Croatian Watergate – or is it? ‘Allo, ‘allo!

Croatian Vecernji List newspaper dropped a “bomb” on Saturday October 20 as it uncovered a privacy breach scandal dubbed “Croatian Watergate”, spinning the government and the president into top gear of political manoeuvrings designed to take the public’s mind off the real issue: are there/were there serious breaches of privacy in Croatia.

According to the Vecernji List exclusive article Croatian police had, under the political leadership of the minister for internal affairs, Ranko Ostojic, abused the secret data collection system and carried out unauthorised surveillance of heads of the National security agency (SOA) as well as some key people from Agrokor corporation. Unauthorised surveillance included adding to the phone contact lists of those under criminal investigation the phone numbers of persons from SOA and Agrokor.

Who talks to whom, why, who knows who and what no good are they all up to maybe, type of thing.

Thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in many mythologies and Croatia could really do with one right now even though there’s no mythology about the pathetic mishandling of real issues here. A thunderbolt could at least bring some semblance of agreement on important privacy rights issues between Croatia’s President and its Prime Minister. Once again the gap in opinion and knowledge or important issues between the two is striking and concerning.

Monday 22 October, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and president Ivo Josipovic called a joint press conference on the matter. Well, one knew things are serious when the two top wigs joined in an extraordinary press conference.

Ah yes, but truly disappointing. They were neither clear or synchronised nor unambiguous, writes Josipovic, for example, had emphasised that the fact that SOA chief contacted members of criminal groups does not need to mean that he did something that is illegal, while Milanovic said that SOA chief must not communicate with members of the mafia, not even recreationally.

The thunderclap produced by these clashing statements roared from the minister of internal affairs Ranko Ostojic’s mouth as he explained that surveillance was done because the head of SOA was in contact with members of the mafia!

October 23 – National security (SOA) chief, Petar Misevic, was dismissed from duties by Prime Minister Milanovic and President Josipovic amid media reports of illegal phone call monitoring of officials and businessmen.

To make the matters worse Milanovic was heard saying on Croatian TV news that possessing private lists of phone numbers an individual calls etc is a normal thing! All phone companies have them!

Good old private ‘Allo, allo – now open slather to everyone!

For crying out loud! Of course they have them but they cannot release them or hand them around without police/court authorisation. That’s why privacy legislation exists Mr Prime Minister!

Tomislav Karamarko, president of largest opposition party Croatian Democratic Union, asked: if it’s normal to have such lists why then was the head of SOA sacked. Karamarko, though, has become a handy target for the diversion from the real issues of security and privacy breaches. I.e., having said that he had seen the official report on the matter as it arrived in the office of parliamentary committee on internal affairs and national security questions and innuendos suggested that he may have obtained such a report improperly (as perhaps through lines of contacts within internal affairs which he headed as Minister in the previous government).

Then foreign minister Vesna Pusic jumps in and says that “Nobody from the EU has asked about the secret services affair… the affair is made bigger than what it is and there are problems with professionalism in those services when it comes to information leaks outside official channels of communication.” Pusic too has lost the plot on this one, she completely ignores the fact that such colossal breaches of privacy are a big issue! A really big issue!

Then comes Thursday 25 October and this affair is not as small as Vesna Pusic wanted us to believe. It’s huge! Milanovic has announced war against mafia! Is he serious or is he clutching at straws for political survival?

He said “someone came into possession of documents they had no right to. Someone wanted to evict a fox and instead it’ll be a grizzly bear”.

The parliamentary committee for national security will investigate further, Milanovic said. Josipovic said Misevic’s dismissal was part of an intelligence overhaul that included the recent replacement of the head of the Security and Intelligence Agency, one of the security bodies overseen by the council, which reports to the Prime Minister and the President.

In the meantime things are as usual: a disjointed and uncoordinated intelligence and national security system reigns under this government and under this president. Certainly they could learn a lot from the times under Dr Franjo Tudjman’s leadership when discord between various branches of national security and intelligence was non-existent. Tudjman knew that no political system can survive or operate successfully without a coordinated and fully functional national security system.

As Prime Minister, Milanovic picked-up where Ivica Racan left off in 2003 and Josipovic picked up where Stjepan Mesic left off in 2010 – creating chaos and disorder in the spine of a nation – in National security. They created a situation where clashes and disagreements between various units of the National security services have become rife and procedures (assuming they exist) get forgotten and ignored. It’s like every man for himself within an organisation that’s supposed to work in unison and be coordinated, finely tuned to set procedures that apply across the board. Hence, it seems that no unit does its job, that no one keeps an eye on the effects of foreign intelligence services on Croatian national security.

Could it be that the biggest mafia in Croatia is seated within government institutions and that’s why corruption and large-scale theft have not been rooted out yet? It is these that jeopardise the national security?

Things smell of political point scoring rather than getting down to rooting out of corruption and organised crime. EU monitoring does include measures in dealing with organised crime and corruption and Milanovic’s government say they mean business. But indications are that they mean to create a great deal of hoo-ha  and little results for stemming out corruption.

The minister for internal affairs Ranko Ostojic (who is now under special police guard) has let this cat out the bag. He said October 25 “… shortly said, we are executing a political purge.”  That goes rather well with President Josipovic’s utterance: “we uncovered weaknesses (in national security) and we must remove them”. A perfect match under the Social Democrat tent.

Why on earth do weaknesses in procedural matters of doing a job need political purges? Wouldn’t one go about affirming procedures, ensuring staff follow them and comply with relevant legislation, such as the Privacy one, while at the same time enforcing staff disciplinary measures where needed. It’s of course understandable that the head of such an organisation (national security) where serious breaches have been uncovered gets the axe, but political purging pulsating throughout!? This only confirms that the old communist ways of political appointments (protecting the interests of the Party) are alive and well under the Social Democrat led government. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps.(Syd)

Tomislav Karamarko: Still the One!

Tomislav Karamarko – candidate for president of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)

When seemingly everyone in a society wants to have a say on something on political party elections, and goes about saying it, then it’s clear there’s a burning need for changes that seek to bring about stabilisation of society.

Elections for leadership of a political party usually attract some media attention, but do not saturate it. In Croatia, though, issues relating to the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) leadership elections due on Sunday 20 May have literally flooded the Croatian media since January 2012. A barely informed reader would easily form the impression that general, not single party elections are afoot in Croatia. Everyone seems to want to say their bit, whether member of HDZ or not. The candidates for president of HDZ (initially six, now 5 ) have been placed in a public arena (psychologically not unlike the ones where Gladiators fought wild animals during days of Roman Empire). Dirt slinging, lies, accusations, slander … have replaced the spears, the chains, the swords…

The most dust has been raised against the candidate receiving most support from within HDZ membership – Tomislav Karamarko.

HDZ is the main political party in opposition in Croatia so its internal elections are a “big deal”. But, it is a poor political tactic to undercut one’s opponent’s ideals simply to champion one’s own.  It is even worse to spread untruths about candidates.

Instead of onstage bickering (gladly reported by the Croatian media) about opponent’s past deeds or ambitions, the people would want to hear about how each candidate plans to mend Croatia’s economy’s lacerations and outline an effective exit strategy from society’s divisions on whether communist crimes should be brought to justice and from widespread corruption that has almost paralysed the psyche of the ordinary battler on the streets.

Frankly, the most important issue is how each candidate for HDZ leadership plans to lead the party in the future and subsequently, should electoral “lady-luck” be so inclined, how they plan to lead a future government.

HDZ as a political party has been in strife for a number of years, and lately, given the criminal corruption charges against its former leader Ivo Sanader, it has been branded by some as a criminal organisation. Sanader is the one (along with former president of Croatia Stjepan Mesic) who has been most responsible overt and covert actions in the push to move HDZ away from its founder’s (Dr Franjo Tudjman) ideals. While it’s not unusual for political parties to undergo transformations and shift ideals to suit a democratic progress in society the outcome of the attempted HDZ’s transformations over the past twelve years is chaos within the party and chaos in society. As, HDZ was the popular people’s movement that led Croatia out of communist Yugoslavia, it only stands to reason that its symbol in the hearts of the people is still very strong.

It is blatantly obvious that Croatia cannot make the desperately needed step forward in democracy and economic stability unless the political bickering yields a leader who has the strength and determination to translate political spins into action.

Tomislav Karamarko had rejoined HDZ late last year, not having been a member for many years. Some say, with negative connotations, that he has ambitions to one day be the president of Croatia – as if ambition is a bad thing. Such critics need to realise that all progress is made out of ambitions; ambitions are positive and desirable. No change is achieved without ambitions.

Croatian people are largely sick and tired of corruption, the people want the rule of law and fair opportunities to succeed in life; they’re tired of the never-ending rows and insults about World War II divisions (Ustashe and Communists) – which group had the absolute right to kill and which one didn’t. The antifascists (communists) have held steadfastly to their purpose that Croatians who were against communism, deserved to be killed – and anyone who tries to pursue communist crimes is called an Ustasha (fascist)!

Only last week Josip Boljkovac, antifascist suspected of war crimes in WWII has called Tomislav Karamarko an Ustasha! That just demonstrates in what dire need Croatia is to rid its public alleys of people such as Boljkovac.

Karamarko has been criticised by some in the Croatian media, and outside it, as the person responsible for “handing over” general Ante Gotovina to the ICTY in the Hague.  These critics choose to ignore the fact that Croatia had legislated for cooperation with the ICTY many years before 2005 and that any person in the public service position under whose duties it fell to assist in the cooperation with ICTY needed to perform their duties as public servants under directions of their government superiors. It must not be forgotten that Croatia’s EU accession negotiations were stopped because it was assessed that cooperation was not what it should have been.

Other criticisms are that Karamarko as former minister of internal affairs did not stop corruption in Croatia. Well, Karamarko may not have stopped the corruption in Croatia (and he could not have done it single handedly even if he wanted) but he did a darn good job of bringing many high-level corruption charges into the courts. Perhaps it is exactly his proven fight against corruption and organised crime that has set many against him as candidate for HDZ leadership. Some might fear that the wrath of a determined corruption fighter will catch up with them, also?

As opposed to other HDZ leadership candidates Karamarko is still the only one that radiates the aura for decisive, desperately needed changes in Croatia: root out corruption and organised crime that cripple the economy on many levels and stick communist crimes where they belong – prison and pillory.

With all the other HDZ leadership candidates one cannot avoid sensing weaknesses and only lukewarm direction for some change, but not change that will lead Croatia into the next phase of democracy that requires the full rule of law and mechanisms that ensure compliance with the law across all levels of society. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Will Croatia’s former president Stjepan Mesic walk in Lord Jeffrey Archer’s footsteps for perjury?

Stjepan Mesic (left) Darko Petricic (right) Photo: getimage

In 2009, former president of Croatia (while still in office) filed a private lawsuit for defamation (by slander) against Darko Petricic, political analyst and publicist, in Zagreb.

Mesic claimed that Petricic had defamed him by saying on Croatian HTV program Dossier and later on Radio 101 that Mesic’s first presidential campaign (2000) was financed by the Albanian lobby (mafia) and that because of that Mesic had become one of three wealthiest people in Croatia.

Petricic’s book, “Croatia: in the net of mafia, crime and corruption” (Hrvatska u mrezi mafije, kriminala i korupcije) is also said to contain similar allegations.

On Thursday 29 March judge Zorislav Kaleb said in his judgment that Petricic had not defamed Mesic, that it was “a matter of serious critique of a politician without the intent to defame and offend and that it was proven during the proceedings that Mesic had kept company with some persons who were subject to criminal proceedings, but that it wasn’t proven whether Mesic extended any favours to them“.

Judge Kaleb also concluded that Mesic’s presidential campaign was not fully transparent and that it’s impossible to confirm who exactly donated funds to Mesic’s campaign.

With regard to Petricic’s public comment that Mesic is one of the three richest people in Croatia, judge Kaleb said that “this is a value judgement which does not fall within criminal jurisdiction”. Kaleb continued: “Today, nobody is relatively rich, or poor, adding that the President (Mesic) after leaving the office of State responsibility had purchased two appartments and two garages in his wife’s name, and it’s not clear who had lent him the money”.

Mesic did not attend court on the day judge Kaleb brought his decision, however, newsportal reports that his attorney had asked that Petricic be fined by 150 day’s wage, which is about 27,000 Kuna (about US$4,800.-), as he had not proven the truth of his comments nor that the Albanian lobby had financed Mesic’s presidential campaign.

Legally, defamation occurs when a public communication tends to injure the reputation of another person. England is the birthplace of Common law and it looks upon defamation as a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him. Similar tracks are followed in most if not all countries of democratic persuasion.

Communications deemed (by courts) to be defamatory are usually those where malice and falsehood are proven.  Malice, in this context would point to knowing or reckless disregard for the truth.

It would seem that Petricic was not required to prove the truth of his commentary for a court judgment to be delivered. It would seem that Mesic did not insist that Petricic proves the truth of his commentary, i.e. that Albanian mafia really did fund Mesic’s presidential election campaign.

So, on basis of what usually occurs in defamation courts in the developed democratic countries, where malice and truth are pursued to a bitter end until proven or disproven, one cannot but conclude that Mesic, for whatever reason, was not really serious about his defamation lawsuit against Petricic, and Petricic got away without having to prove that Mesic’s campaign was truly financed by a mafia.

Or, did Judge Kaleb “save the day” for both of them by placing the whole affair into the category of political critique, or critique of a politician. This decision, then, is the crux that, if upheld on appeal or confirmed as final, aligns Croatian court opinions with those of the Western world in such matters.

In 2009, Tennessee (US), Sumner County Circuit Judge C.L. “Buck” Rogers dismissed a defamation case saying: “Debate on public issues shall be uninhibited [and] wide open and generally [does] include vehement, caustic and unpleasant attacks on the character and bias of public officials…Accusing a public official or public figure of using their political influence to obtain a benefit for others or themselves or favoring their supporters is not defamation”.

Indeed, in recent years, the US Supreme Court has allowed that only factual misrepresentation is to be considered libel or slander, not the expression of opinion. This trend is widespread throughout the courts of Western nations.

The outcome of Mesic’s defamation lawsuit against Petricic – “criticism of a politician and, therefore, not defamatory” – is of course good for Petricic and all free speech – as far as the tort of defamation goes.

However, the truth behind Petricic’s allegations against Mesic may never be known and that leaves the Croatian nation at an enormous disadvantage and in despair. Generally, failures in getting down to the nitty-gritty of most allegations of corruption and organized crime have been an agony infecting the whole nation, leaving it in tatters. Perhaps Petricic should have taken advantage of the defamation case against him and produced unquestionable proof that the Albanian mafia funded Mesic’s campaign, influencing Mesic, as he alleged.

Having said the above, the truth in Petricic’s allegations against Mesic may not be lost forever, after all. I.e. they may not remain just a “take-it-or-leave-it” political comment or critique, leaving people guessing as to whether Mesic is innocent or guilty of the allegations of corrupt conduct etc. Petricic has announced that he will sue Mesic for treason, war profiteering and international money laundering.

According to Helena Tkalcevic, Petricic said that he expected such a court decision and that he is preparing to countersue Mesic for having told many untruths in his court testimony, among others about the money he had reportedly received from the Croatian diaspora.

Who knows, Mesic just might get to walk in Lord Jeffrey Archer’s (UK bestselling author, MP) prison footsteps for perjury.

While this would be good if perjury is proven, I believe the people of Croatia would rather see the proof for alleged war profiteering and money laundering than for telling lies in court. All in all, it’s a shame that judge Kaleb did not, it seems, refer the matters against Mesic before him, that throw suspicion upon the propriety of sources of Mesic’s alleged wealth etc., to the State prosecutor’s office for further investigations, and that nothing may come out of criminal allegations against Mesic unless Petricic mounts a countersuit. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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