Editor’s take: Croatia has a problem

Milanović was a social democrat in name but his political positions during his tenure as PM (2012-2015) were leaning more towards the right wing. [EPA-EFE/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD]

Journalists cautiously watched every word Croatia’s maverick President Zoran Milanović said at the press conference with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron last Thursday, afraid of another possible scandal. In the event, it passed smoothly. (Much more so than when he compared Austria’s tightening coronavirus measures to fascism.)

Then, the day after, Milanović relaunched his usual salvo of attacks on the government, arguing that buying 12 Rafale fighter planes from France would leave the army without Bradley armoured vehicles anti-armour defence.

Is that because he is pro-US? Not really.

The Strategic Partnership agreement with France, signed last Wednesday, envisages military cooperation. Milanović’s consent will be needed, and he is reportedly unsatisfied for not having been consulted during the agreement negotiations. It is easy to predict clashes to come.

Milanović was a social democrat in name, but his political positions during his tenure as PM (2012-2015) leaned more towards the right. Defeated in the elections by Andrej Plenković, he left Croatian politics, failed in business endeavours, and returned to become president (a position he had tried to render powerless as PM).

Milanović understood that the Croatian left could not find a better candidate than himself, and he could count on most of their votes.

To secure a second mandate in the 2024 election, he needs votes from the centre and right-wing voters, and he’s been openly working on that. For instance, he restored all decorations to a wartime general who is still on trial for war crimes, decorations former social democrat President Ivo Josipović stripped him of.

Milanović concluded the best way to safeguard his presidency is to attack PM Andrej Plenković. Using all political issues against him, often without real reason (like when he made negative comments about Croatia’s 15.8% GDP growth), army included. This is, to say the least, dangerous.

He did not refrain from using the army chief of staff, Admiral Robert Hranj, as a pawn in this game.  Hranj is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. He has to obey the orders of the president, who is the supreme army commander.

Yet, he also has a responsibility towards the ministry of defence.

Some allied countries are already asking questions about the president’s decisions. Unfazed, he called on “panicked politicians” in Europe not to introduce lockdowns and said that he was concerned about human rights in the countries “which patronised us until recently and are today are doing the same to Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Part of the Croatian public likes strong attitudes towards foreign leaders.

A moral lesson from Milanović’s case: In the Balkans and East Europe, political affiliation is still not ideologically based but is a matter of personal interest. Ask Orbán, Borissov, Babiš, Kaczynski…

(Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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