Crisis of the regime swept under the carpet

Marinko Culic

WED, 06 SEP 2000

Zagreb, August 24, 2000 - The scandal has been hushed up. That is how the greatest crisis so far in the state leadership of Croatia ended. In fact it ended in an almost operetta-like happy end without even a minimum of feeling of responsibility for the situation in the country and even a minimum of political style expected of the policy of "new orientation". That is the only possible way one can assess the outcome of the six-hour long meeting of the six ruling parties convened to find an answer to the simplest possible question: Did the head of the state Stipe Mesic and prime minister Ivica Racan lie when they claimed that the Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte had not informed them about the investigation head of the main headquarters of Croatian Army general Petar Stipetic had been subjected to or, on the contrary, did Drazen Budisa lie when he explicitly accused the two of them that they had obtained such information from the Hague but kept it secret from the public and even their coalition partners.

To this simple question Racan, who informed the journalists about the outcome of the marathon session, stuttered an incredible story according to which everybody was telling the truth or at least nobody was lying too much. He, Racan, did not lie when he had said that in the talks with Carla del Ponte Stipetic had not been mentioned as a suspect in the Hague Tribunal, but nor had Budisa made a mistake because Stipetic had, after all, been mentioned but in the context of investigations on military activities of Croatian Army in 1995, but not as a suspect, least of all an indicted. That is how Racan once more tried to protect Budisa in an effort to preserve unity of the ruling coalition and the government itself at the cost of burying under a heap of ashes certain things that are nowadays obvious to everybody and only he seems to be turning his eyes away from.

It is clear that by almost openly accusing Racan and his government that they had become submissive to the Hague Tribunal Budisa is bringing back into public political discourse some of the typical political topics from the time of Tudjman. Racan's government is presented in public as an unreliable protector of national interests of Croatia which could for the first time be felt, although not as openly, when Budisa's right Liberals discreetly boycotted passing of the law on return of the Serbs who had fled from Croatia. This time that silent protest has been raised to a higher level and made more transparent to the public, so Racan was forced to give at least principled answers to indirect but more than malicious complaints coming from Budisa's side.

He said that the new regime had inherited a heavy burden of refusal of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and that is why it wished those who were guilty of war crimes be punished and not have this issue used in political haggling, but especially not to allow the new administration become a hostage of covering up war crimes. But Budisa was not directly accused of continuing Tudjman's heritage in relations with the Hague Tribunal, least of all of trying to conceal war crimes. This was addressed at the remains of the former regime for which, according to Racan, the confusion about Stipetic is opportune in order to discredit the cooperation of Croatia with the Hague Tribunal and make it easier for them to avoid facing justice.

That is how Racan tied his own hands concerning the main thing that happened in this story. And this is that Budisa had practically fabricated the Stipetic case and that he was not punished for it even by having to bear at least moral consequences of what he had done (Racan declared that somebody ought to apologise to Stipetic for having manipulated his name for weeks, but he explicitly said that that somebody was not Budisa). On the contrary, the leader of right Liberals acted as an insulted bride who others should make concessions to, so he demanded that the meeting of the leaders of six parties be recorded, allegedly to prove that it was not him who made controversial statements and caused scandals.

In other words, Budisa publicly made it clear that he did not trust his coalition partners which was qualified by them as extreme insolence and they rejected his demand, but this was a just punishment because they did not have the courage to say the same to him. In this way Budisa created for himself a kind of “ex-territorial” treatment within the six which enabled him to become the only legalised critic of the administration from within, after he had silenced all critical voices in it during the first few months. This created a specific unofficial co-habitation in Croatia, not between Mesic and Racan as expected for some time, but between these two and increasingly ambitious Budisa who is infuriated by election defeat.

It is, therefore, no wonder that Budisa’s direct rival in presidential elections Stipe Mesic reacted far more resolutely than Racan. He accused Budisa of dealing with “trifles and children’s games” with which he wished, at the expense of the whole nation, to get rid of “his own frustrations” and “satisfy his political ambitions”. At the same time he more openly than Racan suspected him of bringing grist to the mill of members of the former regime who are intentionally causing disturbance in the country in order to save real war criminals and their political sponsors the “inconvenience” of going to the Hague.

Mesic did not spare Racan either, although it is quite clear that even this “scandal” gradually settles the old controversies between them and reinforces their informal alliance. He criticised the government for having allowed itself to be drawn into a fictitious story laid at its door by Budisa because it was obviously “easier to deal with it than activate the unemployed”. Mesic has therefore presented the scandal with Stipetic as something that is a natural result of impotence of the government formed by the coalition of six parties, which might even be intentionally produced in order to conceal this impotence.

In the same sense he sharply attacked chairman of the assembly Zlatko Tomcic who tried to profiteer from this story by playing the role of a tolerant reconciler who appealed to the “political leadership” of the state to sit down and smooth the unnecessary differences. Mesic made his stand on this proposal quite clear by calmly continuing his holiday in Dubrovnik, ironically lecturing Tomcic that the “political leadership” was no Constitutional category, while he mocked at the leaders of the six parties for having spent hours discussing something that could not be a topic of a serious conversation.

In this way Mesic lined up the whole state leadership of Croatia and taught them a lesson on priorities in politics, imposing himself as the only authority who can lead the country out of the labyrinth which it does not seem to be able to find a way out of. Former foreign minister Mate Granic, who is nowadays leading a small party with growing influence – the party of Democratic Centre, has already come up with the idea that in case of dissolution of the six, a government of national unity be founded with Mesic nominating Racan as the candidate for prime minister, since he was the winner of parliamentary elections.

This is not exactly a realistic possibility, because the coalition of six parties will not dissolve so quickly that it would be necessary to begin considering its alternative already. But, it should not surprise anybody if this plan had been “ordered” by Mesic himself – who is not even trying to conceal that he has certain influence on DC – in order to send the second in a row already message to Racan’s government that he will use even his extreme constitutional rights if he becomes convinced that the six are exhausting themselves in futile quarrels, risking to squander the entire credit the new regime has among the voters, including himself.

Original article