Tour-de-force Raid In Croatian Capital Zagreb Over Corruption

From left: Slobodan L:jubicic, Milan Bandic and Petar Pripuz

From left: Slobodan L:jubicic, Milan Bandic and Petar Pripuz

On late afternoon/evening Sunday 19 October 2014 police in Croatia’s capital Zagreb have arrested 19 people from the city’s Mayor’s office and associated business holdings. Croatian and the world media are full of this story, as it certainly appears more like a political tour-de-force raid against the city’s authorities rather than a normal train of events following duly conclusive investigations. No doubt, corruption in Croatia (as with all former Yugoslavia states) is a crippling scourge, but one doubts the arrests require such adroit manoeuvre as we’ve seen from this move instigated by Croatia’s Anti-corruption authority USKOK. Why the authorities chose a Sunday evening to arrest these individuals is not clear but it certainly added high drama to the whole process that stinks of political plotting.
The “Tour de force” (a performance managed with great skill) could well be a clever plot – by the pro-communist or ex-communists holding power in the country, including the president Ivo Josipovic whose second mandate in imminent elections is looking more and more unlikely – to push into the background the trial in Germany against two Croatian nationals (Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac) for communist Yugoslavia crimes. The trial in Germany is as far as I and many are concerned a trial of historical importance; it’s likely to reveal quite a string of murderous operations by Tito’s regime – communist Yugoslavia, and as such snatch away quite a few votes from Josipovic and perhaps even more for the ruling Social Democrats at next year’s parliamentary elections.
So, Milan Bandic, the longest serving Mayor in history, generally, this is his fifth mandate since 2000, has been arrested and alongside him the co-CEO of CIOS waste disposal and recycling corporation, Petar Pripuz, as well as the president of public infrastructure firm Zagreb Holdings, Slobodan Ljubičić Kikan. Also 16 other staff and/or associates of the City administration, which operates within a conglomerate of some 20 companies, have been arrested. Names of all have not yet been released.
The public does not know exactly what and if the authorities hold evidence that stacks up to criminal charges but it is expected that Monday, 20th October – today- all will be revealed in a Zagreb court. Or, perhaps not all!
The following announcement can be found on the USKOK (anti-corruption authority) website:
Following months of complicated criminal investigations associated with illegal practices in the City of Zagreb and Zagreb Holdings, conducted by the Police Directorate and the National Police USKOK, coordinated by the State Attorney’s office and USKOK, several persons have been arrested (19.10.2014)
Certain evidential activities will be carried out in reference to the apprehended persons and will, within statutory time, be brought to the remand superintendent. Applications for criminal charges, based on founded suspicions, for a larger number of criminal acts of corruption, abuse of position and power and trading with influence.
The news of these arrests has dropped upon the Croatian public like a bomb, even though there have been suggestions for a number of years that corruption and abuse of power has plagued the city authorities. People are in shock and confused by the fact that the arrest occurred on Sunday late afternoon/evening when it was clear that for at least a year and half the ring has been tightening around the city authorities; allegations against Bandic have occupied media space for number of years but nothing stuck… all accounts and receipts and invoicing have been under scrutiny and forensic auditing, even the smallest of receipts such as those for petrol. Bandic has been a sore in Social Democrats’ (read: formerly known as the League of Communists) eyes ever since he left that party in 2009 and embarked upon his, unsuccessful, candidacy for President of Croatia. Open animosity between Bandic and the Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has often surfaced into the public as tragic and pathetic. There have been expectations that Social Democrats would destroy Bandic but nothing happened for years and now this arrest – on a Sunday evening!
Milan Bandic’s lawyer, Kresimir Krsnik, has stated for Croatian radio:
When all the investigations are done, we will see what will happen. This is a spin used to divert attention from the trials against Perkovic and Mustac [in Germany]. All the media will now be writing about these arrests. I would like to share with the Croatian public and know why they have been arrested.”
It would seem that the authorities investigating corruption have come to a conclusion that corruption with the Zagreb City administration and operations is not a matter of a few isolated acts but a matter of systemic corruption enabled by the City heads/the Mayor through a creation of a network of corrupt practices.
According to unofficial sources, Bandic, his close associate Ljubicic and a Zagreb entrepreneur Pripuz allegedly caused a financial harm to the city budget by committing a series of corruption-related crimes.
Judging by what the minister for Entrepreneurship and Crafts, Goran Maras, said it would also seem that there is still quite a bit of investigating to be done.
Given that we’re dealing with a very large number of people arrested it’s obvious that there is a great deal of matters to investigate and I hope that not a single stone will remain unturned. And that everything that is still unclear and suspect will be investigated.
So, it’s clear: it is still an ongoing investigation and 19 people are behind bars, in remand pending investigation unless some are conditionally released.
Regardless of whether the persons arrested will be found guilty of corruption or not, it is profoundly sad to see that Croatian authorities seem to thrive on sensationalism even with the serious crimes such as corruption is. Processing suspects for corruption and abuse of power should be something that is practiced every day in a country such as Croatia and not seemingly sporadically by bringing the “big fish” to public slaughter (e,g, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, Nadan Vidosevic/former head of Croatian Chamber of Economy etc) just to show the government is doing something about corruption when if fact the biggest problem for the country’s well being is the widespread corruption occurring at local levels of government and government offices. Furthermore, one must wonder whether Croatia is becoming a country that likes to arrest first and then look for evidence that would sustain criminal charges? If so, any foreign investor would shudder and turn away. The story behind Zagreb Mayor and the 18 others arrested with him promises to be interesting but I truly hope it leads to a tighter control and policing of practices at all levels of government and state controlled companies for there lies corruption’s lifeline. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatian Veterans Demanding Due Dignity Condemn Governance

Croatian Veterans Convention 2014 Photo: FaH  (Click on image to enlarge)

Croatian Veterans Convention 2014
Photo: FaH (Click on image to enlarge)

 

On Saturday 17 May the USA marked its Armed Forces Day with pride, respect and celebrations, parades, across the country to pay tribute to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in times of war and peace. The UK will do the same on 28 June. In Croatia, the veterans of the 1990’s Homeland War still find themselves fighting for their rights, for recognition – for the dignity that should be felt across the nation. This is a tragedy that can only be removed through strong retaliation against this injustice.

On Friday 16 May the first convention of Croatian Homeland War veterans and members of their families was held in Zagreb – several thousands of veterans and victims of the 1991-95 war and their guests attended the Lisinski concert hall where the convention was held.

It turned loud and tumultuous as the mere mention of the minister in charge Predrag Matic sparked the gathered participants to loudly boo and whistle in disapproval and rejection.

We have been witnessing the long-lasting poor governance of the Croatian state, the sale of national resources, the pauperisation of the Croatian people, the stigmatisation of Homeland War veterans and the abolishment of their acquired rights, and now we say that’s enough,” reads one of the conclusions of the convention.

We say to those to whom the dignity of Croatian Homeland War veterans and the Homeland War means nothing, we will no longer tolerate such an attitude. We demand the prosecution of war crimes against the Croatian people and the revision of cases covered by the General Amnesty Act. We demand the collection of war reparations from the aggressor and that all rights of the veterans and their families be regulated under the Croatian War Veterans Act,” said in his speech Ante Deur, the president of the Guard Brigades Corps, adding that “the veterans will no longer permit that those who had not defended Croatia decide upon their fate”.

The convention voiced demands for the Homeland War to be portrayed in schools in a truthful and dignified way, and directions seeking that Vukovar be proclaimed a place of Special Piety and announcements that the veterans will not allow the arrest of Vukovar heroes.

In his very emotional speech, Djuro Goloski, a 100% war invalid, emphasised that the Homeland War was not a civil war and that the veterans who defended Croatia are not criminals. “We were heroes,” he said. “and today we are treated as a mob.” Goloski accused the current and the previous government of systematically disparaging veterans and restricting their rights.

We insist that our children have the right to education and work in line with traditional values and the world view of the Croatian people.”

Croatian Homeland War veterans will defend the values of the family as the pillar of every society, say the conclusions that were read out by the president of the Guard Brigades Corps, Ante Deur, whose words were met with standing ovations.

Even though Parliament Speaker Josip Leko was expected to address the convention, it did not happen. Veterans’ Affairs Minister Predrag Matic’s presence was met with loud disapproval, apparently scaring away his communist pro-Yugoslavia parliamentary comrade.

Standing ovations rose to the national football team player Joe Simunic (who is currently a victim of FIFA’s political persecution, banning him to play at the coming World Cup in Brazil, based on his “For Home” chant at a relatively recent soccer match in Croatia) , singer Marko Perkovic Thompson, members of the Initiative for the Defence of a Croatian Vukovar and General Mladen Markac.

Among the guests were Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic and the president of the opposition HDZ party, Tomislav Karamarko.

Nineteen years have passed since the last armed operation in August of 1995 for the defense and liberation of Croatia from Serb aggression. It is a tragic reality that the veterans still find themselves struggling for their rights, for their recognition as a national symbol of freedom and door to democracy. This awful reality has a great deal to do with the politics of equating the aggressor with the victim and the fact that many still call the shots in Croatian government who were against Croatian independence and democracy and who still do not accept it, nor cherish it. Out with them, I say.

Ron Kovic, an American veteran – a son of a Croatian father and Irish mother – whose battles are so well portrayed in his autobiography “Born On Fourth Of July” (and movie of same title) said, quite a few years ago:
We who have witnessed the obscenity of war and experienced its horror and terrible consequences have an obligation to rise above our pain and suffering and turn the tragedy of our lives into a triumph.
I have come to believe there is nothing in the lives of human beings more terrifying than war and nothing more important than for those of us who have experienced it to share its awful truth.”
And in light of these words and the demands and conclusions from the Croatian Veterans Convention, I conclude this post and say: Blessings to you Croatian Veterans from the Homeland War. Keep fighting for the democracy and the rights under it – for which you lost lives, limbs and homes! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Speakeasy Lingers At Local Government Elections

According to the Croatian Electoral Office 46.96% of eligible voters in Croatia turned up to vote at the Local government elections Sunday 19 May. One may well conclude that, although not as high as the 54.32% turnout at December 2011 parliamentary elections, such a turnout is pretty solid, but not as solid as one would want. The below 50% turnout could well signify that majority of voters still either “don’t care” or continue ruminating within a kind of a speakeasy that has nestled among their thoughts, having yet to muster enough courage to vote in line with their preferences – which most likely have a great deal to do with their disillusionment with the major political parties on offer. The freedom of expressing ones thoughts (through votes, for example) has evidently not yet fully left the oppressive filters of the former totalitarian communist system of former Yugoslavia even though Croatia has been out of it for over two decades. Old habits die hard, and there just has not been enough effort placed into public education on citizens’ rights and responsibilities in a democracy in Croatia. So voters either don’t care or are afraid to vote, and I think it’s more the latter than the former because in the staunched environment of overwhelming political elitism, as is Croatia, voting for something new automatically carries with it a good dose of fear of the unknown.

I say the above having in mind that low voter turnout is not unusual in countries of well established democracies and that Croatians should be exempt from being compared to such occurrences, which are often commented upon as “just one of those things that are normal in democracy”. Why, you may ask? Because 94% voted in the 1991 elections (to secede from communist Yugoslavia) and this fact suggests that Croats want and can activate themselves to vote. So, in a relatively young democracy, which has emerged from a totalitarian system, one expects that people would want to participate in elections on a large scale in order to shape the future they want.

So, something is brewing at grassroots level! And it doesn’t appear to favour the major political parties.

The Prohibition era in the United States of America (1920’s into 1930’s) saw a prominence of speakeasy establishments about which one only spoke very quietly, if at all, in public. The significant voter abstinence at elections in Croatia is often commented by phrases such as: “They’re all the same”, “Same people, different cloaks”, “What’s the use, they’re all corrupt”, “They haven’t got a clue”, “If I knew for sure they’ll secure a job for my children, I’d vote for them”… All those who do not vote have formed their opinion as to how things should be in Croatia politically, but evidently have little courage to speak out en masse or make changes through action.  And so, mental speakeasies linger on.

In Sunday’s Local government elections an overwhelming number of candidates failed to win 50% or more votes. This means that second round of elections will occur in two of weeks (2 June). Second round elections involve voting for two top scoring candidates from the first round and the one who gets the higher number of votes in the second round is the winner.

Therefore, those who are not locked inside a mental speakeasy and came out to vote on Sunday demonstrate a noticeable departure from supporting the Social Democrats/SDP (main party in government) and the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (largest party in opposition) is regaining its ground at the grassroots, local level.

HDZ is particularly delighted with the fact that it won in major or larger Croatian cities such as Zadar, Sibenik, Velika Gorica, Bjelovar, Sisak – in the 2009 local elections HDZ’s defeat was huge, almost debilitating.  Most of the votes counted yeasterday and today show that HDZ candidates and/or partners have won first round of elections in the larger cities of Gospic, Zadar, Sibenik, Karlovac, Sisak, Velika Gorica, Krapina, Bjelovar, Virovitica. SDP and its partners have won in Rijeka, Split, Cakovec, Koprivnica,Vukovar, Varazdin, Pozega. HNS and its partners without SDP won Bjelovar, Dubrovnik and Pazin. IDS without coalition won Pula and HDSSB won Osijek. Victory for the capital of Zagreb went to current Mayor Milan Bandic (independent) and Slavonski Brod went to the independent Mirko Duspara.

HDZ believes that it will gain more victorious ground in the second round of elections, particularly Split and Vukovar where the difference in votes between HDZ second place and SDP first place is very narrow.

Certainly, what these Local elections show is that there is a shift away from the governing coalition parties and a significant voter swing towards HDZ and/or its partners. Results in larger cities and towns usually reflect the mood of those that voted.

The electoral gains by HDZ can to a great extent be attributed to a greater public confidence in that party, which many attribute to the purges and changes the party has been undergoing since its disastrous loss at 2011 general elections and since Tomislav Karamarko took leadership.

According to Tomislav Klauski, journalist of 24sata, Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister and leader of SDP, has vowed to relinquish responsibility for the SDP electoral defeats, threatens with membership purges, disbandment of leadership in local disobedient SDP branches, announces the introduction of loyalty as criteria of survival, expects gratitude from his vassals … Well, well not even Tomislav Karamarko went that far (at least publicly) when he set about reviving and changing HDZ.

What this SDP brandishing of swords resembles is, actually, the mindset of a totalitarian, dictatorial system not far removed from the communist one Croatia thought it had left behind a few years ago.

It’s a real pity more voters didn’t cast their say at Local elections – there was certainly quite a varied selection of candidates/parties on offer, which did not fit the political elite, major party mold. Certainly, taking a chance with the new and untested seems like a great opportunity to bring about the change most of the non-voters seems to be hankering for or pondering upon. One simply cannot avoid the feeling that if recycling of the same parties with more or less same people at the helm continues, and low voter turnout persists, not much will change for Croatia except, perhaps, more loud street rallies full of demands that have no action plans. And so the body of the majority of eligible voters that do not vote becomes and is a toothless tiger that political elite recognises only too well. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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