EU, Croatia and Brexit

Croatia and Brexit

 

The European Union has seen numerous crises come and go and some staying stubbornly put – e.g. last year’s rejection by many member states to take in EU-stipulated quotas of refugees/migrants, but the 23 June 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom has perhaps forced upon the EU the biggest crisis yet – bigger than was possible to imagine, perhaps? Brexit vote had within days of its results count heralded far-reaching consequences not only for the UK and the EU, but also for the countries seeking EU membership from the Balkans, Turkey etc.

Never before have citizens of an EU member state voted against remaining part of the Union and after more than four decades of its existence the problems of untangling many matters and connections within the EU network of member states are emerging as almost impossible to solve without causing serious damage to one or the other side and to individual people from both sides. By June 2016 UK had grown into and fused with EU flesh and the future of separating that EU flesh appears to entail serious repercussions for all involved.

Prior to Brexit vote the EU has been THE club to join particularly because of UK being its member. UK had been a draw-card for many from Eastern and Southeast Europe to vote “Yes” to EU membership at their own referendums. Arguably, many people from all countries of Eastern Europe and Southeast, such as Croatia in 2013, had held EU membership as an ideal club to aspire to precisely because UK was there, waiting in its desired modernity to embrace them as its own and lobbying for EU expansion. Now that Brexit vote assures UK’s departure from the EU these multitudes of people in these countries are bound to be asking themselves if it was worthwhile for their country to join the EU after all. The repercussions of Brexit vote will remain unclear for many weeks and months to come, as the implications are far reaching. Much will depend on decisions taken by British and EU leaders on a number of issues that will extend beyond the Brexit itself.

The EU, without the UK, is likely to see strengthened campaigns for it to become a union of sovereign states, rather than a federation of nation states that Brussels wants at this stage. Following Eastern European countries’ (e.g. Hungary, Slovakia, Poland…) stance in rejecting the housing of refugees and illegal migrants and in protecting their borders and the ever increasing height of the “national interests” (which by the way was at its highest in Wales and England, in particular, at the time of Brexit vote) suggest that the push for union of sovereign states is about to get heartier in EU.

dr Franjo Tudjman at UN on 22 May 1992

dr Franjo Tudjman at UN on 22 May 1992

A quarter century after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, British voters have decided, albeit by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. Throughout various media outlets in Croatia, Croats are currently pulling out of drawers president Franjo Tudjman’s words, even as far back as 1968 when as scientist and historian he wrote that “the European community in the shape of a union between European states could represent the most advantageous framework for a true revitalisation of the idea of co-existence in today’s world”.

European politics can only be purposeful if it brings about the creation of such a European community which will have the capacity of free itself from intolerable tutelage under both super powers (USA and USSR) and become an independent actor within the international life. Such a community in Europe can only be achieved as a union of states of independent European nations who would retain their own national quintessence, the right independent socio-political development within their own borders and to sovereignty in international life. The fundamental European politics that aim towards European community joining its European people’s material and intellectual powers into the idea of active co-existence and unity of diversity are the only politics that have real prospects of success,” wrote Franjo Tudjman way back in 1969 and retained these opinions as to the dynamics and make up of the European community/union well into the 1990’s when he championed Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia.

The largest political party, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, is currently preparing for its own leadership elections since Tomislav Karamarko resigned as leader last month; and, in the aftermath of the recent fall of government, snap general elections are due mid-September. Croatian political analysts and journalists are already asking the question: which leader of which party is likely to support an EU Federation of Nation States centrally governed from Brussels and which leader is likely to support an EU as Union of Sovereign States.

European Union is currently shaking from the rubbing of two tectonic plates against each other: the Euro-federalist one and the Euro-sovereignty one. Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brussels’ corridors of power are championing the former while the latter is strongly the agenda of Eastern Europe’s countries particularly the Visegrad Group (Czech, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) to which Croatia has been aspiring for a while, at least since Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s presidency took power in January 2015. Traces of leanings to a union of sovereign states in EU, or leaving the EU if membership means stripping of national sovereignty of state, can also be seen in Austria’s and Greece’s recent speculations as to a possible exit from the EU; Italy’s, Netherland’s and France’s conservatives increasing anti-EU sentiments and so forth…

 

The likely candidate for Croatia’s HDZ leadership elections in July, EUP Andrej Plenkovic, appears to support the EU Federation option and hence, the Visegrad Group lobby for a union of sovereign states would pose a problem for Croatia and lingering divisions and dissent. One cannot sit on both stools at the same time, as it were. It’s hard to imagine that majority Croats would want the European super state of federation where government is centralised in Brussels and sovereignty of each state erased as seems to be what Plenkovic as HDZ leader might support. It’s been said that such may be the case because EU protects its smaller member states but not all agree with such a view. While attaching oneself to a bigger and wealthier body might provide certain securities it certainly risks losing ones identity or much of it.

 

The remaining EU 27 members have been seeking a quick resolution, asking the UK to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty that would manage the process of leaving the EU. However, the British government has been reluctant to trigger this ‘clean’ way out. Indeed with Prime Minister David Cameron resigning, with leaders of the Brexit campaign – Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – leaving the Brexit train, not only does there seem to be no exit plan but also Brexit supporters are left holding the baby, looking down a “what now” abyss.

 

This puts the union in a state of uncertainty and Germany seemingly stepping up into the lobby for enlargement role UK played before – as exemplified by Angela Merkel’s swift statement on 4 July 2016 that Serbia may open its EU membership negotiation on Chapters 23 and 24 and that Croatia had agreed to this. Croatia had been stalling Serbia’s progress in opening Chapter 23 for EU membership negotiations with view to several important legal and judicial issues and missing persons matters outstanding from the 1990’s war against Croatia. The fact that these were issues to clear before Serbia is given a green light for Chapter 23 negotiations, and that green light to Serbia has now been given without adequate explanations in public as to what happened with Croatia’s issues, leaves one asking many distressing questions, particularly regarding justice for victims of Serb crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A logical and obvious explanation here is that the EU is working very hard to show the world that Brexit will not stop EU enlargement! However, the cost of such moves as opposed to the cost of nurturing the existing EU member states and leaving enlargement for a later time, could well prove to be too high for EU’s ambitions for the creation of a superstate of itself; member states may retaliate against such centralist decision-making as are those demonstrated this week regarding Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership. I mean, every “Tom, Dick and Harry” stood in Croatia’s way to negotiate its membership over many years and now, only three years after it achieved membership, the EU seems to have parked its criteria at an open town-market where EU membership desirous states can barter their way into membership whichever way and with whatever they want. So much for reasonable and needed criteria that guarantees at least some grassroots homogeneity in EU!

Whether Croats will fall into a position from which they’ll be happy to blindly and mutely listen to everything that comes out Brussels is the most burning question now. This week’s events that gave Serbia green light to open negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24 for EU membership have completely omitted to explain to the Croatian public why that is so and what happened with the issues of protests or requirements Croatia had put before the EU in this regard. I do not believe the Croatian public will wear this lightly and will want explanations. The wounds of the 1990’s War of Independence are still very raw, sacrifices made for freedom and sovereignty and self-determination – still felt heavily and deeply. No politician in Croatia is likely to survive for very long if he/she forgets this fact. EU or no EU. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Europe’s Dithering Compassion Ignites Fears Of Inability To Cope With Refugee Crisis In Croatia

Refugees/migrants overwhelm Europe in 2015 and likely to continue in 2016

Refugees/migrants overwhelm Europe
in 2015 and likely to continue in 2016

 

In the second half of 2015, the Eastern, the South-Eastern European and the Balkan countries caused an overwhelming number of headlines when it comes to migration. Hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees from the Middle East made their way to the West through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia. All this fueled by the “welcome all, come to Germany” message trumpeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
For Croatia and all other countries in the East/South Europe region, regardless of whether an EU member state or not and given the evident rush of these migrants/refugees to reach their desired destination in Germany and the West of Europe, providing for a smooth and orderly passage was not an easy task by any stretch of imagination. The refugees were nevertheless assisted through in the direction of Austria and Germany.

Croatian border late 2015 inundated with refugees/migrants

Croatian border late 2015
inundated with refugees/migrants

To a large extent, governments along the so-called Balkan route, including Croatia, recognised the problem too late and were largely unprepared for the influx but as weeks rolled by the countries en route to Austria, Germany and the rest of the desired destinations became more organised, set up temporary refugee camps, made available trains and buses (and private taxis hurled along to earn a buck) that would transport the refugees to the border of the next country. The EU quota system by which each member state was supposed to take in a certain number of refugees caused resentment in the region and some countries, like Hungary, swiftly raised border fences including razor-wire ones to stop and divert the masses stampeding in. Slovenia followed Hungary and raised the fences on border between it and Croatia; Hungary and Slovenia said they would protect the Schengen border from the influx of the people escaping the Middle East or North Africa any which way.
The massive movements of migrants through and from the Balkans have forcefully shifted the issue of EU external borders into focus. The EU has tried to avoid this topic for more than a decade but time is running out for addressing it if it wants to get the waves of refugees under control. The enormous by number refugee and migration movements of 2015 are likely to increase in 2016, once Spring comes (although deep winter and snowfalls cover the region at this moment, thousands of refugees/migrants are still making their way from Turkey, across Greece and along the so-called Balkan route) the numbers are likely to increase to perhaps unmanageable proportions. This would seem a logical conclusion and prediction to make given the widespread hunger and devastation in the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, resulting from the Islamic State terrorists but also their opposition. The mass migration into Europe from the Middle East has a security aspect inasmuch as religious radicalisation in the Muslim societies of the region poses a potential risk for the affected countries and for the whole of Europe.

Screenshot RT news January 2016

Screenshot RT news January 2016

Not only the EU, but NATO also needs to protect its borders in the Balkans. In 2015, NATO members Romania and Bulgaria repeatedly warned that the Ukraine conflict had put them in a potentially very dangerous situation. Both countries joined the sanctions against Russia, while Bucharest and Moscow also have tensions over Moldova. The geopolitical and energy-policy aspirations of the Kremlin in the region must be taken very seriously. On the one hand we have a country like Serbia, which is in a strategic partnership with Russia, and on the other Montenegro, which has just received an invitation to join NATO,” writes Deutsche Welle.

 

Migrants break the police blockade to enter into Macedonia from Greece late 2015 (AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

Migrants break the police blockade
to enter into Macedonia
from Greece late 2015
(AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

With her popularity and political longevity seriously and consistently being eroded German Chancellor Angela Merkel has during the past week increased her rhetoric on tough measures in Germany that would reduce the number of refugees/migrants coming in, tighten Germany’s border controls, increase the number of those being deported or sent back to the countries along the so-called Balkan route (which includes Croatia) and hasten the asylum seeking process as well as time to be taken to whisk or deport those who are found not to be genuine asylum seekers.
On January 15 Slovenia’s Prime Minister met the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in Berlin, mainly to discuss the migration issue in Europe, says on the government of Slovenia Internet portal.

 

Loud and clear messages coming out of Slovenia in the past days include the resolve in Slovenia to drastically reduce the number of refugees/migrants entering Slovenia if Austria and Germany restrict their intake of migrants. Indeed, the awful statistics of sexual abuse and violence reportedly perpetrated against German women by men many of who are said to be refugees and asylum seekers during the past weeks has raised and intensified the political and civic activities that would see tighter controls of migrants as well as reduction in numbers that will be received in Western Europe.

Slovenia/Croatia border Slovenia raises razor-wire fences late 2015

Slovenia/Croatia border
Slovenia raises razor-wire fences
late 2015

Raised level of fear that it will become impossibly and alarmingly clogged up with new refugees/migrants as well as those sent back from Germany, Austria, Slovenia is surfacing across Croatia and it would seem that such fear is justified. There is more talk about control and reduction of refugees/migrants across Europe than what there is about compassion. Of course, the often reported incidents of refugees/migrants acting as if they are entitled to a comfortable living in countries they have arrived in does not do much to alleviate the intensely felt lack of compassion towards those running from certain death or starvation.

More importantly for Croatia, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar’s visit to Berlin last week seems to be heralding an erection of an even more forbidding wall between Croatia and Slovenia than what razor-wire fencing represents. Would this leave Croatia as a distressing bottleneck in the passage of refugees/migrants to the West is anybody’s guess but certainly the recently seen resolve to reach a European country of choice in the people fleeing the Middle East would strongly suggest that there is no strong enough barrier, bar waging an armed war against the refugees/migrants, that could stop these people reaching the West.

Syrian migrants breaking through razor-wire fencing Hungary/Croatia border

Syrian migrants breaking through
razor-wire fencing
Hungary/Croatia border

Furthermore, would this mean that the EU discriminates between its member states by excluding Croatia from increased measures to control the refugee/migrant influx just because Croatia is not yet a member state of the Schengen EU area?
Even further, would this mean that Croatia itself will need to protect its own sanity and ability to cope with the influx of refugees/migrants, registering them and checking their identification papers, by erecting razor-wire fences, putting police at the border with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to control the influx?

The EU commission keeps releasing phrases and fears that passport-free travel area, the Schengen Zone, was under threat that is directly associated with the refugee/migrant crisis. More and more member states have reintroducing border controls in response to migrant movements, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Austria and now Slovenia is making loud noises in aid of such a prospect.

Austria Suspends Schengen 16 January 2016

Austria Suspends Schengen
16 January 2016

If Schengen collapses the collapse will be the beginning of the end of the European project. The European Commission is reportedly working on measures to create a more sustainable migration system. The steps would include financial assistance, a revision of the blue card immigration system and a new plan for resettling asylum seekers. The Commission is said to release its proposals in March 2016.
However, there is no doubt that what is happening on the EU ground and in the countries surrounding the EU or on the path of this migration crisis, is more and more a matter of fighting for self-preservation. While the European Commission insists on unity and camaraderie between member states when it comes to managing the refugee/migrant crisis – cultivating the symbol of “Solidarity” that caught on from Eastern Europe across the whole Western world some three decades ago – these days the symbol that Donald Trump’s stance on anti-migration represents seems to be making serious inroads across EU countries. Measures to control refugee/migrant influx, measures to stop it are an increasing content-filler on political podiums as well as the media. Schengen borders are considered in these restrictive measures more often than EU borders. Some EU countries point the finger at the other, some justify their policies of controlling and reducing the number of refugees/migrants they will let in while they expect the other country to take all that come through its borders – a mess of biblical proportions in unfolding in Europe. Croatia should indeed become gravely concerned about being excluded from EU migration measures just because it stands outside the Schengen borders. Regardless of the ugly parts of its face, as in the US so too in Europe, these are more and more the times when political leaders are generating the feeling that the only way to regain or keep political support is by showing that they care for their own, and not much for the refugees/migrants or aliens and Croatia would be wise to start reading these messages and act accordingly. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Normality Not Possible On Humanitarian Catastrophe Skid Row

Screenshot Euronews 23 October 2015 At the Border Between Croatia and Serbia

Screenshot Euronews 23 October 2015
At the Border Between
Croatia and Serbia

 

The flood of people shows no sign of slowing even though cold, wet and miserable weather conditions have set in. Over 250,000 refugees and migrants have passed through Croatia in past six weeks with the increasing likelihood and fear that transfer to other countries such a Slovenia to assist them in reaching their desired destination in Western Europe will not be possible. Hence, temporary accommodation places are being opened in Croatia, the latest being in Slavonski Brod (a disused building in past used for administration for INA company will be fixed quickly)  to house some 5,000, and more and more countries painfully nursing the fear that they will be left with thousands of needy people and scanty resources.

The Humanitarian catastrophe is suffocating the very breath of all and normal living is fast becoming something that was.

The refugee and migrant crisis has centered on Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia in recent days as that route to Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden …gives rise to all sorts of touching stories of human compassion but also of those of fear of the unknown and what that unknown may do to the standard of life Europeans have been used to and have not been asked if they wish to share or lower.

Crossing Into Croatia From Serbia 24 October 2015 Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/Pixsell

Crossing Into Croatia From Serbia
24 October 2015
Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/Pixsell

Last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that her government will quickly send back all those arriving at its borders who are not genuine refugees but found to be people looking for a better life – illegal migrants. Reportedly some 190,000 already in Germany for some time have been identified as those to be deported, said Croatian HRT TV news from Friday 23 October. This seems to have poured deeper panic among those fleeing Middle East through Croatia and surrounding countries as they show urgency and impatience to reach their desired destination in Western Europe (before doors close?). So we come across desperate night transfers, walking across rivers in the cold of the night to reach Slovenia, the next stop on route to Austria, toppling fences and barriers – pushing and trampling on each other … Desperation on the rise.

It is clear by now that not everyone who is crossing European (or any other for that matter) is a refugee; many are migrants coming for other reasons than fleeing from persecution. Refugees are people who have been forced out of their home country against their will. The word “migrant” can mean someone who moves to a foreign country voluntarily, or it can be used as a broader umbrella term that includes refugees as well as voluntary migrants. For example, a Syrian man fleeing war is a refugee, whereas a Cameroonian man seeking economic opportunity is a migrant. Whether someone is considered a refugee or a migrant effects what sorts of legal rights they have: Refugees can apply for asylum and are protected by international and domestic law, for example, while economic migrants cannot. There is no such thing as an “illegal asylum-seeker” — refugees can seek asylum in another country without obtaining a visa or resettlement authorization first. Economic migrants, by contrast, are usually required to have a visa or other form of work authorization in order to immigrate legally.

Walking to Brezice, Slovenia, From Croatia 23 October 2015 Photo: Reuters/Pixsell

Walking to Brezice, Slovenia,
From Croatia 23 October 2015
Photo: Reuters/Pixsell

Distinguishing between the two becomes political, especially in a crisis like the one battering the life and the peaceful spirit of Europe. Calling a group of people “refugees” also acknowledges that such people are legitimately deserving of shelter and care, whereas calling them “migrants” can more often than not result in accusing them of arriving for economic reasons, and perhaps even lying about their asylum claims in order to exploit the “Western” entitlement programs, which, by the way the “Western” citizens have earned through hard work, through paying taxes and generally having had good economic and other governance throughout the past decades. Such stands are often called anti-immigration even in the face of the fact that if a “Westerner” wanted to go, work and live in an another Western country as his own renders him/her unemployed and destitute, he/she must obtain a proper visa, which is more often than not impossible to obtain.
In recent months particularly, the UNHCR has been asking that the people crossing the Mediterranean or coming to Europe via other routes such as the one across Greece be labelled ‘refugees and migrants.’ This stance appears to be a reasonable compromise in the efforts to deal with madness that has hit an unprepared Europe (World), but is also unsettling because it insists that refugees and migrants are fundamentally (as in UN protection entitlements) different from each other.
UNHCR: “…protecting refugees was made the core mandate of the UN refugee agency, which was set up to look after refugees, specifically those waiting to return home at the end of World War II.
The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’
Since then, UNHCR has offered protection and assistance to tens of millions of refugees, finding durable solutions for many of them. Global migration patterns have become increasingly complex in modern times, involving not just refugees, but also millions of economic migrants. But refugees and migrants, even if they often travel in the same way, are fundamentally different, and for that reason are treated very differently under modern international law.
Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state – indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to death – or to an intolerable life in the shadows, without sustenance and without rights.

Refugees rushing across green-belts from Croatia into Slovenia 23 October 2015

Refugees rushing across green-belts
from Croatia into Slovenia
23 October 2015

The UNHCR ‘two kinds of people’ policy is, some say, troubling on many levels. “First of all, it undermines the humanitarian principles that should guide our response to emergencies. When people drown at sea or suffocate in lorries, our first question should not be ‘so, which kind were they, refugees or migrants?’ Narratives about ‘two kinds of people,’ are, paradoxically, a central ingredient in many of the conflicts that thousands are forced to flee,” writes Jørgen Carling, Research Professor at Peace Research Institute Oslo.
The ‘two kinds of people’ argument is further undermined by the drawn-out trajectories of many current migrants. A Nigerian arriving in Italy might have left Nigeria for reasons other than a fear of persecution, but ended up fleeing extreme danger in Libya. Conversely, a Syrian might have crossed into Jordan and found safety from the war, but been prompted by the bleak prospects of indeterminate camp life to make the onward journey to Europe. Regardless of the legal status that each one obtains in Europe, they are both migrants who have made difficult decisions, who deserve our compassion, and whose rights need to be ensured”.

 

Justifiably, many will reply that rights of refugees and migrants cannot and should not be ensured at the expense or neglect of other people’s rights. Indeed, the domestic population of countries affected by this refugee and migration crisis finds itself pondering and agonising on this very truth.

 

Slovenian policemen escort a group of migrants from a train towards a camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. Thousands of people are trying to reach central and northern Europe via the Balkans but often have to wait for days in mud and rain at the Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian borders. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Slovenian policemen escort a group of migrants from a train arriving from Croatia towards a camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

This crisis is about millions of people who have been forced from their countries, or have made decisions to flee abject poverty, and need a new country to call home even though many do exclaim they want to return to their country once the war in their homeland stops. Addressing the crisis will require resettling the people on the run. Countries that seem capable of absorbing them, wealth-wise, are experiencing increasing unrest from their own citizens as political anxieties about large-scale immigration that come with the prospect of having to absorb so many cultural and religious strangers keep rising.
For those of who live in those countries, addressing the crisis and solving it means, at this stage, accepting that their communities will look and feel different from how they have in the past. It requires enormous sacrifice for many as they attempt adjusting their vision of how their future communities will look like and what changes will need to be made for a peaceful and respectful coexistence. This is a major “ask” of every government where floods of refugees or migrants are capturing the attention of media and authorities and yet it seems not many governments are addressing that question as equally deserving as dealing with the refugees and migrants.
There is an emergency European Union summit organized for Sunday 25 October and if it fails to produce a solution to the crisis that is acceptable particularly to the European citizens the coming weeks and months will see another crisis looming: EU states affected will likely start acting on their own with the primary aim to protect their own citizens and without a plan for expansion of refugee intake program. It’s been weeks since EU had delivered a decision to distribute refugees according to set quotas among different member states but this plan, encountering opposition in several countries, has failed to launch.

Refugees and migrants Dobova, Slovenia, at Croatian border 22 October 2015 Phopto: Reuters

Refugees and migrants
Dobova, Slovenia, at Croatian border
22 October 2015
Phopto: Reuters

According to Xinhuanet news a draft for the EU emergency summit for Sunday 25 October the countries on the so-called Balkan migratory route (which includes Croatia) would no longer be allowed to transport refugees to neighboring borders without prior agreement with their neighbours. Such a motion is likely to be defeated but if it’s not it will cause enormous unrest in Europe and lead to life-threatening, highly-charged with anger and hatred instability for all: refugees, migrants as well as the domestic population. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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