Split Fire Leads to First Open Conflict between Prime Minister and President

By 19 July 2017

Many in HDZ believe that Plenković should have gone to Split much earlier.

The fires which hit the Split area a few days ago have caused an earthquake in the government, after Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević resigned yesterday when President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said that the army should have reacted earlier. Prime Minister Plenković rejected the resignation, saying that all government services did their job as they should have, reports Jutarnji List on 19 July 2017.

Later in the day, President Grabar-Kitarović explained that her statement was not a criticism of Krstičević and called on him to change his decision. “I just asked why the armed forces were not called earlier. When the army came to the site, it did a great job. I expect Krstičević will change his decision”, said the President.

Prime Minister Plenković announced that he would not accept Krstičević's resignation at a press conference held on Tuesday afternoon in Zagreb. He said that public criticism of his own actions were just “malicious comments in the media” and clarified what he meant when he said earlier that the fire was attractive. “The media was interested because the fire came to the very outskirts of Split,” he said.

The Prime Minister revealed that he had not heard from the President and that the news of the Krstičević’s resignation came while he was on a plane flying from Split to Zagreb. He added that he did not know why the President had come to a conclusion about the army. “I do not know where she got that information; you have to ask her.” The Prime Minister later spoke with Krstičević and told him to calm down and that he would not accept his resignation.

There are obviously problems in the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister, and the latest events have confirmed this.

“The President should not have said this about the government,” says some in HDZ. Many are angry with the President, although they realise that Krstičević was probably not her target. “I think the criticism was targeted at the head of the State Protection and Rescue Service Lozančić and the entire system which did not function,” said one prominent HDZ member and added that Krstičević did nothing wrong.

“He did a good job, and his reaction was understandable. He is an emotional person. He was offended and offered his resignation,” said an HDZ source. Another party member says that President’s criticism was partly about the Prime Minister himself. “It is no secret that the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister is not without problems. They are also in conflict about foreign policy. While Plenković implements EU policy, the President is aligning with the United States. The problems were visible when it came to the appointment of new ambassadors, which took a very long time,” said the source, adding that these latest events would intensify the conflict between them.

HDZ officials were not particularly positive about the actions of their party boss. “Plenković should have gone to Split earlier. It was immediately apparent that this was a large-scale fire.” Others share his opinion. “The party leadership can find all the excuses they want, but the fact is that neither the county nor the town did anything to prepare. What did the county do? And how was it possible that the fire entered Split, which is certainly not an inaccessible area,” said one source.