Change in the Offing: The Shifting Political Scene in Croatia
Change in the Offing: The Shifting Political Scene in Croatia
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 50 / Europe & Central Asia

Change in the Offing: The Shifting Political Scene in Croatia

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has dominated Croatian political life since multi-party elections in April 1990 brought an end to communist rule.

Executive Summary

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has dominated Croatian political life since multi-party elections in April 1990 brought an end to communist rule. The HDZ has been a broad movement rather than a modern political party, representing a wide range of political views and interests, united behind its leader, President Franjo Tudjman, in the aim of achieving Croatian sovereignty and independence. In 1990-91, large areas of the country were taken over by rebellious Croatian Serbs, with support from Belgrade. Thus for most of the period of HDZ rule in Croatia, large chunks of the country remained outside Zagreb's control, and the overriding priority was to restore Croatia's territorial integrity, a goal which was finally achieved in January 1998. Croatia also became enmeshed in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) as, supported by Croatia, the Bosnian Croats fought their erstwhile Bosniac allies in 1993-94. The obsession of Tudjman and the hard-line Herzegovina lobby in the HDZ with the dream of eventually detaching chunks of Bosnian territory and joining them with Croatia has been a persistent cause of international pressure on Croatia, as well as of division within Croatian politics.

Despite his own predilection towards the HDZ right, Tudjman valued the maintenance of balance between different strands in the party, and acknowledged the contribution of relative moderates in broadening the HDZ's domestic support and bringing greater international acceptability. After the end of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in 1995, many supposed that Croatian policy would shift towards a peacetime agenda of completing the transition to democracy and a market economy, and integrating Croatia into western structures. However, in 1998 the HDZ has shifted firmly to the right, and hard-liners, led by Tudjman's adviser on internal affairs, Ivic Pasalic, have emerged triumphant in the party. This prompted the resignations in October 1998 of leading HDZ moderates Hrvoje Sarinic and Franjo Greguric, amid accusations that Pasalic had manipulated the intelligence services in orchestrating a campaign of political assassination against them. In addition, the defence minister, Andrija Hebrang, failed in his efforts to reform his ministry, which had become a key centre of the shadowy, non-transparent method of rule that has emerged under Tudjman. The defence ministry is also the main conduit of support from Zagreb to the Bosnian Croats. Hebrang too resigned in October.

The triumph of the HDZ right has dispelled any illusions about the nature of the party, as despite efforts by Tudjman to revive the impression of balance within the HDZ, the few remaining moderates are now isolated. The party of Tudjman has been revealed, under the direction of Pasalic, in its true colours, as a party of the nationalist, xenophobic right. Any hope of meaningful change in Croatian policy towards Bosnia while Tudjman remains at the helm will be disappointed. The HDZ has lost credibility due to a succession of scandals, including a crisis at Dubrovacka banka, in which senior HDZ figures were implicated, the allegations regarding the intelligence services, and revelations regarding Tudjman family finances. Deepening social discontent has combined with a widely held perception that a politically-connected elite has enriched itself, while the majority of the population has been impoverished, to bring a sharp decline in popular support for the HDZ.

The opposition may stand to capitalise on HDZ discomfort, and opinion polls suggest that a new six-party opposition grouping has a real chance of defeating the HDZ in elections due in 1999, if it can hold together. As the opposition has gained in confidence, the isolation of remaining relative moderates in the HDZ has increased. Speculation concerning a possible re-alignment in Croatian politics, bringing together HDZ moderates and the opposition, appears now to have been overtaken by events, as opposition leaders are faced with the prospect of winning power without the need of any in the HDZ. As efforts by Tudjman to revamp the HDZ in advance of the elections appear forlorn, whether or not the ruling party can be ousted is largely in the hands of the opposition. An extremely delicate problem for opposition leaders is how to deal with the likelihood that Tudjman, whose mandate as president, his health permitting, lasts until 2002, will try to obstruct the formation of a government excluding the HDZ. Disputes have arisen among the opposition parties on how to approach the HDZ. The leader of the strongest opposition party, Ivica Racan of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) urges that dialogue with Tudjman be maintained, so as to avoid a confrontation between two irreconcilable blocs and contribute to the building of a stable environment for an opposition takeover. Some other opposition leaders are more uncompromising, suspecting that there could be no constructive dialogue with Tudjman.

As the opposition and the HDZ manoeuvre before and after the elections, Croatia is in for a period of instability in the medium term. However, if the HDZ were to be defeated, the outlook for the evolution of a stable democracy in Croatia would be much improved, as would the prospects for an improvement in Croatia's strained international relations. Defeat for Tudjman's HDZ would also have very important consequences for Bosnia, as the current opposition parties would behave much more constructively towards Croatia's neighbour than has been the case under Tudjman.

The trends are encouraging, and there is probably little that the international community could or should do to influence that process. Open international support for a particular political option in Croatia would be likely to be counter-productive. Rather the international community should be consistent in its approach to the Croatian government, irrespective of the party in power. International pressure over such issues as Croatian policy towards Bosnia, the return of Serb refugees, media freedom and electoral reform should be maintained.

Zagreb/Sarajevo, 14 December 1998

The Balkan Refugee Crisis

The magnitude and complexity of the unfolding refugee crisis in the Balkans is hard to overstate.  One and a half million people have been forced to flee their homes in Kosovo since the start of this year. 

Executive Summary

The magnitude and complexity of the unfolding refugee crisis in the Balkans is hard to overstate.  One and a half million people have been forced to flee their homes in Kosovo since the start of this year.  These latest victims of Balkan conflict join the ranks of a further one and a half million other refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

While many of those expelled from Kosovo are anxious to return home as soon as possible, the obstacles in the way of their return are formidable.  Creating the conditions necessary for large scale return[fn]'Return' refers to all return back to place of origin, from exile as well as internal displacement.  'Repatriation' is only used for return from exile.Hide Footnote  will take a long time and require enormous resources.

This report argues in favour of providing temporary protection[fn]Refugee status was never intended to be permanent. The 1951 Refugee Convention gives room for granting of international protection on a temporary basis through its ‘cessation clause’.Hide Footnote  for refugees in the region, with the aim of them returning home at the earliest opportunity.  Temporary protection is necessary to maintain pressure on Belgrade and demonstrate our commitment to reverse the effects of ethnic cleansing.  But this report argues for more realism in relation to the length of time it will take to reverse the present refugee flow.  Lessons from Croatia and Bosnia have demonstrated that there is no such thing as fast voluntary return in the wake of war and ethnic cleansing[fn]Only 20% of the refugees and IDPs had returned to their homes in Bosnia-Herzogovina 16 months after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement. In the same period only 10 % of damaged houses were repaired. ICG report: "Going nowhere fast", 1 May 1997.Hide Footnote .  Perhaps induced, but most likely not voluntary.  Non-voluntary return of refugees is a very sensitive issue.  The international community can only try to circumvent it by striving to put in place the necessary conditions that would make return acceptable to Kosovo refugees.  This report discusses these key conditions and calls for the establishment of a comprehensive repatriation plan.  Strong regional management structures must be established by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in order to develop, co-ordinate and implement the strategy for the return process.

Specifically, the report recommends that the international community focus on the following action points:

  • Maintain and promote the temporary status of refugees;
  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for the return of all refugees and IDPs;
  • Keep the refugees in the region, in so far as possible;
  • Plan for the early return for refugees evacuated to third countries;
  • Prepare for spontaneous return;
  • Plan according to realistic time frame;
  • Keep refugees informed;
  • Give equal attention to short- and long-term needs;
  • Involve the local opulation in the return process;
  • Develop regional humanitarian solutions and structures;
  • Mobilise up-front funding of return efforts;
  • Include the whole region in economic recovery planning;
  • Keep the roles of humanitarian aid workers and the military separate;
  • Include binding return mechanisms in the future peace agreement; and
  • Synchronise European refugee policy.

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