Letter sparks coup rumours
On Thursday, 28 September, a group 12 serving and retired Croatian Army (HV) general officers with combat experience in the 1991 to 1995 war released an open letter decrying the recent "devaluing" of the "Patriotic War" and expressing concern about plans to restructure the HV and its command structure agreed to by President Stipe Mesić and Prime Minister Ivica Račan.
Rumours of a possible coup immediately followed, while President Mesić acted quickly, sending the letter's seven serving officers into retirement.
"Those who thought a coup d'état in this country could be achieved with pamphlets have played the wrong card. As of today, they are not members of the Croatian Army," Mesić said after his decision, going on to insist that the HV must be depoliticised.
Those who wish to engage in politics, he said, have the right to do so, but not as serving officers.
The letters' signatories included Generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Basarac, Janko Bobetko, Milenko Filipović, Ivan Čermak, Ivan Korade, Krešimir Ćosić, Damir Krstičević, Ivan Kapular, Nojko Marinović and Mirko Norac, as well as Adm Davor Domazet.
Norac, Domazet, Gotovina, Ćosić, Filipović, Kapular and Krstičević were the seven sent into retirement following the release.
Leaders of the ruling Group of Six expressed support for Mesić's decision, with PM Račan setting aside his occasional differences with the President's leadership style to say the "drastic response" was "clearly necessary."
Peoples' Party (HNS) President Vesna Pusić's praise saying that Mesić had forestalled national unrest was echoed in the nation's dailies and weeklies. At week's end, though, Nacional (the weekly that first warned of the letter's impending release) marked the launch of its new format by claiming an additional 20 senior HV officers were planning to add to add their signatures to the letter.
HDZ demands overthrow of "Anti-Croatian Communist Government"
The day after President Mesić's dismissal of the seven serving author of "The Generals' Letter," the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)'s Presidency released a public proclamation calling on Croats in the Croatian Lands and in the diaspora to rise up against the "anti-Croatian Communist regime" of Prime Minister Račan.
The proclamation demanded that Mesić immediately call early elections for the Sabor and warned that the Račan administration is fomenting unrest and devaluing the "Homeland War" by continuing relations with the Hague Tribunal (ICTY).
According to the HDZ, "what is being enacted is the deliberate erosion of the power and sovereignty of the Croatian State, with the ultimate goal of leading Croatia back into a Balkan association, in which it would soon lose its independence."
The former ruling party of deceased President Franjo Tuđman continued to allege the Račan administration is "de-Croatianizing [sic]" the nation, claiming the government's denouncement of the HDZ's recent political agitation amounted to "regime-sponsored terrorism."
In characteristically hyperbolic language, the HDZ's proclamation ended by noting civil war is a possibility, saying, "May all be aware, from the generals to every Croat, that this regime is trying to fill the glass of your bitterness over the brim [to create a] civil war, leading to further rifts and a possible armed conflict within the Croatian people... if this happens, Croatia will be no more!"
Moderates in the party who felt the declaration had alienated the HDZ even further from the electorate were, at the end of the week, reported by Jutarnji list as planning their own counter-proclamation.
Polls support Mesić's move, but not HDZ's
Although other dailies reported lower figures, all agreed with the basic findings of a Jutarnji list poll holding that a majority of the nation's citizens supported President Mesić's dismissal of the seven serving authors of the Generals' Letter.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed by Jutarnji supported the move, while 25 percent said they did not. Two other dailies, Večernji list and Novi list conducted their own surveys. Both reported that approximately one-third of those questioned supported the President's move, while a quarter were against and the rest simply did not care.
Both papers speculated that the high proportion without an opinion indicated that the nation's electorate could not care less about matters unrelated to their day-to-day lives as Croatia struggles to find a way out of recession.
The HDZ must certainly have been unhappy with a political popularity poll conducted by Jutarnji in the wake of the party's proclamation. The results indicated that the HDZ has dropped to fourth place with a rating of 5.2 percent, tied with the relative newcomer Democratic Centre (DC) of former HDZ Foreign Minister Mate Granić. Prime Minister Račan's Social Democratic Party (SDP) gained 3.5 percentage points over the previous month's poll, leading the pack with a 34.5 percent rating.
Over 66 percent of those polled said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the substance of the HDZ's proclamation, while the former ruling party's top leadership dominated the list of most-hated politicians in the nation.
The Six look set to amend constitution
After weeks of jockeying, the ruling Group of Six appeared at mid-week to have lined up the two-thirds majority in the Sabor needed to amend the constitution, HRTV and the nation's dailies reported.
The wide-ranging basket of amendments, set to bring Croatia's governing agencies, structures and rules of procedure in line with European standards, may well pass the Sabor by the end of the year after five MPs representing the nation's minorities, and Democratic Center (DC) and dissident HDZ MPs all lined up behind the government's package.
Surprising no one, the HDZ announced its undying hatred of the amendments, with the party's caucus leader, Vladimir Šeks, declaring, "What is being proposed is putting the Sabor under the absolute political domination of the Government."
In other news...
- Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linić (SDP), Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac (Social Liberal Party—HSLS) and Minister of Economy Goranko Fižulić (HSLS) are the latest of PM Račan's cabinet ministers said to be at odds over the Six's policies. Fižulić this week torpedoed the sale of the Večernji list publishing house (which produces the nation's top-selling daily by the same name) to Austria's Styria, despite the sale having been guaranteed by Linić and the PM themselves. Meanwhile, Linić and Crkvenac are said to differ over the nation's relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Linić is said to believe that the finanicial institutions' pressure for economic reforms is warranted, while Crkvenac claims the IMF and World Bank are antiquated bodies that fail to understand the economic nd fiscal realities faced by transition nations.
- At mid-week, Economy Ministry analyst Josip Kardum spoke out to say that the release of the Generals' Letter, perceptions of an emerging right-wing anti-government coalition and ongoing disputes within the ruling Six are scaring away prospective foreign investors. Kardum added that the USD 600 million in foreign investment recorded in the first half of 2000 is insufficient to spark an economic revival.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 7 October 2000
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