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Vol 2, No 19
15 May 2000
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Stipe Mesić"Our Goals Can Only Be Achieved through Co-operation"
An interview with the President of Croatia, Stipe Mesić

Central Europe Review: Mr President, how does it feel to be a president once again - this time for a different country?

President Stipe Mesić: Well, I have to say the Václav Havel and I represent a special phenomenon in that respect. He was the President of Czechoslovakia and now of the Czech Republic; I was President of Yugoslavia and now of Croatia.

My presidencies are two very different positions, certainly, since Yugoslavia had no chance; it had no integrative factors. Tito, Party, Army: all of them disappeared, and Yugoslavia could no longer survive. Croatia, on the other hand, was established as a state in a normal historical sequence, as a normal historical process. That process was made possible by the 1974 Constitution, which saw the republics become states.

CER: What has been your personal motivation to run in the presidential elections and consequently become the President of Croatia? What has been your motivation to return to the forefront and define Croatian politics?

Mesić: I left official politics at the moment when I split with the late President, FranjoTuđman. I did not share his view on policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I also did not share his understanding of democratic processes; that is, Tuđman simply did not understand them. Furthermore, he wanted to centralise power and resources to an extreme degree, and I wanted decentralisation.

Finally, I wanted to see Croatia become Europeanised and open towards Europe. I understood global trends and wanted Croatia to become member of the European Union as soon as possible, since that is, in my view, in our strategic interest. Tuđman opted for isolation, and it was only to be expected that we would split. But now, when it has become obvious that my view had been right all along, I am returning to finish what I started.

CER: Are you satisfied with the proposed constitutional changes made by the Expert Group that you had appointed, and what will be the further course of constitutional changes? Do you think that they will continue to be politicised and cause a certain kind of tension on the political scene, or will some form of stable co-operation with the Government be established so that the eventual solution satisfies all sides and is permanent?

Mesić: I am certainly in favour of constitutional changes that would, once adopted, stay in place for a long period of time; constitutional changes should not be made under the influence of temporary political needs. That is why I advocate a serious and systematic approach to this task and why I ask that all those who can creatively contribute to the process be included. For this very reason I established a commission of the most prominent experts on constitutional law. They, in turn, have provided a basis for a broader discussion, both political and professional.

CER: Are you satisfied with their proposal?

Mesić: Yes. Some parts could be modified, but I think that their direction is correct. One has to balance relations between Parliament, Government and President so that everyone independently decides on those things which fall under their mandate according to the Constitution and the law.

Of course, I am bound not only by the Constitution and the law but also by the promises I gave during the election campaign and which helped me win the elections. I said in the campaign that, in addition to the proposals of the "Opposition Six," I also believe that the President has to be the commander of the Croatian Army both in war and peace, that he has to appoint the heads of the intelligence services (since he has to be informed), and that he should participate in the development of foreign policy. These are my obligations, since voters supported me in that, and I will insist on them.

the presidency must have its own weight in the Croatian political space
I believe that we will find common ground on these issues. Tensions have now ceased, and we will start serious discussions, since all of us have much more important tasks, like getting Croatia out of economic recession and paving the way toward establishing European standards and meeting European criteria, in order to achieve our strategic goal, membership in the European Union.

CER: You said during the election campaign that you would aim to be a political person who was, in a way, above politics: an independent political arbiter, who would attempt to correct those tendencies that you find negative. Do you still hold that view, and do you think that this wish of yours is now realised?

Mesić: I do not think that the President can be an arbiter elegantiorum. The presidency must have its own weight in the Croatian political space and within the state mechanisms, and that is exactly what I said before. President, Government and Parliament must be corrective factors for each other so that the best solutions are reached. That can be accomplished only by persistent work on the functioning of the rule of law, in which every citizen will be treated equally.

CER: In any case, you are ready to co-operate with the Government and Parliament?

Mesić: There is no other way for our political goals to be realised; we belong to the same milieu.

CER: There is an impression that co-operation between Croatia and the European Union, NATO, Partnerships for Peace and the WTO and so on, are limited to verbal support for the new direction in Croatian politics, and that concrete steps are still missing. Do you expect such concrete steps soon, and how do you see the Croatian road towards these organisations?

Mesić: Concrete steps will take place when Croatia fully implements the necessary laws and regulations and fulfils its international obligations. We will achieve it step by step - inclusion in Partnerships for Peace and the WTO, implementation of the Stability Pact - it will then be just a technical matter to enter the EU and NATO.

CER: New relations with neighbouring states were one of the most important topics on your agenda during the election campaign. You tried to confirm that by your recent visits to Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. How do you see Croatia's relations with Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Hungary? How do you see the final outcome of the events in Serbia and Montenegro?

Mesić: We have very good relations with Hungary - nearly all the outstanding questions have been resolved. We have several open questions with Slovenia, but they are all solvable. None of them should be a problem. I hope that, after the elections in Slovenia, we will resolve matters such as Sveta Gera, "Ljubljanska banka" and Piran Bay.

As far as Bosnia-Herzegovina is concerned, the situation there is more difficult, since Croatia had been following Milošević’s politics there, that is, aiming to divide Bosnia. Croatia does not accept that anymore, and it now considers Bosnia and Herzegovina as a neighbouring and friendly country in which Croats are a constitutive nation. The Croats there should be a bridge for co-operation between our countries, but they should co-operate with Croatia through Sarajevo. My visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina showed me that solutions will probably go in the right direction, and that they will not burden us anymore as neighbours or Europe as a whole. That is to say, I believe we will resolve all our problems bilaterally.

Our relations with Montenegro are constantly improving, though they are burdened by the problems from the last war. Montenegro entered that war as part of Yugoslavia, and, now, Montenegro is searching for its own way. They want to move toward Europe without the burdens of a relationship with Belgrade, and we support Montenegro in that respect, because, if nothing else, we do not want Dubrovnik to remain like an appendix. We want to open this space, and especially through the Trans-Adriatic Highway project. If that were realised, it would connect Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece, with a further link to Macedonia. That road would physically and symbolically connect this space. It would be easier to co-operate Stipe Mesić when the highways exist; then the borders will not represent a serious problem any more. So, we see Montenegro on the same road as we are on: the road toward Europe.

As for Serbia, the problem there is entirely different. Serbia has to undergo the catharsis; it has to understand that Serb national minorities in other countries are bridges for co-operation and not excuse to conquer other territories. When those in Serbia realise that, they will have a completely different attitude toward their neighbours. Co-operation will finally be possible. After Milošević and his regime are gone, we hope to establish that co-operation. If the French and the Germans could do that after three wars in 100 years, then Croats and Serbs can do that as well.

CER: You adversary from election campaign, Mr Budiša, has said that some signs of political chaos are visible. Do you share that view?

Mesić: I think that Mr Budiša used the wrong expression here. Problems were hidden under the carpet, and now they are appearing on the surface. The rule of law has to function, and criminal acts must be properly processed in the courts. That is not chaos; that is a proof that Croatia is starting to function according to the rule of law. Soon, we will certainly be not only a real zone of security but also a zone of secure investments.

CER: What is your opinion of the reshuffling among Croatian parties after the elections, especially in the context of the Zagreb elections? How do you see the chances for democratisation of Croatia, and will Croatia in four years vote "for" a certain concrete political program instead of voting "against"?

Mesić: Yes, the first test will be the Zagreb elections. I expect that voting "for" will dominate in them and not voting "against". Voting "against" has no meaning anymore, since there is no one to vote against. The next elections, in four years, will show again that Croatia votes "for" and not "against."

I expect that, in that sense, the HDZ will transform from a movement into a real party. Whether it is more left- or right-wing or whether it will
today's leaders would also fall to temptation without good opposition
split into two or three parties is not important anymore - it is important that it becomes a solid opposition that guarantees the authorities are behaving morally.

All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Without real opposition, power is more likely to become corrupted. Today's authorities would also fall to such temptation if there is no good opposition.

CER: In an interview for Feral Tribune before the second round of elections, you announced that you would ask the Zec family for forgiveness and apologise for the massacre in Ahmići. After the elections, your spokesperson explained that the crime in Ahmići was not committed by Croats from Croatia and that there is consequently no need for apology by the President of Croatia. A few days ago, you said in Večernji list that there is no need to apologise for crimes of the NDH (Independent State of Croatia), because today’s Croatia is not a successor of the NDH. Willi Brandt asked for apology for crimes of the Nazi Germany, although the Federal Republic of Germany, an especially himself, were not the successors of Hitler’s Germany. Do you not think that such a gesture would actually be very powerful and, in that context, will you come this year again to the rally on 9 May for the Square of Victims of Fascism?

Mesić: I will certainly be present at the Square of Victims of Fascism. [Editor's note: President Mesić was actually not there on 9 May - he received the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia) President Claude Jorda at the time of the rally] I do not have the right, however, to apologise on behalf of the Republic of Croatia in this case, because the Republic of Croatia is the successor of ZAVNOH (antifascist) Croatia. In that sense, the apology would not be founded. As a Croat, however, I certainly have good reason to apologise for all crimes committed by Croats, especially if that can draw attention to such crimes and help to insure that such crimes are not repeated.

CER: Your mandate lasts five years. How do you see Croatia in the year 2005?

Mesić: I see Croatia Europeanised even before the expiration of my mandate. I see Croatia having European standards, including material ones, which is not so simple, because we shall have to do many things. We shall have to revise privatisation, decentralise the state, act as a zone of security and attract investment. We can achieve that if we re-promote democratic processes. Those processes were unfortunately halted, but I believe that, during my mandate, they will be re-continued and be realised for the most part.

CER: So, in 2005, just before the end of your mandate, we will see you in Brussels representing Croatia as a full member of the European Union?

Mesić: Yes, I hope so.

Interview conducted on 27 April 2000 by
Saša Cvijetić

Photos by Patrick FitzPatrick

Moving on:



Focus: Croatia
Dejan Jović
Tuđman's Convenient Death

Dragan Antulov

Sharon Fisher
EU Hopes

Đurđa Knežević
Gender Politics

Mirjana Domini

Zoran Ferić
New Literature

Jurica Pavičić

Sue Bagust

Borko Špoljarić
Music Days

Ivo Goldstein
The Yugoslav Conflicts

Zoran Pusić

Igor Nobilo

Mladen Vedriš
The Economy

William A Everett
Contemporary Music

Anna Maria Gruenfelder
The Church

President of Croatia
Stipe Mesić

Croatian Deputy PM
Goran Granić

Vesna Pusić, Croatian People's Party leader

Vlado Gotovac, Liberal Party leader

Brian J Požun
Tito Revival

Oliver Craske
UK Looks East

Jan Čulík
Roma and TV

Mel Huang
Latvian Victory

Elke de Wit
Klaus Krämer

Culture Calendar:

Ustaša Legacy

PR and Extremism

Czech Republic