The upcoming protest in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, scheduled for October 13, continues to divide right-wing groups, with prominent figures increasingly rejecting media speculations that the protest - nominally intended to raise awareness about unsolved war crimes - is a thinly veiled attack on Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
On Thursday, leader of an association of retired army generals (HGZ), Pavao Miljavac, appeared on N1 to comment on the group's decision not to attend the event after meeting with Prime Minister Plenkovic on Wednesday, even though it decided to allow its members to individually decide whether they would take part in it.
"We as an association, and as wartime generals who led all these war veterans, support the idea, and believe that processing war crimes should have started sooner... We are in favour of state institutions tackling this as thoroughly and as soon as possible, but we are against publicly alarming the entire population of war veterans. No actual results would come out of it, people will just go home, and nothing will happen. Nobody knows how this would end up, we have marginal political parties suddenly showing up, who announced they would bus in supporters, nobody can safely predict that there would be no incidents," Miljavac told N1.
Miljavac said that the group had long discussions on whether to support the protest, and arrived to the conclusion that a series of questions arose which have no clear answers at this time.
"We suddenly have this protest, we don't know who's paying for it, who initiated it, who's behind it. We don't know any of this, although we have doubts. We need concrete answers to these questions," Miljavac added.
He also commented on media speculations that the protest is a barely veiled attempt of attacking centre-right Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic by a right-wing faction of his HDZ party, spearheaded by the party's second-in-command, Milijan Brkic.
"These are matters that must be cleared up within that party, and on the government level. If that is really so, than this is a serious matter... If Milijan Brkic is behind this, then it's not just a party issue, it also has to do with the country," Miljavac said.
Meanwhile, a prominent member of HGZ, Zeljko Sacic, resigned his membership of the organisation over the matter. In an exclusive comment for N1 television, he explained that his decision is a form of protest against the group siding with the government and the ruling HDZ party's stance, which decided not to support the protest.
"On Tuesday we at HGZ had a meeting, and I predicted that the prime minister might call Miljavac for a meeting and request loyalty and support in terms of solidarity with Plenkovic's decision not to support the Vukovar protest. I warned HGZ members not to accept this, as this would create a gap between war generals and war veterans. I said the sensible decision to make would be to support a protest which calls for investigating war crimes. My argument was that the prime minister had made a mistake, that he failed to show political wisdom, that he could have used this for his political option," Sacic told N1.
Mayor of Vukovar, Ivan Penava - himself a member of HDZ - had also met with Prime Minister Plenkovic in September, and told reporters after the meeting that the intended protest is not directed against the government in any way, saying that "this is my government, this is my prime minister".
However, speculations that this is yet another attack on Plenkovic by right-wing factions of his own party increased after the ultra-conservative group U Ime Obitelji ("In the Name of Family"), which had previously organised protests against his government's decision to ratify the Istanbul Convention earlier this year, had expressed support for the protest. In addition, it was announced that at the time of the protest, a sports games tournament organised by the national association of disabled veterans Hvidra would take place in Vukovar, meaning thousands of war veterans would be in town at the time of the protest.
Later in September, Hvidra had decided to cancel its sports games event set, saying it wished to avoid allowing war veterans to become manipulated by politicians.
It's chief, Josip Djakic, also a member of HDZ, commented on the decision and the protest on Thursday.
"We had all initially supported Penava's initiative, all the institutions and the prime minister gave him reports on what they are doing (to tackle the problem)... What bothered me was that without the knowledge of Hvidra he first confirmed he'd host Hvidra sports games, and then he announced the protest afterwards. When the (ultra-conservative party) Hrast came forward to support the idea, followed by U Ime Obitelji, and the association of (right-wing paramilitaries) HOS, it's become clear who joined the protest and why. Some of them want to try toppling the government and Prime Minister Plenkovic, although I believe this was not Penava's original intention," Djakic said.
Another prominent war veteran, Tomislav Josic - best known for organising protests against the official use of Cyrillic-script signs in town in 2013, and currently advisor to the Vukovar mayor for war veterans issues - said on Thursday that the only topic of the controversial protest should be the inefficiency of state institutions in prosecuting war crimes, adding that any attempt to politicise the event or incite hatred was not welcome.
"The organisers - the city of Vukovar led by Mayor Ivan Penava who launched the protest initiative - distance themselves from any and all attempts to change the topic of the protest rally and turn it into a political event aimed at manipulating the victims in order to score cheap political points," Josic said in a news conference in Vukovar on Thursday.
Organisers expect at least 15,000 participants, Josic said, reiterating that the protest was organised only by Penava.
"The point of this rally is not how many people will attend. We can bring 500,000 people here, but to what purpose when people who will attend it can't do anything to change the situation? Unfortunately, those who can change the situation will not even come and they are not interested in this protest," Josic cryptically told reporters.
Josic repeated that the peaceful protest in Vukovar is Mayor Ivan Penava's own idea, which came about after many years of inefficiency of state institutions and "their ignoring of the voice of Croatian victims".
Josic said that private security companies would be hired to maintain peace and ensure safety of all participants. No politicians are scheduled to address the event, and the organisers said there would also be no entertainment programme on offer.