Croatia: A misguided Critique Of Parliamentary Opposition

Tomislav Karamarko

Tomislav Karamarko

Unlike in most “Western” parliaments, Croatian parliament has no officially elected position/role of Leader of the Opposition; in Croatia the title Leader of the Opposition is unofficially attached to the Leader of the political party holding most seats on opposition benches. Yet, much of the Croatian public and media act towards Tomislav Karamarko (President of the largest political party in parliamentary opposition, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ), as though he occupies an officially elected Leader of the Opposition role and treat his strengths or weaknesses through that prism, which in fact does not exist as a formal and binding role such as the one of the Prime Minister, for example. Croatian Parliament has a number of political parties sitting on opposition benches (Labour Party, HDSSB, Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starcevic etc.), leaders of which are also afforded public and media regard as being in opposition.

Tomislav Karamarko, although not officially the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Croatia cops criticisms left, right and centre and is expected to “save” the economic and political disaster that has peaked in Croatia during the past year   – singlehandedly!

One wonders whether these criticisms are truly for the benefit of the overall good for the country or whether they are political manipulations rooted in the Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition government, which benefits politically from criticisms of a party in opposition in that its own disastrous shortcomings and incompetence blur-up or even get to “look good” at times.

Any political party, which has suffered major electoral losses (such as HDZ did at the last general elections), has an absolute right to regroup and revitalise itself. After all, that’s what we see happening in every democratic country after general elections. Nothing wrong in that, in fact, that is how democracy works (and should work) because every regrouping and every revitalisation of a political party happens in pursuits of winning government at future elections.

The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable. In Croatia this gets complicated by the fact that any leaders of any of the several political parties in opposition can put on a hat of “opposition leader”, on any day, on any issue and in that sea of different “opposition hats” the public is served with a fertile ground for opposing discourse and lack of firm alternative direction. Another role of parliamentary opposition is to utilise the sittings of the parliament as opportunities for scrutinising the policies and administration of the government. This happens in the Croatian parliament, however with no clear and official “government in opposition” sitting on those benches – many sessions end up as multi-edged swords where all that can be heard are rows between individuals that lead to little, if any, changes or constructive debates.

A couple of days ago I came across an article in Vecernji List, written by journalist Zvonimir Despot, which evidences the fact that there is quite significant misunderstanding in Croatia as to what Tomislav Karamarko as leader of Croatian Democratic Union – in the current political and economic circumstances – should or should not do. Apparent misunderstanding of the structure of Croatian parliament and its roles here is not the problem, for people can learn, but when such misunderstanding targets a politician to create the belief and false perception that such a politician is not doing his job (as Leader of Opposition, which does not exist) for the country, then one simply must respond – without bias, without preferences, with pure reality in mind.

Despot writes: “When the government in power is incompetent, when there is no way out of crisis, when it delivers catastrophic decisions, day in and day out, and churns out even more comical statements, then it is logical that a great deal is expected from the opposition. That it be active when it’s not in government, and that it prepares the path for its coming to power, but that it also offers a new program, new people, new freshness, new face of Croatia, an alternative to the voters, and to only distribute armchairs and the same used party machines, let alone imposers”.

While Despot’s writing about what opposition should do falls in line with what opposition does in parliamentary democracies, where lines between government and opposition are officially defined, his attack against Karamarko in the article, to my view, is completely out of order, especially if we appraise the big picture of the Croatian parliamentary structure and official roles. In criticising the opposition, Despot should have also referred to all the other leaders of all the other parliamentary parties in opposition. Karamarko does not have the official mandate to take upon his back the work opposition as a whole should be doing; he is one among several “opposition leaders”, so why single him out? Because he leads the largest number of chairs on opposition benches!? Not justified, in my book.

What Despot could have done, to further democracy in Croatia, is seek that Croatian Parliament actually elects a Leader of the Opposition – and if Constitution does not allow that, then seek legislative changes – who could then take on the role Despot is talking about with accountability and mandate.

In the situation as is – with several political parties claiming and practicing the opposition stake – it is indeed most prudent of the Croatian Democratic Union not to offer its program to the public just yet. Parties in opposition simply do not divulge their secrets, their whole programs too far in advance of parliamentary elections and, hence, protect their right to present their programs to the public when the time for that is right. Otherwise, divulging their programs and plans too far ahead of elections runs the risk of the incompetent government attempting to benefit by plucking out parts of opposition’s programs and developing them as their own.

People in Croatia, it seems, are most disappointed in current government’s performance but it is not the job of the Croatian Democratic Union to stop the government from drowning in its own incompetency.  The job of any political party in opposition is to let the incompetent party in government drown – lose at next elections.

The job of the Croatian Democratic Union, and the job of any political party in opposition is to demonstrate, during the campaigns leading to election day that they can be a better government than the incumbent. It’s too early for HDZ or any political party in Croatia, in opposition, to start their election campaign so far away from election date.

Furthermore, Despot seems to interpret unity, or attempts to achieve unity within HDZ as fostering a “personality cult”, spreading negative connotations against the party. He says: “ … in that party, nurturing of personality cult continues. Whether Karamarko sees that, or not, whether he knows that, or not, whether he likes or dislikes it, whatever, the personality cult is once again in action. How? Well, because HDZ is still steered by practicing all for one, one for all, which is really the usual interparty democratic method”.

I have yet to see a successful political party operate in disunity and without a strong, distinct leader.  To my experience of democratic elections there has never been a party elected into government, which presented itself as disunited and without strong leadership figures presented to the public. While Despot attempts to compare such a scenario of rule by “personality cult” with the cult of Josip Broz Tito, of communist Yugoslavia, one cannot but disagree with this parallel. There were no multiparty democratic elections under Tito and no different personalities among which the public could choose its future leader of government. Furthermore, Despot offers the public a kind of a “sob story” for the embattled ex-Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, whose membership in HDZ apparently hangs in the balance after she had spoken against her own political party (HDZ) in public recently. Reacting to Karamarko’s reprimanding reactions to this, Despot holds that Kosor should be afforded respect regardless of what or how she is!

Politics and governments are all about leadership. If there is no leadership, there is no guidance and, eventually, no real progress. Why someone would compare the building of today’s HDZ leadership to Tito’s way of governing through his personality cult is beyond me! It is unfair because the modern workings of competing political parties within the milieu of democracy actually require personal and party competitiveness that leads to competition as to who can better deliver for the good of the people, of the nation – if elected into government.  Karamarko has inherited a political party in shambles (HDZ) and it stands to reason that much work needs to be done to revitalise it and to regroup it, if it wants to run for government at the next elections. However, to label any regrouping or revitalisation measures in HDZ from spectators’ stand (by journalists or member of public…) as following “personality cult” practices is just plain unfair and, most likely far from the truth. It would be much more productive for Croatia if the media were to worry about educating the public about how its hard won democracy should work in their daily lives, rather than misguiding it by allowing it to think that it has only one party in parliamentary opposition role and that one party may not have the right and the freedom to organise itself as it sees fit. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. Ina, wonderful article.

    I think that TK has a fantastic opportunity which he is squandering. I agree that HDZ needs to regroup BUT I think that the needs of the people should take priority over the needs of the HDZ.

    The role of the opposition party (either official or unofficial) is not just to “question the government of the day and hold them accountable.” but to provide alternate and hopefully better options in policy making. In this role (more proactive than reactive) TK and HDZ can show that they are the better alternative to governing the nation.

    Yes there are other parties in the opposition, but for the most part they are meaningless parties that have little potential of ever becoming the government. HDZ is the only party that does have this potential at this time and TK should be acting in a proactive manner to show the voters what he is capable of and that he (and HDZ) should be the representatives to vote for in the next election.

  2. As for the HDZ being in a shambles. Yes it is. I am quite dismayed that 14 months after the last Sabor election that the HDZ is still wandering around lost in the political desert.

    Action should have been swift in the creation of HDZ v3. HDZ v1 being the original, v2 being the infiltrated and corrupted HDZ of 2000 to 2012 and the hopefully new and improved HDZ v3 which is the HDZ which we all hoped for – modern, strong, just and Croatian.

    TK is a political pro with significant experience in all the world of “intelligence” and backroom processes. I would have assumed that would have been a man of action – would have taken swift and significant action – to show the people of Croatia that he has the right stuff necessary to lead Croatia out of the political, economic and social quicksand we are all sinking in.

    THe fact that Jadranka Kosor is still wasting our time makes me wonder if TK has what it takes to make the tough decisions that need to be made.

    • Likewise Zeljko – not much time left for TK to pick up on speed if he wants to get anywhere

    • Well Zeljko I agree with you to a certain extent but I do not agree that Karamarko, as leader of one of the parties in opposition, should charge forth anywhere fast, that is to show that he or HDZ have what Croatia needs – that would be at this moment like trampling on weeds that recover very soon – the weeds symbolizing the government. Karamarko’s first duty now is to demonstrated to the people that they can trust HDZ again, and given the trouble HDZ has been in, this is a mammoth job. Do not forget that the trouble HDZ has had does not only relate to the corrupt individuals that were within it, especially Ivo Sanader, but to the decade-long attempts to paint Franjo Tudjman black by Stjepan Mesic & co. And, sadly, Karamarko’s predecessors in HDZ did very little, if anything, to try and salvage Tudjman’s reputation from those claws.

      • Michael Silovic says:

        Spectator thank you for bringing that to the front of the topic. First let me say that no one and I mean no one will ever be recognized in our history as a great leader such as Tudjman no matter what is printed or said. But the reality is that we have to move on from that negative trash and seek new leaders who can move us forward in history regardless of party. My point is that everyone can renounce past lies and policies if they are truly for the people regardless of party. yes HDZ has had their share of problems and i am sure in the future we will see other parties with the same type of problems. But HDZ is trying to move Croatia forward for the people and I believe they can if they are honest in their condemnation of their past wrong doings and show leadership ability by putting Croatia first.

  3. Sanader and his cohorts have proven to be more newsworthy, rightly or wrongly, than Karamako. Whilst these bandits are in the headlines HDZ will find it impossible to be seen as a cohesive and honest alternative. The damage done by the thieves and bandits will take some time to repair.
    I expect the current mob of incompetents will eventually become unelectable before the next general election but will HDZ be ready to step back in?
    Look out for the Laborists moving up on the blind side, they have no history to spoil their party …. not yet anyway.

    • Yes, nothing like democracy taking shape: you need to work very hard if you want to be elected.

    • Pavao, you mention the media. The media is part of the problem due to their bias. The media in Croatia is nothing more than a propaganda mouthpiece with an agenda to achieve. Why can’t the “right” cooperate on the creation of an “alternate media” which could be unbiased (or conservative biased).

      The Croatian “Right” appears to prefer to all sink and drown together as individuals than to cooperate and prosper together.

      The Croatian Right needs to learn
      the true value of COOPETITION

      • I agree Želko, the media is a huge problem and is not playing the role it should in a democracy. The TV, both local and national, survive only because the government subsidize it and thus keep peoples’ careers and livelihoods going – not exactly a recipe for objective and investigative journalism is it? The newspapers are mostly in the pocket of those in power so we see only a soft gloved smack for errant politicians (and businessmen) when their actions demand ruin or even imprisonment. ,
        We are awash with hyper-positive weekly papers issued by the County authorities where the virtues and achievements of those in power (HDZ, HNS, SDP… it doesn’t matter) are written large for all to see – published, of course, at tax payers’ expense.
        It makes me sick.

  4. Michael Silovic says:

    As someone who supports Tomi in his efforts to revamp HDZ I also understand why the media is looking towards him for leadership that we do not have in our country. However some people in the media tend to be puppets of current governments. this should by no means exclude Tomi from continuing his Croatia First Policy in order to get elected to high office for himself and his party. there is a lot of mistrust of the party because of past corruption but no party is immune to corruption or mistrust of office. If we look real hard i am sure we can find it happening all over in Croatia be it on the local level or national level.Tomi himself has not been involved in any corruption of scandal and is a very well experienced politician that I believe has the experience we need as a country to move us forward. I personally had issue with the HDZ because of Mesic. I had issues with Tomi in the beginning because of his support for Mesic who amongst others I despise for the many reasons I have stated in the past but this is how politics works in many countries. Now as far as my support for Tomi to become President of Croatia and my support for him I am still at the crossroads in that area.While i acknowledge his experience would benefit Croatia as a whole I can not support him fully at this time until I see more condemnation of Mesic and Sanadars past when it is brought up in public and i need to see him admit the wrongs of the past of his party. This goes a long way in showing the Croatian people that he is not afraid of party loyalty but is more interested in the benefit of the people as a whole. Croatians are forgiving and understanding people but are not stupid and can tell when someone is trying to avoid the past lies. I also strongly believe that the HDZ as a whole if united in a Croatia First Policy can and will take control of our goverment. They must strongly support putting Croatian citizens and our country ahead of anyone including the EU and must defend our right to our sovereignty under any condition. We must make certain that Croatians are the first to be employed in any business being developed in our country and this includes our own infrastructure projects.We must for the sake of national security save our farmers and farm lands because this is our heritage and our culture. We must work hard to get the diaspora back home and assist those with ancestry issues so we bring in all kinds of new perspectives into the country.There are so many things that I can go on about including pensions, taxation etc that need to be done to provide for our country and I do honestly believe that the HDZ can accomplish the task if they have the hearts in the right place. As we get closer to elections and if the HDZ decides to publicly implement a Croatian First Policy I will be more then happy to work on the campaigns to elect them. We have time to make a decision and watch the moves they make because anyone at this stage has to be better then what we have now. ~Za Dom Spremni! ~

    • Miso Sorbel says:

      I’m sitting on the fence when it comes to Tomislav Karamarko, Michael, I agree with you that he needs to show more to earn victory at elections for HDZ next time. But, oh boy, has he got a big job. HDZ needs to not only grow a new head but a body too. Those that led it between 2000 and 2011 have a lot to answer for because even if some looked good – like Jadranka Kosor – she allowed a lot of corruption get through or at least did not attend to it properly, just a case or two – not enough. She did absolutely nothing to stop the alienation of diaspora started by Stjepan Mesic, Ivica Racan and Ivo Sanader.

      • Michael Silovic says:

        I personally did not care much for Jadranka Kosor even though I have to say loudly that no one person can prevent corruption. I do believe very strongly that any goverment official no matter what country they are from should be criminally charged with treason if they steal from the people and it should be mandatory life in prison. This is the only way for it to end. while I am supportive of Tomi in his role in the HDZ this by no means that I will support everyone in the HDZ. As a fascist and nationalist ( No I do not apologize for this nor am I ashamed ) my only candidate for any office in our country must prove beyond doubt that they will put Croatia First. To me party loyalty means nothing if our country and it’s people are not first in any plan or ideas. For to long I have watched the EU dictate to Croatia the terms and conditions on our people , watch as our war heroes are jailed and the ones that are dead smeared with BS propaganda and yet we are no better off and in fact I believe that we as a nation will suffer greatly as we approach entry into the EU and for the years to come. I say this from an economic stand point and more importantly a national security stand point that has to do with losing our identity and culture. In my opinion we are selling our souls to the devil. My gravest concern is that we did not limit our responsibility to allow entry into our country those from the 3rd world and other places that will create even more of an economic hardship on our own people and I have to say again as small of a country as we are we need to be careful with our heritage and identity which we could lose in a matter of 10-20 years from so called refugees. I have faith in Tomi as a leader but he is not the only savior for Croatia but if he wants the support i have to offer then he needs to make sure that he satisfies my concerns that are shared by many Croatians around the world and at home.

    • Michael, well put.
      I too WANT TO believe in HDZ…
      … but am still hesitant and sceptical.

      Miso, in response to your comment about HDZ needing to grow a new body – I can say that while I was in Zagreb I met some people that are part of the “body” and can say that they are fantastic people with the right ideas and the right heart. They just need the right leadership. Sadly it is the people that most want to be politicians, that become politicians and are the wrong types of leaders. The body is good – even thought the head is a bit rotten.

      To date – I see no real attempt at rebuilding
      the relationship with the Diaspora.

      • Michael Silovic says:

        Zeljko you are correct that no real and meaningful attempt has been made to reach out to the diaspora. The reason for that is because most of the diaspora community has learned much more about politics, democracy and freedom, who our friends are in other countries and are people who believe in a Croatia First policy. There are many in the diaspora community who can become leaders in our country and for the better then what we currently have. It is for that reason many political difficulties arise to prevent them from doing so as I am a political refugee of sorts myself. I can only limit myself to political contributions and support and because of my fascist and nationalist stand and I have to figure out if and when I can enter the country and when I can not. I guess this depends on who I offended before I arrive. To some in goverment I am not Croatian I am Yugoslavian and there fore I am denied the right to my citizenship and the right to vote for my motherlands future. I am only one example of the way the diaspora community is treated in this manner.We Diasporas are a threat to those in goverment who are puppets to other governments that want to control and manipulate our country for their own gain and they know that if we come back home everything will change for the better. No matter what always remember Croatia First! ~Za Dom Spremni!~

  5. In this democracy HDZ will just have to fight hard to win votes like any other political party. So the next year or so will be most interesting to watch because the Cock-a-doodle-do Social Democrat led government is doodling rubbish – most of the time.

  6. Zvonimir Despot seems to forget that Social Democrats have a personality up front – Zoran Milanovic – why, heck, the party didn’t even vote or have elections for their leader, they just all said it’s Milanovic. Quite different to what went on in HDZ when Karamarko was elected. So, Milanovic’s appointment as leader of SDP was truly TITO STYLE – why didn’t Despot write about that, I wonder.

    • Petar Seve says:

      Rozic – right on the money! Zoran Milanovic was the only candidate for president of SDP and he also voted for himself. A set up for leadership just like during Tito’s Communist times – no one would dare put forth another candidate for presidency of Communist party. I usually like reading Zvonimir Despot’s articles but this time he has gone off the rails and I wonder why. I mean, since he wrote about personality cult, accusing Karamarko of practicing it why in the world, as a journalist, did he just talk about HDZ and not SDP, which practiced Tito’s methods for real.

    • Croatiaonthego says:

      Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! The media is at it again in Croatia. Trying to table internal party business into newspapers. OK, so there is some justification for it but hey, aren’t journalists supposed to be independent and apolitical. Zvonimir Despot perhaps is but he would have done a much better job if he also wrote in the same article about the other parties – especially about SDP who are so set in personality cult that they didn’t even bother putting up candidates for presidential elections. Just confirmed Milanovic and Milanovic confirmed himself.

  7. Personality cult has nothing to do with internal political party elections and culling of members who breach the party code of ethics. Sorry Mr Zvonimir Despot, but you are wrong in attempting to pass double standards: you accuse Karamarko of personality cult, you accuse HDZ of personality cult apparently because its former president Kosor’s party membership is jeopardized due to her own actions. I’m not a HDZ supporter but I can smell a rat in that newspaper article. You need to see what other political parties do throughout the world’s democracies when they engage in sweeping the trouble away

  8. Phyllis Dieter says:

    Karamarko is not the only politician in Croatia, in the world, who loves himself. But then again, ambition is good! Just imagine if there were no ambition, anywhere…

    • The problem is that in politics many times it is the wrong type of people that are the most ambitious.

      I would love to see civic-minded people be more ambitious, as opposed to the ego-minded that we usually see succeeding in politics.

      Where is the selfless statesman that can set a good example?

      • Michael Silovic says:

        (Quote) Where is the selfless statesman that can set a good example?

        Well I raise my hand but I even have a better idea for a person for high office in Croatia but it is not a statesman but a stateswomen and her name is Ina Vukic ! ( ~smiles ~ )

      • 🙂 Thank you Micheal – one day, perhaps! But until and if, then, we toil from backbenches

  9. Oh dear, Tito again! Please, I do not need to be reminded of that criminal who installed a cult following in Yugoslavia. If there is any personality cult practices today they need to be rooted out, quickly. You can start with Zoran Milanovic – he was installed at the helm of Social Democrats – no ifs or buts about that. At least Karamarko was elected among other candidates for HDZ presidency.

  10. For ANY real change in Croatia to happen, Croatia needs to change its election law, and allow people to vote for INDIVIDUALS, not party lists.

    Without voting for INDIVIDUALS, there is no accountability.

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