Croatia, like most other democratic countries, is well entrenched in the era of multi-party political coalitions and these have, particularly since early-2000’s become the norm rather than the exception. Long gone are the days when one party or two-party coalition could secure the government or majority seats in the Parliament. The era of multi-party politics, government and coalitions is here and the days of exclusive manifestos, majorities and the domination of the traditional parties is at an end and that, it would seem, is a natural development within a democracy where the right to opinion and view inevitably gives rise to differences unsustainable within a single party or even a multi-party coalition. We are witnessing more and more parties competing for the votes from people concerned about fairness and social justice. 2015 General Elections due on 8 November in Croatia will have 2311 candidates from 161 political party lists and 5 independent – 957 or 41.41% women candidates. This year’s political coalitions indicate that the need to increase the number of political parties in a single coalition has grown since 2011 elections and is painting a scenario of polarising voter body into two almost equally large parts, with trickles of independents or brand new parties trying to win a seat or two. The big surprise in 2014/2015, however, is that the Croatian political environment seemed as if it was entering an era of third options, moving away from its two-party tradition, but rather went to a two-coalition tradition after the bubble of new parties burst.
The road to a minority government seems almost a certain political fate for Croatia in November 2015 as two large political coalitions (each with their own voter support) take to the public arena, unless at least a little bit tectonic shift occurs in the voter corpus of either centre-left/Liberal or centre-right Conservative coalitions towards the other, or, all political parties with similar designs on outcomes have in fact entered the same coalition and there is no cross-contamination of political character between the two coalitions.
In loose terms, generally, the Left oriented political platform believes the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need and Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems – something that was the back-bone of the failed communism and socialism of former Yugoslavia. The Right oriented political platform believes the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals and Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.
In its election campaigning the Social Democrat led coalition decided to show results that Croatia’s economy is growing; indicators are, albeit flimsily, positive for the second quarter in a row and they are pressing on with the rhetoric: let us finish what we started. With this they continue with their focus on no-holds-barred allegations that there is corruption in the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, which leads the Conservative coalition, hence coming up with another slogan or rhetoric “There’s no turning back to the old ways”. The Social Democrats led coalition has huddled around the slogan “Croatia is Growing” – trying, among other trajectories, to portray to the voters that the economy is getting stronger and it will support them without the need for austerity or increase in unemployment and poverty, threat of which hover with stark reality and likelihood over everyone’s heads. Hence, feeding a continuance of certain dependence upon government and its performance, which by the way has been appalling under the Social Democrats’ led government.
Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ was quick to seriously dampen and dash any high-hopes of a better living standard under a Social Democrats led government. HDZ was quick to point out that what is indeed growing is Croatia’s debt, which has reached 290 billion kuna, the number of indebted people with frozen bank accounts, the number of citizens leaving the country in search of a livelihood, the number of small businesses and family farms that have been shut down, the number of people queuing in front of soup kitchens, the loss of jobs and the drop in living standards during the term of Social Democrat led government.
Croatian economy is not much better than the Greek and all know that drastic changes will need to be made to bring the economy to a positive trend, which in turn has an effect in bettering the citizens’ daily existence. Social Democrats have taken a populist approach to elections by injecting an air of enthusiasm for a quick and painless fix of dire economic woes under their government that “Croatia is growing” slogan suggests.
Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ has opted to concentrate on patriotism as the main mind-frame that will win them government and has resoundingly named its coalition “Patriotic Coalition” (or rather Homeland-loving coalition) with the slogan “For a Strong Croatia”. Certainly, while prudently not relying on the current economic trends as any sort of promise for the future HDZ has aptly and ably managed to show the weaknesses and downfalls of the current Social Democrat led government in its handling of the economy and its possible recovery and looks to see this translate into some defection of voters from the left side to theirs. In this HDZ demonstrates sound knowledge and needed skills of perception that could lead Croatia into having a stable government under HDZ’s leadership. Stability is also a very important characteristic of patriotism, which in turn nurtures the sentiments of safety and support.
Indeed, patriotism does not divide (as left-oriented politicians in Croatia have wickedly tried to convince people) – it unifies. Patriotism with all the passions that ignites can bond people together for good purpose or it can be the last refuge of a scoundrel but first and foremost, voting is an act of patriotism.
Elections are the epitome of patriotic expression. You cannot have a republic or a democracy without participants who can freely speak through voting. This election is no exception but it has been dubbed as one of the most crucial elections in Croatia’s relatively young democracy. The disquieting hue in the apparently widespread sentiment is that if Social Democrat led coalition wins Croatia will be lost. The other side of that coin is that Croatia has its only chance of survival if HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union led coalition wins government on 8 November.
Independent Croatia founders (which did not include the Communist League from which Social Democrats sprung) designed democratic Croatia in which people would speak freely through voting. Their objective was to replace Communist Party dictates with representation in parliament. I think anyone who does not vote falls short of being a true patriotic Croat. The Communist League walked out of the Croatian Parliament in 1991 when the Parliament announced its about to vote for Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia and it remains to be seen whether an increased number voters who have been loyal to the left will on 8 November recognise the fact that Social Democrats force-feed themselves with notions of Croatian patriotism while not lifting a finger to denounce and condemn the former Yugoslav communist rule – and vote against them. Will they recognise the reality that Croatia cannot move further into a complete state of well-being unless it completely sheds and shatters the remnants of communist Yugoslavia.
Patriotism is defined by the Webster Dictionary as “a zealous love of one’s country”, while the Oxford Dictionary defined it as “devotion to one’s country and concern for its defence”.
The definition of being a patriotic Croat is to show love and loyalty to Croatia and of all the signs and activities that lead to calling oneself patriotic – voting stands alone as the most important civic action citizens can take part in to win the right to call themselves “patriotic.”
Political coalitions would do well to remember that it is not merely difference in opinion (or slogans) but strength in opinion that usually characterises party support. Cast-iron promises are not what the voters will be looking at in Croatia – history knows political promises are made to be broken – but, if savvy enough, they will be looking at coalition negotiations, anticipating give and take flows that could affect their own lives. HDZ’s leader Tomislav Karamarko has promised the Croats a passage through the valley of tears, meaning the heavy and painful reforms that a number of consecutive governments have been postponing, hence resulting in comparison between Croatia and Greece. Zoran Milanović on the other hand, who has so far positioned himself as an austerity-oriented, has quickly and loudly untied the purse strings promising Christmas bonuses to pensioners (it cannot afford) and better days ahead, although Croatia is in an excessive deficit and suffocating under debt. Definitely, to my view – Zoran Milanovic reminds us of Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito whose seeming political success thrived on borrowed money, on other people’s money. The difference is, nevertheless, that Zoran Milanovic lives and acts in times when single political parties have no decisive power and the homeland is becoming the ultimate asset worthwhile having – not political parties. In the end, the results of the general elections in Croatia will come down to whether the love for Croatia is a force that wins the elections and sets Croatia on the final leg of its originally desired freedom and prosperity. After 25 years – it’s time! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)