Communist Yugoslavia Secret Services Archives Needed To Fight Against Organised Crime

The report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in the Western Balkans was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday 26 October 2021 by 60 votes in favour, 4 against and 6 abstentions.  In the report Members of the European Parliament urged governments in the region to significantly increase their efforts to go forward with reforms in the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime. The report says that the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia) are countries of origin, destination, and transit for human trafficking, and they serve as a transit corridor for migrants and refugees and as a location for money laundering and firearms trafficking.

There is a lack of genuine political will in fighting the organised crime in these countries and MEPs want Western Balkan countries to address fully the shortcomings of their respective criminal-justice systems, including the length of legal proceedings. While not located within the Western Balkans for the matters addressed in this report, Croatia as a country that used to be a part of communist Yugoslavia until 1991 still has a great deal to answer for and fight against when it comes to organised crime and corruption.

The report said that Members of the European Parliament insisted that “fighting organised crime and advancing towards European Union integration are mutually reinforcing processes and call for an accelerated integration process.” The EU should, according to its Members of Parliament, support these efforts through financial assistance and practical cooperation. Call me a pessimist and a cynic in this if you like, but judging from the fact that organised crime and corruption are rooted in these societies of former communist regimes or similar political and social realities, the EU money dished out to root out corruption will be largely swallowed up by the same corruption, to feed itself, unless political power landscapes are changed in those countries or the EU actually controls every euro given and does not give money away.

As a member state of former Yugoslavia Croatia has also inherited widespread corruption as organised crimes from it. As such, Croatia could play a significant role in its input into fighting organised crime in those countries of Western Balkans that have their eye on being members of an extended EU member country because it possesses “inside knowledge” of organised crime. But given the alarming level of organised corruption still plaguing Croatia one must doubt as to whether much will change in Western Balkans on account of Croatia’s input. To be effective in this Croatia would need to shed most of its public administration heads and replaced them with those who have no links whatsoever with the corrupt echelons. Or, assisting the EU in this role from Croatia should be persons who would not qualify for lustration if lustration was to occur as well as not be a descendant, child, or grandchild of those who would qualify to be lustrated whether now living or not. It sounds like a big ask but, in essence, it is not because Croatia has quite a number of those who would qualify and who had during the life of former Yugoslavia either lived there or lived abroad as part of the diaspora.

Croatia’s criminal-justice system is certainly there where Western Balkans’ is and it needs a complete overhaul, however, we are not likely to see this occur while those aligned with the former communist Yugoslavia mental set control all aspects of public administration including judiciary.

The Report says that the main factors that make Western Balkans societies vulnerable, are the lack of employment opportunities, corruption, disinformation, elements of state capture, inequality, and foreign interference from non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China. Croatia, even after 30 years of seceding from Yugoslavia still has these problems plaguing its progress and everyday life.

Links between organised crime, politics and businesses existed before the break-up of Yugoslavia and have continued since the end of the conflicts of the 1990s, and Members of the European Parliament “condemn the apparent lack of will of the responsible authorities in the region to open the former Yugoslav archives and for files to be returned to governments if they want them.”

The report welcomes the conclusion of cooperation agreements between Eurojust and the governments of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as the authorisation to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. MEPs urge the Council to authorise as soon as possible the opening of negotiations for a similar agreement with Kosovo.

It is of great interest to monitor how the recommendation from the Report that says that “Responsible authorities should open the former Yugoslav archives” will fare. Knowing the utterly corrupt persons that held the corrupt and criminal Yugoslavia together, influence of whom poisons many a responsible authority in former Yugoslavia countries, including Croatia, the opening of all archives is likely to be stalled for generations to come. Unless of course there comes a time when the political landscape changes and new generations, unpolluted by communist Yugoslavia nostalgia, come to be the authority that makes such decisions.

Suffice to say that there are multitudes of politicians in power or those holding authority in Croatia for whom the opening of Yugoslav archives would reveal alignment with UDBA (communist secret services in former Yugoslavia) communist purges operations and grand thefts for personal gain; an abominable, criminal past that included persecution and assassinations of anti-communist Croats and stealing public wealth for personal gains. Further problem for the opening of Yugoslav archives rests in the fact that when former Yugoslavia crumbled apart Serbia retained much of the archival material pertaining to the country’s federal depository held in its capital city Belgrade. Serbia did not do the decent thing and returned to all the former states of Yugoslavia their rightful archives – Serbia kept them all and it is not a member state of the European Union. Those archives would undoubtedly also reveal, among many other facts, the nasty historical fabrications Serbia has engaged in against its neighbouring countries, particularly Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.     

Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service files (UDBa) hide everything that the lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families would be accused or members of the service lustrated or those prosecuted for endangering human freedoms, political and civil rights, destroying families and various blackmails and interfering in political and economic life and installing in political parties would be charged with. But Croatia’s criminal justice serves largely those it needs to protect from such lustration or prosecution. Secret service files hide everything unknown that would shed light on various historical and political deceptions, montages and that it would produce grounds for a different understanding of the 20th century history that is based on facts rather than communist or Serb fabrications.

Plights by several Croatian politicians in the opposition to the HDZ or SDP governments since year 2000 for the opening of accessibility to all Yugoslav archives, wherever on the territory of former Yugoslavia they may be held, have been numerous. Lobbying for the opening of the archives has been quite rich. But all to no avail! Will EU succeed where others have failed!?  The answer to the question “what is in those secret services files” appears with more urgency as Yugoslav secret services files continue to remain a “taboo topic” despite the landscape where, on surface, all the government officials and leaders swear to their personal commitment towards the truth! EU has been asking for access to those archives for over a decade and this Report regarding fighting organised crime on Western Balkans is just another notch in the string of asking.

The Report’s other significant recommendation is that political and administrative links to organised crime must be eradicated. This all sounds very great, just like the European Parliament’s declaration condemning all Totalitarian Regimes from the past some 12 years ago (2009). But the European Union authorities still to this day fail to punish or impose consequences upon Croatia for encouraging symbols of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian and murderous regime to thrive on the streets of Croatia that lost rivers of blood in the 1990’s while trying to secede from communist Yugoslavia. All this tells me that the European Parliament and the EU authorities have no real political will to contribute effectively to the achievement of recommendations from the Report on cooperation in the fight against organised crime in Western Balkans. I, for one, would love to see Yugoslav secret services archives open for all to access and study and show the truth but somehow, I fret that in my lifetime I will not see that without a miracle of political change. There appear to be too many individuals with power at some level within the countries’ machinery involved with organised crime in both Croatia and in the Western Balkans and only a miracle can rid the people of that scourge. The miracle, of course, can be shaped at the next general elections. Ina Vukic

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)

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