Right Wing Revolt Over Blaskic

The new Croatian government attempts to defuse rightwing revolt over war crimes conviction.

Right Wing Revolt Over Blaskic

The new Croatian government attempts to defuse rightwing revolt over war crimes conviction.

Wednesday, 15 March, 2000

The new progressive authorities in Zagreb have been rocked by a concerted rightwing backlash, just two months after scoring a resounding electoral victory.

The revival of the Croatian Right has been staged by supporters of the former ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), defeated in January by a coalition of moderate political parties.

Incensed by the recent conviction of a Croatian army commander at The Hague Tribunal, the HDZ hardliners claim the new regime is pandering to Western demands for justice.

Simmering discontent boiled over on March 6 when around 5,000 demonstrators gathered outside the US Embassy in Zagreb to protest against the 45-year jail sentence imposed on the chief of the Bosnian Croat Army (HVO) Tihomir Blaskic for his part in the Ahmici massacre in April 1993.

Trumpeting slogans such as "The Red Gang won't be around for long", the rightwing forces slammed Zagreb for forging closer links with America. Washington is insisting that Croatia continues to observe the terms of a 1995 agreement signed by President Franjo Tudjman to cooperate with The Hague.

Ironically, it was the HDZ regime that extradited Blaskic to the Tribunal in the first place - and HDZ officials who actually escorted the HVO commander to the airport were among the demonstrators on March 6.

Prime Minister, Ivica Racan, attempted to defuse the situation by releasing secret documents allegedly hidden by the Croatian secret services during Tudjman's regime. The 700 files, dating from 1992 to 1993, could prove that the Ahmici massacre was in fact orchestrated by military police acting under direct orders of the Zagreb leadership.

Blaskic's defence lawyer, Ante Nobilo, said he knew of the existence of the secret service reports during the trial but was unable to gain access to them. He believes they will show President Tudjman operated a parallel command line during the conflict which effectively over-rode Blaskic's authority.

It is thought the command line passed from Tudjman and Croatian Defence Minister Gojko Susak through Herzeg-Bosna President Mate Boban, in Grude, to Dario Kordic in Vitez, deputy to the Croatian Defence Force (HVO) chief of staff.

It is likely that Racan will send the documents to The Hague to be used in Blaskic's appeal. According to the weekly newspaper Globus, the news caused Kordic, currently on trial for alleged war crimes in Bosnia, to faint in his Shevening detention cell.

Some analysts agree that the March 6 demonstration was aimed at intimidating the new government over moves to extradite army officers responsible for two Croatian Army operations against the Serb-populated Krajina enclave.

The Croatian army is believed to have committed a spate of war crimes in the wake of the second of theses offensives which triggered an exodus of 200,000 Serbs. Officers who took part in the operations now hold top jobs in the republic's army and intelligence services.

However, the new government has yet to launch a crackdown on HDZ sympathisers in the public sector. Key figures in Croatian state TV who were appointed by the HDZ regime are making no effort to conceal their allegiances.

As a result, anti-government propaganda voiced outside the American Embassy on March 6 was given more airtime than the sensational discovery of the secret documents. This could indicate that right-wing groups are less interested in slamming Blaskic's conviction than in discrediting the new regime.

The TV station has focused on the government's inability to tackle catastrophic economic problems in Croatia - problems which are the legacy of the HDZ administration. The rightwing is almost certain to use the atmosphere of protest and general dissatisfaction to win over popular opinion with a package of "quick solutions".

Dragutin Hedl is a regular contributor to IWPR

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