Croatia: Political Heads’ Pursuits As In “All Quiet on the Western Front”

President Zoran Milanovic (L), Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R) (Portrait photos: Pixsell)

The much-lauded German adaptation of the classic war novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, clinched the Academy Award for best international feature film in March of this year with its timely anti-militarist message as far as current war in Ukraine is concerned but also as far as the destiny of war veterans of the Croatian Homeland War of the 1990’s is concerned. Remarque’s novel, published in 1929, paints a portrait of a generation that leaves school for the front and ends up perishing in World War I from 1914 to 1918. Come 2023 in Croatia. With the relentless intolerance and increasingly aggravated brawls between Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and the country’s President Zoran Milanovic the above Oscar-winning movie is eerily topical – their evident pursuit of nerve-pulling populism digs a grave, deeper and deeper, for the heroes that fought for Croatia’s independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia! Here and there, each will throw around some symbolic gesture or phrase in respect and crucial for freedom of the 1990’s Homeland War but, in reality and essence, their intentions and efforts rest in erasing it and resurrecting former communist Yugoslavia, even though they may, falsely, label it antifascist.  Constant conflicts intrusively played out in the public arena, fortunately verbal, but no less exhausting and ominous, mark almost the entire period of overlapping mandates of the two leaders of Croatian politics, President of the Republic Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. The recently delivered President Milanovic’s speech to the nation and the reaction of Prime Minister Plenkovic suggest that this conflict will certainly last until the summer of 2024, and probably until the beginning of 2025; the entire mega elections year approaching. Whether it will continue after that period largely depends on whether the two, the Head of State and the Government, by their own will, and especially by the will of the voters, retain the positions they hold based on the election results.

Given that, in their positions, neither appears politically threatened by anyone – neither is anyone currently profiled as a potential presidential candidate, nor does the diluted and, therefore, weak opposition offer a more serious prime ministerial candidate and program nor does any palpable fraction within the ruling HDZ party. In short, it suits both men to counter each other – it keeps them both on the frontlines of conversation in all homes and around all coffee shop tables! While I have written before about the alarming political crisis in Croatia that has its roots in both the Office of the President and the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the sickening lack of collaboration and extreme intolerance, as far as the public eye can see and the Croatian nation pulse can feel, between the country’s President Zoran Milanovic and its Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic continues. This cancerous situation, metaphorically speaking, is evidently purely political and perhaps agreed upon behind the curtain or under the table to the dire detriment for the country and its citizens who spilled rivers of blood during the 1990’s for its independence. Each blames the other, each expects an apology from the other, and neither gives “a farthing” for their duty as the elected leaders of state to communicate effectively on important matters of the state.  

Among other things, in his speech to the nation on June 6, 2023, President Milanovic said the following: “since the Croatian Constitution – to which I swore an oath – obliges me to take care of regular and coordinated activities, as well as the stability of the state government, I decided to warn the Croatian public to the serious threat to the constitutional-legal and democratic order that the Government of Andrej Plenkovic is preparing.   Yesterday I was informed that the Government, in defiance of the Constitution, intends to place the Military Security Intelligence Agency under the direct management of the Ministry of Defence.   Instead of following the constitutional procedure for appointing the director of the Military Security Intelligence Agency and contrary to the established democratic practice, the Government prepared an unconstitutional solution according to which the temporary head of the Agency would be appointed and dismissed by the Minister of Defence.   I want to be clear: it is Andrej Plenkovic’s political attack on the constitutional order and democracy, which returns Croatia to the era when the intelligence services were under the direct control of the ruling party.”

On June 7, 2023, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic referred publicly to the above-mentioned statements of the President of the Republic, saying that due to the form of the address, he first asked himself whether a war or a new epidemic had broken out, whether there had been a major earthquake, a huge flood, a fire, a terrible accident in Croatia, and that the Government had not heard about it. It appears that Plenkovic may in fact be the one to blame for the appalling and non-existent communication between the Prime Minister and President (Plenkovic had that streak or evident arrogance when Kolinda Gabar Kitarovic was President, for she complained in public about it and her helplessness in establishing a working relationship with Prime Minster Plenkovic ) that forced President Milanovic, faced with Plenkovic’s repeated rejection to meet with Milanovic, in making a speech, a cry, to the nation about it (?).   “Then I wondered if maybe it wasn’t a holiday? When it’s not Christmas, it’s not even New Year’s, and it’s not National Day either. Nothing of what is usual for the form of address by reading from a meter in a few minutes,Plenkovic said, commenting the (to him) extremely unusual form of address by President Milanovic. “He (Milanovic) assumed that this way of addressing avoided the risk of eliminating the presence of some journalists from certain newsrooms or the risk of answering possible questions….”! How arrogant of Prime Minister Plenkovic. Not only does he seem to adorn himself as a mind-reader but attempts to denigrate the very important facility of a President’s Address to the Nation. Reminding that cooperation cannot continue as if none of this had happened, Prime Minister Plenkovic said that communication between institutions can be done in numerous ways. It can be done directly, he added, but there are prerequisites for that – cultural, normal, and cooperative communication at the level of what is appropriate for behaviour in the public political space. Since there is no such thing, then there are no direct contacts, he said. Communication can be in written form, as well as through associates, and that communication, he asserted, exists.   Prime Minister Plenkovic asserted publicly  that there is no constitutional crisis, but there is a “false thesis of the President of the Republic who pretends to be the head of the opposition“.   President Milanovic had on 6 June invited the Prime Minister Plenkovic to an urgent meeting at which they could seek to agree on a candidate for the new director of VSOA/Military Security Intelligence Agency and the next day Plenkovic stated that such a meeting will not take place until Milanovic apologises! Given that he, yet again, expressly rejected what the president asked of him, Prime Minister Plenkvic obviously blames the conflict exclusively on the President, his messages and behaviour, and apparently, he does not even need cooperation with him because this type of conflict with this type of opponent it fits him personally, not Croatia, perfectly in the political and other collateral senses.  

Today, their verbal conflict is, in fact, a real political war, a Cold War, which has recently gained a very violent extension, eagerly fanned by the media and other actors that stand at a decent distance, except in protocol situations, in which the poles of this conflict pretend that they do not exist with each other, in the same space or country. Even the blind can see that a major shift upwards in the numbers of eligible voters actually voting in 2024 elections is the only tool that will rid Croatia of this political vermin at the head of Government and Office of the President. The Cold War between them has translated into a real war (by stealth ?) that is attacking Croatia’s demography and chasing rivers of young people out, bankrupting the economy, concealing horrific and widespread corruption, belittling the independence-bearer, the Homeland War…The anger and disappointment on the streets is almost paralysing and I hope that such a “paralysis” will fixate the masses into strong and successful action for change for the better, if not lustration! Ina Vukic              

Croatia: Roll Up Roll Up – Political Circus Still In Town

President Zoran Milanovic (L) Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R)

The circus is still in town!

Its tapestry is tragic, widespread political despair and divisions.

Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, open up your wallets and come and see the biggest show in town. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Grab a ringside seat while they last.

See the fearless Andrej Plenkovic and intrepid Zoran Milanovic high wire double act. Hold your breath as Andrej tries to keep his balance while Zoran vigorously shakes the wires and – vice versa.   They both defy gravity, somehow keep their grip. How many days can they stay up on the wire? Will they fall and tumble to the ground? There is no safety net. Or is there? They are both very experienced at mudslinging, offloading own incompetence and biases to keep walking the wire of power.

Croatia has been in a political crisis ever since the former communists grabbed power in 2000. And the crisis is turning into a political circus unseen anywhere else and painful to watch. Prime Minister against the President, the President against the Prime Minister.

But there are times when one needs to step back and see that some things the President says are the things many in Croatia think but dare not say. The issue is here will the President follow his statements and ensure that changes needed are put in place or will all this talk be just another round of empty rhetoric that brings scores on the proverbial daily political points popularity chart.

Zoran Milanovic appears to be increasingly positioning himself as shooting from the hip, straight-talking man of the people and appears to have lost all caution in choosing words to highlight problems Croatian people are having both in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with regards to the 1990’s Homeland War and war of Serb aggression. He is certainly overshadowing the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic whose patriotic phrases, if they by some seeming accident roll off his tongue, are laboured and insincere. Milanovic has picked up on a significant anti-government mood in Croatia that has become highly politically inflammable and the feeling that anti-government mood with his daily comments and statements keep the media and the public wondering where all that will end.  Whether President Milanovic will do a backflip on his current public appearances that in some aspects give overdue credence to the values of the Croatian Homeland War is yet to be seen. He has done backflips before.   

There is a significant anti Covid-19 vaccination movement in Croatia and vaccination levels are relatively very low even in this fourth pandemic wave with thousands of new cases every day and dozens of deaths from or with Covid. Picking up on this “anti- vaxxer” movement Milanovic burrowed his way into the public heart, and often in seems that public has forgotten that Milanovic stands for every painful anti-Croat breath communist Yugoslavia has ever made.  President Milanovic has for many weeks now been criticising the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing it of imposing repressive restrictions on the people, regardless of the fact that Croatia’s measures are in fact not among the strictest in the European Union. Milanovic has supported Covid-19 vaccinations but the fact that he is scathing various elements of Covid-19 measures such as wearing face masks for the vaccinated,  the Certificates of Vaccination or Covid passes or the powers that the Civil Protection Board that brings the decisions related to Covid measures there is no doubt that vaccination levels are low because of the daily circus that goes on every day between the Prime Minister and the President.  

Zoran Milanović, gave a statement to the media during this week and severely attacked Milorad Pupovac (One of Members of Croatian Parliament representing Serb Minority and leading activist in Croatia denying Serb aggression and genocide over Croats) and the representative of the Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefik Dzaferovic for whom Milanovic said was a “UDBa activist from Zenica” (communist Yugoslavia Secret Services activist)…

Such an attack is both politically and morally justified for a great many Croatians in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and it is high time someone so high on power ladder has brought it into the public arena.

“We hear in Parliament from Milorad Pupovac, Andrej Plekovic’s coalition partner (who was also my coalition partner five or six years ago) that the Croatian army committed ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the war and after the war. Things like that bother me. I was in Srb in 2008, I never saw Pupovac come to Bacin, where 70 elderly Croats were murdered in 1991, to Promin, where 40 people were killed in mid-1993… He is a man without any moral principles. He is like a jukebox, the more you insert five kuna coins, 25 kuna, the more you get.

But I see Sefik Dzaferovic, a sponsor of the mujahedin in Kakanj (Bosnia and Herzegovina), coming to Vukovar to provoke Serbs. He does not come out of reverence for Croats because he calls those same Croats and their country war criminals. That is the problem, and we will talk about it,” Milanovic said.

“Then Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic, who incited that UDBa operative from Zenica against me, called. There are always people who will shout at me, but people spit on Croatia. So then Bakir tells me that I should think a little more. I think and I have an attitude…

“No one will shut my mouth, not only me but not a single well-meaning man. I will always fight against manipulators and petty souls. The only thing they have in common is that they like to implant and parasitize, including the team from Sarajevo and Mr. Pupovac, who dishes out lessons on morality with everyone, but acts like a jukebox. The more you put in, the more you have. A man without any principles, moral and political “, said Milanović.

“I receive 80% of Croatian Serb vote, there are ten thousand of them, I have a right to say something about what bothers us…where are the war veterans now, to defend the people from Pupovac, where is the HDZ community of war veterans now … immoral people for whom the truth means nothing, who are corrupted because they have secured a job in government companies, who are paid for not working … and they easily walk over the insults that Croatia had committed ethnic cleansing, Knin was not ethnically cleansed, people fled from Knin and then 30% returned to Croatia…”he said, reiterating that Milorad Pupovac was playing dirty.

Incitement of chaos in Croatia has become a political circus and its main performers are the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic. While Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic was President of Croatia similar circus played out between the Prime Minister and President and Grabar-Kitarovic had often said in public that she has had no success in establishing a good working relationship with the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic keeps replying to some of President Milanovic statements, however his replies are an act of composure and seriousness one couldn’t metabolise even with huge blobs of the softest butter. He just does not seem sincere, and he has never pulled Milorad Pupovac over for his insulting threats and innuendoes against Croatian war veterans who defended Croatia from Serb aggression. Plenkovic has often said in public that the truth of Croatian Homeland War and its righteousness are not disputable but he keeps keeping close company in government coalition with the Serb minority that constantly criminalises that war, that constantly reeks of hatred for Croatian victory over Serb aggression in that war so, really, one cannot take Plenkovic  as truly meaning his own words that the War truth is indisputable.

He has never acted on his words and defended that truth in front of the Serb aggressive lobby within his own parliament. What a travesty of justice towards own people and independence built on the foundations of that war!

This is a tragic reality for Croatia.   

This time around though the difference is that this President, Zoran Milanovic, is not even complaining about the lack of good working relationship with the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. Milanovic appears focused on specific matters that may uplift values of the Homeland War, place Serb aggression where it belongs, do away with the cruel Serb-led equalisation of victim and aggressor, prop the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina to avoid the threat of being removed as one of three constitutional people and treated as an ethnic minority by the Bosniaks (Muslims).  

Or – the political circus in Croatia may linger in town for quite some time. Ina Vukic

Croatia: Discord Between High Places Continues to Undermine Transitioning From Communist To Democratic Mindset

If one concluded from the political events that lead to developments of a cautious, unhappy and angry significantly sized pool of people in Croatia one could easily observe that the thrust of the government’s and the president’s policies include imposition of anarchy and the public’s rolling in discord as well as the continuation of corruption and injustice. Constructive suggestions to various matters are met with antagonism and disapproval as if people and government opposition are incapable o sound decisions and constructive proposals.  

What a terrible, “knee-jerking” week it has been in Croatia again. Confusion, disappointments, anger, sarcasm…disgust! It is difficult to know who is at fault, for what seems to be a perpetual conflict between the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President lasting several years. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was in constant conflict with the former President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (and she stemmed from the same political party as he/ HDZ) and is continuing the same with President Zoran Milanovic, who stems originally from SDP/ former League of Communists.

Given that both Plenkovic and Milanovic personally stem from the communist family stock that ruined the country, suffocating it by late 1980’s in astronomical rates and runaway inflation with “Hiroshima”-type of economic devastation largely due to corruption and theft, perhaps this is their way of ensuring that the Croatian people do not enjoy their deserved peace and order and prosperity? These days anything is possible in politics, and neither is clearly steering the country to the common goal of Homeland War values for which rivers of blood were spilled.  

President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic continued with their vile squabbles, public rows, disagreements, and insults against each other on any theme that ruled the days of recent weeks. On the need for Covid-19 vaccination passes (the President is against them), on matters of defence and its Minister and the government’s purchase of used French Rafale fighter planes, on measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19 and its variants, or the measures or lack of them in the fight against corruption …

The HRT TV main news bulletin of Friday 3 December 2021 actually stated that “the system of the Croatian Public Attorney office is falling apart, which is evident when President Milanovic had said that HDZ will not punish the State Attorney Mrs Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek for her activities in trying to save the HDZ’s former Minister Gabrijela Zalac amidst serious allegations of fraud and misappropriation of EU funds (given to her ministry for purchase of computer software) and alleged bank thefts…”   Suffice to say that the Croatian Parliament experienced this week an angry and loud lot in government opposition vying for the sacking of State Attorney Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek. The ruling party, HDZ, though, will not budge it seems and one of the Party’s Vice-Presidents Branko Bacic, a die-hard perpetual politician with morals and honesty reminiscent of morals of a lizard, whose expiry date has long passed for Croatian politics and progress from communism into democracy, appears as the worst offender in protecting that State Attorney in what seems to be a coverup of deep corruption of gigantic proportions when compared to the general public standard of living.   

To clarify the issue here, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office EPPO has recently set up an office in Zagreb, Croatia – a body that will serve as watchdog over how EU funds granted to Croatia are spent. As I mentioned before in several my articles, in a former communist country where the “art” of thieving and corruption has been perfected such a body is essential and it may not be enough in tracking down and acting upon acts of corruption and fraud in Croatia.  Almost on its first day running on Croatian soil EPPO caused on 11 November 2021 the arrest of Croatia’s former Minister for Regional Development and EU Funds, Gabrijela Zalac, pending investigations into founded suspicions of corruption in the form that includes syphoning off via fraudulently blowing up the cost of computer software needed to more than a million euros, which, it is claimed, went into private pockets. This saga continues and how it will end is anyone’s guess.

Former communists have a knack for dragging their feet when it comes to criminal processing of one of their own or of those that follow them. The government is refusing to even discuss the possibility that the State Attorney breached her duties if she protected the former government minister Zalac amidst solid allegations of fraud and corruption. It is becoming evident that the State Attorney, protected by the government operatives, will attempt any which way to tear down EPPO’s case for criminal proceedings against the former government minister Zalac. It is a pity that the parliamentary opposition has not got a sufficiently loud voice in this matter and a successful fight against corruption in Croatia still appears to be in people’s currently helpless hands rather than governments’. As corruption cases emerge more and more one wonders whether there will be a need in Croatia for “Storming of the Bastille” type of a scenario. Poverty is increasing, unemployment shocking (Covid pandemic not factoring into this equation) and intolerance towards the government grows sharper and louder. Confidence for investments from foreign countries spreads ever so bleak and miserably.      

All this is happening while the United Nations expert publicly calls upon Croatia to clean its act and embark on a harder push for justice and better justice system. With former communists occupying both the Prime Ministership and the Presidentship it is, however, truly doubtful that either will make genuinely corrective steps to shape up Croatia’s justice system into a modern democracy where corruption is dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. The general perception is that all persons in powerful positions in Croatia are in each other’s pockets just as they were during the life of communist Yugoslavia. It would be a huge step in the transition from communism to democracy in Croatia if I were to be proven wrong in this.

“It is important that the Government gives an unequivocal sign to society and the international community, of its commitment towards a comprehensive and holistic transitional justice process aimed at addressing past abuses, preventing their recurrence and establishing the foundations of a peaceful and respectful society for all”, said Fabián Salvioli, a human rights expert, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said in a 2 December 2021 statement at the end of a six-day official visit to Croatia.

While praising the “progress made after the conflict, and particularly during Croatia’s accession process to the European Union”, in prosecuting war criminals, searching for missing persons, and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring the rule of law, democracy and the promotion and protection of human rights, the UN expert observed however, that “progress appears to have stalled in the last seven years”.

The Special Rapporteur flagged rising concerns over “the prospects of effective social reconciliation, particularly as a result of mounting instances of hate speech, glorification of war crimes, and the relativisation of the decisions of the ICTY and national tribunals”.

While noting legislative measures adopted by the Government to curb the extremely worrying trend, Mr. Salvioli also pointed out that implementation was insufficient.

“I urge the relevant police, judicial, legislative and executive authorities to adopt all necessary measures to adequately respond to the raise in radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society, to ensure that the steps taken so far towards reconciliation are not irremediably reverted”, he said.

Well, it would certainly seem that Mr Salvioli has a mind to belittle the actual truth as he criticises those who criticise the judgments delivered by the ICTY. He appears to tell us that whatever that International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague had said is the truth and nothing but the truth. That may be in some cases, but it is not so in all. And there is plenty of literature and writeups on that very issue to be had if one bothered to look.

Justice is certainly not seen as having been done in all cases processed by the ICTY and real justice depends on that “seeing”.  

Mr Salvioli talks of radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society! What else would a level-headed person expect from a country that had defended itself from a brutal Serb aggression to be brought to the place where it is today where the pro-aggression Serb minority form a part of the government and voice deplorable threats towards Croats, trying to cover up the crimes and aggression committed in Croatia. He recalled that “for a process of transition and reconciliation to be effective” it is vital to acknowledge the suffering and dignity of all victims.

Mr Salvioli and his peers should know that the Croatian people, victims of Serb aggression requiring defending own life and self-preservation, have not had a day of deserved peaceful existence to enjoy their victory over Serb aggression since the war ended completely in 1998. They have had to live their days poisoned by the politics designed to equate the victim with the aggressor. Mr Salvioli and his peers throughout the world need to assess that process and then come out in their efforts to teach nations lessons. If Mr Salvioli of the UN has not done that, and it seems he has not, then he can go and jump in the lake for all his words are worth. Ina Vukic

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