Croatia: Patriotic Talk Is Cheap Without Active Decommunisation

In the history of every nation, including the Croatian one, there are events and happenings, be they tragic, be they joyful and victorious, which are deeply and indelibly engraved in the common national memory and which deeply define the sense of belonging and pride and the nation of people and their common purpose, national identity, and self-awareness. One of such events for the Croatian nation took place in August 1995. Operation Storm happened with unity and determination akin to a mighty force of love for freedom, lasted from the 4th to the 7th of August 1995 and was the final military move to free Croatia from the brutal and genocidal Great Serbian aggressors!

Many of the 550,000 Croats forcefully exiled by the aggressors from the 1991 beginning of the Croatian Homeland War, ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homes could finally start returning to their homes, even if these were violently and wantonly destroyed. For the Great Serbian occupiers and aggressors, it is a sad event, from which, it seems, they have unfortunately not learned any lessons. That’s why during Croatia’s celebrations of these victorious events in the defence of Croatia from brutal aggression Croatian Serbs associated with the aggression against Croatia, even those that are regretfully in coalition with the government choose not to attend celebrations but rather continue fabricating victim stories and alleging war crimes against Croats where there were none. The International criminal tribunal in the Hague had ruled that Serbs committed genocide in several parts of Croatia during their aggression against Croatia and nothing of the sort can be said, or claimed, for Croatian national strategy and policy, while Serbian policy and strategy was destruction and murder of Croats, much like what we are seeing these days is happening in Ukraine with the Russian aggressor. Faced with Serb aggression Croats were forced to defend their lives and preserve themselves.

With all this in mind one simply finds it an atrocity committed against Croatian people to have a government that chooses to embrace a coalition with Serb minority parliamentary group of representatives who were and are with those rebel Serbs that committed mass murders, rapes, torture and wanton destruction of Croats and their homes. If one were to be in a governing coalition with any Serbs in Croatia it would be with those Croatian Serbs that fought alongside with Croats to defend Croatia from Serb aggression not with those who deny the aggression and constantly work on equating the victim with the aggressor.

This government coalition with the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) in Croatia, headed by the deplorable Greater Serbia proponent Milorad Pupovac, is a travesty of natural justice and a continuation of torturing the Croatian people who defended Croatia. It certainly provides the Serb aggressor with permission to continue its anti-Croat propaganda and denial of its brutal aggression of 1990’s. It does absolutely nothing for any reconciliation in my opinion, but rather keeps the fire of bitterness and fear flickering along. Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to hear, I believe for the first time in his mandate, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic with determined resolve calling a spade a spade when it comes to Serb aggression in his speech at the official celebrations in Knin on 5th August, of Croatian victory. While previously he largely circumvented articulating in public the pressing issue for the Croatian people this time he clearly and unequivocally called Serbia and Serbs aggressors against Croatia and Croats! Given his persistent coalition with Serbs whose immediate family members were active in the brutal aggression against Croatia in 1990’s though, one must take this speech as an attempt to score political points rather than a genuine siding with the perils and sufferings of Croatian war veterans and other as a result of the Serb aggression.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in town of Knin 5 August 2022 Photo: Pixsell

“Croats were not in charge of their own destiny for almost 900 years but lived in their territory under various foreign rulers and alien regimes until, at a time of tectonic changes in Europe, owing to the vision of President Tuđman and the courage of Croatian defenders and the unity of the entire Croatian people, we won the right to freedom and the right to our own state,” Plenkovic said in Knin, at the central event marking Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and War Veterans Day and the 27th anniversary of Operation Storm.

Of course, most of Croatians including myself would not use the word “won” as Prime Minster Plenkovic did, we would use the actual word that reflects the truth and that word is “defended” as in “we defended (amidst Serb aggression) our right to freedom and the right to our own state and won the war in which our enemy tried mercilessly to take that right away from us”!

Croatia will not tolerate questioning the character of the Homeland War as a just and legitimate war and it will not allow indictments against its war heroes, he said.

“There have been attempts lately again to malign Croatia with false and futile accusations about the expulsion of Croatian Serbs in 1995 even though it is well known that the leadership of rebel Serbs had forced them, in collaboration with Belgrade, to leave Croatia, as confirmed and proven with documents at the Hague war crimes tribunal by indicted Serb who repented their actions,” Plenkovic said.

He said Serbian indictments against Croatian pilots and Serbia’s expanding its jurisdiction to other countries were unacceptable.

The more so as it comes from a country which launched aggression against Croatia and is still not showing true readiness to acknowledge its responsibility “for the criminal enterprise of the Milosevic regime,” said Plenkovic.

Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic at Victory, Operation Storm, War Veterans, and Homeland Thanksgiving Day Ceremony in Knin, 5th August said that Croatia had a difficult journey and did not get anything for free.

Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic in town of Knin 5 August 2022 Photo: Pixsell

“I have wondered many times why we come here to this same place every year, and every year we always have something same, but also something new to say. What is it that is so powerful and how long will it draw us and guide us – is it a human aspiration and the fear of being forgotten, the dread of vanity that awaits us all when we are forgotten? Is it the messages that need to be sent persistently from this spot, sometimes seemingly in vain? But they are not in vain,” the President of the Republic of Croatia and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces Zoran Milanovic said and continued:

“In the multitude of proverbs that people came up with, including those thought up by lawyers, those of the lawyers stick out for their emptiness and lack of content, particularly the following: ‘One who proves too much proves nothing, one who proves nothing keeps silent, one who keeps silent is defending himself with silence, and one who is defending himself with silence ends up getting hurt’,” said the President of the Republic, adding that this does not presume guilt because Croatia has nothing to be ashamed of. “Croatia had a difficult journey and did not get anything for free, but at a high price, with high interest. We were aware that in the end this country was important only to us, that we were the only ones to really care about it and that everyone else was just an observer, which of course does not mean they were enemies”.

Speaking of the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and negotiations that took place in the last 30 years, President Milanovic repeated that it is necessary to constantly reiterate that Croatia is a guarantor and signatory of the Dayton Agreement. “But that is not enough. The people who gave their lives and health for Croatia expected more – they expected our country to also be an instrument to achieve our goals and just aspirations and to use it whenever necessary. Now it is necessary,” President Milanovic underscored.

“The Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not only disenfranchised, they are insulted, and the people who led this country are also insulted, while Croatia is portrayed as the originator of a joint criminal enterprise. This is being done by the same people who received the highest decorations from Croatia for cooperation during the war. That was forgotten. Croatia must oppose that,” he said, adding that Croatia is not a passive observer, but an active member of the international community that did not join the EU and NATO to be a beneficiary of European funds, but “to use the instruments available to us for our own interest, including to defy those who want to devalue us.”

Talk is cheap when appropriate actions do not follow in support of what one says. As to Croatian Prime Minister and President’s cheap talk or lip service regarding Operation Storm and Homeland War Victory in general is concerned, the talk will cease to appear cheap once both the Prime Minister and the President shake off completely from their ingrained identity and mindset their loyalty to communist Yugoslavia ideals, once the government’s institutions fund Croatian truth contents in arts and sciences, movies and documentaries (instead of funding pro-communist era ones), once the laws of the country prohibit communist insignia and symbols, once they define the modern Croatia with the victory in the Homeland War and discard once and for all the ludicrous and false idea that communists gave Croatia liberty and independence in May 1945. Nothing could be further from the truth as the communists forced Croatia to stay in Yugoslavia, not be independent, be undermined and oppressed by its Serb leaders and the same is permitted to this day! Cease the government coalition with Croatian Serbs and other pro-communist Yugoslavia ethnic minorities who entered the parliament on account of a couple of hundred votes from ethnic minority communities. Change the laws so that ethnic minorities in Croatia receive the benefits and rights on an equal footing away from having a seat in parliament for there are Serbs in Croatia who are also considered minority but sided in Homeland War with Croats; same goes for the Roma or Italian minorities in Croatia, etc. Decommunise Croatia and patriotic talk will cease to be cheap. Ina  Vukic       

Sabre-Rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina

July 2022, Protesters gather outside the Office of the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo: David I. Klein)

For a couple of years now a political crisis looming in Bosnia and Herzegovina has escalated during the past two months towards a crisis worse than the one during the 1992-1995 war that saw 100,000 people killed, that saw genocide committed by Serb aggressor, that saw Bosnian Muslims import Islamic Mujahideen forces in the process of slaughtering Bosnian Croats as if their slaughter by the Serbs was not enough. The Croat population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has reduced drastically since 1995 and is now threatened to become an ethnic minority in cantons or areas across the country instead of remaining one of three Constitutional peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina nationally. The Electoral laws have permitted Muslims to elect Croat representatives and, contrary to Serb and Muslim population Croats have for years been denied the exclusive right to elect their own representatives into the parliament and other assemblies that carry on the governing within the country.

Christian Schmidt, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina overseeing implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the devastating war, said on several occasions in the past few months that leaders of the country’s Bosnian Serb-dominated entity (Republika Srpska/ Serbian Republic) have systematically challenged Dayton Agreement provisions and intensified their activities aimed at usurping powers granted to the federal government. While the Dayton Accords successfully ended the massacres, this arrangement currently exacerbates problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Namely, the creation of the ‘Republika Srpska’ and the tripartite presidency essentially rewarded Bosnian Serb leaders of the Bosnian War with unimpeachable influence over the new Bosnian state. The clear ethnic divisions inherent in Bosnia’s two entities as well as its ethnically segregated presidencies enables its leaders to pit their ethnic groups against each other for political gain and Croats being in lesser numbers in the Federation are systematically being oppressed and quashed by Bosniak/Muslim powers.

High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, German diplomat Christian Schmidt, Schmidt is the eighth international administrator in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the end of the 1992-1995 war. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement (1995) established two separate entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs (Republika Srpaska) and another – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – dominated by the Bosniaks (Muslims) but also consisting of Croats where both Muslims and Croats were to have equal status and power. The two entities are bound together by joint central institutions, and all-important decisions must be backed by both. But when Muslims elect Croat representatives to the parliament and assemblies the issue has been that such representatives have not fully acted in the interests of Croats.

Schmidt said in his May 2022 report to the U.N. Security Council that the actions by the Bosnian Serb entity, known as Republika Srpska, “not only erode the fundamentals of the agreement, but directly threaten to undo more than 25 years of progress in building up Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state firmly on the path towards European Union integration.”

In July 2021, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution put forward by Russia, which has close ties to the Bosnian Serbs, and Moscow’s ally China that would have stripped the powers of the international High Representative immediately and eliminated the position entirely in one year.

The High Representative’s powers have come under criticism from Bosnian Serbs for not offering the possibility of appealing his decisions, which have immediate effect. The Office of the High Representative has dismissed dozens of officials, including judges, civil servants, and members of parliament, since its inception, and overturned other actions.

Schmidt said Republika Srpska’s government and National Assembly have sought to chip away at state institutions by creating parallel bodies in the Bosnian Serb entity. At the same time, he said, representatives from Republika Srpska elected or appointed to the National Assembly and state institutions either don’t participate in decision-making or block decisions not in the interests of Bosnian Serbs.

“This has the effect of impeding the state’s ability to function and exercise its constitutional responsibilities,” Schmidt said.

He pointed to “non-existent” legislative output, stalled reforms required to advance toward EU membership, international agreements on hold, and the failure to adopt a state-level budget for the second year in a row.

On April 16, 2022, Schmidt suspended a law adopted by Republika Srpska that would have enabled the Bosnian Serbs to take over state-owned property on their territory, calling it unconstitutional. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said in an interview that action by Schmidt couldn’t stop the law from taking effect.

Another contentious issue has been the lack of agreement between Bosniaks and Croats in the federation on electoral reforms, which Schmidt said has prompted Croat parties to cast doubt on the holding of the 2022 general elections (due 2nd October, that decide the makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, national, entity and cantonal governments), including by withholding financing for the elections.

Bosnian Croats have for years now claimed debilitating discrimination and demanded that the voting system be changed to make sure that Bosnian Croats alone choose Croat representatives. Bosniak officials have denied the claims and talks on the election reform have been stuck and shape the critical stage of the political crisis currently stifling the country.

Schmidt insists the 2022 general elections will be held in October under the same rules as in 2018, even though at that time calls for electoral laws changes were loud with many believing that the election results were illegal because the electoral laws were not changed to exclusively enable the Croats to vote for their own representatives.

UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, recently called for Bosnian politicians to “turn the page on rhetoric and policies of division,” and instead, “focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country, and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on equality of all citizens.” For this to happen, the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina need to stop being politically rewarded for stirring ethnic strife OR permit equal rights and equal representation in governments of all three Constitutional peoples as designed by the Dayton Agreement. The desire for power (especially Bosniak and Serb) has led Bosnian leaders to lean towards divisive, sectarian politics that allow them to deflect from their own failures. Creating a more inclusive political system that addresses and respects ethnic differences without being solely defined by them would perhaps be an answer.

Christian Schmidt is adamant to impose measures for the re-functioning of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, which include Electoral law changes and changes to the Federation Constitution. The changes to the Constitution, for example, mean that Bosnia’s constituent nations under Dayton Agreement – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – if their numbers in any Federation entity canton are less than 3 per cent, will no longer have representatives in the House of Peoples of the Federation parliament. This possibility has created uproars on all sides as it seriously weakens the strength of a constitutional people on national level. The political atmosphere of intolerance and sabre-rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina is seriously escalating, while Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic are also at loggerheads regarding the best approach that would see Bosnian Croats receive their due powers and rights and avoid a terrible destiny of being reduced to an ethnic minority in the country or obsolete as far as governing of the country is concerned. 

In his Press Release of 28 July 2022, Christian Schmidt said that irresponsible rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina must stop: “Warmongering and inflammatory statements, such as this one by Mr. (Bekir) Izetbegovic, are dangerous and hark back to the tragic conflict in the 1990s. They spread fear amongst all citizens, add to tensions, and in no way contribute to the promotion of cooperation, stability, and reconciliation in the country. Mr. Izetbegovic, together with all political leaders, should work on finding ways to keep the youngest and the brightest in the country instead of advocating for robots to replace them,” said the High Representative.

Considering the legislative and constitutional changes Schmidt looks to impose in Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said this week:  “We hope that the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, will take steps that will ensure at least minimal equality for Croats after the elections on 2 October.”  From where I am standing it is deeply concerning that Plenkovic talks of “minimal equality”, thus planting the idea that he would be happy with crumbs for Bosnian Croats rather than an equal slice of the power bread loaf. Quite scandalous and cowardly really. Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic has been quite clear and stronger in expressing his views. “Across (the border) they are threatening war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They threaten war. Sefik Dzaferovic (Muslim member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency), who was a Mujahideen hostess in 1993, the man was in the committee for welcoming Mujahideen in the security unit in Zenica, now he and his boss are threatening war, drones. That’s a bigger topic for me than anything else. They are trying to beat up the Croatian people there… What is going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina is raging and threatening and politically endangering a nation of people. The issue of national security is not Ukraine, but Bosnia and Herzegovina. The language of hatred and intolerance is rampant in the streets of Sarajevo. The High Representative is being threatened, he can blame himself for that, because he is amending the Election Law and the Federation Constitution, which does not give Croats anything, but even that is considered a bit too much. He panics under the pressure of the Mahallas and Kasabs, the pub, the street or the Berlin police …,” Milanovic told the media during this week.

Bosnian Croats appear almost as an endangered species in that political environment with inadequate voices and inadequate propping supports from outside, from official Croatia. Bosnian Croats want to ensure that only Croats can vote for the Croat presidency by creating their own electoral district, to ensure that Bosniaks/Muslims cannot use loopholes in the existing electoral law that allow them to vote for Croat representatives as they have been doing and thus endangering Croat interests and rights. On the other hand, if public claims threaded through the media that Christian Schmidt is aiming to Islamise Bosnia and Herzegovina surface with substance then it will be clear that Croats are to be more disadvantaged than ever regardless Schmidt’s new proposed legislative changes that aim to provide freedom of all Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens to return to their homes where they had lived before the 1990’s war without fear or impediment. As 2nd October draws near this sabre rattling that’s been happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina will either die down or increase in intensity to perhaps a new armed conflict with alarming consequences beyond the country’s borders. Ina Vukic 

Croatia: Full Steam Ahead Towards Eurozone!

It is official: On January 1, 2023, the Euro will be Croatia’s legal tender and payments with the existing Kuna is to be phased out completely within two weeks that will follow.

The European Union has July 12, 2022, removed the final obstacles to Croatia adopting the euro, enabling the first expansion of the currency bloc in almost a decade as the exchange rate fell to its weakest level against the dollar in 20 years.

The European Union (EU) finance ministers, in the presence of Croatia’s outgoing finance minister Zdravko Maric, approved July 13, 2022, three laws that paved the way for Croatia to become the 20th member of the eurozone on January 1, 2023.

Created in 1999 among 11 countries including Germany and France, the euro has gone through seven previous enlargements starting with Greece in 2001. The appeal of euro membership is reflected by the last three expansions, which brought in Baltic states between 2011 and 2015. The last EU member country to join the European single-currency area was Lithuania in 2015.

Croatia’s acceptance into the European Union on the 1st of July 2013 evidently marked the beginning of the end of the Kuna as Croatia’s currency ever since its proud introduction amidst the ravages of Homeland War during which Croatia defended itself from brutal Serbian aggression on 30th May 1994. Entering the European Union in 2013 brought with it many changes be they for better or for worse and one of the most significant is upon Croatians with Croatia entering the Eurozone in 2023.

Many predict that the effect of this transition will make life even harder for ordinary people especially pensioners while others continue convincing the people that bringing in the euro will be better than “the invention of sliced bread”. Preparations are underway to ensure that everything is ready for the new currency. The production of coins and monetary paper notes has commenced full speed ahead during the past two weeks.

Despite the “very strong challenges” of high inflation and dented economic growth, Croatian outgoing finance minister Zdravko Maric said he is pleased to see his country switch to the euro. At this time when the Eurozone itself is facing rising levels of inflation and stagnating growth, the decision for Croatia to join the EU’s common currency may come as a surprise to quite a few.  A lot of economists in Germany, however, see things differently. Especially as the next candidate after Croatia is Bulgaria, which has already applied for membership and aims to become the 21st country to introduce the common currency in 2024. Croatia is the third poorest country in the EU, Bulgaria with a gross domestic product of less than 10,000 euros per capita ranks last in economic power.

Croatia is not giving up a stable currency, but rather hopes to benefit from the more favourable debt conditions in the monetary union. The country relies more than any other EU state on tourists, who generate a fifth of gross domestic product and find holidaying much easier when they needn’t grapple with exchange rates. Meanwhile, most private and corporate bank deposits are held in euros, along with more than two-thirds of debt totalling about 520 billion kuna ($75 billion). Euro-area membership will lower interest rates, improve credit ratings, and make Croatia more attractive to investors, according to Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujcic.

The European Central Bank has already announced that it will use a new monetary policy instrument to ensure that interest rate differentials within the monetary union remain low during the crisis. The Germany based Kiel Institute for the World Economy worries that because of years of misguided developments in the Eurozone with ultra-loose monetary policy and lax debt rules, the monetary union is only attracting the wrong people. Brussels was desperate to give the signal that the Eurozone is growing, especially since Brexit. And it is noted that Croatia’s entry into the Eurozone represents a most significant event for the EU since Brexit. It is suggestive of concern that strong EU member states of Sweden and Denmark still do not want to introduce the euro or enter the Eurozone. The Kiel Institute has also expressed the opinion that as long as the major problems of the Eurozone monetary union have not been solved, the circle should not be widened: “As long as you haven’t stabilised your house, you shouldn’t grow.

The Euro has been the currency of the European union since 1999 and with Croatia joining the Eurozone, changes will be visible in the upcoming period from small households to large companies. The question on everyone’s mind is will life be more costly with the Euro?

Joining the euro requires a country to meet a set of economic conditions. These relate to low inflation, sound public finances, a stable exchange rate and limited borrowing costs.

“It’s a wonderful club to be a member of, but it requires commitment, dedication, continued respect of the rules, and I know that we can expect no less from Croatia,” European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said.

For Croatia to be able to switch to Euro many conditions had to be met. As stated in the Maastricht Treaty, there are four conditions for entering the Eurozone:

Price stability – inflation rate cannot be over the average inflation rate of 3 member states with the best price stability enlarged by 1,5 percentage points;

Sustainability of public finance – the general country deficit to GDP ratio must not be over 3% and the general country debt to GDP ratio must not be over 60%;

Currency stability – at least 2 years must be spent in ERM II (European Exchange Rate Mechanism) without significant oscillations or devaluation to central rate;

Convergence of long-term interest rates – interest on long-term government bonds may not supersede referent values of interest on bonds of the 3 member states with the best price stability enlarged by 2 percentage points.

Croatia’s government adopted a national plan to replace the Croatian Kuna with the Euro in December 2020. The main goal of the plan is to ensure a seamless transition to Euro. One of the key factors in achieving this, lies in the hands of the IT sector that will need to adapt all systems to the new currency. Also, the new currency must be physically distributed among the private, corporate, and public sector. Even though everything will be paid in Euros from the 1st of January 2023 there will be a transition period of two weeks in which people may pay with Kunas but must receive Euros back. Non-cash transactions will be exclusively in Euros. Banks will exchange up to 100 bills or 100 coins of Kunas to Euros in one transaction free of additional fees which will also ease the way to fully integrating the Euro in the economy.

To better prepare for Euro all prices will be listed dually in Kunas and Euros from the 5th of September 2022, as the first Monday in September, and will be displayed as such until December 31st, 2023. Aside from the price being listed in both currencies, the fixed exchange rate will also be displayed.

This will ensure people getting used to the change of prices before the Euro is implemented. Salaries will also be displayed in dual currency and converted to Euros according to the fixed exchange rate so there shouldn’t be a negative financial impact to people’s lives in general. Getting used to the new prices will however take a while to get used to even if the prices do not rise. The government will also try to regulate sellers so that prices do not rise significantly though surely everyone will feel the differences due to the currency change.

Whether the introduction of the Euro will bring Croatia more benefits or more difficulties remains to be seen in the New Year but as with any change it is up to all of Croatians to make the whole process unfold as easily as possible and move forward into the future with the hope of it being a better one for Croatians and for future generations to come. Hopes as they go are intangible and real living brings them to life either in the positive or negative sense from everyone’s perspective. Almost half of the right-wing parliamentary opposition in Croatia consider the introduction of the euro at this time as unadvisable and damaging to the already lowered living standards that are under enormous downward pressure with increasing inflation, energy crisis and war in Ukraine. Ina Vukic

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