In late 1980’s and early 1990’s it was the conservative, centre-right political ideology that gathered 94% of Croatia’s voters behind Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ to vote for and fight for Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia and Croatia’s independence as sovereign and democratic state. Under the leadership of its first president, Franjo Tudjman, Croatia was set on a path that would see the shedding from all aspects of public life and administration of remnants of communist habits and detrimental processes. Tudjman’s speeches contained recipes for Croatia to develop and grow into a democracy including using foreign consultants from developed democracies, training Croatian leaders political and business in leading the changes that had to occur if Croatia was truly to move away from communist regime of Yugoslavia, etc. But Tudjman died just a year after the final piece of Croatia’s sovereign territory occupied by Serb aggressor was re-integrated into Croatia. Tudjman’s HDZ lost government as well a couple of months after his death, much so due to the communist lobby that had become strong with Stjepan Mesic’s leadership and public lobby. In early 2000 the League of Communists/known as Social Democrats by then won government and Stjepan Mesic became the president. Of course, any plans to shed communist Yugoslavia from Croatia’s public administration and government initiatives disappeared into the dark of night.
Every time general elections came around after that there have been high voter expectations and conservative election candidates’ promises that an incoming conservative government if elected would deal decisively in stemming out the remnants of communism that stifle progress both economic, social as fit in a well-functioning democracy. Dealing with communist crimes and putting lustration in place were among the formally and informally bandied ways of cleansing Croatia’s democratic future from past communist habits and processes and so too were legislative changes needed to accommodate progress and a vibrant, entrepreneurial, economically viable and prosperous Croatia. Ivo Sanaders’ HDZ government (December 2003 to January 2008), whose leader ended up in courts for corruption, and that of Jadranka Kosor’s (July 2009 to December 2011) made no strong moves in this direction and, indeed, they continued with the alienation of the Croatian diaspora (that amazing resource of positive support Croatia had harnessed in the 1990’s and without which Croatian independence would simply not have been achieved) started in 2000 by Stjepan Mesic and Ivica Racan’s Social Democrat/Communist League prior government. Then came the Zoran Milanovic Social democrat/Communist League led government in late 2011 to January 2016 and it, of course, was not in the business of shedding from Croatia the ideals of communist Yugoslavia it still held close to its heart. To be fair though, there were certain legislative changes that needed to be brought in during this mandate as essential part of the path to EU membership, however, even these changes of legislative nature did not change the hearts of former communists – Croatia was and is still riddled with red tape and behaviours at public administration levels that, in essence, stifle progress and democracy. Zoran Milanovic’s government coincided with communist Ivo Josipovic’s presidency, who won office after Stjepan Mesic held two mandates – so conveniently positioned to evade the necessary changes away from communist past. Centre-right aligned president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was inaugurated in February 2015 and she brought with her an apparent wealth of experience and democratic wisdom from having studied and worked abroad for many years. Then came the new government in Croatia in January 2016, mainly consisting of conservative centre-right HDZ but in coalition with MOST independent list with prime minister Tihomir Oreskovic as the leader alighned with no political party but, like Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, bringing in a wealth of corporate, business and entrepreneurial knowhow picked-up through working abroad in the “real and competitive business world” of the world.
The 2016 new government was ushered in with high expectations from the public for tackling the remnants of communism that stifle democratic progress, healthy public dialogues and economic development. Lustration, condemnation of communist crimes, legislative and procedural changes to aid and ease the process of investments and economic growth, tapping into the potential and significantly positive knowledge, economic and demographic resources that lie with the diaspora are just some examples of the plethora of measures popularly thought of as necessary to carry Croatia into the originally drawn plans for democracy, freedom and prosperity. But the evidently desired progress in moving away from communist habits is not yet visible to the originally desired degree and constant suspicions as to the democratic intentions of some politicians of note keep reverberating in Croatia’s public life. As to harnessing the resources from the diaspora for the betterment of Croatia, for movement far away from communist tracks, nothing solid or reassuring is seen on the horizon: just lots of talk from politicians and leaders but little if any right action.
Slobodna Dalmacija’s journalist, Tihomir Dujmovic, has recently in his article “America” addressed so eloquently and so clearly the detrimental, stifling effects of communism in Croatia.
“…I have roamed across America…listened to the destinies of hundreds of displaced Croats. Hundreds of sad destinies caused by communist sadism, which forced thousands of Croats to establish their homes far away from their beloved country,” writes Dujmovic and continues: “As far as possible away from Tito’s terror! …When I watch our people in America, when I compare them in their past years to us and when I watch our former poor that have regularly achieved a decent life living abroad, a person cannot but curse communism … It is here (in America) that we can truly see what Tito had done to us, it’s here that you can see in what misery and poverty our parents lived at home (in Croatia) and we with them, it’s from here that you can truly see the level to which the (communist) system had destroyed us…In that sense, today as a state we are really not doing anything else except correcting the mistakes that communism brought us.
In the first instance, the communist mentality that is not being extinguished…for example look the Cadastre registries…they (communists) took your land, invented the Cadastre and entered their names into the land register! We have not to this day solved this question. And there is a whole sea of similar topics.
When you listen to our people living abroad and when you listen to their counterparts in Croatia the first thing you see is a mound of zombies in the homeland whose every business enterprise has been nailed down with a hammer. In Cleveland I met Ivan Katic who has been living there for 40 years, he started without a single dollar in his pocket and without high diplomas, but his business spirit is such that he now employs a hundred people and his annual business turnover is $30 million. Look at him and his business sense that was developed by America, the standard America permitted, and then look at his counterpart in Slavonia, from where he went to America, and you will see what communism has done to this nation. If you were not a part of the communist elite, in order to live like a man, in order to be permitted to earn money, in order to develop your own business sense, in order for your children to be educated outside the communist ideology, you had to go thousands of miles away from that hellish fire.
So, what have our people found in America? Nothing except the opportunity Tito had not given to them. The opportunity to work and earn well, an opportunity to develop without needing to sell their soul to the Party! I watch them and I watch my parent’s generation and I can grab with my hands that crime that was perpetrated here (in Croatia). Because communism took away our soul, killed all creativity, nailed to the ground all business entrepreneurship, crushed the national conscience and destroyed the work culture, which our grandparents fundamentally had.
So, while Tito’s satraps masochistically taunted us, America and the West offered their hand to the Croats who knocked on their door, offered their hand to their creativity, rewarded and encouraged their entrepreneurship and let them attend church and hold the Croatian flag with pride, without being followed by secret police…That’s why I hold communism and Yugoslavia in contempt because they have stolen half a century from us. Because they murdered generations and stole their opportunity to live like people. Thousands of Croats would not have moved from their villages were they permitted to live like people, thousands upon thousands of Croats would not have left the land had there not been talk of impending liquidations of biblical proportions during the first days of revenge in 1945…They decided how much land you will cultivate, they decided how many square meters you will live in, they decided what you may sing and when you could revel. With what right? With the right of a pointed gun to the head! With head jerking towards Huda pit (mass grave of mass murders/communist crimes), in which you will end up if you don’t stop saying what you think. There’s still a sea of emotions towards the homeland within the Croatian diaspora, a sea of good will to return and, once again, it is the homeland’s move. This is the time of crossroads and truly the last chance for the homeland to offer it hand towards the emigrated Croatia that has been waiting for too long for that hand.”
While Dujmovic may have omitted to address the contribution Croatian diaspora could make to a better and more prosperous Croatia without necessarily returning to Croatia to live, the clear message remains: the governments of Croatia have done nothing much since the death of Franjo Tudjman (1999) to truly make the diaspora a continuing active, equal and vibrant part of the imagined prosperous Croatia. Not counting those individuals living in the diaspora continuing to contribute to the betterment of Croatia the lack of large-scale involvement from within Croatia towards diaspora is alarming and detrimental to Croatia in every way. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)