MAY 23 2012 23:01h
For the last few months, Tomislav Karamarko was not running for the President of Croatia, but for the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).
We are talking here about two different campaigns although victory in either of these campaigns will ultimately help win the other campaign. And yet, no matter how interconnected elections in Croatia and elections within the party are, they are to be seen as rather different election processes.
The failure to understand this distinction has led to the failure to understand Tomislav Karamarko and to excessive paranoia surrounding his actions which has been observed in the Croatian media ever since Karamarko was recognized as the odds-on favourite in the HDZ elections.
Karamarko has become a gloomy person with hidden motives. This was represented by a very mild criticism voiced by people who had quite a different standpoint when writing about Tomislav Karamarko only three years ago. Today, they all tend to forget how they glorified him when he was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. Croatian leftist parties expressed their delight over Karamarko taking the office, both in the media and in the Parliament. If Tomislav Karamarko has ever represented a threat to democracy, then it was at that point when everybody praised him.
Oddly enough, Karamarko - the savior of Croatia, has become someone who Croatia should fear. Why? Has he in the meantime abused his duty or betrayed the trust we gave him? The murders of Ivana Hodak, Ivo Pukanić and Niko Franjić were solved more quickly than it had been the practice in Croatia in the past.
The criticism leveled at Karamarko is related to his dealings when he had been the director of the Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA), before he was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs (MUP). Hence, there is nothing new. As a reminder, his appointment was met with great delight by the media and politicians. However, when Karamarko initiated and made it possible for the police to investigate communist crimes as well, it caused shock and was followed by immediate dissolution of his fan club. This is the real motive behind all media attacks targeting Karamarko and also the explanation of his success in HDZ. The international legal obligation regarding non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes in Croatia had been applied only to Homeland War veterans and members of Ustasha and Domobran armies. The idea was to allow for the possibility that crimes can be committed in a defense war, apart from those committed by partisans (members of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia).
Once a favorite, Karamarko has overnight become the leftist parties' worst enemy. Glorification has been replaced by demonization. Everything that Karamarko was praised for has become the subject of dispute: his mandate at SOA and his private career before this mandate.
Over the last two weeks of the election campaign, his opponents saw their opportunity for victory by fuelling the paranoia surrounding Karamarko and by participating in his demonization and mystification. Nor has Tomislav Karamarko done anything to lessen his unfavorable image. It was quite the contrary.
He hid from the media and avoided any public debates. He would relax at electoral gatherings only after the journalists had left. He is not a passionate orator like Milan Kujundzic and looks really reserved in personal contacts. There is no eye contact and he often seems uninterested in the public or his interlocutor.
People began to wonder how Karamarko managed to attract the HDZ delegates, not being a good orator. The answer is obvious. As the former director of SOA and MUP he must have used the secret service professionals working and undercover as well as less subtle police officers in persuading all those delegates. That would be appropriate for a right-wing gloomy person. It does not matter that Karamarko proved on several occasions in his (political) career he would uphold the law also if he did not like it and that he would fulfill his political obligations professionally even when it would politically hurt him. He has suddenly become a person no one believes anything.
Why is it so? Because his opponents claim their unnamed colleagues had some complaints?
Although there was not a single obvious proof for these repeated allegations, no one suspected their credibility. Not even the investigation instigated by President Ivo Josipović helped, which showed there had been no plots. Nobody believed the President either. However, all these stories of Karamarko's threats and ‘making offers one could not refuse ‘defy common logic (unless these offers refer to the position of party's vice-presidency).
Let us start from the secret practice of delegates. Delegates who vote secretly circle the candidate they believe would bring personal or party profit, preferably both. If threatened, they would offer their vote, but secretly they would almost certainly give it to someone else. Besides, threatening thousands of different people (lobbying is the most intensive when electing delegates for the electoral assembly) without any one of them 'bursting' and speaking publicly about those threats is statistically and socially impossible. It is especially so in party campaigns when these whistlers would be greatly helped by Karamarko's opponents.
Threats at secret voting give no results. Kind words are more efficient. But what all the citizens in Croatia would like to hear is not necessarily the same as what the HDZ members would like to hear. And it also goes vice versa. In the last couple of months, let us repeat once again, Karamarko did not lead a campaign for the President of Croatia but the leader of the HDZ.
Karamarko is aware of the fact that Croatia does not want to constantly listen about Bleiburg, communists, Tito, Tudjman, Serbs and wars. But he also knows these topics still arouse great interest of the HDZ delegates. If Ivo Josipovic believes that the Ustasha Snake is still alive in Croatia, the HDZ party members believe even strongly that the Communistic Python has never stopped strangling Croatia. Karamarko knows that Croatia currently does not want to hear about HDZ coming back to power. However, the HDZ delegates certainly want to hear about the plan to do so, if it exists and thereby includes some of them. When the shameful banner was standing in front of the Lisinski Concert Hall, naming all the HDZ delegates, over two thousands of them criminals, Karamarko promised to restore their sense of honor. While Croatia is holding the whole HDZ on the pillar, delegates were flattered by Karamarko's assurance they have nothing to be ashamed of and that they will soon be proud again. Opponents offered delegates the fear of Karamarko, while Karamarko offered them victory in the elections.
Karamarko avoided public debates since he did not want to jeopardize his victory in the party elections. He knew it would not be well accepted, but it was allowed. And it has paid off. The secrecy that Croatia held against Karamarko, which had frightened Croatia, brought him where he is today. He has become the President of HDZ. Karamarko is aware of his flaws in public appearances. He tried to conceal them as he knew best. Not nice tactics, but also not particularly sordid either.
Suddenly Croatia fears Karamarko on account of that mystery he has always been surrounded by and some elements in his CV that had been politically and publicly put in the open by the media even when he became director of SOA and MUP. And it was only because he has become president of the HDZ, the party in the opposition which currently does not decide on anything.
Apart from secrecy, Karamarko is also reproached for not always being politically consistent. It is claimed he has no political capacities because he has never disclosed his political standpoints. The fact that most of his life Karamarko served in positions where political declarations and classifications were considered inadequate or illicit is hereby misused. It is difficult to find any political statements from Karamarko's past to support his current standpoints. It is even more difficult to find a statement or any move to suggest Karamarko did not have the same political beliefs in the past.
The funniest fact of all is that Karamarko was reproached for having led Stipe Mesic's presidential campaign. As much as they do not like Mesic and do not want to admit it in public, it was this very fact that was crucial for most HDZ members to give their vote to Tomislav Karamarko.
It was namely in the course of this campaign that Karamarko showed he could win in campaigns that had been predetermined as lost. He proved to be an excellent organizer who can win from point zero. This was proven once more in his HDZ campaign and it was because of that, and not out of fear, that he got their votes. As much as a part of Croatia does not like it, the HDZ members again wanted a winner for their leader.
In order to make the HDZ a winning party, Karamarko knows he will have to open up to the public and media despite how elusive he had been before. His 'shyness' can become a favorable circumstance for the democratization of the HDZ. His antagonism to public appearances will probably never entirely disappear, which would open up this vast media and political space to other newly elected HDZ officials. This would be especially so if Karamarko accepts the first suggestion of his assistant Drago Prgomet and names the shadow cabinet as soon as possible. A team instead of an individual within one of the two biggest political parties in Croatia could become the reality instead of being just an electoral slogan.
Anyway, Karamarko knows a lot of things are missing to restore the HDZ government leadership. He also knows the expectations of his party members are great and that there is little time. Local elections commence in less than a year, and the first electoral defeat could easily become Karamarko's last. There are many more Croatian voters than HDZ party members and in his communication with all of them he will not be able to avoid the media and annoying journalists.
Therefore we won't have to wait long to get to know Tomislav Karamarko better. The presentation of the HDZ new leader will certainly be different from presenting presidential candidates. It will be adapted to a larger audience. In doing so, Karamarko will probably not forsake the right wing he had mostly already won over, but also not the center which is currently very skeptical and fearsome. Rhetoric will certainly be more up-to-date, and the new party program that is currently being intensively worked on by Davor Stier should be of great help.
Karamarko has conquered the HDZ, but the most difficult job still remains: Now he has to persuade Croatia that instead of fear he deserves a chance.