It is not entirely clear to me whether the influential president of the strongest Croatian political party, Tomislav Karamarko, did not know that the Lustration Law, which he announced a few months ago, had never been able, even in a time of great and total power of Dr. Franjo Tuđman, to obtain parliamentary support, or it was just a pre-election ecstasy and pre-election spillage of promises, for its attractiveness and desired electoral votes.
Last year, somewhere at the beginning of the election campaign, Karamarko put the demand for lustration practically in the centre of his program orientation, in the interview with the weekly “Globus”. It is absolutely necessary social process with which, as he said, the new government would publicly unmask the hidden Bolsheviks, both politicians and intellectuals, who do not respect their country and hide under the cloak of European democracy. He added later that the lustration was not hunting of people, but the fight for modern Croatian state, as well as the decision that all decisions and value orientations of modern Croatia would be based on the Homeland War, veterans of that war, as well as Dr. Franjo Tuđman. That this was the only way to defeat the spiritual inheritance of communism, which was allegedly still present in a large part of Croatian society, government and cultural institutions.
Only a month later, he narrowed a little the proposed plan because, allegedly, it was late for lustration which would be followed by the punishment of those responsible for the illegal and undemocratic decision-making in the former regime and that it was, apparently, primarily about the truth on semi-past history.
And then a few days ago, at the end of February, at a meeting of his party in Varaždin, Karamarko said that they were not preparing any law that would be the basis of lustration and that he did not care whether someone was preparing such a law, because if his party wanted that law, they would have written such a law themselves.
To understand this complete shift, we have to go back. First in the eighties of the last century.
I am talking about the time of the visit of the then opposition politician, Franjo Tuđman, in 1987, to Canada. He gave a lecture on historical basis of self-determination of nations in Toronto. That was the first time I noticed the view that his presentation was sort of presentation of national reconciliation, since the participants at a lecture of former JNA general, who fought with partisans, were those who fought on the opposite side in the same war. It is good that we were not all on the same side, he added a few days later, but we fought for Croatia, you on your own and we on our own way.
This was the origin of Tuđman’s political thesis of national reconciliation that marked the establishment of his political party and later keeping of distance towards the different proposals on lustration, primarily modelled on countries of Eastern Europe. Such a political position allowed him a very pragmatic decision on engagement of most of the people from the former state security service in the security structures of the new state.
I asked about this my former colleague, interior minister Ivan Penić, on one of the working dinners in Zagreb, and a few years later Dr. Ivica Račan. Their opinion was similar: that the late president had estimated that it would be entirely inappropriate during the war for independence of the country to make a new discord with the laws on lustration and that the subject was actually withdrawn from the agenda later.
However, it was not quite so. The main political thesis of reconciliation of Partisans’ and Ustashas’ sons remained at the declarative level, untouched. It was Tuđman’s idea. However, the former president was placed before the dilemma by his influential associates soon after the end of wars, that they were really winning the elections, but that the real power was in the hands of former communists. As Tuđman’s biographer, Darko Hudelist, says, it was manifested externally as a conflict between party’s right wing and the so-called techno-managers fraction in the party.
The dispute did not arise due to different views of the influential defence minister Gojko Šušak or the then president’s commissioner Dr. Ivić Pašalić with the presidents of Croatian Government, Franjo Gregurić, Nikica Valentić and Zlatko Mateša, on the development of the Croatian economy, but the basis of the dispute was actually different views on the importance of lustration. Which is more understandable today when we know that the first ones were convinced that the lustration law should be used firstly for the removal of former prime ministers and their economic like-minded from public and political life of the country. Lustration was understood by its supporters as the possibility to change the country’s development into a more local, closed and self-sufficient one.
At the beginning of 1998, one of the parliamentary parties, led by Ante Đapić, managed to bring the Lustration Law to parliamentary procedure. The proponent and a similar Polish law, as well as the draft of Slovenian law served them as a basis.
The purpose of the lustration should not be a criminal prosecution of individuals, but their withdrawal from public life. In addition, the law had a very interesting exception. It was to grant amnesty in advance, allegedly, to all those who were, regardless of their political position in the former Yugoslavia, persecuted or jailed for their democratic beliefs and practices. One of them was allegedly general Tuđman and the other – former public prosecutor, Vladimir Šeks.
A law without the support of the largest party could not count on acceptance, of course. They started to again assure the president that it would be good to vote for it and Dr Ivica Pašalić had a task to convince him of that. He was given the task to present Tuđman’s decision to support a draft law on lustration to parliamentary group of the ruling party and the then leader of the group, who was the actual leader of the Croatian Parliament, Vladimir Šeks. From here, the facts are a little unreliable. The result of Pašalić’s mission was not successful.
The bill was withdrawn immediately, during the adoption of the agenda. Prize question – who was strong enough to propose the withdrawal of such a hot law from the debate on 18 March 1998? The strongest party, Tuđman’s HDZ, and Vladimir Šeks on its behalf. His justification was relatively short, that the bill violated the principle of equality of citizens before the law, that it was immoral and harmful to the state and national interests. Even more surprising was the result of the voting, 63 votes against and 7 for the withdrawal of the law.
At the end of October 1999, the discussion was repeated. Again with the proposal of Đapić’s party. They referred to Tuđman’s changed attitude towards national reconciliation, that he renounced it and that he was talking about a new necessity of social decommunisation. The proponent pointed out that the law did not foresee any persecution, but just a check of every individual who was a candidate for the leading state functions, therefore to all managerial positions in companies owned by the state, of whether they had enjoyed privileges during former regime. It looked as if that attempt left nothing to chance and that they would manage to put the bill on the agenda of the parliamentary session. However, it was not so. Parliamentary member of the largest party, Tuđman’s HDZ, academician Dubravko Jelčić, the same as Šeks did a year earlier, suggested the withdrawal of the proposal from the agenda. The result of voting was – 77 to two for withdrawal.
In this way, the lustration somehow left the political discussions in the neighbouring country. The beginning of the then discussion was somehow announced again back in December two years ago, at the academy dedicated to the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Croatian president Tuđman.
Karamarko presented the thesis (new parliamentary elections were already relatively close) that the president’s policy of national reconciliation was a thing of the past, because exactly those who now deny the independent Croatia are doing that, because they exploit the democracy given to them by Tuđman himself with the idea of reconciliation.
This was followed by the re-announcement and the new cancellation of idea of the lustration law.