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.

Related stories

HDZ founders say Perkovic, Mustac weren't among them

Milanovic shocked at ruling against Perkovic and Mustac

Plenkovic says everyone marks Aug 5 as they see fit

Milanovic, Plenkovic face off on economy

Milanovic: HDZ same as during Karamarko's era

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