Archive | Croatia

Chocolinda in the Balkan World

Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Right when the Croatian market is being shaken by findings of salmonella in the chicken and minced meat, as well as an obvious weak food control, society was scandalised by a chocolate problem. Chocolate had no other problems besides being… Serbian. On December 6th, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited Dubrovnik on the occasion of the Day of Dubrovnik War Veterans, who defended the town from the Yugoslav People’s Army in the beginning of the 1990’s. In the course of her visit the president gave gifts to war veterans’ children consisting of sweets and a photograph of herself with an autograph. Instead of the latter, the scandal was caused by the chocolate bars in the packs, which turned out to be manufactured in Serbia. The parent of one of the children in the kindergarten vented their outrage on Facebook from the fact that right on the day of Dubrovnik war veterans Kolinda (as she is called in Croatia) gave the kids Serbian chocolates.

The parent’s reaction is understandable and it is not the problem. The reaction of the president of an EU member state is what is causing perplexity. Mrs Grabar-Kitarović apologised for the gaffe, explaining that she was not aware of the chocolate’s origin and was even more outraged for it turned out that the chocolates were packaged by a Croatian company in … Vukovar. She promised that those, who do not want these, will receive Croatian-made chocolates, for her role was, besides all else, to promote Croatian produce.

There are several problems with this story

The first one is that Croatia has made a commitment, restated on multiple occasions by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović herself, to help Serbia along its way towards European membership. There are still a multitude of unresolved issues between the two states from the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia, which are extremely serious, and which require strong political will. It is due to some of those that Zagreb initiated the blocking the opening of negotiation chapters with Serbia. Current authorities in Belgrade have enough transgressions which need being pointed out and Croatia should get the support of its EU partners for it. Among those problems is the relativisation of crimes committed by the Milošević regime with crimes of the Ustaša regime during World War Two. Among those are also the attempts of Serbian authorities to play down the Milošević regime crimes and even allow calls for its exoneration.

Serbia still has much to do regarding cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, hate speech, unresolved property and cultural issues, border disputes, unsolved cases of Croatian nationals gone missing in action during the war, and the treatment of minorities. It is a long list and it is articulated generally in the European Commission’s annual reports on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership. And this is just regarding neighbourly relations. Serbia’s domestic political issues with the rule of law, democracy, and media freedom are a whole different story.

The second problem is that Zagreb is part of the EU common market and in this sense it is bewildering when a case of protectionism arises. Certainly, the particular cause is a different one, but the president’s reaction reveals an inclination towards protectionism. This comes in direct contradiction with Croatia’s European commitments towards the EU and countries of the enlargement process. Instead of attempting to promote Croatian-made products, the head of state should fight for raising the levels of productivity and competitiveness in Croatia, and also for having Croatian products break through on the European market. The latter, apropos, is a problem, pointed out in the economic reports on the European semester. In the end of the day, if Croatian products are more competitive they will also be demanded more not only on the domestic, but also on the European and regional markets.

Moreover, there is another perspective missing in the whole chocolate drama. If the chocolate bars were packaged by a company in Vukovar, it has probably opened X jobs, which are feeding families in one of the Croatian towns which gets abandoned the quickest. There was no mention of the share of this company’s business in the town’s economy and how could it be a problem that Serbian raw materials are being used in a town, where there are Serbs living as well. This company probably pays taxes and social security contributions.

Reaction from Serbia was one to be expected. Minister of Foreign and Domestic Trade and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić said on the occasion of the chocolate affair that it is obvious that Serbian products are not welcome in Croatia. “The statement of Croatia’s president is undemocratic, un-European, and un-economic”, he said, quoted by Tanjug. One could often see in Serbian press the disappointment that while Serbs like Croatian products, Serbian ones are obviously problematic in Croatia. “What reconciliation could we be talking about”, was an often asked question. And a very legitimate one. If a bar of chocolate could be a problem in relations between two countries, attempting to resolve their post-war problems, as was a movie as well this year, then there is something very wrong.

Croatia served as an example for all other countries from the Western Balkans that transformation in this region is possible. Such jingoistic fussiness, however, seriously damages Croatia’s image of an intermediary between the EU and those countries, which still have a long way to go until they catch-up with the, alas ever eroding, standards of the European Union. Instead of showing that it has outgrown petty nationalism and is a truly mature European democracy and a free market, Croatia shows with such reactions that it has not stepped out of Balkan-ism. In her wish not to lose the votes of war veterans and nationalist-minded voters, the president is doing harm in the long term to the future of her country in the region and the EU in general.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić likes very much to say, although he is not being too convincing in proving this wish of his, that he wishes for relations in the region to be like those between France and Germany, which from warring countries turned into the engine behind EU development. To achieve this, however, it is necessary that both states – Serbia and Croatia – turn away from pettiness and everyday politics and look strategically towards each other and towards the region in general. This was done by France and Germany not only for their own good, but for the benefit of the entire continent. Croatia has shown many times how it is done, but has been failing to do so lately. Moreover, such actions only feed fuel to the engine of hate-propagators like Vojislav Šešelj, who took immediate advantage of the latest gaffe of the Croatian president, while from the beginning of autumn Croatia has been making an impression of returning politics back to the flow of normalcy. It is a pity if a chocolate bar can derail this process.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Chocolinda in the Balkan World

Crime Without Punishment – a Contemporary Balkan-Global Novel

Adelina Marini

The entire wrongness of the modern world is evident on the territory of the former Yugoslavia today. While in Croatia they remember with pride and sadness the battle for Vukovar and tell old and new stories of back then, mentioning Chetniks and Šešelj-ies, on the other side of the border Vojislav Šešelj, freer than ever, continues to spread his hatred. The difference now is that this is the new normal. It represents victory over political correctness, secured by Donald Trump – the most avid fighter against political correctness, which includes one of the greatest achievements of human civilisation – respect for those who are different. Today’s review of the press in former Yugoslavia mirrors all that is wrong with the world, built on the legacy of the Cold War.

Today, Croatia marks the 25th anniversary of the battle for Vukovar and this is the leading subject for all media in the country. This year, however, is different. For the first time the focus of the celebrations is different – the economic and social conditions in the “town of heroes”. In recent years, Vukovar has been an arena of division in Croatian society – between true patriots and false ones. It even came to splitting the column of the traditional procession from the Vukovar hospital to the cemetery in two. This year, however, the new Croatian government changed the approach. It held the traditional government meeting exactly in Vukovar, where it brought new projects and money, aiming to deal with the slow disappearing of the heroic town due to economic hardships. Media in the country report that this year a record-breaking number of visitors is expected and the procession will be the longest one so far.

Hotel and restaurant proprietors announce on TV channels that they have been fully booked for months and that the closest available bed is 150 kilometres away in Slavonski brod. “Crime with no punishment” is the headline of an article in Novi list by Tihomir Ponoš, who reports that on the crimes in Vukovar the Hague Tribunal has read just two sentences. No one was convicted of the top members of the former Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). The author reports that up until now the Tribunal has charged nine people for crimes committed in Vukovar around the year 1991, but there are just two convictions. The first brought before the Tribunal on charges of war crimes in Ovčari is Slavko Dokmanović, but he committed suicide in the detention facility in Scheveningen. With no sentence for Vukovar, as well as for many other crimes, committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, remained Slobodan Milošević as well, reports the newspaper and reminds that he also died in detention.

Death proves to be swifter than justice for Goran Hadžić as well, reminds Tihomir Ponoš. “Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one of the many Chetnik paramilitary organisations during the war was acquitted at the first instance of all charges”, reports Ponoš. Serbian media do not mention the anniversary at all, but on the other hand the political activity of Vojislav Šešelj, who is now a member of the Skupština, gains more and more popularity. Blic reports that the scandal, surrounding the presentation of the annual report of the European Commission on Serbia’s progress towards EU membership continues in full force. Šešelj’s Radicals have once again blocked the access of the boss of the EU delegation in Belgrade Michael Davenport to the Parliament building, where he was to present the report in front of the European integration committee.

Members of Parliament from the SRS are threatening that they will not allow him to appear at the next meeting as well. If the party in power insist that he presents the report, they need to change the rules of Parliament, said the radicals. The commemoration of the battle for Vukovar is thoroughly covered in one of the most circulated newspapers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dnevni avaz. The newspaper reports that this year the anniversary passes under the motto “Vukovar – a place of special respect”. Avaz reminds that the battle for Vukovar is the largest and bloodiest one in the war for the separation of Croatia from the former Yugoslavia. It was a 87-day siege, ending in defeat, but also with great losses to attackers and huge devastation of Vukovar. Multiple murders and expulsion of the Croatian population. Between 2900 and 3600 people lost their lives in the battle, reports Avaz.

Gotovina enters politics

There is another large piece of news for this year’s anniversary. General Ante Gotovina, four years after his acquittal from The Hague, has decided to join politics anyway. He is going to be appointed adviser to Defence Minister Damir Krstičević. This caused sharp reactions in Serbia. Blic quotes the informal spokesperson on neighbourly affairs in the Serbian government, otherwise Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin, that this is an insult to all banished Serbs and the victims of “Storm” (the operation on the recovering of the territorial integrity of Croatia, started on August 4th, 1995). “If Gotovina is the Croatian contribution to world peace and their vision of security, then we all have a cause for concern”, said Vulin, quoted by Blic.

Danas quotes the president of the Union of Serbs in the region Miodrag Linta, who believes that the decision of the Croatian government is scandalous. This decision is directly pointed against the good neighbourly relations between Serbia and Croatia and against the strengthening of peace and stability in the Western Balkans region, as well as against the building of trust between the two nations. In his words, “it is obvious that Croatian society is not prepared to stand up and face its criminal past and the fact that Croatia is the only EU member state where war criminals are glorified”. Linta believes that it is high time that the EU, USA and Germany send a clear message to the Croatian government that it needs to remove from all state functions Gotovina, Markač, and all the rest, who have evidence against them for committing war crimes against Serbs, continues Danas.  The Hague Tribunal has acquitted both generals (Gotovina and Markač) on war crime charges.

Again in Danas, there is a valuable commentary by Snežana Čongradin, entitled “Call Kosovo”, written on the occasion of the agreement on telecommunications between Belgrade and Priština, thanks to which Kosovo now has its international dialling code. “This was supposed to mean that Serbian officials are working together with the Kosovo officials for the realisation of the common interests of the citizens of Serbia and Kosovo, rather than having military instigation and creation of an atmosphere of instability, uncertainty, and profiteering of punks, who fit the abnormal and inhuman conditions in both societies”, writes Čongradin. Serbia should have been the first to rejoice at the normalisation of life there after “the horrible crimes, committed in the name of Serbian citizens by those same punks”.

“Serbia continued in the years following the war in Kosovo to act just like it did in the years of losing it. Hatred, intolerance, misunderstanding, and identifying with the group of incapables and tyrants at the high places of the state, who, with their actions, laid shame and placed negative connotation on their own citizens in the eyes of the world, are present 16 years later as well, although bound within the borders that reality imposes”, writes Snežana Čongradin in Danas.

Let us not forget Trump

Vuk Perišić makes an interesting parallel between Donald Trump and Franjo Tuđman in his commentary for the Croatian website tportal. The author calms everybody down that there is no danger of Donald Trump ever becoming a dictator, for the USA has strong institutions available as well as a clear separation of powers. There are too many hindrances to the totalitarianisation of the country. “There are no reasons to fear that Trump will ruin the USA, as for example Tuđman and the HDZ ruined the Croatian society which, following their economic and moral devastation, lies in clinical death on the litter, incapable of anything but patriotic fantasies. As opposed to the USA, Croatia neither ever had nor created, nor wanted to create a meaningful and true democracy, independent state foundations, rule of law, and a critical society. Croatian political tradition was depleted and brought down to a blind and irrational state building, whereas the American one lays on rationalism, enlightenment, and the culture of the Free Individual” (capital letters are by the author).

Vuk Perišić also disproves Europe’s fears of a possible warm-up of relations between the USA and Russia. “Blame for all possible hardships that come to Europe would fall entirely on Europe. It is its own greatest adversary. It brought itself twice in the 20-th century to the brink of total self-annihilation, when behind the veil of its alleged civility peaked countless amounts of savagery and criminal energy”, writes Vuk Perišić for tportal.

Pernar on the sputnik of geopolitical love in Belgrade

The newly hatched Croatian anti-establishment player Ivan Pernar, who caught Moscow’s attention with his anti-European and anti-NATO positions, is gaining more and more attention and “is growing” in his geopolitical career. Serbian Politika (which is part-owned by Russian capitals) prints today on its title page an interview with Ivan Pernar on the occasion of his visit to the Serbian parliament. The newspaper reminds that this visit is happening 88 years after the radical MP Puniša Račić wounded Ivan Pernar’s grandfather in an attack in the Skupština. Today, 88 years later, Pernar goes to the Skupština for a visit, organised by the Russian propaganda machine Sputnik (Russian for satellite).

In his interview for Politika Mr Pernar also says that he is a close friend to the anti-European and pro-Russian movement Dveri, led by Boško Obradović, who recently stated in an interview for the regional N1 television channel that October 5th of 2000 (the day of the protests that brought down Milošević) did harm to Serbia. Obradović boasted in that same interview about his close relations with the new president-elect of Bulgaria, General Rumen Radev, who was a guest to the Russophile gathering this year in Kazanlak, Bulgaria. To Obradović, the future belongs to politicians like him. Ivan Pernar says in his interview for Politika that the thing connecting Live Wall to Dveri is their position against the EU and NATO. They differ about Srebrenica. To the question what his relations with Sputnik are, Ivan Pernar replied: “Sincere and friendly. I see Russia as a friendly state, not as some threat that the NATO generals talk about”.

Russians charged for the preparation of terrorist attacks in Montenegro on October 16

The big news in Montenegro today is the new version, as Vijesti reports, of the prosecution on the investigation of the state coup attempt in the country on election day, October 16. Two Russian nationals have been charged with the organisation of the prevented attacks – Eduard Vladimirovich Shirokov and Vladimir Nikolajevich Popov. They organised a criminal group, which was supposed to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, is written in the investigation of the specialised prosecution on the case. The group was supposed to cause chaos in Montenegro on election night. Montenegrin Pobjeda reports that the opposition – represented by the Democratic front – is preparing a new wave of protests in December, similar to the last year’s.

According to the newspaper, the official goal of the protests is the same as last year – the formation of a transient or minority government, which is to prepare new parliamentary elections, which are to be held together with the presidential ones. The informal goal is keeping up the pressure on the Skupština, which soon needs to make a decision on the NATO membership.

European integration apathy

An interesting analysis by Jovana Marović, who is a member of the workgroup on Article 23 of Montenegro’s negotiations with the EU, is published by Vijesti. In it, she points out that the European Commission’s reports are all the same. Progress is technical, all is the same. She underlines the unpleasant coincidence, when in one and the same day came the announcement of the results of the presidential elections in the USA and the EC’s annual reports on enlargement. “In the very day, when the results were announced from the presidential elections in the USA accompanied by discussions about the end of liberal democracy as we know it, came the presentation of this year’s progress reports in the process of European integration. Forecasts for the strengthening of democracy in this part of the world are just as pessimistic”, believes Jovana Marović.

The EU is jaded by the enlargement process. Global tendencies of the degradation of democratic values, as well as problems in the region are the main reason for it, is the expert’s opinion. She notes that Montenegro is presented in Brussels as being the most advanced, but it actually has no competition. Progress is purely technical and practically all is the same.

“Let us conclude – ‘the permanent progress’ in the strengthening of institutions and laws through the process of negotiations does not also mean a strengthening of democracy in Montenegro. Democracy is walking backwards. The democracy index of Freedom House for Montenegro shows that since the year 2012 there is a regressive trend. By the way, even without the use of a well developed methodology, you could see this quite well in the election and post-election rhetoric, the atmosphere of threats, labelling, attacks on independent media and critics of the authorities, the system of (ir)responsibility for breaking the law, the multitude of frauds, selective reactions by the institutions, and the still restricted conditions for free and fair elections”, writes Jovana Marović for Vijesti.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Europe, Bosnia, Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Crime Without Punishment – a Contemporary Balkan-Global Novel

After the European Council Croatia Emerged as a True Member of the EU

Adelina Marini

In the days surrounding the October European Council everyone focused not just on the most painful subjects, like the comprehensive economic agreement with Canada and relations with Russia, but also on the debut of British Prime Minister Theresa May on European scene after she stepped into office last summer. And although there was not much drama surrounding her participation and neither was the subject of the Brits’ decision to leave the EU addressed at all, all eyes were locked on Mrs May’s figure. This somehow left in the shadows another debut, which is a total antipode of the Brexit – the Europe-isation and normalisation of Croatia.

The EU summit of October 20 and 21 was a first for the new Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković as well, although the European scene is not alien to him at all. Before he assumed the highest office in his home country he used to be an influential member of the European Parliament – vice-chair of one of the most important committees in the EP (the foreign affairs committee) and boss of the EP delegation for relations with Ukraine. As euinside reported, immediately after assuming the leader’s post in the largest and very important political party in the country – the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) – following a severe crisis for the party and a catastrophic crash of their first government after the corruption scandals around Sanader, Mr Plenković radically changed the political discourse in Croatia.

He introduced modesty to the discourse, turned his back on nationalism, demonstrated cool headedness, patience, and confidence. What is more, he introduced the European subjects to the everyday political debate. This became particularly evident after the end of the European Council in Brussels, which was his first working day after the parliament voted confidence to his just-formed government, once more in a coalition with the reformists from Most of independent lists (Most NL). The change was felt immediately. Following the example of European-oriented states Andrej Plenković organised a national briefing after the second day of the summit in the special room of Croatia. So far, both PM Zoran  Milanović, during whose term Croatia became EU member, and his successor Tihomir Orešković spoke to journalists upon entering or exiting the Council meeting.

To some, this may be a technicality, but in fact it is a very important gesture, for it creates the feeling that the prime minister is available to the public to answer any questions. Croatian correspondents to Brussels, who are not used to such treatment, concentrated most of their questions namely on the issues in the summit’s agenda. Of far greater importance, however, is the prime minister’s decision to introduce the practise of reporting on the results of EU summits before Members of Parliament. He participated [in Croatian] in a debate, which lasted for more than three and a half hours and finally evolved into a quarrel with the newly hatched loud and irritating voice of Euroscepticism, embodied by the young MP from the Eurosceptic and anti-NATO party Live Wall Ivan Pernar.

Andrej Plenković announced in front of MPs that he intended to institute the practise of reporting after every meeting of the European Council, which got applauses from MPs of the entire political spectrum. As was noted by the former deputy foreign minister and currently opposition MP (SDP) Joško Klisović, European politics are no longer part of the foreign affairs, but of the domestic ones. According to Milorad Pupovac, MP from the Independent Democratic Serb Party, this is the best way to regain trust between domestic policy and the European one. This also is the best way to enhance the role of the Croatian Sabor (parliament) regarding European institutions.

Former Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusić also noted that when we talk about European subjects, we are actually talking about Croatian issues as well. Most emotional, however, was Goran Dodig of the Croatian Christian Democratic Party. “Today, for the first time, I feel like a Member of Parliament, because for the first time we are having a serious and argumentative debate. For the first time, I have the feeling that we are discussing things not from the party trenches, but on problems, which concern us all. I wish to thank the Prime Minister for managing to come to the Sabor and I do not know if he is aware of it, but he gave dignity to this Sabor, that in this Sabor and in many of us he created a feeling of usefulness and decency”.

The MP admitted that he has always been a Eurosceptic, but following the debate he had changed his opinion so much that he is aware of the fact that Croatia, being a small country, does not stand many chances without participating in a large and powerful association like the EU. Most NL MP Miro Bulj also admitted that he was against Croatia joining the EU not because of the EU itself, but because the lack of sufficient information on it. Actually, this was the very goal of Mr Plenković, who believes populism and Euroscepticism could be fought only by speaking more and more to the point on European subjects.

Whether due to the fact that he is a dйbutante in the European Council and as a prime minister in general, but during his report (you can download the document itself in Croatian language from here) to MPs of October 26 and also when talking to journalists in Brussels, Andrej Plenković was rather general and cautious, avoided going into details. He listed the main topics of the summit’s agenda – migration, foreign relations and more specifically relations with Russia, trading policy. He announced that representatives from the Croatian Ministry of Internal Affairs will participate in the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency and advocated for a common policy of return of illegal immigrants on a full EU level. He revealed that a large portion of the discussion on the migration subject concentrated on the European solidarity concept and presented the two streams – Orbán’s of flexible solidarity and the old European notion of “true solidarity”. He did not share which group does he count Croatia in.

On trading policy, he hailed the agreement with Canada by stating that it opens up many possibilities, especially for small Croatian enterprises. He is for a quick ratification of the agreement. Regarding Russia, Plenković again was streamlined and rather reiterated in most general terms what the leaders talked about instead of presenting Croatia’s vision on the subject. This was the very thing that drew the most criticism from Croatian MPs. Against the lack of concrete information objected left-wing MP Gordan Maras. Nikola Grmoja of Most NL called for a thorough discussion of the contents of the agreement at the ratification. Joško Klisović was the most thorough in his questions and criticism towards the PM.

“We did not hear from the government what its priorities are in dealing with migration. The entering of Bulgaria and Romania in Schengen continues to be delayed due to the migration question. Speaking of which, what is happening with Croatia’s membership in Schengen? Does the government support the transfer of focus from the Balkan route to the Central-Mediterranean route? He did not tell us what the position is on flexible solidarity. Does the EU possess the ability to lead successful trading policy?”, were some of his questions, among which were also whether the government has an analysis of the effect of the Brexit and whether it has offered that some of the agencies, which are currently in great Britain be transferred to Croatia, like the pharmaceutical agency or the European Banking Authority for example.

Vesna Pusić asked for a national crisis management debate to be organised on migration, which would lead to the development of a strategy. She remarked that the same mistake is being made again and again – placing migration and the refugee crisis in one and the same package. “Those are two totally different things, which intersect, but each requires its own instruments and strategies”, she said. In her opinion, the “Fortress Europe” concept cannot function. Ivan Lovrinović from “Let’s change Croatia” noted that in the EU there are strong disintegration processes going on, especially pointing out the Visegrad group and calling that these issues be discussed over the next two months.

Gordan Jandroković, former minister of foreign affairs and former leader of the parliamentary committee on European issues (HDZ) called for ministers too to be more active on European issues in the respective committees.

Branimir Bunjac of Live Wall, however, snapped that to the Croatian public it is of no interest discussing European subjects, for people are more interested why since the membership 200 000 people have left Croatia. The first two hours of the debate went on smoothly and to the point, until Ivan Pernar walked on stage, the man who made Croatian media mark the birth of the term “pernarism”, which is a synonym to Trumpiotism, Euroscepticism, or populism. As euinside reported, the young MP on several occasions passionately defended Russia and blamed America for all worldly disasters. He believes Croatia has the policy of a servant towards Brussels and Washington.

His positions caused turbulent reactions in many MPs who were head over heel in criticising him on not dealing in facts, and insulting citizens, who voted for their MPs by calling everyone a servant to Brussels or America. Some of them reminded him that due to positions like these, Croatia today may not have been an independent state. They also told him that the EU and America may not be perfect, but are to be preferred than serving Moscow. This part of the discussion went on for an hour and a half and showed clearly that, at this stage, the soil in Croatia is not a good seeding ground for pro-Russian politics. Croatia is grateful to Ukraine for it was the first country to recognise Croatian independence. Besides, Croatia understands Ukraine very well because of Crimea, for it connects this episode with its own experience in separating from the former Yugoslavia.

Introducing European subjects in the internal political debate in Croatia also led to commentaries and analyses in Croatian media. The most in-depth one is by Velimir Šonje in tportal of last week. The author points out [in Croatian] five reasons why Croatia has lost Europe when Europe gained Croatia. “On this day – July 1st 2013 – Croatia lost Europe”, he writes. And the reasons for it are the political quarrels during the crisis; the return to the past; the financial and economic crisis in the EU; the radicalisation of the European East, especially after the refugee shock; the appearance of idea-less political alternatives.

“This is why it has to be repeated constantly that we have entered the EU formally-politically, but mentally and politically we are far away from its liberal democracy and settled market economy. Croatia needs to once again find Europe as a motive. And not the metal Eastern Europe, but the the free and potent Central and Northern Europe, which allows for individual growth and expression. Wouldn’t it be, for us and our future, a carrier rocket to find out what and how are Austrians and Dutchmen doing, rather than Greeks? There is more being written in Croatia about Venezuela and North Korea than about The Netherlands”, comments Velimir Šonje

The prime minister’s intention of driving in the European Union and its agenda into the domestic policy of Croatia will surely aid Croats in discovering Europe as a motive. This could be hiding the risk of the country turning into a Eurosceptic from a Eurorealist, but it is more likely to boost its pro-European orientation. At this stage it is important to note, however that against the background of Theresa May’s Brexit debut in the European Council there was also a pro-European debut by a country, which is extremely important to the EU in a geopolitical sense. At a moment, when the Western Balkans are once more boiling in turmoil, it is very important that the EU has on its external border a country with a strong European orientation, from the tribune of which the most important European subjects are being discussed, in a language understandable to the region. This would have a powerful effect on the stabilisation and Europe-isation of the Western Balkans.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on After the European Council Croatia Emerged as a True Member of the EU

Bosnia Slapped Croatia in the Face

Adelina Marini

The policy of the new Croatian government regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina got a resounding slap in the face from Sarajevo just two days after the first official visit of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković abroad (to BiH), commented Croatian media. On Monday, two days after the return of the Croatian delegation from BiH, a dozen veterans from the Croatian army (BiH) got arrested in Orašje on charges in war crimes. Minister of Foreign Affairs Davor Ivo Stier and Minister of Defence Damir Krstičević expressed their concern regarding the incident. Jutarnji list and many other media today quote the Facebook status of former Minister of Defence Ante Kotromanović, who asks what were Andrej Plenković and Davor Ivo Stier doing in BiH during the two days of their visit.

According to the weekly political magazine Globus, which comes out every Wednesday, the apprehension of the dozen veterans is a message to Andrej Plenković. The magazine quotes Željko Šiljeg, colonel general from the Croatian Defence Council. The purpose of the arrests was showing that Herceg-Bosna is a criminal creation. Globuscomments that the arrests could develop into an extremely awkward and even explosive subject between Croatia and BiH, similar to the subject of the Serbian law for universal jurisdiction, because of which many Croatian veterans are trembling when they cross the border. Vecernji list reports from Orašje, that veterans there are afraid of the possibility that all of them might get arrested. “Any initiative for changes in BiH will be met with serious resistance due to the existence of different interests – from global to private, like keeping certain functions”, reports the newspaper.

Vecernji comments that the arrests come just two days after the visit of Andrej Plenković, where he advocated for a change in the election code that would allow Croats to elect their representatives. Arrests also come a day after the interview of President Bakir Izetbegović, in which he states that the threat to Croats in BiH is a mantra. In a commentary for the Bosnian edition of Vecernji list, Davor Ivanković writes that the arrests are Sarajevo’s reply to the previous Croatian policy of keeping arms crossed regarding BiH and the status of Croats there. The new Croatian policy aims for significant corrections and a return to Dayton in order to secure equal rights for Croats.

The operation against Croatian veterans is a warning that Sarajevo does not acknowledge Croatian arguments for the fact that the Croatian people there are under threat, further writes Davor Ivanković. In his opinion, the choosing of Orašje, which is regarded as the place with the mildest war crimes, could only be a signal for what else will follow – new campaigns for the apprehension of Croats. It is high time that Zagreb initialises a bilateral solution to the problem with charges against veterans, which has been frozen for 20 years. These (sometimes not raised on purpose) charges serve as political pressure, claims the author. The subject is almost nonexistent in the Bosnian media environment.

Not a single day without drama in Serbia

The “Jajinci” case continues to develop in a familiar direction. Minister of Labour Aleksandar Vulin, who is regarded as Prime Minister Vučić’s mouthpiece on sensitive subjects, directly accused the US embassy in Belgrade in standing behind the assassination attempt. State television channel RTS quotes Mr Vulin, who claims to be speaking in private capacity and not having harmonised his opinion with the PM. “The ‘Jajinci’ case began in the night of the elections, when things got to the forceful entry of all parties in the Republic Electoral Commission in an attempt at changing the election results and their later visit to the American ambassador Kyle Scott”, said Vulin in an interview for the TV channel. The diplomat refused to comment Vulin’s appearances. “I saw Vulin’s statement and I am simply at loss for words in which to express myself. I think this statement is excessive and it would be better to concentrate on the fact that our relations are good and correct”, said Ambassador Scott, quoted by Tanjug.

Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović in turn reported that the prime minister is worried that the target of the weapons discovered close to his family home was his brother Andrej. Blic reports that the PM did not show for work today. All his meetings were cancelled. Sources of the newspaper admitted that this is surprising. It is not clear whether his absence is somehow connected to the current security crisis, but it is unprecedented.

In a commentary for Politika, the editor-in-chief of the “New Serbian Political Thought” magazine and Member of Parliament Đorđe Vukadinović writes that the situation in Serbia is like in the lying shepherd story. “The only thing that remains unclear is whether recent developments in Serbia is already the true showing of the wolf, or it is one more play of the irresponsible and frivolous shepherd boys?”, asks the author. He places several other questions: was this really an attempt at the prime minister’s life; could this be a warning from some powerful external and internal factors; or is this again just a smoke screen, directed by the government itself because of ongoing cleansing operations in the security agency and military agencies? Whatever the answer, the situation is extremely serious, he believes.

“Optimists, and those, who persist in closing their eyes for the authoritarian nature of the current political regime, will interpret this as an encouragement signal, meaning a proof that here, see, Vučić turns out to be much better, much more careful and reasonable than his aides. This, however, is dubious consolation. In the end of the day, is there anyone, who seriously believes that Vulin, Stefanović, Dačić, Mihajlović, Palma, and the rest have all of a sudden started playing solo on such an important issue?”, continues his questions Đorđe Vukadinović. He goes on with the question what are regular people thinking or the myriad of foreign investors, whom Vučić is inviting to invest in Serbia, about a state, where someone is constantly preparing a state coup and/or the assassination of the prime minister.

Time for analyses in Montenegro

While the formation of the new government in Montenegro is expected, media continue their analyses of the elections. Pobjeda prints at its title page an analysis by Nenad Zečević, who believes that the experiment of a government of electoral trust is over. This government (with participation by the opposition) was established with the goal of regaining trust in the electoral process and finding proof for misappropriation of state funds. He sends sharp criticism towards the opposition for not making any of that happen. The government of electoral trust was hailed by MEPs during the hearing of Montenegro PM Milo Đukanović prior to the elections.

First of all the opposition, led by the Democratic front, not only refused to recognise the elections, but also signed a document, with which it committed not to accept the results. Opposition members in the government failed to find a single case of misappropriation of state funds, continues the author, refuting claims from the opposition that the apprehension of Serbian nationals on charges of preparing terrorist attacks has influenced electoral activity and the election results. According to Nenad Zečević, the explanation is absurd for electoral activity was record-breaking high – 73%.

Political agony in Macedonia

With elections in Macedonia approaching on December 11, frustration in society with the ongoing and endless scandals there keeps growing. In a commentary for Utrinski vesnik, Tatiana Popovska writes that the prolonged political crisis has brought to surface the greediness, inhumanity, and impertinence of certain politicians. Political shuffles, subversive accusations, and scheming from the last few days are the biggest political agony, which is developing before the elections, and most probably after them as well, writes Popovska. “At the Macedonian scene it is no longer known who is backing what, who is against whom in the electoral race, and who works for whom”, she continues. At the moment the cleanest positions are held by VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, for the former is trying to stay in power, and the latter is trying to take it.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on Bosnia Slapped Croatia in the Face

The Big (non)Event in Croatia – Kolinda Spoke, but Said Nothing

Adelina Marini

Greetings from festive Zagreb, where today is a holiday because of All Saints Day! Regardless of the day being a holiday, there is a lot to be found in Croatian media. In today’s edition we are also following who is in opposition to the new/old majority in the Croatian Parliament and we continue the subject of Pernarism. We also keep an eye on the development of the latest Serbian drama – the “Jajinci” case and the “Montenegro” spy affair, as well as the ongoing dilemma of whether the Belgrade-Priština dialogue will survive.

A long awaited and badly spent interview

Croatian journalists and Twitter activists have been asking for months when will they finally hear from the Croatian president. They marked the weeks and then the months since her last press conference. All this amidst a process of turbulent political transformation in Croatia. The silence of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was deafening. And behold, she finally spoke. Last night Croatian television channel RTL aired an interview with her by the very experienced and famous for her sharp questions journalist Mirjana Hrga. The interview, however, was disappointing, for it left the impression of being too accommodating. It looked more like an interview for a women’s magazine, than serious journalism, which is to be expected from a serious journalist in prime time.

Watching the interview one cannot help but ask oneself who wrote the questions – whether it was the experienced journalist, or the PR team at Pantovčak (the address of the president’s office). Questions varied from support for abortions, women’s rights, and what is it like being the head of state and mother of two, to the tax reform, proposed by government, but also how many countries has Mrs Grabar-Kitarović visited. 20 minutes, in which the president was not held accountable for the fulfilment of commitments she made during the presidential elections, no account was asked for on the past year and ten months in office, on her sometimes controversial decisions, and also about her silence. In all of the diversity of questions, asked of a celebrity it seemed like, not a civil servant, some Croatian media singled out a gaffe.

To a question about the presidential elections in the USA Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović made a slip in saying that “The Americans will decide who our next president will be, I mean their next president”. The slip was picked up by media of the region as well. Serbian national television RTS reported that the Croatian president made a gaffe during her interview for RTL. Bosnian website 6YKA also reports that the Croatian president said that Americans will decide who will be president of Croatia. Actually, the gaffe was the interview itself, and a heavy journalistic gaffe at that, which shows that Croatia still has a long way to go before it shakes off journalistic subservience to those in power. Actually, the interview with Mrs Grabar-Kitarović was also indicative as timing, for the previous government, headed by Tihomir Orešković, became famous first of all with its attempt at putting harness on the state media. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković promised during the campaign for the snap elections of September 11 that he will work for media independence. Obviously it is the president’s turn as well.

How did Pernarism appear?

Croatian media keep looking for an answer to the question how did Pernarism appear, named after the most vocal MP from the anti-Europe and anti-NATO party Live Wall Ivan Pernar. Political scientist Boško Picula writes in his column for tportal that the reason why Ivan Pernar is so outspoken is that he is practically the sole strong opposition to the new majority. The former PM and still leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Zoran Milanović made a mistake by not throwing his resignation immediately, but turned into a leader who has been withdrawing for months, while the campaign for electing a new leader is ongoing. Currently, PM Andrej Plenković has no strong opponent in the Sabor. The only one is Ivan Pernar, writes Boško Picula.

The Vecernji list correspondent to Brussels Tomislav Krasnec, on the other hand, reports that now more than ever the debates for the EU will turn into an integral part of the domestic political debate in Croatia. After the new government gave a clear sign that it intends to report and debate on a regular basis in Parliament on the results of every meeting of the European Council, it would mean that the radical and anti-EU positions of Live Wall will become more and more heard. “All this has the potential to start a discussion, which would answer the question that many citizens have had not answered, or answered with not sufficient arguments, or at all: exactly what is the benefit to Croatia from its membership in the Euro-Atlantic structures?”, writes Tomislav Krasnec.

Traces of unknown DNA and … GRU

It is not a non-working day in Serbia, but it is another non-working day in a row in the sense that everyone is busy with something that is of no benefit to anyone – scandals, affairs, theories. There is hardly any new information around the bizarre “Jajinci” case – the weapons cache discovered in close proximity to the family home of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić in the Belgrade neighbourhood of Jajinci, although the PM is already backing down on this. Danas reports that, according to the PM, it is unlikely that it will become known who left the weapons. “I trust the agencies and the state of Serbia, but I am afraid that it will be difficult to find out who the people who brought these weapons are and what was their goal”, said Vučić to journalists during his one-day visit to Hamburg on Monday. He believes the case to be too complicated to be resolved easily.

After that he once more got into the role of a drama queen by stating that he will talk on this subject no more. “We are spending too much time on ourselves, instead of on our country and our citizens and I have no right to allow myself this”, said he in his typical style. His Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojša Stefanović reported in the meantime that traces of DNA from three people was found, but they are so mixed up that they will be difficult to identify. In a commentary for the same newspaper, titled “Terror attack on trust”, Ivan Radak writes that it would be a mistake to view the story of the claims that a terror attack is being prepared in isolation from the increase of salaries and pensions and the resolution of the problem with several mega companies, who are heavily in debt.

According to the author, Vučić has once more demonstrated his inability to deal with the debts of those giants. “Should one sum the debts of not just these enterprises, but other sectors as well, like healthcare for example, it will become evident very fast (and the IMF and the EU have already warned about this) that our financial stability is fragile”, writes Ivan Radak. The author reminds that the problem of enterprises in debt has not been solved during the four years in power of the PM. “If we find ourselves, after such a period, still looking for personnel who are capable to do something, what are we discussing anyway? Four years were sufficient enough to clear out the largest of garbage piles. However, in all this mess, it seems like we are losing track of time”, ends his commentary for Danas Ivan Radak.

Vecernje novosti reports on its first page that the PM will resign from his post as boss of the Security Bureau because of the “Jajinci” case. The newspaper has learned from its sources that over the next few days the prime minister will notify the president of his decision. This is the first specific political consequence from the “Jajinci” case, which revealed the cracks in the security system for the first man in the government, writes the newspaper. Agencies are for four days unable to put their finger on who left the weapons cache in close proximity of the house of Vučić. According to Vecernje’ssources, the PM is not happy with the fact that agencies have failed to assure him that they have control, giving him full five different versions so far.

Montenegro Pobjeda reports, quoting the Montenegro website Pink, which has the same symbols as the Serbian tabloid TV channel of the same name, that the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence agency) stands behind the attempts to organise terrorist attacks in Podgorica for the October 16 parliamentary elections. According to Pink, intelligence officers from the famous Russian army intelligence agency have left Belgrade last week. They had planned attacks, which were to be executed at the closing of the election day in Montenegro on October 16, right after the results are announced.

Three scenarios for continuing the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština

Blic today offers several scenarios for the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština, which for the last few days have been among the leading subjects in the Serbian political discourse. The newspaper reports that negotiations are ever more prolonged, because there are questions at the table which are ever more national-political. After Belgrade pulled back the Law for Trepča (a mine in Kosovo, which Serbia has claims for), on which the parliament in Priština provided for all the assets of this complex be Kosovo property, new requirements appeared from the Kosovo side, among which is the payment of war compensations and guarantees that Serbia’s membership to the EU will only happen after the recognition of the state of Kosovo. In such an environment, writes Blic, it is difficult to forecast the direction in which the relations between Serbia and Kosovo will take.

According to analyst Bojan Klačar from the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy CESID, a radical scenario is out of the question. He believes that negotiations will continue because the EU insists on it, and at the moment the status quo is not beneficial for anyone. On the other hand, however, he says for the newspaper it is difficult to forecast the path that negotiations will take. He sees two levels. At the first one, essential questions are to be resolved, and on the lower one answers will be given to vital and local questions. The highest ranking civil servants need to participate on the second level, believes the analyst. The Kosovo political scientist Albinot Maloku believes that prime ministers need to negotiate on the political issues and the economic or sports ones are to be discussed by the corresponding ministers. Both states are using the dialogue for political advertisement and practically very little is really accomplished, says the Kosovo analyst.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on The Big (non)Event in Croatia – Kolinda Spoke, but Said Nothing

Does Kremlin Finally Have a Man in Croatia?

Adelina Marini

There numerous subjects in today’s press in the countries of former Yugoslavia, but the most important ones seem to me to be the first foreign visit of the new Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (to Bosnia and Herzegovina, of course), the ongoing Serbian drama around the Belgrade-Priština dialogue, and the spy novel, starring Russia. Let us begin with the fact that Moscow’s attention is now directed at the new political star of Croatia Ivan Pernar – leader of the anti-European and anti-NATO party Live Wall, which managed to secure eight seats in the September 11 snap parliamentary elections. Not a day goes by without having the vocal MP cause outrage in Croatian public domain, but this week he managed to draw the attention of Kremlin-sponsored Russian media as well.

Jutarnji listreports that due to his anti-globalist, anti-NATO, and anti-EU positions, Ivan Pernar is now interesting to the Russian Sputnik agency, which is known by its content to be a main conductor of the policies of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Due to his performances, Ivan Pernar got invited for an interview by Sputnik, in which he stated that Brussels is nervous because there are people, who question EU bureaucrats’ fairy-tale of a better life in the EU, as well as the so called peace and stability, which NATO ensures. “Their alliance destroyed and diminished national freedoms and sovereignty instead of protecting them. NATO supports the destruction of legitimate governments through bombardment, instead of advocating for democracy”, said Pernar in the interview.

And more: “If it was not for Russia, no one would have stood against this. The USA would have been able to bomb and destroy any state, which does not serve their interests”, further said Pernar, quoted by JutarnjiAccording toVecernji list, ever since he entered Parliament, Ivan Pernar has turned into one of the most famous politicians both in the country and abroad. The newspaper reports that Pernar gave an interview to the Russian Sputnik agency, in which he spoke of NATO, Russia, and the USA, qualifying NATO as “a threat to the entire world, just like Germany under Hitler”. Leftist-oriented website Index chose a different accent on Ivan Pernar. The website reports, that MP Grozdana Perić of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party has complained that she is tired of listening to Pernar.

This enraged the former leader of Live Wall Ivan-Vilibor Sinčić, who replied through his Facebook profile. “Well, we have had to listen to you for 25 long years. For 25 long years you polluted us with lies, demagoguery, gibberish. 25 long years of your stealing, looting, destruction. What more do you have to tell us that you did not have the opportunity to in these 25 years? […] Now is the time for us to speak. Now is the time for our country’s policy to begin to be created by some new kids”, says in Sinčić’s posting.

Dayton must be upgraded

On the other hand, the leading piece of news in Croatia, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well, is the first visit abroad of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. Most media quote his interview for the Croatian Vecernji list, in which he says that the first and key foreign policy priority of the new government is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European path and also the equal status of Croats as one of the three constitutional peoples of the country. In his interview for Vecernji, Mr Plenković is far more cautious by backing President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović’s position that the Dayton peace agreement needs to be amended, but underlines that this needs to be a decision of the political players in BiH. “The key is in their consensus, which I am convinced is possible and could receive strong support from the international community”.

Plenković also gave an interview for one of the most circulated Bosnian newspapers Dnevni avaz, which is placed on the title page. The newspaper introduces the Croatian PM as “the person seen as the new leader of the region”. In this interview, Plenković is far more specific in talking about membership of Bosnia and Herzegovina in NATO and also about Russia’s influence. On the first subject the former MEP reminds that back in 2010 a decision was made at the NATO summit in Tallinn that BiH will be invited to the Membership Action Plan. This plan, however, could not be activated until all 63 properties of the former Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) are registered as assets of the BiH Ministry of Defence, which has not yet been done. Andrej Plenković believes that it would be a historic injustice for BiH to remain in the periphery of South-Eastern European countries.

In the Avaz interview Plenković says that it is time for leaders in BiH to begin talks of a constitutional reform and that the stage has arrived, where it is necessary to reform the Dayton peace agreement. Regarding Russia, Plenković says that the more indecisive the EU is in implementing the policy of enlargement towards the European neighbourhood, the larger space will be opened for closer relations of the region with Russia.

A scandal between Russia and Serbia?

Blicquotes Russian media, according to which there is an unprecedented scandal in relations between Moscow and Belgrade. It is exactly the resolution of these problems, which was the main goal of the visit of Russia’s number one intelligence officer Nikolai Patrushev to Belgrade on Wednesday. Commersantcomments on Danas’s Thursday discovery that several Russian nationals were deported from Serbia for their participation in the preparation of terrorist actions in Podgorica and that this information was not disproved by anyone. According to the front page of Blic, Patrushev left, accompanied by the espionage suspects. The headline of Politika is that Serbia is positioned in between foreign agencies. The newspaper disproves allegations that Mr Patrushev came to Serbia in an emergency.

The daily recalls that all the way back on October 10 it quoted the Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin that such a visit is scheduled. “The calendar of visits, announced and long prepared, disproves all the speculations that Patrushev arrived by surprise and in a hurry to Belgrade to resolve hot issues, like the Montenegro case for example, as well as the idea that the signing of a memorandum is just a smokescreen”, reports Politika.

Regarding this spy affair, in a commentary for the most circulated daily newspaper in Montenegro – Vijesti – Dragoslav Dedović criticises the already legendary press conference of Aleksandar Vučić, from which the aforementioned affair broke. “It could be said that Vučić, in his cautious ‘not East, nor West’ rhetoric is a worthy successor to Tito’s detached balance act on the Cold war wire. In any case, one could conclude from the chaotic statement in front of journalists, that we are talking about a Western agency. And here you have Montenegro. Someone has been tracking Milo Đukanović every day. ‘There is no way this was done by those down there, who were apprehended, which is something I am in no position to comment’, said Vučić. Meaning it is not them, but someone else. Who, then? ‘Very serious people’. Who? ‘Criminal organisations with foreign elements’ was the reply of Vučić. Whatever that means. Simply, Milo caught the wrong people for the right thing. Because, however, there are no politicians from Montenegro or Serbia in these gangs, it turns out that word is of criminal gangs with foreign elements, who have helped Milo stay in power anyways, because danger for him and Montenegro was real, but the adversary, presented to the Montenegro society, was a fake one”, writes Dragoslav Dedović in his commentary.

The Belgrade-Priština dialogue

Today’s headline of Danas states that it is not Kosovo, but Russia that is the main obstacle for the opening of new chapters in the negotiation process of Serbia with the EU. According to the newspaper’s diplomatic sources the delay in this process is due to the stalling of the reforms process, which has slowed down perceptibly since the new government’s term commenced. The newspaper quotes MEP Franc Bogovič (EPP, Slovenia), who believes that Serbia is uselessly wasting too much time after the huge amount of effort it has dedicated. The headline of Vecernje novosti in turn transfers the blame fully on the Albanians. The newspaper runs an interview with President Tomislav Nikolič, who believes that Albanians are using the negotiations with Serbia to squeeze out more rights and if this does not work, through negotiations they are trying to gain acceptance and membership to organisations, which are supposed to be organisations of states. According to Nikolič, the crossing of a red line is approaching.

Serbian state television RTS quotes an interview by Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi for the Austrian Die Presse, in which he says that facts about the Belgrade-Priština dialogue are presented to be worse than they actually are. He is convinced that both sides will soon reach the point where they will again be able to negotiate normally.

The TV channel also reports on the meeting of PM Aleksandar Vučić with the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague Serge Brammertz who again criticised Serbia for failing to hand over the Serb radicals wanted by the Tribunal – Petar Jojić, Jovo Ostojić, and Vjerica Radeta.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Croatia, RussiaComments Off on Does Kremlin Finally Have a Man in Croatia?

Is Nationalism Growing in Croatia?

Adelina Marini
A Strong pro-European Party Has Won Elections in Croatia

While doing the review of the press in the countries of the former Yugoslavia in the beginning of September, I stumbled into an article in the Serbian newspaperBlic, which quoted the distinguished Balkans expert from the London School of Economics (LSE) James Ker-Lindsay, who believes that Croatia is to blame for the current deteriorated state of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade, depicted by many in the region itself as being worse than in the early 1990s, when the bloody disintegration of the former Yugoslavia began. I shared the text on Twitter, expressing my doubt that Mr Ker-Lindsay said exactly that, knowing that Serbian media should be handled with care. I guessed it was a question of words out of context, or an overly free translation. Alas, he confirmed on Twitter that he stands behind his words. We deepened our discussion, but he did not back down on his opinion.

Later, two days before the snap parliamentary elections, The Financial Times published an article on the subject, which again focused on the thesis of Croatia’s responsibility for the deterioration of bilateral relations with Serbia, as well as the dangerous growth of nationalism in the country. The opinion of James Ker-Lindsay was also quoted. A day after the September 11 elections, another highly regarded and internationally distributed British daily newspaper (The Guardian) published an analysis by Paul Mason, entitled “Croatia’s election is a warning about the return of nationalism to the Balkans”.

Having in mind what I published in my surely not as massively circulated website on the subject of the Croatian elections, you will probably understand my urge to disprove the theses of the two respectable media of international influence and the deeply respected analyst from LSE, knowing full well that my expertise is just as modest as the number of euinside’s impressions (compared toFT’s and The Guardian’s), and also compared to the expertise of LSE. There are two theses I intend to disprove. The first one is that there is a rise of nationalism in Croatia and that it is directly related to the country’s accession to the EU. And the second is that Croatia is to blame for the worsening of relations with Serbia.

Is there a growth of nationalism in Croatia?

The short answer is no. A broader one is that there was an attempt to mobilise it, but tendencies in Croatia are just the opposite to those in already almost all EU members, not taking this for granted, of course. When I came to Croatia exactly a year before it joined the EU with the very goal to follow the process, my first impressions were that there was nationalism in the country, which I termed “healthy”, meaning nationalism of the American type, whose goal is keeping the nation’s spirits high and unifying the population on the subject of the country’s development direction. Croatia is among the youngest states in Europe after it announced its independence from former Yugoslavia with the bloody war to follow. The first years of its life were dedicated on the establishment of institutions, rebuilding of the economy, setting the national goals, and all the other tasks that every newborn state needs to undertake in order to survive and even prosper, which undoubtedly is the Croats’ goal.

The accession on July 1st 2013 fulfilled the second national goal of the Croats after their independence. A period of not having a third national goal followed, thus degrading national unity and entering a period of ideological searching by the two main political players – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Croatia joined the EU under the rule of the left-liberal “Kukuriku” coalition, led by Zoran Milanović. The coalition won the parliamentary elections in the late fall of 2011 thanks to the heavy crisis that the HDZ went into, caused by the corruption scandals surrounding its former boss and PM Ivo Sanader. Following the defeat, the leader’s seat in the party,

which describes itself as a state-building and by default charged with a heavy dose of nationalism, was taken by the dark figure of Tomislav Karamarko.

His winning platform was a return to Tuđmanism, or the so called re-Tuđmanisation, which was a retrograde process of return to authoritarianism, deep conservatism, and of course nationalism, based on a final settling of accounts with Serbia and Serbs in general. While Croatia was battling a heavy economic recession (lasting over six years) and the huge unemployment rate that came with it, mostly in the younger population, the HDZ was busy building the Patriotic coalition, which included the most nationalistic right-wing parties of the country. The coalition managed to win several elections in a row, although the reason for these victories is not nationalism, but something else, as I wrote some time ago. Recession and the receding determination of the government of Zoran Milanović to implement the set reforms, the possibility for a preferential vote, and the presence of good candidates gave the HDZ and the Patriotic coalition victories at two consecutive European Parliament elections, and also at the presidential elections.

The cleanest appearance of the Patriotic coalition as such was at last year’s parliamentary elections, when it finished level with its arch-enemy from the new left-liberal coalition, surrounding Zoran Milanović’s social democrats “Croatia is growing”. Both parties’ plans got disturbed by the newborn political power Most of Independent Lists (MOST NL). The very rise of MOST NL showed that Croats are looking for something different, that they are deeply tired of the pulling of skeletons out of the closet, nationalism, Ustaša and Communists, and all the rest. They want reforms, which can bring them jobs and prosperity. This attitude was even more clearly shown at the snap elections this year. They were brought about after MOST NL and internal strife in the HDZ put an end to Tomislav Karamarko’s attempts at fulfilling in Croatia a Polish-Hungarian scenario of illiberalism, or democratura, as it is termed in the region.

The fall of Tihomir Orešković’s government, in which Karamarko was first deputy PM, also brought about radical changes in the HDZ itself. After a lightning-fast organisation of internal party elections, MEPs came to power in the party. Leader of the party became the vice chair of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, Andrej Plenković, and his closest associates are also MEPs – the member of another influential EP committee – the economic one – Ivana Maletić and Davor Ivo Stier, who rebelled against Karamarko last year by writing an essay on the road the HDZ should take. Plenković lost no time and began clearing the party out of its extreme nationalism. First of all he dealt with the circle around Karamarko, then positioned the party in the centre-right, inserted the EU and its values in the discourse, refused playing Ustaša and Communists, broke the Patriotic coalition and announced that the HDZ will appear solo at the elections, and set an entirely new tone to the political dialogue.

Results were quick to follow. The HDZ alone, without far-right wing nationalist parties won more seats in the Sabor than the Patriotic coalition last year. Besides, at these elections not a single one of the nationalist extreme right parties, which were part of the Patriotic coalition before, managed to step over the election threshold, which is a very clear indicator of Croats’ attitudes. Moreover, the new orientation of the HDZ brought about reforms in the SDP as well, which decided to repeat the Patriotic coalition’s mistake and bet on nationalist rhetoric during the campaign, as The Financial Times andThe Guardian correctly note. Voters, however, punished Zoran Milanović and the SDP itself. There is a campaign ongoing in the party currently for the election of a new leader. There are for now eight candidates, among whom is MEP Tonino Picula. So far it could be inferred from the candidates’ platforms that nationalism is a completely denounced ideology and is not dear to the heart of any of the candidates.

The party’s election loss analysis shows that they see the turn towards nationalism and radical rhetoric as a mistake. It is very true that there were nationalist and Ustaša displays, left non-denounced by the political elite, especially from the HDZ. It is also true that during the short reign of the HDZ-MOST NL coalition government extreme rhetoric turned into the norm and a process of relativisation of crimes and rehabilitation of condemned ideologies began. The elections, however, showed that this does not appeal to Croatian voters. Nationalism in Croatia today, even during Orešković’s government with Minister Hasanbegović in it, is far less nationalist than in a number of EU states. Incidents against non-Croats (meaning Serbs) have not increased in number, which does not mean that the Croatian state does everything necessary to prosecute violations.

The situation in Croatia, despite the peak from the start of the year is far calmer than in Great Britain for example, where a MP was murdered a week before the June 23 referendum and there were also attacks against Poles for example. One of the reasons for such calmness in Croatia is the media environment, which is deeply critical to any display of nationalism and attempt at rehabilitation of crimes and perpetrators.

Who is to blame for bad Croatian-Serbian relations?​

In the spring of 2012, before I moved to Zagreb, I went to Belgrade to cover the campaign for the parliamentary and presidential elections there, won by the new clothes of radicals – The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) with leader Aleksandar Vučić. During the campaign, the party’s presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolić did the first of a line of provocations of the former (really?) radicals by stating in an interview for a German newspaper that Vukovar is a Serbian town. It is possible that Zagreb’s cautious reaction at the time was prompted by the need for not having EU membership overshadowed by a regional problem. The Croatian president at the time, Ivo Josipović, announced that he would not meet Nikolić until the latter apologised. This never happened, but the two of them met anyway as part of the persistent efforts for a warm-up of relations during the rule of Zoran Milanović both before the accession and after it happened.

The culmination of this warm-up was the apology of deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić for the bombing of Dubrovnik. This happened during the Croatia Forum in the town in July of 2014. Despite some temporary quarrels, the former administration kept really good relations with Belgrade authorities. The refugee crisis turned out to be a large challenge to relations between the two states, even leading to trade wars. At the time, PM Zoran Milanović was leading a circle defence against all Croatia’s neighbours, a large portion of which was due to the preparations for the parliamentary elections several months later.

Anyway, no one in Croatia crossed the thin red line as did Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić when he recently admitted during the visit of European Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, that the situation a year ago was at the brink of an armed conflict. A thing that never passed through the mind of anyone in Croatia, then or now. This came as a surprise to many, as it revealed what passed through the minds of Serbian authorities, trying to present themselves to Europe as fully reformed and completely disengaged from their radical past.

When evaluating Serbian-Croatian relations, there are some more worrying facts that need to be taken into consideration. Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić continuously talks about him fighting for stability in the region, but it is not always certain that he is working for that. One of the largest provocations, done by his government is the organisation of the military parade two years ago to honour Russian President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the liberation of Belgrade from the Fascists and the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Croatia replied by marking with another military parade the following year the 20-year anniversary of operation “Storm”, which Croatia regained its territorial integrity with.

And while Aleksandar Vučić positioned himself as a mature and fully transformed leader, his Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin works as a mouthpiece on neighbourly relations, often resorting to a tone and vocabulary which are completely incompatible with the claims of the government that it wishes good and pragmatic relations with Zagreb. Opposite to Croatia, where this is a field for marginals, to Serbia the relativisation of crimes and the rehabilitation of even such figures as Slobodan Milošević is official policy.

It is without doubt that in Croatia, especially during the campaign for the latest elections, nationalism and radical rhetoric took central stage, but democracy in the country this summer went to a higher level and it can now be said that it is mature enough to be able to cleanse itself of such phenomena. The appearance of MOST NL unleashed a long overdue process of reforms in the two largest political parties. After the “nationalistic” HDZ took a firm pro-European course and positioned itself in the centre-right, there is currently a real democratic battle running for the leader’s post in the SDP, due to the intention of the long-standing leader Zoran Milanović to step down. There are currently eight nominations announced for the post, one of which is again of a MEP – former foreign minister Tonino Picula. Radical and nationalist rhetoric is not dear to any of them, as is evident from their statements so far.

Despite some veering and the peak of revisionism and nationalism since the start of the year, you could safely say that democracy in Croatia is robust and going in the right direction. There is not a single party in Croatia to have considerable supremacy over the rest or which has nationalist ideology. Authorities always have solid opposition which is able to present an alternative. Something, which was even admitted by Garry Kasparov recently when he said that Croatian democracy is in an even better shape than the American one. A huge credit for this is due to Croatian media environment, which, despite the very legitimate remarks in the report of a group of international organisations of this year, fulfils its functions of public conscience and a corrector of the political elite. The most-read media and the most popular journalists in unison denounced any case of radical manifestations and urged the state elite to also denounce them and fulfil its obligations by punishing and preventing them. By this I do not mean there is no more work to be done. On the contrary. Croatia has a lot to do on settling its own accounts with its past – both the recent and the more distant one.

The situation in neighbouring Serbia is the exact opposite. Opposition in the country is currently almost non-existent. It is too weak and divided to present a realistic alternative and thus a corrective to the government. This is due to a large extent to the media environment, occupied by tabloids, which are said to be close to PM Vučić. When they are not busy denouncing the Croats, they spend day and night spitting on any possible opposition to Mr Vučić and his government. Last year, during the trade wars, you could see on the front pages of many tabloids such words aimed at PM Zoran Milanović and Croats in general, which would make even Donald Trump blush. As Veselin Simonović recently wrote for Blic, the tabloids’ reign will continue until Vučić says “enough”.

He does not, however, see any reason to do so, because he thinks the EU is on his side. The Serbian PM said this directly during the visit of Commissioner Hahn to Belgrade in the beginning of September, when the Serbian government complained of Croatia’s behaviour. Serbia knows very well that it is important to the EU in the geopolitical re-distribution currently going on. The opening of negotiation chapters 23 and 24 for Serbia are a large domestic politics victory, but is also perceived as another victory in the never ending conflict with Croatia. And in this sense, I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Mason in The Guardian, in whose opinion Europe has much more to do in the Balkans. As I wrote myself, a key role is attributable to European political parties, which often remain silent about objectionable behaviour by members of theirs. The EPP kept  silent about Orbán, and Karamarko, and Borissov, and is probably going to do the same about Vučić’s napredniaks, who expect to be accepted to the EPP this autumn.

For the sake of Balkans stability, it is extremely important to be careful when blame is thrown for one thing or another. European integration has always had a geopolitical element, but the experience of recent decades teaches us that while it is unlikely that this will ever cease, it should not be at the expense of the transformation process. In a long term plan, it is very important to the survival of the Union itself that it is joined by robust democracies with a healthy media environment, for otherwise the very foundations of the Union are being undermined, as is quite clearly demonstrated by the example of Hungary and Poland.

The Financial Times and The Guardian, as well as all the rest have an important role in this sense. In the Balkans, and in small countries in general, it is very important what the large ones say. Large media as well. The texts in both newspapers are correct, but they are several months too late and thus missing the extremely important changes, which are happening on the Croatian political scene. Should these processes complete successfully, perhaps the country’s direction will be irreversible and will serve as a good example in the battle with current phenomena in Europe, which, apart from being aimed against the EU, are often pointed against democracy as well. The processes in

Croatia disprove the claim that accession to the EU has unleashed nationalistic sentiments. On the contrary, thanks to the EU Croatia is headed in a positive direction. Leading the possible next ruling party are MEPs. It could happen that at the lead of the other large party as well will stand a MEP, automatically transferring the Brussels political culture to the domestic scene.

If there is a problem anywhere, it is in Serbia and it should be addressed in the most decisive manner in the name of the wellbeing of Serbian citizens, as well as of the peace in the region and in Europe. The EU must do everything in its power to avoid the raising of another democratura in its backyard, and for this to happen it is very important that media and analysts be precise in their assessments of what is happening and in the distribution of responsibility.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Is Nationalism Growing in Croatia?

Croatian-Serbian Relations Cannot Stand Even a Movie

Adelina Marini

The big movie-event of the year in the region is the Croatian film “The Constitution” (original title “Ustav Republike Hrvatske”), the screenplay of which is written by the well-known Croatian writer Ante Tomić and Rajko Grlić. The movie is advertised as “A love story about hatred”. Of course, it deals with the Serbian-Croatian relations, told in the typical for the region comedy movie style. The plot is based on a true story. It reveals Croatian intolerance, prejudice, and hatred for the different, according to the movie’s promo. Before even being shown in the region, the movie has already won the Grand Prix of the Americas for best film at the Montreal World Film Festival. The film’s premiere will be a regional one – Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Belgrade – in the beginning of October, but is already causing problems between neighbours.

According to the Croatian Vecernji list, Belgrade does not dare show the film. A month before the premiere in Serbia and Montenegro, Serbian distributor Blitz has refused the distribution for this region. The explanation is of a non-commercial character, reports the newspaper. “If the poster is provocative, so should it be, for otherwise it means we have failed the campaign”, says producer Ivan Maloča. Director Rajko Grlić refuses to comment on the situation, but is surprised, because the distribution contract was signed before the summer, so most probably the problem is in the poster, which only says “The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia in Serbia from October 20″.

Grlić announced, however, that thanks to the international acclaim and the quality of the movie a new distributor has been found in the last minute. “Regarding the poster, its goal is attracting attention and of course it will become evident very quickly that it is about the movie of Rajko Grlić”, reports Vecernji. The movie’s trailer with English subtitles can be seen in the attached video file.

Dodik is a winner, Vučić is angry

Day four after the illegal referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The subject continues to grasp the attention of media in the region. In a commentary for the Croatian Novi list, Tihomir Ponoš writes that Milorad Dodik is the winner in this referendum. “The main reason for his victory is not his strength, but rather the weakness of others. Dodik simply used the fact that nobody is interested in Bosnia and Herzegovina or, at least, it is not high on the priorities’ list and while it is so Dodik will continue to be able to play around and run referenda in the future, as he already announced”, writes the author. “He is fully aware that in his fief no one could do anything to him, not because one cannot do it, but because they do not wish to at the moment”, continues Tihomir Ponoš.

Serbian Blic in turn reports that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić is mad at Dodik because of his stubbornness and his resistance to the influential international community. The newspaper talked to analysts, who believe that in the name of strategic goals, regional stability, but also his own rating, Vučić will swallow his rage against Dodik. Vučić did not hide his current position on the issue in an interview for the Italian La Repubblica: “Take a look at the referendum-ish Bosnia – Bosnian Serbs claim to be for the EU, but talk about Bosniaks in the worst possible manner”, said the Serbian PM for the Italian daily. Emotions between Dodik and Vučić could rather be described as political disappointment than anger or wounded vanity, thinks Bojan Klačar of Cesid.

Dragomir Anđelković, too, does not expect a large confrontation. “I believe Vučić is a rational politician and I doubt he will confront Dodik. If he does so, he would deal himself political damage, for a large portion of his constituents are nationally oriented and hold Dodik in good regard. On the other hand, Dodik too has no reason to confront Serbia”, says Anđelković forBlic. “If the Prime Minister is truly angry, it is because Dodik took away from him the control, which Vučić often demonstrated publicly, building special relations with leaders in Republika Srpska”, is the opinion of the director of the Centre for Regionalism Aleksandar Popov.

Vecernje novosti reports on page one that there are already two new requests for referenda in the region.“They had not even counted the votes yet in the Republika Srpska, when in the very same day Nenad Čanak and Hashim Thaçi spilled oil on the burning Balkan hotplate”, writes the newspaper clarifying that the leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina Nenad Čanak got mad at the statement of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić that the referendum in RS demonstrated the will of the population and should not be left just on paper. “If the legal ruling of the highest judicial institutions of a sovereign state could be overthrown with referenda, organised in a part of the state’s territory, then we propose that a referendum is held in Vojvodina”, said Čanak.

A possible question would be “Do the citizens accept the shameful ruling of the Constitutional Court of Serbia from two years ago for the removal of Vojvodina’s statute, thus disallowing Novi sad to be our capital?”, quotes himVecernje novosti. And in Kosovo the MP from Hashim Thaçi’s Democratic Party of Kosovo Nait Hasani stated that the constitutional right to adopt a law should be used and a referendum should be organised on unification with Albania.

Sarajevo’s Dnevni avaz runs on page one the ten sins of Prosecutor General Goran Salihović, who was suspended on Wednesday in a procedure for violations. The procedure was initiated after Salihović called the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik to a hearing regarding the referendum in the Serbian part of BiH. According to Avaz, Salihović’s sins are: leaking evidence on important cases; ostentatious arrests with no evidence, groundless prosecution of MPs; deliberately providing false or manipulated information; unmeasured contacts and interference in the work of judges and prosecutors; granting immunity and protection to criminals; obstructing the implementation of reforms for years; starting a war with the OSCE to cover his tracks; buying a property for 200 000 KM and spending money from IPA funds; prosecution of army veterans from Srebrenica; continuous pressure on media.

Đukanović misunderstood the EU about media

Milo Đukanović, who presents himself as the only Euro-Atlantic leader in Montenegro, seems to have not understood well the EU recommendations about media, as it becomes clear from the latest scandal in the country. Montenegrin Vijesti reports that Đukanović’s party DPS calls for a punishment for the anchor from the Montenegrin public television Vukoman Leković for allowing during a pre-election debate for one of the participants to hand a pair of handcuffs to the DPS representative with the message that they are to be given to Milo Đukanović. The handcuffs were handed by the MP candidate of the opposition Democratic Front Marko Milačić, despite repeated demands by the anchor to get back to his seat. Following the incident the Montenegrin RTCG television sent apologies to Marta Šćepanović of the DPS for the inconvenience caused, but states it holds no responsibility for what happened.

Vijesti reports, however, that an apology is not enough to the DPS, they demand sanctions. “Instead of an apology from the Council of the RTCG, as well as the director general of the public service, I expect that specific steps are taken, so that within their powers they sanction those who allowed this drastic violation of media rules for parliamentary elections”, stated Šćepanović. She claims that the television is practically an accessory to Leković in the “unprecedented humiliation” of RTCG.

Could the Deutsche Bank crisis endanger European finances?

This is the headline on page one of today’s edition of the Serbian Politika. The newspaper reports on the financial problems of the largest German bank and writes that it is difficult to forecast all the consequences, but the worst-case scenario is a second eruption of the bank crisis in the euro area. “We are talking about the largest European commercial bank, which is of systemic importance, for changes in such banks have influence on the entire global banking system and the greatest consequences could be for the banking sector in the EU”, Boško Živković, professor in the Belgrade Economic Institute, told Politika.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in Croatia, SerbiaComments Off on Croatian-Serbian Relations Cannot Stand Even a Movie

Will There Be a War in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Adelina Marini

It is no longer funny, nor exotic, but very real – there will be a referendum in Republika Srpska (RS) of Bosnia and Herzegovina and this, alas, already brings sabre rattling. Concern is growing in Croatia, but also disappointment with the inactivity of politicians, media hysteria is developing in Serbia with feeble attempts to harness them, and Bosnian media are already crying in terror and bringing out photos from the time of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, begging politicians to stop talking about war. In Croatian media, the subject of the upcoming referendum is not on the front pages, but there are numerous commentaries and news articles dedicated to it. “Republika Srpska would like to copy Crimea, but does not have Serbia’s support”, is the headline of a commentary in Vecernji list. However, in the last few days, especially following the threats by Sefer Halilović, there is a feeling being created that BiH is at the brink of war, firearms are being pulled out of storage on both sides, such development is not very likely, writes the newspaper.

According to Vecernji, similarities between the Crimea referendum and the Republika Srpska one are more than obvious. RS is populated mainly by ethnic Serbs, just like the majority of Crimea’s population is of Russian nationality. The larger part of the Serbian population in RS would like to join Serbia. Vladimir Putin, who carried out the annexation of Crimea, does not mind the Republika Srpska referendum at all, as opposed to the rest of the players at the international political scene, including the USA and the EU, but also Croatia, and even Serbia, further comments Vecernji.

In a commentary for Novi list Boris Pavelić sends out sharp criticism against authorities in Croatia for the loss of influence in BiH. “Amateurishly late, disappointingly inadequate: only after the army commander of BiH Sefer Halilović worryingly warned that Dodik’s Sunday referendum will destroy the post-Dayton peace and pull BiH back into the time before Dayton was signed, meaning in a state of war, Croatia begins to worry about the crisis, which has for weeks been threatening with a regional escalation, the like of which we have not seen in the last two decades of peace”, writes Pavelić and asks: “How is it possible for Croatian authorities to monitor with such laconic leisure the biggest deterioration of the regional political situation over the last two decades, because of which BiH quite literally has been brought to the very brink of armed conflicts?”. Those responsible for the situation, according to the columnist, are the governments of Milanović and Orešković, led by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

Bosnian powder keg” is the headline of a  text in tportal by Ante Srzić, who gathers opinions from analysts. According to the professor from the Philosophy University in Sarajevo Enver Kazaz, there will be no war in BiH, for it is an overly expensive toy. “The commemoration of January 9th preserves the ideological legacy of the war chiefs of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. Instead of speaking in this sense about an ideological crisis, Sefer Halilović, with his militaristic statement, gives arguments to new hysterics”, believes Kazaz. Senada Šelo Šabić from the Institute for Development and International Relations in Zagreb says she literally trembled when she saw in the morning the headlines, talking about a possible armed conflict in BiH and that Serbia will protect RS and Croatia wants protection for the Croats in BiH. She expects the situation will calm down after the elections and the referendum, but Dodik managed to achieve his goals, namely strengthening his position for the local elections, she believes.

She adds that Dodik has good partners, who are ready to immediately join the game. First of all this is Bakir Izetbegović, but also Aleksandar Vučić and Ivica Dačić. The problem, according to Senada Šelo Šabić, is that even if the situation calms down now, at some point something will happen. The question is who is capable of stopping the free fall. Alas, she told tportal, the EU is incapable of this, regardless of the decision to accept BiH’s application for membership. The question is which moment of the deterioration of the situation will force the international community into action.

Media tension in Serbia is considerably higher. The state-owned TV channel RTS aired an interview with the famous Serbian director Emir Kusturica (born in Sarajevo), according to whom the referendum for the Day of RS is not about the date, but about freedom and the preservation of “our culture”. In his opinion, there are constant attempts at causing RS to disappear and the current situation demonstrates just that, he says. Most tabloids shout from their front pages about the threat of a new war and the state elite helpfully states that the Serbian people will be protected. There needs to be an end to this, urges Veselin Simonović from the pages of Blic. “Over the last few days I have had the editor-in-chief of one of the dailies, complaining that he cannot deal with the competition, which incites war for what could he put on page one that would be stronger”, writes the columnist.

He said that he advised him to put on page one ”People, there will be no war!” The headline, he writes, is tabloidic enough, but offers something different than what the competition is offering. The most important thing is that it is true, says Veselin Simonović. In his opinion, the biggest warmongers are media, which are closest to the authorities and their jubilation will be endless until their chief – Aleksandar Vučić – continues to be the reformed Vučić of five years ago. In the author’s opinion, Vučić, as well as the rest of the leaders from the region, find it fitting to constantly keep the fire on international tension.

Serbian Danas quotes the words of President Tomislav Nikolić, who is happy that NATO has finally understood that one of its generals should not interfere with the relations between other countries and should not rattle the sabre. Word is of the statement of general Petr Pavel that the Balkans are still a potential source of armed conflicts and his call that NATO prepares to defend its members. “We know that NATO has guns, there is no need for anyone reminding us, we just want to know whether or not it is prepared to use it senselessly and needlessly, with no justification”, said Nikolić. In his words, there is not a man alive, who would want to wage war. “They will no longer find a counterpart for war in Serbia, just for peace and good 

relations. Anyway, anything is possible and there always needs to be consideration of the existence of some hothead” is Danas’s quote of the Serbian head of state. 

Večernje novosti comes up on its cover page today with the statement that Sarajevo is preparing a new provocation against Serbia, namely a new genocide indictment.

In media of BiH itself there are more frequently texts, sharing memories of the war and appealing that an end is put to militant rhetoric. In Novi Indira Kriještorac, who was three years old in 1992, urges Halilović, Vučić, Dačić, Dodik, and Izetbegović to stop speaking on behalf of the young generation, for it does not wish to wage war. “We want jobs, we want to live”, she writes and turns towards media: “Dear fellow journalists – Serbian, but also ‘our domestic’ ones – either inform correctly, or do nothing at all. I know that, as our mutual colleague, Belgrade resident Dejan Kožul says, blood sells newspapers – but let’s have at least a little professionalism, ethics, a code for all that is not Fascism and not a shame”. In the end of her text the author urges all politicians, if they have nothing smart to say, to get lost and take their war with them.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on Will There Be a War in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

A Strong pro-European Party Has Won Elections in Croatia

Adelina Marini

Croatia made an unbelievable U-turn in less than a year. In the beginning of 2016, when the coalition government of Tihomir Orešković was formed three months after the elections, it looked like another member state is being Orbán-ised. Almost nine months later the situation looks completely different – Croatia has Europeanised. And all this due to one and the same party – the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which under the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko made a sharp turn to the extreme right-wing, raised the tension in the country and the region, endangered Croatia’s fragile democracy, and threatened media. As a result of intra-coalition pressure and intra-party rebellion, the HDZ has a new leader since the summer – MEP Andrej Plenković. Under his leadership the HDZ is now a centre-right party with a pronounced pro-European attitude.

And the result came swiftly. Last year, the HDZ ran in the elections as a part of the Patriotic coalition, which included several far-right wing and conservative parties. Back then, the coalition won 59 seats. This year the party announced that it will run on its own in the elections, appearing with partners in some regions of the country. The result is better – 61 seats. Tomislav Karamarko left the party in ruins, with a far lower rating than its main opponent – The Social Democratic Party (SDP). Back in June, the HDZ’s chances of winning the elections on September 11 seemed non-existent. Two and a half months later the HDZ has not only caught up with its competitor, but also improved on its own result from last year with moderate speech and avoiding confrontation.

During the campaign, the main criticism aimed at Andrej Plenković was that he is not representative of the party, which continues to be far-right wing and nationalistic, that he has no experience, that he has lived abroad for too long and thus is not aware of Croatian problems, that he is a Brussels bureaucrat. With his victory Mr Plenković asserted himself as party leader and turned out right in his guess that the centre-right is fertile ground. In his address to voters after midnight of September 12 Andrej Plenković promised that the government with HDZ participation will work for the European orientation of the country. Furthermore, he stated that the subjects raised by high-ranking EPP officials during the campaign, like the leader Joseph Daul, Manfred Weber, Elmar Brok, Antonio Tajani, and Doris Pack are our subjects, Croatian subjects, but also European subjects. The party’s priorities are institutional stability, legal certainty, economic growth, social justice, and solidarity.

The HDZ’s new clothes

Then again, it is yet to be seen if the transformation of HDZ will continue, or it will remain just an engine for winning elections. An important indicator for the attitudes of the party’s voters was preferential voting. It showed a considerable growth of support for the controversial figure of the incumbent Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović, who was placed third on the list for the Second voting region, but won the most preferential votes – 17.8% and thus overtook the list’s leader Ivana Maletić, (rumoured to be the next finance minister), who got 16.24% of the votes in the region.

Mr Hasanbegović’s growth is considerable, compared to last year, when he was ranked 9th in the Sixth voting region and received just 1.33% of the preferential votes. It is obvious that the scandals surrounding his views on the Ustaša regime and the Croatian Independent State (HND) have brought him gain. Last on this list was the ex-grey cardinal from the time of Tomislav Karamarko – Milijan Brkić, whose name was linked to a plagiarism scandal. Preferential votes put him in third place on the list by 13.91%. The elections showed, however, that many of the new and young faces of the HDZ are  recognisable and received sizable support, including the incumbent Finance Minister Zdravko Marić.

The transformation cost the HDZ one of the three seats that are allocated for the diaspora. Usually all three go to the HDZ, but this year one of the three went to the independent list of retired general Željko Glasnović, after the general split from the HDZ.

Milanović lost, repeating Karamarko’s mistakes

The biggest loser at these elections undoubtedly is Zoran Milanović who, despite being a Social Democrat, bet on far-right rhetoric, on scandal, on conflict, and in the end lost. Last year, his party ran in the elections as part of the “Croatia is Growing” coalition, which combined left-wing and liberal parties. This year, the former prime minister ran with the People’s Coalition, which has the same contents like last year’s, but with one more addition – the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), which was part of the Patriotic coalition last year. After the elections of November 8th 2015 “Croatia is Growing” got 56 seats. This year the People’s coalition managed to win 54 seats.

Although it does not seem to be that much lower, the result is in fact catastrophic, because SDP & Co missed a huge opportunity – they did not manage to capitalise on the HDZ-s failure in the 6-month governing of Tihomir Orešković, underestimated the reformist drive in the HDZ and bet on the same thing that brought a loss to Tomislav Karamarko back in the previous elections – nationalist rhetoric and scandal. Before Andrej Plenković was elected leader of the HDZ Zoran Milanović was aiming straight for the political centre. After his first pre-election debate with his former colleague from the Croatian foreign ministry, however, he decided to take Karamarko’s course and made a mistake. The big question after the election is whether Zoran Milanović will resign after almost 10 years at the helm of the SDP and will clear the way, as the HDZ did, for a transformation of his party, or will he wait and see how the negotiations will go for the formation of a government, hoping to survive*.

Last night, with over 70% of all ballots counted, Mr Milanović  addressed his supporters admitting that the result is disappointing and stated that now everyone will have to find an answer to the question “why”. To him, the biggest problem is low voting turnout – 52.59%. At the previous elections 60.82% of eligible voters appeared at the polling stations. He underlined that now is the time for politicians to denounce their egotism and gloating and start working for the benefit of the country. Many interpreted this statement as a statement of willingness for the creation of a wide coalition. His words made it clear that he is willing to quit the race for the Prime Minister seat.

Bridge loses support, but no self-confidence

The big winner of last year’s elections – Bridge of independent lists (Most NL) – again finished as third political power, but with some losses. Last year, the party won 19 seats and turned into the most important political factor in the country. Actually, they were the only ones describing themselves as a herald of change. After the HDZ transformation, however, Most NL were no longer the only peddlers of change and voters showed them that by giving them just 13 seats in parliament. Despite the loss, the party does not give up its strong, or even headstrong, course of action. It based its campaign over the last days and weeks on seven conditions for participation in negotiations for the formation of a government. All seven of those include adoption of draft legislation of theirs even before the formation of the new government. To Most NL this will be a guarantee that they can work with anyone who accepts their conditions.

A little past midnight, the usually meek and composed leader of the party Božo Petrov appeared in front of media in a perceivably heavy emotional state. He looked disappointed and even nervous, his voice was shaking while he was sending an ultimatum to all political parties and the journalists including. He said that the seven conditions are on the table and until they are accepted no one needs to bother them for anything. He asked that over the next five days journalists, too, should not bother them about anything, for they have nothing further to say. There was a note of aggressiveness, too, in his voice.

The big surprise – the Only Option

The fourth political power at these elections is the Only Option – a coalition of parties surrounding the protest movement Live Wall led by the young Ivan Vilibor Sinčić. They won a total of eight seats, which makes them appealing for negotiations. Last year Live Wall managed to get only one seat in parliament. The problem with Only Option is that Live Wall is an anti-establishment and anti-European party, which wants Croatia out of the EU and NATO. The party believes that the current neoliberal economic model has failed. It presents itself as a humanist party, which is neither left, nor right, centre, liberal, or conservative.

Its success should not be treated as a victory of Euroscepticism in Croatia, for the main engine of Live Wall is the fight against the eviction of people, who are unable to pay their mortgages, the so called deložacija. A part of the Only Option coalition is also the movement, which fought successfully for the conversion of credits from Swiss Francs to euro. Their battle against banks and their success last year with the conversion of credits is the more probable reason for the growth of Live Wall.

From a Coalition for Premier to a Coalition for Staying in Parliament

Despite large advertising spending, Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić did not manage to overstep his achievement from last year, when he won two seats by himself. This year, he appeared together with several other political fragments, but all of them together again managed just two seats. Milan Bandić led a coalition with the ambitious and unambiguous name “Coalition for Prime Minister”. As counting of votes advanced last night, however, members of the coalition kept repeating the same line to the death – “To us, the important thing is that we remained a parliamentary presented party”.

A coarse display by the president

Voting in general went with no sizable problem with the exception of the big scandal, caused by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. Despite explicit warnings by the Croatian Central Elections Commission not to use mobile phones during voting and not to take pictures, Mrs Grabar-Kitarović was pictured photographing her ballot. This caused sharp criticism in Croatian media, which reminded that despite not having this issue dealt with by law, the head of state is expected to be an example of following the rules, instead of pretending they do not apply to her. The presidency refused any comment on this, but this case is one more black spot in her presidential biography.

What is next?

Regardless of its huge success, the HDZ does not have the necessary majority of 76 MPs in parliament. Last night the leader Andrej Plenković stated that the HDZ will make a coalition only with parties that share the views and worldviews of HDZ. Most NL falls into this category, but their non-constructive approach bodes a long period of negotiation and uncertainty. Analysts forecast that Most NL’s hardheadedness could drive the two large parties towards a wide coalition, which after last night’s statement by Zoran Milanović seems less and less impossible, and furthermore the platforms of the HDZ and the People’s coalition are quite close. Zoran Milanović has positioned himself as an even more avid Eurosceptic during the campaign than he was before, but this is not a foundation of his party at all, but rather a pre-election weapon. So the question in Croatia continues to be a Spanish or an Irish scenario

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in CroatiaComments Off on A Strong pro-European Party Has Won Elections in Croatia

Shoah’s pages


June 2017
« May