- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

The leader of a Croatian opposition party has called for the Bush administration to switch its support from the elected socialist government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan to a center-right coalition committed to economic reform and the war on terrorism.
"Unfortunately, Croatia currently has a left-wing government, in which a key role is being played by the former communists," said Ivic Pasalic, the leader of the Croatian Bloc Party, during an interview this week.
Mr. Pasalic, who has been dogged by charges of corruption, said his visit to Washington was part of a strategy to convince the Bush administration that the ruling center-left coalition in Zagreb has failed to implement necessary free-market reforms.
He also said that Mr. Racan's government has not been effective enough in prosecuting the war on terrorism especially in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there are "dangerous trends in which the strong influence of Islamic fundamentalists is on the rise."
"My message to the Bush administration is a simple one: Croatia can be a stable partner in the fight against terrorism," Mr. Pasalic said, adding that during the 1990s Zagreb played a key role in providing the Clinton administration with information about Islamic terrorist cells operating in Bosnia.
Mr. Pasalic, a former adviser to the late President Franjo Tudjman, is seeking to forge a center-right coalition of conservative and Christian parties that will challenge Mr. Racan's government in upcoming national elections expected later this year.
The former communist Social Democratic Party (SDP) was elected in early 2000 on a platform of opening Croatia's economy and forging closer links with NATO and the European Union. But recent opinion polls have shown the popularity of Mr. Racan's SDP has plummeted in the face of an economic crisis.
The primary beneficiary has been the main opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), led by Ivo Sanader, which now enjoys about 30 percent voter support, compared with 20 percent for the SDP. The Croatian Bloc is in single digits, ranging between 3 percent and 8 percent.
Mr. Pasalic, 42, hopes that by leading a broad array of small conservative parties, the Croatian Bloc may enter into power as a junior partner in a coalition government with the center-right HDZ.
However, its prospects are clouded by constant accusations of corruption against Mr. Pasalic dating from the mid-1990s. Viewed as the "Dr. No" of Croatian politics, Mr. Pasalic has been attacked in the Croatian media for his purported role in masterminding shady privatization deals during the Tudjman regime, when the HDZ economic elite plundered the country's public assets.
There is still no evidence proving that Mr. Pasalic committed any financial misdeeds. Yet the former Tudjman aide has been politically wounded by the negative publicity, dimming the chances of an alliance with the resurgent HDZ.
"In politics, formal accusations are as important as substantial ones," said Slaven Letica, a political analyst and economics professor at Zagreb University. "The Croatian public believes that he was involved in the corruption of the 1990s and that hurts him politically."

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