On 24 September Croatian Prime Minister did deliver the historic speech on the state of the nation and it was no speech of a credible and serious statesman. In my previous post I had in mind that this speech could deliver either a prescriptive confrontation with the economic and social chaos that’s sweeping across Croatia, or a coiffe or cover up of that chaos with an indulgence in political confrontation with the opposition.
Zoran Milanovic had actually chosen to deliver a lecture of smoke and mirrors, evidently expecting that the parliament and the people would end up thinking how his government actually has the necessary capabilities to deliver the badly needed changes and improvement to government’s performance in reducing the critical budgetary deficit and improving economic performance.
According to Croatian TV news HRT, Milanovic laid out four directions his government will be taking in order to bring Croatia out of its crisis and these are: installing law and order in all spheres of life, consolidation of state finances, restructuring and rationalization of government assets and public sector, and, introducing and implementing measures for the rehabilitation and growth of the economy! However, not a single example or specific measure or ways his government plans to deliver on these grand matters that mean life or death.
“In order to realise our goal, which is a reduction of budgetary deficit under 3% mark, we must combine intervening measures with reforms in the next three years,” Milanovic said in parliament!
No word about any specific reforms! Just smoke and mirrors that big ideas and big words usually create!
With regards to the “Lex Perkovic” scandal, also referred to in my previous post, Milanovic said that an agreement has been reached with the European Commission and that we will all find out about it in the coming days. He was adamant that no sanctions by the EU against Croatia will be imposed and that he will continue his battles in showing the EU its discriminatory practices regarding judicial cooperation between member states of the EU. He babbled and ranted until time ran out so he did not have time to speak about the issue of unrest regarding introduction of Cyrillic (Serbian) script on public signs in Vukovar.
Milanovic’s supporters were the only ones (of course) who said he delivered a marvelous speech. The opposition parties all thrust their thumbs down with the general feel that the past two years have been thrown into the wind/ nothing of note for improving the economy achieved. Tomislav Karamarko, leader of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) went as far as saying: “You (the government) managed to devastate this country economically, ideologically and morally – you are ripe for departure…”.
25 September came and the Croatian parliament and public were made aware of the agreement reached with EU regarding “Lex Perkovic”: Croatia must and will as a matter of urgency cancel that rushed law that was evidently brought by the government in breach of Croatia’s EU membership agreement and draw up a new one that would follow EU requirements to the letter. Croatian government has set 1st January 2014 as the latest date by which the new law on cooperation on criminal arrest warrants will be implemented in Croatia.
Viviane Reding of the EC said that they would wait and monitor the situation to the very end and then decide what to do. Orsat Miljenic, Croatia’s minister of justice, said: “… we are changing the Constitution to remove the statute of limitations for serious murders…we have a lot of such cases including political murders committed during the past including during the communist regime … we wish to solve those because we don’t want the perpetrators to enjoy the protection of statute of limitations …”.
Only the future will show whether Miljenic’s words regarding prosecuting communist crimes are also a scenario of smoke and mirrors! Certainly, if we’re to judge by the past inaction, it’s all thick smoke and brilliant mirrors; it’ll likely be up to someone other than a pro-communist government echelons to bring about real justice for the victims of communist crimes.
And then came 26 September! Croatian parliament reeled in disbelief when presented with the measures the government is planning to introduce for improving the economy and reducing budgetary deficit. If you suffer from vertigo, this was the time when you would have dropped to the floor, paralised from more of the same futility!
For the period between 2014 and 2016 the government plans to rail in 37 measures in its economic and fiscal politics that will, according to them, usher Croatia into some state of economic and fiscal bliss! All these measures seem to be geared for, is putting out the fire, or at least some of it, in order to prolong the misery that increasing poverty is bringing to the streets.
The key measures are an increase in PDV (goods and services taxes) from 10 to 13% on baby food, oil, flour, sugar, water, and hospitality and tourism services; an increase in excise duty for tobacco and petrol.
Sale of public assets and further borrowing.
Reductions in beneficial or value-added pensions.
Reforms in public sector will include reforms to salaries and reduction of opportunities for promotion, reduction in expenses or government contribution to prescription medicine and outsourcing ancillary services such as cleaning, food services etc.
It’s obvious to everyone except the government, it seems, that all these measures are not at all likely to significantly reduce the budget deficit nor are there any sure tell-signs that there will be the 1.5% growth in economy during the coming year that the government says it will achieve. All these measures are more of those erratically imposed by this government during the past two years, which have brought no palpable relief.
HDZ’s reaction to all this: initiate a motion of no confidence in the government to be placed on parliament’s agenda even as soon as the coming week. HDZ, the largest opposition party holds strongly that the Social Democrat led government has demonstrated a severe lack of fiscal discipline in closing the critical black hole of budgetary deficit that’s leading Croatia into ruin.
Croatia’s finance minister Slavko Linic seems to shrug off all the critics with evident but concerning ease: “we spend more than what we earn,” he says (HRT news, 26 September 2013), “…there’s a limit to how far you can go in savings so you must borrow, and borrow more to close the gap left by budgetary deficit…”
Distressingly, this reminds me of how things were during the times of Tito’s communist Yugoslavia – the productivity of majority of state owned companies was not even close to cover bare wages for their workers but Tito knew how to avoid panic and fear in the workers and he kept on borrowing and borrowing and eventually even the birds on the trees tweeted: “It’s going to be alright, Tito got another loan for us.” So, is Croatia falling deeper and deeper into the waters where the descendants of communists and ex-communists will once again bring the country to its knees? Surely that is not the destiny for which so much blood was spilled, so many lives lost in the plight for democracy! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)