Wave Of Anti-Americanism Sweeps Croatia

Zagreb's latest and most blatant anti-American outburst adopted a tone and manner not seen since the Communist era and the height of the Cold War - and has elicited a swift response from the US State Department.

Wave Of Anti-Americanism Sweeps Croatia

Zagreb's latest and most blatant anti-American outburst adopted a tone and manner not seen since the Communist era and the height of the Cold War - and has elicited a swift response from the US State Department.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Within the space of a week Croatian (State) Television (HTV) launched three fierce attacks on the International Republican Institute (IRI), a US non-governmental organisation most recently involved in conducting pre-election opinion polls.

James Rubin, US State Department spokesman, described the accusations as "shocking and unfounded" before adding that Zagreb would do better to focus attention on fighting corruption in Croatia rather then attacking the United States.

The report on the popular TV news programme "Motorista" ("The Motorist") claimed "American intelligence officers are sitting in the IRI and USAID" before going on to say that both organisations are financing the Croatian opposition and part of the media. The report borrowed heavily from a lengthy article published in the pro-government daily "Vjesnik".

Both "Vjesnik" and HTV alleged that the US Congress and the US Government are financing non-governmental organisations, like USAID, with the aim of carrying out a "so-called democratic coup" in Croatia.

"Vjesnik" cited evidence relating to USAIDs budget for the year 2000 as proof of the organisation's intentions "of toppling the HDZ". Calling the evidence a 'sensational discovery', even though the information is all freely available on the Internet, "Vjesnik" quoted USAID's budget proposal to the US Congress. USAID had explicitly criticised the role of the HDZ in Croatian civil society.

To give the story the glamour of an intelligence conspiracy "Vjesnik" quoted Philip Agge, author of "CIA - A Diary of an Agent" published in the 1970s, who described USAID as a CIA service. Building on this "Vjesnik" went on to list a number of figures with links to the US intelligence community now working for US NGOs in Croatia. Some of the more prominent names cited were Morton Abramowitz (former assistant to US Secretary of State for Intelligence), Bob Graham (member of the Senate Committee for Intelligence), Fred Ikle (former Assistant Defence Secretary), Richard Lugar (member of the Senate Committee for Intelligence) and William Casey (former head of the CIA).

The "Vjesnik" article covered more than half a page and went on to allege that William Montgomery, US ambassador to Croatia, is personally co-ordinating the activities of the US NGOs and those Croatian NGOs with links to them.

There was no by-line on the article and the style and data included suggest the story was inspired by or maybe even written by the Croatian intelligence services. "Vjesnik" does, after all, have a reputation for publishing information supplied by the intelligence services.

The New York Times (November 19) ran a story alleging the Croatian intelligence services were gathering information on US NGOs and disturbing US diplomats and others advocating democracy in Croatia.

The article claimed two members of the American diplomatic community in Croatia had suffered break-ins to their apartments and that after one such incident bugging equipment had been discovered in the home of a USAID representative.

Following the November 19 article the Croatian police confirmed the break-ins had been reported but attributed them to common criminals.

But the Zagreb independent weekly "Nacional", which cites good sources within the Croatian intelligence services, claimed the USAID break-in was organised by members of SIS (the Croatian Secret Service) under the leadership of Markica Rebic, Internal Security Advisor to President Franjo Tudjman.

At the height of this anti-American campaign, Ivica Ropus, spokesman for the ruling HDZ, said at a press conference that "an army of 15,000 mercenaries who aim to topple the HDZ are active" in Croatia. Ropus was clearly referring to NGO activists involved in encouraging people to participate in the elections, as well as those who will supervise the parliamentary elections.

Immediately prior to Croatia's first multi-party elections in the late 1980s, one of the die-hard communist leaders, Jakov Blazevic, publicly accused journalists of receiving 200,000 US dollars from the CIA in order to destroy Yugoslavia with their writing.

It seems that old style rhetoric is back. "Vecernji List", the daily with the largest circulation in Croatia and closely linked to the right-wing faction of the HDZ, joined the anti-American bandwagon.

The paper published a lengthy interview with the former Slovak President Vladimir Meciar who claimed the same IRI played a key role in bringing his successor to power and that over 100,000 US dollars was spent for that purpose.

The interview attempted to demonstrate US methods when confronted with a head of state prepared to defend national sovereignty.

There are those who claim that the anti-American campaign is actually aimed at discrediting the Croatian opposition by accusing them of co-operating with the darkest intelligence circles in order to seize power. Other analysts also recognise the consistently isolationist policy of the HDZ right wing, which is using the strategy to maintain their grip on power.

There has been a spate of television programmes on HTV that vilify everything that symbolises the US, from McDonald's to Coca Cola, claiming these multinational companies are selling poisonous food and drinks in developing countries.

Such anti-US paranoia, which joins in conspiracy such disparate interests as Coca Cola and the CIA, stems from the ruling party's ambition to link in peoples' minds the defence of national sovereignty with the HDZ.

Drago Hedl is a regular correspondent for IWPR in Zagreb.

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