Croat veterans threaten government

Boris Raseta

MON, 22 MAY 2000

Zagreb, May 5, 2000 - Words uttered by Marinko Liovic, President of the most influential Croatian Veterans' Association - HVIDRA, to a reporter of the Zagreb weekly "Globus", sounded incredibly dramatic, almost suicidal, even to the most experienced observers of the Croatian political scene.

"HVIDRA is planning to launch a series of protest activities and not only as demonstrations in city squares and streets, but as specific actions. One of them might involve deliberate efforts to thwart the coming tourist season. "We shall block border crossings, roads leading to the seaside, ports, airports, etc. We shall send letters to foreign diplomatic missions warning them that their citizens are not welcome to Croatia and to dissuade them from coming here. These are extreme measures, no doubt" concluded Liovic, "but we know what we are up to".

The reasons which made Liovic's association announce such extreme steps lie in the "possibility of further deprivation and denial of rights of volunteers, veterans, disabled, sufferers, parents and children of killed participants in the Patriotic War. There are strong indications that it will happen and that this Government will revoke some of our acquired rights". This was an unexpectedly cheap shot. The announced thwarting of the tourist season, after ten lean years, is a move that embittered a large part of the Croatian public.

Namely, it is quite clear that foreign tourists - who still see Croatia as a rather dangerous region - will hear these threats (if nothing else, they will be used by the Croatian tourist competition), so that no matter whether they are fulfilled or not, their effects will be devastating. If we add some minor, but nor marginal incidents, like the dismantling of an explosive device which was timed to go off in Makarska on the night of the presentation of "Porin" record awards, it is clear that a mild enthusiasm accompanying the announcement of the coming season, could easily be dampened - through no fault of any external factors.

On the other hand, the Government badly needs the money that Croatia could make from the tourist season because it was forced to make a series of unpopular moves, like the one on liquidating unprofitable firms and lay-off of redundant labour, so that the foreign-exchange inflow would be a strong shot in the hand instilling the optimism necessary for the coming autumn. More importantly, it is clear that Croatia stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars of interest rate-free inflow from tourism in case of any attack on the tourist season.

Neither Liovic's claims that volunteers cannot "agree to be equalised with the participants in the Second World War, especially partisans", nor statements that "the Croatian state will allocate larger sums to Serbian returnees than to victims of the Patriotic War" have changed public reactions to Liovic's threats. All public authorities of Croatia have unanimously denounced them. President of Croatia called Liovic's claims insolent. "Those who say that foreigners are not welcome to Croatia are profusely making use of the Croatian budget, which is replenished with receipts from tourism to a great extent, so that they should think twice before cutting the bough they are standing on".

President of the Croatian State Assembly, Zlatko Tomic estimated Liovic's statements as manipulation aimed at protecting war criminals who could be eventually handed over to the Hague Tribunal. Spokeswoman for the Racan's Government on her official trip to London sent a message that this was blackmail and threats directed against not only the Government, but also against all citizens of Croatia.

Passions are running high in Dalmatia. HVIDRA from the Sibenik district said that Liovic's words resemble a rerun of the Knin road block revolution from 1991; on behalf of his veterans' association General Djuro Decak distanced himself from Liovic's and similar statements, same as Mile Dedakovic-Jastreb, commander of the Vukovar defence from the war times. Dr Mate Granic, President of the Democratic Centre, a new party in the Croatian political sky - composed of HDZ defectors of the so called liberal profile - also condemned this statement.

"I most strongly condemn Mr.Liovic's statements as they will by no means help improve the veterans' status" said Granic. "They will most certainly distance Croatia not only from the European Union and NATO Alliance, but also create an unhealthy climate both for the development of democracy in Croatia, as well as for the development of the Croatian economy and country's political and economic stability. I personally and the Democratic Centre, will support the improvement of veterans' status within the possibilities of our society. We are also in favour of a dialogue of the Government and political parties with veterans. We have explained that demonstrations in Gospic had nothing to do with large-scale popular unrest, but that such statements are harmful and dangerous and we condemn them most strongly".

Representatives of all influential Croatian parties reacted in a similar way. As it was to be expected, the only politician to support Liovic was Anto Djapic, leader of the Croatian Party of the Right who concluded that it would be better to create a chaos in the country than to put up with the return of the Serbs, so that he announced that his party would participate in the blocking of traffic near the seaside.

Some local branches of HVIDRA joined Liovic - like the one in Pula who even more strongly worded his threats. Volunteers from Pula said that they would follow Liovic in any action he might propose, including coup d'etat. However, the Rijeka branch office of HVIDRA claimed that it would unblock all traffic routes which Liovic's man might take.

Thus the country has embarked upon a kind of verbal civil war, unseen in Croatia since Knin road block revolution and conflicts between the Serbian and Croatian armed forces. Although a day after "Globus" published this text, Marinko Liovic held a press conference so as to allegedly refute newspaper reports which made him the star of the week, he practically only confirmed Globus' allegations, adding that in case Racan's Government did not agree to talk to HVIDRA's representatives by the end of the month, foreign tourists would be forced to walk over the protesters. Moreover, expressing his hope that nothing similar would happen, Liovic added that he was planning to send foreign diplomatic representatives a letter expressing his regrets because of such developments. "If the Government continues with granting privileges to the Serbs and denying them to veterans, we shall address the international community for help and protection" said Liovic.

Formally, the whole affair ended when the public prosecutor took over the case so as to determine whether there were sufficient grounds for instituting criminal proceedings against Liovic. Liovic said that if the public prosecutor decides to bring charges against him he would relinquish legal protection he is entitled to because of his immunity. On the other hand, public prosecutor stated that he would check the authenticity of Globus' allegations so that it is evident that people will have to wait for the final decision of judicial authorities, probably until Croatian citizens forget all about it.

Namely, this case obviously has an extremely interesting political background. It is rather peculiar that HDZ, with its new President Dr Ivo Sanader, took time to react expressing its understanding for the "veterans' difficult situation", while in his exclusive interview in the so called "News Plus", Dr Ivo Pasalic, HDZ's most powerful official who is of recent working behind the scenes, stated that he was against extreme measures, but he understood those undertaking them.

It seems that this is the way the wind, which helped Marinko Liovic spread his wings, blows. Namely, in itself Liovic's statement was not provoked by anything in particular. Racan's Government has made certain budget cuts for items intended for disabled and veterans, but only because expenditures of previous governments for these purposes were enormous. A piece of curiosity for Guinness' Book of Records is the fact that in Croatia there are as many as 21 thousand various veterans' and invalids' associations (naturally with all local, regional and district branches), most of whom live directly from the budget. This network of associations has produced an enormous non-governmental bureaucracy which - in view of hard times - lived very well for the Croatian conditions so that any restrictions are hard for it to accept.

However, neither Marinko Liovic nor Anto Djapic are any indigenous political figures or leaders of any political movement. These are two semi-caricatural puppets who, as a fighting fist, always served the interests of HDZ's radical stream, led by the late Defence Minister Gojko Susak and his current successor Dr Ivo Pasalic. There is no doubt that in this case, the script had originated from the same source and from the same people. However, the brutality of Liovic's attack - but, also his total inarticulateness - point more to the weakness rather than strength of both Liovic, as well as HDZ right wing which is the true author of the announced coup d'etat.

The entire picture of the world in which this group of people was created and worked, is falling apart today. Those accused of war crimes are being sent to the Hague; places of alleged mass graves are being investigated in Gospic and its surroundings, chances of Herzegovina being annexed to Croatia are non-existent, while threats of arrests of former HDZ leaders for incredible cases of pure crime, are growing more serious by the day, and there is no way out or chances for the return of the old order.

Liovic's threats should, therefore, be interpreted as an expression of desperate fear of Ivica Pasalic, several generals suspected of having committed war crimes as well as of the HDZ top, from consequences beyond their control. Actions which, it seems, are only aimed at destroying the present Government, even if the whole nation would have to pay for it, show that the imagination of HDZ Mephistopheles is inexhaustible. The loud opposition and repugnance of the nation with their threats are a clear sign that the Croatian public opinion has, nevertheless, become more mature and resilient than those, who during last ten years took advantage of its weaknesses, realise.

Original article