Still At Political Crossroads – Croatian Parliament and Statehood Turn 33 

The Republic of Croatia celebrates its Statehood Day on May 30. That was the date in 1990 when the first democratically elected parliament that would lead Croatia out of the communist Yugoslavia oppressive clutch was inaugurated. It was the time that threatened and preceded unseen horror, Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression, mass murders, ethnic cleansing – epic cruelty and destruction against Croatia and Croats. It was the year after the fall of Berlin Wall when communist regimes came crushing down across Eastern Europe and around it. This was evidently a million times easier for most countries there than for Croatia. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia that was stitched together by Allied imperialistic forces siding with ominous ambitions of the dictatorial Serbian Monarch immediately after the First World War. During World War Two the emerging communist forces crushed the Croatian fight for independence amidst this yet another war marked by brutal politics and destruction on all sides. 

2023 marks the 33rd anniversary of the constitution of the first democratic and multi-party Parliament, and we remember May 30, 1990, when, after decades of communist rule, the foundations of the modern Croatian Parliament were created and its historical role in preserving Croatian statehood was confirmed. But, as far as freedom from communism it is more than clear that those foundations of a new, democratic, and independent of communist fibres state, were indeed false. Communist mindset and communist heritage like a constant pest evidently remained in deeds of many, underground or out in the open.

The complete victory over Yugoslav communist and Serbian aggression occurred in late 1998 and the year after that saw the death of Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman, who was undoubtedly the human force of liberation and freedom from communist Yugoslavia that held the majority of Croatians in Croatia and across the world together. As a force of unity and freedom to be reckoned with. Then, year 2000, general and presidential elections, with the emergence on the political scene of communism prone politicians who were either communist operatives in former Yugoslavia or personally associated with those. This transition into would be democracy saw problems arising in several aspects of Croatia’s democracy, steepest decline occurring in the area of corruption (that was exceedingly prevalent in communist Yugoslavia), or rather, stamping it out. 

Albeit with minor changes or cosmetic fiddling, most laws in Croatia even today are reported to be dating back to communist Yugoslavia. Very little, if any, radical or appropriate changes in legislature that would thoroughly reflect the needs of a developing democracy, free from communist indoctrination. The independence of the judiciary, for instance, are merely writings on paper and in real life the Croatian judiciary is not independent of political influence and interference. An example of this appalling state in Croatia could be the one I recently experienced during my current visit to Croatia: the Croatian Orthodox Church (that gathered together in faith Serbs living in Croatia who considered an independent Croatia their home), crushed by Serb-led communist Yugoslavia regime in May 1945 (murdering its leadership in the process), had for at least a decade been endeavouring to achieve its registration as a religious community in Croatia, like any other, only to be faced with the government Minister’s overturning of court of law judgment, after a seven year court battle, permitting its registration with government authorities.  All that time Croatia’s government generously finances the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia, totally ignoring the fact that there are thousands of Serbs of orthodox faith living in Croatia who do not wish to belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. So much for religious freedom in Croatia! To me this looks more like political freedom that ignores all the values of Croatia’s 1990’s Homeland War and the fight for freedom for which 94% of voters had once said “Yes” to and for which rivers of blood were spilled.

The judiciary had its ups and downs, resistant to change, resistant to asserting its obligatory independence within a democracy!  In 2021, for instance, the Supreme Court finally issued a verdict in the long-running Fimi Media case against former prime minister Ivo Sanader and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, finding Sanader guilty and the ruling party responsible for siphoning public funds from state enterprises. Several other high-profile corruption cases have emerged since then, arrests of government ministers among other heads of companies or organisations. However, the judicial branch has not even begun to improve, and the justice system remains under the influence of the HDZ. Social Democratic Party/SDP (former League of Communists), by the way, wore the same boots when it held government during the past 33 years. 

One may indeed ask what’s the use of implementation of government’s various models to fight the runaway corruption in Croatia when in, 2023, its Minister can overturn a Court judgment with a blink of an eye and no repercussions!  I know how this would rate on an independent scale measuring progress of democracy in Croatia!

Indeed, just as it was in communist Yugoslavia, the judiciary in Croatia remains the weakest link in Croatia’s anti-corruption framework: on ‘perceived independence’ it scored lowest in the EU in a 2022 Eurobarometer survey

Corruption cases were a constant in recent years, involving judges, high party officials of the ruling HDZ and opposition, former ministers, and local officials. Although corruption is characterised as one of Croatia’s biggest problems, institutions and the political elite have continued to do only the bare minimum to fight it. And despite registering high levels on corruption perception indexes, citizens also do not use the tools at their disposal, especially elections, to get rid of corrupt politicians. Less than 50% utilise their right to vote at elections within Croatia, while access to polling places for others, such as those living abroad, is brutally restricted or made impossible due to distance and unreasonable personal expenses needed to “catch” a ballot paper.

Given that the judiciary system is a backbone of every functioning democracy it disappoints enormously that 33 years on, in essence and despite existing official statements, Croatian justice system continues as if it was still operating within corrupt communist Yugoslavia.

What tragedy this is!

33 years after its inauguration the Croatian Parliament has only it seems produced worries about independent and democratic Croatia for which multitudes of lives were lost and sacrificed in 1990’s. Through the 33 years one has come and comes across individuals who say that they are better off than what they were in former Yugoslavia – especially those living on the Adriatic Sea, which breaks new tourist records every year (income from tourism is a single major contributor to the state budget). But it seems, the future of the country, to many, looks bleak. More and more young people emigrate (hundreds of thousands in the past decade) because they reportedly don’t see any prospects there. The economy and its self-sustainability have been brought to a crisis point that depends on funds dished out by the European Union. Harvesting of the enormous potential which the Croatian diaspora represents has only been a play of politicians’ words, without follow up in actions. No commitment in all these decades has emerged to place into action a national strategy of making the return (on a larger and needed scale) or the investments from its diaspora happen. Well, I would conclude, former Yugoslavia loathed the Croatian diaspora (because it represented fleeing from horrible communist oppression) and the current official Croatia has done little in attracting and systematically supporting that diaspora to return. Instead, Croatia appears to be allowing the key people for its future to leave the country or not come in at all!    

2024 as a huge electoral year in Croatia (General, Presidential and European Parliament elections) is lining up in the minds of many people as “make or break what Croatia fought for in the 1990’s”, is at the doorstep. The HDZ rule, coupled with its aggressive anti-Croat Serb minority coalition, has proven quite incapable of taking the country there where its founder Franjo Tudjman (and 94% of the voting population) headed (free from corruption, communism; a prosperous Croatian state). The SDP/ Social Democratic Party, found among opposition parties and once quite strong on the political and electoral platform, is utterly incapable of changing anything. The other political parties forming the so-called parliamentary opposition together with SDP resemble an army of leadership hopefuls, ego warriors, that do not have the will or the wish to collaborate with each other to make changes for Croatia as a nation that would bring it back on track with the values cemented by the battle for independence and democracy in 1990’s. While it is in life prudent and necessary for progress not to enter into collaboration with anyone or everyone, but surely, a select few could form a formidable force of change; but only if individual egos are left outside the door. Alarmingly, the ultra-left communist Yugoslavia prone smaller parties appear to be on the rise in the parliament and in the streets. They show no decency nor respect for the grave price Croats paid in 1990’s for an independent state. I often wonder whether this is so because such politicians are not about to admit to the horrendous communist crimes against Croats perpetrated by the regime their family members or friends collaborated with willingly; they are not about to return to the rightful owners the valuable properties their communist ancestors stole from freedom-loving Croats post World War Two.

Is the fight against communist mindset in Croatia still worth our energy, one might ask! You bet it is! 

On my personal spiritual note, Jesus Christ was 33 years old when the persecution, horrible torture against his good teachings culminated in his crucifixion; but he gloriously arose from the dead, anyway! Has the 1990 will of Croatian people for freedom from communism been living the same destiny in the past 33 years? Ina Vukic 

Croatia: Tough Nut Communist Mindset

Images from Left: Ursula von der Leyen, Josip Broz Tito, Matija Gubec, Tomislav Karamarko

To my knowledge, which is relatively substantial by the way, nobody like the communists used and abused history to serve their own purposes for control and power. The European Parliament has become the arena where this culminates. This, one may say, is unsavoury but not surprising to a democratically minded individual since there are former communists or communist sympathisers from various EU member countries in high EUP and EC positions who are relatively unknown to the public and who held positions in countries that have in essence failed in providing for decent living of their people and were and are incapable of rooting out economic and political corruption that has plagued the countries they functioned in prior to rising to EUP or EC. Nevertheless, not every Member of Parliament wants to play historian but those that are “heard” most in public do!

I turn to the Facebook post, dated 14 February 2023, by Tomislav Karamarko, who among other high roles is former Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia (from January to June 2016) and former Minister of Internal Affairs of Croatia (October 2008 to December 2011), who strongly acted in efforts to prosecute communist crimes in former Yugoslavia, Croatia, and paid dearly for that with his distinguished and most promising career in politics and leadership in 2016. One can safely assume that lustration or at least a functional class of lustration would have been on his agenda for Croatia were he not cut down by the political machinery that wheeled and dealt communist mindset and actions.

“Ursula von der Leyen is the president of the European Commission and Ognian Zlatev is the head of the European Commission’s representative office in Croatia, so I dedicate this Facebook post to them and their consciences. I don’t expect anything from local Europeans anyway, because most of them have a conflict of interest in relation to the topic I’m initiating.

Namely, on February 10, 2023, published an article entitled ‘Did you know that there are 28 places with squares and streets that proudly bear the name of Marshal Tito in Croatia.’

So much materialisation and concrete mention of JB Tito, one of the biggest criminals of the 20th century, communist dictator, and henchman…

Can you stoop any lower and poorer, my homeland?

On September 19, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution called ‘The Importance of European Remembrance for the Future of Europe’, which condemned and equated Nazi and communist crimes, and calls on all EU member states to carry out a clear and principled review of the crimes and acts of aggression they committed. totalitarian communist regimes and the Nazi regime. The Resolution also expresses concern because ‘in the public spaces of some member states (parks, squares, streets, etc.) there are still monuments glorifying totalitarian regimes.’

Could it be any clearer?

That is why I am publicly asking Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen and Mr. Ognian Zlatev, since nothing has been done to date (in Croatia), what are they doing so that the resolution of the European Parliament entitled ‘The Importance of European Remembrance for the Future of Europe’ of September 19, 2019, is finally implemented in the Republic of Croatia.

Isn’t it time for this mental-communist contamination to end…”

But its not only in public spaces that the underhanded and mean operations of communist Yugoslavia still exist in Croatia. There is also no effort whatsoever to correct the wrongs committed even with national symbols or heroes of Croatian freedom fight that spotted many centuries.

450 years ago, the great Croatian–Slovene Peasant Revolt ended. On February 15, 1573, the uprising’s leader Matija Gubec was brutally, torturously executed in the main square of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which at the time was part of the Habsburg Empire. During centuries that followed, the Peasant Revolt of 1573 continued to serve as a beacon of hope for change for the better, inspiring numerous pro-freedom actions, initiatives and movements in the region and beyond. While the Croatians fighting for an independent Croatia during World War Two embraced, naturally, Matija Gubec as their idol who symbolised their plights for freedom from the installed oppressive Yugoslavia conglomerate since 1918,  Yugoslav communists (who fought for Croatia to remain within a Yugoslavia and subservient to Serbs), pretending to be on a saving and liberating mission of Croats, had the gall to take the name of Matija Gubec for two of their fighting brigades in World War Two; one in Croatia and one in Slovenia! Given that Gubec was a symbol of fight for freedom in both Croatia and Slovenia the communists stole him from Croats as their idol in battle to continue the enslavement of both Croatia and Slovenia by Serb-leadership-saturated communist Yugoslavia!

Since Gubec was seen almost exclusively as a fighter for the Croatian state, the right to a state was denied by the communists, considered to be simply minions of Russia/Stalin to co-opt him as a symbol of a leftist revolution had cut bitter anger and resentment in Croatian patriots. 

As communists in Yugoslavia, not Croatian independence fighters, won the Second World War their control over Matija Gubec legacy was tightened and they pursued further changes in the interpretation of symbolism Matija Gubec represented. Their interpretation of Gubec as a social revolutionary (not freedom fighter) became the only version, and the history of the Communist Party of Croatia as part of Yugoslavia was written with the 1573 rebellion as the beginnings of a revolutionary movement leading to the Partisan triumph in 1945. Gubec became a chapter in the Partisan myth, and in 1973, the 400th anniversary of the peasant rebellion became an occasion not only to celebrate Gubec, but to reinforce the legitimacy of communist regime as (falsely) a people’s regime that liberated.

Looking back to 1990’s when Croatia fought to become independent from communist Yugoslavia, it is almost impossible to know the exact number of communists and former communists who favoured or opposed independence. Judging by what has developed politically and leadership-wise since year 2000 in Croatia it is, however, possible to know that many of those communists who did not oppose Croatia’s independence in 1990’s did so by hiding their greed for power and communist indoctrination at the time. Post 1991 independence referendum where almost 94% of Croatian voters voted favourably for secession from communist Yugoslavia it is widely believed that one third of Croatia’s communists favoured an independent Croatia, one third opposed it, and one third were undecided but went along with it. This stems from an estimate made by general elections results and various public statements, omissions to prosecute communist crimes and ongoing display of communist symbolism for which there is no legislative ban as there is for the WWII independence fighting Ustashe regime.

With the end of communism and the collapse of Yugoslavia, Gubec lost the political symbolism that had once inspired so-called revolutionaries to fight under his banner even outside Croatia. Under Croatia’s first democratically elected president, Franjo Tudjman, who was also from the Zagorje region, the cult of Gubec faded away. Gubec had essentially become a communist symbol and thus could not immediately be incorporated into the body of new (or renewed) political symbols that were required by an anti-communist and newly independent Croatia. In January 2004, the Zagorje district where the 1573 battle took place could not even raise enough money to fund anniversary activities to commemorate the event, which included a 3.5 kilometre walk from Gubec’s Linden Tree (where the peasant leaders allegedly met) to the site of the museum and a re-enactment of the trials of Franjo Tahy and Matija Gubec. Since then though the celebration of the anniversary of the uprising is done locally in Donja Stubica via a re-enactment of the unique and important battle and this year such celebration marked its 15th year.

Re-enactment of the 1573 Battle of Stubica, Peasant Revolt, Croatia (Photo: Screenshot)

One may say indeed, if it weren’t for the former communists or their indoctrinated descendants in government and in the presidential office since year 2000 Matija Gubec would have long ago been rehabilitated to his rightful place in history – as a hero of freedom fights of and for Croatian people.

Thankfully, the memory of Matija Gubec has not died out, even if the localised celebrations by way of re-enactments of the Battle of Stubica and cruel death keep the remembrance away from the national level.  Since the main goal of this 16th century uprising was equality among human beings through the abolition of feudalism and an end to institutionalised corruption, including unreasonable taxation and abuse of women it has quite significant similarity with the Croatian fight for Independence during World War Two as well as the Croatian 1990’s Homeland War battles that ensued after most of the Croatian people were no longer willing to suffer oppression by Serb-led communists in power. It’s not an easy feat to return to its rightful glory that which has been desecrated by communists, such as the symbol of Gubec. Widespread corruption (and unwillingness to confront and disable it) and communist mindset are evidently too strong at the leadership of Croatia for things to change to better even within the next decade. But if eligible voters get smart enough, they could draw the start line for real change even as early as next year. Ina Vukic  

The Power Of The Croatian Diaspora

The Croatian diaspora sends more money to Croatia than what it earns from its summer tourism industry (which is considered the strongest arm of Croatia’s economy), wrote Bozo Skoko in Večernji list newspaper on Saturday 2 July 2022, after a survey on how expats perceive Croatia was completed.

According to the survey Croatian expatriates believe that the greatest advantages of the homeland are the sea and natural landscapes, tradition, cultural heritage, hospitality, gastronomy, rich history, while the greatest disadvantages are the weak economy, inefficient political power, the legacy of communism, low level of democracy and political culture, lack of community and care for the environment.

Although, according to the latest population census, Croatia has less than four million inhabitants, in reality it can boast of 8 million people of Croatian roots and interests if all the Croatian diasporas from all over the world are included. If we exclude Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatian minorities in neighbouring countries, the facts show that more than 4 million Croatian emigrants and their descendants live at and around various world meridians and parallels. Among the largest number of Croatians and those of Croatian origins living in the diasporas are those in the US, Canada, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Germany.

The Croatians living in the diaspora have always and still do represent a strong potential of political, social, and economic power.  Certainly, the 1990’s breakaway from communist Yugoslavia into independence proved that such a goal would not have been achieved without the support and involvement of the Croatian diaspora and this, in itself, is a testament to the diaspora’s power on all fronts. However, the questions that would arise are to what extent they “feel” Croatia, what Croatian identity means to them, what could attract them to visit the homeland of their ancestors more and to invest, promote it and lobby for its political interests. Many Croatian emigrants, especially those who fled the communist Yugoslavia after World War Two and their children and grandchildren are largely integrated into the mainstream societies they live in and are very sensitive to ideological issues in Croatia, the homeland from whence they originate. The survey has shown that it is these latter Croatian emigrants that often bring and maintain enthusiasm to the social activities of their communities in the diaspora. This, of course, is nothing new, it is a continuation of what the Croatian post WWII political emigration had been doing all along – maintaining Croatian identity throughout the world, language, culture, traditions and political aspirations of democracy and freedom. Utilising the freedoms gained and offered by the democracies of the West to maintain and nurture their identities while assimilating into multicultural societies they live in.

Croatian diaspora is made up of top scientists, humanists, philanthropists, experts and business people, who were not satisfied with the situation in the former Yugoslavia and in search of freedom and democracy and better living and working conditions built their careers in the West, and today they make up the elites of the societies there. They were joined by those who left Croatia in the last thirty years — from professionals, who, thanks to their talents, knowledge, and creativity, quickly integrated into new societies, to those who, in search of better-paid jobs and fairer societies, became attractive and still cheap labour to rapidly growing Western economies.

We must not forget the so-called “guest workers”, who since the 1960s have been going to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other Western countries to make ends meet. While they always have one foot in their homeland, their children are educated and well-to-do citizens of the world, who like to spend their summers in Croatia, listen to Croatian music and rather support Croatia than the national teams of the country in which they were born.

In the first two quarters of last year, for instance, remittances from Croatian workers abroad totalled one billion and 745 million euros, while at the same time, the state’s income from foreign tourist arrivals was one billion and 494 million euros. This means that through various channels, Croatian workers from abroad sent 351 million euros to their homeland, or 23.5 percent, more than foreign tourists spent on accommodation, food or entertainment.

Although there was a fear that the monetary value of remittances would decrease due to the Covid pandemic, this did not happen in the Croatian case and remittances increased by as much as 206 million euros, i.e. by 13.5 percent more than the previous year. In the first quarter of last year alone, Croatians sent 890.7 million euros in remittances, and 854.3 million euros to the workforce from the beginning of April to the end of June 2021. So, in each quarter, Croatians abroad sent more money to their families than the state received in the first tranche from the European Union mechanisms for recovery and resilience.

These facts about the Croatian diaspora’s enormous ongoing contribution to Croatia’s economy, in addition to the relatively vast population of Croatians living abroad bring to the fore even more the tragedy of Croatian political and government leadership who continue ignoring and suppressing the significance of its diaspora. The government has few years ago created the so-called Centra State Office for Croats Abroad which was reportedly devised to actively engage the diaspora in advising the government what changes are needed in Croatia to further the development of democracy, increase expat return, increase investment is Croatia from its diaspora etc. However, this body is failing to deliver real changes and in its discriminatory process of nominations for advisers it has largely alienated Croats from the diaspora leaving as its backbone only those who are “yes” people to the government and its political party and who, evidently, do not dare raise their voice against the government and its policies. Were this advisory body a true representation of the Croatian diaspora communities then we could be looking at positive prospects of diaspora’s input into Croatia’s development. One would have thought that the years of this body’s existence, 55 advisors from all over the world, would have at least insisted in the adjusting of parliamentary representation for the diaspora from the current 3 seats back to 12 seats, which used to be from 1995 until 2010 when former communists in power (e.g., communist Yugoslavia nostalgic Jadranka Kosor as Prime Minister) took 9 seats in parliament away from the Croatian diaspora. The communist mindset and resistance to real input from the diaspora within the Croatian government is palpable at every corner and signpost on the path that was supposed to get rid of all communist Yugoslavia practices by now. The good thing is that Croatians appear to be waking up to this tragedy with actions. Thankfully, there are a number of organisations and private businesses in Croatia set up in the last decade especially, by returned expats who want to contribute to the betterment of Croatian living and economy despite the government’s aloofness towards the treasure trove of knowledge and skills that exists among the diaspora Croats. Looking forward to the 2024 general elections in Croatia and hoping for real change in government away from being bombarded by former communist operatives or their offspring.  Without that widespread corruption and nepotism will continue thriving and driving away into the diaspora, in pursuit of a better life, hundreds of thousands more people. Ina Vukic   

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