Milanovic, Plenkovic.jpg
Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Zoran Milanovic [L] and Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) president Andrej Plenkovic [R]
Photograph: Hina/ Dario GRZELJ/ dag

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) president Andrej Plenkovic and Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Zoran Milanovic, after tackling the economy in a debate on Croatian Television on Friday, discussed ideological issues, the foreign policy and the possibility of a big coalition after the September 11 early parliamentary election.

Asked by the host if the "For the homeland ready" salute, associated with the Nazi-styled Independent State of Croatia (1941-45), should be punishable, Milanovic said his opinion was known.

Plenkovic said he had clearly condemned the incidents in Knin on August 5 on the occasion of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and War Veterans Day. He said those incidents "were acts of provocation" which were not conducive to a dignified observance of that day. "What's key is that during the Homeland War (1991-95) other salutes were developed, 'Salute to the homeland' and 'Faithful to the homeland', and they are the proper salutes."

For Plenkovic, Josip Broz Tito was the leader of a totalitarian system and Zagreb's Marshall Tito Square should be given a "more appropriate name". He said that historically Croatia's first President, Franjo Tudjman, was the most important figure, "perhaps in our entire history."

Milanovic said that Tudjman, Tito and Stjepan Radic had been the Croatian greats. "Tudjman had a good opinion of Tito," he said, adding that St. Mark's Square should be given Tudjman's name.

Asked by the host if Miro Baresic had been a terrorist or a fighter for Croatia, Plenkovic said Baresic had been part of that group of Croatian emigrants who left Croatia disappointed. "As far as I know, he fought for the Croatian cause and ideals in a way that included the idea of taking the then Yugoslav ambassador in Stockholm hostage." Baresic was convicted in the 1970s in Sweden for the murder of the Yugoslav ambassador. A monument was recently unveiled to him in Croatia.

Milanovic said he would consider Plenkovic a man with authority when he "ousted from the party people like Bozidar Kalmeta, who are accused of conspiracy and stealing HRK 40 million." Plenkovic countered that the HDZ "will never let anyone tell it who to oust from the party and why." 

Milanovic said the HDZ's controversial outgoing culture minister, Zlatko Hasanbegovic, had been harmful for Croatia and that Europe was built on anti-fascism.

Plenkovic said that a programme which the HDZ had commissioned from the German IFO institute was a study serving anyone wishing to contribute to the solving of the key economic issues in Croatia. Milanovic said this was a document with "a series of neo-liberal, economically right-wing ideas" envisaging fewer workers' rights and the devaluation of the national currency.

Asked by the host what he would do to help citizens with blocked bank accounts, Plenkovic announced amendments to the distraint law to increase the amount of income not liable to distraint, and a one-off debt repayment in the amount of one personal income.

Milanovic said his cabinet had abolished distraint officers, cut default interest, adopted an energy poverty programme, written off utility arrears in part, and amended the law to help citizens with loans in Swiss francs.

Both officials said the Serbian law on regional jurisdiction for war crimes was unacceptable. Milanovic said his next cabinet would try to solve the issue of said law bilaterally, otherwise "they will force us to block Chapter 23" in Serbia's EU accession negotiations. He said "political indictments" from Bosnia and Herzegovina were also a problem.

Plenkovic said the previous Milanovic cabinet had done nothing to help a petition based on which the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Serbia.

He also said that two days before Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, Milanovic's cabinet "inappropriately amended" the law on the European Arrest Warrant to prevent the extradition to Germany of Yugoslav-era intelligence agents Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac, whom a German court recently convicted pending appeal for the murder of a Croatian dissident near Munich in 1983.

Milanovic said the German authorities "wanted Perkovic way back in 2009, but he was systematically protected by the HDZ leadership. He was one of the founders of the HDZ, he was the HDZ's fixer." Plenkovic said that Perkovic had not been among the HDZ's founders. Milanovic regretted that Perkovic was not tried in Croatia.

Asked by the host if the German ruling against Perkovic and Mustac was the start of a series of similar trials in Germany, Plenkovic said the German judiciary had contributed to dealing with former Yugoslavia's state terrorism against Croatian emigrants. Milanovic said the lustration in Croatia could not be done by Germany but by Croatia.

Asked by the host what he would do in case of a new refugee crisis, Milanovic said he would act the same as he did when he was prime minister, humanely and not bringing citizens' safety into question. He accused the HDZ of "obstruction bordering on rage" during the recent refugee crisis. Plenkovic accused him of unnecessarily straining relations with the neighbours at that time, saying he could have done it more diplomatically.

As for the position of Croats in Bosnia, Plenkovic said this was "foreign policy issue number one" for Croatia, but that a solution to Bosnia's constitutional organisation could not be prescribed by either Croatia or the international community, but come from within. He said the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Bosnia insisting on federalisation, decentralisation, subsidiarity and legitimate representation.

Milanovic said the EU must give special treatment to Bosnia and cut it some slack, otherwise Bosnia would not stabilise. He said he had often been to Bosnia as prime minister, but "neither for money nor for votes." Plenkovic said the Croatian constitution had fixed a quota for deputies from the diaspora at the SDP's insistence, adding that the HDZ wanted unity with the Croatian diaspora.

Both officials dismissed the possibility of a big post-election coalition. Plenkovic said the HDZ wanted to form a majority centre-right government. He said some topics and situations required "a national consensus and dialogue" but that now "a big coalition is not on the agenda." 

Milanovic said he could get along with Plenkovic but not with his party. He voiced confidence that the SDP-led People's Coalition would win the election but said he did not count on domination.

More on this story

Milanovic, Plenkovic face off on economy

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) president Andrej Plenkovic and Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Zoran Milanovic faced off on Croatian Television on Friday for the first time ahead of the early September 11 election.

Related stories

Latest news

Erdogan lashes out at newspaper over report on military unrest

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed Hurriyet newspaper over a report saying that military top brass was "restless" over criticisms against its leadership.

Serb ministers end boycott of Bosnian government

Serb ministers in the Bosnian Council of Ministers on Tuesday attended a session of the body, ending a boycott they began last week because of a request to revise an International Court of Justice ruling Serbia of genocide.

As Europe hardens its line on migration, children bear the brunt

The number of children arriving on their own in Europe doubled in 2016, and is set to increase this year. But the response by governments has not matched the need, pushing some into criminality and prostitution.

China considers subsidies for second child

The Chinese government is mulling paying parents to have a second baby, a year after it did away with its controversial one-child policy, state media reported Tuesday.

Business group urges Britain to delay Brexit if negotiations stall

The British government should push to extend Brexit negotiations if it is unable to agree a deal on leaving the European Union within two years, a business group said on Tuesday.

At least 1,500 child soldiers ensnared in Yemen war, UN says

Some 1,500 boys have been verified as child soldiers in Yemen, but the actual number of children who have been drawn into the war is probably far higher, a UN spokeswoman said Tuesday.

President says Croatia tolerant, marginal groups shouldn't be given attention

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Tuesday condemned the frequent incidents motivated by hate and intolerance and said marginal movements and isolated cases should not be given too much attention.

Austria identifies US-based Turk as source of cyberattacks

A string of cyberattacks against Austrian institutions has been linked to a Turkish suspect operating out of the US state of Kentucky, an Austrian newspaper reported Tuesday, citing an investigation by the army's intelligence agency.

Italy restores, returns IS-vandalized busts to Syria

Two ancient Roman busts, which were transported to Italy after being vandalized by the Islamic State extremist group in the Syrian city of Palmyra, have been restored and returned to Damascus, the Italian ministry of culture said Tuesday.

Norwegian state pension fund almost doubles return in 2016

The Norwegian state pension fund reported a return of almost 7 per cent in 2016 on the back of strong stock markets in the second half of the year, the Scandinavian country's central bank said Tuesday.

Croatian PM says sports needs to be given back to athletes

Commenting on an ultimatum the Bridge party made on Monday when it asked for a replacement of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) leadership, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday that "sports needs to be given back to athletes."

Three killed after small plane crashes into California homes

Three people were killed and two injured on Monday after a small plane crashed into a residential neighbourhood in the city of Riverside in California, local fire chief Michael Moore told reporters.

Austria toughens measures against rejected asylum seekers

Austria will increase penalties for rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country, the government decided Tuesday, in a move that ups the pressure on migrants in the country.

Tata, DoCoMo settle 1.2-billion dollar telecom dispute

India's Tata Sons on Tuesday agreed to pay Japan's NTT DoCoMo 1.18 billion dollars in regard to the termination of their telecom partnership in the country.

Taliban militants kill 12 policemen in southern Afghanistan

Taliban militants killed 12 Afghan policemen at an outpost in the embattled southern province of Helmand, in what officials described Tuesday as a possible inside job.

Danish man on trial over Filipino webcam rape and abuse

A Danish man went on trial Tuesday charged with 346 counts of paying for online sex shows and rape involving Filipino girls.

PM reassures Croats they won't feel gas price rise

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday that gas price tariffs would be determined towards the main supplier, the state power provider HEP, that would sell it to other wholesale suppliers in the network and that price formation would be conducted in such a way that Croatians did not feel any price rise.

Italy's Mount Etna erupts, but poses no threat so far

Sicily's Mount Etna volcano erupted on Monday evening, a spokesman for the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) told dpa on Tuesday.