Yugoslavia has not yet died and we do not know when she will…

 

Slovenian Ljubljanska Banka "ran" from Croatia taking people's savings with it Photo: Davor Visnjic/ Pixsell

Slovenian Ljubljanska Bank
“ran” from Croatia taking
people’s savings with it
Photo: Davor Visnjic/ Pixsell

There was a comedy TV series produced during late 1980’s in a former Yugoslavia state of Montenegro and it was called “Djekna has not yet died and we do not know when she will”. Set in a remote rural place of Montenegro the TV series followed the actions of a family that went about solving the simplest of problems or situations in the most difficult of  ways possible. The TV series acquired a cult status across former Yugoslavia. And so to this day, 25 years from its break-up, the process of succession – distribution of assets and liabilities of the former communist Yugoslavia, has not yet been completed. In that sense (along with some individual political ones) Yugoslavia has not yet died.

Communist Yugoslavia apologists and their friends always have and always will try and tell the world how great life was in communist Yugoslavia – much better than what it is in independent and democratic Croatia; that Croatia within Yugoslavia had much less unemployment and many operating manufacturing plants, companies etc. They, of course, omit purposefully to say that under the Yugoslav communist/socialist regime about 94% companies operated with the help of loans or ongoing bank lines of credit (made possible through communist totalitarian regime), as income from productivity simply did not cover operational expenses, not even wage costs. But, under communism a person had a job for life – guaranteed whatever level of productivity or usefulness for the company an individual had. Hence, communism nurtured the fatal sense of entitlement to a wage (and a job) was born and lived for about 50 years under communism and continues in many places still today, 20 or so years after Croatia’s Homeland finished. That the State owed one a living was pretty much the attitude of majority of people in former Yugoslavia at the time it disintegrated as a federation of states.

A demonstration of how deeply companies in former Yugoslavia (including Croatia) has actually emerged during the past week when Slovenia reportedly filed a 360 million-euro (US$405 million) lawsuit against Croatia, saying Croatia prevented the predecessor of Slovenia’s Nova Ljubljanska Bank from recouping money owed by Croatian companies when Yugoslavia broke up. As if independent Croatia was responsible for the sins of former Yugoslavia.

The suit was reportedly filed at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, and names the companies that borrowed from lender that was originally called (Slovenian) Ljubljanska Banka, which operated in Croatia while Yugoslavia existed. Slovenia reportedly accuses its former Yugoslav federal partner Croatia of “systematic and arbitrary interference” through the Croatian judicial system, where Slovenia filed more than 80 lawsuits in the past 25 years, which did not go anywhere.
Slovenia’s justice minister Goran Klemencic said that “Ljubljanska Bank was the largest bank in former Yugoslavia and that it provided loans for development for years. Croatian companies had not met their loan repayment duties and, hence Ljubljanska bank commenced proceedings (after the break up of Yugoslavia). There was over 80 companies that raked up hundreds of millions of debt…”

I find it rather incredulous and ridiculous that Slovenia can even think of seeking damages from independent Croatia for loans provided by its Ljubljanska bank under the former communist regime from which both Slovenia and Croatia seceded. In former Yugoslavia it was Belgrade and the communist regime that dictated the industrial environment including propping banks with access to foreign loans, licencing them to operate in the communist/socialist regime economic environment heavily reliant on government funding or government funneling of foreign loans, so that companies could have line of credit to pay their work force, etc. Communist regime needed to prove itself desirable and the only way it could do that best was to secure jobs and wages no matter what.

Slovenia is, therefore, trying to create a way to recoup old loans its bank gave to companies in Croatia (as it did to other states in former Yugoslavia) during the life of communist Yugoslavia state-run/controlled companies. Slovenia has around 2014 been ordered by the same European court that its Ljubljanska Bank must pay out individual citizens of Croatia a total of 385 million euro in order to reimburse their savings they held in that bank in early 1990’s when the bank shut its doors in Croatia and retreated back to Slovenia at the break up of Yugoslavia, taking people’s savings with it! Up until now only about 60 million has been paid out to people who held savings in that Slovenian bank in Croatia. Slovenia is now trying to say that the money owed to that bank by companies that existed in Croatia as part of Yugoslavia is equal or greater than that the bank owes to individual people who had savings in the bank. It’s to be remembered that Slovenia liquidated Ljubljanska Bank in early 1990’s and in 1994 formed its New Ljubljanska Bank with Ljubljanska Bank assets but not its liabilities, and thus has tried all these years to weasel out from having to reimburse the many people from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina whose private savings it had basically stolen.

Unbelievable!

With this reported lawsuit against Croatia, Slovenia is placing on equal level the money belonging to individual people its bank took from Croatia to Slovenia when it shut shop in Croatia with the old loans owed to the bank by companies that operated under communist Yugoslavia political directives and economic regulations! Furthermore, Slovenia tends to hold the opinion that it should not pay out anything, that all debts arisen in former Yugoslavia should be dealt with within the succession of former Yugoslavia case. Yup, as unbelievable as it is, the politicians of all former Yugoslavia and current ones of independent states have not yet within a quarter of a century managed to untangle and complete the distribution among former Yugoslav states of the assets and liabilities of former Yugoslavia. The European Court will first decide if it will take up the Slovenian lawsuit.

The process which began in 2001 with an Agreement of Succession of the Former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, had progressed painstakingly slowly and almost completely halted several times and it’s sadly obvious that it is not known whether the five successors of Yugoslavia – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia will ever complete the final stage of the process of disintegration of the former common state of Yugoslavia. A tentative inventory made by independent consultants in February 1993 estimated the net assets of the SFRY as of 31 December 1990 at US$60 billion. Of this, military assets represented 75 %, immovable/property assets 3.4 % and financial assets 21.6%. It is 2016 and value of the assets have held up well with due increases, Serbia had for a number of years held that it was the only true successor/heir to former Yugoslavia and this saw, for example, Serbia continuing to occupy diplomatic missions buildings owned by former Yugoslavia while all other former Yugoslavia states that went independent had to find accommodation for their newly formed diplomatic missions throughout the world. Much of these have in the past handful of years been distributed among Former Yugoslavia states and that is progress. Still many tail-ends remain loose, many issues to sort out one of which is now this latest lawsuit coming out of Slovenia that will delay the completion of succession of Former Yugoslavia.
Distressful as it is, Yugoslavia has not yet died and we do not know when she will…
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia – Slovenia Memorandum of Understanding: EU Accession – Blackmail, Smoke and Mirrors Conundrum

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia   Photo: www.hrt.hr

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia Photo: http://www.hrt.hr

The ratification by 27 EU member states of Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty involves assessment by those member states as to whether they are satisfied with Croatia’s progress in ensuring compliance with the completion of the remaining implementation of the commitments taken during the accession negotiations, and as required by EU’s imposition of monitoring of Croatia as condition to Croatia’s successful entry into EU membership on 1 July 2013.

Compliance with Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Market Competition and Justice, Freedom and Security and any bilateral issues between countries is to my knowledge not included in the monitoring, in criteria upon which ratification of the Treaty is to be based.

However, somehow Slovenia has managed to impose its own condition if it’s to ratify Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty. This condition has to do with Slovenia’s push to weasel its way out of its responsibility towards Croatian citizens whose bank savings disappeared when Slovenian Ljubljanska Banka folded or packed-up (1991) in the process of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. (A new bank, Nova Ljubljanska Banka, was formed after the Ljubljanska Banka went bankrupt but it only took over the old bank’s capital, not its debts to foreign savers! One wonders where in the world, even in 1991, could it have been possible and proper without acting unconscionably to ignore creditors in bankruptcy proceedings!)

As it’s a matter of a significant amount of money (some 270 million EURO) Slovenia has been on a vicious path in stalling with the payment of money it owes to Croatian citizens. Slovenia has held a firm opinion that the matter of this debt it owes to the Croatian costumers of its Ljubljanska Banka should be dealt with as a matter of “succession from Yugoslavia”.
In other words, who gets what equity from the assets of former Yugoslavia?
The finalisation stage of State Succession for Socialist Federative Republic Of Yugoslavia (former Yugoslavia) doesn’t appear on the horizon, let alone being near. So, when it comes to paying out the money owed to Croatian’s whose savings went missing along with Ljubljanska Banka from Croatia, Slovenia’s thinking seems to bee something like this: we have equity in the assets of former Yugoslavia, so we’ll wait till the succession case is completed and then subtract the money we might owe from the value of equity coming to us from former Yugoslavia and if Croatia doesn’t agree with this we won’t ratify its EU Accession Treaty!

Lo and behold, this line of thinking is well known to the EU movers and shakers in Brussels, and yet none have come forward to make it clear to Slovenia that ratifying Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty has nothing to do with Slovenia’s problems and everything to do with Croatia’s performance on compliance with matters set by the EU.

On 7 March, Slovenia and Croatia had initialed a memorandum of understanding that should resolve this Ljubljanska Banka dispute. Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic and Slovenian State Secretary Tone Kajzer initialed the memorandum of understanding. The Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia will sign the final agreement on Monday 11 March, as formal adoption of the agreement.
The Bank for International Settlement (BIS) took on an arbitration role on this dispute. Under the new agreement the Croatian government will suspend all court proceedings regarding savings …and the Slovenian government vowed that it will ratify Croatia’s Accession Treaty.
The two countries will continue active negotiations under the auspices of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements.

Stefan Fuele, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, welcomed these news and said: “This is also a very good example how joint efforts in the area of good neighbourly relations bring benefits for both sides and provide basis to solve open issues.

Even blackmail seems to be good enough to achieve EU enlargement!

In trying desperately to convince the Croatian people of how good a deal with Slovenia, Croatia has achieved, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic appeared on Croatian TV evening news on 7 March.

His TV news program interview could perhaps have been palatable, despite his arrogant and antagonistic demeanour, had he not made a ridiculous mistake a lawyer should never make – and he is a lawyer by education:

Question: “A solution has been agreed upon with Slovenia, but the Opposition (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ) warns of lack of clarity regarding the court proceeding that need to be frozen, they say that, at the end of the day, this could mean the abandonment of the court proceedings?

Zoran Milanovic reply: “ I haven’t seen that warning but I hope that they have read the twenty or so sentences in the memorandum, which does not contain the word ‘freezing’ anywhere, there is the English word ‘stay’ … that’s a big difference … so, freezing does not exist in law and I would like to hear about this from people who know what ‘stay’ means, what suspension means in proceedings of which that is a procedural instrument and everything else is clear, the memorandum is crystal clear, it’s good for them and it’s good for us…

In his evident rejection to entertain properly, duly, what the Croatian opposition was saying about the memorandum with Slovenia, Milanovic arrogantly emphasised in this interview that ‘freezing does not exist in law’! In his arrogant way, he condescendingly labelled the opposition of not knowing what they’re talking about when they interpret the word ‘stay’ in legal and practical terms!

Even though I am not a lawyer, I know that the word ‘Freezing’ had become a part of legal definition of ‘stay’ way back in 1985, when Canada’s Supreme Court adopted that word as part of defining ‘stay’ in Regina V. Jewitt case:

A stay … as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979), it is a kind of injunction with which a court freezes its proceedings at a particular point, stopping the prosecution of the action altogether, or holding up some phase of it. A stay may imply that the proceedings are suspended to await some action required to be taken by one of the parties as, for example, when a non resident has been ordered to give security for costs. In certain circumstances, however, a stay may mean the total discontinuance or permanent suspension of the proceedings”.

So, the Opposition in Croatia (HDZ) was correct in its suggestion that the ‘freezing’ could end up as abandonment of the court proceedings in the long run. Which would be a disaster for the Croatian people whose personal savings are at stake.

But then again, perhaps Prime Minister Milanovic knows all this, as a lawyer and as the Prime Minister, and has adopted the usage of smoke and mirrors in order to avoid answering to the Opposition’s concerns and warnings. Using rhetoric of pretending to know better than the Opposition what the English word ‘stay’ means in legal terms, suggesting that the term is complicated – too complicated for you or I to understand, to mislead the public rather than to inform it! What a mess! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A..Ps. (Syd)

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