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Cablegate: Ruling Coalition Tangles with Church

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ZAGREB 002424

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

EUR/SCE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM HR
SUBJECT: RULING COALITION TANGLES WITH CHURCH

REF: ZAGREB 977

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Prime Minister Racan's SDP may have gotten itself
into a no-win situation by directly responding to what has
been increasingly partisan -- and pro-HDZ -- comments made by
Catholic Church officials in the run up to Croatia's national
elections on November 23. The Catholic Bishops Conference
(HBK) released a pre-electoral message that was non-partisan
at face value, but clearly conservative and supportive of the
opposition parties. Direct criticism of the Church would
spell certain electoral death in a country that is over 85
percent Catholic and still mired in issues of identity and
ethnic nationalism. The SDP at first chose not to respond
but, as Church officials more publicly have crossed the line
into partisan politics, some leading SDP members are finding
it increasingly difficult to remain silent. End Summary.

Catholic Church Issues Election Message
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The Catholic Church in Croatia entered the current
electoral contest on October 30 when the Croatian Catholic
Bishops' Conference (HBK) released a statement that provided
criteria for the faithful to evaluate parties and candidates.
The statement called on Church officials not to promote
individual political parties; however, indications of support
for conservative and right-wing parties were clear to all.
Mentioned first was that parties must possess an
"uncompromising and consistent war on drugs," which
represented a direct rebuff to the ruling SDP, which
supported decriminalization of "soft" drug possession.

3. (SBU) Catholics were also directed not to vote for parties
and individuals who support legalized abortion, euthanasia,
and same-sex marriages. The Croatian People's Party (HNS) in
particular, as well as other members of the ruling coalition,
supported same-sex unions in the discussion on a recent law
on gender equality. Abortion is legal in Croatia, and only
conservative parties on the right have openly opposed it.

4. (SBU) Included among the list of priorities to be voted
for were a "removing of the legacy of the totalitarian
system" -- again, a swipe at the SDP as the successors to the
Communist Party. Voters were told to support those parties
and candidates most likely to forge links between "Croats at
home and abroad," and those who will nurture national
identity and culture. The politics of identity and
nationalism are clearly the domain of conservative and
right-wing parties.

5. (SBU) The issue of property restitution is further
complicating the ruling coalition's relationship with the
Catholic Church in the run up to elections. On October 29,
in a direct challenge to the Government, Archbishop Ivan
Prendja of Zadar told reporters on the margins of the fall
meeting of the Catholic Bishop's Conference that there has
been little progress on restitution of church property
nationalized after World War II. At their annual spring
meeting in April, the HBK made a similar statement claiming
property restitution was at a standstill (Reftel). It was
also in April that the Catholic Church gave the Government a
list of 43 properties for which it was seeking restitution.

6. (SBU) On November 11, the media reported that the HBK sent
the Government a letter requesting urgent restitution of
properties. Prime Minister Racan fell for the bait, and told
reporters the pre-election period "was not an ideal time" to
discuss restitution of Church property. Two days later the
HBK denied they had sent the GOC a letter, but used the
denial to remind readers that the Government's commitments
and obligations to the Church are "well known."

SDP No Longer Able to Turn the Other Cheek
------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Initially the SDP had been willing to ignore the
various jabs and thrusts aimed at the ruling coalition;
rather than respond defensively, members of the ruling
coalition, as well as President Mesic, preferred instead to
praise the Church for urging voters to go to the polls.
Prime Minister Racan has praised the Church for getting out
the vote, yet according to press reports, he also said he did
not believe voters would be influenced by the Bishop's
election message.

8. (SBU) Ingrid Anticevic-Marinovic, Minister of Justice and
a member of the SDP presidency, told us she has heard reports
that reactionary priests have crossed the line and are now
directly encouraging parishioners to vote against the ruling
coalition. We have heard similar reports, particularly in
the ninth and tenth electoral districts that comprise most of
Dalmatia, the strongholds of the HDZ and other more far-right
segments of the opposition.

9. (SBU) Boris Dezulovic, a columnist for the weekly "Globus"
newsmagazine, summarized well what is being heard from the
pulpit -- "if you do not understand the bishop's advice on
who to vote for, your parish priest will interpret for you:
the HDZ." On November 15, the press reported that Ante Ivas,
Bishop of Sibenik, met with opposition candidates running in
the Ninth Electoral District. On November 16, Sime Lucin,
Minister of the Interior and a member of the SDP presidency,
held a press conference in which he confronted Bishop Ivas
over his alleged support for the opposition.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) The SDP and other members of the ruling coalition
have no real option but silence when it comes to responding
to pre-election slights from the Church. Criticism of the
Church, and particularly criticism of Church involvement in
partisan politics -- in a country where there is little
separation of church and state -- would spell certain
electoral death in a country that is over 85 percent Catholic
and still mired in issues of identify and ethnic nationalism.
The best Racan could have hoped for would be silence from
the Church, a prospect that now may be more difficult to
achieve given senior party members' new found willingness to
confront Church officials.
FRANK


NNNN

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