Address by President Milanović to the Croatian public due to the state of affairs in the Military Security and Intelligence Agency (VSOA)

06. July 2023.

Dear citizens of the Republic of Croatia,

Since the Croatian Constitution – to which I pledged allegiance – obliges me to uphold the orderly and coordinated operation as well as the stability of the government, I have decided to warn the Croatian public of a serious threat to the constitutional, legal and democratic order being prepared by the Government of Andrej Plenković.

I was notified yesterday that the Government is planning to put the Military Security and Intelligence Agency (VSOA) under the direct management of the Ministry of Defence thereby bypassing the Constitution.

Instead of abiding by the constitutional procedure for the appointment of the VSOA director and contrary to the established democratic practice, the Government has prepared an unconstitutional arrangement under which the provisional VSOA director would be appointed and relieved by the Minister of Defence.

I want to be clear about this: This is a political attack by Andrej Plenković against the constitutional order and democracy which would take Croatia back to the time when the intelligence services were under the direct control of the ruling party.

The HDZ-led Government now wants, again, party control over the VSOA, which, in that case, would be completely exempt from democratic and civilian oversight.

As President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces, I call on the Government not to do that because I will be forced to respond in accordance with my powers.

I called on the Prime Minister previously, and did so today as well, for us to discuss and agree on a candidate for the new VSOA director. That person must be appointed as envisaged by the Constitution: by consensus between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, with a prior opinion from the Croatian Parliament.

Anything outside that constitutional procedure constitutes political violence that threatens the democratic order in the country.

Let me remind you, one of the foundations of the modern Croatian republic was putting the intelligence and security system under democratic control. It was done by separating the civil intelligence service from the Ministry of the Interior and the military intelligence service from the Ministry of Defence.

Both services were put under civilian control and management of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, officials with the greatest electoral legitimacy. This largely prevented the politicisation of the intelligence services and their abuse by the political parties in power.

Even though I expected that reason and responsibility towards the state would prevail in the Prime Minister, after his statement today I fear that he has been preparing a party attack against the Military and Security Agency for a long time.

As is well known, I proposed to the Prime Minister the dismissal of the current VSOA director back in September 2022. I did so after receiving a report on an emergency inspection by the Office of the National Security Council, which confirmed suspicion of unlawful activities in that Agency.

The Prime Minister received the same report, but did not accept my proposal to relieve the VSOA director of his duties.

The Prime Minister refused all discussion about the new director and to this day has not considered it necessary to agree with me on the new candidate for the VSOA director, even though he is obliged to do so under the Constitution.

Instead of efforts to reach an agreement, we have witnessed blackmail by the Prime Minister who has independently proposed a candidate through the Defence Minister and wants me to accept him.

There can be no candidate for the VSOA director until the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister reach an agreement on the issue. All officers who have or will have an ambition to do that job must be aware of that.

I am confident that Croatian officers are honourable and responsible people who carry out their duties professionally and in accordance with the law, and that they will not participate in the Government’s attacks against the constitutional order.

Nevertheless, it is my duty to warn that I will take all measures within the competence of the Commander in Chief towards military personnel who would agree to participate in attempts to put the VSOA under the political control and management of any political party.

And I call on the Prime Minister to stop the politicisation of the Army and the military intelligence agency which he obviously plans to carry out through the Ministry of Defence.

Should the Government succeed in its plan to put one of the security agencies under party control, there is a danger the same model will be applied to other agencies that are still under democratic control.

The persistent moves and actions by the Prime Minister indicate that there is a plan to put all state institutions under party control.

And not just state institutions, strategic business entities, such as the Croatian Power Company (HEP), have already been or are being subjugated for the purpose of controlling the flow of money.

The suspicious and evident resale of gas – for which the Government has failed to provide any reasonable explanation for days – is a warning that anything can be covered up without sanctions if state institutions are run by one man. And if regulations are adopted only to have his will done or to cover up his omissions, as in the case at hand.

The Croatian public is mature enough to recognise the dangers of such actions, however I considered it my patriotic duty and obligation to draw attention to it in this way.