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   

Zeljko Glasnovic MP and “The Lion in Winter”

Zeljko Glasnovic MP in Croatian Parliament 13 Feb 2020
Delivery of anti-corruption speech
Photo: Screenshot

When I watched the live video broadcast of Croatian Parliament sitting on last Thursday, 13 February 2020, while the Parliamentary representative for Croatians living abroad (for the diaspora), retired General Zeljko Glasnovic, it was his usually ardent presentation of the perilous woes that continue afflicting and stifling progress of democracy and, indeed, a society that provides opportunities for all its citizens to better themselves without the fear of nepotism, bribery and political allegiances. Without corruption as mainstay! His speech was about the urgent need to stamp out corruption, which, as he emphasised, even “SOA (Security and Intelligence Agency in Croatia) says represents the biggest danger for the Croatian state”. But, as he said, nothing is being done to actually deal with this debilitating issue; nothing is being done to call the “red directors of companies” (former communists) to account, who have destroyed multitudes of public companies and amassed personal wealth in the process, alarmingly impoverishing Croatia’s public wealth. That is why “there is no money for Croatian Defence Council/HVO, no money for Kindergartens and other critical matters…because at least 30 billion kunas (4.1 billion Euro) are stolen every year and taken out of the country. The left and right wing of the Party (meaning Communist party) are to blame for this. Life is good for them, but why not start with them, when we talk of the provenance of property legislation … what’s with the dossiers of former UDBa (Communist Yugoslavia Secret Police) operatives, some of them sit today in this Parliament…and when I talk about that it is prohibited on HTV (Croatia’s public TV channel), instead we have to watch shows that serve as confessional for those Khmers Rouge and those where their children rule like emperors…that in fact is censorship and we don’t come across discussions about that…What’s with the stolen properties by the Reds  … until academic and other lustration are implemented we will not get far…but that is a taboo topic for HTV.”

Now comes the crunch of the day!

The real and distressing marker for the relatively widespread and repugnant animosity against Croatians living outside Croatia, or émigrés, which is constantly fed to the public by those in Croatia who had profited living under the Communist Yugoslavia regime and circumvented or refused to fight for an independent Croatia in 1990’s once 94% of voters voted at 1991 referendum to secede from Yugoslavia.

Croatian Peasant Party representative in parliament, Zeljko Lenart (otherwise a “torchbearer” for the likes of  Kreso Beljak who says that communists did not kill enough Croats in their purges during and after WWII) stood up protesting against Glasnovic, saying: “…Glasnovic insults me as a parliamentary representative and I would like to say that in my family no one was member of the Party but I will also tell you that we did not flee to Canada and hide in Canada for 30 years like you and now you hold moral sermons and continue insulting …”. Glasnovic then approached Lenart, protesting to Lenart’s ugly provocation, calling him names (monkey, nit/louse…) saying: “I did not flee, you chased us out …”. And that in fact is the truth. Retired general Glasnovic was only 8 years old when in 1962 his family was forced to emigrate to Canada; their sizeable properties stolen by communists, family persecuted, denied the right to work, and members imprisoned as political prisoners in Communist Yugoslavia. His story of emigration is the story of hundreds of thousands of Croats who emigrated from Yugoslavia. But Glasnovic (like many others) returned to Croatia in 1991 to voluntarily join the Croatian defence forces (after having served in Canadian Army for 5 years and then French Foreign Legion/The Gulf War) to defend Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslav/Serb aggression once Croatians voted overwhelmingly to secede from communism and become an independent Croatian state. Croatian communities in the diaspora joined the fight for freedom once those living in Croatia had overwhelmingly voted to secede from Yugoslavia. This was their God-given and moral duty.

Croatian Parliament 13 Feb 2020
Zeljko Lenart MP (L), Zeljko Glasnovic MP (C), Miro Bulj MP (R)
Photo: Screenshot

Lenart, to my opinion rightly called “a nit” from political perspective that affects a nation struggling to implement that for which it fought and gave blood, has the gall to provoke Glasnovic with such malicious lies! Lenart has proven beyond any doubt that Croatia has indeed much to attend to if it is to decommunise and become a fair-for-all country. Instead of supporting Glasnovic’s speech and standing behind the need to stamp out corruption, Lenart attacks with provocation the man who advocates blanket and decisive actions to rid Croatia of corruption – the cancer that has all but chomped away the opportunities for many to make a decent living in Croatia. Croatia finds itself periled by mass exodus of young people, who have and are leaving the country in droves in order to earn a decent living abroad. Even if it were true that no one from Lenart’s family was in the communist party during the times of Yugoslavia, one thing stands out like a sore thumb: they must have sucked-up to or tolerated/supported communists for personal gain. The fact that he stands behind Kreso Beljak, instead of being abhorred by the murders of innocent Croats by the communists, for which Beljak says there weren’t enough killed, is an unshakeable indication that the latter must have been the case for Lenart’s family.

Croatian media had in its usual biased manner reported this incident from Croatian Parliament on Thursday 13 February as an incident where Glasnovic called Lenart by seemingly derogatory names! There was nothing about the real and critical issues for Croatia Glasnovic was talking about to which Lenart responded with provocation, and none that I could come across sought Glasnovic’s comments afterwards. All this is very symptomatic of the dire problems Croatia has and about which Glasnovic talks loudly: the absolute need to stamp out corruption and delve into the provenance of the wealth amassed through corruption and theft by many former communists, many of whom, or their descendants, are currently in positions of power in the country.

What became painfully obvious from Lenart’s malicious provocations is that it serves as proof of  a vicious war going on in Croatia for the survival without repercussions of those who have illegally and through corruption amassed wealth by being in power, and/or who have participated in or shut their eyes to the mass murders of innocent Croatian people by communists during and after WWII. The battle for power between the former communists and most of their like-minded descendants and those who actually and with much sacrifice fought for an independent and democratic Croatia during 1990’s has reached the stage where possibilities do not exclude a justifiably brutal reckoning for the political trajectory Croatia will take.

The ugly resistance by communist (or former Yugoslavia) sympathisers to delve into real combat against corruption reminds one, in a way, of the political backdrop in James Goldman’s 1960’s acclaimed play “The Lion in Winter”, an intended political comedy about politics in the Middle Ages that transforms contemporary battles for political survival into often tragic consequences for a nation.  Questions about the battle for succession and the demands of leadership have never felt more pertinent to me. What makes the messages from The Lion in Winter feel so immediate and fresh is how it bridges great political posturing and intense personal and domestic intrigue. The play is overwhelmingly about the battle over succession. After Croatia’s Homeland War ended completely in 1998 and after Franjo Tudjman’s death in 1999, those who placed their own life at independence’s disposal (the war veterans) and those who worked alongside them ensuring political lobby and financial backing as well as providing combatants to defend Croatia from aggression (the Croats in the diaspora) were the natural successors who would see Croatia rid itself of communism and its corrupt ways. Those who would preserve Croatia as independent and develop it into a full democracy. But, after Tudjman’s death the former communists would do anything to ensure that Tudjman’s and Homeland War’s natural successors were run into the ground and even pronounced the Homeland War as a criminal enterprise. It took 12 years for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague to acquit in 2012 Croatian Generals of “Joint Criminal Enterprise” (politically-driven) indictments.

The Lion in Winter” political agendas translated into today’s Croatia, would see the plot where with the fate of their ideal country (communist Yugoslavia) at stake – forever – there are many former communists and their followers or descendants who are willing to survive by any means necessary and thus prevent the ultimate demise of the communist regime, threads of which still perilously remain ingrained in Croatia’s public administration and society. In these times of heightened attacks against those who fought and fight against communism, questions about the battle for succession and the demands of leadership have never felt more pertinent for Croatia.Those who are among the natural successors, including retired General Zeljko Glasnovic, continue to have a fight on their hands that needs to bring about the real positive consequence and values of the Homeland War come “rain, hail or shine”: to decommunise the country and usher in real or functional democracy to the streets (not the one on paper only) by any means necessary. Many in the political arena, though, fail miserably at recognising leadership, support it actively; it’s the old woe of egomania palpable in many. Regretful as this is, it is not insurmountable. This is the time to draw the battle against communism to a close and bring the combatants against it together to a conclusion. Will Croatian combatants against corruption know how to do that, how to join forces against the enemy, once again? Ina Vukic

 

 

 

Nesting of Kleptocracy-prone Practices Within Croatian Diplomatic Aggregate

Josko Paro
Former Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the US

Ignoring and breaching government regulations on contractual recruitment of external consultants, engaging external consultants for work that is listed in diplomats’ job statements, shady deals and payments, external consultant having access to government classified information and thereby national security compromised, sloppy and reckless bookkeeping, missing receipts and explanations of payments made, unexplained and unsupported expenditures, writing off assets with “gone missing” (no explanation), no proper asset registers, selling off Croatian government’s real estate assets much below the price of its value … All this and more in the Audit Report from the audit of Croatia’s ministry of Foreign and European Affairs for 2016, released a couple of months ago (PDF of Audit Report)! All this would have been in audit reports of communist Yugoslavia’s government departments had they been made public or done at all. Sadly, nothing much has changed on that front!

The breaches of Croatian government regulations on contracts for external consultants were found for the Croatian Embassy in Washington DC. The then Croatian Ambassador in Washington Josko Paro seems to not even having copped a slap on the wrist because of the breaches! Instead of being removed or suspended from diplomatic posts altogether after such audit findings (findings of shady deals and serious breaches of regulations that cost the Croatian taxpayers in payments and health care plan to same external consultant over US$280,000 over three years [2013-2016], which is a substantial amount of money by Croatian standards) he seems to be under consideration for a new ambassadorial post at the Croatian embassy in Belgium, given that his Washington one has expired a few months ago! When on her US visit to US in 2017 Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic stated that she did not want Ambassador Paro around her and yet he appears to be on her books for a new post!

Go figure!

No use expecting an enforcement of proper morality in Croatia’s diplomatic core – it’s still the admirers of former communist regime and public service practices that appear to keep winning presidential and government grins hands down! How sad and hopeless for democracy in Croatia!

The Audit Report emphasises the following findings:

  • In some cases throughout the various diplomatic posts, expenses in business books were not recorded at all or not recorded in accordance with accounting principles and rules;
  •  In Washington DC, the locally engaged person/consultant to be in charge of administrative work, and other jobs was engaged without a signed contract between August 2016 and May 2017 and payment to that person made to the tune of US$28,800 (previous contract had been extended to the same consultant several times and all the while corrupt practices flourished, i.e. often in breach of government regulations);
  • The locally engaged person acted as economic advisor;
  • The aforementioned local person had access to information systems of the Ministry and classified information even though the provisions of Article 77 of that Ordinance prescribe that a locally engaged person should not have access to classified information;
  • Considering that the jobs of an economic consultant are part of jobs that diplomatic staff are paid to do, hiring an external local consultant to engage in this work by Washington DC Croatian diplomatic mission was in breach of the Ministry’s regulations;
  • Audit has established irregularities and omissions within the process of government procurement of services and goods that warrant the conditional audit report;
  • The register of government procurement of services and goods is untidy, incomplete and in breach of government regulations; etc.!

And these are the auditor’s findings for just one of several ministries or government departments of Croatia. It is safe to conclude that audits of others would not have findings that differ much from this one. Thieves of the state embedded in the state bureaucracy are the root and the foliage of government corruption in Croatia (as they would be anywhere where corruption thrives). This has not improved at all from the days of former Yugoslavia it seems. To top the kleptocracy that exists in the unchecked government bureaucracy stands the threat to national security imposed by giving access to classified information to an external consultant as practiced in the Washington DC Croatian mission while Josko Paro was the ambassador!

Indeed, such acute corruption within the government echelons may in fact lie at the root of some of the most dangerous and disruptive security challenges for a nation. Without doubt, the enablers of kleptocracy, corruption, keep the whole rotten scenarios going. Until someone stops them!

One would have expected that once the Croatian government had received such an Audit Report that specifies a raft of serious breaches of government regulations and a raft of examples that point to practices which give room to corruption and theft and nepotism, the detailing of practices that sustain a sophisticated system for kleptocracy, alarm bells would go off and investigations mounted and staff associated suspended from duties, at least pending independent investigation findings! I have come across no information that would suggest the government of Croatia is, after receiving such a damning audit report, taking proper measures to ensure the culprits suffer the consequences and the nation is spared from ongoing corruption. One can almost say that there is no better way of stamping out corrupt practices than by combing each as they present themselves to the authorities. Josko Paro, on the other –sorry- hand, is reportedly in the running for a new diplomatic post! Even though, among other serious breaches of administrative protocol his actions had, according to the auditor, jeopardised the sanctity of national security classified information.

What is the reason for this disappointing and frustrating state of affairs, one might ask.

For the most part, Croatia’s desperate situation in relation to corruption (that includes nepotism) has been attributed to two causes. First and foremost, abundant corruption was an inherent part of communist Yugoslavia regime, where for fifty years communist leaders and public officials had imposed corruption as the way of life. Many observers regard moral decrepitude and incorrigibly self-serving greed, along with an almost total failure to meet standards of good democratic governance, to have been at the heart of communist Yugoslavia’s failure to live up to its initial economic and political promise. Second, distressing failure of post-Homeland War leaders in Croatia to undertake earnest efforts to promote good governance and reliable democracy in Croatia. With sound reasons, many leaders have been accused of facilitating the spread of corruption and intensifying its harmful effects upon the citizens. The currently predominant strategy for remedying Croatia’s record of corruption and bad governance rests upon the prosecution of few highly positioned public figures, upon unravelling any conflicts of interests of highly positioned public figures while lack of proper and independent checks and balances and the tightening and policing of administrative and other operational practices don’t get a chance to see the light of day. Furthermore, the politicians and other public activists who dare to point a finger at the sorry and undemocratic, corruption prone, public governance are looked upon by many as abnormal, are often ridiculed within the circles of power. All powers that be in Croatia keep spinning the same yarn – we need to stamp out corruption! But do little, if anything.

And yet, persons like Josko Paro, who has been associated with several practices that raise alarm bells within the realms of facilitating or enabling corruption (breaches of government regulations or acting against the interests of the nation and its security are among them) are still in with a chance for a new diplomatic post or a high public position! Not a picture of the vision of prosperous and democratic Croatia paid for with blood in the Homeland War of 1990’s! Not a picture where diplomats must work and act in the interests of their state, in all aspects. Croatian diplomatic postings are in dire need of major overhaul and slaying the beast of corruption and kleptocracy is a task to which many must rise if Croatia is to prosper and citizens have trust in their government. Ina Vukic

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