The Tuđman tapes
The agonising evolution of a working relationship between the Croatian government and the international war crimes tribunal (ICTY) in The Hague continues to occupy the country's news media, perhaps more than it does the readers. The latest down arrow comes with the decision of the government to seal the former president's tapes and transcripts.
Franjo Tuđman kept full recordings of his conversations with his colleagues and advisors for the ten years of his tenure in office, and the tapes are thought to contain much that would be useful to the tribunal. The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, is due in Zagreb in the coming week, and is bound to ask for unfettered access to the recordings and any other material that might help with investigations into the alleged crimes of Croats involved in the 1991 to 95 war.
The government's reasons for putting the tapes out of public reach for thirty years may not all be related to the tribunal. Some transcripts of parts of the tapes have been leaked to the press, and public reaction was a mixture of outrage and further disillusionment with the state of the nation. The leaked extracts confirm how President Tuđman believed unhesitatingly that the country's assets were his to do with what he thought best. One report disclosed how he and a party ally planned to take control of the leading newspaper, Vecernji list.
The government has been playing a tough game towards the Hague tribunal in public, while keeping open diplomatic channels, perhaps to avoid being pushed back in to isolation. So while ministers have been making harsh statements about the tribunal overstepping its mandate and endangering national security, the order sealing the tapes also contained a get-out clause: access to the vaults can be granted with special approval.
Goodbye virgin soldiers
Vjesnik reported that military service is to be cut still further, and eventually phased out completely. The proposal is to reduce service from ten to six months, with the alternative non-military service reduced from fifteen to eight months. The reason is not merely the unpopularity of army training amongst the country's young men.
The government hopes to save a large amount of money quickly, and still more once the armed services can be completely professionalised. That, though, may take a while. The defence minister, Jozo Radoš, declared his preference for a small, professional and more effective fighting force, but said that tentative plans are for the reduction to be completed only by 2010.
Then the Croatian Army would be 25,000 strong. "The abolition of military service is a world-wide trend" said the minister, "and in order to carry that out, we must work out a new national strategy for defence, which must be a radical change." And of course he means if NATO allows Croatia to win full membership, something that depends on full integration into the international community. See the above story about the tribunal...
Hallo Serb soldiers
Republika reported another interesting development in the country's defences. From the coming week, Serbs with Croatian citizenship are required to report for their military service in the Croatian Army, although the paper estimated that at least half will opt for the non-military alternative.
Republika also reported a new scheme to improve relations with Slovenia. The long-running controversy over the sea border across the bay of Piran, which effectively excludes Slovenia from international waters unless its ships cross shipping lanes claimed by Croatia, may be solved by a temporary summer navigation regime.
In such a disputed region as the Balkans, it is easy to find a whole range of maps showing borders favouring one or the other nation, and the Slovenes have some fine old cartography showing that their territory once extended far down the Istrian coast. But the administrative borders bequeathed by the socialist Yugoslavia meant that the dividing line cut across the bay depriving Slovenia of automatic access to international sea trade. Now a solution may be closer.
Jutarnji list carried the remarkable story, with few details, of two priests, one from Croatia and the other from Ireland, accused of smuggling weapons from Bosnia-Hercegovina to the Irish Republican Army, the IRA.
It is not clear from the story when the smuggling is meant to have taken place—the IRA is meant to be putting its guns beyond use as part of its agreement with the British and Irish governments. But the large number of people travelling from Ireland to shrines in Croatia, especially Medugorje, does open up the theoretical possibility of a new transit route for illegal guns.
Among the economic stories of the week, Jutarnji list reported that the Zadar tobacco factory is to restart its production following a USD 21 million investment by new owners British American Tobacco. Despite growing health campaigns against smoking in Croatia, the country remains one of the biggest consumers of tobacco per head in Europe.
And one smoker was so devoted to his habit this week that he not only refused to put out his cigarette when he boarded a bus outside Zagreb, he pulled out a gun and ordered the driver to let him smoke and get on with the journey. They were alone on the bus, and so the shocked driver had little choice. Once the gunman got off, after chain smoking throughout the journey, the police were called, but they couldn't find any trace of him. As the papers had fun reporting, "he had disappeared in a puff of smoke."
Dan Damon, 14 January 2001
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