Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 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 1 October 1999

Sasa Cvijetic

Deputy Speaker of the Sabor (Parliament) and Vice-President of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Vladimir Seks announced that the last session of the Sabor's House of Representatives in this mandate will start on 13 October. The House will be dismissed at the end of October or beginning of November. Elections have to take place two months after this at the latest. The Law on Elections should be adopted on 15 October, after one more (final) round of negotiations between the ruling party and the opposition. Seks also announced the possibility that the HDZ will adopt completely new elections rules, if the agreement with the opposition is not reached. The opposition, in turn, made a continuation of negotiations contingent on changes in the Law on Croatian Radio and Television (HRT). Meanwhile, Sabor Speaker Vlatko Pavletic attempted to get opposition and HDZ representatives to discuss the electoral law. However, that attempt failed and no agreement was reached.

The suspense about the date of parliamentary elections continues. The date that is currently in circulation is 28 December. However, 18 December and 3 or 6 January still stand good chances as possible election days. Ivica Ropus, spokesperson of the HDZ, stated that the most probable date will be "between 19 December and the first half of January." Davorko Vidovic, Vice-President of the Social-Democratic Party (SDP), believes that the HDZ will not dare to confront the will of the Catholic Church, which insists the elections should not take place during Christmas time, and that they will take place before 20 December. Leader of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) Drazen Budisa believes that 28 December is a particularly bad choice because that day is the birthday of Ante Pavelic, head of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during the Second World War. Luka Trconic from the Croatian Peasant's Party (HSS) considers that choice scandalous.

Protesting against the situation within Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), the opposition demonstratively left the Parliament session in which the HRT's Statute was to be debated. Explaining the reason for this act, SDP's Vice-President, Mato Arlovic, stated that it was meaningless to discuss the Statute while the HRT was clearly in the service of the ruling party and while any substantial debate on the changes in the Law on HRT was rejected.

Five former high state officials who either resigned or were dismissed from their duties this or last year (former Chief of Staff of the President's Office and Prime Minister Hrvoje Sarinic, former Minister of Justice and head of the Intelligence Service Miroslav Separovic, former Minister of Defence Andrija Hebrang, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Milan Ramljak and former Minister of Justice Ivica Crnic) announced they would run together in the elections on an independent list, depending on the availability of financial resources for the campaign. For the sake of curiosity, Hebrang and Separovic are still formally members of the ruling party, the HDZ.

The Judicial Council of the District Court in Zagreb accused Dinko Sakic (78) of war crimes against the civilian population and sentenced him to 20 years of imprisonment, the maximum punishment prescribed by Croatian law. After the six-month-long hearing, the Council proclaimed the defendant guilty for a series of crimes committed while he was commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp - between 1941 and 1945. The trial provoked unprecedented attention of the domestic and foreign media and international organisations. "Croatia has become the first country of post-Communist Europe to sentence a World War Two criminal," stated Tommy Baer, president of the international Jewish organisation B'nai B'rith, who arrived in Zagreb for the occasion, expressing also his satisfaction with the independence of the Croatian judicial system. "This is an important day for Croatia, and we are satisfied with the fact that Sakic received maximum punishment," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, also present at the closing session. All political parties, with the exception of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), welcomed this ruling. The Israeli Government also expressed its satisfaction with the outcome of the process, stating, however, that the time for President Tudjman's visit to Israel has not yet come.

An incident occurred at the Zagreb District Court after the sentence in the Sakic case was proclaimed. Supporters of war criminal Dinko Sakic, who were present in the court building, physically assaulted Zoran Pusic, president of the Civic Committee for Human Rights (GOLJP). At the press conference on Wednesday, Pusic warned of an escalation of violence with political motivation in the pre-electoral period. He criticised not only the ruling party and state bodies but also opposition parties for their lack of an adequate stance toward the violation of human rights in the country.

673 cases of court proceedings against newspapers and journalists have been filed with the Zagreb Municipal Court since 1991, informed Djuro Sessa, president of that court. Out of that number, 651 cases aimed at compensation for damage and only 22 at correction of false information. While the number of filed cases has been increasing constantly up until last year, only 15 proceedings were filed in the first six months of this year. "The probable reason for that is that this year is an election year," Sessa speculated.

The special advisor to the US President and the Secretary of State on Kosovo and the Dayton Agreement, James Dobbins, visited Zagreb on Wednesday and held talks with President Tudjman, Foreign Minister Mate Granic, Defence Minister Pavao Miljavac and representatives of the six main opposition parties. The forthcoming elections, the Sakic trial, Croatia's accession to the WTO (World Trade Organisation), extradition of war crimes suspect Mladen Naletilic-Tuta and bilateral Croatian-American relations were on the agenda of all talks.

Additional consultations with the representatives of the French government regarding Croatia's accession to the WTO brought "absolutely no progress," Minister of Economy Nenad Porges stated on Wednesday. He added that France obviously did not intend to alter its position regarding the dispute on provision of audio-visual services. In his letter to the WTO, Director Mike Moore, Porges asked for the mediation of the WTO's Secretariat. France keeps refusing a compromise solution, fearing that it might set a precedent which the US would take advantage of in the upcoming round of WTO negotiations. The US advocates the liberalisation of audio-visual services, whereas the EU (and France in particular) insists on protecting European culture and demands a more favourable treatment of audio-visual services of European origin. Porges urged that the case be discussed at the 11 October session of the EU Council of Ministers. However, the EU Commission did not agree to that and rescheduled the session of the Working Group for Croatia's admission to the WTO to 18 October, thus giving Croatia more room for concerted action toward all parties involved.

The Government decided on Monday that the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom (DT) would become the owner of 35 per cent of the shares of Croatian Telecommunication Company (HT). In the second bidding round, Deutsche Telekom offered USD 850 million, whereas the Swedish-Norwegian consortium Telia-Telenor offered USD 200 million less. This ends the first phase of HT's privatisation, to be followed by a public bid for another 35 per cent of HT's shares, to take place in a year's time. Minister of Finance Borislav Skegro, expressing his satisfaction with the deal, said that the income from the sale guaranteed budget stability in this and next year. It amounts to three per cent of the country's GDP, Skegro said.

Minister of Education Bozidar Pugelnik resigned and his deputy Miroslav Doresic was dismissed after a scandal involving the purchase of school books, which has been shaking the Ministry for more than two months. Nansi Ivanisevic, a high school teacher from Split, was appointed as the new minister.

Croatia's GDP for 1999 will decrease by two per cent. This is the main finding of the mission of the International Monetary Fund that visited Zagreb last week. However, the year 2000 is expected to bring improvement: growth of GDP, increase in exports, stable exchange rate of domestic currency and low inflation. All that provided that public consumption is reduced and structural reforms and privatisation continue. The reasons for recession in 1999 are decrease in private consumption, decrease in trade with Croatia's two largest partners (Italy and Germany), the Kosovo crisis and a large state budget. The share of public consumption in GDP is estimated to be 55 to 60 per cent, which is above the European average.

On Friday in Ljubljana, Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa and his Slovenian counterpart, Janez Drnovsek, signed the agreement on settlement of legal and property disputes between the two countries. This agreement is believed to represent an end of a long chapter in the relations between the two countries following their independence, both signatories stated. Although certain issues remained unresolved (notably the dispute on ownership of the nuclear power plant Krsko), this agreement is bound to bring progress in the areas that have hindered the improvement of Croatian-Slovenian relations for years, such as Croatian citizens' savings in Ljubljanska banka and Slovenian citizens' real estate in Croatia.

700 metal industry workers took to the streets of Rijeka to strike and protest against the Government's policy towards three of Rijeka's metal industry giants - Treci maj, Torpedo and Bimont. Trade union leaders asked the workers to express their dissatisfaction with the Government in the forthcoming elections.

Sasa Cvijetic, 8 October 1999





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