Zeljko Glasnovic MP and “The Lion in Winter”

Zeljko Glasnovic MP in Croatian Parliament 13 Feb 2020
Delivery of anti-corruption speech
Photo: Screenshot

When I watched the live video broadcast of Croatian Parliament sitting on last Thursday, 13 February 2020, while the Parliamentary representative for Croatians living abroad (for the diaspora), retired General Zeljko Glasnovic, it was his usually ardent presentation of the perilous woes that continue afflicting and stifling progress of democracy and, indeed, a society that provides opportunities for all its citizens to better themselves without the fear of nepotism, bribery and political allegiances. Without corruption as mainstay! His speech was about the urgent need to stamp out corruption, which, as he emphasised, even “SOA (Security and Intelligence Agency in Croatia) says represents the biggest danger for the Croatian state”. But, as he said, nothing is being done to actually deal with this debilitating issue; nothing is being done to call the “red directors of companies” (former communists) to account, who have destroyed multitudes of public companies and amassed personal wealth in the process, alarmingly impoverishing Croatia’s public wealth. That is why “there is no money for Croatian Defence Council/HVO, no money for Kindergartens and other critical matters…because at least 30 billion kunas (4.1 billion Euro) are stolen every year and taken out of the country. The left and right wing of the Party (meaning Communist party) are to blame for this. Life is good for them, but why not start with them, when we talk of the provenance of property legislation … what’s with the dossiers of former UDBa (Communist Yugoslavia Secret Police) operatives, some of them sit today in this Parliament…and when I talk about that it is prohibited on HTV (Croatia’s public TV channel), instead we have to watch shows that serve as confessional for those Khmers Rouge and those where their children rule like emperors…that in fact is censorship and we don’t come across discussions about that…What’s with the stolen properties by the Reds  … until academic and other lustration are implemented we will not get far…but that is a taboo topic for HTV.”

Now comes the crunch of the day!

The real and distressing marker for the relatively widespread and repugnant animosity against Croatians living outside Croatia, or émigrés, which is constantly fed to the public by those in Croatia who had profited living under the Communist Yugoslavia regime and circumvented or refused to fight for an independent Croatia in 1990’s once 94% of voters voted at 1991 referendum to secede from Yugoslavia.

Croatian Peasant Party representative in parliament, Zeljko Lenart (otherwise a “torchbearer” for the likes of  Kreso Beljak who says that communists did not kill enough Croats in their purges during and after WWII) stood up protesting against Glasnovic, saying: “…Glasnovic insults me as a parliamentary representative and I would like to say that in my family no one was member of the Party but I will also tell you that we did not flee to Canada and hide in Canada for 30 years like you and now you hold moral sermons and continue insulting …”. Glasnovic then approached Lenart, protesting to Lenart’s ugly provocation, calling him names (monkey, nit/louse…) saying: “I did not flee, you chased us out …”. And that in fact is the truth. Retired general Glasnovic was only 8 years old when in 1962 his family was forced to emigrate to Canada; their sizeable properties stolen by communists, family persecuted, denied the right to work, and members imprisoned as political prisoners in Communist Yugoslavia. His story of emigration is the story of hundreds of thousands of Croats who emigrated from Yugoslavia. But Glasnovic (like many others) returned to Croatia in 1991 to voluntarily join the Croatian defence forces (after having served in Canadian Army for 5 years and then French Foreign Legion/The Gulf War) to defend Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslav/Serb aggression once Croatians voted overwhelmingly to secede from communism and become an independent Croatian state. Croatian communities in the diaspora joined the fight for freedom once those living in Croatia had overwhelmingly voted to secede from Yugoslavia. This was their God-given and moral duty.

Croatian Parliament 13 Feb 2020
Zeljko Lenart MP (L), Zeljko Glasnovic MP (C), Miro Bulj MP (R)
Photo: Screenshot

Lenart, to my opinion rightly called “a nit” from political perspective that affects a nation struggling to implement that for which it fought and gave blood, has the gall to provoke Glasnovic with such malicious lies! Lenart has proven beyond any doubt that Croatia has indeed much to attend to if it is to decommunise and become a fair-for-all country. Instead of supporting Glasnovic’s speech and standing behind the need to stamp out corruption, Lenart attacks with provocation the man who advocates blanket and decisive actions to rid Croatia of corruption – the cancer that has all but chomped away the opportunities for many to make a decent living in Croatia. Croatia finds itself periled by mass exodus of young people, who have and are leaving the country in droves in order to earn a decent living abroad. Even if it were true that no one from Lenart’s family was in the communist party during the times of Yugoslavia, one thing stands out like a sore thumb: they must have sucked-up to or tolerated/supported communists for personal gain. The fact that he stands behind Kreso Beljak, instead of being abhorred by the murders of innocent Croats by the communists, for which Beljak says there weren’t enough killed, is an unshakeable indication that the latter must have been the case for Lenart’s family.

Croatian media had in its usual biased manner reported this incident from Croatian Parliament on Thursday 13 February as an incident where Glasnovic called Lenart by seemingly derogatory names! There was nothing about the real and critical issues for Croatia Glasnovic was talking about to which Lenart responded with provocation, and none that I could come across sought Glasnovic’s comments afterwards. All this is very symptomatic of the dire problems Croatia has and about which Glasnovic talks loudly: the absolute need to stamp out corruption and delve into the provenance of the wealth amassed through corruption and theft by many former communists, many of whom, or their descendants, are currently in positions of power in the country.

What became painfully obvious from Lenart’s malicious provocations is that it serves as proof of  a vicious war going on in Croatia for the survival without repercussions of those who have illegally and through corruption amassed wealth by being in power, and/or who have participated in or shut their eyes to the mass murders of innocent Croatian people by communists during and after WWII. The battle for power between the former communists and most of their like-minded descendants and those who actually and with much sacrifice fought for an independent and democratic Croatia during 1990’s has reached the stage where possibilities do not exclude a justifiably brutal reckoning for the political trajectory Croatia will take.

The ugly resistance by communist (or former Yugoslavia) sympathisers to delve into real combat against corruption reminds one, in a way, of the political backdrop in James Goldman’s 1960’s acclaimed play “The Lion in Winter”, an intended political comedy about politics in the Middle Ages that transforms contemporary battles for political survival into often tragic consequences for a nation.  Questions about the battle for succession and the demands of leadership have never felt more pertinent to me. What makes the messages from The Lion in Winter feel so immediate and fresh is how it bridges great political posturing and intense personal and domestic intrigue. The play is overwhelmingly about the battle over succession. After Croatia’s Homeland War ended completely in 1998 and after Franjo Tudjman’s death in 1999, those who placed their own life at independence’s disposal (the war veterans) and those who worked alongside them ensuring political lobby and financial backing as well as providing combatants to defend Croatia from aggression (the Croats in the diaspora) were the natural successors who would see Croatia rid itself of communism and its corrupt ways. Those who would preserve Croatia as independent and develop it into a full democracy. But, after Tudjman’s death the former communists would do anything to ensure that Tudjman’s and Homeland War’s natural successors were run into the ground and even pronounced the Homeland War as a criminal enterprise. It took 12 years for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague to acquit in 2012 Croatian Generals of “Joint Criminal Enterprise” (politically-driven) indictments.

The Lion in Winter” political agendas translated into today’s Croatia, would see the plot where with the fate of their ideal country (communist Yugoslavia) at stake – forever – there are many former communists and their followers or descendants who are willing to survive by any means necessary and thus prevent the ultimate demise of the communist regime, threads of which still perilously remain ingrained in Croatia’s public administration and society. In these times of heightened attacks against those who fought and fight against communism, questions about the battle for succession and the demands of leadership have never felt more pertinent for Croatia.Those who are among the natural successors, including retired General Zeljko Glasnovic, continue to have a fight on their hands that needs to bring about the real positive consequence and values of the Homeland War come “rain, hail or shine”: to decommunise the country and usher in real or functional democracy to the streets (not the one on paper only) by any means necessary. Many in the political arena, though, fail miserably at recognising leadership, support it actively; it’s the old woe of egomania palpable in many. Regretful as this is, it is not insurmountable. This is the time to draw the battle against communism to a close and bring the combatants against it together to a conclusion. Will Croatian combatants against corruption know how to do that, how to join forces against the enemy, once again? Ina Vukic

 

 

 

Nesting of Kleptocracy-prone Practices Within Croatian Diplomatic Aggregate

Josko Paro
Former Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the US

Ignoring and breaching government regulations on contractual recruitment of external consultants, engaging external consultants for work that is listed in diplomats’ job statements, shady deals and payments, external consultant having access to government classified information and thereby national security compromised, sloppy and reckless bookkeeping, missing receipts and explanations of payments made, unexplained and unsupported expenditures, writing off assets with “gone missing” (no explanation), no proper asset registers, selling off Croatian government’s real estate assets much below the price of its value … All this and more in the Audit Report from the audit of Croatia’s ministry of Foreign and European Affairs for 2016, released a couple of months ago (PDF of Audit Report)! All this would have been in audit reports of communist Yugoslavia’s government departments had they been made public or done at all. Sadly, nothing much has changed on that front!

The breaches of Croatian government regulations on contracts for external consultants were found for the Croatian Embassy in Washington DC. The then Croatian Ambassador in Washington Josko Paro seems to not even having copped a slap on the wrist because of the breaches! Instead of being removed or suspended from diplomatic posts altogether after such audit findings (findings of shady deals and serious breaches of regulations that cost the Croatian taxpayers in payments and health care plan to same external consultant over US$280,000 over three years [2013-2016], which is a substantial amount of money by Croatian standards) he seems to be under consideration for a new ambassadorial post at the Croatian embassy in Belgium, given that his Washington one has expired a few months ago! When on her US visit to US in 2017 Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic stated that she did not want Ambassador Paro around her and yet he appears to be on her books for a new post!

Go figure!

No use expecting an enforcement of proper morality in Croatia’s diplomatic core – it’s still the admirers of former communist regime and public service practices that appear to keep winning presidential and government grins hands down! How sad and hopeless for democracy in Croatia!

The Audit Report emphasises the following findings:

  • In some cases throughout the various diplomatic posts, expenses in business books were not recorded at all or not recorded in accordance with accounting principles and rules;
  •  In Washington DC, the locally engaged person/consultant to be in charge of administrative work, and other jobs was engaged without a signed contract between August 2016 and May 2017 and payment to that person made to the tune of US$28,800 (previous contract had been extended to the same consultant several times and all the while corrupt practices flourished, i.e. often in breach of government regulations);
  • The locally engaged person acted as economic advisor;
  • The aforementioned local person had access to information systems of the Ministry and classified information even though the provisions of Article 77 of that Ordinance prescribe that a locally engaged person should not have access to classified information;
  • Considering that the jobs of an economic consultant are part of jobs that diplomatic staff are paid to do, hiring an external local consultant to engage in this work by Washington DC Croatian diplomatic mission was in breach of the Ministry’s regulations;
  • Audit has established irregularities and omissions within the process of government procurement of services and goods that warrant the conditional audit report;
  • The register of government procurement of services and goods is untidy, incomplete and in breach of government regulations; etc.!

And these are the auditor’s findings for just one of several ministries or government departments of Croatia. It is safe to conclude that audits of others would not have findings that differ much from this one. Thieves of the state embedded in the state bureaucracy are the root and the foliage of government corruption in Croatia (as they would be anywhere where corruption thrives). This has not improved at all from the days of former Yugoslavia it seems. To top the kleptocracy that exists in the unchecked government bureaucracy stands the threat to national security imposed by giving access to classified information to an external consultant as practiced in the Washington DC Croatian mission while Josko Paro was the ambassador!

Indeed, such acute corruption within the government echelons may in fact lie at the root of some of the most dangerous and disruptive security challenges for a nation. Without doubt, the enablers of kleptocracy, corruption, keep the whole rotten scenarios going. Until someone stops them!

One would have expected that once the Croatian government had received such an Audit Report that specifies a raft of serious breaches of government regulations and a raft of examples that point to practices which give room to corruption and theft and nepotism, the detailing of practices that sustain a sophisticated system for kleptocracy, alarm bells would go off and investigations mounted and staff associated suspended from duties, at least pending independent investigation findings! I have come across no information that would suggest the government of Croatia is, after receiving such a damning audit report, taking proper measures to ensure the culprits suffer the consequences and the nation is spared from ongoing corruption. One can almost say that there is no better way of stamping out corrupt practices than by combing each as they present themselves to the authorities. Josko Paro, on the other –sorry- hand, is reportedly in the running for a new diplomatic post! Even though, among other serious breaches of administrative protocol his actions had, according to the auditor, jeopardised the sanctity of national security classified information.

What is the reason for this disappointing and frustrating state of affairs, one might ask.

For the most part, Croatia’s desperate situation in relation to corruption (that includes nepotism) has been attributed to two causes. First and foremost, abundant corruption was an inherent part of communist Yugoslavia regime, where for fifty years communist leaders and public officials had imposed corruption as the way of life. Many observers regard moral decrepitude and incorrigibly self-serving greed, along with an almost total failure to meet standards of good democratic governance, to have been at the heart of communist Yugoslavia’s failure to live up to its initial economic and political promise. Second, distressing failure of post-Homeland War leaders in Croatia to undertake earnest efforts to promote good governance and reliable democracy in Croatia. With sound reasons, many leaders have been accused of facilitating the spread of corruption and intensifying its harmful effects upon the citizens. The currently predominant strategy for remedying Croatia’s record of corruption and bad governance rests upon the prosecution of few highly positioned public figures, upon unravelling any conflicts of interests of highly positioned public figures while lack of proper and independent checks and balances and the tightening and policing of administrative and other operational practices don’t get a chance to see the light of day. Furthermore, the politicians and other public activists who dare to point a finger at the sorry and undemocratic, corruption prone, public governance are looked upon by many as abnormal, are often ridiculed within the circles of power. All powers that be in Croatia keep spinning the same yarn – we need to stamp out corruption! But do little, if anything.

And yet, persons like Josko Paro, who has been associated with several practices that raise alarm bells within the realms of facilitating or enabling corruption (breaches of government regulations or acting against the interests of the nation and its security are among them) are still in with a chance for a new diplomatic post or a high public position! Not a picture of the vision of prosperous and democratic Croatia paid for with blood in the Homeland War of 1990’s! Not a picture where diplomats must work and act in the interests of their state, in all aspects. Croatian diplomatic postings are in dire need of major overhaul and slaying the beast of corruption and kleptocracy is a task to which many must rise if Croatia is to prosper and citizens have trust in their government. Ina Vukic

Pot Calls Kettle Black – Agrokor Corruption And Political Wile In Croatia

Agrokor’s owner Ivica Todoric,
leaves Westminster Magistrates Court in London,
Britain November 7, 2017.
Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

High corruption risks and practices, political patronage and nepotism, and inefficient bureaucracy rolled over from former communist days are among the challenges that Croatia has not truly dealt with yet. To deal with that lustration would be an absolute essential.  Corruption and bribery are especially prevalent in the judiciary, public procurement, and the building and construction sector. While the primary legal framework regulating corruption and bribery is contained in the Criminal Code and the Corporate Criminal Liability Act, which make individuals and companies criminally liable for corrupt practices including active and passive bribery, money laundering and abuse of functions. Facilitation payments are prohibited, and gifts may be considered illegal depending on their value or intent. The mechanisms and practice of policing and monitoring compliance with the relevant legislation is practically non-existent. Hence, the road to what is there today with the Agrokor concern – too late to save the company or the livelihood of tens of thousand employees.

Media is running flaming hot in Croatia and abroad regarding the Tuesday 7 November corruption and fraud charges arrest at London Met Police of Ivica Todoric, majority owner of Agrokor business concern whose plummeting towards bankruptcy has also been threatening to bankrupt the country as a whole. One wonders, though, how much of this concentrated hype against Todoric has been designed to hide away from the media spotlight and responsibility of those not related to Todoric family or Agrokor staff. How many in the current and past governments, how many currently sitting in the Croatian Parliament have had their fingers in the Agrokor pie since its foundation during the time of former communist Yugoslavia.

How much of this concentrated media and government effort against the Todoric clan (however justified under law and justice) is in effect a ploy to save the government from falling! Friday 10 November is bound to be a day of upheaval and patience generally running very thin as the yet another vote (in about 18 months’ time span)  of no confidence in the government jumps onto the agenda for the day’s proceedings. Reportedly the opposition Social Democrats are seeking a vote of no confidence against the HDZ- led government.

As both Social Democrats/SDP and Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ have held government power in Croatia since independence from communist Yugoslavia and, many of their leading individual powerful members had held positions of power in the former communist regime, which institutionalised corruption and theft in that country, one truly cannot trust that Social Democrats’ motives are noble in this. How many thieves and corrupt individuals are they trying to hide, one wonders.

Croatia’s richest businessman Ivica Todoric, the founder and owner biggest private food and retail company, the drowning Agrokor that’s been shaking Croatia’s economy for months, threatening to bankrupt the country, was arrested after reportedly handing himself in to the Met Police Tuesday 7 November 2017 in London amid allegations of corruption, fraud. It is alleged that he has embezzled millions from his large retail company, leading it into a massive bankruptcy that is now an issue of national concern in Croatia and the countries around it. Todoric appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court and District Judge Richard Blake granted him freedom on 100,000 British pounds ($132,000) bail.

A European Arrest Warrant was issued after the firm collapsed, having amassed debts of over 5 billion euro. Criminal prosecutions have begun in Croatia against 14 senior figures at Agrokor, including Todoric, on suspicions of corruption and forgery. Todoric denies any wrongdoing, is accused of falsifying accounts to hide unsustainable debts estimated at £4.8bn (€5.4bn).

Asked by District Judge Richard Blake whether he consented or objected to the extradition request from Zagreb, Todoric said he would oppose being sent back to his home country, Reuters reports.

Prosecutor Benjamin Seifert, appearing on behalf of the Croatian authorities, told the court Todoric faced three charges back home — false accounting, fraud by false representation and abuse of position — amounting to a total alleged fraud worth about 110 million Euros.

The court heard that there was a worldwide freeze on Todoric’s assets.

This is extremely serious offending,” Seifert said.

The context in which I grant you bail is the knowledge that both within this country and throughout the world, your assets are frozen and your ability to obtain money is limited,” Judge Blake said from the bench. “The security is a very small sum in the context of what sums I have heard being spoken of.”

The judge also set conditions requiring that Todoric wear an electronic tag between midnight and 3 a.m., sign in at a London police station three times a week and give up his travel documents.

Agrokor, which began as a flower-growing operation in the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, underwent a rapid expansion over the past decades that saw it run up debts of about 6 billion euros ($7 billion). The company employs about 60,000 people throughout the Croatia and neighbouring countries and is so large it now accounts for about 15 percent of Croatia’s gross domestic product. Its debt is too large for the government to rescue it without endangering the state’s financial stability including superannuation or pension funds that have invested in the company.

Although Todoric still formally owns 95 percent of Agrokor, the Croatian government, having rushed in a special law known as “Lex Agrokor” a few months ago has taken over management of the company. It is now trying to keep it alive through restructuring and negotiations with major creditors, which include Russia’s Sberbank and VTB bank, to which it owes 1.4 billion euros and who want their money back.

After he appeared on Europol’s fugitive arrest list, Todoric wrote on his blog that he was not hiding and that his conscience was clear.

As a man whose human rights are deeply violated I have the right to oppose political persecution,” Todoric wrote. “Today, I too am fighting against a corrupt system in Croatia,” he wrote on 6 November 2017, the day before he handed himself in to London Met Police.

Todoric has always claimed that the government illegally took over his company and indicated that he will fight his extradition on the grounds that he is the victim of political pursuit.

Political pursuit, Mr Todoric, has been there always, only before you used it to benefit yourself, to wrongfully create and amass wealth and now you use it to crucify those that helped you in that. Out with the lot of you and your communist heritage – in with lustration! Ina Vukic

 

 

 

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