Croatia: HDZ vs SDP – Pot Calling The Kettle Black

It is becoming tiring that new corruption scandals, involving the government or highly positioned officials or politicians of any creed, are unravelling just about every month before our eyes and there seems to be no end to this agony for the Croatian nation.

Almost as soon as the Croatian media published various mobile phone SMS messages exchanged between numerous public servants and the former director of the public company Croatian Forests, now a suspect with Croatian State Prosecutor’s Office for the Suppression of Organised Crime and Corruption (USKOK), the content of those messages became the main focus of discussions and demands made in parliament, February 1, 2023. The opposition, particularly SDP/Social Democratic Party accuses HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union officials, including ministers in the government, of influence peddling, fixing jobs and employment. A procedure has reportedly been initiated in which the impeachment of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic is requested. While the ruling HDZ denies any wrongdoing that points to nepotism and corruption, the opposition comes out with the opposite assessment and calls Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Croatian parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic, who were also mentioned in those phone messages, to account, putting the Prime Minster forth for impeachment. The SDP complaint clearly states that the HDZ brought the country to a deplorable state where without the influence of the Prime Minister and high-ranking HDZ party officials and dignitaries it is impossible to secure a job in Croatia and that it is HDZ that brought Croatia to this sorry state (HRT News Dnevnik 2, 01/02/2023).

Job-fixing, nepotism, is the root of much evil that has diseased Croatia, resulting in hundreds of thousands people leaving the country in the past decade looking for work and a decent life elsewhere. Addressing this new corruption scandal and plucking out the guilty officials and persons would be a strong start to ridding Croatia of nepotism.  

While it is certain that nepotism is one of the main problems of corruption in the labour market in Croatia under HDZ government, SDP’s opposition also did nothing to eradicate or at least significantly reduce this corrupt practice while it, itself, was in government and other power such as the Office of the President.

Pot calling the kettle black, as it is now done in the Croatian Parliament, and even in the last couple of decades, may be what people call a normal political practice between “warring” political parties vying for power, however, when it comes to eradicating corruption and nepotism this strategy should not be tolerated. It keeps suffocating Croatia from true progress in all fields of life; it is not a solution for the betterment of Croatia. It just keeps corruption alive.

The best thing that could happen for Croatian people and Croatia is to wipe the slate clean from both HDZ and SDP governments and vote in new blood at coming general elections in 2024. Both have proven that they are either incapable of making changes forward away from overwhelming corruption or that they do not want changes.

If one said that, currently and perpetually, Croatia is in a big mess, politically, economically, or otherwise, one would sadly be justified. The current Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has maintained a stand of aggression and intolerance towards the Office of the President of Croatia regardless of who was/is in that office during his time as Prime Minister.  Of course, again, one blames the other for the intolerance; again, the pot calling the kettle black!

The same can be said for the President Zoran Milanovic and for the former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. They could not find a common language with Plenkovic and Plenkovic could not find it with them. The result is an abysmal image of Croatia as a nation. There is no excuse for such destructive behaviour and ways of collaborating can always be found, unless, of course, neither the Prime Minister or the President of Croatia care much about its independence and the blood spilled for that! So it may well be in their personal political interests and leanings (towards the failed former communist Yugoslav state) that they make no effort in bringing harmony to that country that has as a nation suffered so very much through the ages. 

Each will say the other one is to blame for the scandalous discord at the top echelons in the two “towers” of power in Croatia, when harmony and collaboration is required to achieve the best possible transition out of communism.

Then, last Monday Croatia’s president Zoran Milanovic criticised Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons in its campaign against invading Russian forces, saying those arms deliveries will only prolong the war. He said that it’s “mad” to believe that Russia can be defeated in a conventional war.

“I am against sending any lethal arms there,” Milanovic said. “It prolongs the war.”

“What is the goal? Disintegration of Russia, change of the government? There is also talk of tearing Russia apart. This is mad,” he added.

Prior to winning presidential election in 2019 Milanovic had Prime Minister between 2011 and 2016, then been disgraced as the leader of the Social Democratic Party to make a comeback as President as a left-leaning liberal candidate, a stark contrast to the middle of the road conservative government currently in power. But he has since made a turn to populist nationalism signs of which he started displaying as Prime Minister.

The fact that the Croatian government headed by Andrej Plenkovic supports Ukraine and its defence against the Russian invasion and aggression and the President does not is yet another marker for the hopeless situation Croatia is in on the road to achieving a semblance of harmony and unity.

Then, also last week, President Milanovic went on to make a grandiose statement in which he claimed that Kosovo was stolen from Serbia! The Croatian government headed by Andrej Plenkovic recognises Kosovo as an independent state and has established diplomatic relations and other cooperative processes! Milanovivc’s statement regarding Kosovo has provoked many reactions of anger and repulsion. Given that Kosovo was created as part of dissolution of former communist Yugoslavia one is thoroughly justified in being abhorred at such a statement by Milanovic. But then again, at the time, being a prominent member of the League of Communists, he was against the dissolution of communist Yugoslavia and never fought for independent Croatia. The latter part could also be said for Prime Minister Plenkovic.

Croatia is led by two politicians of communist Yugoslavia background and leanings, who never wanted its independence, its freedom, in the first place nor fought for it. A terrible paradox is being lived in Croatia. The concerning issue is that this situation and the outward discord between the Office of President and Cabinet of Prime Minister could well be a reeling out of planned action to keep Croatia unstable and keep former communist Yugoslavia looking “attractive”?

It is certainly an ugly discord, and one finds it incredulous that it is permitted to continue for so long.  

On Monday, the Croatian president expanded his narrative by saying he believes that Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, will never again be part of Ukraine.

After months of hesitation, the U.S. said it will send 31 of its 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany announced it will dispatch 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same.

Milanovic said that “from 2014 to 2022, we are watching how someone provokes Russia with the intention of starting this war.”

Although the presidential post is mostly ceremonial in Croatia, Milanovic is formally the supreme commander of the armed forces. One finds in Western media comments such as: Milanovic’s latest anti-Western outbursts have embarrassed and irritated Croatia’s government which has fully supported Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s aggression. Well, the aggression, the discord, the ugly fights between the two have been going on for years but the West hardly noticed. Perhaps because this discord between the Croatia’s powerful did not brush against the policies the West was implementing internationally such as that for Ukraine?  On Monday, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic reacted to the president’s positions on the West and Ukraine by saying they “directly harm Croatia’s foreign policy position.” Well that’s a lukewarm reaction given the depth and intensity of the discord between the two! One would have expected Plenkovic to use much stronger words in response to Milanovic’s rants against the Western politics on Russia and its aggression against Ukraine. The coming year may indeed reveal what lies under the surface of the perpetual, tiring animosity between Croatia’s President and Prime Minister. Whatever the case, voters should not tolerate this destructive and disruptive state of discord, corruption and nepotism amidst the pretence that all is fine. True democracy should have its day! Ina Vukic   

Schengen Zone and Euro For Croatia

It is done! As anticipated in my article dated 5 November 2022 it’s a double windfall or double whammy, depending on your vantage point on the matter! The start of this year brought very big changes for Croatia. To pro-European Union political elites and to quite a few Croat ones the entry into the single currency among 20 other countries and the entry into free travel, no borders zone among 27 other countries are considered a major landmark in Croatia’s modern history. For others it is taken with a pinch of salt and lots of distrust.

Certainly, at the time of Dr Franjo Tudjman’s speech at the inauguration of Croatian Parliament 30 May 1990 the European Commission (EC) was very young within the so-called European Community, EU as we know it was to be founded later, and the euro not even on the horizon of the EC but Tudjman had put Europeanisation of independent Croatia as one of Croatia’s major goals in its planned exit from communist Yugoslavia. What a paralysing tragedy for Croats who fought for independence from communism to know that the European Union Parliament had over a decade ago condemned all totalitarian regimes, including communism, and the Croatian governments since his death in late 1999 not only have not in effect condemned communism but in practice glorify it more and more including its mass murderer Josip Broz Tito!

Schengen Zone and the Euro – a perfect match??

January 1, 2023, marked Croatia’s shedding of its kuna currency and the shedding of its sovereign borders in favour of the euro and Schengen Zone. Some say this is a great thing for Croatia, some say it spells a catastrophe for self-determination and a thousand-year proud identity. It is, however, most disappointing that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic did not in any way, shape or form express the country’s gratitude to all (not just HDZ Party ones) Croatian Homeland War veterans and activists who fought for Croatia in 1990’s, its exit from communist Yugoslavia, its self-determination, paving the way for its European existence with blood, sweat and tears. Andrej Plenkovic’s government continues its coalition with the Serb political minority that was either through direct family lines or political allegiance part of the aggression against Croatia in 1990’s; his government almost does not even acknowledge the part of Serb minority in Croatia that fought shoulder to shoulder with Croats to defend Croatia amidst the brutal Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression.

Asked recently about the implications of open borders with Croatia’s neighbours, Plenkovic said: “People are really thrilled that there are no more border controls on the crossings between Croatia and Slovenia; between Croatia and Hungary. Seventy-three border crossings are now police-free and customs-free. That means people going freely to the west or to the north of Europe. It means less costs, and more tourists coming to Croatia. 82 percent of overnight tourist stays in Croatia are made by people who come from the Schengen area. So this is going to be a huge economic benefit for us.”

Prime Minister Plenkovic and all his government ministers scandalously omitted to mention the rivers of Croatian blood sacrificed by all not just members of his political Party HDZ and the unprecedented harnessing of the Croatian patriotic diaspora in achieving the goal of Europeanisation of Croatia that was so critical from the start of Croatian independence movement from communist Yugoslavia in 1989/1990.

Plenkovic said: “We have no reason to be afraid to say that we are from the HDZ Party, we should be proud, satisfied and happy. Being a member of HDZ means being part of the politics of the party of direction, leadership, achievements, those who made the greatest contribution to an independent, free and internationally recognised Croatia, those who made an immeasurable contribution to the defence against Great Serbian aggression in the Homeland War, those who made a huge contribution the development of Croatian institutions, those who have contributed to the development of democracy, the improvement of the economy, Croatia’s membership in NATO, the European Union, the euro area, the Schengen area…”. Plenkovic did not say that his HDZ Party of today is a mere shadow of what it was when Croats fought for independence, when Croats needed to defend their bare lives from Serb aggression. Independence was a national matter then and Schengen and euro are now – they are not political party matters because they encompass all Croats.

Most activists and fighters have left the Party during the past three decades mostly out of disappointment with the Party’s growing pro-communist Yugoslavia mindset. But hey, 2024 is an election year and Plenkovic is not likely to say anything that would reduce the Party’s chances for re-election. 

They omitted to quote relevant parts of Dr Franjo Tudjman’s, First President of modern Croatia, speech at the 30 May 1990, inauguration of Croatian Parliament that afterwards suffered terrible consequences of the genocidal Serb aggression. Franjo Tudjman among many other things said: “… 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…Inclusion into Europe and Europeanisation of Croatia. Simultaneous with democratic transformation we need to undertake all necessary steps for Croatia to be included into the European Union as soon as possible. For centuries, Croatia has been a constituent part of the Western European (Mediterranean and Central-European) culture. Even when it did not have a full political state subject status, Croatia was inseparably connected to the Western European civilisation. The contribution to European life several centuries ago as well as through later history by Croatian Latinists bears loud witness to that fact. The return to that cultural tradition must be multilayered. In European integration Croatia must secure its independence and faster progress…”. 

Judging from all said from the Croatian government side during the past two weeks regarding the matter of entry into Schengen and adopting the euro one finds it difficult to avoid the ominous and painful feeling that Prime Minister Plenkovic is peddling the idea that his government, his HDZ Party, are singlehandedly responsible for and should be accredited with Croatia’s entry into the Schengen Zone and the adoption of the euro. Yet, he himself and most of his government ministers had avoided fighting to defend Croatia from Serb aggression, avoided fighting to realise the Croatian dream Franjo Tudjman was voicing in parliament on 30 May 1990, most likely covertly if not overtly vying for communist Yugoslavia to survive the 94% Croatian vote to secede, to leave Yugoslavia and turn freely towards Europe as sovereign country.  One finds it difficult also to avoid the feeling that this is so to enable further pandering to the 1990’s rebel Serb associates in his government’s coalition, who fought against such a path for Croatia and killed and ethnically cleansed Croats mercilessly in the effort to try and stop Croatian independence.

Travel the Schengen Zone – carefree

All said above the fact remains that being within the Schengen Zone and being a citizen of Croatia, even with dual citizenship, the gates within the zone are wide open, care free, and easy – for travel to or from any of its country members, to live and work. Third country nationals, carrying a non-Schengen country passport, who have not needed a visa to enter Schengen countries will be able to stay for 90 days and for longer stays visas are required. Border and customs checks will be removed at the borders between Croatia and other Schengen member states for people crossing the borders by road, rail or water. Checks at internal air borders will be lifted from 26 March due to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) summer/winter schedule.  That is a good thing especially for younger generations as it gives them more opportunities to succeed in life.

With the euro, economy in Croatia has no immediate fix

As for economic advantages of Schengen Zone Plenkovic is talking about for Croatia the jury is likely to be out for quite some time in delivering a verdict. Only days into the euro Croatia is faced with unjustified price rises in food, petrol and energy. So much so that the government is setting up a price watchdog with plan to implement sanctions against all those who increase prices of goods and services, disrespecting relevant legislation. Croatian production, for instance, would need to significantly increased in order to benefit from possible easy cross-border trade (the old fashioned export concept). For the time being Croatia’s production of goods has no capacity to benefit from easy cross-border trade because it hasn’t got much to trade with; its agriculture, fishing etc have been severely curbed by European Union quotas since it became member of the EU in 2013. Contrary to what the government is saying it seems that planting into the national mind that Croatia will become rich because it is in Schengen will certainly not become a reality. A country does not become a wealthy country just because it keeps company with rich countries within Schengen! Much needs to change in Croatia’s labour market and productivity before Croatia sees real advantages of this new big market it is a part of; nepotism and corruption must go, at least to high degrees, if Croatia will succeed in this field.

While favouring being a part of the Schengen Zone Croatians have and are exhibiting mixed sentiments towards adopting the euro. According to last year’s European Commission survey only 55 percent of Croatians are in favour of the euro, while others fear a potentially increased cost of living; 80% in fact thought price hikes that will accompany the use of euro in Croatia would put a stress on living that will be difficult to bear.

„We tasked the State Inspectorate, the Tax and Customs Administration to monitor prices on the ground. The goal is to identify those who unjustifiably raised prices. Fines are foreseen for that…Part of businesses have unjustifiably raised the prices. If we observe a further violation of the Government’s regulations, we have a number of mechanisms, from the return of prices to levels prior to introducing the euro to the cancellation of subsidies. I would like to remind you about the subsidised prices of energy for economic entities and more than 1 billion Croatian kuna in subsidies. All competent services receive a large number of complaints from citizens, who we invite to continue sending their complaints about unjustified price increases. We continuously strive to reduce the inflation rate, it is important to avoid irresponsible price increases, which directly reduce purchase power and citizens’ living standard. Businessmen’s responsibility and social solidarity are elements that cannot be bypassed,“ said Croatia’s Prime Minister Plenkovic Friday 13 January in response to the price hikes and chaos occurring.

More than 30 percent of shops and service providers in Croatia have raised prices unjustifiably, some up to 43 percent in the lead up to and transition into euro. This gives a most concerning picture as to how poorer the life of ordinary Croats and pensioners may become. Quite soon! Ina Vukic

Crimea Platform Summit Sticks A Flimsy Band-Aid On Croatian Government Corruption Woes

Often like two ships passing in the night! Front: Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic, Back: Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: HINA

That Croatia appears to have irretrievably lost its plot as a whole country standing united without a major shift in governing political parties has shockingly been proven last week, yet again. This is not the Croatia thousands lost their lives for in the 1990’s Homeland War, fighting off the Serb aggression despite UN arms embargo being imposed against it. Croatia was so very fortunate to have had its strong diaspora standing by and participating significantly in the efforts to secede from communist Yugoslavia and develop a true, fully functional democracy. Overwhelming corruption inherited from that communist totalitarian regime still plunders and fleeces national wealth and standard of living for the people.

Four former and recent government ministers have been arrested for fraud and corruption and yet Andrej Plenkovic’s Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government in coalition with the Serbian ethnic minority SDSS (Independent Democratic Serbian Party) still stands! The opposition insists the government should be ousted, snap elections held, and the government representatives keep on ignoring such civilised and democratic rules of engagement in leading a nation – and so does the EU authority, creating thus huge mistrust in the Union among the populous.

The four former government ministers indicted last week are: Darko Horvat, Josip Aladrovic and Tomislav Tolusic from the Croatian Democrtatic Union Party and Boris Milosevic, former deputy Prime Minister to Plenkovic from the Independent Democratic Serb Party.

Indicted Recent Croatian Government Ministers from Left: Darko Horvat, Boris Milosevic, Tomislav Tolusic and Josip Aladrovic. Photo: Cropix

Darko Horvat, as the first indicted, is accused of having, when he was Minister of Economy, allocated grants to entrepreneurs and companies out of personal interest and at the instigation of the co-suspects Boris Milosevc and Tomislav Tolusic, and that he thus illegally allocated 2 million and 600 thousand kunas state budget funds. Josip Aladrovic, on the other hand, is accused of favouring the employment of two people while he was at the head of the pension insurance institute. In addition to the former ministers, the indictment includes four other suspects.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of corruption and nepotism that goes on in Croatia. It all begs the question: who is in whose pocket to permit such horrible governance and governing of the country with no end of this nightmare in sight.

“The indictments (against four of his recent government ministers and a deputy Prime Minister) are not a burden for the Government,” said haughtily Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. The self-importance this man appears to nurture is staggering and repulsive.

The president of the HDZ Members of Parliament Club, Branko Bacic, said last Wednesday, after the announcement that four former members of Plenkovic’s Government were indicted, that his party does not accept the thesis of HDZ’s collective responsibility for the eventual criminal responsibility of an individual.

What a dangerous politician, what a dangerous government. The Party is not the issue here, but the government and governance are. HDZ had several mandates in government during the past three decades and just like the Social Democratic Party (SDP) governments has done nothing to root out corruption, or most of it anyway, starting with the grassroots of government, the local government all the way up to the state level. In any decent democracy the government would fall overnight.  

When talking of the opposition I venture to say that all left-leaning political parties in parliament, and there are a few, are splinters off the former communist regime and all appear to have members at the help who were in Social Democratic Party government. Hence, no qualification to lead Croatia were new general elections to come before mid-2024. There are a few solid opposition parties and individuals who lean towards the centre-right that could emerge, finally, as winners and the coming twenty or so months may well weed out the hopeless ones from the promising ones. What Croatia needs most is a political party at the helm that will weed out corruption and nepotism via installing mechanisms of control and audits at all levels. That can only be done, in my view, by those who are squeaky clean of corruption and nepotism, otherwise the gut-wrenching circus will continue until more and more young people abandon Croatia.  

And then, as if this was not enough to demonstrate the political disarray and governance shambles Croatia is portraying, the First International Parliamentary Platform on Crimea Summit was held during the week in Zagreb and Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic snubbed it, avoided it like the plague so to speak – while Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic played the host to it. The Summit provided a perfect mask and coverup for the deplorable latest cases of corruption Plenkovic’s government should be held accountable for.

First International Parliamentary Summit on the Crimea Platform held in Zagreb, Croatia, October 25, 2022 Photo: HINA

While the purpose of the Ukraine-initiated consultation and coordination Summit has its eye on taking Crimea from Russia and return it to the Ukrainian fold Croatian President Milanovic commented: “I see a lot of cynicism and dishonesty toward the Ukrainian people and the war, and I do not want to contribute to that. In the end, Americans and Russians will have to sit at the table because they are waging a proxy war over Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are paying a terrible price for it. I don’t know why no one dares to say this openly, but that’s the truth.”

Speakers and members of parliament from around 40 countries gathered in Croatia’s capital Zagreb on Tuesday 25 October to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine. Serbia failed to respond to the invitation to the Summit and some media ascribe this to instructions received from Russia for Serbia to avoid the Summit. The speaker of the House of Representatives of the US Congress, Nancy Pelosi, attended the Summit.

Co-hosted by speakers of the Ukrainian and Croatian Parliaments, the summit was addressed via video link by Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Russia has continued to refrain from any dialogue on the subject ever since its conception in August/September 2021 in Kiev, while elsewhere firmly stating that Russia’s “sovereignty” over Crimea is undeniable, and now also over the territories of Eastern Ukraine it occupied via brutal aggression and organised sham referendums recently on seceding from Ukraine in favour of Russia. Vladimir Putin constant firm stand is that Crimea will not be a matter of discussion and that the occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine are now Russian territory. There is a very little doubt that Ukraine`s president seriously counted on a different response from Moscow, but nevertheless, Zelenskyy was not put off by this lack of success and pursues the issues, hence having ended up with a Summit attended by an impressive number of nations, mainly NATO members.

While it seems very dubious that Crimea is to return to Ukraine any time soon (or ever) given Russia`s military onslaught in Ukraine and determination to strengthen its sway over Crimea and Ukrainian occupied territories, the best-case scenario is that the platform could transform into a major irritant for Russia that spells no peace and stability for a long time. This said, if this scenario indeed materialises further, and the Second Summit is planned for 2023, the Crimea Platform most likely will be used by more powerful parties/countries for their own purposes as a tool to apply pressure on Russia, if and when necessary, and to excuse and blame their own inadequacies in governing their own countries on the Russia-Ukraine War. This will leave Ukraine as a bystander, at best, and, at worst, as a loser. The Western politicians have already started covering up their incompetencies and blaming everything that is going wrong on Russia, such as energy crises, living costs increases, economic downturns … No wonder Andrej Plenkovic’s incompetent government has hopped onto this bandwagon and the abyss of ridding Croatia of corruption and nepotism seems to be plummeting deeper than before Russia started “copping” the blame for everything. Something must give in Croatia. The sheer weight of corruption, theft and nepotism scandals erupting almost weekly is becoming too heavy.  Ina Vukic

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