Croatia has been hit with yet another corruption scandal – the JANAF affair. The CEO of JANAF Dragan Kovačević was arrested and he is accused of receiving bribe of around two million euros. JANAF (Jadranski Naftovod) is a Croatian pipeline transportation of crude oil company that operates in Southeast and Central Europe. However, the corruption scandal received even more attention when Croatian President Zoran Milanović and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković started accusing each other or defending their role in the whole JANAF affair, sometimes directly and the other times more indirectly.
JANAF and the main JANAF actors involved have been under the investigation led by USKOK (Ured za suzbijanje korupcije i organiziranog kriminaliteta/ Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime) and DORH (Državno odvjetništvo Republike Hrvatske/ State’s Attorney Office of the Republic of Croatia). Many things have been happening behind the scenes before the investigation and the scandal finally became known to the public. Croatian President Zoran Milanović, former lawyer and former Croatian Prime Minister (2011-2016), pointed out some inconsistency and concerns regarding the investigation as well as potential abuse of power.
Z. Milanović emphasised that the investigation seems to be prolonged for more than ten months, and he did not understand why considering there were evidence of the bribe, money, and people involved. He also stressed out that he was a Prime Minister, so he is more than well aware of PM’s powers. Then he followed up with openly accusing both DORH and current Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković of inadequate investigation and rule of law.
PM Andrej Plenković initially tried to use JANAF affair as a tool to push forward a perception of the Government led by him as an incredibly successful one with one of the main priorities being combating corruption. Nevertheless, now he is facing serious accusations, not only by the President, whilst new information and crucial details keep being released that do not favour PM Plenković.
So why is the JANAF affair so important for Croatia?
Firstly, it is important because although on one hand it is receiving attention, on the other, the public is almost not surprised. There can be noted a worrisome trend in Croatia concerning the public being used to the huge corruption scandals that emerge. The public numbness to violation of democratic principles is troublesome and should not be taken lightly. The public is one of the key players in ensuring the political echelon is held accountable. One of its core responsibilities is to protect and defend substantial democracy rather than allow a façade of procedural democracy to be the backbone of country.
Besides that, the JANAF affair is also demonstrating some good aspects such as publicly calling each other out. Some may consider Croatian President’s and Prime Minister’s communication inappropriate. It may be unprofessional in some instance, but simultaneously needed. Different branches of the Government and of public bodies should not immediately back each other up simply because they are politicians in power. President Z. Milanović pinpointed serious issues and potential violations that happened during the investigation, not only by those who took bribe, but also by those who are supposed to combat bribery, organised crime, and contribute to Croatian rule of law. Hence, the attention should be more on the content of Z. Milanović’s and A. Plenković’s comments rather than on appropriateness of their way of expressing themselves because Croatian problems are not minute ones.
Moreover, JANAF again reminded us on the global, not just Croatian problem – viewing people through group identity. During this corruption affair, some parts of the public tend to immediately back up PM Andrej Plenković who leads Croatian right-wing political party HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica / the Croatian Democratic Union), or the President Z. Milanović, currently an independent, but formerly was a President of left-wing political party SDP (Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske/ The Social Democratic Party of Croatia). People need to realise that they can be right-wing, left-wing, or centre oriented, and still not blindly support current representatives of those parties. One should believe in principles. Representatives exist to implement and stick up for those principles, but they themselves are not principles or the core of belief that right, left, or centre party stands for. The public must not allow for this affair to be turned into these versus those. The public must focus on violated and broken principles, as well as potential abuse of political power.
JANAF affair is yet ongoing, and new information keeps being released. The public must demand justice and transparency. Public involvement is crucial for authorities to be pressured and for matters to be resolved. Still, the public’s engagement should not be happening sporadically. The public’s voice needs to be louder even without occurring affairs and scandals.
Otvoreno.hr, VELIKA AFERA JANAF Osumjičeno čak 13 osoba, doznalo se tko su i za što ih se sve terete, September 2020, <https://otvoreno.hr/vijesti/velika-afera-janaf-osumjiceno-cak-13-osoba-doznalo-se-tko-su-i-za-sto-ih-se-sve-tereti/321146>