Published in Nacional number 776, 2010-09-28
Cacic a danger to the coalition: SDP fears a dirty campaign
The social democrats fear that the HDZ will use the car crash caused by the HNS party leader to attack the left-wing coalition
THE LEFT-OF-CENTRE Ivan Jakovcic (IDS), Vesna Pusic (HNS), Silvano Hrelja (HSU), Radimir Cacic (HNS) and Zoran Milanovic (SDP)"I doubt that there is anyone on the Croatian political scene with better ideas and more energy than Radimir Cacic, but I think that we have to be realistic and admit that his refusal to withdraw from politics would seriously compromise the chances for our coalition in the election campaign. For the moment the HDZ has not used this situation, but I am convinced that a dirty campaign will start soon in which we are, because of Cacic, very vulnerable." That was how one of the most influential Social Democratic Party Members of Parliament opened our discussion mid-way through last week on the SDP'S preparations for the elections. And since this is an influential member of the Social Democratic Party and an advocate of the Kastav deal to see a joint opposition election front, it sounded surprising that he decided to open the discussion with the subject of Radimir Cacic, the president of the Croatian People's Party (HNS).
Over the coming days several other top SDP politicians confirmed that there has been an increasing amount of talk of late, behind the scenes, about whether Cacic has become a burden of sorts for the united opposition. At the core of the discussion, of course, is the car accident Cacic caused early this year in which two people died. It remains unknown when the trial will begin, and Radimir Cacic, after spending several weeks in isolation, in early February announced that he had no intention of leaving politics. He publicly admitted his responsibility for the crash and said that he would only cut short his political career in the event of a non-suspended sentence handed down by the court. And while nine months has elapsed since the crash, the fact that the Hungarian judiciary has still not set a date for the start of his trial has begun to hurt the Croatian opposition. For the moment the possibility that Cacic might withdraw has only been discussed sporadically and behind the scenes at the SDP, while publicly they are offering him their support. In fact, at this Saturday's SDP convention there was strong support for Cacic's speech in which he criticised the current Government, and it is not irrelevant that there is a friendly rapport between himself and Zoran Milanovic. In spite of these positive personal relations, which has been confirmed for Nacional by several sources, many in the SDP fear that Cacic's decision to remain in politics is becoming a growing burden for the opposition. No one is willing to publicly broach the question, but everyone would be relieved if the court in Hungary finally started the trial and decided whether Radimir Cacic was guilty or not. The longer the entire matter is delayed, the greater the possibility is that the HDZ will start to attack the HNS president and party's nominee for the future post of deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, the second most important post in the executive branch of government. And that the HDZ will not keep quiet about Cacic's car crash could be seen mid way through last week from statements made by Frane Matusic.
"Is it acceptable for Nenad Stazic and the other members of the 'party,' that they hold talks with Radimir Cacic, a person with the deaths of two people on his conscience?" Matusic, the HDZ club of deputies spokesman in Parliament asked. Andrija Hebrang's reaction was in the same vein when he said in early February that he felt that Cacic's return to politics was unethical. "Had I caused the deaths of two people, I would immediately withdraw from politics. Morally, it is the least one can do and a decision that has to be made," Hebrang said.
There are numerous indicators that the upcoming campaign will be one of the fiercest in the past twenty years. According to the surveys the HDZ trails the opposition alliance by at least ten percent, and there is nothing to indicate that Government's economic measures will lead to economic growth and improve the situation of Jadranka Kosor and her allies. That means that the HDZ will do its outmost to radicalise the election campaign and to depict the leading opposition politicians as incompetent, and in the case of Radimir Cacic - as killers. In this regard it was Matusic that took the first step when he accused him of having "the deaths of two people on his conscience," even thought the HDZ press conference in question was organised to respond to criticism that SDP deputies in Parliament had levelled at Prime Minister Kosor. Since there was no rationale response to the opposition criticism, they decided at the HDZ to lash out at Cacic. Like his partners at the SDP, Radimir Cacic is also aware that his political activities are bothersome in the current circumstances, but does not intend to withdraw until the court hands down its verdict.
In a conversation we had with a trusted Cacic aide last Thursday it was quite implicitly stated that Cacic is convinced that he had done nothing immoral. He, understandably, regrets the traffic incident and the tragedy that ensued, but also feels that it was an accident that could have happened to any driver. "I do not understand why the SDP is discussing the issue. We can expect that of the HDZ, but the SDP is our partner and we expect its support," this HNS member says. Which is why the matter is quite clear from Cacic's current perspective - he will withdraw from politics only if sentenced to an unconditional prison sentence, and in the event of a suspended sentence, as it is not realistic to expect a verdict of not guilty - he will remain a politician in the autumn of 2011 and be the HNS nominee for the job of deputy prime minister and Zoran Milanovic's chief aide. Nacional's source is one of the HNS officials that is in daily contact with Cacic, and who has decided for the first time to tell the general public some of the unknown details of what happened on January 8th of this year, the date of the car crash that has dramatically affected Cacic's political position, and perhaps even the political situation in Croatia. According to the source Radimir Cacic noticed a cube-shaped work of art on the Internet and for days his secretary worked on finding out where this work of art could be purchased.
In early January she learned that the cube in question was in Hungary and informed her boss, who decided to travel the very next day. In these situations Cacic has for years been driven by the HNS's chauffer, but he was in the process of moving house those days and the HNS president said that there was no need for the chauffeur to delay his move to a new apartment since he could drive himself from Varazdin to Hungary. He left on Friday, January 8th, and that same morning Katalin Liptak and her two passengers left for the weekend to visit the Heviz thermal spa, but missed the exit and we going back on the highway when Cacic ran into them. Later the local police announced that Cacic had not driven at a speed appropriate to the weather conditions, and Katalin Liptak said that she had been driving between 100 and 110 kilometres per hour, which indicates that that HNS president was driving mush faster. And while Cacic had stated that there was a thick fog that day, this was contradicted by Hungarian road workers and by police photos of the scene, but a heavy rain was in fact falling, which worsened driving conditions. According to the unofficial information Nacional has received, Cacic was driving from 130 to 140 kilometres per hour, that is to say, over the speed limit, but not overly fast.
Katalin Liptak's husband died in the crash, and her mother, who had been on her way home from hospital treatment on the day of the crash, followed a few days later. Cacic's vehicle was also destroyed, and his chauffer came quickly with the van in which he was to have moved his belongings to the new apartment that day and they returned to Varazdin. Cacic kept silent about the entire matter and the Croatian press learned the first news of the serious car crash in Hungary only a few days later. Radimir Cacic admitted his guilt and withdrew from the public for several weeks. Some twenty days ago Katalin Liptak sent an e-mail to the Vecernji list daily in which she described her situation with the words "that life has become an automatic function since the crash and that, while she is employed, can not even provide for herself, as she had lived from her husband's wages up to now." She explained that Cacic had accepted his guilt, sent a telegram expressing his condolences and offered to pay compensation through his lawyer. "Since then the police have stayed the procedure, but have requested legal assistance from Croatia in connection with the questioning of Mr. Cacic. For now the procedure is on hold.
Of course, Mr. Cacic rejected, through his lawyer, my request that we sit down and discuss my losses. In most cases the answer is always the same, that it is of course not excluded, but because of the current situation in the case they are not at liberty to discuss anything," Katalin Liptak wrote in her mail to Vecernji list, breaking several months of silence. Emotionally, it was a touching public statement from a woman who lost a husband and mother to someone's negligence. But, in it she also very concretely accused Cacic of having rejected her request for a discussion on financial compensation, which has created the very bad impression that a well-known Croatian politician was now also trying to avoid material responsibility, and not just evading a verdict that could pack him off to prison.
The people around Radimir Cacic say that quite the opposite is true, and that the HNS president has concentrated on two goals - first he wants to indemnify the Liptak widow, and then to wrap up the trial as soon as possible, so that he can find out whether he will stay in politics. Because however much his intimates say that Cacic has changed drastically since the crash and that he will never psychologically be the man he was, it is evident that the crash has not dented his political passions. Discussion with several top SDP and HNS officials shows that there are evident disparities between them in regard to Cacic's political activities. What is significant is that these are for the most part politicians that unreservedly support a joint opposition effort, and that both have an equally poor opinion of the HDZ. What is going on here is, therefore, not a conflict of vanities, but rather of two different election campaign concepts, and Cacic will soon have to come up on the agenda. All the more so because the HNS is insisting that an agreement finally be signed some time in October on the joint election platform of the SDP, HNS, IDS and HSU. These parties, Radimir Cacic's aide has confirmed, could soon be joined by the HSLS. The HNS was until recently explicitly opposed to the HSLS joining the Kastav group, but they have decided to back down in order to avoid opening new issues in their relations with Zoran Milanovic, who wants very much to bring Darinko Kosor on board.
But they have set out two conditions - the first is that the HSLS will form part of a future SDP election slate quota, and the second is that Milanovic will have to secure 15 seats in Parliament for future HNS and HSU deputies. The HNS has softened its stance and decided to accept the liberals under the leadership of Darinko Kosor, but they remain inflexible when it comes to the political survival of Radimir Cacic. He is the leader of the Croatian People's Party and if the Hungarians hand down only a suspended sentence Cacic intends to remain one of the opposition forerunners in the attempt to bring down Jadranka Kosor and the HDZ.
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