Croatia: Roll Up Roll Up – Political Circus Still In Town

President Zoran Milanovic (L) Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (R)

The circus is still in town!

Its tapestry is tragic, widespread political despair and divisions.

Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, open up your wallets and come and see the biggest show in town. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Grab a ringside seat while they last.

See the fearless Andrej Plenkovic and intrepid Zoran Milanovic high wire double act. Hold your breath as Andrej tries to keep his balance while Zoran vigorously shakes the wires and – vice versa.   They both defy gravity, somehow keep their grip. How many days can they stay up on the wire? Will they fall and tumble to the ground? There is no safety net. Or is there? They are both very experienced at mudslinging, offloading own incompetence and biases to keep walking the wire of power.

Croatia has been in a political crisis ever since the former communists grabbed power in 2000. And the crisis is turning into a political circus unseen anywhere else and painful to watch. Prime Minister against the President, the President against the Prime Minister.

But there are times when one needs to step back and see that some things the President says are the things many in Croatia think but dare not say. The issue is here will the President follow his statements and ensure that changes needed are put in place or will all this talk be just another round of empty rhetoric that brings scores on the proverbial daily political points popularity chart.

Zoran Milanovic appears to be increasingly positioning himself as shooting from the hip, straight-talking man of the people and appears to have lost all caution in choosing words to highlight problems Croatian people are having both in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with regards to the 1990’s Homeland War and war of Serb aggression. He is certainly overshadowing the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic whose patriotic phrases, if they by some seeming accident roll off his tongue, are laboured and insincere. Milanovic has picked up on a significant anti-government mood in Croatia that has become highly politically inflammable and the feeling that anti-government mood with his daily comments and statements keep the media and the public wondering where all that will end.  Whether President Milanovic will do a backflip on his current public appearances that in some aspects give overdue credence to the values of the Croatian Homeland War is yet to be seen. He has done backflips before.   

There is a significant anti Covid-19 vaccination movement in Croatia and vaccination levels are relatively very low even in this fourth pandemic wave with thousands of new cases every day and dozens of deaths from or with Covid. Picking up on this “anti- vaxxer” movement Milanovic burrowed his way into the public heart, and often in seems that public has forgotten that Milanovic stands for every painful anti-Croat breath communist Yugoslavia has ever made.  President Milanovic has for many weeks now been criticising the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing it of imposing repressive restrictions on the people, regardless of the fact that Croatia’s measures are in fact not among the strictest in the European Union. Milanovic has supported Covid-19 vaccinations but the fact that he is scathing various elements of Covid-19 measures such as wearing face masks for the vaccinated,  the Certificates of Vaccination or Covid passes or the powers that the Civil Protection Board that brings the decisions related to Covid measures there is no doubt that vaccination levels are low because of the daily circus that goes on every day between the Prime Minister and the President.  

Zoran Milanović, gave a statement to the media during this week and severely attacked Milorad Pupovac (One of Members of Croatian Parliament representing Serb Minority and leading activist in Croatia denying Serb aggression and genocide over Croats) and the representative of the Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefik Dzaferovic for whom Milanovic said was a “UDBa activist from Zenica” (communist Yugoslavia Secret Services activist)…

Such an attack is both politically and morally justified for a great many Croatians in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and it is high time someone so high on power ladder has brought it into the public arena.

“We hear in Parliament from Milorad Pupovac, Andrej Plekovic’s coalition partner (who was also my coalition partner five or six years ago) that the Croatian army committed ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the war and after the war. Things like that bother me. I was in Srb in 2008, I never saw Pupovac come to Bacin, where 70 elderly Croats were murdered in 1991, to Promin, where 40 people were killed in mid-1993… He is a man without any moral principles. He is like a jukebox, the more you insert five kuna coins, 25 kuna, the more you get.

But I see Sefik Dzaferovic, a sponsor of the mujahedin in Kakanj (Bosnia and Herzegovina), coming to Vukovar to provoke Serbs. He does not come out of reverence for Croats because he calls those same Croats and their country war criminals. That is the problem, and we will talk about it,” Milanovic said.

“Then Mr. Bakir Izetbegovic, who incited that UDBa operative from Zenica against me, called. There are always people who will shout at me, but people spit on Croatia. So then Bakir tells me that I should think a little more. I think and I have an attitude…

“No one will shut my mouth, not only me but not a single well-meaning man. I will always fight against manipulators and petty souls. The only thing they have in common is that they like to implant and parasitize, including the team from Sarajevo and Mr. Pupovac, who dishes out lessons on morality with everyone, but acts like a jukebox. The more you put in, the more you have. A man without any principles, moral and political “, said Milanović.

“I receive 80% of Croatian Serb vote, there are ten thousand of them, I have a right to say something about what bothers us…where are the war veterans now, to defend the people from Pupovac, where is the HDZ community of war veterans now … immoral people for whom the truth means nothing, who are corrupted because they have secured a job in government companies, who are paid for not working … and they easily walk over the insults that Croatia had committed ethnic cleansing, Knin was not ethnically cleansed, people fled from Knin and then 30% returned to Croatia…”he said, reiterating that Milorad Pupovac was playing dirty.

Incitement of chaos in Croatia has become a political circus and its main performers are the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic. While Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic was President of Croatia similar circus played out between the Prime Minister and President and Grabar-Kitarovic had often said in public that she has had no success in establishing a good working relationship with the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic keeps replying to some of President Milanovic statements, however his replies are an act of composure and seriousness one couldn’t metabolise even with huge blobs of the softest butter. He just does not seem sincere, and he has never pulled Milorad Pupovac over for his insulting threats and innuendoes against Croatian war veterans who defended Croatia from Serb aggression. Plenkovic has often said in public that the truth of Croatian Homeland War and its righteousness are not disputable but he keeps keeping close company in government coalition with the Serb minority that constantly criminalises that war, that constantly reeks of hatred for Croatian victory over Serb aggression in that war so, really, one cannot take Plenkovic  as truly meaning his own words that the War truth is indisputable.

He has never acted on his words and defended that truth in front of the Serb aggressive lobby within his own parliament. What a travesty of justice towards own people and independence built on the foundations of that war!

This is a tragic reality for Croatia.   

This time around though the difference is that this President, Zoran Milanovic, is not even complaining about the lack of good working relationship with the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. Milanovic appears focused on specific matters that may uplift values of the Homeland War, place Serb aggression where it belongs, do away with the cruel Serb-led equalisation of victim and aggressor, prop the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina to avoid the threat of being removed as one of three constitutional people and treated as an ethnic minority by the Bosniaks (Muslims).  

Or – the political circus in Croatia may linger in town for quite some time. Ina Vukic

Croatia: Discord Between High Places Continues to Undermine Transitioning From Communist To Democratic Mindset

If one concluded from the political events that lead to developments of a cautious, unhappy and angry significantly sized pool of people in Croatia one could easily observe that the thrust of the government’s and the president’s policies include imposition of anarchy and the public’s rolling in discord as well as the continuation of corruption and injustice. Constructive suggestions to various matters are met with antagonism and disapproval as if people and government opposition are incapable o sound decisions and constructive proposals.  

What a terrible, “knee-jerking” week it has been in Croatia again. Confusion, disappointments, anger, sarcasm…disgust! It is difficult to know who is at fault, for what seems to be a perpetual conflict between the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President lasting several years. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was in constant conflict with the former President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (and she stemmed from the same political party as he/ HDZ) and is continuing the same with President Zoran Milanovic, who stems originally from SDP/ former League of Communists.

Given that both Plenkovic and Milanovic personally stem from the communist family stock that ruined the country, suffocating it by late 1980’s in astronomical rates and runaway inflation with “Hiroshima”-type of economic devastation largely due to corruption and theft, perhaps this is their way of ensuring that the Croatian people do not enjoy their deserved peace and order and prosperity? These days anything is possible in politics, and neither is clearly steering the country to the common goal of Homeland War values for which rivers of blood were spilled.  

President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic continued with their vile squabbles, public rows, disagreements, and insults against each other on any theme that ruled the days of recent weeks. On the need for Covid-19 vaccination passes (the President is against them), on matters of defence and its Minister and the government’s purchase of used French Rafale fighter planes, on measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19 and its variants, or the measures or lack of them in the fight against corruption …

The HRT TV main news bulletin of Friday 3 December 2021 actually stated that “the system of the Croatian Public Attorney office is falling apart, which is evident when President Milanovic had said that HDZ will not punish the State Attorney Mrs Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek for her activities in trying to save the HDZ’s former Minister Gabrijela Zalac amidst serious allegations of fraud and misappropriation of EU funds (given to her ministry for purchase of computer software) and alleged bank thefts…”   Suffice to say that the Croatian Parliament experienced this week an angry and loud lot in government opposition vying for the sacking of State Attorney Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek. The ruling party, HDZ, though, will not budge it seems and one of the Party’s Vice-Presidents Branko Bacic, a die-hard perpetual politician with morals and honesty reminiscent of morals of a lizard, whose expiry date has long passed for Croatian politics and progress from communism into democracy, appears as the worst offender in protecting that State Attorney in what seems to be a coverup of deep corruption of gigantic proportions when compared to the general public standard of living.   

To clarify the issue here, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office EPPO has recently set up an office in Zagreb, Croatia – a body that will serve as watchdog over how EU funds granted to Croatia are spent. As I mentioned before in several my articles, in a former communist country where the “art” of thieving and corruption has been perfected such a body is essential and it may not be enough in tracking down and acting upon acts of corruption and fraud in Croatia.  Almost on its first day running on Croatian soil EPPO caused on 11 November 2021 the arrest of Croatia’s former Minister for Regional Development and EU Funds, Gabrijela Zalac, pending investigations into founded suspicions of corruption in the form that includes syphoning off via fraudulently blowing up the cost of computer software needed to more than a million euros, which, it is claimed, went into private pockets. This saga continues and how it will end is anyone’s guess.

Former communists have a knack for dragging their feet when it comes to criminal processing of one of their own or of those that follow them. The government is refusing to even discuss the possibility that the State Attorney breached her duties if she protected the former government minister Zalac amidst solid allegations of fraud and corruption. It is becoming evident that the State Attorney, protected by the government operatives, will attempt any which way to tear down EPPO’s case for criminal proceedings against the former government minister Zalac. It is a pity that the parliamentary opposition has not got a sufficiently loud voice in this matter and a successful fight against corruption in Croatia still appears to be in people’s currently helpless hands rather than governments’. As corruption cases emerge more and more one wonders whether there will be a need in Croatia for “Storming of the Bastille” type of a scenario. Poverty is increasing, unemployment shocking (Covid pandemic not factoring into this equation) and intolerance towards the government grows sharper and louder. Confidence for investments from foreign countries spreads ever so bleak and miserably.      

All this is happening while the United Nations expert publicly calls upon Croatia to clean its act and embark on a harder push for justice and better justice system. With former communists occupying both the Prime Ministership and the Presidentship it is, however, truly doubtful that either will make genuinely corrective steps to shape up Croatia’s justice system into a modern democracy where corruption is dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. The general perception is that all persons in powerful positions in Croatia are in each other’s pockets just as they were during the life of communist Yugoslavia. It would be a huge step in the transition from communism to democracy in Croatia if I were to be proven wrong in this.

“It is important that the Government gives an unequivocal sign to society and the international community, of its commitment towards a comprehensive and holistic transitional justice process aimed at addressing past abuses, preventing their recurrence and establishing the foundations of a peaceful and respectful society for all”, said Fabián Salvioli, a human rights expert, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said in a 2 December 2021 statement at the end of a six-day official visit to Croatia.

While praising the “progress made after the conflict, and particularly during Croatia’s accession process to the European Union”, in prosecuting war criminals, searching for missing persons, and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring the rule of law, democracy and the promotion and protection of human rights, the UN expert observed however, that “progress appears to have stalled in the last seven years”.

The Special Rapporteur flagged rising concerns over “the prospects of effective social reconciliation, particularly as a result of mounting instances of hate speech, glorification of war crimes, and the relativisation of the decisions of the ICTY and national tribunals”.

While noting legislative measures adopted by the Government to curb the extremely worrying trend, Mr. Salvioli also pointed out that implementation was insufficient.

“I urge the relevant police, judicial, legislative and executive authorities to adopt all necessary measures to adequately respond to the raise in radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society, to ensure that the steps taken so far towards reconciliation are not irremediably reverted”, he said.

Well, it would certainly seem that Mr Salvioli has a mind to belittle the actual truth as he criticises those who criticise the judgments delivered by the ICTY. He appears to tell us that whatever that International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague had said is the truth and nothing but the truth. That may be in some cases, but it is not so in all. And there is plenty of literature and writeups on that very issue to be had if one bothered to look.

Justice is certainly not seen as having been done in all cases processed by the ICTY and real justice depends on that “seeing”.  

Mr Salvioli talks of radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society! What else would a level-headed person expect from a country that had defended itself from a brutal Serb aggression to be brought to the place where it is today where the pro-aggression Serb minority form a part of the government and voice deplorable threats towards Croats, trying to cover up the crimes and aggression committed in Croatia. He recalled that “for a process of transition and reconciliation to be effective” it is vital to acknowledge the suffering and dignity of all victims.

Mr Salvioli and his peers should know that the Croatian people, victims of Serb aggression requiring defending own life and self-preservation, have not had a day of deserved peaceful existence to enjoy their victory over Serb aggression since the war ended completely in 1998. They have had to live their days poisoned by the politics designed to equate the victim with the aggressor. Mr Salvioli and his peers throughout the world need to assess that process and then come out in their efforts to teach nations lessons. If Mr Salvioli of the UN has not done that, and it seems he has not, then he can go and jump in the lake for all his words are worth. Ina Vukic

Croatian Pickings From UN General Assembly 2021

The past week saw the sitting of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City and Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic was there delivering a speech that spanned from global issues such as Climate Change, Violence, Hunger, Poverty, Coronavirus Pandemic, dealing with the Taliban, Multi-lateral cooperation to localised issues of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia has vested interests in the well-being of the Western Balkans. The region’s stability, functionality and prosperity mean a great deal to us. This is why Croatia is one of the strongest advocates of the region’s EU enlargement prospects. The fulfilment of well-established criteria, the implementation of reforms and delivering tangible results remain key requirements for EU membership. But even more so, the path to membership serves to secure the higher standards its peoples aspire to.

Democratic transformation and the rule of law will remain central markers. But we have also continued to call on all regional leaders to lower tensions, overcome their differences, and seek ways to build lasting relationships.

In a way, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a cornerstone of peace and security in the wider region. Its territorial integrity, functioning institutions, and inter-ethnic cohabitation have always been important concerns for Croatia. Yet, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is as challenging and as complex as it gets in the Western Balkans. (And it is always challenging in the Western Balkans)

We would like to see a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina, progressing firmly on the path to EU membership; a country where the equality among its three constituent peoples and the rights of all its citizens are fully guaranteed.

Unfortunately, narratives in Bosnia and Herzegovina often swing between two tenaciously unachievable and unjust ends – centralised governance and separatism. In their own way, both are destructive and contrary to the spirit of its constitutional framework, stemming from the Dayton-Paris Agreement.

The Dayton-Paris Agreement is not without its faults, which undoubtedly will need to be addressed. However, we should not underestimate Bosnia and Herzegovina’s well-established sensitivities and inherited intricacies. Nor should it be subject to experimentation that dangerously deviate from the Dayton-Paris Agreement’s founding principles. This is essential in moving Bosnia and Herzegovina forward and securing its EU aspirations.

The inequality of its constituent peoples has been left unresolved for too long. It unnecessarily created internal political instabilities and tensions. In order to move forward, Bosnia and Herzegovina requires an appropriate institutional ‘power sharing’ framework, based on principles of federalism, decentralisation and legitimate representation. The concept of constituent peoples is often mispresented as an obstacle to the equal rights of all its citizens. Many political and legal practices can be ensured without having to give up democratic rights and freedoms.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s electoral reforms are long overdue and urgently needed. Electoral reforms should facilitate constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) are able to respectively choose their representatives at all the appropriate political levels. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croats have not been able to exercise this right. It’s no wonder they feel marginalised and disenfranchised. This has to change,” said among other things President Milanovic.

The current chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency, Zeljko Komsic, reminded the United Nations of its commitment to human rights, citing ethnic inequality within his own country. The problem with Zeljko Komsic is that he is representing the Croatian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in its Presidency and yet he was elected there by Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks, and not Croats. Were only Croats permitted to vote for their representative then Komsic would not have won and, indeed, the Croats in Bosnia largely feel he is no ally of Croats when it comes upholding and fighting for their rights as one of three constitutional peoples of the country (Croats, Bosniaks/Muslims and Serbs).   

Komšić on Wednesday 22 September 2021 hailed bilateral and regional cooperation during the pandemic, saying neighbours provided aid before multilateral institutions did. But later in his speech, he spoke of neighbours’ intentions to annex parts of his country by fomenting ethnic tensions within.

Bosnia was the site of a bloody war in the 1990s that ended with the Dayton Agreement. Komsic says the international agreement created complex institutions that make it difficult for the country to come to a political consensus that would allow it to move toward “a functioning state.”

He lambasted conditions that have created political, electoral, and social inequality within his own country on ethnic and religious lines.

Komšić bemoaned population outflows, saying a substantial segment of the population, including those of working age and with young families, have left Bosnia for better business and human rights opportunities. At the same time, Bosnia has received economic migrants from elsewhere. He says this combination has created additional social problems.

The General Framework Agreement for Peace, initialled in Dayton and signed in Paris in 1995, is in force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An integral part of the Agreement, as Annex 4, is the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In its preamble, it clearly and unequivocally states that it is, among other things, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948…

Unfortunately, such system of values, based on the equality of all individuals within a society, does not exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina… systemic inequality of the citizens is reflected in several aspects of life. That includes political aspects because all citizens do not have equal rights in the electoral system, but also those where the same citizens do not have equal rights and opportunities in social life, such as the right to work. The political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is such that it gives preference to someone’s ethnicity. Based on that ethnicity, the citizens of my country have greater or lesser rights, depending on which part of the country they live in…

The complexity of this issue is evident in the attempts to impose on us, even through diplomatic activities on the international scene, the existence of discrimination and inequality of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is done by emphasizing the ethnicity of a part of the citizens and demands for greater rights for ethnic communities supported by neighbouring countries, always to the detriment of fundamental human rights…

…I believe that this is the right place to emphasize the expectation that the new High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take into account the need to protect international legal acts and their fundamental values. That is one of his most important tasks. Otherwise, if the international community itself in Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to abandon the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then the following question rightly arises – is the Universal Declaration even necessary if its implementation is selective? Should we even talk about the protection of human rights in general if, in the specific case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the United Nations still has an executive mandate through the Office of the High Representative, we do not show by example that we are ready to stand for common values such as protection of human rights and equality of every citizen in relation to someone else and different.

I believe that, despite all the differences of political views within Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the international community represented by the Peace Implementation Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which assists the High Representative, the only guiding light to further political development of my country, as a pledge to preserve its peace and future, must be respect for human rights values. All the people of my country, regardless of their identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation or absence thereof, must have the same rights. Otherwise, we will end up in an ‘Orwellian society’, where it is accepted that some are, after all, more important than others. That always jeopardises the stability of a society and undermines peace and security. From this very place, I call upon the United Nations institutions to insist on the values of human rights protection in every segment of their activities,” said Komsic among other things in his speech.

Zeljko Komsic is evidently working hard at undermining the validity, reality and spirit of the Dayton-Paris Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina by suggesting it’s out of sync with the Universal declaration of Human Rights. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Croatia’s president called for electoral reform in Bosnia, saying its Croats were marginalised. The marginalisation of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is obviously not an issue that worries Komsic as he knows that the overwhelming majority of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not accept or recognise him as their representative in the country’s Presidency.

There appears to be a wide international opinion and agreement that changes are needed to the Dayton Peace Agreement to ensure the sustainability of enduring peace. It goes without saying that any success of such changes will depend on agreements reached among Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, as one of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement signatories, as well as international leadership figures that include the EU. In addition to President Milanovic’s emphasis on the urgent need for electoral reforms, one of the latest stands from official Croatian foreign affairs ministry on Bosnia and Herzegovina is that its entire society needs a comprehensive transformation, and ‘only by being firmly anchored for European values and standards of civil and political rights for all three constituent peoples and its citizens can the country strengthen its stability and progress’, which appears to have ruffled some high-ranking feathers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Zeljko Komsic’s.

Some in the corridors of Bosnia and Herzegovina powers would argue that electoral laws are a matter of internal affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that Croatia should not meddle. They could not be more wrong because Croatia is a co-signatory of the Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and therefore all aspects associated with peace and equality are its business, and, also, hundreds of thousands of Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovia are citizens of the Republic of Croatia and, therefore, have a duty to advocate for and even try to protect the rights of their citizens living there. Agreement of changes that are needed for Bosnia and Herzegovina are without a doubt of vital importance for the country but particularly for the Croatian people there who are supposed to be equal to Serbs and Bosniaks/Muslims but are pushed so far away from their rights as constitutional people that they are threatened with an even more painful existence than till now, if not extinction from their ancestral lands. Ina Vukic

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