By Jolyon Campbell
As Croatia's autocratic president Franjo Tudjman and his ruling party the HDZ prepared to celebrate their fourth national day on May 30, the people of Croatia had little to be joyous about.
With a third of Croatia's territory still occupied by Serb-Chetnik aggressors and with little sign that the UN-sponsored peace talks will ensure the recovery of these occupied territories, the refugees from Vukovar, eastern Slavonija and other occupied parts of Croatia have little hope of returning to their homes, let alone a normal life.
On May 17 Tudjman and the HDZ created a parliamentary crisis by attempting to oust Josip Manolic, president of the Zupanijski Dom (Regional House in parliament), and Stipe Mesic, president of the Zastupnicki Dom (House of Representatives) through a breach of parliamentary procedures. That crisis was resolved after long and difficult negotiations between the HDZ and leaders from all opposition parties.
The agreement meant a redistribution of parliamentary powers; the HDZ would be given both positions of presidents in the parliament, while the opposition parties would receive two of the three deputy president positions in the Zupanijski Dom and three deputy president positions in the Zastupnicki Dom.
All opposition parties welcomed this as a step forward for democracy and accountability. By agreement, these candidates were to be elected unopposed.
When the Zupanijski Dom resumed on May 24, all 68 members of the house were present. The new house president, HDZ candidate Dr Ivanisevic, was elected unopposed. During the back-slapping and ceremony that followed, some members left the chamber, and it appeared that the quorum of two thirds had been lost.
When the chair was handed over, and without the house being called to order, Dr Ivanisevic called for a show of hands in support for the opposition candidate for deputy president of the house, Josip Manolic. Thirty-three members raised their hands in support. Ivanisevic then declared the motion lost.
Members from the opposition parties erupted into protest at the fraudulence of the vote. It was clear to all present and all who watched on TV that HDZ's fear and hatred of Manolic was sufficient for it to renege on the deal just as soon as its own candidate had been installed. All opposition members walked out in protest.
The HDZ representatives proceeded to take control of the parliament and introduce their own legislation.
All agenda items advanced by the opposition parties, including the review or sacking of corrupt and despotic Tudjman appointees from government ministries, were removed from the agenda.
Many Croatians have been watching their TV screens in horror at what looks like the unfolding of a coup d'etat. The struggle for democracy and self-determination has led them through great hardship. Now it seems they again have in Franjo Tudjman an autocratic ruler backed by a one-party parliament and a secret police force that can take away anyone who dares to ask questions. Voices of dissent are likely to be silenced.