Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 15
4 October 1999

Croatia News Review C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Croatia
All the important news from Croatia
since 23 September 1999

Sasa Cvijetic

Presidents of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), Zlatko Tomcic, the Croatian People's Party (HNS), Radimir Cacic, the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), Ivan Jakovcic, and the Liberal Party (LS), Vlado Gotovac, signed an agreement on co-operation in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Croatia. They also announced the possibility of Action of Social-Democrats of Croatia (ASH) and Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU) joining them and expressed their hope that the other opposition coalition, the one between the Social-Democratic Party (SDP) and Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), will run together with them in as many constituencies as possible. The four parties will run a joint list, albeit with individual election campaigns.

On Friday, the House of Representatives of the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) sent the Croatian Democratic Union's (HDZ) bill on electoral law to the second reading. At the same time, Parliament, by a majority of votes, rejected the bill that was put forward by the opposition. The HDZ proposed a proportional electoral system with nine constituencies and one special constituency for the Croatian Diaspora, while the opposition favoured a mixed electoral system, without special lists for Croatian citizens residing abroad.

A group of 27 intellectuals - university professors, members of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences and writers - requested that the Government organise a referendum on the electoral law. In their statement, called "Warning to Politicians and Invitation to Citizens," they called for free, fair and democratic elections that would represent the real interest of the people and respect democratic principles, "which is not the case at the moment."

The central electoral campaign headquarters of the ruling party, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), will consist of 250 members and will be led by President Franjo Tudjman. All sub-committees will be co-ordinated by Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of the HDZ Ljerka Mintas-Hodak.

The six-month-long hearing in the Dinko Sakic trial ended at the Zagreb County Court on Wednesday with the defendant's closing argument. A ruling is to be made known on Monday, 4 October. In the Second World War, Sakic was the commander of the Jasenova concentration camp; he is charged with crimes against humanity. "As a soldier, I did not make decisions, but I carried them out according to my conscience, because they were in keeping with my understanding of the national interests and the preservation of the biological survival of the Croatian nation. Consequently, I believe this process to be a case of political persecution which has been ongoing for more than 50 years," the defendant said. Sakic led an undisturbed life in Argentina between 1947 and 1998, when he was extradited to Croatia for trial.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem issued a statement responding to claims which the former commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp made in his closing arguments, accusing the Centre's director Efraim Zuroff of being responsible for his trial. In a statement published in Jerusalem, Zuroff repeated that the Centre intended to reinforce efforts aimed at bringing the perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice. In this respect, the trial of Sakic is a significant success, said Zuroff.

Croatia's Council for Co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague believes that ICTY President Gabrielle Kirk McDonald's letter to the chairman of the United Nations Security Council was the result of a misunderstanding. In early September, President McDonald stated in her letter that Croatia had not fulfilled its obligations toward the ICTY. "Although President McDonald accepted Croatia's position to extradite the suspected war criminal Mladen Naletilic-Tuta immediately and unconditionally as soon as the trial in Zagreb had ended, she maintains that Croatia is not co-operating with the ICTY as long as Naletilic is not extradited to the Tribunal," reads the Council's statement.

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz visited Croatia and held talks with President Franjo Tudjman, and Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa on political, economic and cultural relations between the two neighbouring countries. Both parties expressed their satisfaction with the level of co-operation and discussed future projects, such as the expansion of the harbour of Rijeka for the use of Hungarian companies, completion of the construction of the Rijeka-Budapest motorway and the merger of the Hungarian oil company MOL with its Croatian counterpart INA. The free trade agreement stands good chances of being concluded by the end of this year, Matesa claimed. President Goncz also met the representatives of the six main opposition parties and discussed with them, among other issues, the electoral law for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. "Hungary is willing to relay to Croatia all the necessary experience which the Hungarians have gained - considering that they have already undergone part of the democratisation process before us," said the Liberal Party's (LS) President, Vlado Gotovac, after the talks.

The government accepted a plan of activities for its participation in the economic reconstruction, development and co-operation within the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe. This plan consists of some 40 projects, focusing on infrastructure and energy. It will be presented during the first session of the Pact's "Working Table for Economic Recovery, Development and Co-operation," scheduled for 9 October in Bari, Italy. The most ambitious project is the construction of a highway along the Adriatic and Ionic coasts, which would connect Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.

Croatia is expected to become a full member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in October, stated Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa. That act will conclude the six-year-long process of negotiations. The last steps included President Tudjman's letter to French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Matesa's letter to EU Commission President Romano Prodi asking them to support Croatia's membership. France is at the moment the only EU Member State opposing the full membership of Croatia in the WTO, due to disputes about the favourable treatment of European audio-visual products on which France is insisting.

Zeljko Covic, the chairman of the management board of Croatia's pharmaceutical giant, Pliva, was awarded the distinction of the best businessman in Europe, Near East and Africa. The awards were presented on Tuesday in Washington by the magazine Emerging Markets and the investment-banking corporation ING Barings.

The bill on Value Added Tax submitted by Croatia's ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), was adopted by the House of Counties of the Sabo (Parliament). The HDZ bill on VAT suggests the introduction of a zero VAT rate on bread, milk, books and medicines. Introducing a zero VAT rate means 500 million kuna (DEM 138.8 million) less in the state budget, which will be compensated by increasing excise taxes on tobacco, cars and luxury products. The leading opposition party, the Social-Democratic Party (SDP), suggested the decrease of the current single VAT rate of 22 per cent to 17 per cent and the introduction of a favourable tax rate of six per cent for agricultural and food products, construction, and power production, as well as a zero tax rate for basic food stuffs, children's clothing, footwear etc. The Government rejected SDP's proposal.

The government rejected the offer of Swedish-Norwegian consortium Telia-Telenor for buying 35 per cent of the shares of the Croatian Telecommunication Company for USD 611 million. Deutsche Telekom, another company that was interested, withdrew its offer one day before the deadline. The government asked both companies to submit new, "financially stronger," offers.

The Mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to Croatia released its latest report, in which it stated that in spite of significant progress in some fields, Croatia still does not fulfil its commitments towards the international community in those fields which are the most relevant - such as return of refugees, settling property disputes, implementation of the Law on Abolition, full co-operation with the ICTY and citizenship issues. The mission was also concerned about the lack of progress in the field of reforms of electoral legislation and media. "Independent monitoring of Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) indicated that the pattern of imbalanced news and favouring of the ruling party has continued," reads the statement.

Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for European Integration Ljerka Mintas-Hodak presented the "Plan of Integration Activities of the Republic of Croatia," which represents the initial step in the overall strategy for the integration of Croatia into the European Union. The plan defines the activities of the government in the field of politics, economy, legal approximation, institution-building, education and information and elaborates the current differences between EU legislation and the Croatian legal system.

Sasa Cvijetic, 1 October 1999




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