Which Way Croatia: Liberal or Illiberal Democracy?

Front: Tomislav Karamarko, HDZ president Back: Milijan Brkic, HDZ Deputy-president Photo: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL

Front: Tomislav Karamarko, HDZ president
Back: Milijan Brkic, HDZ Deputy-president
Photo: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL


Next week seems set to shed light as to whether Croatia’s Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic has indeed been a weak Prime Minister, failing to adequately implement the needed reforms that were promised to the voters of Croatia at last elections, late 2015, and whether he has, as Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ claims, been more preoccupied with his own political niche and agenda that is in contradiction with the technocratic, professional role (towards implementing set reforms) he was appointed as Prime Minister to pursue.


Croatian parliament will, during the coming week, entertain the subject of HDZ’s (Croatian Democratic Union/ majority party in coalition government) motion for vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and Oreskovic will, as announced, step before it in an effort to defend himself. Hence, the end appears nigh for the current lot of tortuous speculations, allegations against specific members of Croatian government and endless sensationalism served by the media. Next week, then, is likely to deliver some reprieve to the confused, angered and tortured public. Furthermore, the Croatian independent authority deliberating on whether there had been a conflict of interest to pin against Tomislav Karamarko, leader of HDZ and the First Deputy Prime Minister, has announced it would publish its findings around noon Wednesday 15 June.


Hopefully, then, next week is likely to shed some further directional light as to the source/s of the staged political crisis Croatia has been exposed to ever since February 2016 or earlier when vicious attacks began against HDZ’s ministers and leaders.


Many Croats in Croatia and probably all Croats living in the diaspora had, as they fought and supported Croatia’s efforts to secede from communist Yugoslavia and grow into an independent democratic state, did so in the expectation that Croatian democracy would be modeled on the so-called Western democracy:

• On Liberal democracy that protects the rights of the individual and has those rights generally enshrined in the law;
• On Liberal democracy that defends and increases civil liberties against the encroachment of governments, institutions and powerful forces in society;
• On Liberal democracy that restricts or regulates government intervention in political, economic and moral matters affecting the citizenry;
• On Liberal democracy that increases the scope for religious, political and intellectual freedom of citizens;
• On Liberal democracy that questions the demands made by vested interest groups seeking special privileges;
• On Liberal democracy that develops a society open to talent and which rewards citizens on merit, rather than on rank, privilege or status;
• On Liberal democracy that frames rules that maximise the well-being of all or most citizens.



Indeed, on 30 May 1990, at the inaugural assembly of the Croatian Parliament, Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman said: “The new Constitution of Croatia must be free from all ideological dissents; it must be based on experiences of creating a Croatian state and in the spirit of the most democratic traditions of modern Europe and North American reality and science of law.”


This month. 25th June 2016 will mark 25 years since Croatian parliament voted for secession from communist Yugoslavia and thus, put in place the Liberal democracy its 1990 referendum sealed as its future path. Croatians have always considered themselves as being more Central European in culture and geography than being Balkan. Hence, the democracy they voted for, by a staggering 94% vote, in the 1990 referendum, was a Liberal one modeled on the “West” rather than some hybrid of democracy which could amount to an Illiberal one; the one reminiscent of government or significant elites’ controls they experienced under communist regime in Yugoslavia.

Tihomir Oreskovic Croatia's Prime Minister Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell

Tihomir Oreskovic
Croatia’s Prime Minister
Photo: Marko Lukunic/Pixsell


The Financial Times’ recent article by Tony Barber widened my concerns about the slow and communist heritage stifled direction of democratic development in Croatia. Comparing the efforts signaled in 1990 for a Liberal democracy to the current and staged political crisis in Croatia one may indeed ask as to whether the crisis is associated with some political push to move Croatia further away from Liberal and closer to an Illiberal democracy, which has been taking hold of Poland, Hungary and perhaps Slovakia in Eastern Europe? Illiberal democracy “means a type of government that preserves the forms of democracy but falls well short of North American or Western European standards of freedom.”
So far Croatia has struggled in achieving the standards of Liberal democracy but the witch-hunt against individual HDZ members of the government and the feeling one gets that the Social Democrat opposition and its coalition as well as the Prime Minister appear to ignore and even downplay the individual’s right to a defense and due process against alarming allegations does make one question whether in fact there is a background truth in the thought that Illiberal democracy may indeed be at Croatia’s door, if it already hasn’t permeated in. One’s suspicions of this are ever more strengthened by the fact that the Catholic publication “Glas Concila” published 12 June a political commentary by priest Ivan Miklenic, Editor in Chief of that publication, which includes the following: “When the affair ‘the consultant’ (meaning HDZ’s leader’s wife’s consultancy business dealings with Hungarian MOL company prior to him being elected into current government) broke out in public and when it became more than clear that regardless of whether there was guilt under the law or responsibility, moral and political responsibilities unquestionably arose and instead of making moves that serve real common good came the moves that meant the saving of only one man (meaning Tomislav Karamarko, leader of HDZ) at all costs, at all high costs. There was no inclination nor will in the largest political party for the acceptance, the understanding and the realization of common sense reasoning in accordance to which neither a political party, or the Government, or Croatia cannot be a hostage to the interests of one person or one project… The question why the strongest political party, that has large merits for the creation of independent Croatia, is suddenly becoming incapable of recognising what it is that serves the common good, serves Croatian interests and what brings down that party and damages Croatia is likely to remain unanswered once again…”



Regretfully, it appears that this priest, the Chief Editor of the Catholic Glas Concila publication does not consider the rights of individuals as legitimate, as the most important rights Liberal democracy must uphold! This individual the above Glas Concila article refers to is indeed a member of the political party in government but in the eyes of the public he is still an individual with rights to due process that are same as the rights of individuals not in government. Indeed, to my view, the individuals in government must uphold and fight for the rights of individuals (including self) under any and all circumstances otherwise the door to illiberal democracy is wide open. How close reported Opus Dei activists in Croatia who are said to be among advisors to the Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic (e.g, formerly New York based Stjepo Bartulica) are associated with this appalling commentary in the Catholic Glas Concila is anyone’s guess, but certainly the guessing game does become easier once matters of possible influence are placed in the context of Liberal versus Illiberal democracy; the latter being considered as acting against rights of individuals and promoting pressure from political or other elite groups.

Zdravko Maric Croatia's Finance Minister Photo: hrt.hr

Zdravko Maric
Croatia’s Finance Minister
Photo: hrt.hr

If we look deeply into the fight Karamarko and HDZ are fighting right now it certainly is not about some conservative nationalism one sees in Poland, Hungary or Slovakia but it is more about individual rights as the cornerstone of Liberal democracy Croatia lost rivers of blood for in the 1990’s Homeland War. Those rights are of Croatia’s national interests and not some nebulous national rights those attacking HDZ and Karamarko are spitting out daily. Indeed, the faith in HDZ as a guardian of the cornerstone of Liberal democracy appears further justified by the fact that the party has Saturday 11 June decided to put forth Zdravko Maric, current finance minister, as the next Prime Minister of Croatia, hence demonstrating that its fight in the political crisis has not been about one individual’s position – Karamarko’s – but about the principles of individual rights and due process. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)



  1. I agree 100% with priest Ivan Miklenic, However, he is not alone, even the close ministers to Karamarko are saying the same thing. Karamarko’s biggest fun Tihomir Dujmovic and European parlamentarci all have repeated many times to Karamarko to give up and save Croatia from falling to Milanovic.

    • Well rb Karamarko has been saying he will step away etc in the past ten days or so, what I was thinking is the times before that when to my view there was no other option but to act differently than he did to defend the due process and justice everyone seems to have forgotten including the Euro-parliamentarians. Just because a hate campaign has been mounted against him primarily by SDP and others picked up on it does not mean he had to go straight away without trying to save the government from being handed over to Milanovic. The priest, the Euro-parliamentarians and all who called for him to resign before he was found guilty or innocent of conflict of interest played right into the SDP hands and Milanovic. That is my take. I do not see the individual in this but individual’s rights.

  2. Incredible: definition:too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.
    Croatian politics: definition: where the extraordinary and improbable is commonplace and unfortunately too real to be disbelieved.

    Za Dom Spremni!

  3. MOST has a lot to responsibility for the crisis, but Karamarko could have quelled things by stepping down temporarily. There are plenty of examples of this in western liberal democracy. It is simply an acknowledgement of accountability but not guilt. I understand that the SDP are in the business of guilt by accusation, and this could be a slippery slope, but we are not talking months or years for an investigation, just a few weeks.

    • Perhaps Sunman but I do not believe things would have quelled had he stepped down earlier – Milanovic & Co would have found a new ground to maintain crisis-like status in order to bring down the government…yes people do step down in similar situations in Western Liberal democracies but that is usually with the “blessing” of their party. Here we had the specific situation where HDZ party met during the crisis and continued its support to Karamarko to stay where he was until some matters were resolved…I feel quite cheated in relation to democracy and its processes and rights therefore knowing he did not get the supports of the PM during that HDZ support, only for a time ie until about 10 days ago and them PM does a U-turn without credible reason as far as I saw

      • Yes, I think you are right. I am very disappointed in the PM too. Coming from a ‘liberal’ democracy in Canada he should have know better…innocent until proven guilty. Let’s hope the HDZ strategy works and we can finally get on with managing the country, improving lives, and building a prosperous future…which means that the foundation of the Croatia must be on solid footing…fully revealed historical truth and justice, and of course lustration.

      • And no mercy to any politician or otherwise to achieve that, Sunman

  4. Democracy is fragile. In Britain, we have not had it for a century: until 1918 all women and most men- those who did not own land to a certain value- could not vote, and in 1918 there were still thought and speech crimes, known as “sedition”. Now, we have a referendum which could significantly harm the interests of the British people, conducted by appeals to emotion and outright lying; a referendum which should never have been called by people with the interest of the country at heart, called to paper over cracks in the Conservative party. That party also proposes blanket surveillance of all emails texts and phone calls.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  5. Buna seara Ina !
    Am trecut pe la Domnia Ta pentru a-ti marturisi ca ma bucura victoria la FOTBAL a CROATIEI cu 1 la 0
    asupra TURCIEI in EURO 2016 !!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Din toata <3 , forza CROATIA !!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Cu respect,

  6. From reading the comments so far, I’m reminded of a large placard that I saw at the Rector’s Palace in Dubrovnik 2 years ago. It reads, “The price of freedom is not for sale for all the treasure in this world.” Originally this inscription was above a gateway at the one of the city’s forts. It’s well stated!

  7. Is it just me Ina, or are large numbers of Europeans (not just Croats) incapable of actually understanding how liberal democracy works? Or rather the specifics of it such as individual rights and liberty being just as valued, if not more so than the collective? It’s got me thinking that democracy has failed in Europe, but then I am not 100% sure if Europe ever truly understood the classical liberal idea of civil liberties. I would love to be proven wrong.

    • I reckon you’re of the ball there – sweeping influences for power of “collectives” still gaining ground in EU and rights of individuals getting ever more blurred. Perhaps a new “Storming of the Bastille” not far away everywhere in democracies…

    • Veronika says:

      It’s because they were ‘marinated’ in a communist system where people live off the government teat like parasites, buy votes and favours, etc…. It’s not something solely in Croatians. These issues are in so many jurisdictions there.
      The irony is it doesn’t explain the mess in several south american nations.
      On another note dear Ina, please check out: http://croatiarediviva.com
      It’s a new and fascinating site. They need our support so I encourage everyone to view their site and spread it around via the web.

      • Thanks Veronika and yes I have discovered Croatia Rediviva website last week and I too think it’s very worthwhile and maters of history it’s our duty to keep tabs on, making sure Croatian victims from WWII and after it don’t stay buried forever nor the false history thrive

  8. Didova Konoba says:


    If you’re going to base your arguments entirely on legal principles, I suggest you consult a lawyer first. Due process was something first formulated centuries ago to protect citizens against the govt violating their basic human rights. There is no basic human right for an individual to hold public office. It is a privilege, not a basic human right. Individuals that assume positions that require the public’s trust, such as judges, lawyers and politicians, may be required to step down from those positions simply due to the mere appearance of impropriety. Full stop.
    Do you understand? Kapis? Razumis?
    You’re going to need a new argument to sustain your point here, honey. The fact that Karamarko refuses to recognize this basic point is troubling, both for his political party, and, more importantly, for democracy in Croatia.

    • Oh dear, Didova Konoba, Grandfather’s Cellar – so obvious you don’t move around much except for hatred you harbour. Democracy and democratic governments are founded on law and a basic principle in law and right is that a person has a right to due process or in some words innocent until proven guilty. You choose to ignore the fact that Karamarko’s party has given him support to stay put until strategy is developed to deal with all the crisis. He has a right to defend himself wherever he is. Had HDZ not supported him as leader through all this then you may have a point, this way no – Understand! I don’t really want to know whether you understand or not as obviously you do but choose to twist things. I certainly did not say there is a right to public office but a right to due process, a right to be proven guilty if he is to leave his post in the face of allegations – this is particularly important as his party stood and stands behind him. To me whether it’s he or anybody else is all the same, I look at processes and facts and not whether people like someone or not…

  9. Didova Konoba says:

    The mere appearance of impropriety is enough to disqualify an individual from holding public office, particularly when said position depends upon the trust of the general public. Due process does not extend in these circumstances to protect the official’s political position. The individual has the right to defend him/herself in a court of law, but due process does not extend to save the accused from be required to step down from his/her position until the matter is litigated. Moreover, the accused continues to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is a price that is paid for the privilege of holding a position of public trust. Doesn’t matter what the accused’s political party says or supports. That is the way the law, including the Democratic principles of due process operate, whether you approve or not. Full stop.

    I suggest you find another means to defend Karamarko.

    • Well now – it seems to me that since HDZ supported him there is ample public trust in him that he has not done anything wrong and by the way I’m not a member of any political party and also my trust counts as well as the trust of many out there…Due process (not in legal terms but as principle of fairness and natural justice…) doe apply everywhere where one is accused of wrong doing…you have your opinion I have mine, they both count…HDZ was elected and therefore they act in representation of the public if they have acted wrongly by supporting Karamarko at this time then the public will let them know at next elections….that’s all there is to it and if tomorrow the authority for conflicts of interests brings a finding against him then he has the right or the parliament have the right to assess as to whether such case has baring on his ability to deliver decisions in his official role etc… don’t forget there have been cases in last gov where conflict of interest was determined against a minister of government regarding business dealings and then all that person did was wind up the business and continue as minister etc with Karamarko its not even his business in question and not even since elected etc…Unlike you my concept of due process cross the area of fairness…

  10. Didova Konoba says:

    So, if a political party supports their candidate no matter the cause or concern, everything must be fine and aboveboard? Strange enough, sounds exactly like something an old political system that was in vogue for some 50 years post WW2 would suggest. Do you really not see the absurdity of your last response????
    Please consult an attorney before you invoke legal principles to sustain your arguments. Due process is a sound legal principle that has been tried and tested for hundreds of years since the age of the Magna Carta. There is a sound legal basis for its exceptions, as well. Your concept has nothing to do with accepted legal practice but simply your biased views.

    • Didova Konoba you can whistle idiocy as much as you like…Stil and at the end of the day in a democracy A simple definition means due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard before adverse action is taken against you. So, adverse action was taken against Karamarko before he was given an opportunity to defend himself etc and thank God for his courage as we shall know today where all this will lead. I think the one to seek an attorney is you but then perhaps not for you take a false name so that you can troll about

  11. Didova Konoba says:


    Not trolling at all. I keep telling you that from a legal standpoint, due process does not apply in Karamarko’s case and I spell out for you the reasons/legal exclusion it does not.
    You refuse to listen. I can only surmise that there’s no real basis to actually defend Karamarko then. Your straw man argument masks your inability to think of anything concrete to add to a controversial situation apart from your “concepts” what fairness should presumably be. I suggest you enroll in a constitutional law course. Either that or lobby your legislators for a change in what the law is. 500 years of tried and proven law isn’t sufficient for you.

    • I will end this troll path – no one except you seems to think that due process applies only the way you see it. Well to multitudes it also means a person must be given an opportunity to prove or disprove allegations of wrongdoing – that is a basic right under the laws of free countries and just because Karamarko is not in courts but a state authority is investigating allegations of conflict of interest that opposition says cause him inacapable of delivering good government decisions, doesn’t mean due process or the idea of its justice does not apply. Good bye on this matter!

  12. Veronika says:

    Sorry Ina. I don’t have your email.
    Please see below.
    Perhaps you can pass this around to your Australian contacts.
    I know they are working on two books and perhaps the diaspora can help them. Thanks a lot Ina. ZIvjela.

    PODRŽITE IH i saljite dalje……
    Udruga HDP Dr. Rudolf Horvat osnovana je dvije godine nakon početka istraživanja koje je bilo fokusirano na istraživanje Drugog svjetskog rata i poraća, posebice komunističkih zločina počinjenih nad hrvatskim građanima krajem i neposredno nakon završetka rata.
    Tijekom poslijednjih deset godina istraživali smo u svim arhivima u Republici Hrvatskoj i Republici Sloveniji, Arhivu Republike Srpske u Banja Luci, arhivu u Londonu (The National Archives) te u pojedinim muzejima u Hrvatskoj i Sloveniji u kojima se također čuva arhivsko gradivo.
    Rezultati našeg dosadašnjeg rada tiskani su u većem broju knjiga i akademskih časopisa, a dio pronađenog arhivskog gradiva korišten je u MPhil dizertaciji Blanke Matković koja je pod naslovom “Mass Crimes and Human Rights Violations Committed by the Communist Regime Against Croatia Citizens at the End and After the Second World War (1944-1945)” u listopadu 2015. obranjena na Odsjeku za povijest Sveučilišta Warwick u Ujedinjenom Kraljevstvu pred komisijom u kojoj su se nalazili Dr Daniel Branch, pročelnik Odsjeka za povijest, i Dr Alexander Korb , profesor sa Sveučilišta u Leictesteru.
    Trenutno su u pripremi dvije knjige za tiskanje kojih prikupljamo financijska sredstva.
    Ukoliko želite financijski ili na drugi način podržati naš rad usmjeren na istraživanje hrvatske povijesti u Drugom svjetskom ratu i poraću, molim da nas kontaktirate na email: info@croatiarediviva.com
    Ukoliko želite podržati samostalni rad Blanke Matković na Sveučilištu Warwick u Velikoj Britaniji, Blanku možete kontaktirati na email B.Matkovic@warwick.ac.uk

    webstranica im je: http://croatiarediviva.com/domovinski-rat/

  13. Veronika says:

    Thanks Ina. I will tell Blanka. She’s lovely. Drop her an email as the Aussie Croats are great! So organized!

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