Let us start with that timeless custom among the Croatian politicians, the blame game: who, according to your judgment, is the "aggressor" and who is the "victim" in the fight between Budisa and Gotovac?
In that conflict, Gotovac is being attacked, but it remains to be seen whether he will become a victim. If we put the question about victimization in a wider context and consider the situation in Croatia, then Budisa is primarily a victim, while Gotovac is both a victim and a hero. The situation which has finally turned into a conflict between Budisa and Gotovac is a part of the process in which Croatia is turning into a [single-]party state and resistance to that process. Gotovac, as a politician has extremely low tolerance of all tendencies toward totalitarianism and reduction of freedom. He reacts to such tendencies with strong words and clear attitude, with equal firmness during his whole political life. As the amount of freedom in a society declines such people become increasingly lonely, because a majority tries to avoid conflict with the authorities knowing that their rights are not protected. Budisa also realizes in which direction Croatian society is going under the leadership of HDZ but he, since a while ago, hasn't had the strength to confront that development and instead seeks a roundabout way to prevent these totalitarian tendencies. However, recently it has become increasingly unclear to what extent he is a man of compromise and to what extent he is a HDZ mole in the HSLS. If the latter is true, that would be bad, both for Budisa and Croatia.
Maybe the explanation is in very strong resistance within HSLS to the comparison of this party with HDZ. I don't think that the problem is in the (lack of) knowledge of social liberal theory, although that can be found as well, as much as in the will of a certain number of sufficiently influential persons in the top of HSLS to support that type of a program. To give up or not to give up at this moment the struggle for a social-liberal Croatia, is the basis of the differences in HSLS. In that, the fact that Gotovac is a convinced supporter of the social-liberal transformation of Croatia, while Budisa isn't, is less important.
Could you briefly explain the origin of the clash in the party, since it seems that gossip and mutual recriminations obscure much deeper and long term problems?
When, at the beginning of 1994, Tudman, in order to maintain the discipline of HDZ representatives in the Parliament announced his project about HDZ as the party which will rule Croatia for tens of years, the leadership of HSLS correctly predicted that the powerful means at the disposal of the ruling party will be used for the destruction of everything which stands in the way of "tens of years of the HDZ rule". When that prediction started to fulfill in various, more or less brutal ways, through blackmail, threats, car bombs, anonymous phone threats and threatening letters, buying of mayors and governors, dismissals, illegal punitive taxation, threatening fiscal controls, ban on imports of necessary medication for the disobedient individuals etc., the so-called populist group was formed in HSLS, probably after a suggestion from HDZ, but also as a result of fear from HDZ; later, of course, that group also found moderate supporters.
Who promoted the "populist" idea in HSLS?
Goran Dodig was the first promoter of the "populism" as a desirable political platform for HSLS, and those who took up the idea gathered around Damir Zoric. They hid their (conscious or unconscious) lack of will for the political struggle for the intra-Croatian freedom and the establishment of true multiparty system by the alleged concern for the prosperity of HSLS. They spread the illusion that HSLS would achieve the better electoral results the more it resembled HDZ, actually if the voters recognized HSLS as a political party similar to HDZ and with a similar program. Then, supposedly, a majority of HDZ supporters, disappointed by the greed of HDZ politicians would vote for HSLS. They didn't wonder whether HSLS would loose its true supporters and argued that besides, HSLS cannot win a majority in the Parliament with its social-liberal program because liberalism is an "elitist" and "cosmopolitan" [as opposed to nationalist] idea, unclear, too smart and unacceptable to the people, and that the word "social" has unacceptable connotations because of the former system and indicates shift to the "left". They stated that HSLS, as a liberal party could never be endorsed by the Catholic Church, and it had to be kept in mind that the Croats are loyal Catholics. Thus, in spite of the fact that HSLS was the first, real, and leading political party in Croatia (HDZ was a movement) which had promising future, they devalued the very basis of its program.
Did the "populists" in HSLS actually want to become a version of HDZ?
Yes, according to their ideas, HSLS was supposed to present itself to the public as a version of HDZ; a version which allegedly draws honest people with honest intentions, unlike the ruling HDZ which is full of thieves, Mafia goons, power hungry individuals, those seeking privilege... The theory about honesty, followed with terms, "honest Croats", "patriotic Croats", "Croatian program", became their main political declaration, while they attacked liberalism as a value system which rejects nationalism, unsuitable for Croats. Some of them finally, on the eve of 1995 elections, after the operation "Storm" defected to HDZ while some of them remained in HSLS.
Everyone knew who belonged to the populists, because they were well organized, and had regular meetings! They also had a well developed strategy to win over particular members, local organizations, the whole party. There was also the plan "Lisica" [fox], "Liberal Sabor [Parliament] Initiative", and all that was common knowledge in the party; nevertheless, there was no reaction, although the populists had open access to the media and used that to form an erroneous impression of the HSLS policy in the public. The "populists" also had a different attitude with respect to Bosnia-Hercegovina from the then official HSLS policy, they expressed extremely conservative attitudes with respect to women and demographic renewal policy [whether abortion should be banned] and, naturally, demanded that the criticism of HDZ policies stop. As early as the Spring of 1994, it was obvious that Budisa showed understanding for their arguments; however, he claimed that that was simply the result of his desire to keep the populists in HSLS. After the failure of HSLS in the 1995 elections, in his report to HSLS party conference which took place in February 1996 several months after the elections, he condemned both the "populists" and "populism" and blamed them for the failure in the elections; Budisa supported the Declaration of Fundamental Policies of HSLS which unequivocally place HSLS in the opposition to HDZ and conceded the leadership of the party to Vlado Gotovac. It seemed that all that meant, for him as well, the return of the party to its political sources and fundamental goals.
Yet, does Budisa still support those goals and, if he doesn't, why hasn't he joined HDZ?
Today, it is clear from his interviews, that his support for the fundamental HSLS principles was not genuine. After the defections by Zoric, Mestrovic, Bozicevic and other, HDZ closed its doors because they concluded that their supporters are more useful if they stay in "their own" parties. At the HDZ party conference at the start of February 1996, HDZ announced a plan according to which HDZ should be the largest and most important Croatian party to which all other parties gravitate, as HDZ satellites. The bait about possible coalition of certain parties with HDZ is how they intend to implement their plan for keeping HDZ as the only important Croatian party for years to come. The clashes which are threatening to split HSLS apart are the consequence of that bait.
Do you believe that Budisa's mistake is maybe his bad judgment in the choice of close collaborators which led to the split in the party between the so-called populists and the so-called civic liberals, or is the root of all problems banal will to win power, in his own party and the state?
Bad judgment in the choice of collaborators is always possible, but in the case of the "populists" there was no space for wrong judgment, nor did he discover them in February 1996 when he condemned their policies. They have always been clear about their intentions, as has always been clear that their "populism" is simply an alibi to give up opposition status and find an "honorable" way to reach power without offending HDZ. Today, the promotion of pragmatism as supposedly an enviable sense for practical approach to politics serves the same purpose.
According to your judgment, are Budisa and the large group around him liberals, or should have they found a place in HDZ a long time ago?
They don't see themselves in HDZ, but in power. According to their own explanation they are simply pragmatists, tired of fruitless opposition struggle, and think that the goal justifies means in their pursuit of power. They do not care too much whether they will be implementing HSLS or HDZ policies. What they do not want, and the same is true for HDZ, is to leave an impression that they have joined HDZ; thus they are trying to convince various HSLS bodies to make decisions about "coalition" with HDZ. They get angry if they fail in that and claim that those HSLS members who refuse to form a coalition with HDZ are very incompetent politicians; no one in HSLS is against the grand coalition which would be formed according to the election results and in which HDZ participation in power would correspond to the number of votes they won in the election; naturally, HDZ is against such a coalition. That's the cause for the split in HSLS. At first Budisa's public appearances left the impression that he was planning to form an independent party which would gather significant number of prominent HDZ members, supposedly the liberal wing of HDZ; finally he announced that he wanted to again become the president of HSLS and apparently he supports the idea of split of HSLS into two fractions one of which would definitely support HDZ. At the beginning of the Summer, Rados wrote about the split in two fractions as the only possible solution of the problems in HSLS; I've recently read that Budisa has called for unity and announced an "Amnesty" for everyone, while Rados has been doing just the opposite and announcing who can and who cannot remain in HSLS.
If HSLS splits into two parties, Gotovac's wing would surely stick with what HSLS should be. Why do you think that Gotovac should found a new party rather than his opponents, those who go on about pragmatism, i.e. about adaptation to the situation in Croatia? Doesn't it make more sense for them to found a new party, since they have been denigrating and devaluing HSLS program and also questioning its role in the opposition to HDZ? I am afraid that there's only one certainty in all that: HSLS has been brought into a check-mate position. If Gotovac keeps the leadership of the party, Budisa will continue with his parallel independent approach to the public. On the other hand, if Budisa again becomes the president of the party, HSLS will disappear in pragmatism and attempts to please HDZ supporters.
How come you are so sure about that?
Because Budisa has remained consistent in his "political philosophy"; after returning to the position of the president of the Great Council of the party (at the urging of Gotovac and the leading personalities in HDZ who were alarmed by Budisa's resignation), in a roundabout way, going against the statute of the party, using his image and trying out his influence, Budisa supported "different interpretation" trying to convince that Gotovac had bad collaborators and that Gotovac's activities were going against the interests of the "Croatian option"; Budisa urged local party organizations to form coalitions with HDZ, without other opposition parties and in contravention of the HSLS program. Yet, the HSLS party statute does not allow local HSLS organizations and other party institutions to override the party political program. If HSLS splits I will join the faction which I can trust to promote the realization of liberal democracy and social justice in Croatia. I have no other reason for political activity.
For me, the struggle for the freedom of a nation can not be separated from the struggle for the freedom of every individual in that nation. For me, freedom is the basic condition for creativity and responsibility. A person under political pressure has neither motivation for honest creative work nor feels responsible for anything. Croatia from my dreams is yet to become reality. In order for that to happen, it will be necessary to forgo populism and adopt pluralism of ideas and coordination of all interests.
Do you agree that citizens have a right to accuse Croatian officials of being responsible for the crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, as Paraga has done, or do you consider that a "betrayal of national interests"?
I do not consider that a betrayal; I do not support limitation of any rights to anyone, nor do I believe that it is in "national interest" to hide war criminals. Personally, I would rather let the Hague Tribunal work on indictments on its own.
This year, Croatian authorities passed an amnesty for its criminals, those responsible for the crimes in Pakracka Poljana, the crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina all the way to those responsible for the crimes after the operation "Storm". How would you define such authorities?
Unwise and incapable. The basic task for the authorities is the protection of human lives and property, and suppression of evil. Croatian authorities had to be capable to fight a defensive war and apply war time laws.
During the Communist regime I didn't believe that the system could be transformed from inside, by joining the ruling party; the same is true today. If a party has absolute power, as was the case with the League of Communists and today with HDZ, then that party can use all sorts of levers and mechanisms to control the flow of persons and ideas with different political concepts; such persons can easily be broken and their opinion removed from the scene. HDZ accepts "partnership" exactly to the degree necessary to strengthen (rather than endanger or divide) its power. Naturally, I share the opinion that it is necessary to bring HDZ to its right measure through legal means, which include elections but do not exclude other means; thus it will stop to subvert democracy and begin to develop it.
I agree with you. Croatian independence cannot be endangered in the future. But you must not forget that those who emphasize patriotism are convinced that this "boomerang" [present Croatia] is only a part of Croatia and that "real" Croatia is yet to be established. For them "patriotism" has sense as something which hasn't been completely fulfilled. They are actually hiding their plans to annex Bosnia-Hercegovina with the word "patriotism". I would like that it be understood, as soon and as thoroughly as possible, in Croatia that Croatia is simply this "boomerang" and nothing else. The stronger the economy of this "boomerang" the stronger influence it will have in the neighboring state Bosnia-Hercegovina. That is the only permissible way to promote Croatia in all regions where there are significant concentrations of Croats, all the way to the Drina river, and even on the other bank of the Danube, in Vojvodina, and in Boka Kotorska.