Berserkistan Navigator Europe's Rejection of Croatia
Dismays Croats Seeking Democracy
By Mark Heinrich

ZAGREB, May 15 (Reuters) — A Council of Europe decision to deny entry to Croatia, accusing its government of authoritarian behaviour, will dismay many Croats who yearn for a modern post-war democracy, political analysts said on Wednesday. But they said hardliners heading the nationalist government might prefer entrenched power to links with the West. Recent hardline attacks on political opponents, they said, were intended to sabotage Council membership.

The Council, which announced its decision on Tuesday, was alarmed by the Croatian government's refusal to let the elected opposition, which controls Zagreb city council, appoint a mayor and by new curbs on press freedom. The consensus is, however, that President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) will not succeed in stifling a budding movement for real democracy in Croatia.

"The more extreme rightist elements of the HDZ have won a tactical victory over the moderate, pro-European wing of the party," said Chris Cviic, a Balkans analyst. "But the overall trend towards democratisation seems irreversible. A leak of the HDZ's own internal polls show it now has as little as 17 percent support in Zagreb itself."

At council headquarters in Strasbourg, France, an official said the body was preparing a list of three to four undertakings to which Croatia must agree in the next three to six weeks. Among these would be cooperation with the international tribunal investigating alleged war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia, reunification of the divided city of Mostar and the democratic election of a mayor for Zagreb, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also on the list of hoped-for undertakings would be a pledge that Serbians chased by the Croation army last year out of the separatist province of Krajina could return there, the official said. The Tudjman government withheld immediate comment on the Council of Europe's ruling, which also cited Croatian delays in helping reunify Bosnia under the Dayton peace accords. Tudjman is the patron of a separatist Croat entity in Bosnia.

The 74-year-old former general and the HDZ ousted ruling communists in Croatia's first free elections in 1990. Independence from Yugoslavia ensued in 1991 and the HDZ coasted through elections over the next three years, exploiting a war emergency with rebel Serbs to isolate political opponents and gag most independent media. But discontent with alleged corruption and the hijacking of privatisation for the enrichment of an HDZ-connected elite while most Croats sank into poverty, has grown.

Croats hailed military victory over Serbs in 1995 but refused to reward the HDZ in snap elections. Its majority was narrowed in the national parliament and it lost to a centre-left coalition on the Zagreb city council. Tudjman vetoed four successive opposition candidates for Zagreb mayor on "national security" grounds, then dissolved the council on April 30 and imposed "provisional" rule. Croatia's supreme court quashed the move last week in what opposition critics described as the first decisive backlash against creeping one-party rule in Croatia.

Polls indicate the HDZ could get pounded in many urban districts in the next elections in an expression of popular will for a more pluralist democracy aligned with the EU. "The Council decision in a way is an injustice to the majority of the Croat population which is Europe-oriented," said Slaven Letica, a prominent independent commentator.

Cviic said a recommendation for Croatian membership made by the Council's parliamentary assembly in April may have lulled HDZ bosses into thinking accession was in the bag. "These elements think Croatian closeness to Europe is just a bind, that Croatia is such an important ally for the United States in maintaining stability in the Balkans that it can say, 'To hell with human rights and free press'," he said.

Slavko Goldstein, another Zagreb analyst, warned Tudjman's authoritarianism could alienate Croatia from the United States. "Tudjman may not be aware of the consequences of his moves due to his personal obsessions and the fact he is ominously losing touch with reality," Goldstein wrote in Feral Tribune, one of the newspapers under government attack.

An editorial in the HDZ-run daily Slobodna Dalmacija conceded government "wrong moves" of late but said the supreme court ruling showed the rule of law prevailed in Croatia.

Additional resources
Berserkistan, May 14 · Civil Liberties Crackdown Delays Croatia's European Plans
Berserkistan, May 10 · Croatia Accuses Its Human Rights Chief
Berserkistan, May 9 · Croatia Blamed for Human Rights Abuses
Berserkistan, May 8 · Croatia Charges Journalists with Libeling Tudjman
Republic of Croatia, Office of the President

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