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Interview with Slavko Goldstein

It is time for the Second Republic

Feral Tribune, Split, Croatia, January 4 1999

by Toni Gabric

A few years ago you published an article with the title "Second Croatian Republic" (Erasmus, 1994). According to the article, the second republic should evolve from the present, HDZ ruled, Croatia but, unlike the present Croatia, would be based on contemporary democratic values. Are we today, at the beginning of 1999, closer to "the Second Republic" than in 1994?

The authorities with their actions frequently distance us from the contemporary democratic values, and the society is increasingly seeking those values. The society is slowly throwing off the feeling of external danger and discarding the defensive attitude that has been predominant until recently. The fact that the state was successfully defended in the war is not sufficient to satisfy the public and the voters are beginning to wonder: we have a state, but what kind of state is it? Therefore the establishment of democratic values is next on the agenda. The opposition has in the past been disunited and lacked a clear program; it milked nationalism exactly like the ruling party. It almost competed with the ruling party in cheap patriotism. However, the formation of the six-party opposition block demonstrates that the opposition has overcome certain weaknesses and is better prepared to assume power than we may have thought until recently.

Do you think that the opposition, if it assumes power, will be capable of setting the foundation of "the Second Republic"?

It is obvious that the time for political changes has finally come. That can be clearly felt in the streets and in public transportation. It can be heard in conversations of random passers by. I believe that the opposition, carried by the wave of social discontent, will be able to win in the next general elections. However, it is uncertain what the opposition will do once it is in power. It would be very important if the opposition now published basic common principles and visions, and even complete plans for the first stage. Thereby it would oblige itself to implement its own promises. Moreover, the danger of a break up of the six-party opposition immediately after the elections, before they have time to implement at least the most necessary initial reforms, would be reduced.

Bad Experiences

The opposition representatives frequently claim that almost total agreement has been achieved regarding the important issues?

It is true that the six-party coalition has shown something in that sense, so that we have their common proposals for some laws and statements regarding some strategic issues. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Their common platform must be more detailed and developed.

What is your interpretation of the failure to issue such a common platform although the "Six" have been cooperating for almost six months? Are they perhaps deliberately hiding their strategy [from HDZ]?

I am certain that the leading people in the opposition parties are aware that the common principles should be published, and we should support them in that. In our recent history, we have had bad experiences with transfer of power, when the electoral victory was based on a program "against" something, without a clear plan for the future. The most recent example is 1990, when voters chose HDZ because of their rejection of Communism and Yugoslavia as a political framework, rather than the very vague political program of that party. As we can recall, vaguely, HDZ promised democracy, but it did not explain what that was supposed to mean. The HDZ vision of democracy became clear much later when Tudman told us openly: people elected us, we have the power and that gives us the right to do whatever we like. That could not be repeated with the present opposition, since these are moderate people with enough political experience to know that such a path does not lead far. However, since the opposition coalition consists of six parties that could lead to mutual misunderstandings and disagreements resulting in the failure to implement necessary reforms. Thus, the "Six" must now achieve consensus regarding the crucial issues. At least those issues that are important for the first phase of their rule.

Six Important Points

What are these issues?

I will try to formulate that in six points. First and most important is the agreement about the acceptance of the criteria of developed western democracies, and thereby the European Union and the Council of Europe, in the future rule of the country and relationship with other states, especially neighboring countries. All the opposition parties have declared support for these principles, but I am very concerned that lack of understanding, avoidance and disagreements could arise in some aspects of the implementation. Thus, it would be necessary to in advance offer a detailed plan for certain fields. The other point is the revision of the bad aspects of the privatization and the establishment of the principles of economic policy in the first period after the opposition replaces HDZ in power. Third, the dismantling of the so-called semi-presidential system, which had been in the meantime converted into a dictatorship. As the fourth point, the opposition should present the strategy for the future relationship with Bosnia-Hercegovina: the strict respect of its integrity and sovereignty, and the assistance to Bosnian Croats. The encouragement of the return of refugees to those parts of Croatia devastated during the war, but based on the equality of all those who lived in these regions before the war is the fifth point. Again all the opposition parties supposedly agree on that point. However, this point deserves a more detailed implementation plan. The last, but definitely not the least important point, about which the opposition has so far been officially silent, has to do with the clear and unequivocal rejection of any sort of state-sponsored flirting with Ustashe and Neo-Ustashe ideology. That rejection, although some may not consider it to be the best electoral slogan, is an important condition for the spiritual health of this country.

You said that the opposition parties in the past also rode the waves of nationalist sloganeering. Can they be considered today to be authentic advocates of the rule of law and European democratic criteria?

Nationalist feelings are strong, but can also be discharged relatively quickly. They are subject to large oscillations of intensity, depending on the circumstances. In Croatia, nationalism has spent a great part of its initial charge. The opposition, feeling the urge for changes, has been significantly more moderate in public expressions of nationalism. The difference between the opposition and HDZ is that the opposition had been more moderate in that respect even in the past, and now has realized before HDZ that that type of rhetoric has become obsolete. At the same time, that retarded nationalist HDZ rhetoric has not changed much, and Tudman's rhetoric is becoming increasingly worse. HDZ's nationalism with Tudman enters a new, very harmful phase, in which all committed evils and injustices are justified in the name of the nation and the establishment of an independent Croatian state. The people are simply not falling for that approach any more. As far as the acceptance of the rule of law and European principles by the future authorities, that will be best seen in concrete examples. The future authorities must in advance clearly declare that, for example, the positions in the public service, below the ministerial level, will be filled according to the capabilities, qualifications, and experience of the candidates, rather than their party membership or ethnicity. By doing that, the opposition would demonstrate that in practice it will reject nationalism and single party rule.

Party Membership a Key Criterion

Does that mean that the transfer of power in Croatia should result in the series of changes in the lower levels of the public service?

Apart from Ministers and perhaps their deputies, who are usually appointed according to their political affiliation, in Western democracies no other officials are replaced after a change in power. This applies to departmental chiefs, workers in expert services, even the majority of ambassadors abroad. Our situation is specific, because HDZ and the Communists made the majority of appointments according to the party affiliation. Thus, some changes will be unavoidable, but they must be based on the capability of applicants. The authorities also must respect the independence of institutions. This means that schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions must have the main role in choosing their own leadership. The opposition needs to reach an agreement regarding that crucial European criterion.

In practice, the rejection of nationalist criteria will have to be demonstrated in the process of return? All returnees should be equal [irrespective of their ethnicity].

I am afraid that the opposition will not be especially united in that. Many will find it hard to accept the equality of Serb and Croat returnees. That is not hard to understand because all opposition parties have local organizations in previously occupied regions where their members had bad experiences with their former neighbors, and are consequently still harbor resentment and animosity [towards Serbs]. However, the opposition, in spite of personal feelings of many of its members must impose the attitude that every unequal treatment of people backfires against Croatia. Not only because the equal rights in the territory affected by the war is a precondition for international assistance without which the reconstruction will not be possible; simply, we have to understand that national intolerance is harmful, that it will never bring peace to those territories in the heart of Croatia, and that as long as the state discriminates against its citizens, Croatia will not be healthy.

Investment Priorities

One of the points about which the future authorities must agree is the revision of privatization. Certain economists believe that it does not make sense today, since many privatized companies have become worthless?

The revision of the privatization is not only an economic, but also a legal and moral issue. It must be conducted in the name of justice, regardless whether the privatized national resources have already been squandered or not. People are more sensitive to injustice than their own poverty and we can see that their rebellion has increased only after it became clear that theft and pillaging are taking place under the protection of the state.

We recall economic proposals that you made 11 years ago together with late Marijan Korosic. Regarding which principles of economic policy should the opposition parties reach a consensus?

Without Korosic's assistance I am on a much shakier ground in the discussion of economy. I can only say that the opposition would have to agree regarding the manner of spending the money that will certainly begin to arrive from abroad in larger amounts after the change of the authorities. It would be good if the opposition parties in advance came to agreement about the investment priorities, in order to avoid misunderstandings once the money arrives. For example, we remember how many foreign credits had been given to the former Yugoslavia, and enormous amounts of money were squandered on failed projects. Thus, an agreement must be reached that the priority should be the increase of production and creation of new jobs. Public works can also be used for these purposes. That money should not go into consumption under any circumstances, nor should it be used to beef up the state budget. The budget can be increased only after the investment into production brings new results, and that increase should be earmarked above all for health, education, science, culture, sport, and under no circumstances for the military, police or civil service. Finally, an important precondition for the growth of economy is a realistic exchange rate for Kuna [Croatian currency]. There can be no healthy Croatian economy as long as our citizens spend so much of their income in Hercegovina, Bosnia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, and Austria.

Unavoidable Misunderstandings

How should the future authorities assist Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina?

The amount of assistance will depend on the degree of their and our poverty or wealth. Croatia has the duty to assist those Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina who have lost their homes, or cannot return to the territories from which they escaped during the war. Croatia must assist the cultural life of Bosnian Croats, in order to preserve their national identity. They should be helped in every way in order to improve the quality of their life and so that they could feel the support of their motherland. However, Croatia must not help them in separatism and destruction of Bosnia-Hercegovina. That is a crime against the neighboring and our own state because it results in disturbances, tension and enmity, and can lead to the renewal of the war.

Today, the greatest resources are earmarked for the military needs of Croats from Bosnia-Hercegovina. How should this assistance be classified?

Definitely in the latter, undesirable, category. That assistance serves directly for the encouragement of separatism. I believe that today, with SFOR troops in Bosnia, Croats are not endangered in such a way that Croatia should send them weapons.

But, why should Croatian society, itself to a large extent immersed in poverty, set aside resources for the assistance to Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina?

An era of economic growth will start after the change of authorities. Incessant increase in poverty and lack of perspective, characteristic for the period of the HDZ rule will give place, after a while, to gradual improvement in society and that will have a positive psychological effect on people. After several years of economic growth, even if it weren't spectacular, the feeling of solidarity with others who haven't benefited from that growth will prevail in the society.

In your opinion, out of the six points you mentioned earlier, which ones will turn out to be the most difficult for the opposition?

Already we can discern disagreements regarding long term economic policy. SDP [former Communists] will advocate a greater degree of state involvement and emphasis on social policy, while the liberals will advocate free market and competition. HSS [Croatian peasant party], we can surmise, will advocate the policy of farmer subsidies, and SDP will be more inclined to invest in the development of urban communities. Such disagreements are logical and unavoidable. The opposition parties now must agree only about the first steps after the transfer of power. They must have a common start and must not clash immediately after the transfer of power and thereby paralyze the progress of the society.

Saving Croatian Honor

Do you think that they will be able to agree about the extradition of individuals indicted for war crimes to the Hague War Crime Tribunal?

Croatia will be in great danger if the opposition "Six" do not together and forcefully oppose the avoidance of the obligations towards the Hague Tribunal announced by HDZ. The six opposition parties have the duty to save Croatian honor and save us from international isolation and comparison with Slobodan Milosevic. Our citizens who are under well-founded suspicion of committing war crimes must be tried in a convincing manner in Croatia or extradited to the Hague. Croatia cannot criticize the Hague as long as no one, not a single person, has been publicly accused nor tried for the murder of 450 identified Serb civilians, mostly the elderly, murdered in the Serb villages after the operation "Storm".

What is the ultimate historic potential of the present opposition coalition?

Their first task is to replace the current authorities in the general elections. The other phase is to develop institutional conditions according to the European criteria for the free competition of various political parties, associations and their programs. That would not be a small achievement. On the contrary, that would be the end of the first phase in the establishment of the "second republic" - the real democracy.

Ezra Pound Street

Would you like to comment the fact that the new opposition local authorities in Split haven't changed the name of Mile Budak street. Can political pragmatism be used as an excuse?

To tolerate the name of Mile Budak in the city governed by the six member opposition coalition goes against the modern fundamental values of the western civilization. Mile Budak signed and implemented racial laws [during WWII in Croatia] and for a period of time was the loudest advocate of genocidal persecution. He is the author of the infamous verse-work "Dogs, beat it over the Drina river [to Serbia]" and numerous other malignant "pearls" that I could quote. At the time, he was a pretty popular writer, but that does not make him a lesser war criminal. The tolerance of Ustashe ideology implies the tolerance of crime, and that is not a sign of a healthy society. We know that not a single street in America is named after Ezra Pound, great and unavoidable world-class poet. And he did not, like Budak sign racial laws nor directly induce people to commit crimes. During WWII he celebrated Mussolini in radio programs broadcast from Italy. Because of that, Pound was despised in his homeland, banished from the USA until his death, and denied any non-literary honors, let alone memorials such as the names of streets or schools.

Constitution Should Be Changed

Do you think that the new authorities should reduce the prerogatives of president Tudman immediately after the elections, or should they wait until the end of his current term in office and then redefine the Presidential office by amending the Constitution?

Tudman cannot be overthrown because he has to serve his five year term to the end. If the new authorities win two-thirds majority in the parliament necessary to amend the Constitution, his authority can be legally reduced. If that does not happen, his power will be limited by the more powerful Parliament and the Government. The new authorities will not tolerate marginalization of these institutions. Even in such circumstances the opposition must initiate the preparation for the changes of the Constitution. The idea of "the Second Republic", which is today supported by the Liberal Party, and will probably in the future be lent support by other opposition coalition members, implies exactly that: a new Constitution and a new style of government.

What if Tudman refuses to accept the results of the future general elections?

He must accept the results of the elections, but the current Constitution gives him some instruments to significantly complicate the constitution of the new government. He demonstrated that during the Zagreb crisis. If he is thinking about that he should consider the following statement by Karl Popper, one of the greatest theoreticians of liberal democracy. In an interview ten years ago, he defined democracy as a peaceful transfer of power, without tension, clashes and spilling of blood. Croatian Communists, no matter how bad they were in power, in their last phase, mostly thanks to Ivica Racan, Andelko Runic and Ivo Latin, demonstrated respect for the basic democratic principles, as defined by Popper. If Tudman perseveres in desperate stranglehold on power and blocks a peaceful change of authority, he will be clearly stigmatized in the Croatian history as less democratic and worse than the Communists, who were replaced by him.

Translated on 2/12/99