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Croatian report
by Euro Reporter
2015-04-02 10:32:18
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Suspected Serb war criminal Seselj burns Croatia flag

croatia_400_01Alleged Serbian war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj set fire to a Croatian flag Wednesday in a deliberate act of defiance after he was ordered to return to his detention cell in The Hague. The ultranationalist firebrand torched the flag outside a Belgrade courthouse, saying it was a response to Croatian leaders who welcomed Monday's order by a UN war crimes court revoking his provisional release. The tribunal controversially allowed Seselj to return home to Serbia in November on "humanitarian grounds" for cancer treatment pending a verdict in his trial for war crimes during the Balkans conflicts in the 1990s. "It proved useless to answer Croatian officials since they do not want to hear anything," 60-year-old Seselj told several dozen supporters. "That's why I decided to send them a more understandable message. I will burn before you the Croatian Ustasha flag," he said, referring to the World War II Nazi-allied regime in Croatia. Since his release, Seselj has repeatedly lashed out at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), vowing never to return for the verdict or to serve any jail time.

He has also resumed his poisonous nationalist rhetoric by advocating creation of a "Greater Serbia" encompassing large parts of Croatia. Seselj was accused of leading ethnic Serb volunteers in persecuting Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the 1990s wars in Croatia and Serbia.  He has pleaded not guilty to nine counts, including murder, torture, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of villages. Seselj voluntarily surrendered to the ICTY in 2003 and went on trial four years later, with proceedings finally wrapping up in 2012. But Seselj, who underwent colon cancer surgery in 2013, is still awaiting a verdict. Belgrade has reacted angrily to the ICTY order against Seselj and has not yet said whether it will send him back to The Hague. But a Belgrade prosecutor has launched a criminal procedure against Seselj over the flag burning, Beta news agency reported.

The move was welcomed by Croatia's foreign ministry as "a step towards calming the situation. The accused war criminal Seselj is trying to influence relations between Serbia and Croatia through hate speech, war rhetoric and symbolism," the ministry said in a statement. Last week, during an event marking the 16th anniversary of NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia over its repressive policies in Kosovo, Seselj also burned the flags of NATO, the European Union, the United States and Kosovo.


Croatia's finance minister urges banks, Swiss franc loan holders to resume talks

Croatia's Finance Minister Boris Lalovac urged commercial banks and holders of loans in Swiss francs on Wednesday to resume talks and work out a model to convert loans into euros as it was the best long-term option. A proposal to convert loans into Croatian kuna had been opposed by the central bank because it would put pressure on the currency, he said in a ministry statement. About 60,000 Croatians hold Swiss franc-denominated loans, mainly taken out during the 2000s when many in central and eastern Europe were attracted by low Swiss interest rates. Since then a strong franc has driven the loans' costs sharply higher and governments across the region have been grappling for solutions.

Hungary and Poland have faced similar problems after citizens took out Swiss franc loans before the global financial crisis. In a statement posted on the ministry's website on Wednesday, Lalovac said the ministry had abandoned a proposal under which mortgage holders unable to service their monthly loans would become tenants in their current property with an option of buying it back in the future. "I have told the banks that tenancy and buybacks are off and only the conversion models are an option," Lalovac said in the statement. He said he had preferred a conversion into Croatia's kuna currency but was dissuaded by the central bank governor, who said it would put too much downward pressure on the kuna.

"So we settled on conversion into euros, taking into account two factors: the debt cannot be higher than the original loan or higher than the current value of property," he said. Adding to borrowers' pain, six years of recession in Croatia have pushed down property values, meaning some citizens now owe more than their property is currently worth. The banks, the finance ministry and the central bank started talks in February, after the government fixed the Swiss franc rate against its kuna currency at 6.39 for one year to ease pressure. Udruga Franak, a group representing citizens with Swiss franc loans said on Tuesday it was quitting the talks. It accused the ministry, the central bank and lenders of stalling and said it would start mass protests this month.


Croatia President backs compulsory military service

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has lent backing to the idea of reintroducing compulsory military service, which some analysts see as potentially useful. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on Monday said she backed the reintroduction of compulsory military service for eight weeks. Croatia abolished compulsory military service back in 2008 and Grabar Kitarovic floated bringing it back during the presidential campaign. Several specialists said they could see the potential for the idea. Igor Tabak, a military analyst from expert website Obris, said re-introducing military service could held communities to deal with natural disasters. “Having a portion of young men and women trained as soldiers can be useful in the event of natural disaster, such as we have experienced with fires and floods,” Tabak told BIRN. However, the idea was “only a rudimentary one mentioned by the President”, he noted, and any progress would depend on agreement with the government.

Voluntary military service for only four weeks already exists in Croatia, Tabak noted. He added that the proposed eight-week military service was probably too short. “Eight weeks is not enough for these people to return what was invested in them, in terms of their work,” he explained. Tabak observed that other countries in the region were considering the same idea. “Some countries in Europe, like Lithuania, have introduced military service while in Serbia there is a strong initiative to do the same,” he concluded. Zagreb University Professor Petar Popovic said the initiative also reflected concern about the state of the Croatian armed forces.

It should be seen as part of an attempt to “restore the Croatian Army, which is in a very bad condition,” he said. “In today's circumstances, the restoration of the army through the introduction of compulsory military service is in the interests of the region, as it [the army] would be able to react more efficiently to critical security challenges, such as floods, fires and other disasters,” he remarked. Popovic conceded that one problem might be feelings of mistrust among Croatia's former Yugoslav neighbours, who might see it as an aggressive move in the light of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. “Potential negative reactions from neighbouring countries should be understood as a result of mistrust due to a number of unresolved issues since the war,” he concluded.

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