Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 18
25 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 16 October 1999

Sasa Cvijetic

The President of the Republic a member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tudjman, announced at the session of the HDZ's National Council that he would call for parliamentary elections on 22 December. The decision on dismissing the Parliament will be taken after 10 November. Tudjman explained that he chose 22 December because that is the day when the Croatian Constitution was adopted in 1990, and because this date will facilitate voting for the Croatians residing abroad who would take advantage of spending their Christmas vacation in Croatia to vote. The HDZ's National Council supported the bill on electoral units which divides Croatia into 10 constituencies, with a special 11th constituency for the diaspora.

The opposition parties reacted very heatedly to this decision. Their reactions ranged from calling this decision "scandalous" in the words of Ivan Jakovcic of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, to "illegal" according to Jozo Rados of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party. One point of contention is that it is written in the Law on Elections that elections must take place on a non-working day - and 22 December is a Wednesday. "The HDZ does not pay attention to opinions of either the Church or the international community. They only want to win the elections at any cost," Rados added. Zlatko Tomcic, President of the Peasants' Party, said that the decision to hold elections three days before Christmas is "unacceptable and not serious." Radimir Cacic, from the Croatian People's Party, said that the HDZ is counting on the "Christmas turkey effect."

"To have an election [so near] Christmas is extremely unusual," the spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Croatia, Peter Palmer, told reporters immediately after the decision was made. Although many activities come to a lull before Christmas, Palmer said a team of OSCE monitors from the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will arrive in Croatia to monitor the elections. Asked whether monitoring would be difficult to carry out, Palmer said that international monitors were coming from different countries and that people willing to carry out monitoring would be found.

The opposition parties conditioned the continuation of negotiations with the HDZ on electoral law by the HDZ's approval of their proposal on establishment of a special commission that would monitor election campaign. They proposed Ombudsman Ante Klaric as president of the commission which is to be comprised of one member of the HDZ, one member of the opposition and two non-partisan members. The "Opposition Six" believes that this commission is the only guarantee that the HDZ will not use Croatian Radio and Television for propaganda purposes during the campaign.

At their session on Friday, the HDZ's leadership accepted the opposition's proposal on the campaign monitoring commission, refusing, however, the proposal that the Commission can punish those who do not follow the regulations. The Chief negotiator for the HDZ, Vladimir Seks, also proposed that the Commission consist of seven rather than five members, thus including the representatives of minorities and independent MPs. This opens the door for the continuation of negotiations on Monday, 25 October, if the opposition agrees with HDZ's amendments.

President Franjo Tudjman held a press conference for foreign journalists on Monday, claiming that he was certain the HDZ would win the upcoming elections. He added that the election would be carried "without mistakes and manipulations, ie. free and fair." Tudjman avoided revealing what would happen in the case of cohabitation after the elections. Speaking about Bosnia-Herzegovina, he stated that it could survive only as "three individual entities." Commenting on suspected Croatian war criminals Tudjman said, "Croatian generals will not go to The Hague - they were liberating the country from the aggressor." He claimed that, "Croatia has achieved miraculous results in resolving economic and social problems compared with other countries in transition."

The "Opposition Six" expressed serious worries about President Tudjman's ambiguous statements at Monday's press conference about cohabitation after the elections. "This statement confirms our concerns about the refusal to accept the results of the elections by the President of the Republic," stated Ivan Jakovcic, current co-ordinator of the "Opposition Six".

On Friday, the Sabor's House of Representatives elected eight new judges to the Constitutional Court. The newly-elected judges are Smiljko Sokol (HDZ), Vice Vukojevic (HDZ), Emilija Rajic (HDZ), Marijan Hranjski (independent), Ivan Mrkonjic (independent), Petar Klaric (independent), Jasna Omejec (LS) and Ivan Matija (SDP). Most of the "Opposition Six" MPs walked out of the Sabor hall before the vote, claiming the procedure envisaged for the election of judges was not respected. The Constitutional Court has 11 judges which are proposed by the House of Counties and elected by the House of Representatives for a period of eight years. The newly-elected judges will replace eight incumbent judges whose mandates expire on 6 December. The period preceding this election was very heated since the opposition parties were not able to agree on their own candidates. There were also numerous comments in the media that judges should be legal experts rather than party members.

The presidents of two Croatia's leading opposition parties, Ivica Racan of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Drazen Budisa of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), visited the United Kingdom at the invitation of the British Foreign Office. They met on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Robin Cook and Minister of International Development Claire Short. The main issue on the agenda was the forthcoming election. Racan and Budisa confirmed that their two parties would by no means enter a post-electoral coalition with the HDZ. Speaking at a seminar on Croatia, held at the London Royal Institute of International Affairs, Racan and Budisa presented their vision of Croatia's future. They criticised the idea of establishing a customs union with Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Albania as the first step toward Croatia's joining the European Union. "We see no reason why we should have better co-operation with some countries, for example Albania, than with Slovenia," Budisa said, commenting on the speech by European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi at the European Parliament on 13 October. Speaking about EU enlargement, Prodi then said that a precondition for talks on closer ties with the EU for the aforementioned countries (of the "Western Balkans") is their association in a customs union. UK Ambassador to Croatia Colin Munro, who also participated in the seminar, said that such statements were often misinterpreted in Croatia. He explained to Budisa and Racan that what Prodi had in mind was improving stability through economic co-operation. Convinced about their victory at the forthcoming elections, they added that would be facing, "Cohabitation according to a Croatian model, one which no one actually knows how to realise".

Minister of the Economy Nenad Porges held talks on Tuesday with Fabrizio Barbaso, the director of the European Commission's External Relations Directorate General, on economic co-operation between Croatia and the European Union. At the meeting, attended also by the EU's special envoy to Croatia, Per Vinther, Porges informed EU officials about the current economic situation in Croatia and possible macroeconomic trends by the end of 1999. Porges also told EU officials that the Government's priorities in the near future would be to maintain macroeconomic stability, to consolidate public expenditure, to proceed with efforts towards European integration processes and to take measures aimed at increasing foreign investments. During the discussion of the Agreement on Stabilisation and Association, Barbaso relayed the EU stance that it was necessary for Croatia to fulfil certain political prerequisites and that the EU cannot abandon its requests that are still to be met. Barbaso said that the task force for the approximation of Croatia toward the EU would be established only after the elections. During his visit, Barbaso also met with the Foreign Minister Mate Granic, Minister of European Integration Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, President of the Constitutional Court Jadranko Crnic and representatives of the opposition, as well as members of the media and the Serb minority.

Free and fair elections are the main precondition for starting the negotiations on co-operation between Croatia and the European Union, stated Gerhard Sabathil, Head of the Department for Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovian and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the EU's Directorate General for External Relations. Sabathil added that, from the EU's current point of view, Croatia belongs to the group of countries consisting of Yugoslavia and Belarus. Sabathil said that he was, "Very disappointed with the slow political progress in Croatia," and that "the horrible economic situation in Croatia was mainly caused by political failures."

Croatia is willing to accept any form of agreement between the European Union and the United States on regulating trade in audio-visual services - a precondition for completing the talks on Croatia's admission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Minister of the Economy Nenad Porges and the head of the Government negotiating delegation, Assistant Minister of the Economy Neven Mimica, stated in a letter that Croatia had declared in its proposal that the policy on the protection of cultural identity would follow all regulations observed by EU member states. "The best proof that Croatia's proposal is pro-European is the fact that 14 out of 15 EU member states were ready to accept it, except for France, which at the last moment presented standpoints that obstructed the adoption of a consensus on Croatia's proposal regarding the regulation of trade in audio-visual products," reads the letter.

The Croatian Constitutional Court rejected a constitutional complaint lodged by Kresimir Krsnik, attorney for war crimes suspect Mladen Naletilic-Tuta, as unfounded. Judges of the Constitutional Court established that Naletilic's constitutional rights had not been violated as Krsnik claimed. The Court did not discuss Krsnik's request that his extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) be postponed because the session adopted a final decision rejecting that request.

Sasa Cvijetic, 23 October 1999



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