Croatia: War Veterans Public Register – a monster in the making

Croatian Veterans' Resister - "Names for Eternity"

Croatian Veterans’ Resister – “Names for Eternity”

Croatian minister for veterans’ affairs Predrag Fred Matic has recently announced that the government’s decision is final: it will publish War Veterans Register (Register of those who defended Croatia in the 1990’s Homeland War) by Christmas. Much controversy and opposition to the publication of the Register have surfaced since the idea for the public register kicked off some two years ago. While some, including the minister, believe that such a register will assist in the veterans’ ease of access to securing their rights and benefits as veterans and “weed out” the false veterans (which are many, it’s claimed), others fear that such a public register will be open to all sorts of abuses and endanger the lives of many veterans – particularly in the region where tempers run hot from past and current efforts by some politicians to equalise the victim with the aggressor.

Indeed, once the names on the Register are let loose into the cyberspace there’s no telling what could happen to whom, by whom. Not a good feel at all, despite the fact that minister Matic is trying to assure everyone that the Register will contain the names of those who defended Croatia with honour and dignity and that there is no danger whatsoever for individuals on the Register.

What an obscenely depraved assurance!

Even with “positive” consultations and assessments received by the ministry from different professional sources no one can say with 100% confidence and surety that absolutely no danger exists. One is, after all, dealing with possible dangers that can occur from criminal minded individuals who carry in them a sense of injustice or some kind of craving for revenge. One cannot guarantee absolute safety in a demographic post-war climate that still carries a lot of unresolved issues and personal grievances regardless of whether those grievances are real or imagined.

Minister Matic’s determination to publish the Register is so strong that all criticisms and arguments against it even in the parliament don’t seem to have made any difference. On the contrary, the minister’s resolve now verges on ridiculous and idiotic. For example, on 30th November 2012, in parliament, while defending the decision to publish the Register, Matic said: “If any veteran gets trapped on any state border only because he is a Croatian veteran I will go to prison instead of him, be sure of that!” (Source Croatian TV/HRT News)

Unlike in most “Western” countries where veterans registers exist and details accessible via Freedom of Information legislation, Croatia seems to be planning publishing the whole Register that will contain information which can relatively easily identify any particular veteran on it: Full name, name of one parent, date and place of birth, number of days active during the war, military unit – other details will not be published, however, could be released with the individual veteran’s written approval.

Threats of lawsuits against the minister or ministry of veterans’ affairs are emerging thick and fast.

Dujomir Marasovic, member of parliament (HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union) who argued fiercely against the publication of the Veterans’ Register finally said 30th November that names of members of the intelligence agency’ UDBA secret police of former Yugoslavia, members of WWII Partisans who are still in receipt of a war pension, 30 thousand members of the Italian Fascist Occupation Army in receipt of pension in Croatia should also be published on a Register. Damir Kajin, IDS/Istrian Democratic Party, supported Marasovic’s motion in parliament (Vecernji List).

Dinko Buric, HDSSB/ Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, repeated in parliament that his party, along with the Register of Croatian veterans wants to see published the names of all participants in the Serbian aggression against Croatia (Vecernji List).

Josip Djakic , president of The Union of Veterans, HVIDRA, expressed similar attitudes in 2010 when he said: “Hypothetically speaking, if this register is public then we have to make others public, as well. Like the one with the names of all the Partisans, people who worked for the secret services in Yugoslavia, JNA officers, soldiers of Serb Krajina…”.

One thing is clear: the public has the right to know about its war veterans, however, information that can easily identify an individual should not be readily available to the public (e.g. place of birth and name of parent). The public at large does not have the right to know personal details that can easily pinpoint the identity of an individual. The fact that Croatian government plans to include this information in the public register is very concerning and to my view (and evidently to the view of many) such information will place individuals in danger. Such information should only be available on application and appropriate scrutiny. Someone should stop the publication of such sensitive information on the Register. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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)

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