Ivo Skoric on Fri, 8 Mar 2002 12:12:49 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Patriot Games, Croatia

In the shadows of extraordinary performace of Croatian female skier 
Janica Kostelic at the Salt Lake City Olympics, the political 
situation in her homeland looks the least stable since the 
declaration of independence.

While Croatian media and Croatians around the world would like to 
see Janica's success somehow as an expression of their capacity 
as a nation, as a metaphor for their collective aims, as a projection 
of their investment in democracy and free markets, the reality is 
dramatically different: Janica is a gifted kid, she is trained by one of 
the most persistent, headstrong coaches in the known universe 
and she trains mostly on Austrian slopes, using Austrian made 
gear. There is no involvement of the state or people of Croatia in her 
success - besides the fact that she and her family are Croatian.

Meanwhile, with media being busy exhorting Janica, the losing 
party in the Croatia's winning political coalition, Drazen Budisa of 
HSLS, is doing everything to undermine the government and 
provoke early elections, that would, he hopes, propell him into 
presidency, at any cost.

Not that present government is of any good, either. Croatian 
business leaders are touring the world - the US in particular: Ivo 
Covic, president of HEP, the national electric company, that just 
bailed out of its tragic deal with Enron; Tomislav Dragicevic, 
president of INA, the national oil company; Vesna Trnokop-Tanta, 
president of JANAF, the national oil pipeline company; Maja Brinar, 
Deputy Minister of Economy - they were all together in Washington 
DC on February 13, briefing the US Trade and Development 
Agency and the US Department of Commerce: looking for 
prospective foreign buyers for the last big chunks of Croatian 
economy. It is all about short term gains. Some of that to fill out 
the coffers of the executives, to assure the future for their offspring 
in the inevitably bad days expected to be visiting Croatia soon, 
more of that to obtain quick revenue to cover the foreign debt 
obligations ($12B) that Croatia accumulated in the past decade 
with disastrously curious speed. Already, 85% of Croatia's banking 
sector is sold to foreign capital and there are even talks of Croatia 
selling its stakes in the Krsko nuclear power plant to Slovenia. In 
the long term, however, that guarantees that main Croatia's assets 
are going to be its sports superstars like Goran Ivanisevic and 
Janica Kostelic - of course, that until Croatia decides to sell them 
to let's say Exxon or GE.

Enters Budisa, the sore loser. He lost his bid to presidency in the 
last elections, but his political party (social-liberals) remained a 
coalition party in the government. In fact Tudjman's HDZ is still the 
strongest party in Croatia - it is the coalition of SDP and HSLS that 
won the elections, i.e. SDP's position would be untenable should 
HSLS decide to leave the coalition. And that's precisely what 
Budisa aims to obtain, by making 5 government ministers, all 
members of his party, resign their posts in the past month.

Crippled Racan's government is pushed to the brink of early 
elections, Budisa hopes. But, what does he hope to gain? His 
party, HSLS, recently just barely won over 5% vote in the city of 
Zagreb (which is their largest support base). He can destroy 
Racan's government, but he cannot win the elections himself. HDZ, 
on the other hand, can win the elections. And there are rumors that 
Budisa intends to form the "historic coalition" of HSLS-HDZ, just as 
he did in year 2000 in Split with Ivica Racan between HSLS and 
SPD. Racan subsequently sidelined Budisa and pushed him in the 
presidential race with Mesic, that Budisa didn't have a chance to 
win. The first "historic coalition" ended badly for Budisa - he did not 
get any government position, yet he was not really an opposition 
either. Budisa, a former student protest leader and a lifelong 
librarian, is a political diletante, and the second "historic coalition" 
may end up as bad for him as the first one did, if not worse.

That's particularly because this time he aims to make a pact with 
Ivic-Pasalic, the controversial HDZ politician who was the main 
proponent of Tudjman's botched colonial excursion in Bosnia. 
There is no question about who would be the boss in such 
coalition. But Budisa hopes Pasalic may allow him to hold the 
position of the president (the one occupied by Mesic now) which 
was sufficiently weakened by Racan, so it would not be any threat 
to Pasalic, yet Budisa will finally - at least figuratively - get that 
cherished corner office.

HDZ may offer better options than Pasalic, though. Pasalic just 
barely avoided prison time for his involvement in various money 
schemes during Tudjman's government - because there was never 
enough evidence or witnesses around to indict him. But he is still 
likely to be called to The Hague for his role in the Croatian war 
crimes in Bosnia. With him as a prime minister, Croatia would be 
put in awkward situation (kind of like Serbia with Milutinovic). The 
already bad position would be made even worse, by having as a 
prime minister a potential war crimes suspect. And while it seems 
that Budisa is willing to sacrifice his country for his own personal 
goals of living in the presidential palace, HDZ may have a different 
agenda. They may want to keep the power once they get it back. 
So, they may offer somebody less internationally controversial than 
Pasalic is - like the Split's Sanader - a rather bleak and 
unremarkable figure so far, but with a solid political standing, wide 
support and basic economic and political literacy. Perhaps, 
Pasalic would even go with such an agenda - that would still give 
him behind the scenes access to power, while keeping him out of 
the spotlight.

Racan, on the other hand, seems to favor more to have to face the 
Budisa-Pasalic threat than the Budisa-Sanader threat. He 
understands that he would lose either race if it happens, and he 
perefers to be in the future opposition to somebody who is already 
weakened - like Pasalic - with a history of financial machinations 
and possible war crimes connection. It is not clear, however, 
whether Sanader would be willing or able to pull this off, whether 
Pasalic would not oppose it and what does Budisa think of a 
coalition with Sanader. It is also not clear whether Racan would 
bow to the early elections threat. But it is obvious that Croatia is 
facing the great economic and political crisis, that the best female 
skier in the world cannot help to solve.

Ivo Skoric 

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