Croatia, Corruption, and Serb Ethnic Minority Terror

Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenkovic (Front); Back row from Left to Right: Deputy Prime Minister Boris MIlosevic, Minister for Pension System, Family and Social Policy Josip Alardovic, (former) Minister for Construction and Public Property Darko Horvat (arrested), former minister for Agriculture Tomislav Tolusic

Identifying and processing corruption in Croatia that defined Croatia under communist Yugoslavia as well as all these past thirty years since the secession from communism still yields the impression of governments playing peekaboo or hide and seek game. Whether it be the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) or SDP (Social Democratic Party) led government, fighting corruption had not been consistent nor determined. Undoubtedly, the reason for this lies in the fact that many former communists and their family members had indulged in corruption and theft of public goods or the practice of either hiding the crimes of corruption and theft or being heavily involved in it continued. And so, every once in a while, the Croatian government had seemingly gladly permitted the processing by public prosecutor, government attorney, or anti-corruption authority of crimes perpetrated by some current or ex-high-government functionary so as to leave the (false) impression how the government is serious about fighting corruption. However, the office of public prosecutor has evidently never in the past thirty years been independent of government in its activities of pursuing processing of crimes and suspected crimes just as this was the case under the communist party regime in former Yugoslavia.

Everyone will agree that to successfully transition from communism into democracy (or any totalitarian regime for that matter) it is essential to shed habits and behaviours practiced especially by authorities and their collaborators at all levels – local, regional, and national – that were shaped and condoned under the communist regime. Croatia has failed miserably at this, and the failure appears purposeful. Too many people in important or powerful positions or their family members have had, and still have, their fingers stuck in the proverbial cookie jar. Corruption exists in all countries, however, in the developed democracies it does not define a nation and its governments like it does Croatia – still.

On Saturday 19 February, another case of corruption probes surfaced in Croatia when the police began searching the apartment of the government minister for Construction and Public Property Darko Horvat in Donja Dubrava, Zagreb. Furthermore, and at the same time, the police broke into his house in Medjimurje County (North of Zagreb) due to suspicions of his connection with the abuse of power by his former assistant, and now the suspect in crimes of corruption – Ana Mandac. According to Croatian media Horvat is suspected of 2.6 million kuna in illegal incentives. Reportedly Horvat requested funds (non-refundable) from the program ‘Development of small and medium enterprises and crafts in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities’, i.e., to benefit some companies and people who were not entitled to those funds, this time of Serb ethnicity.

Soon after the search of Minister Darko Horvat’s house he was arrested and taken away by the police for further questioning. Almost immediately, Horvat reportedly requested from the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic that he be removed from his duties as government minister and Plenkovic did relieve Horvat of his ministerial duties late Saturday afternoon 19th February.

“If someone is arrested, he cannot be a minister, it is clear as day. Especially if he stays there,” Plenkovic said at a press conference in Banski dvori Government Offices convened over Horvat’s arrest and an investigation into several other current and former state officials. Officials, including some ministers…Someone had a motive for this timing to be right now. To me, that timing doesn’t seem neutral. Neither the State Attorney’s Office nor anyone else will overthrow the Government, but this is interesting,” Plenkovic said.

Well, it is evident that the current government in Croatia is all about timing and control of corruption revelation and processing of those crimes. Why else would Prime Minister question the timing of these arrests!? Did he, himself, in fact know of possible corrupt practices but did nothing about them because “it was not the right time”!? Or is Plenkovic so odiously arrogant that he dares to question the timing of arrests for suspected crimes or is he sinking further into a political mudslide that will see him disappear into oblivion of power-hold.

Shady and unsavoury business of politics indeed.

In addition to Horvat, the Croatian mainstream media reports that the police and USKOK (Office for the Prevention of Corruption and Organised Crime) also hold suspicions against the current Minister of Pension System, Family and Social Policy Josip Aladrovic, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic and former Minister of Agriculture Tomislav Tolusic. Aladrovic is suspected of suspicious employment in the period from 2017 to 2019, when he was the director of the Croatian Pension Insurance Institute. Milosevic and Tolusic are suspected of awarding grants to small and medium-sized enterprises in 2017 and 2018, while Ana Mandac was Horvat’s assistant, and they both allegedly lobbied for Serbian entrepreneurs who had no right of access to these funds.

Whether Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic reaction to his minister Horvat’s arrest and suspicions of corruption being aired against two of his other ministers and a former one is associated with his fear that his HDZ-led government is experiencing fatal crumbling is not clear. There are strong indications that his, HDZ’s, coalition as minority government with the SDSS (Independent Democratic Serb Party in Croatia) is experiencing continued heavy blows from the public or voter body, including within HDZ party itself. A coalition with Serb minority party would most likely never have been a problem had that Serb party in Croatia been made up of Serbs living in Croatia who fought with Croatians (not against) to defend it from Serb aggression in the 1990’s Homeland War but SDSS is closely and personally associated with the 1990’s rebel Serbs and those Serbs who committed horrendous crimes against Croatia and its people. The fact that, say, a brother or sister or niece of a rebel and murderous Serbs are part of current government coalition in Croatia is simply unthinkable and unacceptable to most people. Besides heavily damaging and thwarting the implementation of Homeland War values such a coalition increases the chances of successful equating of victim with the aggressor. This simply cannot be permitted for a nation that lost rivers of blood in defending itself from Serb and communist Yugoslavia aggression.

Having the above bitter reality in mind, minister Horvat’s arrest pending further investigation into corruption is a heavy blow to both the government and HDZ Party; it may rattle and shatter both to the core. Reported suspicions of influencing government subsidy funding to companies owned by members of Serb minority population in Croatia who had no right even to apply for such funding, the fact that Boris Milosevic. Deputy Prime Minister of Serb minority extraction in parliament, is suspected of favouring certain persons during the awarding of grants from the program “Development of small and medium enterprises and crafts in areas inhabited by members of national minorities” – corruption and nepotism favouring Serbs associated with rebel Serb politics during Serb aggression against Croatia in the 1990’s is enough to make one both ill and angry, as well as bitter. Such outpours of corrupt politics have been known in history to ignite people to (political) arms.

Obviously HDZ as the leading political party in government will need to reinvent its governing strategies and its coalition choices very quickly if it intends on surviving this time. Post minister Horvat’s arrest some opposition parties are calling upon Prime Minister Plenkovic to disband his government and call for new general elections. It is close to mid-term in its government mandate and HDZ constantly continues to experience and/or generate scandals that have the capacity of paralysing the nation into political crises, one after another. These scandals and crises bring about not only possible new elections, shakedown of government coalitions and loyalties but also the likelihood of causing more voter fatigue, which always brings about further reduction of voters turning up at next elections. Of course, the electoral legislation in Croatia needs changes but its current and past panorama has seen an ever-decreasing number of voters turning up to cast their vote. In such a climate some party has and will always win a relative majority, but such lack of voter number strength creates significant illegitimacy of representation within the nation and deeper insecurities for livelihood and living within it. Minorities, including the Serb one in Croatia, simply do not have strong potential of contributing to increasing decisively voter numbers in Croatia. On the other hand, other “right wing” or conservative political milieu has those potential numbers which could strengthen HDZ chances at winning minority government in the next elections. I say this because it is, to the regret of many, still not possible to even imagine the “right wing” or conservative political milieu to win the next government without HDZ being a part in that winning formula, however seemingly leftward HDZ may have drifted. Relatively narrow spans and directions of political activities engaged in by these smaller patriotic political parties on the right are the reason why perhaps they scrape into the parliament with a limited number of seats that, even if joined, could not form a government, not even a minority one. If things will shift away from the current HDZ politics in government, it is essential for HDZ party itself to shift its internal politics towards working with patriotic right-wing parties and not parties that condone Serb aggression and actively engage in any form of equating victim with the aggressor.

Obviously, the Serb minority leadership in Croatia, in coalition with HDZ government is heavily compromised with these new revelations of possible corrupt and criminal activities syphoning government funds to benefit Serbs in Croatia that have no right of access to such government funds. It is a form of sheer and intolerable corruption. One would see it logical for HDZ at this time to recalibrate its weapons of ideological political values and rid itself of the coalition with the SDSS, that is so directly associated with politics against independent Croatia in recent past.

There is no doubt in my mind that HDZ would do well to consider “changing horses midstream” at this time – extinguish its coalition with SDSS and enter a new one from the pool of patriotic political parties represented in the parliament. Otherwise, all that Croatians have to look forward to, for the remainder of this government’s mandate, is more poison being fed into the values of Croatian Homeland War and standard of living generally. The imminent entry into the Eurozone in January 2023 when Croatia plans to swap its kuna currency with the euro will dawn with distressing political crises and thousands more living below the poverty line.

Certainly, the terror over the Croatian nation caused by ethnic minorities having parliamentary representation seats, needs to stop. It is unnatural, it is damaging. Instead of allocating seats in the parliament (where a seat can be earned at elections with merely a few dozen of votes) government departments/offices ensuring ethnic minority rights and services as is the practice in fully functioning democracies should be opened to cater for minority needs. Ina Vukic

Croatia – Time Coming To Outvote Communist Chameleons  

While the fact that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had in its ruling on 21 December 2021 a declaration that states have a right to dissolve or refuse to register parties that do not distance themselves from former Communist Parties  that may surely work to the advantage for a further democratised European Union, one huge problem exists that will, regretfully, see the communist mindset flourish for some time to come. This is because the chameleonic nature of both communist parties and communists that saw strictly communist parties, such as Croatian SDP/ Socialist Democratic Party, simply change its name to reflect political changes that ensued after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the saturation of the ruling HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union Party with former communists and their mindset subscribers. It is easy for them not to put in writing any support for former communist parties. They are adapted to lying and changing their visible characteristics without notice, without regard to anyone bar themselves.

Also, former communist Yugoslavia dignitaries and their children, like chameleons, have adapted to the efforts in transitioning from communism into democracy by acting as if they genuinely wish for full and functional democracy but, in fact, they hold their backs propped up supporting corruption and nepotism that defined communist Yugoslavia. It would be fair to say that no functional democracy can evolve while the same cadre in power that existed in communist Yugoslavia exists in Croatia. Lustration was and still is the answer however late some say it is for it in Croatia. Furthermore, the mere existence in writing in the Historical Foundations of today’s Croatian Constitution of the communist Croatia i.e. Antifascist National Council/AVNOH as a legitimate foundation of independent Croatia in effect legitimises all communist mindsets and beliefs in today’s Croatia. The irony is one most cruel: communists/antifascists fought against and independent Croatia in World War Two and did also in the 1990’s Homeland War!

Ultimately, there can be no smooth transition from communism into democracy in Croatia without a clear and decisive cut from of the former communist party and/or its sympathisers’ repressive political grip. 

Perhaps this line of consideration lies in the lining of the reported European Court of Human Rights thinking that communist parties should not exist? Undoubtedly, this line of thinking would seem grossly debilitating and misleading without recognising that the power and might of the EU has been the exact backing the former and current communist sympathisers or operatives needed to maintain their political grip. Croatia has no official Communist party, but it surely has too many communist chameleons for any democratic and lasting comfort.

November 1989 the fall of Berlin Wall. Photo: Getty Images

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 laid the groundwork for new institutions, new states, and, in some cases like former Yugoslavia, new conflicts. In the more than three decades since Germany’s reunification and the European Union (EU) has taken a big growth in territorial shape along the way, with pains that persist, still. Some of those deep pains include corruption and theft prevalent still in many former communist countries that have become member states of the EU. Hence the rather recent move by the EU to install an office of audit and control over expenditure of the generous EU development funds that have seen gross misappropriation and theft. Croatia is one of those.

With the U.S.A. also extending its arms to keep an eye on corruption in Croatia by having its corruption watchdog present there, things may look up in a better light in years to come.

 Like the continent Croatia also has had to grapple with economic and political crises, demographic decline, illegal migration pressures, as well as the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic during the past thirty or so years.

Functional democracy, the natural complement to Croatia’s emerging post-communist market economy, is disturbingly complex with its underlying corruption and fraud scandals that emerge to the surface too often. Croatia’s economy is small but at the same time very important for the political and economic stability of Southeast Europe, regardless of its Central Europe physical pull and orientation. The communist mindset and corruption that still define Croatia’s political elitism has made a genuine and thorough political liberalisation almost an unachievable goal. Too many people, it would seem, about 30% of voters who always turn up at the polls for the ideals of communism, are incapacitated to see beyond the personal perks and gains they enjoy from Yugoslavia times, such as high-end public housing, descendant Yugoslav Partisan pensions to dare to vote away from former communists … and the majority are simply too disappointed in communism still weaved into the country’s fabric that they simply have no energy to vote at elections or have abandoned all hope for a better tomorrow for which rivers of blood were spilled in the 1990’s. . 

Unfortunately, Croatia has not fully completed the transition to a market economy. A socialist/communist mindset still prevails in large parts of Croatian society. The income of most Croatians still comes from the government budget, social insurance, or public monopolies, not from revenues of truly competitive companies that operate strictly on market-based principles. So, any reforms that address public overspending, corruption, or bureaucratic and judicial inefficiency usually face strong resistance from the privileged majority and can take a long time to implement.

Fortunately, there are also a growing number of vibrant, innovative entrepreneurs leading small-and-medium-sized and internationally competitive companies across many industry sectors in Croatia. These companies have strong potential to grow and could become the locomotive of the Croatian economy and catalyst in the transformation of Croatian society. A problem does arise for Croatia with its alarming demographic picture though. The 2021 census results reveal that the total population of Croatia has fallen below 4 million to 3.88 million, or close to 10% in last ten years. A relatively huge number of working age Croats have emigrated from Croatia in search of employment and a more orderly and predictable future for their families; 400,000 in the past ten years in fact! The governing HDZ government attributes much of this to expected people movement because of Croatia becoming a member state of the EU some nine years ago. Others though insist that this fall in population, especially the young working people, has occurred as Croatia in its supposed transition from communism to democracy has held to the former political habits firmly. Corruption and nepotism meant and means that all young people, or older ones, simply do not and did not have equal opportunities in employment. And the increasing number of innovative entrepreneurial small to medium companies are largely formed by expats returning to live in Croatia because they love the people and country as homeland. Relatively very few of the returnees have to my information and knowledge succeeded in obtaining employment in the public owned and run companies that form the strongest of infrastructure of Croatian economy.    

Majority of people in Croatia cannot remain excluded from discussions of their future by abstaining from voting at general elections as they do now and in doing so, they help communist mindset and habits (e.g., corruption, theft, nepotism) thrive as acceptable standards of living in a democracy. The low turnout at general election has become an alarming trend in Croatia, as also in neighbouring countries of Former Yugoslavia. Widespread bitterness in governments of past two decades especially seeps through, almost paralysing many voters to turn up at the polls.

The question now is how far the political communist chameleons in Croatia – will go, and whether their evidently waning electoral popularity will remain adequate to form a government, whether their seeming popularity among voters will diminish markedly or grow as more and more dormant voters assemble the courage to step into the voting stations at next elections.

Croatia’s imminent stepping into the Eurozone in January 2023 will surely result in political fallout or gain by the time parliamentary elections are due in 2024, unless they are rushed forward should the government fall ahead of regular four-year parliamentary mandates. Certainly, Croatian government has fallen before, e.g. 2016 and new elections ensured. The scandals whose foundations lie in government officials or high functionaries embroiled in corruption and theft, insider trading or misappropriation of public or EU funds appear a very threatening force to the government. And when we add to this unsavoury formula of scandals the ongoing bickering and bitching between the Prime Minster Andrej Plenkovic and Croatia’ President Zoran Milanovic we may be witness to another political crisis in Croatia which no alternative other than early general elections could alleviate. The introduction of the Euro currency may prove a fertile ground for many radical changes such as hurried general elections with a highest turnout of voters since May 1991 referendum for Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia!  

I would like to think that the thirty years since that referendum have shown the Croatian people ample evidence that communist chameleons truly exist – to the detriment of the values of the Croatian Homeland War. Not to mention that majority of those who fought for Croatian independence and democracy, who earned their stripes and medals for their significant contributions in the creation of that wonderful and beautiful independent state as a democratic one are hardly ever acknowledged in Croatia and its diaspora. If one is looking for the evidence that communist chameleons exist – look no further! Ina Vukic

Communist Yugoslavia Secret Services Archives Needed To Fight Against Organised Crime

The report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 26 October 2021 by 60 votes in favour, 4 against and 6 abstentions.  In the report Members of the European Parliament urged governments in the region to significantly increase their efforts to go forward with reforms in the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime. The report says that the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia) are countries of origin, destination, and transit for human trafficking, and they serve as a transit corridor for migrants and refugees and as a location for money laundering and firearms trafficking.

There is a lack of genuine political will in fighting the organised crime in these countries and MEPs want Western Balkan countries to address fully the shortcomings of their respective criminal-justice systems, including the length of legal proceedings. While not located within the Western Balkans for the matters addressed in this report, Croatia as a country that used to be a part of communist Yugoslavia until 1991 still has a great deal to answer for and fight against when it comes to organised crime and corruption.

The report said that Members of the European Parliament insisted that “fighting organised crime and advancing towards European Union integration are mutually reinforcing processes and call for an accelerated integration process.” The EU should, according to its Members of Parliament, support these efforts through financial assistance and practical cooperation. Call me a pessimist and a cynic in this if you like, but judging from the fact that organised crime and corruption are rooted in these societies of former communist regimes or similar political and social realities, the EU money dished out to root out corruption will be largely swallowed up by the same corruption, to feed itself, unless political power landscapes are changed in those countries or the EU actually controls every euro given and does not give money away.

As a member state of former Yugoslavia Croatia has also inherited widespread corruption as organised crimes from it. As such, Croatia could play a significant role in its input into fighting organised crime in those countries of Western Balkans that have their eye on being members of an extended EU member country because it possesses “inside knowledge” of organised crime. But given the alarming level of organised corruption still plaguing Croatia one must doubt as to whether much will change in Western Balkans on account of Croatia’s input. To be effective in this Croatia would need to shed most of its public administration heads and replaced them with those who have no links whatsoever with the corrupt echelons. Or, assisting the EU in this role from Croatia should be persons who would not qualify for lustration if lustration was to occur as well as not be a descendant, child, or grandchild of those who would qualify to be lustrated whether now living or not. It sounds like a big ask but, in essence, it is not because Croatia has quite a number of those who would qualify and who had during the life of former Yugoslavia either lived there or lived abroad as part of the diaspora.

Croatia’s criminal-justice system is certainly there where Western Balkans’ is and it needs a complete overhaul, however, we are not likely to see this occur while those aligned with the former communist Yugoslavia mental set control all aspects of public administration including judiciary.

The Report says that the main factors that make Western Balkans societies vulnerable, are the lack of employment opportunities, corruption, disinformation, elements of state capture, inequality, and foreign interference from non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China. Croatia, even after 30 years of seceding from Yugoslavia still has these problems plaguing its progress and everyday life.

Links between organised crime, politics and businesses existed before the break-up of Yugoslavia and have continued since the end of the conflicts of the 1990s, and Members of the European Parliament “condemn the apparent lack of will of the responsible authorities in the region to open the former Yugoslav archives and for files to be returned to governments if they want them.”

The report welcomes the conclusion of cooperation agreements between Eurojust and the governments of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as the authorisation to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. MEPs urge the Council to authorise as soon as possible the opening of negotiations for a similar agreement with Kosovo.

It is of great interest to monitor how the recommendation from the Report that says that “Responsible authorities should open the former Yugoslav archives” will fare. Knowing the utterly corrupt persons that held the corrupt and criminal Yugoslavia together, influence of whom poisons many a responsible authority in former Yugoslavia countries, including Croatia, the opening of all archives is likely to be stalled for generations to come. Unless of course there comes a time when the political landscape changes and new generations, unpolluted by communist Yugoslavia nostalgia, come to be the authority that makes such decisions.

Suffice to say that there are multitudes of politicians in power or those holding authority in Croatia for whom the opening of Yugoslav archives would reveal alignment with UDBA (communist secret services in former Yugoslavia) communist purges operations and grand thefts for personal gain; an abominable, criminal past that included persecution and assassinations of anti-communist Croats and stealing public wealth for personal gains. Further problem for the opening of Yugoslav archives rests in the fact that when former Yugoslavia crumbled apart Serbia retained much of the archival material pertaining to the country’s federal depository held in its capital city Belgrade. Serbia did not do the decent thing and returned to all the former states of Yugoslavia their rightful archives – Serbia kept them all and it is not a member state of the European Union. Those archives would undoubtedly also reveal, among many other facts, the nasty historical fabrications Serbia has engaged in against its neighbouring countries, particularly Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.     

Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service files (UDBa) hide everything that the lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families would be accused or members of the service lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families and various blackmails and interfering in political and economic life and installing in political parties would be charged with. But Croatia’s criminal justice serves largely those it needs to protect from such lustration or prosecution. Secret service files hide everything unknown that would shed light on various historical and political deceptions, montages and that it would produce grounds for a different understanding of the 20th century history that is based on facts rather than communist or Serb fabrications.

Plights by several Croatian politicians in the opposition to the HDZ or SDP governments since year 2000 for the opening of accessibility to all Yugoslav archives, wherever on the territory of former Yugoslavia they may be held, have been numerous. Lobbying for the opening of the archives has been quite rich. But all to no avail! Will EU succeed where others have failed!?  The answer to the question “what is in those secret services files” appears with more urgency as Yugoslav secret services files continue to remain a “taboo topic” despite the landscape where, on surface, all the government officials and leaders swear to their personal commitment towards the truth! EU has been asking for access to those archives for over a decade and this Report regarding fighting organised crime on Western Balkans is just another notch in the string of asking.

The Report’s other significant recommendation is that political and administrative links to organised crime must be eradicated. This all sounds very great, just like the European Parliament’s declaration condemning all Totalitarian Regimes from the past some 12 years ago (2009). But the European Union authorities still to this day fail to punish or impose consequences upon Croatia for encouraging symbols of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian and murderous regime to thrive on the streets of Croatia that lost rivers of blood in the 1990’s while trying to secede from communist Yugoslavia. All this tells me that the European Parliament and the EU authorities have no real political will to contribute effectively to the achievement of recommendations from the Report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in Western Balkans. I, for one, would love to see Yugoslav secret services archives open for all to access and study and show the truth but somehow, I fret that in my lifetime I will not see that without a miracle of political change. There appear to be too many individuals with power at some level within the countries’ machinery involved with organised crime in both Croatia and in the Western Balkans and only a miracle can rid the people of that scourge. The miracle, of course, can be shaped at the next general elections. Ina Vukic

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