Kuhner: Croatia betrayed - The lies of Ivo Sanader


Commentary by Jeffrey T. Kuhner

On November 25, Croatia is facing an historic watershed. Voters in the nation's parliamentary elections will answer the central question confronting this small Balkan country: should they punish leaders who openly break their promises and betray the electorate's trust?

This is not a theoretical issue. Political accountability and public integrity lie at the core of a functioning democracy. During the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Croatia paid a terrible price in order to liberate itself from decades of Serb-dominated, communist rule. Over 20,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands ethnically cleansed. Yet following independence, Croatia has struggled to make the transition to a Western-style free-market society.

The current government led by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has been a dismal failure. Sanader has proven to be an incorrigible liar: he has deliberately deceived the Croatian people in order to mask his government's incompetence. His administration is full of spin and little substance.

Sanader and his HDZ came to power in 2003 promising to enact tough economic reforms, propel Croatia into the European Union and NATO, and defend the country's leading generals from politicized indictments by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

He failed on all three counts.

Rather than tackling Croatia's bloated public sector and anemic economy, Sanader has implemented superficial reforms. The result is that unemployment hovers at 14 percent, government spending is worth 52 percent of the country's gross domestic product, and corruption remains rampant. During the 1990s, the HDZ ruling elite plundered state assets in shady privatization deals, in which billions of dollars were stolen. It was precisely this kind of cronyism and economic malfeasance that disgusted voters. This enabled the former Communists, led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), to sweep into power in 2000. Following the HDZ's comeback in 2003, Sanader vowed to clean up corruption and "modernize" his party. Instead, he brought with him many of the kleptocrats who had bled Croatia white. The most notorious of these was the former Croatian ambassador to the U.S., Miomir Zuzul, who was eventually forced to resign as Sanader's foreign minister following allegations of influence peddling and bribery.

Yet Sanader refuses to aggressively confront Croatia's culture of corruption. In fact, he is part of the problem. A 2006 European Union progress report criticized the government for having "no overall strategic framework" for reform. The report went on to state that Zagreb lacks "clear and transparent rules and procedures with regard to elections and the forming of governments at the local level." It is "still some way from enjoying an independent, impartial, transparent and efficient judicial system." And, "[m]any allegations of corruption remain uninvestigated and corrupt practices usually go unpunished."

Instead of doing the hard, tedious work of dismantling Croatia's old communist structures and entrenched vested interests, Sanader resorted to his usual practice: he lied. The prime minister told the Croatian public the EU had "praised" his government for "progress . . . when it comes to reforms." This prompted The Wall Street Journal to denounce him for "playing spin doctor."

Sanader is a fantasist. Vain, self-absorbed and shallow, he believes, as he once told me, that politics is the art of "marketing." It is not. Politics is the art of delivering concrete results to one's constituents-results that advance the nation's economic and strategic interests. The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal's 2007 Index of Economic Freedom rates Croatia 109th out of 157 countries worldwide-a dismal 37th out of 41 nations in Europe. In matters of property rights, the rule of law, corruption and freedom from government, the index called Croatia "repressed." On most indicators, Croatia scored considerably lower than neighbors Slovenia and Hungary.

No amount of spin can obscure Zagreb's weak economic record.

Sanader's mendacity extends to foreign policy as well. Having promised to use all "legal and political means" to protect the dignity of Croatia's war for independence from the assaults of the ICTY, Sanader capitulated-but not before telling the Croatian public that he "had no choice" since cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal is a precondition for EU membership. The problem, however, is that Sanader never had any intention of standing up to the ICTY, especially to its rabid and amateurish chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. Prior to his election in 2003, the HDZ leader vowed to defend Croatian war hero, Gen. Ante Gotovina, from the ICTY's judicial witch hunt. State Department sources at the time, however, confirmed to me that Sanader (and Zuzul) had already given their assurances that, if elected, they would hand him over to The Hague. This is precisely what happened. The fix was in.

As a result of Sanader's power-lust, an innocent man was sold down the river. Ante Gotovina was forsaken in order to satisfy the ICTY's liberal globalist agenda. The tribunal is determined to equalize guilt on all sides of the Yugoslav wars of succession-rather than pin the blame squarely where it belongs: Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal project of a "Great Serbia" and his attempt to forge an ethnically pure state from the Danube to the Adriatic.

More importantly, the Gotovina case has never been about simply the innocence or guilt of one man; it is about preserving the international legal legitimacy of the Croatian state in its current borders. The Gotovina indictment calls into question the very basis of Croatia's successful efforts to militarily retake lands seized by Serb rebels. Already, Serbia's leading opposition party, the ultra- nationalist Radicals, are claiming that the Gotovina case will give Belgrade the legal and moral justification to re-annex large swaths of Croatian territory.

By not defending Gen. Gotovina, Zagreb engaged in a Faustian bargain.

It betrayed not only its finest general but the country's very national honor-and all for the empty promise of joining the EU at some distant date and under conditions that will most likely harm Croatia's economic, fishing and agricultural interests. Rather than following the Rwanda model-whose government succeeded in having Del Ponte removed from the Rwandan U.N. war crimes tribunal for her prosecutorial negligence-and wage a bruising diplomatic campaign on behalf of the general (as he had promised), Sanader took the easy

road: He caved and then presented it as a "great victory" in Croatia's march toward EU membership.

When Boro Gotovina personally protested to Sanader about the shameful betrayal of his brother, the prime minister responded: "In politics, one says one thing, does a second and thinks a third." It is this kind of moral depravity that has led Sanader to the brink of defeat. Polls now show the HDZ is trailing the SDP, and that a liberal-left ruling coalition is likely. The SDP and its allies will continue to follow Sanader's policies of phony reform and EU entry at all costs-and Croatians will continue to pay the price.

Clearly, there is a vacuum in Croatia's political landscape for a center-right populist coalition that champions real market-based reforms, Catholic social conservatism and a Croatia-first foreign policy. The HDZ could have spearheaded that coalition; instead, under Sanader's Machiavellian leadership, this once-great party has been drained of all conservative and patriotic content. It has become nothing more than a vast patronage machine, dispensing jobs and doling out government contracts in the service of its smug, lazy and venal ruling elite.

In the end, Sanader will have no one to blame for his loss but himself. He betrayed his supporters, his party and ultimately, his country. It is time Croatia's voters do to him what he has done to others: dump him swiftly, immediately and without remorse.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is the editor of Insight (www.insightmag.com).






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