Published in Nacional number 772, 2010-08-31

Autor: Plamenko Cvitić

Media airdrop on Alpbach

Sanader yodelling on hot air

FORMER PRIME MINISTER Ivo Sanader took part in a forum in Austria with the aim of showing himself to his supporters in Croatia and to announce his political ambitions

THREE FORMER STARS The top stars at the forum in Alpbach: former Stability Pact Coordinator Erhard Busek, former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and former EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz FischlerTHREE FORMER STARS The top stars at the forum in Alpbach: former Stability Pact Coordinator Erhard Busek, former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and former EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz FischlerThe appearance of former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader at a European forum in Alpbach can be considered the launch of a new effort on his part to get back into politics. What is more, as a high-ranking HDZ official has told Nacional, the top people in the party feel that with this public appearance in Austria, after months of being out of the media spotlight, Sanader has launched a campaign that should result in the formation of a new political party and a bid at the elections for Parliament late next year. Nacional's source is, what is more, convinced that it is this plan precisely that is the reason why his former associates and political allies like Luka Bebic and Jerko Rosin are making ever more frequent statements to the domestic media to the effect that Sanader is getting back into politics.

One could consider Sanader's participation at the event in Alpbach, where he took part in a panel discussion on Dayton - fifteen years later with the High Representative for Bosnia & Herzegovina Valentino Inzko, Kosovo Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Ahmet Shala and Goran Radman, the dean of Zagreb's VERN college, a sure sign that this comeback has begun. By making this appearance in the company of eminent European politicians Sanader is probably trying to respond to increasingly frequent accusations that he is linked to numerous illegal activities and information that he could soon be charged in the frame of an investigation into the operations of the Hypo bank in Croatia and the marketing agency Fimi media.

As there has been speculation in the Croatian media these past weeks that Sanader has fled to the USA with his family to avoid these charges, it can be assumed that he wanted, by making the appearance in Alpbach, to show not only that he is not on the run, but that he still enjoys significant respect among the European political elite. Nevertheless, top HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) officials are convinced that Sanader has no intention of stopping here, but that he is in fact planning the start of a major campaign in which he plans to significantly improve his currently very poor public standing. The culmination of this campaign should be the establishment of a new political party, with key membership drawn from the ranks of HDZ members loyal to him. Of the better known members of the party the feeling is that these could be Luka Bebic, Zeljko Zubovic, Jerko Rosin and Bianca Matkovic, who is to take on a particularly important role, and a number of HDZ members that secretly sympathise with Sanader.

ALPBACH, a picturesque Austrian village that has hosted this political forum since 1945ALPBACH, a picturesque Austrian village that has hosted this political forum since 1945The decision, given the situation in which the former prime minister finds himself, is quite logical. Given that all of his planned consultancy engagements have come to naught, politics is Sanader's only remaining window to regaining a part of the social position and power he once wielded. He has likely judged that without this power he will not be able to successfully defend himself from the accusations he has been exposed to, and since it is clear after the unsuccessful coup of eight months ago that the HDZ will no longer be a viable window for political activity, his only remaining option is to set up a new political party. This is precisely why Sanader has been lobbying the head of the European People's Party Wilfried Martens to see his new party accepted into EPP membership.

That would give it political legitimacy, but in order to be accepted it will have to win seats in Parliament. At this point in time, given Sanader's public rating, that does not seem likely, but it is possible that as a result of a further escalation of the crisis and a drop in popularity of the current administration that Sanader's political rating could once again grow. A campaign for Sanader's political resurrection, regardless of its possible success or failure, started this Monday in the Austrian alpine village of Alpbach. He was expected for days because nobody was certain whether the former Croatian prime minister would show up or not. The European Forum Alpbach, which participants say is the Austrian version of the well-known economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, has been staged since 1945 in the village of Alpbach in the midst of the Austrian Alps.

Alpbach, proclaimed the most beautiful Austrian village some ten years ago, is some 60 kilometres from Innsbruck, where Ivo Sanader once went to university and where one of his brothers allegedly still lives. Which is why it was unknown whether Sanader would spend the night in Alpbach, as was foreseen, or whether he would come from Innsbruck just ahead of his lecture. The European Forum Alpbach in fact runs two weeks, from August 19th to September 4th, and ahead of the political symposium held last weekend, it was the venue for healthcare, university and technological forums and a film workshop. Most of the lectures are held at the congress centre, a modern structure opened in August of 1999, and the participants come from around the world, most from Europe.

Besides the lecturers - all eminent scientists, business people and politicians - most of the people at Alpbach are young, students from various European countries that managed to get scholarships for a one-week stay at the forum. Several hundred people participate in the forum every year, and the invitation to Ivo Sanader to lecture at the event is the work of his Austrian public relations agent Heidi Gluck, who allegedly used her connections in an effort to improve Sanader's image, seriously undermined in Croatia and Austria. The political symposium opened Sunday afternoon when Erhard Busek, the president of the forum, made a short speech and announced the chief theme, Construction and Reality. And while it was expected that the former Croatian prime minister could appear at the opening, he did not come, and was also absent from that evening's welcome cocktail.

A concert by Montenegrin musician Rambo Amadeus was held in the congress hall after the cocktail. He asked journalists from Croatia ahead of the concert if Ivo Sanader had come. Had he come, the former prime minister would have been greeted by the musician at the opening of the concert. And while the forum's organisers have frequently had to answer questions from Croatian reporters, what they steadfastly repeated was that Sanader had not cancelled his participation. That increased the chances that he would actually show up, because, even though it had been announced and his name had been printed on the official programme, Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar cancelled just a few days before the event, which Erhard Busek had mentioned at the opening of the symposium, at which time he also excused some other participants who had cancelled at the last moment. On Monday morning the news had spread among Croatian reporters that Sanader had in fact arrived in Alpbach the night before or early that morning. The proof - the arrival of a Skoda Superb with Zagreb registration plates, a type of vehicle used by the Croatian Interior Ministry to transport protected persons. It soon did in fact become clear that Sanader had arrived at the small alpine village, but that he was assiduously avoiding any possible meeting with Croatian reporters, whose numbers were growing by the hour.

As was expected, the Austrian organisers of the forum provided Sanader with lodgings at the luxurious Boglerhof hotel in the centre of the village, a hundred metres from the congress centre where the forum is held. That the former Croatian prime minister was in fact in the hotel was confirmed by the fact that a member of Sanader's security detail, who was not overly disposed to speak to Croatian reporters, spent the entire afternoon "patrolling" in front of the hotel. He would only confirm that Sanader was in the hotel and that he was probably in his room. By all accounts, the former Croatian prime minister did not leave his hotel room the entire afternoon, but was allegedly seen by one of the organisers heading for the hotel restaurant for a meal. The rumour among the press corps was that Sanader had at one point been seen at the hotel café taking a coffee with the forum's chief organiser Erhard Busek and with the dean of the VERN college in Zagreb, Goran Radman, who was participating in the panel on Dayton Fifteen Years After. During that time the congress centre was the venue of the political symposium, and ahead of the part in which Sanader was to participate perhaps the most interest part of the event took place - a discussion entitled "While Politicians Construct, Journalists Seek Reality."

The malicious could say that that is a topic that could be very useful for the former Croatian prime minister. Although his attitude towards journalists and the public was always idiosyncratic, he has of late demonstrated a very contemptuous attitude towards Croatian journalists, and towards the Croatian public. After his flight from power last year, and especially after being kicked out of the political party he had led for years, Sanader has stubbornly steered clear of the press, and addresses the Croatian public at large, who would certainly have much to ask of him, with the odd communiqué in which he denies the charges levelled against him. The last such communication was a week ago, when he addressed a denial - not to the Croatian public - but rather to the Austrian press.

That is why it will be interesting to see in what way Sanader will try to achieve his comeback to the Croatian political scene, because he will sooner or later have to answer questions posed by reporters the former prime minister obviously does not want to answer in public. It is to be assumed that Sanader still has sympathisers in Croatia, some of whom work in the press. And so Sanader's stay in Alpbach, which could be described as a deplorable hiding from Croatian journalists, was for a Vjesnik daily journalist "an opportunity for meetings with European politicians on the margins of the forum," which, besides having a sycophantic ring to it, simply cannot be the truth - since Sanader spent most of his time in Alpbach in the confines of his hotel room, it is hard to believe that he had any serious meetings there. Besides, irrespective of the mood of the Croatian public, Sanader's poor image has long ago spread across the borders of Croatia, and it is in fact the Austrian press that has for some ten days now written very frequently concerning his dubious dealings in the Hypo bank scandal.

As a result it is not excluded that, in spite of his arrival in Alpbach, that many European politicians avoid him or are not overly motivated to meet with him. It is an open question whether Erhard Busek would have invited him to Alpbach had he known that an interview would surface in the Austrian press during the forum with the former financial director of the Hypo bank, Christian Rauscher, very decidedly placing Sanader in the criminal milieu of the former heads of the Hypo bank, of whom Wolfgang Kulterer is already in police detention in Austria. As a result the Sanader appearance in this little Austrian village should after all be regarded realistically - it is a curiosity, being his first public appearance after his flight form power and his ejection from the HDZ, but if he really wants back into Croatian politics not even a dozen trendy European meetings can do him much good. Sooner or later he will have to face Croatian citizens. Sanader was expected in the congress hall in Alpbach around 6 pm, and the biggest jam was caused by Croatian reporters awaiting the arrival of the former prime minister. While Nacional reporters awaited his arrival a group of men in suits passed. One of them pointed his finger at the cameras of the Croatian press and asked, "What is this?" One of his colleagues responded in German, "They are waiting for Sanader." "Who?" the first one asked, to which the second simply responded, "Oh, he's the one from the Hypo affair." Ivo Sanader appeared at the entrance to the congress centre at exactly 6:30 accompanied by a bodyguard and Franz Fischler, the former European Commissioner for Agriculture and Fisheries. Sanader was immediately surrounded by a group of Croatian reporters, but he was unwilling to answer questions such as "Do you expect to be arrested?" "Where is the money from the HDZ black fund?" "Are you getting back into Croatian politics?" or "What were you doing in the restaurant with Nevenka Jurak?" He would only pass out copies of his speech to the press and, asked to comment the accusations levelled at him in connection with the Hypo bank and other affairs, said "Dogs bark, while caravans pass." At the panel discussion Sanader delivered his lecture and fielded questions, and the general impression was that he was making an effort to present himself to the participants as a politicians whose time had not yet passed. His appearance at the forum was marred only by a question from Novi list daily reporter Hrvoje Kresic, who asked in front of the entire auditorium whether he would heed the call of the authorities if Croatia or Austria issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the Hypo affair. Sanader blushed and responded nervously to this saying that it had been, "his job to, as prime minister, meet with the heads of various banks," but that he "could not be responsible for what they did." After the lecture the former Croatian prime minister quickly left the congress centre and returned to his hotel.

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