Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sanader's Late Sacrifice

With polls giving his favourite Jadranka Kosor barely 20 % at the presidential and with public opinion firmly on the side of President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic), Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has apparently decided to yield ground in the constitutional crisis created by spy scandal.

Until now Sanader has stubbornly refused to admit that POA did anything wrong during its interrogation of journalist Helena Puljiz. He even interpreted findings of few Sabor commissions in a way that absolved POA and its boss (and Sanader loyalist) Joško Podbevšek (Josko Podbevsek) of any serious wrongdoings. But Mesić's resolute action – signing of a decree that was supposed to sack Podbvešek – has put Sanader in difficult dilemma.

He could stand behind Podbevšek and POA and pretend that nothing wrong happened. This could please HDZ rank and file – the army without which he can't hope to evade embarrassing defeat at the upcoming presidential and local election. HDZ rank and file have little understanding for Sanader's "kinder and gentler" HDZ and they still dream about old, hard-line nationalist and authoritarian Tudjman's HDZ returning. When other aspects of Tudjman's policy can't be re-adopted for foreign policy reasons (entry to EU is the only good thing Sanader can promise to electorate), at least the methods of Tudjman's security service can. This, together with the threats of putting "too liberal" HRT, state-run television, "in order" could be interpreted as an attempt to win the right wing of the party and show them that their voice still matters.

However, while EU bureaucrats might care very little whether some negative aspects of Tudjman's reign are resurrected, Croatian public can't. In a less than a year Sanader managed to fail making any of his pre-election promises and many see Puljiz affair as a way to trigger electoral punishment of his party. The public, who couldn't care less about President, journalists and TV reporters being "handled" by security service, sides with Mesić simply because in all other aspects of policy – foreign and domestic – there are very little differences between Sanader and opposition. So, Sanader must defuse this affair quickly if he doesn't want the damage to be permanent. He must also do it in a way that would save some of his face in front of HDZ rightwingers.

Such compromise could be seen in Joško Podbevšek's decision to sack his deputy Marko Glavan (associated with 1990s cover-ups of Croatian war crimes) and Marko Flan, chief of POA Zagreb station.

If the idea was to defuse the crisis, it failed. Mesić quickly reacted by describing the move as "too little too late" and clearly expressing the desire to ultimately see Podbevšek's head delivered on a platter. He has good reasons to demand this, because Sanader's side has, for the first time, yielded ground and any attempt to protect Podbevšek in these conditions is only going to hurt Sanader in the long run.


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