Radical Right on the march in Croatia

May 26, 2000 -- (RFE/RL) The Right in Croatia has been on the defensive ever since late President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) defeat in the parliamentary and presidential elections early this year. Now a series of right-wing incidents has shocked the country and shown that the radical Right is still a threat that the new authorities must take seriously.

Over the last few weeks, several veterans' organizations have held large anti-government demonstrations. On 10 May, for example, some 5,000 veterans gathered in Split to protest the government's policy of cooperation with the Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Veterans believe that the country's center-left government is using the ICTY as a weapon against the Right. They also believe that the government is intentionally minimizing the contribution that the veterans made during the country's war for independence. Veterans and Invalids of the Patriotic War (HVIDRA) President Marinko Liovic has publicly threatened that his veterans will sabotage the upcoming tourist season by blocking roads, border crossings, and airports.

Ethnic tensions are also growing between local Croats and returning refugees in territories once occupied by rebel Serbs. On 6 May, local Croats in the isolated village town of Veljun prevented a group of Croatian Serbs from commemorating a World War II era massacre by fascist Ustasha forces. In a shockingly grotesque display, one local woman (who claimed that her son was killed in the recent war) urinated on a monument on which local Serbs planned to lay wreaths to the victims of the World War II massacre. On 17 May, five noncommissioned officers broke up the monument with their hands. And there have also been reports that local Croats and Serbs have again begun to arm themselves in Kordun, which saw heavy fighting during the 1991-1995 war.

Many observers believe such incidents are being organized by the right wing of the HDZ. Groups like Liovic's HVIDRA have close ties to the former ruling party, and many Croats regard them as the HDZ's satellites. They believe the HDZ wants to use such incidents to create a state of chaos in the country in the hope that this will unleash a political crisis resulting in the fall of the current government and the return of the HDZ to national prominence.

There are indications that these hard-liners are being helped by renegades from the intelligence community who are still loyal to the HDZ's right wing. Last week, police told the independent weekly magazine "Nacional" that they suspect that operatives from military intelligence and leaders of the Split chapter of HVIDRA organized the 3 May riot by soccer fans during a championship game in Split, which left 100 people injured and resulted in the arrest of another 100 fans. The stadium's surveillance tapes reveal that several men brandishing mobile telephones directed the rioting crowds in Split's soccer stadium. Police later identified them as former operatives of military intelligence.

Opinion polls show that most Croats reject the right- wing offensive. According to a recent poll in the daily "Jutarnji list," nearly 90 percent of the country's citizens disapprove of Liovic's inflammatory rhetoric. Most people do not want to see a few zealots like Liovic scare off the tourists and foreign investors whom the ailing economy desperately needs.

Many veterans' groups have also spoken out against Liovic's radical comments. The leader of the Rijeka chapter of HVIDRA has threatened that his veterans will use force to unblock roads and border crossings if Liovic carries through on his threats. Minister of Veterans' Affairs Ivica Pancic (who himself is a veteran and a displaced person from Vukovar) claims that Liovic and other radical veterans' leaders are motivated by their own selfish interests. Some members of HVIDRA have accused Liovic of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization. Pancic believes that Liovic and others like him are trying to stir up controversy and violence in order to detract attention from their own shady financial dealings.

Meanwhile, the government's investigations into the major corruption scandals that occurred under the HDZ regime and the new authorities' willingness to extradite suspected Croat war criminals to the ICTY are making some people nervous. The Right may be able to find support among groups such as influential army generals who fear prosecution by the ICTY, Croatian immigrants from Bosnia who will be forced to return the houses they have occupied to returning Serb refugees, and members of other interest groups (like veterans and war victims) who face the loss of their privileges. It may also attract the support of the most needy and underprivileged citizens, whom it may be able to convince that returning Serb refugees are the main source of their misery.

The threat from the radical Right poses a strong challenge to the government, which until now has cooperated with the ICTY and given its unconditional support to the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia. Indeed, these policies are the main reason why the West has finally allowed Croatia to enter NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, which is undoubtedly the biggest success of the government's first 100 days in office.

Original article