Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Is the End of Hasanbegović Near?

Adelina Marini, September 19, 2016

The pebble in the shoe (Zlatko Hasanbegović) of the renewed Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) under the leadership of MEP Andrej Plenković (EPP) is about to be discarded, as is evident from the review of Croatian media from the weekend and today. The technical minister of culture, who has been causing national and international uproar ever since his appointment, turned into a headline at the end of last week, after a key potential coalition partner – the leader of Croatian Serbs Milorad Pupovac – set it as a condition for any negotiations with the HDZ that Mr Hasanbegović will not be a part of the next government. Mr Pupovac’s demand caused a turbulent reaction by the minister, who did not leave the leading news and headlines. Today’s press in Croatia reports that the HDZ leadership is beginning to lose its patience.

Jutarnji list reveals, that tension is rising in the high places in the party, for it is believed that Hasanbegović is running a campaign to save his seat. “If he keeps going like that, I do not believe Plenković will tolerate him long”, is the newspaper’s quote of a high-ranking source from the party. The other large national daily newspaper Vecernji list reports that Hasanbegović is both the strong and the weak spot of the HDZ. In a commentary, the newspaper reports that the rightist (Pravaška) political community in the country (some extremely nationalist political parties) have never had a worse result at the last elections. Plenković is probably aware that he has gathered their vote due to Hasanbegović being on the lists. “At these elections, Hasanbegović received high electoral legitimacy. Plenković is in indecision, for he does not wish to alienate the voters from the extreme right-wing, he needs their votes and so he needs to give space to the carriers of the right-wing trend in the HDZ as well”, reports the newspaper. 

The large media event in Serbia (echoing in Croatia) over the weekend is the latest interview of Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić for the national television RTS, in which he admits that it was far easier for him to win diplomatic victories with Milanović. He also says that he knows Plenković and regards him as a serious person. “I am not too optimistic, because the Serbs are a leading subject in Croatia ... It was easier for me to win a victory at the diplomatic front while Milanović was there. Now it will be more difficult”, believes Vučić. 

There is tension in the left-wing as well, according to Vecernji list. After the loss in the elections and the resignation of Zoran Milanović as SDP leader there will be a meeting of the party’s General Committee on Saturday. Tension comes from having more and more members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) requesting that not just the upcoming internal party elections be discussed at that meeting, but also the reasons for the election loss. 

The left-wing daily newspaper Novi list from Rijeka publishes a commentary by Jasmin Klarić, who analyses the political heritage left by Zoran Milanović as SDP leader and believes it is not fair to label him a loser. The author reminds that during the period under Mr Milanović’s leadership the SDP has significantly increased its election result and has turned more democratic. “In general, speaking about Milanović only as a loser is not only malicious, but it does not correspond with the facts as well. SDP, as it is left by the former president, is a much stronger political organisation than the one he inherited. Milanović is correct here in saying that today political opponents fear the SDP and that is a much more valuable heritage than numbers. The party of Ivica Račan is no longer the cute loser it was over the prolonged period of Croatian democracy in the 90-ies"

Serbian-Croatian relations

In the interview I mentioned earlier for the RTS, the Serbian PM commented another aspect of relations between Belgrade and Zagreb. When asked to comment on the information in Croatian media that Croatia is preparing a serious retort to the announced joint military exercises between Serbia, Russia and Belarus, Vučić stated that Serbia did not retaliate when Croatia was purchasing weaponry. This, however, veers from the facts, as euinside reported almost a year ago. “We had not responded when they were purchasing tanks, Panzers, and rockets. We kept silent, never said a word. We bought nothing, we have little money and we try to develop our own military industry, as we successfully do”, states Vučić in his interview for the state-owned television. 

The referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The top piece of news of the weekend is that the Constitutional Court of BiH placed a ban on the referendum, planned for September 25th in the Serbian entity of the country – Republika Srpska (RS). Despite the court ruling, RS President Milorad Dodik stated that there will be a referendum. Serbian PM Vučić stated that “It never crossed Serbia’s mind to interfere with the referendum and believes that this is the rational position of all citizens”. He also refused to interfere on the subject of the upcoming visit of Mr Dodik to Moscow right before the referendum. He did say, however, that in his opinion this visit had been arranged long time ago. 

On the subject of the referendum Sead Numanovic writes for the Bosnian Dnevni avaz in a commentary, titled “ReferenBOOM: There will be no war!” that one of the most asked questions by regular people is will there be war. “No! Or at least not so soon”, replies the columnist and clarifies that wars do not begin before winter. “Or at least it has always been so at this very experienced Balkan soil”. The referendum is not organised for any other reason besides drawing the citizens’ attention away from the local elections in the country, because Milorad Dodik has nothing to show voters. “The territory, which Dodik has been ruling as a sovereign for a long time is his own private property. There are numerous examples of him, due to his own private interests, has trampled all laws in RS with no consequence. Why would he stop now?”

Numanovic reassures that although the September 25th referendum is a pre-premier of a possible referendum for the secession of RS from BiH, the second one will not be held, or at least not while Dodik is alive. The reason being that a possible break way of RS would mean Dodik's political end. Anyways, the author warns: “The referendum and the events that will follow will be beneficial only to the radicals and schemers! And this is the thing that we need to worry about in all cases. In the end of the day, the referendum for the day of RS will not bring anything good to any smart person. But, and this is becoming more and more evident, it will produce what we all fear of. We live in a world, where populism and the right-wing become strong quickly, where the voice of reason is thwarted by a cacophony of lies and fear mongering. Even strong democracies – from the American to the Dutch – are unable to efficiently protect themselves from that. The Balkans are in the worst possible position. They expect things to unravel at the global map and hope they will not be a coin for exchange this time...”

Without Merkel the EU is lost

And a bit more of the interview of the Serbian PM for the RTS. Speaking about the results of the elections in Berlin, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party did not fare well, Vučić stated that he fears that the end of Europe “as we know it today” is not far. “We all had an address and someone to call when there is a problem. Who will answer our call tomorrow, or the Croats', or many others? The easiest thing is to criticise Angela Merkel, I want no part in this, for she, besides everything else, saved Serbia’s citizens from conflicts, riots, and all the rest when we got sanctioned over nothing. Had it not been for Angela Merkel, I fear how all this could have ended. It is not about loyalty, but rationale”, stated Mr Vučić.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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