Published in Nacional number 752, 2010-04-13

Autor: Robert Bajruši

Secret operation against the President

Right wing using veterans’ register to bring down Josipovic

Sources close to President Ivo Josipovic say that a para-intelligence group close to the right wing of the HDZ is behind the publication of the veterans' register, out to discredit the President

INCREASINGLY EVIDENT TENSION Even though Josipovic warned Government as far back as in January that it should investigate the role of the para-intelligence community, which disseminated lies about him during the election campaign, there is still no progress in the investigationINCREASINGLY EVIDENT TENSION Even though Josipovic warned Government as far back as in January that it should investigate the role of the para-intelligence community, which disseminated lies about him during the election campaign, there is still no progress in the investigation"There is no doubt at all that somebody is trying to disqualify President Ivo Josipovic, and that is the fundamental reason why the register of Homeland War veterans was publicised on the Internet. There is a para-intelligence group behind the publication that, by all accounts, is linked to the right wing of the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). For the moment we do no wish to speculate in what measure it is linked to some elements within Croatian Government. No one is saying that Jadranka Kosor knew that the veterans' register would leak to the public, but there are no doubt forces unfriendly to Josipovic behind the publication, who want to get back into the political limelight in this time of crisis, and are politically close to the Prime Minister," was the quite distressed comment for Nacional by a politician with very close ties to the President of the Republic to last week's scandal with the publication of the Homeland War veterans' register.

The bitterness with the role Government has played in the scandal is evident at the President's Office, where they point out that Prime Minister Kosor's closest aides in January ignored Josipovic's demands that the role of the para-intelligence community that disseminated lies about him during the election campaign be investigated. There has been no progress in the investigation to this day, and the tension between the President and the Prime Minister culminated after Josipovic's associates were denounced last week as being responsible for publicising the register.

Among Josipovic's top aides the feeling is that this is a preconceived campaign, directed at politically and personally discrediting the Croatian President. "Both the right wing and Government are bothered by his growing influence, and even more so by the fact that he is not behaving as a figurehead, but has rather taken an active role in resolving the toughest issues and is increasingly demonstrating that he will have an influence on the situation in Croatia that cannot be ignored. That is why they want to emasculate him, and publicising the register was to have helped this," the people around the President feel.
And in order to achieve this, Government and Tomislav Mercep, who was almost suspected of war crimes, have now found themselves on the same side. They are bound by a desire to weaken Josipovic, but also to preserve their benefits and financial gain.

The method and timing of this operation substantiates this conclusion. First the Presidential advisor on veterans' affairs, Predrag Fred Matic, sought the publication of the register in an interview, which was followed by criticism from some veterans' associations and an attempt to disqualify Matic, followed again by the publication of the Internet site The next day Marko Rakar, the owner of an Internet portal and one of the current Croatian President's close aids during the election campaign, was arrested and detained for questioning. Josipovic's closest aides are convinced, however, that Rakar and Matic are only collateral victims of this scandal.

The real target is the President of the Republic, and it is a coordinated campaign with which the right wing wants to compromise Josipovic, but also to regain its now long lost influence on Jadranka Kosor and the current coalition Government. The right wing, para-intelligence groups and veterans' associations helped significantly in the rise to power of Sanader and the HDZ in late 2003. Sanader was the keynote speaker at a massive protest rally in 2001 on the Split waterfront, when the Ivica Racan administration was accused of treason for its cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, and there were even threats of a coup d'état. A putsch was avoided, but the right wing doggedly fomented political crisis over the following two years, which helped Sanader significantly. But when he stepped in as Prime Minister, Sanader was quick to cut his ties with Mirko Condic and the group of generals dismissed by Stipe Mesic and, de fact, in his relations with the international community, continued the policies of the Racan administration. Sanader was at his most cooperative when Ante Gotovina was arrested and deported to the Hague Tribunal after five years in hiding, where the trial against him and two other Croatian generals, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, continues to this day.

And while he did again, ahead of the 2007 elections for Parliament, turn up the right-wing rhetoric, Sanader never renewed his collaboration with radicals, and within the HDZ he marginalised their leaders Andrija Hebrang and Vladimir Seks. Jadranka Kosor also follows Sanader's doctrine of keeping the right wing at arm's length. What is more, some of the fiercest attacks against her have come from the right wing, for example, for agreeing to arbitration over Piran Bay or her opposition to the more conservative variant of the legislation on artificial insemination.

The influence of the right wing and of veteran-intelligence circles has become marginal these past years. The HDZ kept these groups at a distance, and they were unable to politically articulate themselves as all right wing parties, except to some extent Glavas' HDSSB (Croatian Democratic Congress of Slavonia & Baranja), have collapsed.

This is why an opportunity presented itself with the victory of Ivo Josipovic at the presidential elections, as he sought the publication of the register of Homeland War veterans during the campaign, and numbered Predrag Matic, a former Vukovar defender, among his close aids. And however much Josipovic and Jadranka Kosor are making an effort to appear to be cooperating in good form, there are deep differences between the President and the Prime Minister.

Josipovic won the elections as the SDP (Social Democratic Party) nominee, winning a convincingly greater number of votes than Hebrang. In the first days of his term, he backed protesting farmers and succeeded thereby in provoking Jadranka Kosor, whom he publicly slammed for leading a shoddy economic policy. He set up three bodies that are competitors to the executive branch of government - his economic advisory council, which includes successful businesspeople, his veterans' council, where veterans having no links to the HDZ have been invited, and soon he will set up a foreign policy council, which shows he intends to have a visible influence on the international position adopted by Croatia.

'COLLATERAL VICTIM' Marko Rakar, the owner of an Internet portal, went to the police of his own accord when the veterans' register was made public, and was subjected to several days of questioning; the investigation into his activities has not yet been concluded'COLLATERAL VICTIM' Marko Rakar, the owner of an Internet portal, went to the police of his own accord when the veterans' register was made public, and was subjected to several days of questioning; the investigation into his activities has not yet been concludedThe moves made so far by Ivo Josipovic have not been afforded a warm welcome in Government, a there is a strong conviction in the HDZ that the President's policy is helping the SDP. That is why the atmosphere had to be radicalised and Josipovic publicly depicted as a high-ranking official who is not up to the task he has been given. An issue was chosen that always manages to electrify public opinion, and that is the register of war veterans. Josipovic was already asking that it be made public and, on the other hand, it is in fact the current Prime Minister who, as the former Veterans' Affairs Minister, is responsible for the uncontrolled proliferation of bogus veterans, of which there are over half a million on the register. Any analysis will show that, because of her role in awarding veteran's status and the benefits gained on the basis of this status, Jadranka Kosor has to be opposed to the publication of the register. This was evident during her meeting with representatives of veteran's groups.

"Government will not permit divisions in Croatian society," Jadranka Kosor said after her meeting with the representatives of some 30 veterans' associations. The meeting, at which Jadranka Kosor, Tomislav Karamarko, Branko Vukelic and Tomislav Ivic were present, was organised with the topic of the publication of the veterans' register, and lasted three hours. Even stronger in its tone was an official communiqué after the meeting to the effect that the "publication of data from the register was directed against Government and the Prime Minister personally."

The situation was further radicalised by Slavica Hruskar, the president of the Independent Volunteer Defenders of Croatia (NDH) association, who openly attacked Josipovic. "We demand President Ivo Josipovic be held accountable by command responsibility as he is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He should have conducted military discipline procedures against the people responsible for the security of the Ministry of Defence."

The example of the head of the NDH association, whom the press afforded significant coverage, shows the total inconsistency of the behaviour of veterans' groups, who undergo radical changes of heart over relatively short periods of time. Now she is the fiercest opponent of the publication of the register, and has gone so far as to call the President to order over the matter, while two years ago she insisted on the publication of the veterans' list. At a press conference held on 4 March 2008, Slavica Hruskar called on the Sanader administration to amend data protection legislation to allow the register to be made public.

"Along with the name, surname and date of birth, it suffices to append the unit in which we served. There needs to be a review of the list of veterans because there could not have been more than 330,000 during the war, and all the rest are quasi-veterans," said Slavica Hruskar, and en passant called upon unit commanders to muster their surviving soldiers and to make their names public.

Regardless of whether Jadranka Kosor knew that the register would be published, her reaction was to surround herself with representatives of the right wing, from Andrija Hebrang, to Josip Dakic of the Homeland War disabled vets association HVIDR and Tomislav Mercep, Slavica Hruskar and Tomo Kacinari. They all blamed Josipovic for the publication, which caused a fierce reaction at the President's Office. Responding to Dakic's indirect admonishment that the controversial register had leaked from his office, Josipovic said that, "He can point his finger all he wants to. We neither have this data now, nor did we ever have it. The information leaked from Government, one ministry or another, and that is where you need to look for whoever made this data public, and did so with the evident intention of blaming someone else."

And while this phrasing was later toned down and the term "para-intelligence community" was later used, the President's Office is convinced that these are not some marginal spies, working outside of the political framework. Also under fire is Tomislav Karamarko, who ran afoul of Josipovic back when he tried to thwart the President in selecting the members of his own security detail. The President did not heed the Interior Minister and their relations have been cold ever since.
Josipovic's team is convinced that the several days of questioning Marko Rakar was subjected to, even though he reported to the police on his own initiative to remove any suspicion from himself, is part of the same game being played by Karamarko. They are also entirely convinced that Rakar is innocent, and their argument is that he is an expert who would never leave his identification number which shows who is behind the published register.

The latest rapprochement between the HDZ and the right wing is beneficial to both. Jadranka Kosor's Government is in a difficult situation, the recession is showing no signs of letting up and there are no indicators that the economy is getting better. Both the local and presidential elections have shown that the ruling party has lost the support of all major cities, and it is an open question whether the HSLS (Croatian Social Liberal Party) and the SDSS (Independent Democratic Serbian party) will stick with the HDZ and HSS (Croatian Peasant Party). In these circumstances the HDZ simply has to turn back to its natural voter base, and that is made up of people living in rural areas and members of privileged groups such as veterans. It is quite certain that all of these people are not for the HDZ - but a large number are, and that is why publishing the register is the last thing on Jadranka Kosor's mind, because she would then have to reduce the privileges that many undeservedly enjoy.

Even a short stint in battle is enough to increase the average minimum pension from 1,500 to 2,300 kuna, and tens of thousands of war disabled (although not unable to work) were pensioned without a day of employment and receive pensions of 6 to 7 thousand kuna. The public is rightly angered by the privileged pension enjoyed by state officials, but it's completely the same.

VETERANS' AFFAIRS ADVISOR In an interview presidential advisor Predrag Fred Matic demanded that the register of veterans be published, and quickly found himself the target of criticism from veterans' organisationVETERANS' AFFAIRS ADVISOR In an interview presidential advisor Predrag Fred Matic demanded that the register of veterans be published, and quickly found himself the target of criticism from veterans' organisationIt is a known fact that all missing persons are classified as veterans so that their families can receive veteran's pensions. A high-ranking Government official told us recently that this has created the paradoxical situation in which Croatian authorities have identified the remains of some 400 missing persons, but the members of their families do not accept this because at the moment that receive the body they lose the right to a veteran's pension. Besides, every year Government provides about 15 million kuna for the work of veterans' associations that have only a few active members, and nobody monitors how that money is spent.

These examples illustrate the relationship, one again firm, between the HDZ and a significant part of the veterans' population. The political right wants back onto the political scene, and the HDZ Government needs support because election time is coming up. Ivo Josipovic has become an evident nuisance, and that is why they are out to disqualify him with the help of a suspicious list of war vets behind which stands the compromised political right.

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