Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Milan Bandić Rejects Accusations of Buying MPs

ZAGREB, January 8, 2019 - The president of the BM 365 - Party of Work and Solidarity, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, said on Tuesday he dismissed "with indignation" accusations that he was paying MPs to join his parliamentary group, adding that the group's door is wide open to everyone.

"I'm not wooing anyone, I'm not appealing to anyone and I'm not buying anyone because I don't think people are commodities. I reject that with indignation, but the door isn't closed to anyone. The door is wide open, and will be in the future too, to the honest, fair and proven man who wants to help his neighbourhood association, municipality, town, county and family and realise his political ambition," Bandić said at a press conference.

Quoting Marx and Engels' proclamation "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism," Bandić said "the spectre of work and solidarity is haunting Zagreb and Croatia." He said the problem has arisen solely because his parliamentary group was joined by MPs "who've had enough of party leaders who aren't up to the job, and parties have become an end in themselves."

Bandić said that over the past three months his party was joined by 250 people from other parties, from MPs, county deputies, mayors and municipal heads to chairs of neighbourhood committees in Zagreb, and that more people would join in the months ahead.

Bandić said Croatia did not have leaders and was crying out for them, adding that his party "isn't wooing anyone, because people aren't commodities." When MPs join other parties, it's not a problem, but when they join Bandić, something's wrong or something's fishy, he added.

He said Reformists MP Darinko Dumbović left his parliamentary group although he was in parliament thanks to him, and wished him luck.

Asked if his group's MPs have to vote for every government decision, Bandić said that was not the rule because his was a democratic party and that, without his group, no government budget would have been adopted.

MP Mladen Mađer, who recently left the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) to join Bandić's parliamentary group and party, said he did so because he was sure he would be able to achieve the goals for which he was in parliament, primarily the development of Koprivnica-Križevci County. He accused HSS president Krešo Beljak of running the party in a centralised way.

Mađer denied that Bandic had hired his two daughters, saying one works in the Zagreb city government and that she got the job after replying to an ad, while the other has been living in Osijek for eight years.

During the press conference, Bandić clashed with reporters several times after they posed questions to him, saying they were not letting him answer normally and that some were "cawing" like "crows in my playground."

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Zagreb Mayor Destabilising Parliamentarism in Croatia, Says Serb Leader

ZAGREB, January 8, 2019 - Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) president Milorad Pupovac said on Tuesday that Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić was destabilising parliamentarism.

Asked by reporters about actions taken by the USKOK anti-corruption office in connection with MPs who left their own parties to join the parliamentary group of Bandić's party, Pupovac said there had been cases of crossing the floor before and that he doubted that actions taken by the authorities would yield results.

The situation in some parties is bad and people are leaving them for various reasons, he said, wondering what made MP Marija Puh more significant since she left the Croatian People's Party. "Nothing, because before she only spoke out once a week and now not even once a month."

I respect Mayor Bandić but there's a limit to everything. He's not an unreasonable man and should realise that this is an extreme destabilisation of parliamentarism in the country, regardless of intentions and motives. It's necessary to keep a minimum of the credibility of MPs and of morality in parliament, said Pupovac.

He said he was not the whip of Bandić's party, Robert Jankovics, who mentioned Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and his support to the government five times in two sentences, recalling that he expressed support to the prime minister three days ago and that he still supported him because he did not want to cause him problems.

Pupovac said it was necessary to change parliament's Standing Orders so that all ethnic minority MPs could be in one group and not serve as rent-an-MP because thereby they deeply compromised minority seats in parliament.

He said the MPs who joined the parliamentary group of Bandić's party had not signed the ruling coalition agreement nor taken positions on the government's programme, policy and future, so in the best case scenario they could be considered an associated voting part of the ruling majority.

"For now, I see nothing more than that and as long as it stays so, it doesn't have to be a problem for us, but it can become one if some parties start voicing concern about the circumstances under which their MPs are leaving them," Pupovac said.

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

One Reformist MP Leaves Milan Bandić's Parliamentary Group

ZAGREB, January 8, 2019 - The Reformists are leaving Milan Bandić's parliamentary group, party president Radimir Čačić and Reformists MP Darkinko Dubmović told N1 broadcaster on Monday, after Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) president Krešo Beljak and Social Democratic Party MP Zvane Brumnić earlier in the day gave depositions to the police and the USKOK anti-corruption agency about possible political corruption in the wake of HSS MP Mladen Mađer's defection to the parliamentary group led by the party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić.

Čačić told N1 that Reformists would in the future act independently in parliament.

Asked if the party had notified Bandić of its decision, Čačić said they have not formally talked to him yet. A total of 12 deputies have recently crossed the floor and joined Bandić's group.

Earlier, HSS leader Beljak gave a deposition to police on possible political corruption in the wake of HSS MP Mladen Mađer's defection to the parliamentary group led by the party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, but he would not tell reporters whom he had reported to the police or where he got the information from regarding the alleged buying of parliamentary deputies.

Beljak gave his deposition to police after the USKOK anti-corruption office confirmed last week that it was conducting a preliminary investigation.

In a statement to Hina, Brumnić denied having been offered anything either directly or through a middleman.

The head of the parliamentary group led by the party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, Robert Jankovics, told Nova TV on Monday that he regretted that MP Darinko Dumbović of the Reformists had left the group as the cooperation with Dumbović was good, stressing that he believed Dumbović and his former parliamentary group would continue to support the Andrej Plenković government together.

That Dumbović is leaving the parliamentary group led by the Work and Solidarity Party was announced earlier on Monday evening by the leader of the People's Party - Reformists, Radimir Čačić, and MP Dumbović.

At the beginning of the current parliament's term, the parliamentary group led by the Work and Solidarity Party had only one member. Since then, a number of MPs from other parliamentary groups have crossed the floor to join this group. After Dumbović's departure, the group has 12 members.

"I understand politics. His party leader Čačić, too, has said that they want to be more politically visible, they probably could not achieve that in the current circumstances. I hope and believe that we will continue to support together the government led by Andrej Plenković, unfortunately not as members of the same parliamentary group," said Jankovics.

Asked if their credibility was undermined by cooperation with people who at the time of the election did not share the same political views and values that their parliamentary group now advocates, Jankovics said that that would be the case had they used their status in the parliamentary majority to get posts of ministerial secretaries, ministers and assistant ministers.

"All that we have done together in this group, since the time when it had four members to the present, when the group has 11 or 12 members, is to support the Andrej Plenković government and decisions made by ministers from the HDZ and the HNS," said Jankovics, the Hungarian minority MP.

Asked if he had been contacted by the USKOK anti-corruption office in connection with reports related to political corruption, Jankovics said that he had not been contacted by anyone.

Asked how the parliamentary group of which he was a member functioned except for the main condition - support for the Plenković government - Jankovics said that with regard to worldview issues, notably those causing divisions in society, the group was open to discussions and agreement.

"Some of our most important decisions were not made unanimously, we did not vote the same way on the budget. The opinion of each group member counts and we will continue working that way," he said.

Asked if they expected new defectors to join their group, Jankovics said that it was difficult to say for the time being if more new members would join the group.

He noted that it was pity that main left and liberal parties were in a difficult situation and "facing disappearance. If more new members join our group, that will be exclusively due to the difficult situation in those parties."

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Monday, 7 January 2019

HSS Leader Gives Deposition as Witness on Possible Political Corruption

ZAGREB, January 7, 2019 - Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) leader Krešo Beljak on Monday gave a deposition to police on possible political corruption in the wake of HSS MP Mladen Mađer's defection to the parliamentary group led by the party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, but he would not tell reporters whom he had reported to police or where he got the information on the alleged buying of parliamentary deputies.

Beljak gave his deposition to police after the USKOK anti-corruption office last week confirmed that it was conducting a preliminary investigation into Mađer's changing sides after Beljak pointed to possible irregularities.

Beljak had earlier announced that he would also file a report against Zagreb County head Stjepan Kožić over involvement in the case. Kožić has denied having anything to do with Mađer's joining Bandić's parliamentary group and has said that he will sue Beljak for slander.

Addressing reporters today, Beljak said that he had earlier firmly believed that Mađer could not be bought. "When he left, he did so suddenly, so my previous suspicions grew stronger," Beljak said.

Beljak would not comment on USKOK's preliminary investigation into alleged attempts to bribe Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Zvane Brumnić with three million kuna. Brumnić arrived at USKOK at noon on Monday for an interview by USKOK investigators regarding the allegations.

In a statement to Hina, Brumnić denied having been offered anything either directly or through a middleman.

Asked about claims by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković that the case had nothing to do with political trade-offs and that leaders of parties that were weak should ask themselves why they were losing party members, Beljak said that he was glad the prime minister concerned himself with the HSS and that this meant that he was afraid of it. "... It shows that he is afraid of us and confirms that we are the only opposition at the moment."

Asked about media reports about Bandić being Plenković's long arm, Beljak said, "That may be the case."

The HSS leader said the election law should be changed to prevent political trade-offs and that crossing over from one party to another was contrary to democratic customs. "What we have been witnessing in the parliament but also in county assemblies and town and municipal councils, is crazy. Crossing the floor is contrary to democratic customs - people vote for one group and end up having a different group of representatives, so the legislation should be changed to make it comply with the Constitution."

More news on the HSS can be found in our Politics section.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Zagreb Mayor's New MP’s Daughter Hired by City Government

ZAGREB, January 5, 2019 - The Zagreb city government said on Friday that the daughter of Mladen Mađer, an MP accused of political corruption after leaving the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) to join Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić's party, was hired by the city government last year, while the USKOK anti-corruption office would not say what they were doing about this case, but confirmed they were conducting a preliminary investigation.

The city government told Hina that Tajana Šimunić was hired as a senior associate on October 1 last year after replying to a job ad.

USKOK spokesman Vuk Đuričić told Hina this office had begun a preliminary investigation into alleged political corruption after HSS president Krešo Beljak pointed to possible wrongdoing.

Beljak told the media he began suspecting corruption when Mađer said he had to think about himself and his future.

After the city government said it had hired Mađer's daughter, Beljak told Hina today there had to be more to this story. "A job isn't a good enough reason for what Mađer did."

The HSS said earlier that about ten days before Mađer joined Bandić's party, they suspected something like that would happen because they had information about allegedly serious acts of corruption. "Therefore, HSS president Krešo Beljak personally reported the whole case to USKOK," the party said.

Bandić's BM 365 Party of Work and Solidarity won only one seat in the national legislature in the September 2016 parliamentary election and Mađer is now the 13th member of its parliamentary group.

The ruling HDZ party has said MPs are leaving their former parties for Bandić because of the poor situation in the opposition ranks, while the parliamentary minority says voters are being deceived and that this proves that election legislation is bad.

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

After 12 Years of Delays, Sljeme Cable Car Still Nowhere to Be Seen

Another year has passed without the construction of the new Sljeme cable car being anywhere near completion. Actually, the works have not even started. Last year, one of the cabins of the future cable car was presented as part of the Zagreb Advent. The 2.1-metre-tall and 2-metre wide cabin, which was proudly shown at the time, has since been removed so it would not remind citizens about the broken promise of the cable car being completed by the end of 2018, reports Večernji List on January 3, 2019.

The opposition recently organised a fake “inauguration ceremony” to remind citizens about Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić’s unfulfilled promise that the new cable car would be opened on 31 December. On the very same day, the mayor decided to announce instead that he has selected the GIP Pionir construction company to build the new cable car. It should cost 299.8 million kuna and be made in 15 months. The works are expected to start next month, provided there is no appeal against the mayor’s decision.

In the best-case scenario, the Sljeme cable car could be ready for users in mid-2020, if works do indeed start soon. The selected company is the same which, less than two years ago, won a 5.6 million kuna tender to remove 13 steel pillars of the old cable car, of between 7 and 40 metres in height. This is also the same company which worked on the “Bandić fountains,” and it also built a building in which Bandić lives.

The future cable car should have 84 ten-person cabins. The route to the top of the Sljeme mountain, four and a half kilometres long, will take 16 minutes. The upper station will be at the height of 1,030 metres. The new cabins will be larger, and the whole system will be faster than the old one which, after 44 years of use, stopped forever in 2007. That year, a severe engine malfunction occurred on the cable car. It was concluded that the whole system was obsolete and should be replaced by a new one.

At the time, almost 12 years ago, Milan Bandić, who has been the mayor more or less interrupted since 2000, announced that the new cable car would be ready “as soon as possible,” and the initial deadline was May 2009, with works starting “no later than” spring 2008.

It is now early 2019, and nothing has been done since.

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Translated from Večernji List (reported by Mateja Šobak).

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Another Opposition MP Joins Party Led by Zagreb Mayor

ZAGREB, January 3, 2019 - MP Mladen Mađer has decided to leave the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and join the parliamentary group of the BM 365 Party of Work and Solidarity led by Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, the HSS said in a press release on Thursday.

With the admission of yet another defector to its ranks, the parliamentary bench of this party increased to 13 members.

Recently, former SDP officials Milanka Opačić, Zdravko Ronko and Ana Komparić Devčić crossed the floor to join this group, and Marija Puh of the Croatian People's Party (HNS) followed suit.

The other members of this group are Darinko Dumbović, Kazimir Varda, Ivica Mišić and Željko Lacković, as well as four parliamentary deputies of ethnic minorities, ethnic Hungarian Robert Jankovics, ethnic Romany Veljko Kajtazi, ethnic Albanian Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj and ethnic Czech Vladimir Bilek.

Bandić's BM 365 Party of Work and Solidarity won only one seat in the national legislature in the September 2016 parliamentary election.

Following the latest developments, HSS leader Krešo Beljak has lodged a complaint against Mađer and Bandić with the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) on suspicion that their defection was prompted by acts of corruption.

"We sincerely hope that independent institutions will promptly investigate this case and thus show that there is some hope for this country," the HSS said.

More news on the Zagreb mayor can be found in our Politics section.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Croatia's 2019 Political Forecast

For political leaders and voters, 2019 will be an exciting year. First up are the elections for the European Parliament in May, followed by presidential elections next winter, which will themselves be just a warm-up for parliamentary elections no later than 2020. Here is the 2019 political forecast for some of the most prominent politicians, reports Jutarnji List on January 1, 2019.

Former Prime Minister Zoran Milanović (SDP) is expected to announce whether we will run for president against his erstwhile opponent, current President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. On the other hand, we will see whether her political turnaround toward the political centre will succeed, bringing her closer to the current HDZ leadership. This year we will also find out whether Dalija Orešković, the former chairwoman of the Conflict of Interest Prevention Commission, is a new political star, as well as how the turmoil in SDP will end. Events in HDZ also promise to be interesting, with party leader Andrej Plenković's expected attempt to get rid of remaining party opponents, including deputy party president Milijan Brkić.

Milan Bandić, mayor of Zagreb
The mayor of Zagreb is in good political form, with his parliamentary group expanding with new MPs almost weekly. There are rumours that it is only a matter of time when Bandić will knock on Plenković's door and demand a government's reconstruction, with his representatives becoming ministers. Apart from Plenković, Bandić must keep watch over the State Attorney’s Office and courts. Just one guilty verdict could be enough to end the career of the most enduring Croatian politician. Therefore, 2019 might be a challenging year for Bandić.

Tomislav Karamarko, former HDZ president
The former HDZ chief and the most powerful politician in the country three years ago is reportedly thinking about returning to politics, but the main barrier is his successor Plenković. Another danger is the so-called “fake text messages scandal.” The only good opportunity for Karamanko's political return this year are European elections in May, and only if he succeeds in restoring the right-wing alliance with his former culture minister Zlatko Hasanbegović.

Davor Bernardić, SDP president
The SDP president is facing numerous dangers, and 2019 will be a decisive year for him. The critical moment will be the European elections in spring. If his battered political party is defeated as expected, his remaining allies in the SDP leadership will turn against him.

Damir Krstičević, defence minister
For the ambitious minister of defence, the key political event will take place immediately at the beginning of the year. Possible failure of the project to buy Israeli fighter jets is a significant danger for Krstičević. Failure could easily cost him a seat in the cabinet. To make matters worse, it seems that the fate of this military "deal of the century" is no longer in his hands. The help can only come from Washington.

Andrej Plenković, the prime minister
In the first two years of the prime minister's term, he survived a break with MOST and the potentially deadly implosion of Agrokor. He also dealt with intra-party opponents, but the primary battle is still ahead of him. His expected duel with Milijan Brkić is an opportunity for a decisive victory over the right wing of his party. Excellent prospects for further strengthening of his position are also offered by the European elections, which HDZ is expected to win easily. A stray bullet from the Agrokor affair or possibly some skeletons from the closet are the greatest dangers for Plenković in 2019.

Dalija Orešković, former chairwoman of the Conflict of Interest Prevention Commission
The former president of the Conflict of Interest Prevention Commission has announced the establishment of a new political party. The key event for her is the spring European elections where she is expected to run with her candidate list. If she manages to achieve a good result, an even better opportunity to break into the very top ranks will be available later in the year – presidential elections. How successful she will be depends a lot on the people she will surround herself with.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, president
The current president has made her new year's resolution earlier than usual. She has decided to clean up her office before Christmas and enter the new year with new advisors. To win the second term in office, she should get closer to the prime minister and HDZ, and distance herself from the far-right. On her way to the second presidential term, the most significant obstacles are her former friends from the right, but also her old colleague from the time they used to work together in diplomacy – Zoran Milanović.

Zoran Milanović, former prime minister and former SDP president
The leadership crisis in the SDP has increased the chances of Milanović’s return to politics. Numerous SDP members have already expressed their wish to see the former prime minister run for president. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović is shaken, and if she cannot recover quickly, this could be a chance Milanović would not want to miss. His potential candidacy is at the same time his greatest possible risk because in the case of a defeat he would definitely be remembered as a major political loser. His final decision on whether to run depends on whether the entire SDP and other left-liberal parties would support his candidacy.

Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, Živi Zid president
According to the latest poll, Živi Zid is now the most popular opposition party, so we can say that Sinčić is the new leader of the opposition. The best opportunity for Živi Zid this year is the European Parliament election, as well as presidential elections for Sinčić personally in the winter. The greatest danger is a possible appearance of a new anti-systemic political party that would make him and Živi Zid redundant.

More news on Croatian politics can be found in our special section.

Translated from Jutarnji List.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Croatian Politics 2018: A Year in Review

Years pass, but some things never change in Croatian politics. The year which is about to end has again been full of drama and scandals, and just occasional good news. Remarkably, many of the same issues which you will read about here have featured prominently in our reviews for 2016 and 2017 as well, which just shows that most problems in Croatia are just swept under the rug and never solved. What follows is Croatian Politics 2018, a review of events which will be remembered from the past year, as reported by TCN.

The year began with tensions in the Bay of Piran, part of the Adriatic Sea which Croatia and Slovenia both claim. In late 2017, Slovenia decided to implement the decision by arbitration tribunal which awarded Slovenia most of the bay. However, Croatia has refused to accept the decision, saying that the arbitration process was compromised by Slovenian government representatives who were in collusion with a supposedly independent arbitrator. The tensions raged for a few weeks, with MEPs proposing military solutions and war veterans talking about organising a rather provocative regatta. Eventually, reason prevailed, and the tensions died down. However, the issue is still unresolved, despite assurances to the opposite, with Croatia calling for negotiations and Slovenia insisting on the implementation of the arbitration decision. You are sure to read about this dispute in our 2019 review as well, particularly given Slovenia’s decision to file a lawsuit against Croatia.

Relations with Serbia are always in the focus of interest, and this year was no exception. In January, the government was surprised to hear that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had invited Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to visit Croatia officially. After a short argument over who is really leading Croatia’s foreign policy, Vučić arrived in Zagreb. While the visit mostly went well, the relations between the two countries deteriorated steadily throughout the year and the debate about whether Vučić should have been invited at all continued. Another turn for the worse took place in April when a Croatian parliamentary delegation’s visit to Belgrade was cut short after an incident in the Serbian parliament caused by a notorious Serbian MP and war criminal Vojislav Šešelj. Tension rose again in August when the anniversary of Operation Storm is traditionally celebrated, marking Croatia’s liberation of previously occupied territories in 1995. Serbian President Vučić gave a series of provocative statements, including comparing Croatia to Hitler.

As for the economy, January brought the first worrying signs about the future of Croatian shipyards, a low number of new orders, and about the government’s apparent unwillingness to continue to cover shipyards’ losses. Later in the year, the crisis in the Uljanik shipyard in Pula and its 3. Maj branch in Rijeka would feature prominently in our reporting. Workers spent months striking due to unpaid wages. As the year ends, the situation is still dire and “strategic partners” which the government hopes to find are nowhere to be seen.

“Reforms” is one of the most popular words of Croatian politicians. Every year in January we can hear officials saying that the year ahead is “the year of reforms” which will make Croatia much more prosperous. Needless to say, these promises are never fulfilled, and 2018 did not disappoint. The issue served the president well since she was able to attack the government for lack of reform efforts whenever it suited her.

Ideological debates and historical revisionism attempts continued in 2018 as well. In February, the government-appointed historical commission published its recommendations on issues related to the authoritarian regimes from Croatia’s past, but the conclusions did not satisfy anyone, except for the prime minister, who likes to pretend that the recommendations have solved the problem.

The year which is about to end has again brought us the problem of censorship, questions about media freedoms, warnings about the rise of the far right, separate commemorations held in Jasenovac, the parliament refusing to sponsor anti-fascism events, people destroying flower beds because they reminded them of communism, historical revisionism on the public television, assaults on journalists, satirists receiving death threats, “suspect” politicians being assaulted, photos of Tito slipping from under Croatia’s coat of arms, former prime ministers being sentenced for corruption, and media regulators receiving death threats.

The Catholic Church is undoubtedly part of the political life in Croatia, so it is no wonder that rumours about changes coming to its leadership draw considerable attention. While nothing has been confirmed, it is expected that the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, could be replaced in the new year. In the meantime, the church has continued to receive vast amounts of money from the state budget, meddle in politics, as well as advise the government on the new abortion law, 

The demographic crisis continued, with high emigration and low birth rates bringing down the number of inhabitants. The president and the government argued about who and what was to blame. The president even presented her measures to solve the problem, which were soon forgotten, and demanded a special session of the government, which never took place. Proposals were presented on how to convince people not to move, as many sectors faced a lack of workers, while many schools started closing down. The extent of the crisis was such that even Serbian President Vučić became "worried." The only “good news” came at the end of the year when reports claimed that the emigration wave was calming down because everybody who wanted and could have left already did.

One of the issues we write regularly in these annual reviews is the construction of Pelješac Bridge, which will connect the Dubrovnik area with the rest of Croatia without the need for travellers to pass through a short stretch of Bosnian territory. After many years of delays, the project has finally moved into the implementation phase. Early in the year, a decision was made to award the tender for the construction to a Chinese consortium, despite protests made by Bosnia and Herzegovina that the bridge could not be constructed before the border between the two countries in the area is defined. The decision to award the contract to a Chinese bidder also brought about a marked change in relations between Croatia and China, which were later further improved by high-level meetings and visits.

Another perennial issue is the future of INA, Croatia’s national oil company, which is owned jointly by the Croatian government and MOL, Hungarian national oil company. In 2016, the prime minister announced that Croatia would buy back MOL’s share of INA. Two years later, nothing has changed. Earlier this year, the government selected financial advisors for the buyback, but the contract with them was never signed. One of the main issues is the future of the INA refinery in Sisak. While in January the relevant minister said he was optimistic about the refinery’s future, by the end of the year he apparently changed his opinion. Another issue is Croatia’s arrest warrant for MOL’s CEO, which Hungary does not want to implement.

Another year has passed, and the supposedly “strategic” project of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has again gone nowhere. Multi-year delays have continued. The government announced two tenders trying to find out who would be interested in using the terminal once it is built (if that ever happens), but the results were dismal. Just two government-owned companies applied, presumably after receiving a nudge from officials to send their applications and help the government avoid a total disaster. While the project receives verbal support from foreign governments, no one seems to be interested in sending binding offers to use its capacity.

One piece of good business news was the apparently successful conclusion to the worst part of the crisis in Agrokor, one of Croatia’s largest and most important companies. The agreement between creditors was concluded, thanks mostly to Russian banks, although not without an accompanying scandal about high fees paid to consultants, some of whom actually took part in the secretive process of writing the special law which the government adopted to save the company from collapse. The scandal took out Deputy Prime Minister Martina Dalić and government-appointed commissioner Ante Ramljak, who had to resign under pressure. E-mails were published which showed that the prime minister knew more about the dealings than he initially admitted, but he managed to escape more or less unharmed. Agrokor’s former owner Ivica Todorić, who fled earlier to London to avoid arrest, was extradited to Croatia late in the year, after multiple delays and court proceedings. Even Tony Blair’s wife could not help him. He has since been released on bail and is currently awaiting possible indictment. The legal proceedings are expected to last for many years.

Good economic news brought us the first upgrade in Croatia’s credit rating since 2004. Unemployment numbers were also down, although more due to mass emigration than to economic revival. Good tourism results, especially in the pre-season and post-season, helped Croatia achieve planned economic growth for 2018 (still among the lowest in the EU). Slightly more moderate growth is expected in 2019, with the lack of reforms being the main culprit. The budget recorded another good year, with spending and revenues being more or less balanced, while the public debt has continued to decline. The year ended with another round of tax cuts and pension reform. Croatia has also announced plans that it will adopt the euro as its currency. The process is expected to last many years.

The ratification of the convention on preventing violence against women, the so-called Istanbul Convention, somewhat unexpectedly turned into a crisis for the government in April when a large group of HDZ MPs decided to vote against the proposal, despite prime minister’s insistence that it should be ratified. While the convention was easily adopted thanks to opposition support, it turned into another attempt by HDZ’s right wing to weaken or possibly topple Plenković as party leader and prime minister. Just like several other similar attempts, it did not succeed.

A national security issue which has drawn a lot of media attention throughout the year is the acquisition of military fighter jets. The decision was first delayed for years, then it was supposed to be made in 2017, but again delayed first to early 2018, and then beyond. After much lobbying, the government finally decided to buy 12 F-16s from Israel. The questions about the deal persisted, with many asking why Croatia was “rejuvenating” its air force with ancient aircraft. By the end of the year, the contract for the deal has not yet been signed, amid disputes between the United States and Israel about what equipment Israel can legally sell to Croatia. Grand plans about “strategic cooperation” with Israel also appear to be on hold. Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has invested a great deal of personal effort in the deal, but the acquisition is still in question, and its final fate is yet to be determined.

As expected, the political circus took a break in June due to the World Cup in Russia. While the break was initially expected to last just a couple of weeks, until the Croatian national team is eliminated in the first phase of the competition as usual, its spectacular success extended the political break to a full month and more. Of course, leading politicians did not miss this opportunity to travel to Russia and have their picture taken with footballers and fans. Needless to say, even this occasion, which was supposed to unite the country, brought divisions, primarily due to an appearance by a controversial singer at the homecoming ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Istanbul Convention ratification prompted one of this year’s two referendum initiatives to be launched. The other effort involved proposed changes to the election laws, which would substantially reduce the rights of national minorities to elect their MPs. The government was against the referendums, while the president seemed to be of a different opinion. While both initiatives claimed they had gathered enough signatures for the referendums to be held, the government checked the signatures and conveniently found enough irregularities to lower the number of accepted signatures below the required threshold. This was just one of several attempts to pressure the government from the right.

One of the rare reforms which have begun, at least nominally, is the reform of Croatia’s education system, the so-called “curricular reform.” The issue has caused conflicts between coalition partners, with HNS repeatedly threatening to leave the government if their proposals are not accepted. Their threats were not taken seriously by anyone since it is clear that early parliamentary elections would probably bring about an end for the party.

A scandal broke in September whose consequences are still unclear at this time. A ministerial driver was arrested under suspicion that he had informed a suspect about a police investigation against him. Interestingly, the driver is a close friend of Milijan Brkić, HDZ deputy president and Prime Minister Plenković’s chief intraparty nemesis. While Brkić has denied having any role in the scandal or leaking the information about the investigation, he has been conspicuously absent from public affairs in recent months. Other scandals involving Brkić have also resurfaced, prompting allegations that his opponents were trying to eliminate him politically. On the other hand, some potentially embarrassing documents about him suddenly disappeared. The scandal has even reached the president’s office, with the national security advisor resigning in December under still unclear circumstances.

Relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the connected issue of the status of Croats in the neighbouring country, were at the forefront of Croatia’s foreign policy efforts in 2018. With October elections looming, the year began with Bosnian Croats warning that the election law was unfair and that it could lead to a Croat representative in the Bosnian presidency being elected by more numerous Bosniaks. That is precisely what happened, with candidate Željko Komšić winning the post, although he apparently did not have the support of the majority of Bosnian Croats. This prompted Croatia’s government to launch a campaign within the EU to pressure Bosnia into changing its election law, which then brought accusations about meddling in internal affairs of the neighbouring country.

One of the potentially most explosive events of this year was a war veterans’ protest held in Vukovar in October. The veterans complained about the lack of prosecution of persons suspected of committing war crimes against Croats in the Vukovar area in 1991, which was a problem which they discussed earlier in the year as well. However, many believed that the protest was actually just a guise for a right-wing attempt to bring down the government led by moderate Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and replace him as HDZ president with a more extremist candidate. Plenković and his team appeared at first worried that the attempt might succeed, but with time they managed to limit its consequences. Once held, the protest passed without incident and has been more or less forgotten, except when occasional arrests in the area do happen, which then draw condemnation from local Serbs who say the police is arresting then just to satisfy the Croat war veterans. In the meantime, tensions in the town continue.

Throughout the year, rumours about impending ruling coalition reshuffle and/or early parliamentary elections continued. However, unlike in 2017, which brought about a change in the ruling coalition composition, with MOST being replaced by HNS, this year the government was more or less stable. One potential candidate for another reshuffle was Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, whose parliamentary group somehow manages to “convince” previously opposition MPs to switch parties and cross to his side. Numerous legal proceedings against him have not made him any less desirable patron. The substantial Zagreb city budget which he controls probably has something to do with it. In two years, he has managed to increase the number of his MPs from 1 to 12, with additional expansion of his parliamentary group expected early in the new year. The fact that people did not vote for his party did not discourage him at all. There are rumours that Bandić will use the increase in the number of his MPs, who are crucial for the parliamentary majority, to demand several ministerial posts in the new year.

As for the opposition, turmoil in SDP continued, with several attempts being made to topple the party president and “the leader of the opposition” Davor Bernardić. Fortunately for SDP opponents, these attempts have been unsuccessful, so Bernardić remains in his seat while his party’s popularity continues to plummet, with the latest polls showing it dropping to the third position, behind HDZ and Živi Zid. An increasing number of SDP MPs are leaving the party, with some of them joining the government ranks.

The migrant crisis continued, particularly on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the police employing ever harsher measures to control the borders and NGOs publishing increasingly critical reports about the alleged police violence and irregularities. The police have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, despite video evidence to the contrary.

The migration issue also brought us another controversy, this time with the signing of the Global Compact for Migration in December. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who this year marked three years in office, initially supported the agreement, but then suddenly changed her mind, announcing she would not travel to Marrakesh where the UN conference was held. The government immediately said that Croatia would support the declaration nevertheless, which caused protests from right-wing circles. In the end, the non-binding resolution was supported by Croatia, but no-one really expects it will be implemented.

The final few days of the year brought us another major scandal, whose consequences will become clear in the following months. The president decided to dismiss her domestic policy adviser Mate Radeljić, who many believed had influenced the president to take a more critical position towards the government. After he was dismissed, Radeljić said he was threatened by a Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) official not to try to damage the president politically after being dismissed. He was allegedly told that the agency was ready to run into him with a car if necessary. The president’s office and the SOA issued statements saying they had acted legally, but interestingly they did not outright deny all of Radeljić’s claims. It is expected that Radeljić’s dismissal will result in better relations between the president on the one side and the government and HDZ leadership on the other, just in time for the presidential elections next year.

Another exciting political year is ahead of us. It will include at least two elections (for European Parliament in May, and for president probably in December), and there is always a possibility the early parliamentary elections might take place. Stay with TCN for all the latest political and business news.


Thursday, 27 December 2018

Zagreb News: Billion Euro Project to Transform Novi Zagreb?

Some excellent Zagreb news in the works for Novi Zagreb as a brand new mega project carrying a massive billion euro price tag is announced on no less than Christmas morning.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 25th of December, 2018, on a cold and crisp Christmas morning in the Croatian capital city, Milan Bandić, the long-standing mayor of Zagreb, announced some very welcome Zagreb news to his fellow citizens, detailing everything the city is set to gain, all of which has been planned to be built in 2019.

To accompany the already cheerful Christmas spirit, Mayor Milan Bandić announced and further detailed the beginning of some of the the most important projects for next year set to take place in Croatia's increasingly popular capital city.

"We'll bring the [works taking place on] the roundabout to an end as soon as possible, as well as the Jarun bridge, because the roundabout without that bridge is like soup without any salt in it, we're going design a rail link to the airport, a congress centre, and in some fifteen to twenty days, we will finally begin work and stick the spade in the ground for a new cable car for Sljeme'', the mayor readily announced.

In addition to these already welcome announcements, the mayor went on to detail yet more Zagreb news - a huge billion-euro mega project for which the City of Zagreb is actively seeking a foreign partner. The giant project in question is the total redesigning of the popular Zagreb Fair (Zagrebački Velesajam), at which numerous events are regularly held, according to a report from RTL.

"If this comes to fruition, Novi Zagreb will become a city within a city, and Zagreb will be much more beautiful," Mayor Bandić concluded.

Make sure to stay up to date with our dedicated lifestyle and news pages for much more. If it's just Croatia's capital you're interested in, make sure to follow Total Zagreb for everything you need to know about what's going on in Zagreb, from cultural events and live performances to the latest political scandals.

Page 11 of 22