Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the newly elected President of Croatia has achieved an amazing victory even though the winning margin between her and her opponent Ivo Jospovic in numerical value is considered minimal or very low. But to achieve victory in so profoundly politically divided country at this particular time of economic slump and brinks of threatening bankruptcy is a result worthy of greatness in its own right.
Since Sunday January 11, when the highest voter turnout in the last 15 years voted for a new president – aroused from a rather deep democratic sleep by the emotions unleashed by the Centre-Right (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and coalition currently in parliamentary opposition) and Centre-Left (Social Democrats and coalition currently holding government) face-off – Croatia is being forced to take the temperature of its body politic. For months, the former have, rightly so, accused the government as incompetent and responsible for the country’s dire economic woes with unemployment running at over 19% and some 70% living in relative poverty, while the latter wrongfully, in efforts of imputing collective guilt, keep accusing the former as being a criminal and corrupt organisation because its former leader, Ivo Sanader, had been convicted of corruption and fraud.
To demonstrate the deep divide in the country one needs only to look at the reaction of Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic: even three days after the presidential victory he has not found the decency to congratulate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and thereby acknowledge, if not applaud, the democratic rights expressed through voting by Croatian voters that voted for her! Furthermore, he announces his unwillingness to collaborate with the new president of his state!
So the great irony of Croatia’s current situation is that it’s facing both a cliff and a standoff. Grabar-Kitarovic has won the election despite the enormous and seemingly unconquerable divisions in the country. The division is building up into a vicious standoff between former communists (often representing those who did not want the breakup of communist Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s) and those who fought and defended the nation’s right to self-determination and an independent Croatia. But all are facing a looming “fiscal cliff,” and the new President must overcome the divide and navigate towards achieving a greater unity within the nation against the backdrop of Centre/Right – Centre/Left face-off.
Indeed, Grabar Kitarović stressed in her first interview that now was a time that Croatia united and did not become divided which is what has happened over the last few years. She stated that she wants now to get to work on lifting Croatia out of the deep economic crisis it is in together with Prime Minister Milanović. Grabar Kitarović, says she will call Milanović herself if he does not call in the next few days.
That is a sign of a good leader: duty takes priority. Something Croatia’s Prime Minister Milanovic evidently lacks. A true leader is a master of bringing together two opposing bodies to form a single, cohesive group – or at least as cohesive as possible. The extreme polarisation in politics has caused a splintering of the public’s perception, trust, and faith in government and the government insists on staying put!
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has worked very hard campaigning for a better Croatia and captured the trust of multitudes. But the hard part of her path to the presidency is just getting started. The Social Democrats holding government and their political coalition partners are behaving like two-year-olds with a temper-tantrum! They’ve dug their heels in and keep attacking Croatian democracy with utterly unfounded and unfair nationalistic slur and awful vilification against those voters and the political parties who stand by Grabar-Kitarovic. Croatia is so very lucky to have a new President in Grabar-Kitarovic who knows well how to handle the twisted suggestions that try to portray her modern conservative politics as akin to nationalism, and blow them right out of the water. She is a world-class politician who has earned most of her stripes living and working in Western democracies, which cherish patriotism and unity towards the benefit of all.
But elements within those same democracies play the same hateful games with nationalism as do Croatia’s former communists who did not want an independent Croatia. So, often you may across articles by BBC, by AP, by New York Times … that enter into the same unfounded allegations of nationalism against Grabar-Kitarovic as Croatia’s former communists.
For example, in New York Times article “Croatians Elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as Their First Female President” (Jan 11, 2015) Joanna Berendt and Joseph Orovic, without any reference or specification of facts they rely on, say that the victory speech given by the Croatia’s President elect on Sunday 11 January “suggested a return to the nationalistic politics that dominated Croatia in the postwar dissolution of Yugoslavia”. They quote a part of Grabar-Kitarovic victory speech “Let’s go together. A difficult job awaits us. Let’s unite. Let’s unite our patriotism, love and faith in our Croatian homeland,” and in it see nationalism with negative connotations!
One needs to wonder why Berendt and Orovic found no other to quote but Mr Dejan Jovic, who is a former advisor to Croatian president Ivo Josipovic and recently sacked from his advisory position as Croatian media reported in association with his abominable publicised views that the 1990 Croatian referendum on secession from communist Yugoslavia was “very illiberal”, a known opponent of Croatian independence and the breakup of communist Yugoslavia, to flesh out their mean-spirited and utterly unfounded nationalistic innuendo.
The authors of this NYT article lead us to believe that patriotism and sticking together for the betterment of ones nation, democracy and independence are something nationalistically negative!
My goodness, what might they have said about the part of US President Barrack Obama’s 2012 victory speech when he said: “Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward…It (union) moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people”?
Or is this NYT article attempting to portray a message that self-determination is not a human right of all nations?
No doubt about it: Croatia is at crossroads to either economic/existential ruin and political unrest or to unity and economic prosperity. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic wants the latter and is prepared to work hard to achieve it.
So, I would say that one of the most important tasks ahead of her, preferably within the first three months of her mandate, is to confront reality and take action. Although her presidential powers for direct action may be limited I would say there are more ways than one to achieve a goal. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)