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

Croatia: The Hypocrisy Of Mockery

In the rather prolonged wake of a rancorous presidential election in Croatia, late 2019, a few months of mute, largely ambivalent, anticipation as to what kind of president Zoran Milanovic will be have given rise to an ugly, tumultuous political swamp where the national interests are drowned in fear for the future as personal and political insults between the President and the Prime Minister (Andrej Plenkovic) fly like nothing I’ve seen before. It appears the two are in some kind of mud-slinging, mocking and insult competition that is difficult and sad to watch but one would not be wrong in saying: they fool no one!

Both have not cut their umbilical cords from communist Yugoslavia and its mindset no matter how hard they might try to assassinate each other’s character and authority.

The deterioration of Croatian top-end politics and lack of positive political discourse is dangerous to the health of the Croatian nation, of the independent and democratic Republic. No good arises when people in top positions of the same country identify more with a political self than as a citizen, or a leader in a country they are a part of. 

I take issue with the politics of divisiveness which, by definition and function, fractures the Croatian society through disinformation, deception, hypocrisy, mockery, insult slinging and outright lies and at all times paying mere lip-service to the foundations of the 1990’s Homeland War that ushered in independence and democracy while still embracing in deed and mentality the oppressive symbols and mindset of the criminal communist Yugoslavia regime.

Croatia was a country that should have cut its umbilical cord from communist Yugoslavia way back in 1991 when it declared secession from it by a sweeping 94% vote. The umbilical cord tore away gradually during the 1990’s as tens of thousands of people lost their life in the war of Serb/communist Yugoslavia aggression; hundreds of thousands Croats and non-Serbs – ethnically cleansed. Then, in 2000, the year after President Franjo Tudjman’s death, former communists (who did not want independent Croatia, who did not fight for it) returned at the helm of Croatia with a vengeance. 

When he was named Prime Minister in 2011, Zoran Milanovic was the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and perceived by many as a promising politician, free of the corruption plaguing the rival conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party. But Milanovic’a government failed to implement much-needed reforms, perpetuating widespread patronage of corruption and poor economic trends. His SDP lost power following 2015 elections and Milanovic stepped down as party chief after he failed again in the following year’s snap vote. In his 2019 Presidential campaign, he promised to make Croatia a “normal, decent” liberal democracy, with an equal society and independent judiciary. He defeated HDZ’s candidate, former President Kolinda Granbar Kitarovic and Patriotic Movement’s Miroslav Skoro.

Andrej Plenkovic as Prime Minister did not have good relations with Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, in fact there was a great deal of animosity for a number of years of her mandate and the two were at each other’s proverbial throats much of the time. Grabar Kitarovic had said on several occasions that she had not been able to achieve a working relationship with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and used that as an excuse for not influencing needed reforms in national focus. Had she not sprung from a communist family background perhaps she would have tried harder to establish or force a working relationship so that Croatia could move along with needed reforms and national strategy that would see the crippling corruption weeded out (?).

It’s happening in Croatia again – Andrej Plenkovic has clearly demonstrated that he does not want to work with the new President Zoran Milanovic, either. One must contemplate upon possible motives for that, none of which appear to have Croatia’s national interests (attending to fixing the disastrously failing economy and paralysing corruption, for example) at heart.

The very public rows, public name-calling, mocking and public insults against each other between the two came out of nowhere, or it seems like that to most. Jaws dropped and befuddlement spread contagiously. The media was and is all over it; one does not know whether to laugh or cry. But, one does and must ask: why!?

Generally, in democracies, the public draws distinctions when it comes to the types of speech and behavior they deem acceptable from elected officials. Wide majorities in developed democracies say it is acceptable for elected officials to call their opponent uninformed on the issues and to raise their voice in a debate, but there is much lower tolerance for officials personally mocking or insulting their opponents.

And so, the Prime Minister and the President have not stopped attacking each other, mocking and insulting each other for weeks now. Both of them held press conferences on 23rd October 2020 – first Milanovic, who told Plenkovic that he avoided military service using a false medical diagnosis, and then, about an hour later Plenkovic said that ” a difficult defeat complex in the 2016 elections can be seen in Milanovic.”

The ugly showdown between the two continued.

Zoran Milanovic: “Hundreds of bitterns came under my window at the time when Plenkovic was building his five-penny career. My wife and my children could not leave the apartment, but he grew on that humus and manure.”

Andrej Plenkovic: ” A difficult defeat complex from the 2016 elections is again seen in him, his tone towards me is belittling, and he told a series of lies about me and my career, as well as about our relations.”

Milanovic: “Plenković was a protégé in all regimes. Based on a false diagnosis of anemia, Plenkovic avoided military service. The children of communist leaders could not avoid it (military service), only the privileged could do so.

Plenkovic: “The claim that I am the second generation of the red bourgeoisie, and that I was exempted from military service because of that… Articles about it in the media were not accidental, someone reported it to the media, I guess it was him. It is true that I have anaemia, a lot of members of my family have anaemia. There is also my son, several relatives, all who had it were exempted from military service.”

Milanovic: “He was a protégé, a loyal servant of that regime, he mocked Tudjman with all of us, fifty people know that.”

Plenkovic: “He joined the SDP before the change of government in 2000. I did not notice that he was a brave, concerned SDP member until then. He said that 50 people knew that I was mocking Tudjman. I just called a colleague, he said that he did not remember that.”

Milanovic: “I’m trying to remember what is true of all the things that Plenkovic said, except that he can do everything, even that, is not true.”

Plenkovic: “He is certainly not the main cause of radicalism. But it is indicative that the theses he is releasing, the theses about the military doctor, Tudjman’s hater, come from him and his belly fighters. I see that in the far right. It’s mud, banana peel, the pistons he throws at my feet. He gave a fine contribution to hate speech. “

Milanovic: “There was no statement about the Covid at Plenkovic’s press conference. Who triumphantly declared victory over the Covid, did my grandmother shake hands with the infected Đokovic? He dissolved the Parliament, called elections when it suited them, they won those elections with a miserable number of votes. And it’s all according to the rules. But the rules need to be changed, as well as the rules of the Criminal Code. “

Milanovic: “He is a bully. I fought in school playground and protected other children from such people.”

Plenkovic: “I said I would answer him, because everyone else fell silent. Nervousness starts when the case of Gorica, Gradiska, a public company … As Prime Minister, I have no right to remain silent about lies.”

Milanovic also accuses Andrej Plenkovic’s Government of “skipping” him and regulating issues of national security, i.e., those from the common domain reserved for the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic of Croatia, without the President.

And the sorry saga of mudslinging, mocking and insults has no end in sight, it seems. In a country that has so many existential problems and so much to get on with if Croatia is to be a functioning democracy transitioning from the communist regime this scandalous and pathetic charade of supposedly democratic free expression is most likely not accidental. It has been staged with the former President and it is staged with the current one so that the reality and permanency of a successful independent Croatia takes the back seat and communist heritage thrives. I am quite convinced that the hypocrisy, lined with communist nostalgia for both, lies in this

In a world with fewer rules, the only truly effective one is knowing what you can get away with. The answer today in Croatia, it turns out, is quite a lot. The question is: will the people tolerate this much longer?

In their domestic policies, both Andrej Plenkovic and Zoran Milanovic appear to embrace a noxious brew of insincere nationalism and penchant for authoritarianism (the communist Yugoslavia kind); just like Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic did. So that people don’t have a stronghold. One day these leaders defend the fight for independence elevating it to national sovereignty and right to self-determination and, on another day, they act as if that bloody fight never happened nor did it need to happen (because, to their apparent view, all was fine and dandy in Yugoslavia).  One day they vow to attack the widespread endemic corruption within the public sector and on another day, they keep devilishly shtum about the enormous theft of public wealth by individuals. 

Former communists and those who did not want an independent and democratic Croatia are proving once again that there is no limit to what they will do in order to keep Croatia stagnating in the rut of corruption, economic disaster and perpetual divisiveness that paralyses progress. Ina Vukic

Nest Of Hate Speech in Croatia – “Croslavia”

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

“If there was a university degree for greed, you cunts would all get first class honours,” said in the Australian Parliament in 1985 The Hon. Paul Keating, Treasurer (who became Australian Prime Minister in late 1991), after backbenchers had complained about having to substantiate, for tax purposes, their electoral allowances. Translating that greed into greed for power and control Keating’s quote could well be placed with today’s Croatian government.

“Enough with deception and reckless trampling on human values without responsibility.” Wrote on his Facebook profile 22-year old Danijel Bezuk from Kutina near Zagreb some 20 minutes before he marched up to the Croatian Government building at St Mark’s Square on Monday 12 October 2020, holding a shotgun and firing from it towards the building, wounding a policeman guarding the government offices, walking away and then fatally shooting himself in the nearby Jabukovac/Tuskanac.

Andrej Plenkovic’s, Croatia’s Prime Minister’s first response to the shooting was that of seemingly utter surprise and saying “we must ask ourselves where does this radicalisation come from?” Suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that this young shooter, that people at large, have no reason to despair, to enter into acts of desperation by shooting at the government building. Then, within hours, Plenkovic announces that the government will do all in its power to locate “the nest of hate speech” from where influence for acts such as young Bezuk’s comes from. Of course, all the while pointing at the parliamentary right wing or Patriotic opposition and in particular the leader of the dr Miroslav Skoro Patriotic Movement (Domovinski Pokret) and its evidently much respected by the public outspoken government critic Member of Parliament Karolina Vidovic Kristo. At the same time Plenkovic lets out his fears that he himself may have been the intended target of young Bezuk’s shooting. Then veterans’ Minister Tomo Medved together with police Minister Davor Bozinovic get on the lynch bandwagon which would see to it that the government investigates, scrolls through social media etc, to look at even the slightest possibility of anything anybody said in public that could have influenced young Bezuk to commit such a crime… The government seems to be using the proverbial fine-tooth comb to run through social media, print media, portals, past public gatherings etc to find what they call “hate speech” that influences or encourages such “radicalism”!  

It is clear that what the government is really looking for is not hate speech but protests against the governments and presidents who have since year 2000 brought Croatia to a life of desperation for multitudes of citizens. But they are set to call protests hate speech regardless of the fact that just about all protests and all criticisms of the government and the presidents have been about lack of democratising Croatia, lack of decommunising Croatia, lack of actions in ridding Croatia of crippling corruption and nepotism, protection of family unit, protection against the Instanbul Convention, etc. In short, it has been the governments themselves that have stopped transition from communism into full democracy in Croatia since year 2000 or since the Independence War fully ended in 1998.

It would seem that Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic is staring in the face of the fate minority governments face (his government only got just under 17% of votes when the entire voter body is counted) and refuses to accept the fact that he is leading the government of a country where the majority of people are against the government or have not bothered to even vote in July of this year, which amounts to widespread disillusionment anyway.

Since year 2000, across Croatia, we have witnessed waves of protests against governments that were and are well-padded with former Yugoslav communists and rebel Serbs who attacked Croatia in 1990 when it wanted out of communist Yugoalavia. We have witnessed Presidents of Croatia, since year 2000 i.e., since Franjo Tudjman’s death, criminalising Croatia’s efforts in defending its people and nation during the brutal Serb/Yugoslav aggression in the 1990’s, even standing behind the politically trumped-up UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia charges of joined criminal enterprise against Croatian generals, instead of insisting on their innocence, which innocence was later proven by the ICTY Appeal Tribunal (2012). We have seen since year 2000 corruption and nepotism thrive to the point where hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of young people have left Croatia to seek a better life elsewhere. We have seen since year 2000 an increasing boldness on the streets of Croatia in celebrating the murderous and oppressive Yugoslav communism and trampling over Croatia’s Independence War veterans and their rights and dignity. We have seen since year 2000 an intolerable process of equating the Croatian victim and Serb aggressor from that war.

The list of misfortunes and tragedies that have enveloped the Croatian nation since its glorious victory over communist oppression and corruption could go on but for the purposes of this article the above should suffice, I believe.

Frequently, however, the Croatians protesting against the enduring communist mindset that rules Croatia are being misrepresented and belittled, insulted and often ignored in the news media and protesters dubbed fascists or Ustashas or Nazis. The fact that the Yugoslav communist regime has been declared just as criminal as the Nazi one by the European Parliament about a year ago means nothing to the mainstream media that carries a candle for the communist apparatchiks ruling the country.

What is more worrying still, both the government and the mainstream media, by ignoring the messages written by young Bezuk, by labelling healthy and fact-based criticisms of the government’s incompetence as fascism are actually attacking freedom of speech rather than acknowledging it, exercising it, in orde to call for institutional reform so that living in Croatia the way it was envisaged in 1990 and 1991 when Croatia cut its ties with communist Yugoslavia could come to fruition for most people. Institutional reform as dictated by events occurring among the people is the political action of the very kind freedom of speech aims at protecting. Not in Croatia, though.

Its government has during the past week in particular by its reactions to the Bezuk shooting demonstrated that Croatia is in fact Croslavia, as retired general and former member of Croatian Parliament Zeljko Glasnovic has been saying and dubbing Croatia’s stubborn resistance to radical changes needed to exit from communism, for several years now. But he too, is ignored by mainstream media just like multitudes of others who desire and work for Croatia to become a functional democracy.

The notion of freedom of speech is being co-opted by the Croatian government with dominant ex-communist or current pro-communist groups, and distort it to serve their interests, and use it to silence those who are oppressed or marginalised, such as those who actually put their lives on the line during Croatian Homeland War as well as those who dare to criticise the government loudly. All too often, when people depict others as threats to freedom of speech, threats to peace and security, threats to radicalisation, what they really mean is, “Shut up!” and “If you don’t shut up, we will silence you!” Sound familiar, anyone? If not, just roll back to the times of communist Yugoslavia with more than a million Croats escaping from oppression or from not being able to feed the family; hundreds of thousands of Croats purged, mass murdered or imprisoned for political reasons; corruption and large-scale theft of public goods…

Yes, the Croatian Homeland War is not ended yet as many will tell you. The military aggression has stopped but still continues the combat to oust communism and its mind set. The same enemy of independent Croatia exists today as it did in 1990 only today the issue is tragically deeper. The war veterans who fought on war fronts to defend Croatia during the Homeland War have since year 2000 been made redundant or retired while those that spent not a single day defending Croatian people’s lives from Serb aggression, or did not want an independent Croatia at all, or were on the rebel Serb murderers side during the war, have become the internal enemy of Croatian independence and full democracy.

And still, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has the gall to blame the parliamentary patriotic opposition, or individual politicians or academics or political activists for Bezuk’s shooting at the government building on Monday 12th October. He has the gall of labelling clear and needed protest against the government as radicalism. The shooting is indeed a crime under criminal law and must be treated as such but as far as radicalism goes that was the oath and promise Croatian War of independence gave to Croatian people.

In his speeches at the May 1990 inauguration of Croatian Parliament and in October 1991 when that parliament voted to cut legal ties and secede from communist Yugoslavia, President dr. Franjo Tudjman said: “…our most important task for our new democracy is to introduce and implement radical measures for socio-political changes…”! It is more than clear that majority of Croatian people have had enough from their governments and presidents since year 2000 and that any radicalism perceived as such by Andrej Plenkovic’s government is not radicalism but an old promise being finally delivered or being attempted for delivery to the 94% of voters who voted in 1991 in favour of secession from communist Yugoslavia.

And so, it appears to me that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic need not look any further for a nest of hate speech that may have influenced young Bezuk to shoot at the government building – Plenkovic is sitting in that nest. It’s a nest of hate speech against Croatian independence, hate speech against Croatian national identity, hate speech against the glorious values for which a terrible war of defence was fought in 1990’s. Surely, the lot that governs, the lot that spread the government’s propaganda in mainstream media, the lot that supports them, must have done a risk assessment at some point in time and concluded that there will come a time when people will rise against the government that brings no needed changes, implements no needed changes to root out corruption and nepotism, to root out political stacking among public servants and administration, to root out political party associated power at all levels of society. Given the government acts surprised by the shooting on Monday and points the finger of blame against everybody else but itself, it does seem that the lot that governs hasn’t done any such risk assessment, or, they have always had weapons to suppress dissent up their sleeves, such as dictatorship and punishing dissent. Many signs are surfacing for 2021 to be a year of numerous and large protests against the government as the political platform it currently pursues with the degrading of the values of the Homeland War is palpably a political time bomb. Ina Vukic

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