Croatia: Will Budisa Derail Tribunal Cooperation?

New Croatian deputy premier may claim he is pro-Hague, but his past record suggests otherwise.

Croatia: Will Budisa Derail Tribunal Cooperation?

New Croatian deputy premier may claim he is pro-Hague, but his past record suggests otherwise.

Zagreb's cooperation with war crimes tribunal could be hanging in the balance once more, with the entry into government of the controversial and fiercely anti-Hague politician Drazen Budisa.



Budisha has been appointed Socialist prime minister Ivica Racan's deputy and has been placed in charge of relations with The Hague. He resigned from the leadership of the Croatian Social Liberal Party, HSLS, last year in protest at the authorities' willingness to work with the tribunal. In February he returned to head the party.



Racan's decision to appoint Budisa his number two is thought to be part of a compromise hatched to stave off a government collapse. Budisa's party, the Croatian Social Liberal party, HSLS, is the strongest of the four other parties which make up the ruling coalition.



Once Budisa resumed the leadership of the HSLS, he is reputed to have demanded the deputy premier job as the price of keeping his party in government. An HSLS withdrawal could prompt early elections, with a possible victory for the opposition nationalist HDZ party. Under the late president and HDZ leader Franjo Tudjman, Croatia avoided cooperation with the tribunal.



Since joining the government, Budisa's rhetoric has changed dramatically. He told the Zagreb weekly Globus, "Neither the HSLS nor I want to raise doubts over the issue of cooperation with The Hague tribunal. Indeed, I wish to stress that Croatian citizens ought to respond to summons from the Hague court."



However, recalling how Budisa's anti-Hague activities shook the government last year, analysts are not convinced by his sudden u-turn. When chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte delivered indictments against General Ante Gotovina and General Rahim Ademi last summer, Budisa protested loudly.



Focusing on the wording of The Hague indictment against Gotovina, he complained that it "equated the aggressor and the victim", adopting the standard nationalist stance that the Homeland War was a defensive action, which is not therefore liable to accusations of war crimes.



Budisa then demanded that all 6 HSLS ministers should resign and vote against Gotovina's extradition. But he was outmanoeuvered by Racan, who responded by calling for a vote of confidence in the parliament. The premier was assured that the parliament would obtain the necessary votes, including those of the majority of HSLS deputies, who did not oppose cooperation with The Hague.



Furious at his defeat, Budisa tendered a "non-negotiable" resignation to his party, claiming that he was withdrawing from politics. He cited "disappointment" with former close allies, notably HSLS member Goran Granic who had at that time been recently appointed as Racan's deputy. Budisa accused Granic of colluding with The Hague's wish to keep indictments sealed to avoid public opposition and of being too loyal to the prime minister.



However, Budisa's ambitions are such that he would never leave politics for long. "Since 1990, when the multi-party system was introduced in Croatia, he has seen himself as the president of the republic," said renowned political analyst Dr Ivo Zanic of Zagreb University. No sooner had Budisa left the government, than he began to plot his return through the radical elements of the HSLS. He resumed leadership of the party in February.



Budisa himself claims that his u-turn was prompted by the tribunal's Croatia indictment against Slobodan Milosevic last autumn, which has shown up obvious contradictions in the indictment of Gotovina. Milosevic is charged with heading a "joint criminal enterprise" during the war with Croatia, most notably through the establishment of the self-styled "Serbian Republic of Krajina" on Croatian territory.



Budisa argues that Hague prosecutors cannot therefore rely on the testimony of former officials of that republic for their case against Gotovina. He has also publicly expressed a hope that there will be no future indictments of that kind - another indication that he may seek to limit future cooperation with the tribunal.



His position could be tested very soon. On March 18, the Zagreb daily Jutarnji list carried a statement by Graham Blewitt, The Hague's deputy chief prosecutor, that new indictments will be handed to Zagreb very soon.



If Budisa wishes to retain his mantle as a defender of Croatia's national interests, he may choose to oppose or obstruct the indictments, which could in turn spell the end of Racan's government. He seems to have judged political controversy as the best way to further his interests. Having quickly tired of life on the margins of political life, he now believes he stands a better chance of winning the next elections.



Drago Hedl is IWPR's project editor in Croatia


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