Croatia 2030: No Success Without Ruthless Decommunisation Reforms

Pretending to reinvent “sliced bread” all over again would be among the characteristics of a political environment where working on national goals is set aside throughout decades for personal gains of politicians while the country descends into economic chaos, political swamp and living standards depletion for the masses.

Current minority government in Croatia has during the past weeks been boasting of its Croatia 2030 National Development Strategy (NDS) as being the first in history of modern Croatia that for its success uses or depends on participatory and bottom-up approach to finally get Croatia where it should be: prosperous and democratic. The implementation of such plan is heavily dependent on EU funds and given that the widespread corruption at all levels (local and national), particularly public administration and judiciary, in Croatia has not been systematically dealt with one does fret for the success of such a plan that involves participation of the heavily corrupt network.

One thing is certain: without significant and “cut-throat” reforms in Croatia, without decommunising Croatia, no amount of EU or other international funds injected into Croatia will help towards the achievement of this NDS. While this NDS could be seen as an opportunity for a new start the foundations upon which the Plan is hitting the ground running are rotten. Too much corruption and nepotism everywhere.

What a shame the government keeps ignoring the fact that, although in skeleton form, Croatia’s national development strategic plan was actually devised during the Homeland War, announced in Dr Franjo Tudjman’s speech at the inauguration of the Croatian Parliament on 30 May 1990, when he said: “…At the end of this inaugural address, allow me to endeavour and put forward, in the briefest of points, some of the most urgent and immediate tasks that stand before the new democratic government of Croatia…” (pdf link)

Released late January 2021 by the government for parliamentary discussions, under the banner “Croatia 2030”, the 2030 National Development Strategy should steer the development of Croatia until 2030. While broad vision documents were produced by past governments in Croatia, this is the first time that the Government has decided to employ a comprehensive and evidence-based process using a participatory and bottom-up approach. Not unlike the crumbled Communist Yugoslavia used to do in its Five or Ten-Year Plans by the way. Glossy plans through which the communist elites of Yugoslavia got richer and ordinary people poorer and hungrier. Because no changes were made to stamp out corruption and political persecution of those not towing the communist line. Similar environment exists in Croatia today, hence mass exodus of young people during the past decade and thriving corruption is “king”.

The principal role of the World Bank in the process of the preparation of the 2030 NDS has been to provide analytical support. World Bank policy notes aimed to help the authorities recognise the most binding development gaps, define the reform and investment priorities for the country based on the vision and strategic objectives that were set by the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds, and identify actions needed to bring the country closer to its 2030 targets.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in Croatian Parliament on January 27: “We welcome all Members of Parliament to participate in the debate and hope to reach a consensus on this document today,” reiterating that ten years from now he saw Croatia as a competitive, innovative and safe country of recognisable identity and culture, with preserved resources, good living standards and equal opportunities for all.

The Prime Minister listed the goals to be achieved by 2030. Among them are raising GDP per capita to 75 percent of the EU average, and the share of exports of goods and services from 52 to 70 percent of GDP, significant acceleration of the work of the judiciary, reaching the OECD average, raising the coverage of children in kindergartens above 97 percent and employment to 75 percent, reducing the share of people at risk of poverty, extending the expected number of years of healthy living by six to eight years.

There certainly was no consensus reached in parliament on that day as the MPs in government showered the plan with accolades like ambitious but real and the opposition MPs described it as unambitious, insufficiently clear, coming too late and offering no vision.

Opposition MP Hrvoje Zekanovic (Hrvatski Suverenisti/Croatian Sovereignists), said for the Plan document that it is at the level of High School graduation work and maintains all the woes and misery of Croatian politics, hoping that it will not in the future.

Opposition MP Miroslav Skoro (Domovinski Pokret/Homeland Movement) said that the economy is not in focus in this Plan, because the country is run by people from diplomacy who have never worked in the real sector and do not really know how the economy works. We must create conditions for growth and development, said Skoro, adding that the strategy must give hope for a better future, a vision and help in its realisation.

On Friday 5th February, the Croatian Parliament finally voted on the National Development Strategy of Croatia until 2030. 77 deputies voted for the Croatian National Strategy, 59 were against, 2 abstained. Not a landscape that inspires faith and optimism that this NDS will actually achieve its goals. One must wonder whether that is because the Strategy itself does not enter into the essential pre-requisites for any strategy to succeed? For Croatia that would be decommunisation of public administration aiming at fierce and intense stamping out of corruption and nepotism.

National Development Strategies worldwide exist to set a clear long-term vision for the country providing a strategic guidance to all development policies and lower-ranking strategic planning documents. Additionally, the analytical underpinning prepared for the NDS and the extensive consultation process to prepare the NDS for Croatia chiefly by a team of consultants under the World Bank umbrella has cost Croatian taxpayers 32 million kunas or 4.2 million euro!

In its introductory part of its National Development Strategy 2030 Croatian government mentions absolutely nothing of the strategy or plan laid out at the start of secession from communist Yugoslavia and during the Homeland War that actually made possible today’s Croatia. This may well mean that the government aims to further degrade the foundation upon which today’s democracy was won in rivers of blood, amidst Serb aggression, devastation and despair for freedom from communism. Here is what the introduction to the NDS says (PDF):

In an increasingly globalised world, marked by challenges like the fourth industrial revolution and green transitions, but also numerous threats, such as climate changes, pandemics, geopolitical disturbances or migrations, planning for the future today is perhaps more important than ever before. In this regard, timely recognition of trends, their own strengths and weaknesses are key to turning challenges and new opportunities into development opportunities, but also to strengthen society’s resilience and its greater readiness to deal with the unpredictable circumstances.

To adapt to all these challenges and to exploit all its potentials, to be able to coordinate the efforts of all public policies, Croatia should already today have a clear vision of its future development and define the goals it wants to achieve by 2030. In addition, as a member of the European Union, Croatia has generous European funds at its disposal, which will be an important lever in achieving those goals. This requires a clear framework and quality multi-year planning, so that the benefits of EU membership can be better exploited…

Croatia suffers from a number of constraints for its development as set out in the NDS framework and these are:

  • Corruption in many different sectors of economy. Corruption comes in many forms, including the theft of public funds by politicians and government employees, and the theft and misuse of overseas aid, nepotism within the employment sector. Bribery is also a persistent threat and tends to involve the issuing of government contracts. In former communist Yugoslavia, bribery was the norm, and Croatia had inherited this, had not even seriously attempted to stamp it out and this seriously weakens the operation of strategies towards betterment of the nation.
  • Population is a considerable constraint on economic growth and Croatia’s declining population either due to mass exodus/emigration, relatively low birth rate and inefficiently stimulating climate for the return of Croats living in the diaspora means Croatia is in serious trouble achieving its planned goals or strategies unless significant reforms are undertaken in this field.  
  • Absence of a developed, independent and corruption-fee legal and judiciary system in Croatia has been an eyesore for many over the decades, yet nothing much changes and justice for ordinary citizens depends on the political agenda of courts and judges, even many practicing lawyers.

Given the past and the existing practices in Croatia which at high levels of authority still celebrate the failed communist Yugoslavia laws and public administration immorality there is a real danger that funds coughed up by the EU for this NDS will significantly dissipate into corrupt practices (pockets) and the NDS will, therefore, not be worth the paper it’s written on. I may be proven wrong; however, my assessment and sentiment are shared by many, including parliamentary votes regarding the NDS. To ensure success of such an NDS a political force is needed that would preserve the values of Croatian national identity away from communist past. Positive identity generates pride and pride generates positive energy capable of achieving just about anything put in front of it. Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. Why is no one talking about the thousands of people with disabilities still trapped in institutions without their consent? It is known and documented, but I did NOT know about it until recently. I’m shocked that this is allowed to happen in Europe. . These people are neglected and silenced all in the name of “progress” in Croatia or rather “croSLAVIA”. The politicians simply aren’t willing to do anything about people trapped at institutions. I’m not intellectually disabled since I can read and write perfectly, but according to my country’s government, I’m apparently “disabled” enough to be unwanted in the workforce – just because I’m bad at math. I’m honestly scared to think about what would happen if I grew up in croSLAVIA.
    Institutionalization of disability “care” is just one of the symptoms of the lack of lustration in Croatia. Only thing we hear about is ‘tolerance” of far right symbols, but the real problem is that croatian politicians tolerate the tumor of the un-lustrated remains of Tito’s regime to grow and become bigger, killing off any chance of progress. And of course, far left symbols like the red star are not only tolerated, but actively celebrated.
    When I think of the future of Croatia, I think of a country overrun by tourists and destroyed by pollution and unrepaired earthquake damage, with not a single trace left of it’s original population. That’s why I think that a return of large parts of the diaspora is one of the only ways for Croatia to recover. But if HDZ, SDSS, and SDP continue to be in power, I don’t think anything will happen. HDZ was often critizised for being nationalist, but today it is closer to SDP.. Tudjman, Radic and Starcevic must be turning in their graves…

    • Thank you Salli, it is atrocious that institutions like that for people with disabilities still exist. One gets the distinct feeling that there is neither political nor professional will to deinstitutionalise people even if, for instance, there are EU funds that can be sourced. Personally I have been on the trail of that in Croatia, that is, talking to lots of people and politicians about closing down institutions and setting up homes in the community etc. But deaf ears are so disappointing. I personally have dedicated over four decades of my professional life in Australia to normalising the lives of people with disabilities, closing down institutions and so I know it can be done and, oh, what a joy once it is. As to lustration in Croatia, lack of it, I agree. Croatia is still filled with people in positions from the old communist Yugoslavia way of thinking and ,entality, many are so backward that they consider intellectual disability an illness, what can I say, medical model in that field was abandoned here in 1980’s!

  2. Stevie10703 says:

    I am sure you’re going to write something about this and I will mention it later in this post but we are such a strange people, we’ve shown time and time again that when times are tough that we as a people bond together yet at the same time, we are a people that seem to want to be ruled by another people…Hungary, Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both Yugos, and the EU, it feels as if we are terrified of self rule and then once we are ruled by someone else we long for independence. What I find interesting is that there was a poll take a few years ago among the people of the the republics of Yugoslavia, the poll was conducted by one of our major Newspapers (I think Vecernji List) and in that poll 85% of the Croatians said that they want no part of being in Yugoslavia again which was second highest next to Kosova which was around 90% the rest of the Republics the numbers not wanting to be part of a Yugoslavia were low and I believe the Serbs it was something like 35% didn’t want to go back to a Yugoslav state. But then you wonder why are there so many Yugonostalgists over there or are there very little of them but they just have the loudest voice which makes it look like there are a lot more of them than we think? With the political parties, people say there is no difference between any of the parties like HDZ and SDP and it really does feel that way when you look at all of this. But something happened over the last few days that really got me thinking, “What kind of people are we?” When that singer Balosevic (Sp) passed away the other day, the coverage among the news portals has been non-stop….every hour on facebook it seemed that there was a new article on this guys death and you saw people gathering in mass mourning him all over Croatia and Zagreb especially….and to them it was all about Yugonostalgia and it’s getting quite annoying. If you dare call this out, you are labeled a “hater” or a “nationalist” and that Balosevic only sang about love. Then when you point out that during the war he sang an anti-Slovenian song, then in 1991 in an interview with Nin he mentioned the liberating army of Vukovar (Serb run JNA) called us Ustase, and mocked a nun for not showing any expression and when he finally did speak out against the war it was the usual “all sides are equally to blame,” they would then say that he turned on Milosvic but what people forget is that the only reason the Serbs turned on Milosevic was because they saw that the war was lost and they blamed him for it. The point is, its such a paradox where 85% of the people of Croatia want nothing to do with a Yugoslavia yet, the Yugonostalgia really came out in full force these last few days..again, this could just be that a small number of people have such a large voice that it seems like its more but then we allow people like Stankovic to have a voice withhis N2 program every Sunday and he is allowed to post things like Svetac: Balosevic “Da” Stepinac “Ne” and nothing is done…it’s quite sad.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head here, Stevie. The minority that are Yugonostalgic appear to have several public personalities in powerful positions and there you go, their loud speakers! As to the death of that singer it is quite irritating to see so much written about him and yet he was no Croatian hero in any sense of the word, in fact the opposite and made good money from Croats while alive. For me, he simply did not exist. The choice I made a long time ago! Thanks for your comment and cheers

  3. Steve Zupan says:

    One has to ask, doesn’t the EU put any pressure on the Croatian government to clean itself up? And, maybe you have to wonder if Croatia should’ve been accepted in EU without doing a lot more to fix their issues within the government. And I’m no fan of the EU, their politics leave a lot to be desired for me.

    • Totally agree Steve, EU has for several years now condemned all past totalitarian regimes and their ways and marking of their dates and personalities should not be permitted. Perhaps, there is not enough will for that at this stage?

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