AIM: start

FRI, 12 OCT 2001 02:00:46 GMT

Dalmatia under HDZ Rule

AIM Zagreb, September 24, 2001

HDZ (Croat Democratic Union) has conquered Dalmatia. That is, to put it shortly, what in effect took place in the recent days and weeks in most major cities in Dalmatia where the party founded by late Franjo Tudjman has regained power on the local level. What makes this even more significant is the fact that HDZ already had a tight grip on local and regional authorities in the Dalmatian hinterland. In this respect, "south Croatia" - as Tudjman used to call it in an effort to make light of the self-governing patriotism engrained to the region - is, in effect, now turning into a veritable autonomy of a sorts. Under HDZ patronage! The conquest was carried out within the framework of local elections held this spring, while the constitution of the new authorities extended well into the summer and was completed only by the onset of autumn.

HDZ employed a number of methods in carrying out the takeover most of which, however, had enough in common to make it likely that they had all been planned well in advance and that the planning originated from a single party, some even claim, same intelligence headquarters (there is reason to believe that Croat intelligence service ranks were permeated by HDZ cadre to such an extent that, to this very day, they follow the orders of their former bosses much more closely than those given out by the authorities nominally in power). It all began in Split where the two main contenders, HDZ and the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), came out even from the local electoral race, thus making possible but two solutions: either a second round of voting or the constitution of a minority rule. The latter of the two came true.

The then acting mayor of Split Ivica Skaric, member of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) once headed by Drazen Budisa, offered a solution seemingly acceptable to both sides. Although coming out but third in the electoral race, his HSLS called for a "technical coalition" , i.e. expert local government as opposed to a one set up merely according to party affiliation - under the condition that his offer gained support of the two main opponents. Since, months prior to this, Skaric managed to establish outstandingly cordial relations with HDZ, no one was particularly surprised by the fact that HDZ accepted his offer while SDP decided not to, claiming that it amounted to an electoral fraud and refusing to endorse city authorities resulting from such a settlement.

Split city authorities were, nevertheless, constituted, due to the fact that HDZ and Skoric’s "technicians" held a majority in the City Council (parliament). Thus, the first notch in HDZ’s raid on Dalmatia was made. The second was scored in Zadar. There too the electoral results came out even, but this time there was no third party to be found. In other words, the only thing to be done was to lure someone from rival ranks to the opposite side, which is precisely what happened. Thus, the independent list of Stanislav Antic - a man willing to share power with SDP and other ruling parties on the state level, but even more inclined to seize the mayoral tittle for himself on the city level - won a relative majority in Zadar.

Things took an unexpected turn when a councilwoman from Antic's list (Renata Peros, to be remembered by her straightforward confession that her pursuit of politics is motivated by material gain - purportedly, so as to make it perfectly clear that mere ideals are not "her thing") changed sides, going over to the enemy (HDZ). Peros carried this out in a guerrilla fashion, at the very session of the City Council during which the new mayor was being voted on. As a result, Bozidar Kalmeta, a HDZ member, not Antic was elected mayor of Zadar. The plot was executed in such a cunning and artful manner, that all poor Antic could say was: "Up to the very instant she raised her hand to vote for the HDZ candidate, I did not have the slightest inkling that she was their player." Probably on instruction from her new employers, councilwoman Peros contented herself with but a few explanatory words: "My political stands are diametrically

opposed to the views of Mr. Antic." Full stop.

The Zadar scenario worked out so well that it was simply re-run in Sibenik, the sole difference being that this time the city authorities – already constituted at the time and consisting of SDP representatives and their party allies - lived to see themselves overthrown in the aftermath of the elections. This was made possible through the cooperation of a SDP councilor (Ante Belak), a HSLS one (Zeljko Buric) and an independent city alderman (Ante Gasparev). Although the then acting chairman of the municipal council and the mayor of Sibenik both objected to it, HDZ convened a session of the Town Council, electing new city authorities.

The authority of the recently sworn in councilors has since been challenged by the city’s legal service citing serious trespasses of the electoral procedure. Nevertheless, seeing that HDZ holds an overwhelming majority in the Zadar municipal council, it is only a matter of time before it makes another notch in its raid on Dalmatia. As things stand at the moment, HDZ is likely to score yet another victory, this time in Dubrovnik. In this Dalmatian city both HDZ and SDP came out of the electoral race fairly even (the former with ten, the latter with seven seats in the city council, insufficient for either of the competing sides to constitute an administration on their own). An independent councilor, Srecko Kljunak, and a councilor of the Democratic Center, Mate Granic, are expected to back HDZ this time. If that happens, the keys to the southernmost major Dalmatian city will have passed into the hands of the opposition with Pula and Rijeka in the north being the only cities still holding out in the otherwise HDZ- controlled coastal strip of Croatia.

How did this HDZ invasion of the Dalmatian coast come about, considering that, after the electoral defeat it had suffered at the start of last year, the party's ratings dropped to a low of under ten percent? It is generally believed that this unexpected success is a result of a broad campaign against the cooperation with the Hague which HDZ has been carrying out in the region with the help of veteran and disabled veteran organizations. This has given rise to a rightist and populist movement with a hidden but precise underlying agenda: that this part of the country be exempt from the rule of the central authorities in Zagreb, personified in Prime Minister Ivica Racan and the head of state, Stipe Mesic.

As is often pointed out, Dalmatia has been targeted because of the grave economic and social circumstances in effect there, but that certainly is not the whole story. Equally important is its vicinity to former "Herzeg-Bosnia" and the fact that, in Tudjman's time, Dalmatia and Split in particular were considered to be the main "gateway" to that part of B&H. Obviously, the intention is to revive Dalmatia's former role, this time with yet another feature added to it: that it serves as a destabilizing factor in Croatia in much the same manner as western Herzegovina does in B&H. The confirmation of this hypothesis came, amongst other things, in the form of a pseudo-institutional initiative for the establishment of the so called Croat People's Congress.

A few months after the said initiative was introduced in the Croat entity of B&H, it was tried out in Croatia as well, in Split, to be precise. It proved a failure, just as the B&H one did, but if viewed in the context of HDZ’s recent electoral triumph in Dalmatia, one might come to a somewhat different conclusion. Why should HDZ bother with non-institutional initiatives seeing that it is so successful in seizing power by institutional means?!

This is a serious challenge for the central authorities in Zagreb which, after having demonstrated infinite tolerance for so long, have now finally announced that legal steps will be taken against all anti-Hague militants, lately not refraining from openly calling for a revolt. But, what is to be done with the militants already occupying town-hall benches in cities throughout Dalmatia? This seems to be an issue Mr. Racan’s government is yet to confront.