[NACIONAL]: There is no replacement for Andrej Plenković in Croatia
13 December 2019.
By: Renata Škudar
Photo: Željana Zovko with the European Commission President Ursula von den Layen; Zovko has been a MEP since 2016; before that she was an ambassador to France, Spain and Italy; she ran for the European Parliament at the coalition list, lead by HDZ;
HDZ Member of the European Parliament tells why she is certain that Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović will win the presidential elections and explains with adoration why there is no adequate replacement for the prime-minister Plenković at the top of both HDZ and the Croatian Government
A conference on cultural heritage of the Republic of Croatia was held in Brussels under the auspices of the Croatian Member of the European Parliament and a member of the Committee on Culture and Education Željana Zovko to mark the 40th anniversary of the inscription of the first sites from Croatia onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. MEP Zovko has rich experience in foreign affairs and diplomacy. After having graduated French language from the University of North London, she started her political and diplomatic career in the state Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999, first as a Public Relations Officer and then as the Chief of the Cabinet of the Croat member of the three-partite state Presidency. From 2004 to 2008 Zovko was an ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to France and the non-resident ambassador to Algeria, Tunis, Monaco and Andorra and the Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to UNESCO. From 2008 to 2011 she was the BiH ambassador to Spain and non-resident ambassador to Morocco, and the BiH ambassador to Italy from May 2015 to October 2016. She ran for the European Parliament at the first and second elections at the coalition list, lead by HDZ. She joined the European Parliament in 2016. In the interview for Nacional Željana Zovko comments on Andreja Plenković’s politics and the coming presidential elections in Croatia, as well as on other issues, such as migrants’ crisis and the possible enlargement of the European Union.
NACIONAL: Can you comment on the most recent polls showing that three presidential candidates – Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, Zoran Milanović and Miroslav Škoro have equal support of the voters at the beginning of the official part of the campaign?
Željana Zovko: The late Helmut Kohl had never cared much about the polls. I don’t trust the polls either; what I trust is the people and the common sense. I strongly believe that our President will be re-elected. She has strengthened the image of the Republic of Croatia in the world and she will continue running the country as its President and as the most beautiful picture of what Croatia has to offer in foreign affairs.
NACIONAL: Did the polls result give rise to panics in HDZ?
Željana Zovko: Absolutely not! There is no reason for panicking. On the contrary, our confidence in our victory grows stronger every day. We are aware that we have to put additional efforts in order to show the electoral will of our members and of our people, but other candidates have absolutely no chance at all.
NACIONAL: Who are then those supporting Miroslav Škoro?
Željana Zovko: I would like to reiterate once again that the polls never reflect the actual situation on the grounds. I do not have any intention to comment on the candidate Miroslav Škoro or any other candidate.
NACIONAL: What is going to happen if Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović does not win the elections? What implications will it have for HDZ and Andrej Plenković?
Željana Zovko: There is absolutely no doubt that Mrs. Grabar-Kitarović will keep the Croatian Presidential office. Therefore, we do not consider any other scenario.
NACIONAL: Is there anyone capable of replacing Andrej Plenković as the leader of HDZ?
Željana Zovko: There is no one capable of replacing Andrej Plenković in entire Croatia, so there is no sense in considering whether anyone could replace him as HDZ leader. Mr. Plenković is the most competent person, who wants all the best for each and every citizen and for everyone who wants the best for Croatia. There is no replacement for him. There is no one as competent as him and as prepared to transform the country into a democratic and just society, to bring it onto the level of European countries working for the well-being of their citizens. All the prime-minister’s actions are undertaken with good will and intention. After the long transition process in the society and economy, Andrej Plenković came at the right moment to set Croatia on the right track and to show what a responsible politician must do for his people.
NACIONAL: What and who has Andrej Plenković been trying to cleanse HDZ from and has therefore so many enemies in the party?
Željana Zovko: Andrej Plenković is not fighting against anything. Andrej Plenković is fighting for something! What he is fighting for is a common man, who has never had a chance to survive with his own qualities and hard work. Andrej Plenković is fighting for the people who strive through life with their own work and effort and who will help the society in a just manner.
NACIONAL: Does it mean that Plenković wants to cleanse HDZ from the robbers and sinecurists?
Željana Zovko: Andrej Plenković is fighting for the truth, hard work and valuation of results in whole Croatian society. He is fighting against anything that shows that well-being may be achieved without truth and fair work. Andrej Plenković does not accept all those things which are not acceptable in the society.
NACIONAL: And those things are not acceptable in HDZ as well?
Željana Zovko: Absolutely not! It is about transformation of a political party and of the entire society. That is what Andrej Plenković has been a role-model of. He is not introducing a dictatorship, but he simply does not accept anything with even a trace of dictatorship or fraudulent and criminal actions.
NACIONAL: How do Plenković’s deputy Milijan Brkić and the mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić, who hold him the majority in the Parliament, fit in?
Željana Zovko: Andrej Plenković is a role-model of how everyone should be working and living. As a legalist he leaves everything else to the competent institutions. The principle of presumption of innocence must be applied on everyone, because no one may be charged on the basis of talks. What he is doing is to set every pillar of the society in the best possible way and equip it with the best possible people, the way it should be done in democracy. Plenković does not want autocracy and dictatorship in Croatia, which are supported by other politicians, primarily by Mislav Kolakušić. Plenković is fighting for the independent judiciary and for democracy of the society, in which everyone will work and be accountable for his own work. Andrej Plenković is neither Jesus nor Pontius Pilate. Therefore, it is wrong to call upon him to exert influence on the judiciary and police. What Andrej Plenković wants is a democratic society in which every segment of authority will be accountable for the job it is paid for.
NACIONAL: Educational workers in Croatia were in strike for more than one month. They organised a couple of protests, one of which, the one in the Ban Jelačić Square gathered more than 40,000 people. Is the Government afraid of larger unrests?
Željana Zovko: I sincerely hope we will not have such situations in Croatia, even though the protests in Western European countries with casualties and material damage have become a common thing. The police in France fights with water guns. Every Saturday people in protests crash things and damage the streets of Paris. Croatians mainly organise peaceful protests and I hope it will not change in the future.
NACIONAL: However, a couple of years ago we witnessed the threats by gas bottles. That was really uncomfortable.
Željana Zovko: The defenders are the most vulnerable group of a post-war society. The wounds have not been healed, there are many missing persons, what is particularly tragic. Therefore, every government must be especially sensitive to the defenders. Their problems must be resolved and the state cannot and must not skimp on it.
NACIONAL: Why is it so easy for the migrants to cross the borders of the Western Balkans countries?
Željana Zovko: Human traffic is one of the most profitable jobs nowadays. If you do not have enough funds available to set up an efficient border service and to adequately equip and pay its staff, you have no chance when it comes to migrants’ waves. Lack of financial, human and other necessary resources is not a problem only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in Northern Macedonia and other countries in the region. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Northern Macedonia told us last week that what his country needed the most at the moment was more investment in equipping its borders in order to make them more secure. When it comes to Serbia, it is questionable to what extent and when they really want to control their territory and who they would like to cede it to. Migrants are now the most attractive item at the black market, easily sold to the buyers who make transfers possible, looking for associates on the way. That is exactly how a strong criminal chain was established and the countries on the borders of South-eastern Europe might in the future become entirely porous for millions of refugees from Africa and crisis areas, which might completely destabilise the European continent. That is a warning for Europe to react. Frontex and the European police must be present in the Western Balkans countries. Europe must invest much more with the purpose of safeguarding peace and security as far as possible from its Western centres.
NACIONAL: To what extent is the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to be blamed for the migrants-related issues?
Željana Zovko: The European Union and the international community have finally exerted a pressure on the BiH politicians to come to an agreement on the structure of the new government in order to be able to control and regulate the migrants’ route passing through the country in a coordinated manner. When the smugglers realised how porous Bosnia and Herzegovina was, a country without political compromise, they were quick to make use of its weaknesses and to establish new transit channels, which now represent a danger for the Croatian border. A failure to introduce security mechanisms to manage the migrants’ crisis resulted in BiH being completely flooded by the migrants, bordering the humanitarian catastrophe. Illegal migrations are a huge danger for the security of a country and its citizens. All mature states must protect their borders and must control who is entering the country. No country should permit persons without valid documents to cross its border – persons for who it is not known who they are, where they come from and what their intensions are. This applies to all countries on the Balkans route, including Serbia.
NACIONAL: Why are Denmark and Netherlands and especially France against the enlargement of the European Union? Is the Union still open for the new members or its door was locked after Croatia had joined?
Željana Zovko: Denmark and Netherlands just followed the President Macron’s path, who due to internal political disagreements in France gave preference to the reform of Europe over its enlargement. We have to be aware that the reason why the enlargement is not an attractive topic in France is that after liberalisation of the visa regime, many people from Albania are coming to France seeking political asylum, what is not welcome by the French citizens. Besides, photos and news coming from the Western Balkans countries are often far from attractive – they are about constant disagreements, resistance, violation of human rights and no one is willing to accept a problematic neighbour into his home. The mentioned countries are afraid that further enlargement will only bring the new problems. On the other hand, the enlargement is actually about peace and security. That is what we witness now with the problem with illegal migrations. Germany and France have a very different approach in this context. Germany got an understanding of this issue during the war in former Yugoslavia, when a million refugees fled to Germany to find a shelter within its borders. When Germany realised the catastrophe it was facing, it recognised the Republic of Croatia as an independent country, because it actually realised that enlargement was about making the European Union stronger. It is up to France now to explain the same thing to its citizens. It is up to all of us to convince France that enlargement is the strategic interest of Europe. Enlargement is about closing the existing black hole in the Balkans. It is a matter of survival for the European Union.
NACIONAL: Can we expect that at last one of the Western Balkans countries joins the Union during the new five-year legislature?
Željana Zovko: I firmly believe we can. That will be the country that shows the largest willingness to transform its society and meet all the requirements. Of all the Western Balkans countries Montenegro has come closest to that goal. However, the situation may change overnight depending on the will of political leaders.
NACIONAL: How do you comment the relation between Europe and the USA, warm-cold?
Željana Zovko: The USA is our strongest partner. With them we must look for the best solutions for our crises. Two weeks ago, a delegation of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee visited the US Congress, State Department and the US Department of Homeland Security. We discussed about possible ways of reinforcing the relations between Europe and America and of building our partnership. I think we have mutual understanding, but we are looking for ways of eliminating communication noise.
NACIONAL: Which country is a better partner for Croatia – Germany or the USA?
Željana Zovko: Neither of them may be excluded. They both are Croatian strategic allies. Germany is a close neighbour of Croatia, but Germany has always been an American ally itself, so there is no need to look for differences. However, it must be particularly emphasised that the USA helped us to liberate the country. They provided a huge support; they were our allies and we will thus always be a partner to America in this part of Europe.
NACIONAL: America is expected to cancel visas for the Croatian citizens at the end of 2020. Why did Croatia have to wait for longer than eight years? Wasn’t it its right as soon as it became a member of the European Union?
Željana Zovko: The number of stays, resp. illegal stays in the USA after visa expiry is a problem in this context, which must not be higher than 3% of the total issued visas. However, in addition to Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Bosniacs have Croatian passports and therefore, it is not possible to fully control the number of people leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina and looking for their future in the USA. As the number of stays exceeds 3%, restrictive measures are imposed limiting the freedom of movement of the Croatian citizens living in the US territory. Supposedly, even 1 million citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have dual citizenship. Many Serbs also have Croatian passports, what automatically makes them EU citizens.
NACIONAL: Can you comment on the relation between Croatia and Serbia?
Željana Zovko: Whether they want to admit it or not, Serbia is aware that Croatia is a strategic member-state of the European Union, which might be of help to Serbia on its way towards European integration. However, Serbia must establish a more honest relation with Croatia, starting with the issue of the missed persons. Serbia needs deep reforms in order to be able to share the European values, particularly when it comes to protection of minorities and of the different and the vulnerable ones. Croatia is going to help Serbia on its way towards European integration, but Serbia must meet all the criteria. The young people in Serbia want the European Union. If they want to keep a unified being that is going to reconstruct Serbia, then the politicians must adjust their speech to the fresh young forces, in order to help them be more productive and in other to keep them in their homeland. We expect the new generations in Serbia to build bridges with Croatia through a new dialogue.