Croatia: Corruption Is The Decisive Factor Causing High Emigration

Corruption has countless manifestations. Prominent examples include bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, nepotism, non-existence of equal opportunities in employment and public tenders and procurement, influence peddling, insider trading, extortion, and abuse of the public purse to name only a few.

Even bare logic alone tells us that nothing honest can come out of a dishonest process.

And so, nothing anti-corruption can come out of members of Zagreb Holdings management board placed in those positions via a corrupt process headed by the newly elected Mayor, green-left nutjob named Tomislav Tomasevic, even if such appointments are reportedly temporary or until a public recruitment process is undertaken. Tomasevic is giving his people, those he appointed directly to those positions, an advantage in their future competition for those positions – not an equal opportunity exercise by a long shot.

The new model of governing Zagreb announced as electoral promise (to rid Zagreb of corruption) by the We can! movement (green-left) Tomislav Tomasevic explicitly stated that members of the management board of Zagreb Holding (and other city companies) would be selected in a public competition and procedure to give everyone an opportunity to compete for the job. As soon as he became the Mayor of Zagreb, he broke that electoral promise and appointed people into those jobs without a publicly advertised recruitment process. Tomasevic says that he needed to do that because he found the state of the city’s finances and business in a shocking state and had to act quickly and appoint his people directly to the positions! It is obvious that he did that because he practices corrupt and biased measures that were and are associated with the former Yugoslavia regime and its generation of mass corruption. Tomasevic, is after all, a politician with a nasty communist mindset. Instead of getting rid of the Zagreb Holding Board incumbent Board members overnight he could have retained them while a public call for applications process was afoot.   

Knowing whether corruption leads to higher emigration rates is important because most labour emigration is from developing to developed countries. If corruption leads highly skilled and highly educated workers to leave developing countries, it can result in a shortage of skilled labour and slower economic growth. In turn, this leads to higher unemployment, lowering the returns to human capital and encouraging further emigration. Corruption also shifts public spending from health and education to sectors with less transparency in spending, disadvantaging lower-skilled workers and encouraging them to emigrate.

Migration and corruption are among the defining issues of socioeconomic development across the world. Migration provides a lifeline and offers safety to millions, while corruption remains one of the most pernicious obstacles to economic and social development. Fighting corruption and managing migration have become major preoccupations of governments across countries at all stages of development. However, one yet needs to see real and sincere efforts being made by the government of Croatia to fight against both since the late 1990’s when the war of Serb aggression actually ended fully.

If corruption and nepotism are perceived to undermine meritocracy, it is a plausible reaction to turn towards opportunities elsewhere, especially among the highly skilled. This direct effect on individual migration decisions comes in addition to the negative indirect impacts of corruption on the economy or on security. Widespread corruption can hamper economic development and undermine the rule of law. The resulting poverty and insecurity can in turn stimulate the wish to leave.

Croatia has, with new research findings, joined the countries of the world where migration and corruption have been proven to have a causal relationship.

New research findings’ report („Research on Corruption in Croatia – Measuring Corruption“) and recent book (Gastarbeiter Millennials/Milennial Guest Workers) by Dr Tado Juric, political scientist and historian at the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb, point to Croatia as a country where corruption is on the rise as is the number of people leaving the country, emigrating.  

Political corruption is growing in Croatia, which means placing its people in positions that govern society. What ‘hurts’ a little man is when someone with the same education as him in society passes, if he has connections and membership cards, while he or his children stagnate and regress, said Dr Juric last week for the Croatian Television show “Studio 4”.

The emigration of Croatian citizens, in addition to the dire consequences for the pension, education and health care system, also leads to an increase in corruption in Croatia. Statistics show that more than 370,000 Croatian citizens (a whopping 6-8% of total population!) have emigrated from Croatia during the past decade in search for a better life, employment and fairer life, while some 125,000 have come to Croatia, not all citizens. The sum of these entry and exit figures is a drastic decline in population leaving little hope for economic prosperity and autonomous well-being without injections from the Croatian diaspora that now numbers more Croatian people than Croatia itself. But that injection is likely to shrink significantly the longer the corruption is allowed to thrive. 

The more people leave Croatia the more are the corrupt enboldened to continue with corruption as those who leave are among those that care the most, who are concerned the most, and who protest the most, wanting changes. Once they leave the country the number of people left that push for changes reduces. The results of Juric’s new paper and book link the reported increases in corruption and emigration – and explain how emigration is both the result of past corruption and the fuel for further corruption.

“Namely, if the critics leave, it becomes easier for the criticised,” Juric writes, adding that corruption is deeply rooted in Croatian society and has become a form of parallel system that undermines the economy.

 “Increased emigration reduces the possibility of pressure from citizens on political elites, because it is those who leave who would be most capable of initiating change and they are the most motivated for change.”

With fewer people to hold power accountable, there’s more corruption. And when corruption runs rampant inside a country, those uninvolved want to leave to find honest work. Juric calls this the “departure of the dissatisfied.”

When Juric compared corruption and migration trends from 2012 to 2020, i.e. the number of emigrated Croats to Germany, where the majority of Croatian citizens emigrate, and Croatia’s positioning on the world scale of the corruption index, it turns out that corruption is more pronounced the higher the emigration. In 2019 and 2020, Croatia was ranked 63rd out of 180 countries, while before the peak of the emigration wave it was ranked 50th.

Corruption has done even more damage to Croatian national identity, sense of community and solidarity and Croatian culture in general than the damage it has done to the economy, which is unquestionably enormous. The main negative impact of corruption has affected human capital and political stability in the country. In Croatian society, corruption has become a kind of privilege of the elites, and the so-called major corruption, political corruption and clientelism and the so-called civil corruption.

 “So called. elite corruption has also enabled a special phenomenon in society that can be called ‘elite revolt’. Elites are the ones who use the media space to protest against the media, citizens, institutions on a daily basis… which accustoms citizens to the practice that they should not express dissatisfaction with politicians, but politicians with them,” Juric points out.

He added that corruption is proven to be less present in developed economies, while in transition economies it is extremely developed that the smaller the population, the greater the corruption. The latest study on corruption research conducted on a sample of small, medium and large companies in Croatia (a sample of 178 companies, equally from each county) showed that companies believe that corruption has been growing in the last five years and that 65.3% of them 32.4% of companies believe that there are no significant changes, reports Croatian media.

The desire to emigrate is, and was, often driven by a lack of faith in local opportunities. Knowing this and having experienced this from its own fleeing and later emigration, as the borders of former communist Yugoslavia opened during the 1960’s, the Croatian diaspora had during the early 1990’s war of independence, Croatian Homeland War, stepped in and helped enormously the fight for democracy.  The Croatian diaspora wanted the people and future generations of Croatia to have the same or similar local opportunities in life within Croatia as its children had in the “West”. To achieve this, eradication of corruption or its minimisation was seen as necessary for Croatia to survive into a well-developed country and democracy. Regretfully, corruption in many forms of manifestation still largely defines Croatia and its emigration is alarmingly high. Perhaps the new players, elected officials and councillors as local Municipal Councils that include relatively large numbers of relatively young people from relatively young political movements and parties will set a trend to Croatia’s recovery from corruption that will spill into national political platforms? However, if the majority of these relatively young people and new players now involved with local governments carry the heritage of communist Yugoslavia, because they grew up in communist families, no real progress can be expected; corruption is likely to “reign”. It will be interesting to follow, say the next couple of years, how many local corrupt thugs are exposed and brought to justice. Ina Vukic   

Croatia Local Elections 2021: Winds Of Change – Still A Matter Of Forecasts!

Apart from a small town or two in Croatia (for example Kraljevec on Sutla) that will need to undergo a Third round of local elections due to resulting ties between candidates at First and Second rounds, the political map of Croatia’s local networks for the coming four years has been cast. The results portray a mosaic of old and new, the established and the establishing, the left and right, the “new left” and the confused that come with them.

While the main governing HDZ party won the posts of County Representative (Župan) in 15 out of 20 counties across Croatia (13 with its own candidates and 2 with its political partner candidates), it’s mayoral and Council Assembly results barely managed to hang on by the skin of the Party’s teeth. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) received an electoral lashing so severe that the once powerful party may indeed cower in pain, into a dark corner, and take quite a few years to return as a political force of note. Hopefully it never will as far as I am concerned because its name used to be Communist League of Croatia and it never wanted an independent Croatia and it never changed its mindset.

As to the larger cities for Croatia SDP retained Rijeka, which has always appeared as a stubborn and staunch supporter of the former Yugoslavia criminal and totalitarian communist regime. Ivan Puljak from Centre party has conquered as Mayor of Split, beating the HDZ candidate Vice Mihanovic. HDZ’s Ivan Radic managed to win the mayoral race for Osijek and Patriotic Movement’s candidate Ivan Penava (mayoral incumbent and formerly HDZ) won sweepingly the city of Vukovar.

The “new left”, green-left “We can!” (Možemo) Tomislav Tomasevic won the mayoral race for the Capital of Zagreb in the second round of voting held 30 May 2021. He is given just over 65% of the cast votes while his opponent Miroslav Skoro, Patriotic Movement, received about 35%. Voter turnout at these Second-round local elections was alarmingly low, in most polling places below 20%!

Tomislav Tomasevic, a perpetual, green-left activist on the streets of Zagreb who has reportedly never held down a real job but made his living depending on grants for various projects, promotes an aggressive environmental policy, transparency and equal opportunity in public procurement and a subtle but repulsive nostalgia for the fallen criminal regime of former Yugoslavia. Tomasevic has also promised the public to clean the house, i.e., clean the Zagreb Holding which controls and manages almost all facets of Zagreb’s infrastructure and business and services.  Tomasevic’s promise to clean up Zagreb Holding also shows that corruption is rife there and he intends to clean it up! This promise may be as superficial as the rest of “We can” promises appear to be, unless, of course, Tomasevic and his team do not know the barriers imposed by the relevant employment legislation. They will need to break open and apart the 20-year rule over Zagreb by the late Milan Bandic and unless done with knowhow and real determination Tomasevic could spend almost all of his mayoral mandate trying to fix or expose Milan Bandic’s corrupt handiwork and legacy.

But then, one wonders if Tomasevic’s promises to tackle corruption head on are nothing but hot steam and empty phrases? After all, he has done nothing of note since 1998, when he set out on his life of activism, to truly tackle corruption in Zagreb or elsewhere!

Miroslav Skoro, on the other hand, promotes new job-creation, new investments, healthier business environment in which corruption and widespread clientelism and wasteful spending of public money will have no place and their eradication sped up.

“Clientelism and corruption have marked the long reign of the late mayor, and unfortunately the corrupt ‘octopus’ has permeated politics at the national level as well, so I understand very well why citizens feel [apathetic],” said recently Miroslav Skoro, the leader of the Patriotic Movement.

The local elections result in the Croatian capital is also significant because, for the first time since the country’s independence in the 1990’s, both traditional parties – the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) – were left out of the race for Mayor of Zagreb at the First round of mayoral elections. This also occurred in Split, the second largest city in the country, a “new entry” in Croatian politics has emerged: Ivica Puljak – at the head of a centrist civic list. In the first two cities of Croatia, HDZ and SDP are now relegated to the margins, unable to influence decisions.

Judging by this newly arisen political climate across Croatia, especially in its capital city of Zagreb, it becomes rather apparent that changes, or rather a display of dissatisfaction and disappointment with major political parties, HDZ and SDP, have arrived through the “back door”. That is, at local rather than national levels. “We can!”, the Patriotic Movement (Domovinski pokret) and the Centrists (in Split) are relatively new political platforms in Croatia, propelling the electorate to think, again, as to which one of them (if any) may indeed one day form the “third” political force needed to beak up the stale HDZ/SDP political bipolarism or duopoly. Their presence in the Council Assemblies across Croatia, not just the Capital City, will be felt during the coming four years as each won a comfortable number of seats on municipal assemblies, local government!

Whether both “We can” and the Patriotic Movement will be able to keep this newly bestowed momentum of political power through the coming four years and turn it into a national political force to be reckoned with is yet to be seen. It would appear that a great deal of effort is needed to maintain that force of influence that promises changes for the better; neither HDZ nor SDP are about to curl-up and die! Croatia had in the past decade seen the rise of a possible third political force in “MOST” (BRIDGE) coalition of independents, but it soon dissipated into not much except wishful thinking. The same occurred with the “Live Wall” (Živi zid) lot which can easily be tagged with the “Gone with the wind” tag given to the film based on 1939 Margaret Mitchell’s legendary novel by the same name! There one day, gone the next!  

There is rather a widespread fear that Tomasevic and his green-left or new left, that’s now present in large numbers of Council Assemblies across Croatia, will usher in a new lease of life to the communist mindset and values of the former communist Yugoslavia. This, of course, would mean further erosion of Homeland War values and the reasons why 94% of Croatian voters voted at referendum in May 1991 to secede from communist Yugoslavia. All until the “antifascist” elements of World War Two Croatia are removed from the Croatian Constitution as a foundation of independence of Croatia such fears will be fuelled and sadly justified. Justification, though, means nothing unless actions are taken up to remove the fear.

Tomislav Tomasevic and his political partners in the “We can!” movement are constantly voicing how they want Zagreb to be equal for all, equal opportunities for all but they seem to overlook that equality is not possible in the surroundings that operate on political suitability of individuals and undermining those who fought and died for independent Croatia. Surely – there can be no equality there where many (pro-left usually) still live in houses and apartments stolen by Yugoslav communists from either Jews or Croats who fought for an independent Croatia during WWII. Surely – there can be no equality in a place where one category of mass killing victims (victims of communist crimes) are not afforded respect and justice and the crimes which led to their deaths – covered up.    

Surely, there can be no equality unless the equality is measured against the national goals or values and for Croatia these goals and values are attached to the 1990’s fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia and not to Yugoslavia itself.

The point is that while certain steps towards the change for the better can be made locally, it is the national steps that actually bring real change all across the land. Ina Vukic

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

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