Andrej Plenkovic (R) during his recent encounter with Viktor Orbán (L) in Prague
Hardly a day goes by without the dispute over the sale in 2009 of the majority stake of the energy company INA to the Hungarian oil giant MOL not appearing in the Croatian press.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has made it a strategic goal to renationalise the INA, as he claims its sale was carried out under questionable circumstances, even suggesting state-sponsored corruption. He went so far as to file a lawsuit against Zsolt Hernádi, Hungarian CEO of MOL, which resulted in a judgment against the Hungarian businessman, who, according to the Croatian court, was guilty of corruption of the former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.
Since then, the Croatian state has lost two major lawsuits against MOL, one in the US, the other just this month before the Swiss Supreme Court. In both cases, the judges ruled in favor of the Hungarian side, ordering Croatia to pay costs and damages.
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However, what started out as a trade dispute is gradually getting uglier with offensive and even nationalistic political undertones. Croatian politicians are now publicly and casually hurling insults and unsubstantiated allegations at the Hungarian government as well as the business community. Fears are that this attitude could stir up anti-Hungarian feelings among the Croatian public. The country’s media, especially those aligned with Plenkovic’s rhetoric, also line up local pundits who predictably conclude that MOL’s stake in the Croatian energy giant is hurting the country’s economy.
Economist Boris Podobnik, for example, speaking recently to the Croatian newspaper Index.hr, was recently one of those who willingly contributed their expertise, saying that the closure of the oil refinery in Rijeka (Fiume) for maintenance is a calculated decision of the Hungarian partner, allowing them to buy diesel for a certain “market price” from the Croatian side. However, he did not elaborate further on how the Hungarian company should benefit from scheduling maintenance at this particular time, or why it would be more detrimental to Croatian interests than carrying out the task on another date.
Nikola Grmoja from the Most parliamentary party went even further. As reported on the pages of Jutarnij.hr newsportal, he claimed in parliament that “What you cannot say, and I can do, is that Hungary, Hungarian intelligence services and Hungarian institutions are behind the MOL”. Grmoja is factually wrong because the Hungarian state owns only 5.2% of MOL, while international investors own more than 27% of the shares. However, as is obvious, Croatian newspapers will gladly publish such misinformation without comment, giving the impression that Grmoja’s reference to a Hungarian secret service conspiracy against Croatia is based on facts.
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Stipo Mlinarić, of the ultra-nationalist Fatherland movement, meanwhile joined the list of politicians accusing the Hungarian prime minister of territorial revisionism, that is, of trying to annex parts of Croatia to Hungary. In a speech against Croatia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine (unrelated to the INA), he said: “We live in very thankless times. Milorad Dodik rules in the Serbian part of Bosnia, in a country built on genocide, Bosnians systematically overvote and destroy Croatian body with electoral law, Orban says Baranja county is his, new Italian PM says that Istria and Dalmatia are theirs. From Serbia they tell us that we are Ustashas.
Mlinaric’s entirely misleading claim is based on a statement made by Viktor Orbán in 2019 when opening a Hungarian cultural center in Croatia with his counterpart, Andrej Plenkovic. “If someone asks Croats living in this part (Baranja), they will answer that they live on the northern edge of Croatia, while if someone asks Hungarians living in Baranya county, they will answer that they live on the southern edge of Hungary. These are people and communities who believe they are living on the edge of something and therefore will never succeed; only those who believe that where they live is the center of the world can succeed,” Mr. Orbán said.
More than 450,000 Hungarians spend their summer holidays in Croatia each year, and trade between the two countries exceeds $2 billion. The damaging side effect of Croatian politicians of all persuasions using the Hungarian card to settle scores could not only damage bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries, but could also shake the confidence of international entrepreneurs hoping to make a safe investment in the country. of the Balkans. This would cause much more damage to the Croatian economy than any real or supposed problems that the sale of INA to MOL in 2009 has caused in the past.