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Is Nationalism Growing in Croatia?

NOVANEWS
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, Serbia0 Comments

Croatian-Serbian Relations Cannot Stand Even a Movie

NOVANEWS
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, Serbia0 Comments

Will There Be a War in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

NOVANEWS
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 Croatia0 Comments

A Strong pro-European Party Has Won Elections in Croatia

NOVANEWS
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

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Milanović Stepping Down Is a Major Topic in Regional Press

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

Results of the snap elections in Croatia of September 11 are the leading subject for media in the region of former Yugoslavia. For most media the main piece of news is the announced stepping down of former Prime Minister Zoran Milanović from the leader’s seat in the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In a commentary for Jutarnji list, Nino Đula writes that the SDP lost the elections the moment it gave Milanović another term. The Vecernji list correspondent to Brussels, Tomislav Krasnec, writes in an analysis that Zoran Milanović lost due to Serbian votes. The journalist quotes his own sources from the party, who made telephone polls with voters from regions with predominantly Serbian population and many of them stated they would not vote for Zoran Milanović this time because of his statements that his grandfather was an Ustaša and because of him calling the Serbian people “a bunch of weaklings”.

The newspaper reports that 106 thousand less people voted for the People’ coalition, compared to last year’s elections, while losses for the HDZ are 64 thousand. In other words, SDP voters have decreased to 86.68% of last year’s result of the party, while the HDZ got the votes of 91.4% of the voters, who supported them last year. Rijeka’sNovi list, which traditionally supports the SDP, writes in a sharp commentary that the biggest loser in these elections is namely Zoran Milanović. “Plenković did not beat Milanović, but Milanović – and this is nothing new – is his own greatest enemy and these elections confirmed that. The mama-doctor, grandpa-Ustaša, and a bunch of weaklings would never have come to the minds of the HDZ headquarters, the paid marketing agencies, and opinion leaders, who worked on behalf of Plenković, Milanović stuck a knife in his own back”, concludes Branko Mijić in Novi list.

“Loser” is the headline of an article in the Bosnian Dnevni avaz, which says that whenever someone forcibly pushes forward snap elections and then loses them, the only option left to him is resignation. The newspaper obviously advocates for a wide coalition between the SDP and HDZ, which without Milanović will be not just possible but beneficial for the region. “At a time when Europe is boiling, when relations between Balkan neighbours are getting more and more tense, a wide coalition between the SDP and the HDZ in Croatia would be one more step towards stabilisation”, writes the Bosnian daily.

Serbian analyst from the Centre for Foreign Policy Aleksandra Joksimović  believes that a possible government headed by the HDZ is the most acceptable option for Serbia, reports Serbian Blic, for if could bring a release of tension between Zagreb and Belgrade. “Grabar-Kitarović [president of Croatia] and Plenković have known each other long and are able to establish cooperation. If a moderate foreign minister is found in this triangle, I think things could progress to lessening of tension, most of all between Belgrade and Zagreb, which in turn will open a possibility for additional cooperation”, believes the analyst.

Some Croatian media, however, are concerned about having too long coalition negotiations. tportal reports, that the budget for next year is already late. “As things stand at the moment, we can once more expect arduous negotiations for the formation of a government. Should the situation of the previous elections be repeated, the entire process could take more than two months, which means that we can reasonably expect a new government somewhere in the beginning of December”, writes the online medium. Keeping in mind that these elections were held outside of usual timeframes, the procedure for the drafting of the budget is already running late. Marina Tkalec, expert in the Economic institute, is quoted by tportal in soothing that there is no problem. “Our public finances have never been better, thanks to the  interim government, which is doing an excellent job”, she claims.

At the same time, Jutarnji quotes Croatian analysts, who are glad of the possibility that incumbent Finance Minister Zdravko Marić could keep his seat. “Concerning public finances, Zdravko Marić as minister is the best news of these elections”, claims his predecessor from the SDP Boris Lalovac. “The fact that the government will be entered by at least two excellent specialists – Zdravko Marić and Ivana Maletić – is a very loud and clear signal that high quality will be looked for in ministers for the new government”, writes the newspaper. The Economic institute analyst Maruška Vizek is critical. In her opinion, no large reforms could be expected from the new government. It is difficult to expect that exactly a HDZ cabinet will start an administration reform, or a reform of the governance of state assets and state owned enterprises.

The EU fears enlargement

The Jutarnji list correspondent to Brussels, Augustin Palokaj, writes in an  analysis today that the EU will attempt to show it is just as engaged in its enlargement, for it believes it a guarantee for long lasting peace. Enlargement should not be viewed solely in terms of finances and economics, he says. The problem is that none of the rich and developed states like Norway, Switzerland, or Iceland wish to get in the Union, while there are mainly fragile and poor countries from the Balkans and Turkey heading for it.“The very thought that any of these states could soon be an EU member causes fear in some Western diplomats, cynical laughter in others, and most are attempting to diplomatically make the impression that the process continues, that nothing is changing, and that every state that wishes so will enter the EU the moment it complies with the prerequisites and when member states agree.”

Palokaj further writes that it is expected that on September 20th the Union’s foreign ministers will show a green light for Bosnia and Herzegovina receiving a candidate state status. The curious thing is, he writes, that this will happen at the same time when there will be a referendum held in Republika Srpska, which many believe will lead to the future secession of this entity. “The EU wants, right at a time of fear of a possible impact of the RS referendum over the stability of BiH, to send positive messages for progress on the way towards the EU”, continues the journalist for Jutarnji.

In Serbia, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić protested against a statement by the German State Minister for Europe Michael Roth during a lecture in the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, that if Serbia is firmly set on being a part of the EU and not Russia, Germany will support it in this direction. This, however, does not mean that Serbia should sever its historical, cultural and economic, or political ties with countries like Russia, he also said, quoted by the Serbian national television RTS. “Roth’s words are inappropriate and offensive”, reacted Mr Dačić. “Serbia and Russia are traditional friends, but when did Serbia express any intention of being a part of Russia? What is this vulgarisation of Serbia’s foreign relations?”, asked Dačić, quoted by the RTS.

Macedonia with new requirements

Macedonian Utrinski vesnik reports that this year’s progress reports on candidate states will once again be published late – on November 9th. It is expected that in the report on Macedonia the European Commission will recommend the opening of negotiations for the 8th year in a row, but this will be linked to holding fair elections in December and the implementation of the Przino agreement. Utrinski comments that the EC for the first time hints that it could not recognise the elections in Macedonia if they do not comply with requirements and will not stop just at an assessment of whether the elections are credible or not.

The newspaper says that the date November 9th is not very certain, for to this European Commission EU enlargement is not a main topic, for it is the Commission’s position that there will be no enlargement during its term.

Kristalina Georgieva the new opponent of Vuk Jeremić?

This is the headline of an article in the Serbian Vecernje novosti, in which it is reported that due to quarrels between Berlin and Moscow around the election of a Secretary General to the UN, instead of Irina Bokova, Bulgaria might nominate a different candidate – Kristalina Georgieva. The newspaper writes that the nomination of the EC vice-president is expected today, which means that the Serbian candidate Vuk Jeremić will gain a new opponent. In the fourth round of votes on Sunday Bokova dropped to the fifth position, following Antonio Gutiérrez, Miroslav Lajčák, Vuk Jeremić, and Srgjan Kerim. The newspaper quotes the statement of the spokesperson of the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, that Germany was looking for Moscow’s support for Georgieva’s candidacy during the G20 meeting. Novosti does not report, however, that this statement was denied by official Berlin.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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A Strong pro-European Party Has Won Elections in Croatia

NOVANEWS
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

*By the time this article was translated Mr Milanovic announced he will not run for another term as SDP leader at the upcoming internal party elections

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Spanish or Irish Scenario for Croatia

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini
On September 11th, Croats are once again coming out to vote after last year’s elections produced a strange coalition between a party, turned to the past, and a newly-hatched formation with great ambition for reforms, but with zero experience. Up until a week ago, or even a bit longer, it seemed like the situation from November of last year could be repeated – the two large parties will finish with equal results and will need an accommodating partner for the formation of a coalition. Polls showed that there will be almost the same result as last year, which made many in Croatia forecast a Spanish scenario for the country – a prolonged period of time with no government and elections in a few months.

What about an Irish scenario?

Ireland also produced a draw, but managed to form a government much quicker than Spain. There was a lot of discussion in the country about the formation of a broad coalition between the two largest parties – Fina Gael and Fianna Fail – which did happen, but halfway. Two months after the elections, the two parties signed an agreement that Fina Gael will form a minority government, once again headed by Enda Kenny. Several thousand kilometres to the south-east the subject of a broad coalition was raised a year earlier by the new star on the political horizon – Most of independent lists, who initially demanded that a wide coalition be formed with the two largest parties – the Social Democrats of Zoran Milanović and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of its leader at the time Tomislav Karamarko. Both the SDP and the HDZ refused.

In 2016, the subject is brought up once more, but not by Most. There has been talk about it in media for months, but the two parties adamantly denied such possibility. After HDZ’s bitter experience with Most, the situation might not look as impossible as a year ago. In the beginning of 2016, Most sold dearly their 19 seats in parliament and turned out to be unexpendable to the very end of the government of Tihomir Orešković. This year polls show that they will have less seats, but again will be an unavoidable factor, which drives their price high once more – they put to the table the demand that before a government is formed, parliament must vote several laws, which, to them, are of extreme importance, and only then will they sit at the negotiation table.

As opposed to last year, SDP and HDZ are no longer as aggressive towards Most and are making cautious statements. A Spanish scenario is guaranteed if none of the large parties manages to make a coalition agreement with Most. Before reaching the Irish option, however, a new possibility came up last week with a very fitting name – the Only option. This is a pre-election coalition of new and not so new parties, at the base of which is Live Wall, led by the young Ivan Vilibor Sinčić. At the campaign start, polls showed that the Only option will be at the brink of the election threshold, but because of the failure of SDP and HDZ in proposing something that people really need, Live Wall has almost caught up with Most and it is quite possible it will turn into a key factor in government formation.

This will probably drive the price of Most down, but will also spawn instability of a different character, for Live Wall is a Eurosceptic and anti-establishment party, which, at the previous elections, advocated for Croatia leaving the EU and NATO, for a considerable banking reform, which would deprive the national bank of its independence.

Which is the best option for the EU?

Keeping in mind that it is a make-or-break time for the EU and already in many countries there are anti-establishment and anti-European parties either in power, or already quite powerful, it is of great importance to the EU who will come to power in Croatia, which is situated in a still volatile region. After the HDZ was taken over by its MEPs, the party returned to the founding values of the European People’s Party (EPP) and you can deduct from the statements of its leader Andrej Plenković that if he becomes Prime Minister he would keep Croatia as close to the EU as possible. He plans to rely on key European policies and stated that Croatia needs to follow European rules and be an accommodating and disciplined member.

Former PM Zoran Milanović, who leads the left-liberal-right-wing pre-election People’s coalition has proved to be an even bigger Eurosceptic than he was during his 4-year rule, during which Croatia joined the EU (after a referendum). During this year’s election campaign, though, he went for a sharper tone of voice, in order to set himself apart from Andrej Plenković, who was the subject of too many parallels by media and analysts. During the last debate between the two of them for the Croatian Nova television on Friday evening, Zoran Milanović once more stated that should he become PM, he will implement the measures that are good for Croatia, not the ones Brussels says are good.

He reminded that quite often Brussels gives recipes that turn out to be harmful. “If you listen to Brussels, you will end up like Greece”, he further said, stating that he knows how to deal with Brussels. During this debate the two of them positioned themselves as the man from Brussels, who has lived away from Croatia and knows nothing about governing (Andrej Plenković) and the experienced Prime Minister, who has, however, absolutely no clue as to how the EU functions (Zoran Milanović). Despite that, it is difficult to say that Croats are facing a choice – a pro-European or anti-European government. With this rhetoric it is obvious that Zoran Milanović is trying to discredit Andrej Plenković as a man of Brussels and at the same time moving closer to Live Wall in case he needs to make a coalition with them.

Most of independent lists and its leader Božo Petrov have so far not talked on European subjects, but you can judge by their behaviour that they are pro-European oriented, which means that a possible ruling coalition between them and the HDZ would be very good news for the EU.

Which were the main subjects of the campaign?

An attempt was made for parties to push away from the battle between Ustaša and Partisans, which people are totally fed up with, but the subject was not fully avoided, although it was marginalised. Candidates attempted to lure voters with generous promises for new jobs, more allowances for newly born children, raising pensions and wages. There is an ideological chasm yawning between the People’s coalition and the HDZ regarding taxation policy. The HDZ propose to lower VAT to 23% by the end of their term (from the current 25%), but Zoran Milanović believes this would not result in a tangible rise of the people’s disposable income. He proposes that raising non-taxable income continues. Major arguments sparked around the health reform, education and culture. You can read further details about the programmes of the two largest parties here

The campaign in general was quite lifeless and there were few debates. Leaders’ debates were two and just between the leaders of the HDZ and SDP, with the second debate totally repeating the first one thus turned out to be unnecessary. Anyway, the campaign did not go without scandals. One of the largest ones, which also had international response, was a statement by Zoran Milanović in front of army veterans, which was secretly taped and leaked to media. In it, Milanović called the Serbian people “a bunch of weaklings”, who have the ambition to rule the entire Balkans, pronounced Bosnia and Herzegovina a non-state, and declared there is no one there to talk to. In general, Serbia got positioned as possibly the most important subject of the election campaign, both regarding its European road and the obstacles Croatia placed in front of it and regarding the membership of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of PM Aleksandar Vučić in the EPP. Milanović’s quick tongue got him in a personal argument with Andrej Plenković.

Another large scandal was caused by the interview of Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić, who once again decided to enter national politics after spending almost five terms as mayor of the Croatian capital. His campaign stood out the most, especially in the beginning. The entire country woke up covered in posters, which had one word only #PrimeMinister. Milan Bandić led a coalition, the purpose of which is him becoming a Prime Minister. This is also the name of the coalition – “Coalition for Prime Minister”. The generous spending in his campaign raised a number of questions about where the money came from. This was also a part of the scandal in his interview for the RTL television with journalist Mirjana Hrga. In it, he admitted that the city of Zagreb is financing his campaign, after which he started attacking the journalist.

He picked on her and explained to her that regardless of what she asks him, he will say what he wants. His behaviour reminded the most bitter authoritarianism examples. The interview was widely discussed by Croatian media, but remained with no consequences for the Zagreb mayor, who got arrested several times by the specialised prosecution for battle against corruption, including earlier this year, but no proof of corruption or misuse of public funds was ever found. During his interview for RTL he stated that the moment will come when he will talk about this period of his life (after spending several months in prison).

He could not explain what is currently stopping him from talking about it. The interview must have left a very bad taste to anyone with proper manners and liberal views, and should enter democracy textbooks as an example of how it should not be done. At one point in the campaign polls set Mr Bandić at third spot in the list of probable PMs. Latest polls show that the coalition, led by him, could win considerably more parliament seats than expected.

The campaign ended at midnight on Friday. Croats had a day for thought on Saturday. The first polls are expected at 9 pm (CET) on Sunday. At that time it will become clear what the true attitudes of Croats are. It is quite possible that voting activity will suffer from this repetition of the elections, after quite a few of those viewing Most as the alternative are already disappointed with them.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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The “Balkan spy” Affair Pours Fuel to Fire between Serbia and Croatia

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

A new episode, which could further worsen Serbian – Croatian relations, which have already hit an all-time low since the 1990’s, is the leading subject of Croatian and Serbian media today. Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn joined in the reactions. Today’s press review of media from ex-Yugoslavia continues with the subject of the referendum in Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina, elections in Croatia, an interview with the Russian ambassador to Zagreb, and the visit of Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán to Belgrade. 

Could it be worse?

A new drama exploded between Belgrade and Zagreb on Friday afternoon – the “Balkan spy” affair, as the media on both sides of the border are calling it, based on the title of the Yugoslav film from the 1980’s of the same name. On Friday afternoon the 57-years old Čedo Čolović, who has double citizenship was arrested in Belgrade. Some Croatian media claim that he served in the army of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina in the beginning of the 90’s, but his relatives claim he served in the Yugoslav People’s Army. Following the war with Croatia he moved to live in Serbia. The Serbian prosecution accuses him of espionage on behalf of Croatia. On Sunday, the prosecution asked for a detention order due to risk of escape, Croatian media report.

Over the weekend the affair caused reactions of surprise among Croatian authorities, which qualified the affair as more theatrics, badly directed this time. Everyone in Zagreb agrees that this is not the way to report the apprehension of a spy. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović discarded the claims that the arrested person is a Croatian spy, and Croatian media published over the weekend interviews with Čolović’s relatives and friends, according to whom it was utterly impossible that he was a spy and the whole story was made up. Serbian national television quoted Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojša Stefanović, according to whom upholding the law could in no way endanger relations between Serbia and Croatia. “Should any state attempt to be actively involved in the destruction of our state order, it would only prove that this state has no good intentions towards Serbia”, stated Stefanović.

Serbian Blic publishes the opinion of the renown analyst with the London School of Economics (LSE) James Ker-Lindsay, according to whom Croatia is to blame for the current state of relations between Belgrade and Zagreb. The publication does not make it clear where Mr Ker-Lindsay spoke – whether Blic itself asked him to comment, or did he speak elsewhere. The analyst is quoted in saying that he is disappointed and worried by the relations between Serbia and Croatia. “I believe that the burden of guilt falls to Zagreb. Ever since Croatia joined the EU, there is considerable rise of nationalism in the country”, he claims.

Danas quotes diplomatic sources and reports that the EU is following the espionage affair closely, but it is unrealistic to expect a public reaction from Brussels. Bosnian Klix quotes an interview with Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP), who urges that authorities from the region put an end to verbal attacks. “I fully understand that these are in a time of campaigning, but at the same time during a campaign everyone should be aware that a day will come after the elections when you will have to cooperate.” He did, however, remind candidate states that they, too, have the responsibility to contribute to stability in the region.

Croatia has a Spanish scenario coming

The starting week is the last one before the snap parliamentary elections in Croatia (on September 11), so quite naturally the subject prevails in Croatian media. Jutarnji list publishes an opinion poll, showing that results from the elections will be almost the same as last year, which once more means long negotiations on forming a government and a possibility of a third vote, like in Spain. According to the poll, the People’s coalition would secure a total of 62 seats in Parliament, and the HDZ – 55. An interesting moment in the survey, noted by Jutarnji, is that the HDZ gets just one seat less than last year, despite appearing alone (with no pre-election coalition partners). This means that extremist parties had no great influence on the political right-wing anyway, journalist Ivanka Toma comments.

The left-wing daily newspaper from the city of Rijeka Novi list has a different accent. In his commentary Dražen Ciglenečki writes that this year’s elections will be a test not only for politicians, but the extent of Croatian media’s influence over voters as well. The author claims that since the year 2000 never has a single candidate or a political party received such great media support before elections like the new HDZ leader Andrej Plenković and his party enjoy today. According to Ciglenečki, this is a true phenomenon. Media are virtually competing in showing Mr Plenković in the best possible light, while at the same time besmearing former PM Zoran Milanović.

“Should a foreigner analyse attitudes in Croatian media towards Plenković and Milanović over the last month, they could conclude that the former is the establishment candidate and the latter is some kind of an outsider, who is dangerous to the system and whose victory must be prevented”, writes the columnist. “It is because of just such media behaviour that parliamentary elections are not only a test for the political parties. They are a huge challenge to media influence over voters. Political preferences are as a rule hard set and the majority of citizens don’t switch them from one election to the next”, concludes Dražen Ciglenečki.

The online edition tportal focuses on something euinside too forecasted recently – the fact that following September 11 it is quite possible that there will be new internal party elections in the Social Democratic Party SDP. The edition questions whether Milanović will be followed again as leader to the party by … Milanović, who got re-elected this spring after a fierce battle with Zlatko Komadina. tportal does a review of possible successors of the former PM, amongst whom there is again mention of the name of the former foreign affairs minister and current MEP Tonino Picula.

Media in Croatia today are hard into discussing the video of the coalition surrounding the Eurosceptic, SYRIZA-like party “Live wall”. The video turned into a real hit and the colleagues in Zagreb are uniformly praising it, without necessarily having any sympathies for the party’s ideology.

Russia wishes to join USA’s anti-missile defence system

Croatian Vecernji list publishes today its second interview this summer with the Russian ambassador to the country, Anvar Azimov, who assures that Russia is not a threat, but a partner to the EU. “Russia has never been a threat to the European continent. Quite the opposite – Russia saved Europe in the First and Second World Wars”, states the ambassador and repeats the already well known Moscow theories that it is not Russia that is in a process of expansion, but NATO. “If the anti-missile defence system truly aims at protecting Europe from terrorism, we are prepared to be a part of this system. Besides, we are willing to remove all of our missiles if the missile defence system is not targeted at the Russian Federation”, continues Mr Azimov.

He also claims that Russia supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and believes the Donbas should be part of the Ukraine, but with a special status. Moscow supports Erdoğan, but does not interfere with his domestic affairs, but “Erdoğan, just like Assad in Syria too, was elected president”, is another important thesis in the interview with the Russian ambassador. On the subject of the Balkans, Anvar Azimov states that the region is important to Russia, just as it is to the USA and the EU. He recommends that Croatia does not look at Russia through the prism of its relations with Serbia. In conclusion he announced that those, who imposed sanctions on Russia, will not get away with it after the sanctions are lifted. “Surely, sanctions will end in a year or two and Russia will then begin placing purchase orders for goods, but everyone’s behaviour during the sanctions will be reviewed. In this sense Croatia will not fare well” is the message of the Russian diplomat to Zagreb.

“Think again about the referendum”

Such is the message of Commissioner Johannes Hahn in his interview for Radio Free Europe, quoted by Bosnian media. He stated that he does not wish to interfere on this subject, but expects court rulings, especially ones of the Constitutional court, to be enforced, reports Klix. At the same time from Belgrade, Serbian Internal Affairs Minister Nebojša Stefanović points a finger at the EU High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko, who in an interview for the Serbian Politikastated that going forward with the referendum might have serious consequences for BiH and the region. This could lead to the destabilisation of BiH, thinks Inzko. “The job of Valentin Inzko is ensuring stability in BiH, rather than having his appearances and activities contribute to instability and raising tension”, replied deputy Prime Minister Stefanović.

Orbán in Belgrade

Leading subject to Serbian media today is the visit of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. On this occasion Blic prints a thorough portrait of Mr Orbán, naming him a “controversial politician”, who has known ever since 2010 that Vučić will come to power. Back then, still in his capacity of an opposition leader, he met in Belgrade first with the leadership of the Serbian Progressive Party, instead of first meeting the ruling party in Belgrade, reminds Blic. It presents the Hungarian PM as the man, who turned into the central attention point in the EU because of his attitude towards migrants and his decision to build walls along Hungary’s borders with Croatia and Serbia. Orbán is the first European leader to support Trump, calling him “the better alternative” for the EU than his opponent Hillary Clinton, reports Blic and reminds that Orbán is often nicknamed “little Putin” because of the laws, with which he practically instituted media censorship, because of his monetary policy, and his criticism of the EU.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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Restorers of Milošević Are Waiting for EPP Membership

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini

There are various exciting issues in media in the countries of former Yugoslavia – from the upcoming elections in Croatia and Montenegro, through Islam, to relations with Russia. Leading topic for Croatian media yesterday and today is the postponement of the vote on the application of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić for joining the European People’s Party (EPP). The topic is somehow more prevailing in Croatian media than in Serbian ones and it even became part of the election campaign during the first (and so far only) debate between the leaders of the two largest political parties – Zoran Milanović (SDP, and also leader of the People’s Coalition) and Andrej Plenković (HDZ, which is a member of EPP). The Vecernji list correspondent to Brussels Tomislav Krasnec writes that despite HDZ opposition, Vučić’s party will probably get accepted.

“The party of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, which over past weeks has complained to European institutions with the accusation that there is true anti-Serbian policy being led in Croatia, which publicly compared the Ustaša crimes in Jasenovac to the legitimate “Storm” operation and sent its ministers to exonerate Slobodan Milošević, while at the same time claiming that Croatia is the biggest shame for the EU, is on its way to becoming an EPP member, despite opposition from the HDZ and the formal silence of the HSS – the two Croatian members of this political family”, writes Mr Krasnec. He reports that in the initial agenda the topic of the SNS membership was present, but it was later withdrawn because of the upcoming elections in Croatia.

Vecernji quotes its own sources, according to whom the prevailing position in the EPP is that Vučić and his party are leading a policy, which is in line with the values of the European Peoples’ Party. Germans lobbied intensively for Vučić, and some of them, writes Krasnec, are fully aware of the problematic aspects of Vučić’s past and especially his episodes in the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Šešelj, but over the last few years they have witnessed Vučić and the SNS developing in the right direction and that it is beneficial for Europe that Serbia has a party, which is an EPP member.

Serbian Blic reports that the vote on the SNS membership will be in mid-November. The newspaper quotes the international secretary of the party Jadranka Joksimović, who believes that the HDZ and its leader Andrej Plenković will vote for the acceptance of the party. Yesterday, on Twitter came out outrages by former Croatian Prime Minister and ex-HDZ leader Jadranka Kosor and MEP Ruža Tomašić, who belongs to the family of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), but entered the EP through the list, led by the HDZ. Jadranka Kosor wrote that the EPP will at the end of the day accept Vučić’s party in its ranks. “I would not support this, neither will I send congratulations”. Ruža Tomašić’s reaction was even sharper: “It is natural for EU political families to look for partners in Serbia. What is not natural is that they find a partner in a četnik, who never denounced his četnik background”, goes her tweet.

A new movie on general Gotovina

Croatian Rijeka daily Novi list reveals some, so far, undisclosed details on the hiding of general Ante Gotovina, who was hiding for four years before he was handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and later acquitted of the accusations of war crimes. The newspaper quotes one of the sources of the movie of director Antun Vrdoljak for general Gotovina – his best man Željko Dilber, who admits after years of silence that he had aided the general in hiding in fishermen’s huts and boats in Kornati, Dugi Otok, and Ugljan. Not even the general’s wife knew his whereabouts. After several months in hiding around Croatia the general, aided by his best man, left the borders of Croatia. He was later apprehended in Tenerife.

Croatian foreign ministry answers the threats of the Russian ambassador

The online edition tportal published the reply of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the interview of the Russian ambassador to Croatia Anvar Azimov for Vecernji list on Monday. Answering tportal’s enquiry the ministry states that economic cooperation between Croatia and Russia is a very important segment of bilateral relations, but as an EU member state Croatia is obliged to follow and implement the restrictive measures, levied on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine. The ministry admits that sanctions led to damages to the commercial exchange between the two states, but claims that they are far lower than what was stated by Mr Azimov.

Support for Live Wall is growing

Mere days before the parliamentary elections in Croatia Jutarnji list publishes data on the growth of support for the Eurosceptic party Live Wall and its new coalition. Journalist Ivanka Toma explains in a commentary for the newspaper the reasons behind this growth. One of them is the pre-election coalition that Live Wall negotiated with other small parties. Another reason, she believes, is that the leader of Live wall, being the only MP in the last term of the Sabor from this party went regularly to all sessions, was well informed on all subjects, discussed in parliament, never used MP privileges, and could always be seen at his workplace, even in the afternoons, when the plenary hall is empty. “As an honest and valuable worker (MP) and an established fighter against the eviction by force of people out of mortgaged homes, Sinčić has proved that he is credible”, writes Ivanka Toma, using a word, which is a slogan in the HDZ campaign – credibility.

What other subjects of discussion in Croatia?

A question was posed to the audience of the Zagreb Antena radio station today on how would they fix the situation in Croatia if it were up to them. The anchor herself proposed that Croatia be given out on concession “until we learn to deal with things by ourselves”. Some listeners advocated for the reinstatement of the Austria-Hungarian empire with Viktor Orbán at its helm, who knows how to bang a fist on the table. There were talks on television and other media about the outrage of Croatian parents, who stumbled upon a scandalous treatment in the music textbooks, which makes a distinction between a mother and a woman, as you can see in the pictures, published on Facebook by an outraged mother.

Peace and quiet in Serbia today

Serbian media report today of the upcoming visit of the Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) on September 10. Hahn is expected to arrive to Belgrade for a working visit as early as Friday, as was confirmed by the EC to Serbian information agency Tanjug.

And while Serbia seems to be working on its European membership, it does not miss maintaining its good relations with Russia, as was evident from the announcement by RTS of a meeting between Serbian Defence Minister Zoran Đorđević and the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandar Chepurin. The two have reached the conclusion that the political and general relations between Serbia and Russia are progressing, which also brings progress to cooperation in the field of defence.

The TV channel also reported on the participation of Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić at the strategic forum in the Slovenian resort of Bled, where he stated that the EU continues to be an attractive factor. Enlargement policy, despite being one of the most successful ones in the history of the European project for facilitating the transformation of a large number of states and for expanding the space for freedom and prosperity, is still halfway, believes Mr Dačić.

The newspaper Danas publishes today the furious reaction of the initiative of young people for human rights from the planned rally in support of the referendum in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, organised by right-wing formations. The rally is planned for September 10 (right in the middle of the visit of Commissioner Hahn) at the Republic square in Belgrade. The young people’s initiative wants the Serbian government to denounce the rally, which they believe threatens stability in the Balkans. With this rally Serbia pushes itself back in isolation and is returning to the 1990’s, claim the youngsters.

Đukanović the pro-European

The indisputable leading news in today’s media in Montenegro is the interview of Prime Minister and leader of the Montenegro Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) for the Pobjeda newspaper. Đukanović’s reply to the question what is the message that he would send to the people after 25 years in the lead of the DPS was: “The DPS was in the lead of this state when in it – one of all the ex-Yugoslav republics – peace was kept during the 90’s, when Montenegro, as a part of SFRY, was protected from NATO bombings, when it was necessary to cleverly, not with the head in the wall, to create the right to a referendum and provide for independence under the strict European democratic rules. Today Montenegro is practically a member of NATO, a convincing leader in European integration among all candidate countries, and the most economically advanced state in the Western Balkans”, claims Đukanović, presenting himself in the interview as an avid pro-European.

He paints the opposition as anti-Montenegrin and wishing to turn Montenegro to the East, despite their children getting their education not there, but in the West. Milo Đukanović believes that it is extremely important that there is a convincing majority in the new parliament, which supports Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic orientation, the building of a society of rule of law, and the country’s democratic development.

Islam and the burqas

Once again today you can find texts about Islam and the burqas in Croatian media. In a commentary for Jutarnji list the famous columnist Miljenko Jergović paints a thorough portrait of the recently deceased leader of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, reminding that he was a great American friend and most avid fighter against Islamic terrorism in Central Asia. Uzbekistan gave territories for secret American concentration camps, similar to the one in Guantanamo, but much scarier, writes Jergović, because in these camps the most cruel methods imaginable were applied, including the cooking of live people. The battle of Islam Karimov against Islamic terrorism was led in a way, which only produced heavier and scarier extremists – avengers, spreading hellish terror, claims the author.

The online edition Index reports that ISIS forbids women to wear burqas in Mosul, because a series of attacks against leaders of the terrorist organisation were performed by women wearing burqas and niqabs. Index quotes Express, but it does not become clear which Express, neither is there a link to the publication. It does report, though, that at all other places women must continue walking completely covered.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev 

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Croaia: Vučić’s Orbánisation

NOVANEWS
Adelina Marini, Zagreb

Croatian and Serbian press are paying a lot of attention to the visit of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Belgrade on Monday. Croatian media quote Mr Orbán in saying that Hungary will not accept anyone and for whatever reason blocking the accession of Serbia to the EU. The focus of Serbian national television RTS, however, is a different one and reveals the Orbánisation of the Serbian PM with regards to the refugee crisis. “I was not as capable as some others. Orbán is more experienced and I am convinced, and I say this without any cynicism, that he has more decisive positions than me. I wished that we, as a government, would demonstrate solidarity and humanity, which we will do in the future as well, but we cannot accept illegal migrants”, said Mr Vučić at a joint press conference with the Hungarian PM in Belgrade yesterday.

In addition to the admission that migrants are making trouble in Serbia, this statement shows that the Serbian PM is making an 180-degree turn compared to his statements of last year, when he wanted badly to be liked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and supported her “open doors” policy by creating a well-oiled organisation for transiting migrants from the Macedonian border to the Croatian one and then further on to Germany. After securing his grand slam with the opening of the most important chapters of the negotiation process with the EU – 23 and 24 – Vučić got emancipated and adopted a far

more Orbánist tone towards the EU. This is already evident with regards to migrants.

Serbia is opening five new negotiation chapters by the end of the year

Serbian Vecerne novosti reports that regardless of turbulence in the relations between Serbia and the EU, negotiations have not been frozen. Belgrade expects that during the Slovak presidency of the EU, meaning by the end of the year, “at least” five new chapters will be opened – number 5 (Public procurement), 25 and 26 (Science and Education), 20 (Enterprise), and 29 (Customs union). The newspaper expects that negotiations with the EU should speed up starting next week, when European institutions will go back to work after the summer break. As early as September 7th there will be a meeting of permanent representatives, where one of the subjects on the agenda will be Serbia’s European integration. A mission from the EC is also expected in September, which will analyse what has been done so far on chapters 23 and 24.

There is no burkini drama in Croatia

In neighbouring Croatia, on the other hand, there is a happy end to the drama of last week when a woman wearing a burkini on a beach in Split caused turbulent reactions. Regional Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija  made its own survey, checking whether it is true that intolerance towards those different is raging rampant along Split beaches. A reporter from the newspaper dressed in burkini, but instead of criticism she met complete understanding and even encouraging cheers. The newspaper writes that the reporter “with no fear of being punished by a policeman and made to undress” walked several beaches in Split, only to determine that beach-goers there are friendly.

Croatia is a more developed democracy than the USA

This is the conclusion of Russian chess player and exile Garry Kasparov, who became Croatian citizen two years ago. All Croatian media are copying today the Facebook-status of the champion, in which he shares his opinion on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Croatia on September 11th. In his opinion, Croatia is blessed with the leaders of the two largest political parties – Zoran Milanović and Andrej Plenković. Both men are young, impressive, and well-respected leaders — educated, experienced, and intelligent, multi-lingual and pro-Europe, writes Mr Kasparov in English. Comparing the Croatian main contestants with the presidential candidates in the USA Garry Kasparov concludes that Croatian democracy looks stronger than the American one, for democracy is good only if it offers good candidates.

The war with Serbian media continues

A second round of the controversial exhibition of the party of Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić “Uncensored lies” is opening in Kruševac. The first round was in Belgrade in July. Back then the exhibition, organised by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was opened personally by PM Vučić aiming to demonstrate there is no censorship in Serbia. The exhibition shows articles, in which Vučić and the rest of the party functionaries are mentioned in a negative context, reports B92. Back then, the two largest journalist organisations criticised the exhibition, describing it as “a pinnacle of cynicism by the SNS and respectively authorities”, which are exerting extra pressure on the already fragile freedom of expression.

The Kruševac exhibition was opened by Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović, director of the government Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Đurić, and former ministers Nikola Selaković and Bratislav Gašić.

The Croatian-Serbian cold war

Serbian media today also dedicate a lot of their pages to the “Balkan spy” affair. Blicplaces on first page the question“Why is it exactly now that the Serbian security agency has caught the spy?” Which is the straw that broke the camel’s back was the newspaper’s question to analysts. Aleksandar Popov, director of the Centre for Regionalism, told Blic that spies have always been caught, spies were even exchanged between the states, but the capture of Čolović “came in a somewhat strange moment”. Another analyst believes that tension could be lessened only with the mediation of the EU.

The Serbian referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Again Blic offers its readers seven scenarios for the referendum in Republika Srpska of BiH. The first one is that it will be held, the second is that RS will give it up, third possibility is for the Constitutional Court of BiH to ban it,  the fourth is that it will change its ruling about the referendum. The fifth possibility is for the High Representative to ban it, and the sixth is that the referendum is allowed, but politicians are punished. And the last possibility is for Dodik and Izetbegović agreeing on a solution.

Bosnian daily Klix publishes today an interview with Bakir Izetbegović, who claims that Serbia is currently acting nervous because of the fact that despite the agreement with Belgrade something is being done in BiH. “For the umpteenth time this is like when the little brother drags his big brother in trouble. Twenty years ago we had unpleasant situations when Slobodan Milošević was trying to stop Bosnian Serbs, but could not manage. After that Serbia had to stand by their positions and take the consequences”, said the president of BiH. In his opinion, Dodik will not receive the support of his friend on the other side of the Drina river to continue making trouble on the Balkans.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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