mladic.

In fact as Jonathan Freedland pointed out in the Guardian last Saturday (25th November), Mladic would probably have avoided jail if he hadn’t been arrested when he was. Western governments no longer have an appetite for arresting war criminals. Though Freedland could also have pointed out that western governments have rarely had such an appetite: after all they collaborated with Milosevic for a long time. The Dayton accords on Bosnia, engineered by the US government, rewarded Milosevic for his wars of aggression. Milosevic was quite willing to dump Karadzic and Mladic to gain support from western governments. It was only in 1999 when Serbian forces renewed war against the Albanian majority population in Kosova that the British and US governments decided that Milosevic had to go.

And some of the worst war criminals are missing from Freedland’s arguments: Henry Kissinger and Ariel Sharon are notable absentees, though hardly surprising given Freedland’s support for Zionism. And the US boycotts international war crimes tribunals and is clear that it will never allow US soldiers to be put on trial by such bodies, however heinous the crimes.

Break up of former Yugoslavia

The jailing of Mladic is of enormous historical importance, not least because some of the issues involved also have current relevance. The most important of these is the attitude socialists should take towards the national question. Most of the left, with some exceptions, hopelessly failed to understand the importance of the national question in the wars of aggression carried out by Milosevic against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They simply equated Serb, Croatian and Bosniak nationalism without, at the very least, recognising that ‘Bosniak’ nationalism was about the unity of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, alongside all other nationalities living in Bosnia.

Some had nostalgia for the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a laudable enough sentiment, but then saw Milosevic as the continuer of Tito’s legacy. They failed to understand that by oppressing the Albanian majority in Kosova, by replacing party leaders in Kosova and Vojvodina (both autonomous provinces within Serbia at the time) and Montenegro with yes-men Milosevic was giving rise to the Serbian domination of Yugoslavia that Tito had deliberately tried to prevent in the 1974 Constitution.

This nostalgia was frequently mistaken in that many of those supporting ‘Yugoslavia’ appeared to be unaware that Tito had broken with Stalin and the leadership of the Soviet Union. They saw everything through the prism of the cold war and therefore saw the break-up of Yugoslavia as an imperialist plot, usually a German plot. In one of the ironies of history, the most enthusiastic supporters of Milosevic were the government of Russia, led by Vladimir Putin.

Others saw the conflict between Serbia and Croatia as a conflict between two equally bad nationalisms, with nothing to choose between Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. The frequent references to the pro-Nazi independent Croatian state and the brutality of the Ustase (and failure to mention the pro-Nazi regime in Belgrade, the first in Europe to declare itself to be Judenrein, free of Jews) in fact suggested a preference for Milosevic.

In fact the central conflict was that between Milosevic and the leadership of the League of Communists of Slovenia. The Slovenes wanted a loose, confederal structure to Yugoslavia while Milosevic and the leadership in Serbia wanted a more rigid, highly centralised structure with Serbia having a dominant role. When the Slovene leadership exercised their right to independence under the 1974 constitution the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) intervened militarily. While the Slovenes resisted there is no doubt that the JNA could have defeated Slovene forces and forced Slovenia to remain within Yugoslavia. The reason they didn’t was because Milosevic had no interest in Slovenia. Unlike Yugoslavia as a whole (with its 6 nations, 10 nationalities and at least another 15 national minorities) Slovenia was relatively ethnically homogenous. Most importantly for Milosevic there were very few Serbs.

However, once Slovenia left Yugoslavia it was a certainty that the Croatian leadership would follow suit, especially since the by now Croatian nationalist Franjo Tudjman was in charge. War was more or less inevitable as large numbers of Serbs lived in Croatia and Milosevic was determined to create a Greater Serbia. The Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), with its headquarters in the town of Knin in the Krajina, ensured Serbs were well armed and ready to resist all attempts by the Croatian government to impose its rule. But the SDS was essentially a creation of Milosevic – to the extent that Milosevic replaced Milan Babic with Milan Martic when Babic dared to disagree with him.

The war in Croatia was exceptionally brutal towns such as Vukovar were systematically destroyed by the JNA, Arkan’s ‘Tigers’ and Seselj’s Cetniks. The beautiful Adriatic tourist city of Dubrovnik was shelled for the duration of the war. (It has since been sensitively rebuilt and remains one of the most attractive cities on the planet, as well as providing some of the locations for ‘Game of Thrones’).

But the war of Croatian independence (as it is known in Croatia) was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the even more brutal war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosnian government had initially supported remaining within the rump Yugoslavia of Serbia and Montenegro but the brutality of the Serb war machine in Croatia persuaded Bosnian President Izetbegovic that independence was necessary.

While Ratko Mladic had been involved in war in Croatia, it is his role in Bosnia that has made him infamous and for which he is now serving a life sentence. Mladic was responsible for the 3 year siege of Sarajevo during which Serb artillery shelled the city on a regular basis and snipers made going about one’s daily business a serious risk of death. Mladic was also responsible for the massacre of over 7,000 Bosniak men at Srebrenica, a supposedly ‘safe area’ ‘protected’ by UN troops. The Dutch troops did nothing to prevent the massacre. Other ‘safe areas’ were overrun by Mladic’s troops.

Support for self determination

So how do wars in the 1990s in former Yugoslavia relate to current issues? The main issue is the national question and our attitude as socialists to national self-determination. The most brutal example of refusal to grant any sort of self-determination (self-determination does not necessarily imply independence) is currently in Myanmar, with the expulsion of the Rohyngas.  The Kurdish people are currently denied any right to self-determination in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Western governments are resolutely against any Kurdish state, not even as reward for the leading role Kurds played in the fight against Islamic State.  We support the right of the Rohynga Muslim minority to be recognised as a nation alongside the majority Burmese nation and we are fully in support of the right of the Kurdish people to their own state.

Most of the left in western Europe would probably agree with those sentiments. But other issues are thornier: in particular the attitude of socialists to independence movements in Catalonia and Scotland. The main leftist group in the Spanish state Podemos has resolutely set its face against independence for Catalonia.

Of course Catalan independence is illegal but that is because the constitution of the Spanish state essentially continues Franco’s rule and makes it illegal to secede from the Spanish state. Tito’s constitution in Yugoslavia was vastly more democratic, at least in theory. But just as Yugoslavia had different nations – each, again in theory, with their own republic within the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia – so does the Spanish state. At the very least Catalans, Basques and Galicians do not consider themselves to be ‘Spanish’. They undoubtedly have the right to self-determination, including the right to independence.

Whether or not they exercise that right is up to the people of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia. That is, all the people living in those parts of the Spanish state, not just Catalans or Basques or Galicians. That is basically what the now deposed Catalan government tried to do and it is totally unacceptable for a majority ‘Spanish’ party like Podemos to impose the views of the dominant nationality on national minorities.

Similarly sections of the British left have refused to support Scottish independence on the grounds of maintaining a unified Labour movement. They denounce nationalism as divisive while failing to recognise they are also expressing nationalist views. Once again members of the dominant English nationality want to impose their views on a national minority.

Of course the situation in Catalonia and Scotland today in no way resembles Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There is no equivalent of Serb paramilitaries fuelled by Serb nationalism. There is no Slobodan Milosevic. There is no Radovan Karadzic. There is no Ratko Mladic. But nobody in 1980s Yugoslavia foresaw the rise of Serb nationalism until Milosevic began to wage war against the Albanian majority in Kosova. And many hoped it would soon pass over. After all many considered themselves Yugoslavs, just as many in the Spanish state consider themselves ‘Spanish’ and in Britain ‘British’.

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Was Srebrenica a Hoax? Eye-Witness Account of a Former United Nations Military Observer in Bosnia

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Feature Image: General Major Carlos Martins Branco

Global Research Editor’s Note

Ratko Mladić has recently been convicted to life imprisonment by the the ICTY on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity while he was Chief Commander of the Army of Republika Srpska between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This detailed account first published in 1998 by former UN Military Observer Carlos Martino Brancocasts doubts on the decision of the Hague Tribunal (ICTY) that “genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995.”

“…Bosnia Serb forces carried out genocide against the Bosnian Muslims (…) .Those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide. This is a crime against all humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity.”

 

This article by General Major Carlos Martino Branco first published by Global Research on 20 April 2004 casts doubt on the ICTY conviction of Ratko Mladić.

Michel Chossudovsky, 23 November 2017

***

Author’s Preface

I  was on the ground in Bosnia during the war and, in particular, during the fall of Srebrenica.

One may agree or disagree with my political analysis, but one really ought to read the account of how Srebrenica fell, who are the victims whose bodies have been found so far, and why the author believes that the Serbs wanted to conquer Srebrenica and make the Bosnian Muslims flee, rather than having any intentions of butchering them. The comparison Srebrenica vs. Krajina, as well as the related media reaction by the “free press” in the West, is also rather instructive.

There is little doubt that at least 2,000 Bosnian Muslims died in fighting the better trained and better commanded VRS/BSA. Yet, the question remains, WHEN did most of these casualties of combat occur? According to the analysis below, it was before the final fall of Srebrenica:  the Muslims offered very little resistance in the summer of 1995.

I was UNMO [United Nations Military Observer] Deputy Chief Operations Officer of the UNPF [United Nations Population Fund] (at theatre level) and my information is based upon debriefings of UN military observers who where posted to Srebrenica during those days as well as several United Nations reports which were not made public.

My sources of information are not Ruder & Finn Global Public Affairs. My name is not included in their database.

I do not wish to discuss numbers and similar matters pertaining thereto.  There is reason to believe that figures have been used and manipulated for propaganda purposes. These figures and information do not provide a serious understanding of the Yugoslavian conflict.

The article is based upon TRUE information and includes my analysis of the events. The story is longer than what I  have presented here in this article.

It is my hope that it will contribute  to clarifying  what really happened in Srebrenica.

Was Srebenica a Hoax?

It is now two years since the Muslim enclave, Srebenica, fell into the hands of the Serbian army in Bosnia. Much has been written about the matter. Nonetheless the majority of reports have been limited to a broad media exposure of the event, with very little analytic rigor.

Discussion of Srebrenica cannot be limited to genocide and mass graves.

A rigorous analysis of the events must take into consideration the background circumstances, in order to understand the real motives which led to the fall of the enclave.

The zone of Srebrenica, like almost all of Eastern Bosnia, is characterized by very rugged terrain. Steep valleys with dense forests and deep ravines make it impossible for combat vehicles to pass, and offers a clear advantage to defensive forces. Given the resources available to both parties, and the characteristics of the terrain, it would seem that the Bosnian army (ABiH) had the necessary force to defend itself, if it had used full advantage of the terrain. This, however, did not occur.

Given the military advantage of the defensive forces it is very difficult to explain the absence of military resistance. The Muslim forces did not establish an effective defensive system and did not even try to take advantage of their heavy artillery, under control of the United Nations (UN) forces, at a time in which they had every reason to do so.

The lack of a military response stands in clear contrast to the offensive attitude which characterized the actions of the defensive forces in previous siege situations, which typically launched violent “raids” against the Serbian villages surrounding the enclave, thus provoking heavy casualties amongst the Serbian civilian population.

But in this instance, with the attention of the media focused upon the area, military defence of the enclave would have revealed the true situation in security zones, and demonstrate that these had never been genuinely demilitarized zones as was claimed, but were harboured highly-armed military units. Military resistance would jeopardize the image of “victim”, which had been so carefully constructed, and which the Muslims considered vital to maintain.

Throughout the entire operation, it was clear that there were profound disagreements between the leaders of the enclave. From a military viewpoint, there was total confusion. Oric, the charismatic commander of Srebenica, was absent.

The Sarajevo government did not authorize his return in order to lead the resistance. Military power fell into the hands of his lieutenants, who had a long history of incompatibility. The absence of Oric’s clear leadership led to a situation of total ineptitude. The contradictory orders of his successors completely paralyzed the forces under siege.

The behavior of the political leaders is also interesting. The local SDP president, Zlatko Dukic, in an interview with European Union observers, explained that Srebrenica formed part of a business transaction which involved a logistical support route to Sarajevo, via Vogosca.

He also claimed that the fall of the enclave formed part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the West and win the support of Islamic countries. This was the reason for Oric to maintain a distance from his troops. This thesis was also defended by the local supporters of the DAS. There were also many rumours of a trade within the local population of the enclave.

Another curious aspect was the absence of a military reaction from the 2nd Corps of the Muslim army, which did nothing to relieve the military pressure on the enclave. It was common knowledge that the Serbian unit in the region, the “Drina Corps”, was exhausted and that the attack on Srebenica was only possible with the aid of the units from other regions. Despite this fact, Sarajevo did not lift a finger in order to launch an attack which would have divided the Serbian forces and exposed the vulnerabilities created by the concentration of resources around Srebenica. Such an attack would have reduced the military pressure on the enclave.

It is also important to register the pathetic appeal of the president of Opstina, Osman Suljic, on July 9, which implored military observers to say to the world that the Serbians were using chemical weapons. The same gentleman later accused the media of transmitting false news items on the resistance of troops in the enclave, requiring a denial from the UN. According to Suljic, the Muslim troops did not respond, and would never respond with heavy artillery fire. Simultaneously, he complained of the lack of food supplies and of the humanitarian situation. Curiously, observers were never allowed to inspect the food reserve deposits. The emphasis given by political leaders on the lack of military response and the absence of food provisions loosely suggests an official policy which began to be discernible.

In mid 1995, the prolongation of the war had dampened public interest. There had been a substantial reduction in the pressure of public opinion in the western democracies. An incident of this importance would nonetheless provide hot news material for the media during several weeks, could awaken public opinion and incite new passions. In this manner it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone: pressure could be laid to bear in order to lift the embargo and simultaneously the occupying countries would find it difficult to withdraw their forces, a hypothesis which had been advanced by leading UN figures such as Akashi and Boutros-Boutros Ghali.

The Muslims always harbored a secret hope that the embargo would be lifted. This had become the prime objective of the Sarajevo government, and had been fuelled by the vote in the US Senate and Congress in favor of such a measure. President Clinton, however, vetoed the decision and required a two thirds majority in both houses. The enclaves collapse gave the decisive push that the campaign needed. After its fall, the US Senate voted with over a two thirds majority in favor of lifting the embargo.

It was clear that sooner or later the enclaves would fall into the hands of the Serbians, it was an inevitability. There was a consensus amongst the negotiators (the US administration, the UN and European governments) that it was impossible to maintain the three Muslim enclaves, and that they should be exchanged for territories in Central Bosnia. Madeleine Albright suggested this exchange on numerous occasions to Izetbegovic, based on the proposals of the Contact Group.

As early as 1993, at the time of the first crisis of the enclave, Karadzic had proposed to Izetbgovic to exchange Srebrenica for the suburb of Vogosca. This exchange included the movement of populations in both directions. This was the purpose of secret negotiations in order to avoid undesirable publicity. This implied that the western countries accepted and encouraged ethnic separation.

The truth is that both the Americans and President Izetbegovic had tacitly agreed that it made no sense to insist in maintaining these isolated enclaves in a divided Bosnia. In 1995 nobody believed any longer in the inevitability of ethnic division of the territory. In the month of June 1995, before the military operation in Srebrenica, Alexander Vershbow, Special Assistant to President Clinton stated that “America should encourage the Bosnians to think in terms of territories with greater territorial coherence and compactness.” In other words this meant that the enclaves should be forgotten. The attack on Srebrenica, with no help from Belgrade, was completely unnecessary and proved to be one of the most significant examples of the political failure of the Serbian leadership.

Meanwhile the western media exacerbated the situation by transforming the enclaves into a powerful mass-media icon; a situation which Izetbegovic was quick to explore. CNN had daily broadcasts of the images of mass graves for thousands of corpses, obtained from spy satellites. Despite the microscopic precision in the localization of these graves, it is certain that no discovery to date has confirmed such suspicions. Since there are no longer restrictions on movement, we inevitably speculate on why they have still not been shown to the world.

If there had been a premeditated plan of genocide, instead of attacking  in only one direction, from the south to the north – which left the hypothesis to escape to the north and west, the Serbs would have established a siege in order to ensure that no one escaped. The UN  observation posts to the north of the enclave were never disturbed and remained in activity after the end of the military operations. There are obviously mass graves in the outskirts of Srebrenica as in the rest of ex-Yugoslavia where combat has occurred, but there are no grounds for  the campaign which was mounted, nor the numbers advanced by CNN.

The mass graves are filled by a limited number of corpses from both sides, the consequence of heated battle and combat and not the result of a premeditated plan of genocide, as occurred against the Serbian populations in Krajina, in the Summer of 1995, when the Croatian army  implemented the mass murder of all Serbians found there. In this instance, the media maintained an absolute silence, despite the  fact that the genocide occurred over a three month period. The objective of Srebrenica was ethnic cleansing and not genocide, unlike what happened in Krajina, in which although there was no military  action, the Croatian army decimated villages.

Despite knowledge of the fact that the enclaves were already a lost cause, Sarajevo insisted in drawing political dividends from the fact. The receptivity which had been created in the eyes of public opinion made it easier to sell the thesis of genocide.

But of even greater importance than the genocide thesis and the political isolation of the Serbs, was blackmailing of the UN: either the UN joined forces with the Sarajevo government in the conflict (which subsequently happened) or the UN would be completely discredited in the eyes of the public, leading in turn to support for Bosnia. Srebrenica was the last straw which led western governments to reach agreement on the need to cease their neutrality and commence a military action against one side in the conflict. It was the last straw which united the West in their desire to break “Serbian bestiality”. Sarajevo was conscious of the fact that it lacked the military capacity to defeat the Serbs. It was necessary to create conditions via which the international community could do this for them. Srebrenica played a vital role in this process.

Srebrenica represents one of a series of acts by the Serbian leaders intended to provoke the UN, in order to demonstrate their impotence. This was a serious strategic error which would cost them dear. The side which had everything to win by demonstrating the impotence of the UN was the Sarajevo leadership and not that of Pale. In 1995 it was clear that the change in the status quo required a powerful intervention which would overthrow the Serbian military power. Srebrenica was one of the pretexts, resulting from the short-sightedness of the Bosnian Serbian leaders.

The besieged forces could have easily defended the enclave, at least for much longer, if they had been well led. It proved convenient to let the enclave fall in this manner. Since the enclave was doomed to fall, it was preferable to let this happen in the most beneficial manner possible. But this would only have been viable if Sarajevo had political initiative and freedom of movement, which would never occur at the negotiating table. The deliberate fall of the enclave might appear to be an act of terrible machiavellian orchestration, but the truth is that the Sarajevo government had much to gain, as proved to be the case. Srebrenica was not a zero-sum game. The Serbians won a military victory but with highly negative political side-effects, which helped result in their definitive ostracization.

We might add a final curious note. As the UN observation posts were attacked, and proved impossible to maintain, the forces withdrew. The barricades set up by the Muslim army did not let the troops past. These troops were not treated as soldiers fleeing from the front line, but rather with a sordid differentiation.

The Muslims not only refused to fight to defend themselves, they forced others to fight on their behalf. In one instance, the commander of a Dutch vehicle decided after conversations with ABiH to pass the barrier. A Muslim soldier threw a  hand grenade whose fragments mortally wounded him. The only UN soldier to die in the Srebrenica offensive, was killed by the Muslims.

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The History of Yugoslavia: Srebrenica and the Ratko Mladić Verdict

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Featured image: Ratko Mladić (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

While Zimbabwe was changing under various inexorable forces of power, the more sterile surrounds of The Hague and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia offered the scene for a conviction.

The “Serb Warlord” or the “Butcher of Bosnia”, as he has been termed in various circles, had finally received a verdict few were doubting. One of the doubters was, naturally, the man himself, Ratko Mladić, who accused the judicial officers of incurable mendacity.

Of the 11 charges levelled at Ratko Mladić, he was acquitted of one – genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. Others covered genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity which took place while he was Chief Commander of the Army of Republika Srpska between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Judicial deliberations are rarely the stuff of fine history. Verdicts are, by their very nature, judgmental, giving false finality and coherence to muddy narratives. In the Balkans, muddy narratives have met and parted; others have been forged in the blood of memories constructed and confected.

Bodies have been heaped over these generational accounts – the wars, the murders, the ecstatic patriotism and genocidal enthusiasm, and in time, the descendants pursue the task, less of living for the future than inhabiting the unchanging past.

The politicians have been attempting to make do with the verdict. The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, is mindful that anything less than solemn acceptance of the ruling is bound to be met with stares of disbelief throughout Europe. This is hardly the view within the Bosnian Serb entity of Republika Srpska.

“I would like to call on everyone [in the region] to start looking into the future and not to drown in the tears of the past… we need to look to the future… so we finally have a stable country.”

Stability, that cherished dream, an ambition long frustrated in the region, and ever precarious.

Bosnia itself is a divided creature barely on political life support. Rather than promoting reconciliation, one of the proclaimed aims of the ICTY’s judgments, the opposite is true. Ed Vuilliamy, who spent much time covering instances of camp brutality and atrocity during the Yugoslav wars insists that Mladić may have lost his case, but won, at least in a part of Bosnia.

His consternation is the customary one that insists that Serbia and Serbian policies should have been brought to the fore as culprit and villain, rather than atomised through individual verdicts. Again, such are the limits of law and its false didactic worth.

Accordingly,

“for all the back-slapping by human rights organisations and lawyers, there is a dark cloud under which the majority of those who survived Mladić’s hurricane of violence etch out their lives, and that shrouds the memory of those killed, or are still ‘missing’.”[1]

Niđara Ahmetašević enlarges that black cloud, accusing Europeans, notably in the west, for hypocrisy and willful blindness.

“By not reacting on time to stop mass crimes being committed, Western leaders sent a message to everybody in the world that it is OK to kill other people, and to promote dangerous, ultranationalist ideas.”[2]

With little surprise, survivors of the conflict find little in terms of satisfactory proportion. Sead Numanović of the Sarajevo daily, Dnevni Avaz, felt “some kind of emptiness.” Ajša Umirović went so far as to see such a verdict as futile.

“Even if he lives 1,000 times and is sentenced 1,000 times to life in prison, justice would still not be served.”[3] That’s what losing 42 relatives to massacre does.

As with all matters to do with trauma, memory lingers as poisoned, selective and singular. It banishes other accounts and plights, becoming self-referential, a sort of infirmary consciousness. These sufferings and tendencies are not confined to the Bosnian Muslims.

When Yugoslavia fractured in the spirit of hypernationalism, it split the groups making up the entity. Jungle retributions, territorial seizures, expulsions, took place as a matter of historical account keeping. Elephantine memories were triggered and enacted upon.

Mladić insisted on purging the old remnants of the Ottoman Empire, a historic mission he dedicated himself to with conspicuous enthusiasm. He was fortunate to be quick off the mark in the aftermath of the independence referendum held by Muslims and Croats. Others, given the same opportunity, would have exploited it, given the men and material put at his disposal.

That the main fighting, slaughter and ethnic cleansing took place in Bosnia on, it is important to note, all sides, is a point judgments of law can only imperfectly consider. What rendered the killings in Srebrenica so fundamental was the scale and avid dedication of the butchers – some 8,000 Muslim men and boys dispatched – and the question of abandonment by the international community.

Mladić himself furnished a sense of how the law remains, in some instances, the least capable of resolving what are, essentially, social and political problems that linger with vicious obstinacy. “I am here,” he told a pre-trial hearing in 2011, “defending my country and people, not Ratko Mladić.” He is far from the only one to persist holding this view, nor will he be the last.

The History of Yugoslavia: Srebrenica and the Ratko Mladić Verdict

 

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Croatia Is Starting Preparations To Join Eurozone

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The EU’s newest member state is starting for a new objective – membership, first in Schengen, and then in the euro area. The Croatian government expects preparations for Schengen to be completed in 2019 and for the euro area it will take more time. To Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic this is an expression of pro-Europeanism, thus, he says, euro area membership is pro-Croatian. Joining the cores of European integration has been a major priority for Mr Plenkovic’s government ever since his party, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), won the elections last year on a pro-European programme. Despite the political jolts and change of the coalition partner in motion, the first step in the preparation to introduce the euro has been made last week when a strategy for euro area accession was presented.

Judging by the overall organisation, it was evident that a lot of work was invested in the event. The strategy was presented in both Croatian and English language, several informative animation video clips have been presented explaining the pros of the single currency, a special webpage [in Croatian] has been created on the Croatian National Bank’s website (HNB), dedicated on the common currency. The presentation of the strategy, during a several-hour long conference, marked the launch of a public debate of the pros and cons of introducing the euro. For now, leaders are refraining from committing to a specific accession date, but in Prime Minster Plenkovic’s and central bank President Boris Vujcic’s words, it is realistic to expect that Croatia can join the exchange-rate mechanism (ERMII) by the time of Croatia’s EU Council Presidency (2020). This suggests that it is possible Croatia to become part of the currency club in 2022 or 2023.

The next national objective

Since its EU accession on 1 July 2013, Croatia has been in a condition of post-accession stress – without clear horizon and entirely consumed by domestic political issues. According to local analysts and politicians, the introduction of the common European currency is that so necessary third national target (after independence and EU and NATO accession) which can unite society in making the next step of its transformation. PM Andrej Plenkovic believes that the most important benefit from introducing the euro is that it will bring global political and economic credibility. “The common European currency is a key element of the project for European integration, especially when it comes to strengthening the single market, most of all because of the easier economic exchange with 19 member states and 340 million Europeans who use the euro“, he said.

Beyond the very geopolitical statement, which undoubtedly is very important both for the EU and Croatia, the country has very objective reasons to want to join the euro as soon as possible. Croatia is currently the only one of the smallest and open economies of the EU which has not yet introduced the euro. Moreover, the country is very highly integrated in the European economy – 60% of Croatia’s trade is with the euro area countries and 70% of the revenues from tourism come from the eurozone. A large part of the banking system is owned by banks in the euro area. Croatia is also the most euroised economy of all non-euro area members – more than 90% of foreign currency debt is in euro. The share of deposits in foreign currency is 83%.

This is the reason why HNB’s manoeuvre space is very small, governor Boris Vujcic explained. For the past years, the bank’s main task has been to maintain the kuna’s exchange rate stable in order to keep indebtedness under control and to not harm exports. Joining the euro area will completely eliminate the currency risk, said Mr Vujcic. He also gave the following example in support of his arguments. If an investor wants to invest 100 million euro in Croatia and the kuna exchange rate lost 10% to the euro he will lose 10% or 10 million euros. When this risk disappears investments will increase, as they have not yet reached their pre-recession levels. Boris Vujcic said Croatia has nothing to lose by transferring its monetary sovereignty over to the ECB because even now its monetary policy is significantly constrained.

 

At the moment, Croatia fulfils almost all accession criteria, except the one that covers the level of public debt – it should not exceed 60% of GDP. In the second quarter of this year, the debt-to-GDP-ratio was 81.9%, according to the latest Eurostat data. The ambition of the government is to reduce it to 72% of GDP by 2020. In the national reforms programme is set the target of 65% of GDP by 2022. Finance Minister Zdravko Maric is not worried about this because, he said, what is important is the trend. “Most countries in the EU and the euro area have debt levels over 60%“, he said and recalled that there is another rule which states that a clear trend for debt reduction is sufficient.

According to this rule, the difference between the current public debt level and the 60% ceiling should not exceed 1/20. What he means is the public debt rule of the Stability and Growth Pact, according to which when the 60% level is exceeded an excessive public debt procedure is launched. However, this has never happened for any member state so far and many were those who exceeded the barrier after the euro area debt crisis broke. The 1/20 step tor educe debt is applied precisely in such a procedure.

This means that Croatia has to reduce its public debt by 1.3 percentage points annually, which is plausible because last year it made a two times faster reduction, the finance minister said. Favourable economic conditions create a very good environment for debt reduction. The country exited last year a very painful recession which lasted more than 6 years, and this year it exited the excessive budget deficit procedure. Economic growth is expected to be 3.1% this year and 2.8% next year, according to the International Monetary Fund’s projections. Minister Maric acknowledged that, at the moment, the moods in the eurozone are for deepening of integration rather than enlargement.

IMF welcomed Croatia’s plan to introduce the euro but warned that, in order to achieve maximum success, it needs to accelerate implementation of structural reforms – something which has proved to be a mission impossible for years. IMF also recommends quick reduction of public debt in order to create fiscal space in support of growth in case of a new downturn. Among the recommended reforms is to improve competitiveness, reduce administrative burden for businesses, increase flexibility of the labour market, improve efficiency of the public sector, enhance property rights and judicial procedures.

At the presentation of the strategy it became clear that the government knows what to do but it has been a year at the helm and is not yet capable of undertaking some serious reforms. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic underscored several times the need to implement reforms, especially aimed at increasing productivity. She pointed out that public consensus was necessary for those reforms.

Pros from introducing the euro

HNB and the government agree that benefits from joining the eurozone significantly outwiegh costs. To change banknotes and coins Croatia is expected to spend 0.5% of its gross domestic product, which the minister of finance admitted is a lot but said this is a one-off. Apart from that, Croatia has to pay the remainder of its capital in the ECB – 62.8 million euros, a contribution to the ECB protection layers – around 300 million, transfer part of its reserves – cca 350 million euro. Croatia will also participate in the capital of the permanent rescue fund (ESM) – 425 million in the first 5 years or 85 million annually. At the same time, Croatia will have full access to the financial instruments of the euro area should it be in need.

When there is no such need, the benefits are much lower costs of banks to access financial resources, reduction of interest rates to levels close to euro area core which will increase the competitiveness of the Croatian economy. It is also expected the costs for interbanking transfers to be significantly reduced. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic pointed to another big pro from introducing the euro – wage increase. In the past 12 years, the average gross wages in the Central European countries which introduced the euro increased much faster than in Croatia – by 37% in Slovenia, 60% in Slovakia, 88% in Lithuania and Estonia, 136% in Latvia and in Croatia wage growth was just 29%.

Citizens’ biggest concern from introducing the euro is price growth. According to analyses, even now can be observed the phenomenon of European prices but Croatian wages. Boris Vujcic quoted statistical data from previous euro area enlargements, which say that inflation rose between 0.2% and 0.3% as a result of euro introduction. Economic analysts warned, however, that such data should be approached with care because in past cases inflation was due to other factors, such as oil prices and not to euro introduction.

The government and the central bank promised that they will make sure speculations and rounding-offs of prices be avoided by introducing a requirement 6 months before euro area accession all prices to be shown in kunas and euros simultaneously. The premier recalled that in the period 2004-2016 euro area prices increased by 23% and in Croatia by 31%.

The government and HNB will launch a massive information campaign in the coming weeks. The premier rejected the possibility of a referendum on euro area accession. In his introductory statement at the beginning of the conference last week, he said that Croatia had already said “yes” to euro area accession by signing its EU membership treaty, validated at a referendum. Asked specifically by euinside, he said there was no need of a separate referendum. Plenkovic, however, refused to speculate on the possibilities a certain group to decide collecting signatures for a referendum, which has become a practise in recent years in Croatia when it comes to sensitive issues.

I think the euro is an opportunity which Croatia has to grasp and which we have to prepare well for, and which is to confirm the responsible economic policy of the government and to give Croatia a chance for further development and stability of the economy“, Mr Plenkovic added. The reactions that ensued after the presentation of the strategy were weak. The prevailing comments are that the government is trying with this strategy to create smoke and mirrors to distract public attention from the biggest scandal in the country at the moment – the crisis in the Agrokor concern. It is a fact, however,that Croatia’s euro area accession was a major priority of the government long before it emerged that Agrokor is in trouble.

The prime minster mentioned the concern in the context of the decision to start eurozone preparations by saying that the situation is under control and will not have an impact on the country’s economic perspectives. IMF shares that opinion, saying that the adopted law on systemically important companies was a good solution of the Agrokor crisis but recommended the government to identify and resolve the rest of the problems which could impact corporate governance, like accounting and auditing standards, insolvency resolution and lenders’ rights. The Fund also calls for progress in resolving the Agrokor crisis in a transparent way.

As if to prove its determination to introduce the euro, Croatia will join the fiscal compact too – an intergovernment agreement which imposes stricter fiscal discipline on the member states. Boris Vujcic explained that it was decided Croatia not to join the banking union before introducing the euro because this would cost more than the benefits. In the coming weeks, HNB will organise a series of round tables inviting experts from the new euro area members in order to learn from their experience.

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on Croatia Is Starting Preparations To Join Eurozone

Croatia Chooses To Be in the EU Core

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Croatia made its choice for its future in the EU by choosing, out of the several options of integration, to be in the core of the EU, which this autumn begins a major overhaul that will deepen the integration in areas like defence, security, justice, the euro area. Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced at the opening of the regular government meeting on October 5th that in the coming weeks the government, together with the Croatian People’s Bank (HNB) will publish a roadmap for the country’s accession to the euro area. He believes membership is possible in several years.

Croatia’s accession to the currency club has been a priority for this government from the very beginning of its term (October 2016), but the European speech of French President Emmanuel Macron, which Mr Plenkovic described as “inspiring“, as well as the informal EU summit in Tallinn last week, pushed the government in Zagreb to accelerate the preparations for the country’s accession not only in the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), but also Schengen. “Our firm conviction is that we have to belong to the closest circle and thus we will have greater influence and more benefits from our EU membership“, the prime minister said. In his words, at the working dinner in the Estonian capital, the member states were practically stating their choices of integration speeds.

About an acceleration in Zagreb also speaks the fact that Finance Minister Zdravko Maric recently told euinside that for now Croatia will not be defining the dynamics of its accession. He said that public expert discussions are yet to be held on the pros and cons of the euro. Only a week later however, the premier said Croatia will join in several years.

Regarding the Schengen membership, Andrej Plenkovic said he was strongly encouraged by his talks with Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece, EPP), who was this week in Zagreb. According to the prime minister, Croatia will be ready with the implementation of the technical criteria for Schengen accession in the first half of 2019, and it will then await a political decision to join, a decision that Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting for for years. The Croatian premier has got the message of encouragement of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), who called in his annual state of the Union address for the accession of the three countries in Schengen.

However, the implementation of the euro area criteria will take more time because Croatia is not meeting the public debt criterion. In the 2016 convergence report, which the European Central Bank publishes every two years, it is concluded that Croatia does not meet the budget deficit and the public debt criteria. The situation with the budget deficit, though, has significantly improved since then and in June this year the country exited the excessive deficit procedure. In 2014, when the procedure was launched, Croatia’s budget deficit was -5.5% of gross domestic product. Last year, it shrank to -0.8% of GDP. According to the European Commission spring forecast, the Croatian budget deficit is expected to increase this year to -1.1% of GDP but will drop back to -0.9% next year.

The situation with debt is more serious. The debt-to-GDP ratio dropped in 2016 to 84.2% from a peak of 86.7% a year earlier. It is expected the decline will continue to 79.4% next year. Croatia is meeting all the other criteria for inflation, exchange rate stability of the kuna and the long-term interest rates. In the 2016 report, the ECB praised the work of the HNB for the stability of the kuna and for the stabilisation of the long-term interest rates. In other words, Croatia could file a request to enter the currency mechanism for preparation for membership (ERMII) the minute it reduces its debt to below 60% as is the allowed maximum under the Stability and Growth Pact. Prime Minister Plenkovic recalled that the strategic goal of the government is to reduce the public debt by 10% by 2020.

When it comes to the upcoming overhaul of the EU, Andrej Plenkovic said he expected by the European elections in 2019 “a reasonably ambitious” approach to the European project, but refrained from elaborating. Plenkovic has established a tradition of reporting at the public sessions of the government and in the Sabor (parliament) about his participation in the European Council meetings, thus putting European issues on the agenda of the Croatian public. This is a rare success, especially in a country which is entirely consumed by its own domestic problems.

Emmanuel Macron’s speech as well as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan, outlined in his annual address in September, have obviously pushed not only Croatia but Hungary as well to reflect on an acceleration of integration in the euro area. Bloomberg reports that Hungary could join the currency club much earlier than its political leaders are willing to admit. According to signals coming from Budapest, the forint could be replaced by the euro by the end of the decade. The main argument why Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are delaying their membership has been economic divergences with the richer euro area countries as well as the divisions in perceptions about European integration, especially in Warsaw and Budapest.

The acceleration of the integration processes in the euro area however, especially after Berlin forms a government, is already ringing the alarm bells in the slower and more sceptic members that they might drop off of the European project if they refuse to enter deeper integration waters.

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on Croatia Chooses To Be in the EU Core

Only in the Balkans – Reforms Theft

NOVANEWS

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

You will probably not believe it, but in the Balkans the lack of rule of law and the tolerance of corruption have some fun aspects. This is the case with the theft of the most contentious reform in Croatia by … Montenegro. No, this is not a joke and it’s not a product of a local satiric site. This is about word-for-word copying, with the Montenegrin language features at that, of the proposal for a comprehensive reform of the content of school textbooks, which is currently under violent disputes in the Croatian public domain and even threatens the survival of the government. To find out the magnitude of the irony in one case and the tragedy in the other, we need to rewind the tape a little bit.

Who [in their right mind] in the Balkans protests about an educational reform?

The Croats. Last year, when the government of the then highly-conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) came to power, over 50,000 Croats protested in several cities across the country against the attempts to scrap the highly progressive and bold educational reform known as “curriculum reform”. The reform was prepared by an expert workgroup of 500 people led by the young doctor of science Boris Jokić. The group was formed by the then left-liberal coalition government of Zoran Milanović. The idea for a ​​comprehensive education reform is embedded in a strategy voted in by the Croatian Parliament in 2014.

With the coming to power of the HDZ, then under the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko – a conductor of ultraconservative and nationalist policies – there were attempts ideologically burdened people to be appointed. The sharp turn of Karamarko’s HDZ to the far right, accompanied by brutal changes in the leadership of the national TV and radio, the Council for Electronic Media, and other activities pushing Croatia toward the illiberal group of Poland and Hungary, has led to significant quakes on the political arena and ultimately resulted in the fall of the government.

Karamarko was replaced by former MEP Andrej Plenković, who promised to return the party to the centre-right of the political spectrum. He also promised many reforms, thanks to which he won the snap elections last September. Alas, one year later there are no reforms, and the first major challenge – the financial problems of the largest conglomerate not only in Croatia but also in the region of former Yugoslavia Agrokor – shook the government coalition. New snap elections were avoided after the liberal Croatian People’s Party (HNS) agreed to take part in government, but on condition that the reform started by Boris Jokić is implemented.

Andrej Plenković agreed to the horror of the liberals themselves, whose party split into two, but also to the more conservative wing in the HDZ, who insisted education remain in their portfolio. This happened after an anniversary of last year’s protests was celebrated on June 1st, and in the centre  of Zagreb, a few tens of thousands gathered again to confirm their demand for an education reform.

The nonpartisan Blaženka Divjak was appointed minister of education. Her attempts to implement the reform are currently the biggest political drama in Croatia after a news website with a focus on education revealed that behind-the-scenes attempts had been made to replace the reform plan by the leader of the expert group appointed by the previous government. According to Croatian media, the tension in the cabinet has already reached a boiling point and now the main question is whether Mr Plenković will fire the education minister or let her work, meaning he will have to deal with internal party tensions.

Pressure on the prime minister by media and civil society is enormous. At the same time, his reluctance to say clearly who does he support in this inherent ideological conflict is obvious. He was, however, adamant in his reluctance to see new protests. For many, at least in the Balkans, education is probably not the most important topic, although it is, in fact, vital in the Croatian context. First, in an ideological sense, it is important because if it is implemented, it will tear the country away from Church-sponsored conservatism, which is often intertwined with nationalism. In the economic sense, it is no less important, as Croatia is currently suffering from a serious brain drain. It is no accident that the organisers of the educational protest this year organised also a procession to Zagreb’s central railway station to symbolise the departure of young Croats.

It is precisely because the stakes of educational reform are too high for Prime Minister Plenković that everything surrounding it is so non-transparent. Moreover, following Donald Trump’s lead, the prime minister threatened to deal with those responsible for leaking insider information about changes to the reform plan rather than deal with the reform itself.

Who will get the reform?

The people of Montenegro. On Tuesday, the Croatian daily Jutarnji list revealed that the Montenegrin education institute has stolen verbatim the contents of some parts of Boris Jokić’s curriculum reform. Plagiarism was discovered by accident by Croatian primary school teacher Ljiljana Hanžek, who worked on writing the reform. The Montenegrin Ministry of Education refused to comment on the case at this stage, but the education institute told Cafe del Montenegro news website that the Croatian document had been borrowed, but for technical reasons citing what Croatian literature was used had been omitted.

The case became an occasion for paraphrasing the well-known jokes about Montenegrin laziness: “The Montenegrins are lying down waiting for the Croats to make their reform”, Croatians joked on social networks and the media. However, the authors of the curriculum reform are not laughing. At first, former expert group leader Boris Jokić reacted with mockery by saying that at least Montenegrins would benefit from the reform but he now believes Montenegro must pay royalty fees.

Montenegro regularly uses Croatian experience, especially in terms of EU accession. A few years ago, Croatia set up a specialised centre to provide experts, as well as legislation and regulations texts to all candidates in the region, as languages ​​are very close. The plagiarism of a complete educational reform is something entirely new. On the one hand, it shows that even at the highest state level in Montenegro there is no understanding of the concept of “copyright” – a problem that can be seen in other underdeveloped countries, including EU members as well. On the other hand, however, the whole situation may have positive effects in both countries

Montenegro’s interest in Boris Jokić’s reform can finally provide Andrej Plenković with some insurance against internal party criticism. Conservatives in his party will find it increasingly difficult to explain to their voters and to taxpayers in general why they are opposed to such a valuable reform that has pulled out 50,000 people in the squares and has been the subject of theft by an official body of a neighbouring state. It will be a real shame for HDZ to reject a document that is considered of such a high quality by other countries. In the end, it may just turn out that Montenegro, with its plagiarism, will do a service to Croatia for which it should be rewarded, rather than made to pay compensations.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Only in the Balkans – Reforms Theft

The Day a #Yugoslavia Hashtag Saved the World

NOVANEWS

3423123123There’s a message and a hashtag on Twitter these days that should become the biggest meme ever. If only Yugoslavia and our world could be put back together again with a damages trial against NATO, that would be poetic justice. Unfortunately, I doubt social media will turn on its ear over a court case being built against the perpetrators of forgotten war crimes from the Bill Clinton presidency – But I can dream.

Back in February of 2016 I wrote a story about Yugoslavia and an alternative future we’d be experiencing had my country and its European puppet states destroyed that key nation. The storyline was widely cited and controversial to an extent, owing to the opinions of those from the newly established countries where Yugoslavia once stood. That report was about the loss to the peoples of those nations when a potential world power was vanished by outside forces. It said very little for the deep humanitarian scars though. When Bill Clinton authorized the destruction of the cement that held together the middle of Europe, he created a never-ending nightmare that needs to be felt. Now an international legal team has set out to get justice over NATO’s use of depleted uranium munitions, and the cancer related death and illness rising across that region since 1999.

According to these lawyers, as much as 15 tons of depleted uranium ammunition from various weapons systems deployed by NATO was used, and especially in Serbia. According to the RT report on the case, Srdjan Aleksic, is a Serbian lawyer who leads the legal team formed by the Serbian Royal Academy of Scientists and Artists, that includes lawyers from the EU, Russia, China and India. They contend that more than 30,000 people have fallen sick from exposure to the munitions in this year alone. I’ll address the munitions issue in a moment, but right here I’d like to strike the same chord I did in my earlier report on Yugoslavia by quoting award winning author of 23 books, Dr. Michael Parenti, who’s an American political scientist, political economist, and historian:

“The dismemberment and mutilation of Yugoslavia was part of a concerted policy initiated by the United States and the other Western powers in 1989. Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order. In fact, Yugoslavs were proud of their postwar economic development and of their independence from both the Warsaw Pact and NATO.”

My father was the Attorney General of the US state of Georgia for a time, and a constitutional lawyer, and advisor to both LBJ and Nixon. I know he would make use of this assertion by Parenti in order to establish “intent”, or in courtroom rhetoric he might say; “It goes toward establishing the intent to commit a crime, your honor”. If there were a jury present, the use of the term “mutilation” would be repeatedly drummed in, in order that the real judges might discern damages. But I digress, this is a civil liability matter amplified by a criminal act.

Wikipedia’s entry about the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia contains a photograph from an exhibit where there are three depleted uranium ordinance are on public display. There’s also a map showing the sites in Kosovo and western Serbia where these munitions were used. But that’s Wikipedia, and nobody uses Wikipedia as a viable source. So, this Le Monde diplomatique piece by Robert James Parsons is a better starting point for my report. His detailed assessment includes the allegation that investigators searching evidence of depleted uranium ordinance in Kosovo were impeded by NATO operators during their searches. For the reader, in March and April of 2001, UNEP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) published reports on the use of DU in the region based largely on investigators work on the ground, and work which was tightly supervised by NATO troops. The short version for this new legal team perhaps, is that NATO could easily have diverted investigators away from the worst areas of DU use, and probably did. Parsons’ various reports strike deep into the heart of the Serbia-Yugoslavia war crimes. Depleted uranium ordinance use in the Balkans and especially in Afghanistan are a legal time bomb about to explode. Hundreds of thousands of people may have turned themselves into internally radiated toxic waste carriers because of inhaling the dust from these munitions. I won’t go deep into Parsons’ research, but I was struck by his mentioning a US munitions factory that may have been the source of the weapons used in Yugoslavia:

“In a French TV documentary on Canal+ in January 2001 (7), a team of researchers presented the results of an investigation into a gaseous diffusion — recycling — plant in Paducah, Kentucky, US. According to the lawyer for 100,000 plaintiffs, who are past and present plant employees, they were contaminated because of flagrant non-compliance with basic safety standards; the entire plant is irrevocably contaminated, as is everything it produces. The documentary claimed that the DU in the missiles that were dropped on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq is likely to be a product of this plant.”

The work of Parsons and other experts points to the United States of America using Iraq and other crisis areas for testing horrible weapons. The ramifications are staggering, if I am honest here. As an American and a veteran, having my belief system rebooted is not a comfortable exercise. Following the course the aforementioned researchers did, I’m led to a disturbing possibility, that the United States may have used depleted uranium not just for 30 mm and 120 mm armor and bunker piercing munitions like anti-tank rounds, but in smart bombs and missiles as well. Another independent investigator named Dai Williams pointed to the faulty UNEP report on DU use in the Balkans, and “a new generation of hard target versions of guided weapons (bombs and missiles) proposed in 1997 e.g. GBU-24, GBU-37, GBU-32, AGM-86D, AGM-65G, AGM-154C and latest versions of the BGM-109 Tomahawk.” Taken at face value, the purpose or mission of these weapons demands the capability supplied from using depleted uranium. Or in other words, the Pentagon needed depleted uranium to kill inside hardened bunkers etc. With reference to something called the “Hard or Deeply Buried Defeat Capability Program”, these reports are “at least” cause for an investigation – or a court case.

The question that arises is clear, sharp, and may lead to a damnable conclusion. “Does our government conceal from us the use of horrendous and outlawed weapons of destruction?” Given the Snowden revelations, the WikiLeaks Clinton and Podesta files, the WikiLeaks CIA leaks, and the mess in the world today…

The secrecy and the strange circumstances surrounding depleted uranium ordinance use in the Balkans, Iraq, and in Afghanistan point to cover up. The circumstances surrounding the initial UNEP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) point to a potential cover up. According to the investigators mentioned above, the Pentagon and NATO may well have carried out a “cleanup operation” in the former Yugoslavia before UNEP was even allowed in. The fact so few DU rounds were ever recovered there validates this thesis. Thousands of rounds fired at map locations absolutely traceable, and only a few DU munitions recovered? It may well be that the “lack of evidence” is really the evidence here. Turning to the medical side, every indication is that the people of these areas were affected. I’ll quote from a communication of Dai Williams from 2001:

“The population of Iraq appear to have had the highest DU exposure to date but they have also had the longest time for carcinogenic and mutagenic effects to appear.  Significant quantities of hard target guided weapons were used in the Balkans, including the regions policed by Italian and Spanish troops several of whom have died from Leukaemia.  With warheads ranging from 1000 lbs to 2 tons large quantities may have been used in Afghanistan – possibly comparable with the tonnage’s used in Iraq.  Medical evidence is bound to emerge whatever attempts the US and UK governments make to conceal the truth about these weapons.  If so the UN may need to revisit its recent resolution to ignore the DU issue in Iraq.”

Several studies from the mid-2000s showed increased levels of uranium contamination in human and environmental samples since the use of uranium weapons by US and UK forces in combat zones since 1991. Most disturbing in my research was this report from New Weapons Org that contained the following:

“… urine samples from civilians living near bombed targets in Afghanistan (UMRC 2002) showed very high levels of apparently natural uranium contamination – from 15 to 80x normal compared to the UK population (80 to 400 ng/litre compared to normal of 5 ng/litre). These observations led to the scenario that US weapons manufacturers may be using uranium alloys based on almost natural uranium feedstock instead of recycled depleted uranium.”

To sum up, I’ve alluded to a degree of “intent” being established in this current case on the use of illegal weapons in Serbia. It’s no stretch to advance the case further by showing the massive liability involved in irradiating Europe’s citizens with ordinance used in an illegal regime change at the continent’s center. Tens of thousands of people suffering health effects, no telling how many already dead, and the “motive” for covering up in such a case is immeasurable. So, if truth and equal justice is the goal of all western democracies, this new case needs to happen. And it needs to happen in full view of the people of our world. It’s time for a meme that may never come.

 

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, MacedoniaComments Off on The Day a #Yugoslavia Hashtag Saved the World

The Summer of Balkan Hopes

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

The grand event for the Western Balkans this year is the summit of the Berlin Process countries in the Italian city of Trieste on 12 July. In recent months, expectations have been seriously pumped up that this meeting will provide a major boost to the European integration of the region, which suffers from integration decay and heavy geopolitical headaches. The six Balkan countries in the region hope the EU will untie its purse to the scale of a Marshall Plan for the region, which would lift the poorest European relatives up on their feet and stop the constant brain drain and loss of labour force, with the Union in exchange hoping for a restart of the European integration in those countries, which have fallen victim to the virus of illiberalism and nationalism.

Following a nationalist winter, spring has come to the Balkans

Up until a few months ago, the region was causing serious alarm in Brussels and the capitals of member states because of the dangerous return of nationalist rhetoric from the early 1990s, hate speech, and a serious deterioration in relations between almost all countries in the region and their EU neighbours, with active intervention by Russia being seen under the surface. The situation deteriorated so much that it forced the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) to admit during her Balkan tour that “the Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played”.

Following a heavy winter of questions often asked whether there was a new war coming to the Balkans, the situation today does not seem so desperate. There is no significant improvement in relations between the countries of the region, but the geopolitical conditions are considerably more favourable to the EU. Montenegro has finally become a member of NATO, despite Russia’s fierce resistance and the coup attempts of the autumn of last year. There has also been a significant change in Macedonia. After two years of political instability, the country has finally got a government, headed by Zoran Zaev, who has set an ambitious reform agenda and plans to return the country to the European road, which also includes addressing the most serious problems that have hitherto stopped it – the name dispute with Greece and the signing of a friendship agreement with Bulgaria.

There is a certain, but also rather vague change in Serbia. Following the presidential election in April, the country’s political puzzle changed. Former heavily pro-Russian president Tomislav Nikolić has stepped down from the political scene and former Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić took his seat, who has the image of a pro-European leader in Brussels. This is a very controversial qualification, which is not necessarily false, but it has many conditions attached. Aleksandar Vučić is not tired of saying that Serbia’s main goal is to become a member of the EU and works hard on opening new chapters in the negotiation process. At the same time, he has been moving his country towards illiberalism and ever closer cooperation with Russia. The presidential election, however, showed him a yellow card. More  liberal and democratic political forces emerged on the political scene endangering the political domination of Vučić’s party – the Serbian Progressive Party.

Following months of uncertainty, he finally chose his heir to head the government, the young Ana Brnabić. There is no doubt that her role is to keep Vučić’s control over the executive branch, but at the same time her appointment played a very positive role for Serbia’s image to the West, as Ana Brnabić is Serbia’s first female prime minister and besides she publicly declared herself a member of the LGBT minority. This has created expectations in the West that things are going in the right direction in Serbia, regardless of the fact that Pride parades still rather resemble military parades because of the heavy military guards. In presenting her programme to the Skupshtina, Ana Brnabić has set two priorities which are rather surprising for the region – digitisation and education.

All of this sounds rather great, but Serbia’s Western-pointed stumble with Ana Brnabić has provoked sharp reactions from Russia. For days now the press is basically concerned with what exactly did she mean when she said in an interview for Bloomberg that if pressed to choose Serbia would choose the EU, not Russia, regardless of Russia remaining a close cultural friend of the Serb people. It even got to the Serbian prime minister having to deliver a shorthand copy of the interview to the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandar Chepurin. President Vučić stood behind his prime minister saying he saw no problem in her statement. Although it is clear that Ana Brnabić will remain under Mr Vučić’s control, her appointment may be a sign of change, though cautious and slow, in Serbia, which, along with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is surrounded by NATO and the EU.

Now is the time for the EU to take advantage of these changes and respond appropriately, as there are still many problems – the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the situation in Kosovo itself and in Albania too. Nothing of what has been achieved can be taken for granted and irreversible.

Berlin+

There is also a big change on the part of the EU. On May 31 in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel delivered a speech, which was commented for months in the Balkans and beyond. In it, he made several important findings, such as “countries from outside the region try to re-establish spheres of influence through old geopolitical thinking”, or that “we can’t simply continue doing things as we did before”. In his speech, he made it clear that it is necessary to change the narrative about the EU in the region. “Of course, it also doesn’t help either when the impression is created that Europe is primarily attending to its own affairs and does not care enough about the Western Balkans”, he said and called for the narrative of the EU to adapt to reality.

This also includes an increase in EU visibility. Sigmar Gabriel has encountered an old paradox in Belgrade during his visit there earlier this year: “I don’t understand why one is greeted on the trip from Belgrade Airport into the city centre by a large poster that celebrates the Russian-Serbian friendship, while the yellow and blue of the European Union is totally invisible.” Moreover, he said, Serbs live with the impression that Russia is Serbia’s largest financial donor. Germany’s top diplomat also announced the “Berlin+” plan, which includes a serious EU financial commitment, the aim of which is to bring the Western Balkans back on the right track.

The extent to which Sigmar Gabriel was on the right track was evident from the fact that his idea has been floating around for months in Serbian media and around the Balkans in general. For the first time in a long time, news from/about the EU prevailed over those from/about Russia. For weeks, the only talk was about how much money the EU would give, that it would be a Marshall Plan of sorts, what projects are to be funded, and so on. This is quite a rare phenomenon, especially on the Serbian media scene where Russia is most often present with comments from Ambassador Chepurin or Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zaharova on all topics, and a close second is the United States, embodied by Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Hoyt Yee, who is entrusted with the mission of taking care of the Balkans. His opinion is also often present in Serbian media, and the EU participation is limited to opening or blocking of chapters.

The “Berlin+” plan is expected to be officially presented by the European Commission namely in Trieste today (July 12). The sum in question is not quite clear. There is talk of a “substantial new funding”, which will be part of the annual connectivity package. It is also expected that the treaty for the Transport Community will be signed, which will finance the integration of transport networks in the region. Sigmar Gabriel’s words from back in May make it clear that work will be done to build motorways between Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, which will be funded by an additional Infrastructure fund.

Another important initiative expected to be officially announced in Trieste is the creation of a regional economic zone, which has also been discussed in the Balkans for months, and has even been a cause for renewed tension. The idea was launched for the first time this spring in Sarajevo, interpreted as an initiative by Aleksandar Vučić for the creation of a regional market following the model of the European single market. However, some countries, such as Kosovo and Macedonia, have seen attempts to regain Serb dominance in the region, or an attempt to replace EU membership with a regional initiative. Others support the idea, headed by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations and Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP).

What is to be presented on Wednesday is an economic zone whose goal will be to boost the region’s attractiveness for investment. As Sigmar Gabriel warned in March, however, such an initiative would be successful only if work is done on establishing the rule of law in these countries, as investors will not want to invest if they do not have legal certainty. Another idea on which the Bulgarian EU Council presidency, that starts on 1 January, is working on is the abolition of roaming charges in the Western Balkans. According to a high-ranking Bulgarian diplomatic source, there is already talk about this with the newly appointed Bulgarian EU commissioner Maria Gabriel (EPP), who is responsible for the EU’s digital policy. The aim is to start a discussion on the topic first and then to come up with a concrete plan, which would be a part of the idea of ​​a regional economic zone, the source told euinside.

The idea is not new, but it also has a favourable environment available after the abolition of roaming charges within the EU itself. Several years ago, telecoms in the Western Balkan countries had attempted to agree to the removal of roaming charges in the region or at least to lower prices, but that ended with no result.

As is usually the case at Berlin process summits, it is inevitable that the strained bilateral relations emerge. It is possible that the issue of the border dispute between two parties in the Berlin process – Slovenia and Croatia – will attempt to take over the agenda, as it happened at the annual Dubrovnik forum a week ago. Expectations, however, are that economic benefits will prevail over petty Balkan quarrels. This can only happen if the amount of the financial commitment turns out to be serious enough. This package has the potential to be game changer in the region.

The countries in the Berlin Process from the EU side are Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. The Trieste summit will be a debut on the international stage for Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. Next year will be the last meeting for the Berlin process. It will take place in London. Some have already expressed scepticism and even criticised the idea that a leaving Britain would host such a forum. But this is unjustified criticism. Britain has always been heavily engaged in the Western Balkans, and there is no reason for it to change its policies towards this region even after exiting, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s behaviour has clearly shown in recent months.

What is more, holding the summit in London is a strong signal for the future foreign-policy relations of the UK and the EU. London hosting it is also a good example of the fact that EU developments should not be overly dramatised. If countries are aware of their national interests and strategic goals, dialogue and mutual cooperation are fully possible. Something the Western Balkan countries still fail to learn.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, SerbiaComments Off on The Summer of Balkan Hopes

Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

NOVANEWS
  • Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016.
    Bosnian Muslim woman prays near a grave before mass funeral in Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2016. | Photo: Reuters
The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

On Tuesday a Dutch appeals court ruled that the government was partially liable for the 1995 deaths of 300 Muslim men murdered by Bosnian Serb forces.

RELATED: Black People Are a ‘Genocide Project’ in Brazil Says Researcher

The ruling somewhat upholds the 2014 civil court decision that found the state fully liable for the deaths of the men in the Srebrenica massacre.

The Hague Appeals Court’s presiding judge, Gepke Dulek, explained that Dutch soldiers became culpable once they had released the men and other shelter-seeking refugees seeking from the secured compound, “they were deprived of the chance of survival.”

Dutch U.N. peacekeepers turned over the men to Serbian forces, who trucked them away, executed them and dumped their bodies in mass graves.

The men were among around 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces in the massacre, ruled a genocide by the international courts.

Posted in Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Appeal: Dutch Govt Partially Liable for 300 Srebrenica Deaths

Croatia: A New Round of Instability for the Sake of Stability

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Last fall, when snap elections took place in Croatia due to the crisis in the senior coalition partner – the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and the collapsed coalition was repeated, but with renewed, more moderate leadership, it seemed like the former Yugoslav Republic, despite the general trends in Central Europe and the EU in general, was heading towards normalisation. The former member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and head of the Delegation for Relations with Ukraine, Andrej Plenković, assumed leadership of the HDZ and the government with a promise of moderation, rule of law, abandonment of the division rhetoric (Ustaše against Partisans) and for reforms.

Changes in HDZ, like coupled vessels, brought changes to the other big party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), where young Davor Bernardić won the leadership. The new political force MOST of Independent Lists (MOST NL) seemed ready to play the constructive role of a balance maker and a corrective. This was welcomed with relief by society. The media also reacted positively. It seemed like Croatia would finally break away from the grip of the past and deal with the future, which is facing serious problems, one of the most important of which is the rapid brain drain from the country after the fall of restrictions for Croatian nationals in some EU countries.

Being a Brussels man, Andrej Plenković quickly introduced the European agenda in Croatian society by starting to report regularly in Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) after each European Council meeting, and his debut at a EU summit ended in the highest of Brussels standards – with a long briefing for journalists. All he had left to do was to consolidate his party and get rid of the far-right current in it, which at the very beginning showed that it would lower its head until a more opportune moment came to rise again. This current was personified by the controversial former minister of culture Zlatko Hasanbegović.

Through the minefields of Croatia

Optimism and hope did not last too long. Inherited problems in the party, which considers itself to be state-building, and around the country began forcing the prime minister into taking hasty actions in the name of consolidation of the party. This was the case with the state-owned oil company Ina. The Ina case is deeply linked to the HDZ after the party itself and its former leader and prime minister Ivo Sanader were convicted of corruption. Ivo Sanader was doing prison time on charges of taking a bribe to sell a larger share of the company to the Hungarian oil company Mol. Because of these allegations, Croatia filed an arbitration case, which it lost in December.

This led to Prime Minister Plenković’s first premature decision, which surprised many. Right on Christmas Eve he announced the government’s intention to buy back the Hungarian stake and return ownership of Ina to Croatia, an idea that had no good market and even less fiscal argumentation. In the process of sever fiscal adjustment, money for such a purchase cannot be found without this leading to an even greater increase in public debt, which is expected to fall to 81.9% this year, or else a raise of taxes. It was quickly evident that this decision was not feasible and five months later it is not even discussed. Ina, however, remains an unresolved problem that will play the role of a mine for every government to follow. Around it, there is a thin thread of geopolitical element, for Russian company Rosneft had appetites for the company at the beginning and over the years the Hungarian company has been threatening to sell its stake in Ina to the Russians.

Right into Andrej Plenković’s face blew up another mine – the one with Slovenia about the Gulf of Piran, which had also been planted a long time ago – back in 2001, when the prime ministers of Croatia and Slovenia at the time – Ivica Račan and Janez Drnovšek – signed an agreement to settle the border dispute around the Gulf of Piran, providing Slovenia with access to international waters. The agreement has never been ratified by Croatia and was one of the most serious obstacles for the country on its way to EU membership. After Slovenia blocked the negotiation process with Croatia, an agreement was reached with European Commission mediation to settle the dispute by arbitration.

In 2015, however, Croatian media revealed that the Slovenian member of the arbitration tribunal had exchanged information on the course of the case with the Slovenian foreign ministry. The government of Zoran Milanović, with the full support of all political forces in the Sabor and the media, decided to withdraw Croatia from the arbitration tribunal. Changes voted in December, agreed on with the participation of Prime Minister Plenković, in European and Schengen legislation about strengthening control at the EU’s external borders in response to the increased risks of terrorism, have led to a new cause for tension between the two countries. Slovenia stepped up border controls, which led to the formation of mile-long queues at Croatian-Slovenian border crossings. At peak times, travellers waited for hours to cross the border. The problem again was resolved with EC intervention, with the mediation of which an agreement was negotiated at the extraordinary European Council on 29 April.

Too big to survive

The cherry on the cake, however, was the near-collapse of the largest Croatian conglomerate, Agrokor, which has subsidiaries throughout the region of the former Yugoslavia, and employs more than 60,000 people. Dark clouds on the horizon emerged in January when credit rating agencies downgraded Agrokor’s credit rating due to doubts expressed by some of its biggest lenders about the ability of the group to service its debts. It is not easy to navigate the complex story of the conglomerate downfall, but there are a few things that are undoubtedly clear: Agrokor is a legacy of the ever-difficult transition from a Communist economy to a market one; the state, consciously, unconsciously, or both, has closed its eyes to the unnatural expansion of Agrokor to a conglomerate of systemic importance for the economy; throughout the whole story runs a solid geopolitical element; and an unpleasant dose of politicisation.

The mine in Agrokor was planted with the model of privatisation. The company began to absorb key monopolistic companies over the years, thus turning the state monopoly into a private one under the tacit consent of the state. The conglomerate owns Dijamant a.d., the largest producer of edible oils in Serbia, one of the largest meat processing companies in Croatia PIK, the largest salt producer Solana Pag d.d., the largest agricultural company and winemaker Belje, Serbia’s largest ice cream and frozen food company Frikom, Croatia’s largest producer of mineral, spring water and beverages Jamnica, Croatia’s largest ice-cream and frozen food producer Ledo d.d., the best selling water in Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevski kiseljak d.d., the greatest edible oils producer in Croatia Zvijezda d.d.

The conglomerate is also the owner of the largest chain of supermarkets in Croatia and the region Konzum d.d. The last big expansion of the company was the purchase of the Slovenian state-owned trade mastodon Mercator in 2014. Analysts believe that with this acquisition Agrokor was virtually overeating. The purchase happened a year after Croatia’s accession, when its market joined the single European market and competitive pressure grew considerably. This is always a challenge for companies with monopoly power and, in general, for countries that have failed to complete the transition to a full-fledged market economy. According to a survey from last year of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, Croatia has a large and diverse portfolio of state-owned or partially state-owned companies.

The government is a majority shareholder in 85 companies and holds minority stakes of over 25% in another 50 companies. The remaining 600 companies are identified as being under state control as they are under the control of regional or municipal authorities. According to this study, the public corporate sector has a significant share in the Croatian economy. Agrokor is a private company, but it is determined to be systemically important, that is, it employs many workers, has a dominant position on the market, many companies are connected to it, and has enjoyed privileges over the years. Its total share in the gross domestic product of the country is about 4%, with decreasing trends. This means that an uncontrolled bankruptcy of the company could lead to turbulence in Croatian economy and the region in general.

According to the latest report [in Croatian language] by the Croatian National Bank (HNB) on financial stability, the situation in Agrokor has increased the risks to the economy, despite growth in the economy and good macroeconomic indicators. In its spring forecast, the European Commission also referred to Agrokor as a source of risks to the economy. “Industrial production, however, deteriorated somewhat – particularly in the consumer goods segment. This was possibly related to the distressed food processing and retail group Agrokor – Croatia’s largest employer – which faced severe difficulties in (re)financing its liabilities earlier this year”, says in the forecast on Croatia.

Government actions in the Agrokor crisis were quick, cool and resolute. For a record time, a law on the restructuring of systemic companies was adopted, which faced criticism about being unconstitutional, but it helped avoid a disorderly bankruptcy with unpredictable effects for the entire economy, which had just emerged from a 6-year recession two years ago. That would have been a huge blow to the economy and especially to the level of unemployment, which is already high in Croatia – expected to be 11.6% this year.

The rapid mastering of the situation was also dictated by the need to avoid a geopolitical moment – again the role of Russia. The Kremlin-sponsored Sberbank is Agrokor’s largest creditor. Croatian media reported that the crisis in the conglomerate was actually provoked by Russia because of Prime Minister Andrei Plenković’s position on the conflict in Ukraine. Several publications in Croatian media have indicated that the fall of Agrokor started  the moment Russian ambassador to Zagreb Anvar Azimov declared the company unable to pay its debts. This also led to a downgrading of its credit rating.

In the very beginning, when the company began having liquidity troubles, Sberbank demonstrated its will creditors to take over the management. A possible acquisition through debt would have provided Russia with a significant presence on the Croatian and regional markets. However, the newly adopted special law requires the company to be run by a government-appointed commissioner whose role is to supervise the process of restructuring. The law also defines the order in which the debt is to be paid.

The Plenković gambit

It would have all ended beautifully, had it not been for the finance minister. The young and capable Zdravko Marić, who was finance minister all the way back in the first government of HDZ and MOST NL, led by Tihomir Orešković, was until recently one of the most positive figures. With his expertise, he managed to bring Croatian finances to stabilisation and to the exit from the excessive deficit procedure, which was announced on Monday (22 May). His problems began with being a former senior employee of Agrokor and the opposition, including coalition partners from MOST NL, saw this as a conflict of interest. They accused him of being aware of the state of the company, but not taking the necessary measures.

Thus the situation was a great opportunity for the opposition to gain points against the background of the Social Democrats’ declining rating under the leadership of Davor Bernardić. The Social Democrats and the Liberals demanded that the minister resigned. They were also joined the junior partner MOST NL.

Day X for the government was April 26, when the prime minister and almost the entire government attended an official lunch organised by the Croatian Employers’ Association (HUP) where the government’s measures to tackle the Agrokor crisis were commended. Unlike previous meetings with government officials, this time employers refrained from criticism. One of the reasons was that many of the members are suppliers to the conglomerate and hope to cash in their claims. The prime minister began by saying that the most important thing was to ensure political stability. He explained that the emergency situation required emergency measures and promised that the government would take on other vital reforms for Croatia, especially in the field of education.

On the next day, government was expected to announce its decision on Zdravko Marić’s future. Contrary to any expectations, instead of sacrificing him for the sake of political stability, Andrei Plenković decided to protect him at the cost of serious political instability. In addition, the prime minister, without blinking an eye, fired the coalition partner’s ministers, which provoked sharp reactions and accusations of authoritarian practises. The debates on the motion for Mr Marić’s resignation went on for almost 24 hours and brought considerable losses to the government. MOST NL lost its speaker position of the Sabor, and the government is in a stalemate, as it is still unclear whether they have a sufficient majority in Parliament to continue governing.

Prime Minister Andrei Plenković announced that the seats of the coalition partner in government will be filled after the local elections, the first round of which took place on Sunday. The results, however, do not give much clarity. Virtually everyone is losing. Moreover, the crisis has led to the re-opening of the HDZ division lines. The far-right stream saw a great opportunity for itself in the local elections. Zlatko Hasanbegović was supporting the nomination of the Croatian Marine Le Pen – Bruna Esih – for mayor of Zagreb. Andrei Plenković refused to take serious steps against the rebellious Hasanbegović, counting on him filing his own resignation, as he did. Bruna Esih’s results in the first round were twice higher than the HDZ candidate Drago Prgomet. She won 10.98% of the votes, and Prgomet – 5.60%.

Bruna Esih entered the Sabor in the parliamentary elections on September 11 through the HDZ list, gaining 16.77% of the votes thanks to the preference option. After her result at the local elections, Zlatko Hasanbegović announced the creation of a new party. This could lead to others with rather nationalistic views leaving the HDZ. Despite the debacle in Zagreb, the HDZ performed better than at previous local elections elsewhere in the country. The big losers in the first round are SDP, who are going to a second round in Zagreb thanks to the Liberals’ candidate Anka Mrak Taritaš. SDP claims that, thanks to their support, Mrs Taritaš has won 24.48%, but SDP results across the country tell a different story.

MOST NL has also suffered considerable losses, in its fortress in Metković at that, where their candidate goes into a second round. There she will compete with the HDZ candidate. MOST-ers lost their full majority in the municipal council, where they have 40.65% of the votes, followed closely by HDZ with 38.13%. These elections may be the beginning of the end of the party. The Eurosceptic and populist party “Living Wall” is completely obscure in these elections.

This picture shows that all parties have to seriously analyse their state and the reasons for the results at the local elections. They also show a 50/50 probability for snap elections. One needs to wait for the second round so one can better judge the prospects for new elections, which no one has any interest in so far. The HDZ remains the strongest party, but its stability is shaken, and certainly will not be able to win sufficient majority to be able to govern alone. The SDP, with its leadership, has no strength to confront the leadership of the right. Its weakness gives HNS, their permanent coalition partner, a chance to play alone and raise their price after they experienced a significant drop in support in the years of governance with the SDP (in some cases as much as 2%).

Zagreb will be decisive, as mayor Milan Bandić’s party has representatives in parliament, and if he wins in the second round he could help Plenković stay in power. Invincible Milan Bandić, who was suspected of corruption on numerous occasions, but never has enough evidence yet been gathered to accuse him, won the most votes on Sunday – 30.87%. If elected in two weeks, it would be his sixth consecutive term. A possible victory for Anka Mrak Taritaš will feed new energy into the HNS and raise the price of the party on the parliamentary stock exchange. The eventual fall of the government and new elections would mean a new cycle of uncertainty over Croatia, another postponement of vital reforms, and a boost for growth in nationalist sentiments that have become more and more noticeable over the past two years with the HDZ coming to power.

All this is followed by an increase in the outflow of Croats to richer and more settled countries in the EU. The latest hit on the music scene these days in Croatia is the Detour band song “I Choose” that best sums up the situation. “I choose you are gone, I choose not to be angry anymore. Guess where we go, when we are ruled by goons and in-laws, keeping cities hostage, building temples. So I finally cracked like a popcorn and f*ck them all money-chasers, plagiarists, wrapped in the flag”.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on Croatia: A New Round of Instability for the Sake of Stability

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