The following article was published in the Liberal Democrat European Group (UK) newsletter, and reflects my own views and not those of the group. It was subsequently published in Hrvatski Vjesnik in their April 26 edition.
Croatia and the European Union
Croatia and the EU have never had an easy
relationship. The EU never wanted to recognise Croatia
in the first place, and the current situation is that
a political row has broken out in Croatia over
Croatia's signing an agreement with the EU; it seems
to have more to do with re-creating the former
Yugoslavia than offering Croatia the chance to join
the European Union. Such a policy has implications for
both Croatia and the European Union. Should the EU be
embarking on such an enterprise?
The EU had never liked former Croatian President
Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union
(HDZ). The EU accused him of "authoritarianism", media
control etc. Tudjman's democracy was hardly perfect -
how could it be given the circumstances of war,
occupation. But his "authoritarianism" was
exaggerated. Some observers noted that in fact most of
the press were against him and not for him.
The EU and others subsidised and supported
anti-Tudjman press and politicians in order to oust
him and his HDZ party. In 2000, due to to genuine
unpopularity and Tudjman's death a new Social Democrat
(ex-communist)/Liberal government was formed. Former
top HDZ politician Stipe Mesic, who had fallen out
with Tudjman and formed his own party became the
A new opportunity for Croatia both internationally and
domestically was squandered however. The criticisms of
Tudjman's regime such as authoritarianism, media
control etc. soon became far more applicable to the
current government. When the new government were
elected, the opposition press overnight became the pro
government press. Or rather supporting various
factions ie President Mesic against Prime Minister
Racan as in the case of Feral Tribune.
The Split based Slobodna Dalmacija was an exception.
It was the only opposition daily - bizarrely it was
owned by the state, due to a scandal under the
previous government. It kept its line despite the
changes. It ferociously attacked the government, the
UN war crimes tribunal and the President. This is the
sort of thing that is of course normal in a democracy.
However, it was too much for the President and his
supporters in the Press such as Feral Tribune and
The President ran a campaign against the newspaper,
calling it "fasisctoid" - it was nothing of the sort,
certainly no more extreme than the Daily Mail.
Eventually, in an act of blatant cronyism and
censorship the government replaced the editors in
April, resulting in a mass demonstration in Split. Now
there is not much in the way of an opposition press in
Croatia - a very unhealthy situation. Issues such as
President Mesic's election funding - a mystery - are
thus not adequately explored.
There have been other dubious incidents. Former HDZ
minister Andrija Hebrang was barred from entering
Australia - the reason given was that it might upset
relations with another government. In other words the
Croatian government requested he not be allowed entry
- just in case, no doubt, he discussed the political
situation in Croatia with Australia's sizeable Croat
A Croatian academic was called in by the police for a
"talk"; he had published 1948 documents on a Yugoslav
secret police investigation of prisoners that the
still alive investigating officer claimed was false.
The documents were entirely genuine; but it is
disturbing how such people have influence and can have
the police "talk" with people.
The Catholic church has criticised the government.
The response has been an attempt to intimidate the
church into silence by talk of right wing plots
involving the church - as if communism had never
disappeared. This is even taking the form of
attempting to apply pressure by the government,
apparently with EU help, complaining to the Vatican -
who will no doubt so see straight through this.
All of this has gone unnoticed by western governments,
NGO's human rights groups etc. for the simple reason
that the government is regarded as "compliant" by the
western powers - who also happen to fund many NGO's.
Another serious problem is the funding by the EU of
"independent" media. Such media tend to support the
EU's favoured politicians in the region. The
recipients of this aid are often extreme left-wing
individuals. The rabidly anti - HDZ (and some would
argue, anti Croatia) pro-Mesic newspaper Feral Tribune
- which unpleasantly singles out its enemies as "Shit
of the Week" is perhaps the most obvious example of
this, having previously received EU funds. Its
journalists are bizarrely quoted as "independent" in
the western media - no mention is made of their
political views or their ultimate funders.
It is not only internal; the Institute of War and
Peace Reporting (IWPR) in London is in part funded by
the EU, and Feral journalists crop again in writing
articles - a recent example being a skewed piece on
the aforementioned anti-church activities, focusing on
Government attempts to threaten the church into
silence by changing its favourable tax status. Instead
of condemning this attack on "turbulent priests", this
particular article appeared to approve of it! On
the serious issue of the Slobodna scandal, the IWPR
had nothing to say.
IWPR, when covering Croatian affairs often attacks the
HDZ or the Catholic church in this case as being
fascistic, or sympathetic to fascism.
Such rhetoric of course was used by Slobodan Milosevic
and his cronies to justify the destruction of Vukovar,
the bombardment of Dubrovnik and various other war
crimes. Its use by IWPR is thus disturbing.
Such reports are read by the BBC and other western
news organisations and become "received wisdoms".
Feral Tribune and the IWPR are just two examples of EU
subsidy to favoured journalistic outlets; there are
Recently, the Croatian government has signed an
agreement with Europe - the Stabilisation and
Association Agreement (SAA) The SAA applies only to
the ex-Yugoslav republics - minus Slovenia, plus
Albania. Macedonia has already signed such an
It is touted as Croatia's first step towards the
European Union. In fact it seems designed to keep
Croatia and the other countries of the region out.
Worse, it appears to be an attempt to re-create the
It should be explained that many in the region are
concerned over attempts to re-create some kind of
Yugoslav federation. Yugoslavia was little more than
a Serb racket; completely different countries were
forced together under Serbian hegemony, and for
Croatia it meant near colonisation by the Serbs
including the creaming off of tourist profits to the
Serbs, suppression of the Croatian language in favour
of "Serbo-Croat" - Serbian - and most of the top
posts going to Serbs.
So it has come as a bit of shock for many that
Articles 11-14 - "Regional Cooperation" - of the
agreement appears to bind the SAA countries into some
kind of federation. These provisions demand that
Croatia creates 'bilateral' links with the other SAA
states. These include areas such as political
dialogue, a free trade area, mutual concessions
concerning the movement of workers and capital as well
as other areas not covered in the agreement 'notably'
the field of justice and home affairs. How ever you
look at it, put together that makes a federation. What
is also disturbing is the coercive element. Croatia
must make those agreements with the other SAA states
within two years of those states concluding their
SAA agreements with the EU - or all relations with the
EU cease. EU External Relations commissioner Chris
Patten has claimed there is no plan to recreate
Yugoslavia, and Croatia is not part of a regional
plan. Quite apart from Articles 11-14 contradicting
him, his own comments at a recent speech spoke of
"re-connecting the ties that bind peoples of the
region together" and of the countries establishing
''a network of close contractual relations among
themselves". "This is more than a bilateral process"
Croatia is broke; but it is an economic oasis compared
with Albania and Serbia. When movement of workers and
other provisions kick in, Croatia will no doubt one
way illegal immigration problems, problems which may
no doubt concern the EU sufficiently enough to keep
Croatia out of the EU. We all know how much of the
press treats such issues - and how politicians react
to them. Certainly one cannot imagine the EU signing
'movement of workers' agreements with Albania; why
then force it on Croatia?
Should the EU be embarking on an enterprise of
effectively creating - by sleight of hand and coercion
- some kind of "West Balkans" federation?
Imperialism, colonialism... whatever one calls it the
EU SAA project is neither liberal nor democratic. And
is propping up unpopular governments in Croatia - and
elsewhere - a good idea? Especially when it involves
attacks on the church and a blind eye to press
censorship? What are the long term effects, the
implications for the future? The path ahead could be
But there is a different approach. Firstly, all
funding, assistance etc. for "independent" media and
favoured political parties in Croatia should cease.
Politics and media must develop naturally, even if
that means the return of the HDZ to power.
Electorates must not fear the wrath of the EU if they
want to vote for a particular party.
Further, the whole SAA approach should be jettisoned.
It should be replaced by an individual approach, not
tying Croatia's - or any other country's fate - to any
One constructive idea put forward by Vitomir Miles
Raguz, the former Bosnia-Hercegovnia ambassador to the
EU and NATO is to extend the European Economic Area to
the countries of South East Europe, prior to eventual
accession to the European Union. Suitably augmented,
to cover concerns such as movement of labour, such an
approach could work.
An EU approach to Croatia such as that employed for
Poland, Slovenia etc. could pay dividends in future;
a regional approach could produce something else
again. We all know how the last regional plan fared -
it was called Yugoslavia.
(c) Brian Gallagher