Croatia: In The Throes Of Threat Of Illiberal Democracy

 

Dr Franjo Tudjman
Ushers Croatia Out Of Communism – 1991
Photo: http://www.franjotudjman.hr

November 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While for Germany it meant reunification of the country, for communist countries in Europe it meant fall of communism, fall of totalitarian regime, was imminent. For Croats living abroad at the time who pined for democracy and freedom, who fled communist Yugoslavia due to political oppression that made living in Yugoslavia virtually a harsh battle for mere survival and even life-threatening the fall of the Berlin Wall echoed with real prospects for Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. Sweeter echoes could not have reached their ears and hearts and minds.

Personally, my greatest hope was for Croats living in Croatia and those living outside it to experience freedom. The freedom experienced by people living in full democracies laced richly with opportunities for advancing own life and pursuit of individual expression without fear of reprisals that threaten one’s existence and progress in life. My greatest concern, though, was to experience the brutality of power, and in general, of human nature once harsh communist operatives and pro-Yugoslavia apparatchiks start feeling the heat of rejection.

I recall three key moments from that time. Reading Croatian press published in the diaspora with Dr Franjo Tudjman (the first president of independent modern Croatia) writing about real possibilities of seizing the moment (of the fall of Berlin Wall) and going head-on together with Croatian diaspora in the move to establish a free and independent Croatia. Formation of multiple political parties in Croatia and first multi-party election to form the new Parliament in 1990 after 45 years of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian rule. The independence or secession from Yugoslavia referendum in May 1991 and the phone calls I received from Croatia which all in sweet excitement said words to the effect: “it’s all going to be alright; Croatia will be independent.”

My response was always – I fear all is not going to be alright; the communists are a wild, brutal lot and will not relinquish their power just because 94% of voters voted “Yes” to independence at the referendum. And so, all was not alright – Serb and Yugoslav Army onslaught against Croatia unleashed a horrific war of aggression in Croatia, murderous taking of tens of thousands of lives, ethnic cleansing of Croats from one third of Croatian territory, vicious destruction of Croatian homes, religious and cultural buildings and property.

My biggest hope was that Croatia would adopt the Western democratic values. That Croatian youth will have the same opportunities to advance in life as our children living in the West had.

Thirty years on and Croatia in independent and a member state of the European Union. Democracy seems to have won, but recent political developments and revival of nostalgia for the former communist rule indicate a path towards illiberal democracy. Former communists, or their kin, sit is chairs of power; mainstream media is controlled by those who continue smothering Croatian patriotism and love for Croatian people. One of the biggest challenges to democracy today is posed by the dramatic change in the political-party landscape. Attention understandably has focused on the rise of a variety of populist candidates and movements, but what has enabled their rise is the drastic decline in support for the parties that had long dominated the political scene. Without grossly exaggerating, one can say that for decades the modal configuration of Croatia’s political systems has featured strong centre-left and centre-right parties or coalitions that support the basic principles and institutions of liberal democracy but compete with each other in regard to a variety of specific issues within this larger framework. Current public recriminations that both centre-left and centre -right major parties have not delivered on the initial promise of full democracy and are equally guilty of holding tight to the processes and mindset commensurate with former communist regime and undemocratic mindset has particularly clipped the wings of popularity for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). While left (whether centre or not) had always been seen as an extract from former staunch communist regime, HDZ is increasingly criticised as being the same with its apparent distancing from its original aim, a democratic state of Croatian people. These days virtually every new round of elections indicates that this longstanding pattern of dominance by the centre-left and centre-right is losing its hold.

Today, much of Croatian society is sick. What is worse, a significant part of it refuses to get cured from communist mindset; lustration has not occurred and every mention or attempt to usher in an organised lustration process is quashed or ridiculed. Communist nostalgic keep churning out fairy tales about how good life was in Yugoslavia, forgetting the cruel drop in living standards once Western financial assistance turned the taps off; forgetting the fact that Yugoslavia (and hence Croatia) had some 1300% inflation by 1989, which saw supermarket shelves bare, petrol severely rationed when available, thousands of companies and employers unable to pay wages to its workers for months upon months…

The source of this state of mind, the state of mind that refuses to be cured from communist mindset, seems to be a feeling that Croatia (and other former communist Eastern European countries, indeed) is just a buffer zone between East and West. Croatia, after 30 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall still levitates within parameters where either going forward into full democracy or moving backward into a state-controlled existence are possible. The vocabulary of totalitarianism is creeping back unnoticed, which is incredibly dangerous, and Croatia needs to revitalise and maintain with strong resolve the positions it reached in defending the idea of freedom and democracy it fought for in the Homeland War of 1990’s.

This requires a lot of efforts today.

The people of Croatia live in frustration. Victims and culprits became one. The people who have power are those who got rich during the communist Yugoslavia rule and those who got rich during the wild years of privatisation in the 1990s. The corruption and nepotism are still prevalent and the political will of the ruling castes to well and truly rid Croatia of this plague does not exist or is not visible at all. Former agents of the Yugoslav Secret Police (UDBA) are embedded at every level and avenue of society, people representing the former communist power are arrogant and their arrogance stifles progress to painful levels. The loss of Croatian identity is alarming; politicians on the path to preserving and strengthening that identity are mocked, to say the least.

The majority of politicians and people behave as if 1989 [the year marking the fall of communism) never happened. The majority of politicians and people behave as if the European Union had not recently condemned communism as a criminal regime of the past! The “comrades from the party” are attempting to build capitalism with a socialist face: it is the victory of the chosen ones, who operate outside the rules of competition and open tenders. They discard as frivolous the profound and selfless sacrifice for Croatia that Homeland War veterans made.

Judging from public mood expressed via mainstream, non-mainstream and social media, Croatian people are contemplating an essential question: do they want an open full democracy or a closed society, freedom of expression or censorship, rule of law or a new form of authoritarianism. This question cries for articulation, but who will be the brave one to ask it? Certainly, it seems that none of the Presidential candidates currently vying for the high office will ask that question publicly. With Presidential elections due on 22 December this year, it appears most candidates are playing it “safe”; casting their voter-catch net widely. Campaigns are riddled with confusing or unclear messages, with generalised catchphrases promising “something” must change in Croatia (e.g. the slogan of one of strong candidates “Now or Never”) but none are clearly saying what that “something” is and how exactly they aim to change things, even though that “something” gnaws at the bones of most. Given the real danger of illiberal democracy in Croatia and public mood of frustration or impatience for a better future that elections slogan “Now or Never” is a phrase that many Croats attach to the urgent need for lustration/decommunisation and full democratisation. But the bitter scent whiffed by apparent lack of needed “political machinery” and practical mechanisms disappoints deeply. Ina Vukic

 

Comments

  1. It would be an absolute travesty if Croatia went backwards in time to communism after all that has happened these last 30 years. My relatives better have not gone through suffering for nothing!

    Like

  2. A brilliant, even academically restrained, but anatomically dissected, clear account of the genesis of the failure of Communism’s lustration and the consequent very painful current state of Croatia, even of dubious perspectives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Outstanding post as always, keep up the good work. E.

    Like

  4. Those candidates appear like Our President Barack Obama did in his first and second elections—-promise “change”. then secretly advance the socialist/oppressive state (and party and spend a lot of govt. money for himself and his favored ones) ! My opinion, of course! 😀

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    Sounds like the liberal/progressives in the U.S….secretly planning socialism approaching communism…while saying whatever will get them elected, using whatever deceit they’ll manage (my opinion—sorry guys!)

    Like

  6. Such a clear, informative post!
    Thank you!

    Like

  7. A detailed post!

    Like

  8. Best of luck with your elections.

    Like

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