Tudjman Leans towards Dictatorship ; Croatia's Likely Admission to the Council of Europe Raises Issues of Human Rights

By Daly, Emma | The Independent (London, England), May 13, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Tudjman Leans towards Dictatorship ; Croatia's Likely Admission to the Council of Europe Raises Issues of Human Rights


Daly, Emma, The Independent (London, England)


Zagreb - Barring an unprecedented diplomatic about-face, Croatia's admission to the Council of Europe will be ratified this week. But in the five years since President Franjo Tudjman led his country to war and independence, he has shown a marked disinclination to uphold the virtues enshrined by the council, which has imposed 21 conditions on Zagreb's membership.

One is that Mr Tudjman resolve in a democratic manner the crisis he sparked by riding roughshod over the elected members of Zagreb's local council, controlled by the opposition. Having rejected several council candidates for mayor, the President decided to wash his hands by dissolving the assembly and appointing a single commissioner in its place. He did the same in Rijeka, where the county council was proving a little troublesome.

How Mr Tudjman will come up with a "democratic" solution is something of a mystery, given his utter refusal to accept defeat in Zagreb. "Tudjman lost the elections - that's the key problem for him, and he has not the honesty to admit that he lost," said Davor Gjenero, a political analyst.

Mr Gjenero fears that the radical faction within the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) - that is, the more nationalist, right-wing element, many of whom are in fact Bosnian Croats from Herzegovina - will encourage the President towards totalitarianism.

"The biggest problem nowadays is whether Tudjman will transform his system into a full-blown dictatorship," Mr Gjenero said. "He has the power . . . and he is capable of doing it, as his actions in Zagreb and Rijeka have shown." In theory, Croatia must fulfil the conditions laid down by the Council of Europe, which include democracy, freedom of the press and the judiciary, respect for human rights and minorities.

The omens, however, are not good. Since Croatian entry was approved by the permanent representatives last month, the government appears to have geared up its campaign against the independent media and other opponents.

One newspaper has been closed (for violating technical and environmental laws) and a second hit with fines that could bankrupt it (on bizarre tax charges), while the editor of a satirical weekly has been charged with insulting the President (under a new defamation law).

There are other subtle forms of attack. A prominent human rights campaigner, Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, was splashed across the front of the pro-government daily Vjesnik, accused of working for the Yugoslav secret police since the age of 16.

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