Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Plenković: Croatia Cares for Stability and Security in its Neighbourhood

ZAGREB, 2 March 2022 - Croatia cares for stability and security in its immediate environment, promoting peace and good-neighbourly relations with the countries in southeastern Europe on their way to integration into the European Union and NATO, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the Croatian Parliament on Wednesday. 

"We want everyone to refrain from any incidents, any inflammatory rhetoric or anything that might destabilise the otherwise tense situation in at least three countries in our neighbourhood. We can't have two hotspots in Europe at the same time. The chaos that we now have is enough," the prime minister said in response to questions from MPs during discussion on the situation in Ukraine following Russia's military invasion.

MP Bojan Glavašević (Green-Left Bloc) recalled the statement by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in which he supported Russian President Vladimir Putin and called Ukrainian defenders "an armed gang".

"As for Dodik and his view on the Ukrainian defenders, I condemn it unequivocally," Plenković said.

Plenković said that Croatia was taking care of the security of the LNG terminal on the northern Adriatic island of Krk, a strategic installation thanks to which Croatia has changed its position on Europe's energy map, and making sure there were sufficient supplies of food and at affordable prices.

Asked by Andreja Marić (Social Democratic Party) about the readiness of the healthcare system for a nuclear threat, the prime minister said that the Health Ministry had formed a task force to take care of all aspects of healthcare in all scenarios.

"As for threats with nuclear weapons, I sincerely hope such a scenario will not happen because it would be the end of the world as we know it," Plenković said.

Mario Kapulica of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union recalled that President Zoran Milanović had recently mocked the possibility of Russian aggression and spoken of extremists in Ukraine.

"This is when we have to give those who were not precise enough a chance to take the right side," Plenković said, agreeing that there had been "misjudgements and poorly worded sentences" and calling for "unity in the time ahead of us".

Condemning the aggression on Ukraine and expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people, Plenković said that Ukraine was not a country that deserved the concept of neutralisation and being without a democratic leadership and its own armed forces.

The Croatian prime minister rejected the idea that the war in Ukraine was prompted by NATO's expansion. "That's not true," he stressed.

"This is a time when we have to uphold the fundamental principles no matter the cost, even if that may require giving up our way of life. This is a situation in which we must not have any doubts," he added.

Independent MP Karolina Vidović Krišto remarked that the prime minister should have submitted a report on the situation in Croatia and corruption, rather than the war in Ukraine on which he had no influence.

Plenković described her speech as inappropriate, harmful, untrue and defamatory. "We are working, while you are obstructing. We are winning and you are losing," the PM said.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Government to Closely Examine Request to Strip Labour Minister of Immunity, Prime Minister Says

ZAGREB, 2 March 2022 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday that the government would examine in detail the request by the State Attorney's Office that Labour Minister Josip Aladrović be stripped of immunity before making a decision, adding that this is the first such case in the government's history.

The government received the request yesterday so that a procedure could be launched for a crime, that if convicted, is punishable with up to five years' imprisonment.

Speaking to the press, Plenković dismissed the interpretation that stripping the minister of immunity was a routine move. "There is nothing routine about this."

According to the media, Aladrović is suspected of illegal hiring at the Croatian Pension Insurance Institute, which he headed before becoming a minister.

Asked if a candidate for the new minister of physical planning, construction and state assets, after the resignation of Darko Horvat, would be known this week, Plenković said, "We'll see. Consultations are under way."

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Croatia Ranked Among "Well-governed Democracies" on Bertelsmann Transformation Index

ZAGREB, 23 Feb 2022 - Democracy is losing ground as the number of autocratic countries in the world is on the rise, according to a study by the German Bertelsmann Foundation released on Wednesday.

"For the first time since 2004, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) counts more autocratically governed states than democracies," the foundation said in the report, adding that "among the 137 countries surveyed, only 67 are still democracies, while the number of autocracies has risen to 70."

The study was carried out between 2019 and 2022.

Croatia ranked among "well-governed democracies", alongside Uruguay, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Taiwan. By comparison, countries such as Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Brazil and India were described as "defective democracies".

Russia and China were classified as "hard-line autocracies".

Along with a decline in democratic values, the BTI also recorded a rise in economic inequality and a decline in economic power in 78 countries.

"The pandemic functioned as an extreme stress test for all governments, exacerbating problems and undesirable developments. (...)  However, many governments lack the political will to combat poverty and social exclusion effectively," the report said.

Increased civil engagement and social solidarity was identified as a positive trend.

The Bertelsmann Foundation is controlled by the Mohn family, who owns the media group of the same name. The foundation is criticised for having too much influence on German politics.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

It's Important to Respect Presumption of Innocence, Minister Obuljen Koržinek

ZAGREB, 23 Feb 2022 - Culture and Media Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek said on Wednesday she condemned any suspicion of a dishonourable act, wherever it came from, but that it was important to respect the presumption of innocence, notably regarding Deputy PM Boris Milošević and the allocation of incentives.

The USKOK anti-corruption office is accusing Milošević of abuse of office in the allocation of incentives to businesses alongside five other persons, including Darko Horvat, who was arrested on Saturday and relieved of duty as construction minister.

Speaking on Croatian Radio, Obuljen Koržinek said the matter was under investigation.

"It's important not to create hysteria, not to convict people before proceedings have been carried out because many people in high positions in Croatia have been accused and labelled, which lasted for years, only to be acquitted."

She said it was very important to respect judicial institutions and not to convict people before a verdict was delivered.

Opposition's only agenda is to topple the HDZ without arguments

Asked to comment on some opposition parties' demand for dissolving parliament and an early election, she said "the opposition's only agenda is the delusional and unfounded toppling of the (ruling) HDZ."

"How has it happened that all of a sudden the SDP, We Can! and Bridge agree on everything?" she said, adding that it is their only narrative.

"They should form a party together, act together and pretend they are on different political positions", she said, telling all three to consider their actions in the election they are demanding.

"They are praying to God that there is no election and that in two years they can try to work some more on their image and rating."

Obuljen Koržinek called the opposition's statements on the judiciary as mud-slinging and an unfounded stating of untruths. "A week ago they said the HDZ had its hooks in and controlled the judiciary and now, a week later, all of a sudden the whole judiciary is excellent, independent  and should be protected."

She said such inconsistency and spitting on everything was very bad for democracy in Croatia.

"Don't hit at institutions because tomorrow you will have to build them," she told the opposition, adding that the common goal of those in power and the opposition is to affirm politics as an activity in which one works for the common good.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Opposition Says Government Measures for Business Sector Belated

ZAGREB, 16 Feb 2022 - Opposition MPs on Wednesday welcomed the government's measures to alleviate the impact of rising inflation on citizens, VAT reduction and its aid scheme, but noted that measures for the business sector were insufficient and belated and warned that margins could grow and prices stay the same.

SDP MP and former finance minister Boris Lalovac welcomed the scheme, noting that it was comprehensive and generous.

"These measures will definitely alleviate the impact of inflation, the market will stabilise and there are instruments to alleviate emergency situations," he said, adding that it would be good if the government introduced price monitoring to establish if VAT reduction had actually helped reduce prices of products for citizens.

Stephen Nikola Bartulica of the Homeland Movement said that the government should have reacted sooner, that its measures were welcome but few and belated.

Marijan Pavliček of the Croatian Sovereignists said that the government's measures were partially good but belated and that more attention should be given to farmers given that prices of their production materials "have gone up by 400%".

Romana Nikolić of the Social Democrats, too, believes the government's measures are belated and partially misdirected.

She recalled that her party group had proposed reducing the VAT rate on electricity and gas and raising the non-taxable income from HRK 3,800 to 5,000, which would result in a HRK 300 increase in all wages. Reducing VAT on food can result in an increase in trade margins while prices will remain the same, she warned.

Anka Mrak Taritaš (GLAS) said the government's measures for households were good and fair, but that those for the business sector were not sufficient and were belated.

"The government should accept the Opposition's proposals and reduce the price of labour to help the business sector," she said.

Zvonimir Troskot of the Bridge party believes the measures are belated but he welcomes the reduction of VAT and the redirecting of social transfers from the Energy Efficiency Fund.

He pointed to a lack of a long-term energy policy.

Sandra Benčić of We Can! said that the measures exceeded the expectations.

"I believe the social package is good, that it covers a broad group of people, which is good. It is good that all households will receive payments for heating, gas and electricity costs," she said, adding that subsidies for the business sector should have been higher.

She also welcomed the reduction of VAT but warned that without control mechanisms for extra profit from margins, citizens would possibly not feel the lowering of prices.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

SDP, We Can! Want to Run in Next Parliamentary Election Together, Večernji List Says

ZAGREB, 9 Feb 2022 - The strongest opposition Social Democratic Party and We Can!, which ran separately in last year's local elections in Zagreb, are no longer hiding that they are coming closer at national level, Večernji List daily said on Wednesday.

Although the next regular parliamentary election is two years away, both parties are saying off the record that they will not run independently because nobody can form a government alone, and only together can they be a strong alternative against the ruling HDZ.

The only dilemma at the moment, top SDP officials say, is whether it is better to run in one bloc, all centre-left parties together, or in two, one comprising the SDP and We Can!, and the other with Centre, GLAS, Focus and similar parties.

The SDP and We Can! say they are satisfied with their cooperation in parliament, and that their ruling coalition in Zagreb will be an essential factor for a possible joint success at the national level.

"The SDP-We Can! coalition is the first step without which there is no chance at all of defeating the HDZ in the next election. If it's done soon enough, like (the then SDP leader) Ivica Račan did in 1998 with Dražen Budiša and the HSLS, which means offering a clear platform and people, it's a really good alternative which can look for voters' confidence in the election," an eminent SDP member was quoted as saying.

The fact that you have coalition potential and that there is a wish before the election to change things points to an honest approach which will certainly bring results, he adds.

Večernji List's We Can! sources think the same. They say the constant attacks on the HDZ over its scandals is counterproductive in attracting attention, and that in the months ahead the SDP and We Can! must solely present their policies to citizens, showing that they have both a platform and a vision, and are capable of solving problems.

The latest public opinion polls speak in favour of the SDP-We Can! cooperation, showing that together, they have higher support than the HDZ, the newspaper said, adding that the next most popular party, Bridge, has not clearly said whether it will run in the election together with the SDP and We Can!, but "swears" it will not go with the HDZ a third time.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Istria County Head Dismisses 'Unfounded Accusations, Ill-intentioned Insinuations'

ZAGREB, 8 Feb 2022 - Istria County prefect and former Pula mayor Boris Miletić on Tuesday dismissed "all the unfounded accusations and ill-intentioned insinuations" made by Social Democratic Party county councillor Danijel Ferić, who said he had pressed charges against Miletić.

Speaking for HINA, Miletić said this was not the first time Ferić was using criminal complaints "solely as a tool for political promotion."

He said Ferić's MO was "to press charges, call a press conference and then, making bombastic statements and announcements to exert pressure on the Croatian judiciary, because he knows very well that when the charges are dismissed as unfounded and false, he will not carry any responsibility."

Miletić said Ferić, like every individual, was personally responsible for every publicly uttered untruth "which the court will easily establish."

Ferić told the press earlier today he had filed criminal complaints on behalf of the SDP against Miletić and his closest associates when he was the mayor of Pula on suspicion of financial wrongdoing.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

PM Says Parliamentary Committee Discussed Ways to Reduce Hate Speech

ZAGREB, 2 Feb 2022 - PM Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday upon the conclusion of a session of the parliament's National Security Committee, that discussions included creating an atmosphere in society that would reduce hate speech. 

Discussions were motivated by the 2020 attack on the government headquarters by Danijel Bezuk, which was condemed as a terrorist attack.

"We discussed the terrorist attack of October 2020. Everyone agreed that it was a terrorist attack and an unacceptable act, and we discussed ways to create an atmosphere in society that will reduce hate speech which, when it evolves, unfortunately can lead to cases like this one," Plenković told reporters, adding that there were not many dissonant voices during the debate.

Policy of tolerance has changed atmosphere on political scene

Speaking of ways to reduce hate speech, Plenković said political stakeholders should think about whether they contribute to polarisation and radicalisation, adding that "some debates in the parliament, too, contribute to that atmosphere that later spreads to some media and social networks."

Plenković said that he had been pursuing a policy of tolerance, inclusiveness, dialogue and respect for six years, pointing in that regard to his position that ethnic minorities should be part of the parliamentary majority, feel well, and for their rights to be respected.

He added that with such policy he had changed the atmosphere on the political scene, compared to the time before he became prime minister.

"Think back a little, also when the HDZ and its political philosophy, rhetoric and moves are concerned, I think the differences are visible and do not need much description," he said.

Asked who was intolerant, he said "There are many", but would not elaborate who he was referring to, telling reporters they knew that better than he did.

Plenković said today that he did not tell the State Attorney, or the national police director, that he was dissatisfied with their work regarding the attack on the government headquarters, which was mentioned in December.

"When I saw the reports, there were many questions that I thought remained unanswered and I said so last summer to the state attorney, the police director and the minister of the interior. They said today that they were still working on the case," Plenković said, noting that the case was still not closed.

"It was an unprecedented case, a terrorist act committed by a 22-year-old man, it was purposeful, it caused fear, violence was used and it was of a political nature. Those are elements of a terrorist act and that requires a thorough analysis of the phenomenon of hate speech and those who indoctrinate people as young as that man," he said.

Plenković did not specify who had indoctrinated Bezuk, noting that "there is a lot of very useful and telling information in the report."

The PM also would not say if some political camps were behind the incident, saying only that "things are quite recognisable."

He dismissed speculation that his special advisor on security Robert Kopal had done some analyses, saying that reports were made by the institutions working on the case - the Office of the State attorney, police and the Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA).

Reopening St. Mark's Square a matter of security assessment

Asked if there were plans to reopen to public St. Mark's Square, the seat of the parliament and government headquarters, Plenković said it was a matter of security assessment.

"I do not know of any other country where state institutions were as accessible as we were until that moment," he said.

Those who want to stage a peaceful protest in St. Mark's Square can do so today. "A protest is announced, the gate is opened and the protesters go inside, they protest, sing, play loud music and that's all right. Except for walking around, everything else is allowed," he said.

Today's session of the parliament's National Security Committee was attended, along with the prime minister, also by State Attorney Zlata Hrvoj Šipek, Police Director Nikola Milina and SOA head Danijel Markić.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

No European Stability Without Russia, Milanović Says

ZAGREB, 1 Feb 2022 - There is no European, Western European or EU stability without Russia and it is necessary to reach an agreement with it, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said on Tuesday, accusing the West of inciting a war that he hopes will not break out.

"I don't even want one Ukrainian to be killed, even one Russian. As for Croats, not a chance," he told the press.

"There is no European stability, no Western European stability or European Union stability without Russia in the equation, and it's necessary to reach an agreement with Russia."

After telling a female journalist that a head of state does not meet with visiting defence ministers, including the British defence secretary who was in Zagreb today, Milanović speculated that she wanted to ask him for a comment on Great Britain's stand on Ukraine.

"Everything he is doing is mostly motivated by his political situation at home," he said about Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In Great Britain, there are more and more calls on Johnson to resign over Downing Street parties during a strict COVID lockdown.

Milanović accused Britain of "mongering" and said that pushing Ukraine towards a confrontation with Russia was "irresponsible."

"Ukraine will not make itself happy if it listens to London. They are pushing them into a very dangerous adventure and President (Volodymyr) Zelensky has realised this. What I have been hearing from Kyiv in the past few days is very sensible and responsible towards one's own state."

Milanović has been criticised after saying recently that Ukraine does not belong in NATO, that it is corrupt and that Croatian soldiers will not be killed there. The Croatian ambassador in Kyiv was summoned for talks after those statements.

Ukraine's friend

Milanović said today that he was Ukraine's friend and that it was very irresponsible to mislead a state. He spoke of difficult problems Ukraine faced as it was not progressing towards EU membership and was stagnating, whilst being held hostage by London and Washington.

He also said that the EU was sending Ukraine confusing messages. "To stand in solidarity with Ukraine and say 'we support you, clash with Russia' is irresponsible, villainous."

Milanović said one should not foment arguments that Russia will attack Ukraine tomorrow. "If it attacks them, one should ask who is responsible for that."

"The Croatian soldier will not move from here," he added.

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Komšić Praises 'Firm Stand' on HDZ BiH, Dodik Blames Bosniaks for Failed Talks

ZAGREB, 30 Jan 2022 - Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency chairman Željko Komšić on Sunday commended Bosniak political parties for their "firm stand" on Croat parties' demands regarding election law changes, while Presidency member Milorad Dodik blamed the Bosniak parties for the failure of the Neum negotiations.

They were commenting on the lack of an agreement on electoral reform after three days of negotiations in Neum which concluded today.

No deal was reached because Bosniak and Croat parties were unable to agree on a model of electing members of the BiH Presidency from the Federation entity, and members of the Federation parliament's House of Peoples. They were also divided on the house's future powers.

Komšić did not attend the negotiations with the explanation that prior to electoral reform, Bosnian Serb officials should end their blockade of BiH authorities.

However, he commended the agreement among the Bosniak ruling and opposition parties on demands by the HDZ BiH and other Croat parties.

Komšić said it made sense to first agree on reducing the powers of the Federation House of Peoples, before proceeding to agree on a model of electing BiH Presidency members. He added that this stand was earlier supported by the Bosniak SDA and opposition parties.

SDA president Bakir Izetbegović "has remained consistent and principled," Komšić said, adding that he expects an even more radical approach from the HDZ BiH now.

The Presidency's Serb member Dodik said the failure of the Neum negotiations was proof that Bosniaks were attempting to impose their will on Croats. He added that Bosniaks would again try to impose Komšić as the Croat member of the Presidency if general elections in October were held under current rules.

"They are continuing to openly implement this policy of outvoting, of politically minimising the Croats' political representatives," he said, adding that this will adversely affect BiH because the problem of one constituent people is also the problem for all three constituent peoples.

For more, check out our politics section.

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