AIM: start

THU, 04 OCT 2001 22:15:24 GMT

Croatia After Terrorist Attacks Against the USA

AIM Zagreb, September 20, 2001

Terrorist attacks against America will affect Croatia too. This is not a phrase that expresses Zagreb's readiness to sympathise with victims of this mega-crime in New York and Washington. Last Friday was a national day of mourning in Croatia and the Bishop served a mass for all victims in the Zagreb Cathedral, while citizens spontaneously placed flowers and lighted candles in front of the American Embassy. Terrorist attacks against America could cause serious political and economic troubles for Croatia.

The official politicians rushed to state that America could count on Croatia. In his special address to the people, President of the Republic Stjepan Mesic pointed to the need for creating a world anti-terrorist front in which, as he put it, Croatia was prepared to take part. Mesic claimed that after the "black" September 11 no one could remain neutral as "there is only a choice now: it is either us or them", he emphasised belligerently. His later statements were along the same lines: "Croatia will join America in the war against terrorism", "Not only politically, but in other ways too, Croatia will support America". The Presidential Office has been busy drafting a platform and principles for the operation of the proposed anti-terrorist international. Mesic was planning to present his concept at the autumn session of the UN General Assembly and in his talks with American President Bush. But, due to the latest events in America, everything had to be postponed.

According to those well-versed Croatia could help most with intelligence on persons who might be connected with terrorist organisations. Ample material had surely been collected in the past war, which might prove very interesting for the Western Alliance in conflict with the Islamic extremism. The Mujaheddins came to Bosnia over Croatia and the Croatian intelligence services have information on their organisation, habits, connections, sponsors, etc.

Mesic's warnings that terrorism should not be tolerated were meant for domestic use too as they also referred to Croatian circumstances. Namely, very little has been done here in view of acts committed by the terrorists here and their strength. Tudjman's regime treated terrorism organised for the so-called "Croatian cause" as a fight for Croatia. This included extremist groups from diaspora, which in the past had organised attacks on diplomatic offices of Tito's Yugoslavia, as well as those which joined the defence of Croatia during the recent terrorist war. The authorities which came to power last year have not managed to solve one single case of planted explosives, such as the one at Zagreb Mirogoj and in front of the Assembly of Zagreb, or the murder of the Hague witness Milan Levar.

A part of the public was very sceptical regarding the unreserved siding with America. A group of non-governmental organisation, which condemned the terrorist attack against the United States, also assessed the reaction of Croatian authorities as inappropriate. "We have sided with the side which advocates retaliation too easily, while not a single sober voice could be heard warning Croatia not to show solidarity with a call to ill-advised revenge", said their statement. In conclusion, warning that people of Afghanistan have been worn-out by wars and the Taliban regime, peace-movement activists stated: "If there is anything that Afghanistan should be bombed with, than it is bread".

However, Prime Minister Ivica Racan expressed fear from another kind of consequences that might affect Croatia after the American black Tuesday. "Question is whether European Union will include us in the anti-terrorist corridor", he said explaining: "If the European Union, prompted by terrorist actions in America, creates a sanitary cordon at its borders, question is on which side of that cordon will Croatia be". Racan thought that controversial agreement with Slovenia should be observed through this possibility that Europe might establish protection against terrorism from the East.

It is generally believed that speculations about the establishment of a sanitary cordon, which would definitely push Croatia from Europe, are without firm foundations. By arousing fear from that possibility the Prime Minister tried to lobby for his agreement on the settlement of border issues with Slovenia, which has been violently contested in the Croatian public and which, apart from Racan's Social Democrats, other parties of the ruling coalition did not support. It is almost generally rejected because of excessive concessions granted by Croatia, especially regarding the sea border in the Bay of Piran. Claims that by reaching agreement with Ljubljana Croatia could secure its place on the European side of the border towards the east, sound primarily as self-promotion of the agreement, which is considered Racan's work, because the Croatian Prime Minister personally arranged it in discussions with his Slovene colleague Drnovsek.

Some analysts of the Croatian media pointed to the danger of the transfer of anti-Moslem hysteria from America to Croatia. The Mufti of Zagreb, Sefko Omerbasic, was the first to point to that danger immediately after the black September 11. Moslem and Bosniac organisations condemned terrorism that attacked America and pointed out that it had nothing in common with authentic Islam and was actually an anti-Islamic act.

For a Croatian newspaper, the renowned Sarajevo intellectual, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic explained that the air strike on American centres of power, with thousands of innocent human victims, could not be proclaimed an Islamic crime. According to that same logic, said Mahmutcehajic, Auschwitz could be considered a Christian crime.

These debates concern Croatia because of the fear that the powerful Islamophobia from the last war could resurface. A recent statement of an influential Catholic priest, author of a daily column in a high-circulation newspaper was particularly mentioned. He recently called the local Moslems to state their view of the recent Taliban trial of a group of humanitarian workers who had been charged of spreading Christianity for which they had been condemned to death by hanging. There were several newspaper comments which observed that this call to local Moslems, who only share the same religion with the Talibans, irresistibly resembled the call from the last two wars addressed to Serbs to publicly state their loyalty to the Croatian state.

Finally, the terrorist attacks on America might have direct economic consequences for Croatia. News came from the Adriatic coast on the cancellation of numerous tourist tours and not only from overseas America.

Europeans have also cancelled their visits and the overall air traffic has been drastically reduced. It seems that congress tourism, which usually flourishes in autumn months, will completely fail this year. Generally speaking, tourism might be a major victim of the new circumstance. In the long run, economic projections are linked to speculations whether the American tragedy will cause world recession. In that context it is forecast that Croatian imports might fall, that servicing of the enormous Croatian foreign debt might be harder and more unfavourable, that the purchasing power of the population could fall which would lead to the overall regression.

All these grim prospects are even more pronounced with the possibility of the attack on America turning into World War III. This option is greatly speculated with in Croatia. The fear of hyper-terrorism from the East is slowly turning into fear from American reactions and future moves of the seriously wounded super power.

Jelena Lovric