- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The leader of Croatia's main opposition party says that he will adopt President Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda should he form the next government of his former Yugoslav republic.
Ivo Sanader, the head of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), said in an interview that "my goal as leader is to create a Croatian version of the Republican Party."
"I want to transform the HDZ into a modern conservative party that will implement free-market policies necessary to stimulate economic growth and the creation of wealth," he said.
Mr. Sanader also said he is a strong advocate of sweeping "income-tax cuts, deregulation and cuts in public spending" to reverse Croatia's sliding economy and 23 percent unemployment rate.
The HDZ leader, who calls himself an "admirer" of Mr. Bush and his "compassionate conservative policies," is a proponent of a pro-growth, economic-reform agenda.
"We are a party that accepts individual freedoms and choice and which shares common values with like-minded conservative parties in Europe and the United States. The HDZ is committed to democracy and a free-market philosophy," Mr. Sanader said last week at a luncheon meeting at the Cato Institute.
He also believes that Croatia should continue the process of joining the European Union and NATO.
Mr. Sanader, 48, took over the leadership of the HDZ in April 2000 after the death of its founder, Franjo Tudjman, in December 1999. Mr. Tudjman successfully led Croatia's bloody drive for independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
However, Mr. Tudjman was criticized by Western governments during the 1990s for his regime's authoritarian tendencies, economic cronyism and rampant corruption. This led to Croatia's growing international isolation and the threat of economic sanctions.
Mr. Sanader concedes the HDZ "made mistakes while we were in power, especially with regard to economic policies and corruption. This led us to fundamentally reexamine our approach."
The election of a center-left coalition government in January 2000, which ran on a platform of economic reform and closer pro-Western links, reduced the once-dominant HDZ to a shadow of its former self. Yet the left-leaning government's inability to overcome the nation's economic woes has led to a resurgence in the popularity of the HDZ. The party won local elections in May.
Mr. Sanader said the revamped HDZ is now considerably ahead of Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democratic Party in public opinion polls with "approximately 30 to 33 percent voter support."
Josko Celan, a political analyst at the Split-based newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija, said Mr. Sanader is committed to changing the HDZ into a Western-style, conservative party. But Mr. Celan doubts whether Mr. Sanader will be able to implement his tax-cutting, anti-statist agenda if he becomes Croatia's next prime minister.
"He would like to get rid of the old image of the HDZ," Mr. Celan said in a telephone interview. "But Croatia and the United States are two very different societies. The tradition of a free-market economy in the United States is much longer and deeper. I believe it is his intention to pass tax cuts and other free-market measures. But I don't know how much he can achieve. He will face a very tough economic situation."
Mr. Sanader said the election of Mr. Bush and Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had an impact on Croatia's electorate, making it more receptive to the possibility of a conservative government capturing power in Zagreb.
"The public feeling toward the HDZ is changing after the Italian and U.S. elections," Mr. Sanader said. "And they are now seeing conservative, center-right parties in a new, positive light."


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