During the 1990’s in Croatia people knew that for a state to have its own parliament also meant that the state was independent and sovereign. Long gone are the days, though, when in celebration of 30th May (1990) the Croatian Statehood Day/Day of Independence jubilation spread across Croatia and its diaspora like wildfire and one cannot but notice nostalgia for the jubilation to return. Indeed, a dose of such nostalgia could be felt in the speech given at the reception hosted by the outgoing Speaker of Parliament Zeljko Reiner on Friday 7 October in honour of 8th October 1991 – the date when the Croatian parliament voted to finally sever all ties with Yugoslavia. On that day, 25 years ago, Croatia said its final goodbye to communist Yugoslavia.
“…When the moratorium date of the decision for independence of Croatia expired in 1991, Yugoslav Army planes bombed Banski Court (Croatian government offices) in an attempt to assassinate Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. Croatian parliament session had to then be moved to another location in Subiceva St … and not in its normal Parliament building (across the city square). At that time Croatia was unarmed, under the UN embargo preventing it to secure weapons and under special lack of will to help Croatia. The pressure for us to give in was terrible. The war was imposed and led on our territory; against all citizens … it was a fight for all or nothing. The newly established democracy and multi-party system were placed into jeopardy. It was because of the fact that we had visions of freedom and a democratic Croatia, and because there was unity that we managed to achieve it … the path was hard and filled with pain for more than 15,000 lives lost. We must never forget that more civilians were killed in their own home than soldiers on the battlefield…” said Reiner at the ceremony, emphasising that no one would ever again be allowed to threaten Croatia, and continued:
“Let this anniversary be an incentive to bring back to our citizens the hope and confidence and to start the recovery of the country that will bring happiness and satisfaction to all its citizens. This requires patriotism, strength of will, determination, wisdom and responsibility, as well as courage, just like in the Homeland War. I am confident that the call for the new session of Parliament, which will most likely be constituted next week, with the new government will achieve that…”
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic sent a message marking the 25th anniversary of Croatia’s final severance of all ties with former Yugoslavia: “We are allowed to be and we must be proud of our young state, which emerged from many centuries of battles for freedom. We have achieved a great deal in our 25 years of independence. After the harsh experiences living under the totalitarian regimes and dictatorships we have successfully developed a democratic culture, we have built institutions, we have become a notable member of international organisations and institutions. Our students, innovators, business people, scientists, doctors, artists, sports people and many others achieve notable success across the world… this is the day when with respect we remember all those who had contributed to the realisation of that historical goal, starting with the first president dr. Franjo Tudjman and the Croatian veterans, who had during those days defended (Croatia) from the most grave aggressive attacks,” said president Grabar-Kitarovic.
And so, one needs to wonder why with such great speeches and messages from the tops of Croatia’s leadership one comes across very little cheer in the streets, among the people? Could it be that persistent and often underhanded injections of communist resistance to a free and democratic Croatia have severely dampened or shattered the joy Croatians used to express on Independence or Statehood Day particularly during 1990’s? Observing all this, one is justified in saying that the minute the former communists/ left wing political parties entered into government after Franjo Tudjman’s death in early 2000, prompted by former communist anti-Tudjman president Stjepan Mesic, started contemplating upon ways of watering-down the elation for Croatian independence celebrations, the celebration moods would start falling and relative coldness set in.
Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman had considered that the most important date to celebrate for an independent Croatian nation should be in remembrance of the day when, after the first post-WWII free and democratic general elections the Parliament of Croatia (that would usher Croatia out of the oppressive federation communist Yugoslavia) was inaugurated – that was 30th May 1990. Indeed, given that actual exit or secession from Yugoslavia was achieved through a multistep process it would only be logical and fair that the very same process was celebrated on the date it started, rather than on the date it finished. For years 30 May was a holiday and a celebration in Croatia and abroad filled with joy and pride. Tudjman died in late 1999 and the former communists decided to abandon 30 May as the Day for celebration Croatian Statehood and Independence; these communist killjoys knew what they were doing: bring confusion among the people about the day/date independence should be celebrated – bring in the element that would eat away at the celebratory joy and confidence in the good for what had been achieved.
And so, we arrive at today’s confusion as to which date of the three possible is best to celebrate Croatia’s independence – this purposefully staged confusion has its roots in the 2002 sessions of Croatian parliament when the centre-left majority passed a new law in regards to the public holidays, remembrance days in Croatia. Suddenly 30th May was out and 25th June came in as the date to celebrate Croatian Statehood/Independence Day. The former communists (who as a reminder did not want Croatian independence in the first place and many walked out of the Parliament in protest, in 1991) in 2002 ushered in 25 June (1991) as the day to celebrate. They had all commenced a political lynch based on lies against Franjo Tudjman even before his death and now that he was dead – they concocted an opportunity to remove 30 May celebrations from the people; remove the date that was associated with so much positive emotion for Croatian freedom and independence and the leader who made it happen. 25 June 1991 had been the date when the Croatian parliament (inaugurated 30 May 1990) proclaimed Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia and, as a matter of interest, at the European Union’s request the decision was frozen for three months (the three months that saw the escalation of terrible attacks, ethnic cleansing, murder against Croatia by Serbs and the Yugoslav Army).
8 October (1991) also became a public holiday in Croatia and this was to celebrate Independence Day or the day when Croatian parliament severed its entire links to former Yugoslavia. Increasingly over the past fifteen years it appears as though having two days as public holiday to celebrate Croatia’s independence but not the original date of 30 May has achieved the goal intended by the former communists: many people don’t feel confident which of the two dates (25 June or 8 October) should be the “right” one to celebrate and, hence, apart from several events organised by the veterans, sadly, not much celebration occurring in the streets this past weekend!
If one was to heed the words said by the President of the Croatian Parliament, Zeljko Reiner, last Friday one would need to conclude that no hope or confidence like the ones present at the beginning of the independence could be brought without bringing back that glorious date of 30 May to celebrate. In the past couple of days a suggestion to that effect has been made by one of the original members of parliament, Vladimir Seks, who also suggested that a referendum on the issue of the date on which Croatian independence should be celebrated is the best way ahead. I do disagree with this strongly and besides the fact that Croatia is too poor to be in the position to pay for a referendum on that matter, 30 May is when Croatia started functioning independently with its new parliament and that date should be celebrated as the Day of independence. Independence is one single concept and reality even though it usually is achieved via separate events of processes. So, Croatia would do well to start recognising that fact and stop confusing its people as to which event in the process to independence means more than the other. 30 May 1990 is the date from which Croatian road to independence truly started and so this date should represent independence – no referendum needed. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)